Over the last three years more than 70 posts were published on The Plan For The Future. That is an average of one post every fifteen days. And 65 WordPress users started following this blog. Some posts have been viewed more often than others. This is the top 5 of posts based on page views.
The miracle of Wörgl
During the great depression of the 1930s a local currency in the small Austrian town of Wörgl produced an economic miracle. It demonstrated that the economy can do well without more debt if the existing money keeps circulating. This may be the key to keeping the economy afloat without more debt.
Was Eve a goddess and was she the mother of Adam? And did Jesus believe this too because Mary Magdalene told him so? And what is the evidence? Reality can be stranger than fiction, most notably when our reality itself is a fiction created by an advanced civilisation.
The direction of history is towards a single integrated world order. The world is becoming one intellectually, economically and politically. The world is now run by a global elite of business people, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, journalists, scientists, opinion makers, writers and artists.
Rumours go that some films have been cursed. The evidence is not always convincing. The Omen stands out. Events took a stranger turn in the Netherlands. And when I began to investigate the most peculiar event of the curse, strange things happened.
In 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in his car in Sarajevo. This triggered World War I. The car had licence plate number A III 118, a possible reference to the Armistice of 11 November 1918 ending the war. So could history be script? And could there be a plan for the future?
For centuries Jews have lived as a minority in the lands of others. Their relationship with the majority has often been problematic. What to do with the Jews? It was a question asked by thinkers and leaders alike. Martin Luther and Karl Marx felt the urge to express their opinion on this matter, sometimes called The Jewish Question. Adolf Hitler sought a definitive solution to the issue, which was exterminating them. Jewish people are still blamed for many things. A few examples:
People who oppose interest and usury often blame the Jews as they have been money lenders for centuries and many are still working in finance.
Jews have taken a piece of Arab land that is now called Israel. They expelled most of the Arab inhabitants. That’s why a lot of Arabs don’t like Jews.
It is sometimes said that the Jews determine what you hear on the radio and see on television because they control the media.
Perhaps you have read that Jews cause wars and revolutions, often with a little help from the secretive Freemasons and the elusive Illuminati.
Jews have been accused of harvesting organs without consent and being involved in the illegal organ trade.
Some people believe that Jews can’t be trusted because they are more loyal to Israel than the country they live in.
The political corruption in the United States is caused by a poor political system, but the Jews seem to profit from it, so follow the money.
The same goes for poor-quality Hollywood movies. The Jews did it.
And Jews can be blamed for a lot of other things too, of course not the ‘good Jews’, only the ‘evil Jews’, but it is hard to tell the difference, so don’t trust them.
This is a difficult history to tell. Closer inspection reveals that things aren’t always what they seem. There allegedly has been a long Christian tradition of intolerance towards Jewish people. Only Christians were even more intolerant towards all other religions, including other versions of Christianity. Only Jews were tolerated, first because the Pope said so, and later because they proved to be useful for trade, tax collecting and moneylending, which were activities Christians found to be morally reprehensible and didn’t like to do themselves. In fact, Christians have been exceptionally tolerant towards the Jews.
Muslims were even more tolerant. Apart from Jews they also tolerated Christians. Despite that, Christianity and Islam were amongst the most intolerant religions that ever existed. That proved to be crucial for their success. Apparently, the owner of this universe didn’t provide us with ample proof of existence, so convincing people with arguments was not an option. The Jews didn’t get that. They preferred to hold on to their exclusive relationship with the all-powerful creator of this universe and didn’t try to forcefully convert others.
The plight of Jewish people was not much unlike that of other minorities that didn’t adapt and integrate into society. Being beaten up from time to time is the least you can expect from peasants if you are not like them. And it was often worse than that.
Between 1200 BC and 900 BC a few small nation-states emerged in an area that is now covered by Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Among them were Israel and Judah. These small states appeared because Egyptian power in the area was waning. It took a few centuries before new strong powers emerged and these small states were overrun. Israel fell into the hands of the Assyrians in 720 BC. Judah was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians who had taken over the Assyrian Empire.1
These small kingdoms came with a national deity to provide them with protection. Their kings may have adopted a deity to promote a sense of a nation in order to assert their authority. Yahweh was the national deity of Judah and probably also of Israel. Originally, the worship of Yahweh may not have differed much from the worship of other national deities like for instance Chemosh the god of Moab.1
After Israel and Judah had ceased to exist, their inhabitants faced an identity crisis. Their uprisings were defeated. A lot of Jews were taken into exile in Babylonia. Jewish priests then began to write down the Torah (Old Testament) to define a sense of nation around their national deity, Yahweh, without the need for a king or a territory. In this way, the Jews became a people without the need for land.1 Their promised land Israel or Zion remained a central pillar in their religion nonetheless.
Around 450 BC many Jews who lived in exile were allowed to return. From 164 BC there was an independent Jewish state for 100 years until the Romans conquered it. At the time of Jesus, tensions were growing between the Jews and their Roman overlords. These tensions led to several uprisings between 66 AD and 136 AD. During these revolts, the Jewish temple was destroyed. Over time the majority of the inhabitants of the area became Christians and later Muslims. Jews remained in scattered communities around the Mediterranean.
In ancient societies, knowledge and education were reserved for the elite. The Jews introduced mass education to the people. The Torah became the pillar of their national education system. Divine knowledge, rules, and regulations were open to the public. The value of education became strongly embedded in Jewish culture.1
Nations came and went but the Jews still exist, so becoming people without the need for land turned out to be a successful long-term survival strategy. The Jewish people have been around for more than 2,500 years while being without a homeland for nearly 2,000 years. Their religion became the basis for Christianity and Islam. As a consequence Christianity and Islam, both see Judaism as a legitimate religion. Christians and Muslims allowed Jews to live in their lands, albeit as secondary citizens.2
Living together wasn’t easy. For instance, Christians blamed the Jews for killing Jesus. The Jewish high priests had accused Jesus of blasphemy as he claimed to be the Son of God. According to the Gospel, the Jewish high priests and a Jewish mob demanded the crucifixion of Jesus. Also according to the Gospel, the blood of Jesus may be on the hands of the Jews forever:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’3
It is written in the Gospel that Jesus’ crucifixion happened according to the plan of God as Jesus’ sacrifice takes away the sin from the world. That makes God responsible for what happened to Jesus.
In the Middle Ages rumours spread from time to time that Jews abducted little Christian boys for their secret rituals. This is commonly known as the blood libel. So if a boy disappeared, it was often time to kill some Jews. There was no basis for these beliefs but little did people know about the Jewish religion and its practices.2 Medieval people could freak out quite easily because they lacked proper education. And so witches were burnt at the stake, for example, when the harvest failed.
