As is no doubt the case in other parts of the globe, we have been talking from time to time about the – I admit it – most fascinating US election in recent memory. I am not a fan of bourgeois democracy, especially of the US variety. But the prospect of Trump winning has piqued my interest.

For instance, Julian Assange replied to the question as to whether he prefers