In popular culture, Jewish people had a low standing. They worked in trade and finance. These activities were often seen as reprehensible as trade and finance often coincide with questionable ethics. Some languages still reflect this. The English language has the term Jewish stock take, referring to a shopkeeper destroying his or her own shop in a self-lit fire in order to claim insurance. The Dutch language has the word ‘jodenbod’, which means Jew’s bid, to indicate a bid below the market price which people in a desperate position may be forced to accept.
After the French Revolution of 1789, Jews in Western Europe received citizenship, but in Eastern Europe, and most notably in Russia, they faced persecution and pogroms, which are violent riots that included robbery, destruction of property and sometimes killings. Around 1870 the first Jewish settlers entered Palestine. In 1896 Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State in which he claimed that the solution to The Jewish Question was a Jewish state. This marked the beginning of modern Zionism.
In 1873 the Vienna stock market crashed. The event was followed by the long recession of the late nineteenth century that lasted until 1896. It was the first global economic crisis. Economic growth was lower than previously. Anti-Semitism was on the rise in German-speaking areas and France as Jewish bankers and industrialists were blamed for the situation. It was also the time when Silvio Gesell was a businessman. He experienced the poor economic conditions first-hand. It made him investigate the underlying causes.
In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish member of the French general staff, was convicted of spying for Germany. It turned out that he was innocent. He was rehabilitated a decade later after vigorous protests. During World War I, many Jews fought for their nation-states, but after the war a myth emerged in Germany, suggesting that the war was lost because of leftists, republicans and a Jewish conspiracy, which is rather ironic as the Jews had been inclined to support Germany in its fight against Russia.
To gain Jewish support for Britain during World War I, the British offered Palestine to the Jews. The Arabs already living in Palestine had no say in this, which soon led to tensions and violence. After a revolt of the Arabs between 1936 and 1939, the British restricted Jewish immigration. In 1946 Zionists started a guerrilla war against the British while large numbers of Jews were entering Palestine. Many of them were Holocaust survivors.
The Holocaust is a major trauma in the collective memory of the Jewish people. Nearly six million Jews were killed during World War II, most of them systematically exterminated in concentration camps and mass executions. The Holocaust vindicated the Zionists who believed that the Jewish people could only be safe if they have a country of their own.
In 1947 the United Nations planned to divide Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. The Arabs didn’t agree and tried to expel the Jews. The war that followed was lost by the Arabs. Many Arab Palestinians were expelled from their homes and Israel was founded. The Arabs tried to reconquer Palestine but failed due to superior Israeli intelligence and military tactics, support from European countries and the United States for Israel, and a bit of a miracle.
Over time the Arab nations lost interest in attacking Israel and Israel started colonising Palestinian land. The Palestinians resisted. There have been numerous terror attacks on the Israeli military and civilians. This made Israel seal off the border with Palestine. In recent years, rocket attacks from the Gaza strip were sometimes answered with Israeli incursions that killed thousands of Palestinians. Major obstacles to peace currently are the unwillingness of militant groups like Hamas to make a final peace settlement in which Israel is recognised as well as the desire of Israel to colonise Palestinian land.
Conspiracy theories range from crazy rumours to well-documented research like the investigation into the Israel lobby by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. Despite being such a small nation, the Jewish people had an enormous impact on world history. This fuels speculation. Before going into the conspiracy theories, it might be a good idea to come up with a few general explanations for the remarkable successes of the Jews:
The Jews invented mass education twenty-five centuries ago (it took twenty-four centuries before Western Europe followed suit) because they came to believe that they all had to read their scriptures to discuss them in an intelligent manner.
In the past Jews were often pushed into occupations like trade and finance, which are activities that can make you rich without a lot of toils.
For centuries the Jewish people lived under marginal and uncertain conditions which required resourcefulness that may have become part of Jewish culture.
There might be a script running all that happens in this universe, and the Jews may be God’s chosen people after all, even though that was not always a blessing for individual Jews themselves.
The conspiracy theories have done tremendous harm as they helped to make the Holocaust possible. It may nevertheless be better to view them more objectively as theories that could be reviewed against the evidence. That may require taking some emotional distance as the truth is not always pleasant.
There is a joke that goes like this. Why doesn’t Israel become a state of the United States? Well, if Israel does, the country will have only two Senators. Somehow Israel has the unconditional support of the United States. Senators and members of Congress who don’t agree face the powerful Israel Lobby, which often means that the lobby will fund the campaign of his or her opponent, so that he or she may not be re-elected. Jewish interest groups have a lot of power in the United States and there is a book that claims that there is a secret Jewish plan to gain world domination.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a forgery made up by the Russian secret service around the year 1900. It subsequently became a guidebook for blaming Jews for everything. The Protocols claim that the Jews form a secret cult that is conspiring to gain world dominance. Adolf Hitler believed it and so did many others like the automaker Henry Ford. Somehow the work became a bit prophetic. That’s the irony of history, or perhaps the plan of God.
The main themes of the Protocols and related conspiracy theories are Jewish control of world finance, Jewish organisation of radical movements and Jewish manipulations of diplomacy to cause wars in which white Christians are killed. There are racist, political and religious aspects to these claims. It is sometimes argued that anti-Semites use so-called whistle words, which means that they secretly mean ‘evil Jews’ even when they don’t say that. That may be true but it can also be a way to dismiss legitimate concerns.
Mearsheimer and Walt investigated the power of the Israel Lobby. They claimed that if you criticise Israel in the United States you will be branded an anti-Semite, which means that you are a racist Jew-hater. Major newspapers subsequently published editorials calling their research anti-Semitic. Their book might be criticised for ignoring the pro-Israel viewpoint but that was not the aim of their research. AIPAC is the most prominent organisation in the Israel Lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt concluded:
AIPAC’s success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel PACs. Those seen as hostile to Israel, on the other hand, can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their political opponents. The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress. Open debate about U.S. policy towards Israel does not occur there.4
Several powerful lobbies operate in the United States, some of them represent ethnic and foreign national interests, but few attract as much attention as the Israel Lobby. So why is the Israel Lobby so powerful, visible and aggressive? There are some possible answers:
Unlike other foreign interests, the Israel Lobby has tremendous popular and financial support. Anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust, so the Israel Lobby can more easily claim the moral high ground than many other lobbies.
Jews don’t feel secure because of the Holocaust and because Israel is founded on land that has been taken from the Arabs. Criticism of Israel and Zionism provokes the fear that the legitimacy of the Jewish state is at stake.
Israel is ignoring international law by colonising Palestinian land. The unconditional support of the United States helps Israel to do that. Keeping this support may require suppressing dissent.
The Israel lobby is the most powerful in the United States but it has significant influence in some other countries as well. Powerful lobbies undermine democracies, most notably when they suppress dissent, which is something most lobbies don’t do.
The Jew as usurer is a well-known theme. The Roman Catholic Church forbade Christians to charge interest to fellow Christians. During the Middle Ages Jews were excluded from a wide range of professions and were pushed into activities that were considered reprehensible. One of them was money lending. The Torah allowed Jews to charge interest to Christians. Interest is one of the least understood economic mechanisms in modern times. It can destroy people, nations and even entire civilisations. The ancient Israelites knew this and believed that interest works like the slow poison of a serpent:
Usury does not all at once destroy a man or nation with, as it were, a bloody gulp. Rather, it slowly, sometimes nearly imperceptibly, subverts the victim’s constitution until he cannot prevent the fatal consequences even though he knows what is coming.5
In the Middle Ages, interest rates were high, sometimes as much as 20% to 30% annually, so the insidious nature of interest was more visible than it is nowadays. And Jews received the blame because they were moneylenders. The official lending by Jewish money lenders mandated by the Church allowed for interest rates below 10%. Persecuting Jews was also profitable for their debtors. For instance, in 1290, king Edward I expelled the Jews from England, confiscated their assets, and defaulted on the loans he had received from them.
With the advent of modern banking, things changed. In the 16th century, short-term interest rates dropped to around 10% per year because financial markets became more developed and efficient. Because interest rates went down, and because of the Protestant reformation, religious objections against charging interest waned. As Christians were allowed to charge interest on fellow Christians the Jewish role in money lending was reduced but it remained significant. Interest became an essential part of the capitalist economy and Western culture became ignorant about the problematic nature of interest charges.
Jews still play a prominent role in the financial sector in the United States. Several Jews have served as chairmen of the Fed, including Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. The apparent parasitic nature of the financial sector and the bailouts feed the conspiracy theory of Jewish usury. Real wages in the United States have hardly risen for decades but the US financial sector comprised only 10% of total non-farm business profits in 1947 but grew to 50% by 2010. Among those who profited were many Jews. While many ordinary people in the United States struggle to make ends meet, the top 1% is doing very well. Many of them are Jews too.
Some anti-Zionists claim that Zionism equals Nazism. The idea that Jews are God’s chosen people is somewhat similar to the Nazi claim of Germans being superior people. The Nazi ideology held that Germany had the right to reclaim its lost territories. Zionists intend to reclaim the lost territories of the Jews. Zionism stresses that Jews should return to Israel while Nazism stresses that ethnicity is based on descent and homeland.
These are all common themes in nationalism, even the superiority thinking, so the parallels are not persuasive. And there is at least one difference between Zionism and Nazism. Even though Israel committed war crimes like most parties in armed conflicts, Zionists did not exterminate the Palestinians. The situation in the occupied territories is more like apartheid in South Africa where the natives had to live in restricted areas called homelands.
Some Zionists claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. If the anti-Semitism is about denying Jews the right to their own state in Israel then this is justified. But if it is about opposing the colonisation of Palestinian land in violation of international law then it is not. It is not always clear what is meant.
Arab anti-Zionism is sometimes called Islamic anti-Semitism. Before Jews migrated to Palestine, there was no Islamic anti-Semitism. After Israel was founded, Jews were expelled from several Arab countries. Many Arabs and Muslims believe that the Jews have the right to a state but not in Palestine. As a consequence, Israel’s security remains dependent on repressing Palestinians.
Islamic anti-Semitism emerged when Arab anti-Zionists took over existing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. There are tensions between Arabs and Jews. Jews living outside Israel face harassment. The Muslim perpetrators often mention the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as the reason. They bring the conflict to Europe or the United States. Meanwhile, colonists on the West Bank harass Palestinians and destroy their property too.
If denying the Jews a homeland is reprehensible then the same is true for denying the Palestinians their own state and colonising their land. If international law still has meaning then a peace settlement would be based on the 1967 borders. Preferably relocations would be minimised, meaning both Jews and Palestinians can live peacefully in each other’s country. That is only possible in a climate of mutual respect and friendship. That seems a remote possibility at present.
Influence on the media and opinion
In 2012 six major corporations own 90% of the mainstream media in the United States. Most of these corporations have Jewish CEOs and owners. Journalists are often Jewish too. Philip Weiss noted from his 30 years of experience in journalism that Jews made up the majority of the important positions in the publications he worked for. Weiss contends that this may have implications for the way the news is covered, most notably if it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.6
On the other hand, J.J. Goldberg wrote in The Forward that, although Jews do hold many prominent positions in the US media, they do not make a high priority of Jewish concerns and that Jewish Americans generally perceive the media as anti-Israel.7 That suggests that with fewer Jewish journalists not much will change about the reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And what about the Jews dominating Hollywood? Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times mocked the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which is another part of the Israel Lobby, to misinform the American public:
I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe “the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews,” down from nearly 50% in 1965. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood.8
The Internet is more difficult to manage. Anti-Semitic as well as anti-Zionist messages can be found on many message boards. Efforts are made to counter that with pro-Israel messages on social media using students on Israeli university campuses.9 It is part of a general and continuous public relations effort named ‘hasbara’ that some call propaganda.
In October 2007 about 300 academics issued a statement calling for academic freedom from political pressure, in particular from groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel. In 2009, after sociology professor William Robinson sent an email to students comparing the Israeli occupation of Gaza with the Nazi-controlled Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, the ADL started a campaign to discipline him for violating the faculty code of conduct. Other activist groups have copied these methods. Today it is called cancel culture.
Linguistics professor Noam Chomsky said during an interview that the ADL had compiled a 150-page dossier on him, apparently to find some information it could use against him. Chomsky told that an ADL insider sent him the file. It included conversations, correspondence and other materials.10 Chomsky said that it read like an FBI file. He further noted that:
It’s hard to nail this down in a court of law, but it’s clear they essentially have spies in classrooms who take notes and send them to the ADL and other organisations. The groups then compile dossiers they can use to condemn, attack or remove faculty members. They’re like J. Edgar Hoover’s files. It’s kind of gutter stuff.10
In recent years, the influence of the Jewish lobby on public opinion in the United States waned, because of the simultaneous rise of the woke left and the white supremacist right. The woke favour the marginalised and oppressed and support the Palestinian cause while white supremacists are open to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. The woke people use the tactics that the Jewish lobbies have used previously, for instance, trying to cancel those with different views.
Causing wars and revolutions
The French revolutionaries decided that Catholics, Protestants and Jews became full members of society. In 1797 and 1798, a French Jesuit and a Scottish physicist published two remarkably similar books claiming that secret societies were undermining the social order and had started the French Revolution. Both named the Freemasons and the Illuminati as the main culprits. And Jews were also seen as conspirators. Much of contemporary conspiracy thinking still centres around Illuminati, Freemasons and Jews.
Another allegation is that Jews were behind the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917. The idea was introduced by the anti-communist forces during the Russian Civil War that followed the revolution in an effort to make use of existing anti-Semitic sentiments. The allegation was taken over by the Nazis in Germany. There was a high number of Jewish Communist party leaders during the revolution. The anti-Semitism in the Russian Empire may have induced them to join radical political movements.
That does not explain why many Jews joined radical movements in other countries. Milton Friedman tried to shed some light on this issue. He found that a significant part of the revolutionary anti-capitalist literature has been written by Jews and that Communist parties in many countries were run and manned to a disproportionate extent by Jews.11
Friedman didn’t believe that Jews are seeking world domination. He gave two reasons why they joined radical movements. First, the left provided the Jews with equal citizenship while the Christian right did not. Second, the stereotype that Jews are profiteers and usurers may have persuaded them to show themselves and the anti-Semites that they are not selfish and heartless, but public-spirited and idealistic.11
Anti-Semitism did not disappear in the Soviet Union. Stalin viewed Jews negatively. In 1948, he embarked on a campaign against the so-called rootless cosmopolitans, which was a euphemism for Jews. In the ensuing anti-cosmopolitan campaign, many leading Jewish writers and artists were killed, while Jewish scholars were removed from the sciences.
After 1968 the left gradually abandoned its traditional base of workers in favour of disadvantaged groups like ethnic minorities, women, and LGTB people. This shift is sometimes attributed to the Frankfurt School. The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory claims that Marxists of the Frankfurt School try to undermine Western civilisation with civil rights movements, feminism, Islam, LGTB propaganda, and pop music, causing a breakdown of traditional Christian values. Many prominent Marxist thinkers were Jewish so Cultural Marxism is seen as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
The recent wars in the Middle East are the work, at least to a significant extent, of the neoconservatives. Their ideology was based on The Clash of Civilisations by Samuel Huntington. Huntington stated that Western nations will lose predominance if they fail to recognise the irreconcilable nature of cultural tensions. Huntington believed that Islam is a fundamental problem for the West.12 Only, Huntington himself believed that the West should adapt to a new era in which it is no longer dominant.
The neoconservatives held a different view. Leo Strauss was the founder of American neoconservatism. He proposed a restoration of the vital ideas underpinning Western civilisation such as classical Greek philosophy and the Judeo-Christian heritage and he promoted faith in the moral purpose of the West. Huntington was more cynical about the moral purpose of the West as he wrote:
The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion […] but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.12
Both Huntington and Strauss were Jews while the neoconservatives are a predominantly Jewish movement. Neoconservatives advocate the promotion of democracy and the American national interest in international affairs, often by military force.
The Jewish connection, combined with the neoconservatives being preoccupied with the Middle East and Islam, gave rise to the suspicion that the wars they promoted were for the benefit of Israel. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Jewish neoconservatives were accused of dual loyalty. Israel’s security appears not to have been the primary reason to invade Iraq. The controversy continues because of the neoconservative stance toward Iran, Israel’s main adversary. The response of the Israel Lobby was to accuse people who raised these issues of anti-Semitism.
Blood Libel 2.0
In 2009 the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet ran an article about Israeli organ harvesting with the sensationalist headline ‘Our sons are plundered of their organs’. The allegations bore some similarities to the blood libel. Dead Palestinian children had been returned to their families by the Israeli army with organs missing.13 In the 1990s skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from deceased Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners had been taken without permission.14
Organ trafficking is widespread. China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil, the Philippines, Moldavia, and Romania are among the world’s leading providers of trafficked organs. In China, organs have been harvested from political prisoners. Trafficked organs are either sold domestically or exported to be transplanted into patients from the US, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and especially Israel.15 Israel faces a shortage of organ donors because Jewish religious law requires the body to be intact in burial.16
Organ trade isn’t murder. It can save lives. For poor people, the choice may come down to selling a child or selling an organ. Not allowing organ sales may make their situation even more miserable. Stealing organs from the dead is reprehensible because the deceased nor the family have given permission. These practices may have existed in Israel on a wider scale even though they probably have ended by now. It is telling that a stolen heart may have been used in Israel’s first successful heart transplant.17 It is the reminiscence of the blood libel which makes it especially damaging.
The allegiance of Jews has been a theme in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As is the case with every minority, there is always the question of allegiance. Most minorities don’t have a lot of influence so usually, it isn’t a big issue, but Jewish people have a lot of influence in the United States. In his book By Way of Deception Victor Ostrovsky, a former operative for the Israeli intelligence service Mossad claimed that the service recruits helpers among the Jews outside Israel for its operations.18
One of the most well-known helpers was Jonathan Pollard. He sold a large number of classified US documents to Israel. He also sold documents to South Africa and attempted to sell documents to Pakistan. Many highly sensitive documents stolen by Pollard have been handed over to the Soviet Union, putting the lives of US intelligence assets at risk. A few other cases of Israeli espionage in the United States have attracted publicity, such as the arrest of former AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.
A New York housewife spotted five Israelis filming the attacks on the World Trade Center from a rooftop. She noted that they were already there just after the first strike had hit the Twin Towers. The Israelis were dancing and appeared to be full of joy as the World Trade Center burned and crumbled. They were arrested with $4700 in cash, foreign passports and a pair of box cutters of the type used by the hijackers. Two of them were Mossad agents. The FBI believed they were spying on Islamic extremist networks.19
The FBI interrogated them for weeks and concluded that there was no evidence of them having foreknowledge of the attacks. But the Israelis were uncooperative so it wasn’t possible to extract a lot of information from them. Later some of these men discussed the events on an Israeli talk show. One of them said: “We come from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event.”19 But Mossad has warned the US in advance. In August 2001, Mossad gave the CIA a list of 19 terrorists living in the US who they suspected were planning an attack.
Influence on the United States government
A Christian desire for returning the Jews to the Holy Land has promoted the Zionist cause. Some Christians believe that the gathering of the Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. And so there is strong support for Israel amongst Evangelical Christians and Republicans. Jewish Americans often back Democratic candidates so Democrats pay good attention to their Jewish voters. In this way, support for Israel in both political parties is ensured.
The US political system is corrupt. To get an office, politicians need money for their campaigns. In this way corporations and wealthy individuals buy influence. Wealthy Jews generously donate to political campaigns. In 2006, 60% of the Democratic Party’s fundraising and 25% of the Republican Party’s fundraising came from Jewish-funded Political Action Committees.
Several Jewish Americans found their way into influential positions in the United States government. Some were also citizens of Israel. In 1994 the Israeli paper Ma´ariv wrote that the Clinton Administration allowed more Jews in sensitive positions than any government before. The article noted that this was not a design, but that their achievements had brought them there. The Jewish component of the Democratic government was significant but there were also Jews heading for top positions in the Republican Party, for example, Paul Wolfowitz.20
Wolfowitz was one of the neoconservatives, a political movement whose ideology played a significant role in American policies after 11 September 2001. In 2000 he was one of the supporters of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which promoted the removal of Saddam Hussein. After 11 September 2001, the PNAC pushed for an attack on Iraq. The security of Israel played a role in the considerations of the neoconservatives but there is little evidence that the Iraq war was principally fought for Israel.
Mearsheimer and Walt wrote that pro-Israel figures have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and that these think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel.4
In most cases, the US supports the position of Israel but there are a few instances in which the US government did not. The Eisenhower administration forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai after the Suez Crisis. The administration of Bush senior delayed support to Israel because of the settlements in the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government and the Obama administration differed on the settlements and how to deal with Iran. In those cases, the Israel Lobby organised resistance in Congress and the Senate.
The irony of history or God’s peculiar sense of humour
Perhaps the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are worth reading, after all, just to see how the most bizarre conspiracy theories can appear convincing if you look at the evidence. If the protocols had been for real then the situation in the United States today may not have been very different. There is no grand conspiracy of Jews aiming for world domination, but what difference does it make? This is the irony of history and perhaps God’s peculiar sense of humour. And so Manny Friedman came to write in the Times Of Israel:
We have, for example, AIPAC, which was essentially constructed just to drive agenda in Washington DC. And it succeeds admirably. And we brag about it. Again, it’s just what we do. But the funny part is when any anti-Semite or anti-Israel person starts to spout stuff like, “The Jews control the media!” and “The Jews control Washington!” Suddenly we’re up in arms. We create huge campaigns to take these people down. We do what we can to put them out of work.21
So perhaps the Israel Lobby has taken some advice from the protocols:
And let’s not forget AIPAC, every anti-Semite’s favourite punching bag. We’re talking an organisation that’s practically the equivalent of the Elders of Zion. I’ll never forget when I was involved in Israeli advocacy in college and being at one of the many AIPAC conventions. A man literally stood in front of us and told us that their whole goal was to only work with top-50 school graduate students because they would eventually be the people making changes in the government.21
Then Friedman draws the following remarkable conclusion:
The truth is, the anti-Semites got it right. We Jews have something planted in each one of us that makes us completely different from every group in the world. We’re talking about a group of people that just got put in death camps, endured pogroms, their whole families decimated. And then they came to America, the one place that ever really let them have as much power as they wanted, and suddenly they’re taking over. Please don’t tell me that any other group in the world has ever done that. Only the Jews. And we’ve done it before. That’s why the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. We were too successful. Go look at the Torah — it’s right there. And we did it in Germany too.21
This is the personal opinion of a Jewish writer but he doesn’t appear to be a fool. And he made his comments in good spirit with regard to his fellow Jews. Friedman could write it but if you seek political office in the United States it is better that you don’t mention this. Jews excel in many fields, ranging from academics to finance, but if the upper class of society coincides more and more with a small ethnic minority, this can cause ethnic tensions. The situation needs attention otherwise anti-Semitism may continue to attract followers. History has shown that this can end badly.
An important clue with regard to the secret of the success of the Jews can be found in his conclusion. They always lived at the margin and had to be resourceful to survive. These skills may have become part of Jewish culture so that Jews could come out on top once they could operate without restrictions. It is not a good idea to subject Jews to restrictions that don’t apply to others, but it may be a good idea to improve the political system in the United States so that it is less prone to corruption, and to end usury and profiteering in the financial sector at the expense of the public. It may also be a good idea that Jewish citizens fully integrate into the societies they live in, but this applies to every ethnic or religious minority.
There should security for the Jewish people living in Israel and a final peace settlement with the Arabs and the Palestinians. Concerns about the security of Jews living in Israel are the main reason for the Israel Lobby to suppress criticism of Israel and support of the Palestinian cause.
Now let’s get back to the joke. What if Israel becomes a state of the United States? It might solve a lot of issues. The allegiance of Jewish Americans would be to the United States. Israel can make peace with the Palestinians and give up land without fearing for its survival as the United States will defend it. Most Americans are willing to support Israel unconditionally so why not? And Israel will have only two senators from then on. It will probably never come to that but it may be an idea to entertain, perhaps for a limited period of time until peaceful conditions in the Middle East have prevailed and borders do not matter anymore. That may be a lot sooner than most people expect.
Featured image: Blame Jews For Everything For Dummies. Found on Reuvera.hubpages.com. [copyright info]
1. The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future. Jacob L. Wright (2014). Coursera.org. [transcript] 2. Practising Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and the Jews in Italy. Bernard Dov Cooperman (2014). Coursera.org. [transcript] 3. Matthew 27:24-25 4. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt (2006). London Review of Books. 5. Usury, Destroyer of Nations. S.C. Mooney (1988). Theopolis. 6. Do Jews Dominate in American Media? And So What If We Do? Philip Weiss (2008). Mondoweiss.net. [link] 7. Jewish power: inside the American Jewish establishment. Goldberg J.J. (1997). Basic Books. pp. 280–281. 8. Who runs Hollywood? C’mon. Joel Stein (2008). Los Angeles Times. [link] 9. Israel to pay students to defend it online. USA Today (2013). [link] 10. Israel lobby descends on UC Santa Barbara. Committee To Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB. [link] 11. Capitalism and the Jews. Milton Friedman (1988). Foundation For Economic Education. [link] 12. The Clash of Civilizations. Samuel P. Huntington (1996). Simon & Schuster. 13. “Our sons are plundered of their organs”. Donald Boström (2009). Aftonbladet. [link] 14. Israel harvested organs without permission, officials say. Kevin Flower and Guy Azriel (2009). CNN. [link] 15. Organ trafficking: a fast-expanding black market. Janes Defence & Security Intelligence (2008). 16. A mitzvah called organ donation. Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg (2007). Ynetnews. [link] 17. 40 Years After Israel’s First Transplant, Donor’s Family Says His Heart Was Stolen. Dana Weiler-Polak (2008). Haaretz. [link] 18. By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer. Victor Ostrovsky (1990). St. Martin’s Press. 19. Five Israelis were seen filming as jet liners ploughed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The Scotland Herald (2003). [link] 20. The Jews Who Run Clinton’s Court. Avinoam Bar-Yosef (1994). Maariv. 21. Jews DO control the media. Manny Friedman (2012). Times of Israel. [link]
The future prospects for humanity appear grim. At best we manage to avoid a planetary ecological disaster. And that already may be too high an aim. So what will our future look like? Which direction should we take? Can we build a sustainable and humane world society? And what is wrong with our current way of living? Perhaps the answer can be found in a speech the native American Chief Seattle allegedly gave in 1854 when the United States government wanted to buy the land of his tribe. Here are his first words:
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.
Only, Seattle never said this. It is fake history. It has been made up by a screenwriter in 1971. Still, the speech strikes at the heart of the matter. Nothing is sacred anymore. The pursuit of money destroys our values and our planet. For instance, it is argued that if we don’t allow the airport to expand, money and jobs will be lost. This is killing us. The speech contains some more interesting words:
This we know – the Earth does not belong to man – man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the Earth – befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life – he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
We know this deep down in our hearts but it is hard to deal with it. What can we do? The people from the environmentalist group Strohalm worked for decades on an outline for the society of the future. They were not hindered by established interests nor did a lack of perspective deter them from continuing their search. They tried to learn their lessons from history and were part of a small group of people that kept on caring and never gave up. Here is another take-away from the speech:
Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – Our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot.
In 1991 Strohalm issued a booklet named Towards a Philosophy of Connectedness. It lays out their vision for a future society that is both sustainable and humane. It gives possible steering mechanisms that can help to achieve such a society. It is a vision that long seemed unattainable, not because it is impossible to do, but because vested interests stood in the way. Seattle also never said:
That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are slaughtered, the wild horses tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.
In 1994 I was an active member of the environmentalist movement. In this way I became familiar with Strohalm. For a long time I believed them to be naive dreamers. Most people I know do not like environmentalists. And indeed, they weren’t always realistic and sometimes decades ahead of their time. I kept on supporting their work because there is no alternative. You can’t allow realism to stand in the way of what needs to be done. And so this vision is here because of the hard work of environmentalist groups like Friends of the Earth and the Strohalm Foundation.
A new perspective
We need a new starting point, a new foundation for our culture, our beliefs and thinking and our place in the universe. There is no other choice. Small steps can’t save us anymore. We need to fundamentally change ourselves and the way we live. The planet we live on is given to us on loan to live off and not ours to destroy. Sadly, the fate of our planet does not compel us to do the right thing so God may be needed to make it happen.
As long as we do not completely change our approach to the major issues of our time, our societies will not become more humane and respectful of our planet. As long as production and consumption increase, new problems emerge faster than old problems can be solved with laws, technology, targets and other solutions.1
We are not confronted with an array of regrettable separate incidents, but with a culture that is on the loose. It is a throw-away culture in which not only materials and energy are wasted. Human relationships and values end up on the waste dump too.1
You probably know that but you may find it difficult to admit. It can make you feel hopeless. And so you may be inclined to ignore this, to focus on smaller and more concrete problems, or to withdraw yourself1 by fleeing into cynicism, new age spiritualism or conspiracy theories.
Most of us believe that massive structural changes are impossible and that we can’t influence the course of history in a meaningful way. And I can’t blame you for having what I for a long time believed to be a realistic view on this matter. And so we choose to manage existing developments with smaller measures. That is not going to help us in the end.
There is another way of looking at the situation. Acknowledging a problem is already solving it half. Our belief that nothing will help can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As soon as there is a realistic perspective for change, many of us will let go of their cynicism and help to make it happen1 and then it can happen fast. Twenty years may be all we have left. And twenty years may be all we need.
Natural World Order
You do your job and perhaps you achieve something. Your activities do not only have the intended consequences but many others as well. If you succeed and get a promotion, a colleague might get jealous. If you go to your job by car, the exhaust gases can make other people sick.1 The unintended consequences of your actions hardly play a role in your decisions but they change our reality in unexpected ways.
The world is complex so the models we use can’t get a proper hold on what is going on. And so it appears that we can’t change our future in a meaningful way, and that at best we can anticipate what is going to happen. The failure of communism demonstrated that centralised planning does not create a happy society. That left us with capitalism and markets. They brought us prosperity while our living conditions are being destroyed.
Perhaps nature can show us the way. Organisms start relationships with each other. These relationships can become permanent if one organism makes something another organism needs and the other way around so that both benefit. For instance, plants and animals have such a relationship. Plants produce oxygen that animals need while animals produce carbon dioxide that plants need.1
Plants and animals are part of a self-sustaining cycle. They are connected. They are parts of a whole. If plants die then animals including humans die too. There are many of such relationships in nature. Such a natural order emerges spontaneously but it takes a long time. It starts with individual organisms starting relationships. These relationships can grow to a global scale as long as the external conditions allow for it.1
External conditions are like a dictate. If there were no fossil fuels then we can’t burn them. If there was no technology to build cars, we can’t drive them. External conditions are usually taken for granted but when they suddenly change then we must adapt and that can be brutal. For instance, the spread of the corona virus brought long-distance travel to a standstill. And climate change can become far worse than that.
Make no mistake. Running into the limits of our planet will be more brutal than anything that ever happened before in the course of human history. That leaves us with no other choice than setting global limits on human activities before the planet does it for us. But the sudden stop of air travel also teaches us that we don’t really need it. And there are many more things we do not need.
People, businesses and governments must deal with these limits. Once they are in place, communities, governments and businesses all over the world can reorganise themselves via communities, so that the Natural World Order will arise more or less spontaneously. Humans can make this happen fast because they can quickly change the ways they cooperate by changing their cultures. That doesn’t require planning every detail but it does require altering the steering mechanisms of our societies and economies.
One of the most important things we must change is the way we look at wealth and conspicuous consumption. Wealthy people are seen as great examples and their consumption is seen as good for the economy. If conspicuous consumption is frowned upon, there is less fun in being extremely rich, and a lot of crime becomes pointless. For example, what’s the point of risking your life by being drug dealer if you can’t drive around in your expensive cars any more? This way looking at wealth and consumption is essential to make the Natural World Order come to pass.
Money is now the most important steering mechanism in society. Realising goals of any kind usually requires the cooperation of others and therefore money. That is understandable. Everyone needs money but it may be better that we are motivated more by our job or our contribution to society and less by money. Economic decisions are affected by interest as well. Interest is a steering mechanism. High interest rates promote short-term decisions while low interest rates promote long-term decisions. So how does that work?
If the interest rate is 5% then € 1,00 next year is worth € 0,95 now. That makes you prefer to get € 1,00 now rather than next year, even when you need the money next year simply because you can receive interest and will have € 1,05 next year. Interest reduces the value of future income and therefore the future itself. Interest makes people and businesses prefer the present to the future and short-term gains at the expense future generations.
This is why a sustainable economy requires low or even negative interest rates. Ending growth also requires negative interest rates otherwise the interest on debts can’t be paid. Interest is any return on capital so interest doesn’t depend on money but on capital. As the wealthy own most capital, interest is a flow from everyone else to the wealthiest. A humane society may therefore need to end positive interest rates. Central banks do not determine interest rates in the end. The supply and demand for money and capital do. But ending interest may soon be possible.
In markets competition is a steering mechanism. Competition promotes efficiency and progress but it also causes problems. Competition affects economic decisions.1 It can force corporations to produce as cheaply as possible or to produce stuff that no-one really needs because it can be sold at a profit. Some corporations faced with intense competion see little room to treat their employees well or to care for the environment.
If you desire that latest model, the best service, the lowest price, and want more money to buy even more stuff, you are part of the problem like many others, and that includes me. It may be strange to realise that you have enough, or even have far more than enough, and that you can do with less, older models, poorer service and higher prices, so that local businesses may survive.
Another important steering mechanism is the distribution of cost. Short-term gains are for corporations while societies deal with the long-term cost like pollution and unemployment. Education and health care are public costs that corporations often do not pay for. Taxing systems do not take into account the limits of the planet. They need to be changed in order to attribute the true cost to the products and services people buy.
Shifting taxes from labour to raw materials and energy can help. This measure can induce people to use items longer and promote repair and recycling. Corporations must be responsible for the entire life-cycle of the products they produce. Non-essential products that are harmful can be banned completely. The advertisement industry can be regulated to stop people from buying items they do no need.
Laws are a steering mechanism too. What is legal isn’t always fair. Unethical behaviour is often not punished by the law. A greater role for ethics in law is needed, most notably in matters of business. Savvy people and corporations use loopholes to their advantage or bribe politicians into changing the law into their favour. Exploiting people, misusing public funds, and harming the planet should be sufficient ground for persecution and conviction, even if the specific activity is not declared illegal.
Most people take the existing steering mechanisms for granted. A few people like the anti-globalists and religious extremists think of an alternative. Only most people would not like a reign of terror. And so we limit ourselves to taking small measures in order to reduce the fall-out. It is hard to believe that the steering mechanisms themselves can be changed. Perhaps technology will save us, we hope. That may not be the case.
The throw-away culture
Science, technology, society and culture are closely interconnected. It is fair to say that we live in a technological society and a throw-away culture. If we have a problem then we look at scientists and engineers to solve it. Even our emotional problems we address with therapy sessions and pills. This is also true for environmental problems.
A good example is perhaps a report of the Dutch research agency TNO in the 1980s about replacing milk bottles by milk cartons. Milk bottles were used many times while cartons are thrown away. The discussion that followed was about the number of times a bottle was reused, which determines whether or not the bottle is better for the environment. That depended, amongst others, on the number of times a bottles was reused.
These discussions can be useful. What was not discussed however, was the throw-away culture. Milk bottles were part of a culture of reuse that was disappearing. The cartons are part of the new throw-away culture. Discussions are about quantity, objectivity and efficiency, but not about fundamental questions about the way we live.
The things we use deserve more respect. Valuable resources and energy have been used to make them. We should not depart from them until they are worn out completely. If they are broken we should fix them until they can’t be fixed any more. And why should we buy frivolous items or make long distance trips for recreational reasons?
The fourth way
The damage done to our planet is escalating. There is a lot of excess. Nowadays there are more obese people than hungry ones. The end of our way of living is here. Communism and state planning have failed. Capitalism and free markets have failed too, but most people have yet to find out. Many countries have combined state planning with market economies and called it a third way. That didn’t change much either. Many people have become cynical. But there is no need for poverty.
It is not surprising that people distrust stories that have a claim to the truth like religions, ideologies and science. But it is the absence of great stories we can believe in that makes our societies directionless. Individuals and their desires are now at the centre stage. So is there anything left that binds us together? Sure there is. A soon as a crisis emerges people join and help each other. The future is not without hope.
There is a fourth way. It can be called the Natural World Order. It is setting limits on a planetary level and letting people deal with them via communities, governments and markets. It is not clear from the outset what will happen because this can’t be planned from the top. Developments can take different turns. For instance, if energy is to become expensive, international trade would diminish and local products would be favoured. If most people do what needs to be done then it can be done.
This is the time to act. The current order can’t be sustained. The limits of our planet should be respected. Administrating these limits would require a global government and the same laws everywhere around the planet. It can only work if people, communities and businesses help to make it become reality. It can work when we want to make it work whatever it takes. It all begins with admitting that enough is enough.
We want more stuff because the advertisement industry tells us that we need this or that product or that buying it will make us happier. Our current economic system needs growth. We must buy more to keep the economy from collapsing. That is why fundamental change freaks us out. There can be enough for everyone. Eve and Adam had everything they needed. And so we may enter the Final Gardens of Paradise that await for us at the End of History. The change is not going to be easy but there may be no alternative.
Featured image: the only known photograph of Chief Seattle taken in 1864
1. Naar een filosofie van verbondenheid. Guus Peterse, Henk van Arkel, Hans Radder, Seattle, Pieter Schroever and Margrit Kennedy (1990). Aktie Strohalm.
Making the economy sustainable may require an unprecedented amount of capital in the form of knowledge and outfits like solar panels, sustainable farms and energy-efficient transportation systems. It is hard to imagine that it can be done. And imagining it is still a lot easier than really doing it. It is going to require some economic magic to divert investment capital from destructive activities to the future of humanity. We may need more useful capital and less consumption.
Perhaps the invisible hand can be of some help. It is easier to finance a great endeavour from investments than from taxation because nobody wants to pay taxes but everybody is happy to invest. It is the secret of the success of the European empires that conquered the world after the Middle Ages. England, France, Spain and the Netherlands were much poorer and smaller than China, India or the Ottoman Empire, but they didn’t finance their conquests with taxation, but with the use of investment capital.1
Europe won out because European conquerors took loans from banks and investors to buy ships, cannons, and to pay soldiers. Profits from the new trade routes and colonies enabled them to repay the loans and build trust so they could receive more credit next time.1 The same logic may need to be applied to making the economy sustainable. The challenge is so enormous that it may never be possible to finance it by taxes. Nowadays interest rates are so low because there is plenty of investment capital.
It’s the economy stupid!
It is often argued that the economy is unsustainable because of short-term thinking. The economy must grow in order to have positive returns on investments. And it is believed that returns on investments need to be positive otherwise the economy would collapse. The economic time horizons of individuals are reflected in their time preferences. The time horizon of the economy as a whole is reflected in the interest rate.
The lower the interest rate, the longer the time horizon of the economy could be. The following example from the Strohalm Foundation can illustrate this:
Suppose that a cheap house will last 33 years and costs € 200,000 to build. The yearly cost of the house will be € 6,060 (€ 200,000 divided by 33). A more expensive house costs € 400,000 but will last a hundred years. It will cost only € 4,000 per year. For € 2,060 per year less, you can build a house that lasts three times as long.
After applying for a mortgage the math changes. If the interest rate is 10%, the expensive house will not only cost € 4,000 per year in write-offs, but during the first year there will be an additional interest charge of € 40,000 (10% of € 400,000).
The long-lasting house now costs € 44,000 in the first year. The cheaper house now appears less expensive again. There is a yearly write off of € 6,060 but during the first year there is only € 20,000 in interest charges. Total costs for the first year are only € 26,060. Interest charges make the less durable house cheaper.2
Without interest there is a tendency to select long-term solutions. Interest charges make long-term solutions less economical. Interest promotes a short-term bias in the economy. It may explain why natural resources like rainforests are squandered for short term profits. If interest rates are high, it may be more profitable to cut down a rainforest and to put the proceeds at interest rather than to manage the forest in a sustainable way.
Only, things are not as simple as the example suggests. For example, the building materials of the cheap house might be recycled to build a new house. And technology changes. For example, if cars had been built to last 100 years, most old cars would still be around. This could be a problem as old cars are more polluting and use more fuel. Nevertheless, the example shows that long-term investments can be more attractive when interest rates are lower.
This also applies to investments in renewable energy. For instance, a solar panel that costs € 100, lasts 15 years, and generates € 150 worth in electricity in the course of these 15 years, is feasible at an interest rate of 5% but not at an interest rate of 10%. Many investments in making the economy sustainable may have low returns and are only feasible when interest rates are low. Low and negative interest rates can also deal with low economic growth. That may be needed for living within the limits of the planet.
Living within the limits of the planet
When interest rates are negative, the time horizon of the economy could go to eternity so that it makes sense to invest in making the economy sustainable. A few examples from history can illustrate this. In the Middle Ages some areas in Europe had currencies with a holding fee like Natural Money. As there hardly was economic growth, interest rates were negative. It was the era of Europe’s great cathedrals. These cathedrals were built for eternity. As better investment opportunities were absent, wealthy towns people spent their excess money on cathedrals.3 For similar reasons, the people of Wörgl planted trees as the proceeds of the wood were expected to occur in the distant future.3
A bit of calculus shows why. At an interest rate of 5%, putting € 1 in a bank account turns into € 1,05 after a year, so you would rather have € 1 now than in one year’s time, even when you need the money in one year’s time. That’s because you can put the money on a bank account at interest. At an interest rate of 5%, € 100 in one year’s time is worth € 95.25 now. The distant future has even less value. The same € 100 in one hundred year’s time is worth only € 0.59. And € 100 after 1000 years has no value at all in the present.
At an interest rate of -5%, you would prefer to have the money when you need it, otherwise you would end up with less. At an interest rate of -5%, € 100 in one year’s time would be worth € 105. The same € 100 in one hundred year’s time would be worth € 13,501 now. And € 100 after 1000 years would be worth more than everything there is in the present. Income in the distant future is also very uncertain, so it is unlikely that investors will shift their time horizon to 1,000 years, but this logic may help us to come into terms with the limits our planet poses on human activities.
Living within the limits of the planet may require unprecedented investments in the future. These investments may require low or even negative interest rates as their returns may be low. Only low and negative interest rates can make these investments economical. Everyone who has money to save can help by shifting money from consumption to saving and investing. The more people act like capitalists, the lower interest rates may go, and the more sustainable the economy may become.
Already in ancient times philosophers found out that there is no way of telling that the world around us is real or that other people have a mind of their own. Perhaps I am the only being that is real while the rest of the world exists only in my imagination. This could all be a dream. On the other hand, some major religions claim that gods created this universe, and that we are like these gods. For instance, in the first chapter of the Bible God allegedly said: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”
For a long time it was impossible to clarify why this world might not be real or how the gods might have created it. More recently that became possible due to advances in technology. This universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced civilisation. We could all be a characters in a virtual reality controlled by a computer programme. That may give you an uneasy feeling for we are inclined to think that what our senses register, is real. For instance, we may think we see a pipe when there is only an image of a pipe. The caption of the picture reads ‘this is not a pipe.’
Do we live inside a computer simulation?
The idea that we could be simulated beings inside a computer first came up in 1964 in the book Simulacron-3. In 1977 a science fiction writer named Philip K. Dick (funny name) was the first to really claim that our reality is made up by a computer. He did this after experiencing a psychosis. The philosopher Nick Bostrom formalised the idea twenty-five years later in the simulation argument. He argued that we might be living inside a virtual reality. There could be many different human civilisations. The humans in those civilisations may enhance themselves with bio-technology and information technology, live very long and have capabilities ordinary humans don’t have. For those reasons these beings aren’t humans any more, henceforth they are called post-humans.
Bostrom now asserts that these post-humans may run virtual realities of human civilisations. An obvious reason for doing this is entertainment. And so we could be living in a virtual reality ourselves. The difference between a real (non-virtual) universe and a virtual reality is that a real universe is not created by intent, while a virtual civilisation is. Given sufficiently advanced technology, it seems possible to represent a universe in a meaningful way, including simulated human consciousnesses. Current developments in information technology suggest that our civilisation may be able to create virtual reality universes in the not-too-distant future.
Bostrom thinks that one of the following three options must be true: (1) nearly all human civilisations end before they can build virtual realities resembling human civilisations, (2) when human civilisations or post-human civilisations can build virtual realities of human civilisations, they will not do so or only make a small number of them or (3) we are almost certainly living inside a virtual reality as there will be a large number of virtual universes for every real universe. The hidden assumption behind the simulation argument is that this technology is feasible and can be made cheap.1
How likely is it?
It is not possible to calculate the probability of us living in a virtual reality. There are a lot of uncertainties in the simulation argument. For example, our civilisation could be the only human civilisation and we could go extinct. Or perhaps post-humans develop ethical objections against building virtual realities of humans. And even though humans like to write stories and use virtual realities for research or entertainment, they may alter themselves so that post-humans do not have these desires. Still, there is a good chance that live in a virtual reality ourselves.
That is because we humans see ourselves as special and unique. Religions make use of this trick too. The Bible says that we are made in the image of God and that humans are ordained to rule all other living creatures. So if we have the means to perpetuate our delusions, we will not give up on them. On the contrary, as soon as it is possible to make our imagination become reality, we will not hesitate to do so. Hence, when humans transform themselves to become post-humans, they will probably cling to their human essence, and let their imagination run free. And their imagination may become their new life as Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert noted:
For those of you who only watched the ‘old’ Star Trek, the holodeck can create simulated worlds that look and feel just like the real thing. The characters on Star Trek use the holodeck for recreation during breaks from work. This is somewhat unrealistic. If I had a holodeck, I’d close the door and never come out until I died of exhaustion. It would be hard to convince me I should be anywhere but in the holodeck, getting my oil massage from Cindy Crawford and her simulated twin sister. Holodecks would be very addicting. If there weren’t enough holodecks to go around, I’d get the names of all the people who had reservations ahead of me and beam them into concrete walls. I’d feel tense about it, but that’s exactly why I’d need a massage. I’m afraid the holodeck will be society’s last invention.2
Processing and memory constraints
Even though the advanced civilisation will may have enormous processing and memory capacity, there may be processing and memory constraints for individual simulations as they may run billions of simulations. There may be ways to overcome these limitations like rendering only observed reality and running a predetermined script. Free will may simply be too expensive.
The idea of this universe being a virtual reality is popularised in the 1999 film The Matrix. The film speculates about us having an existence outside this world. That doesn’t need to be. We may just be virtual reality characters inside a computer simulation. So why did Neo’s passport expire on 11 September 2001, the date of the terrorist attacks? Perhaps it is just a coincidence. Or perhaps this universe is a form of entertainment.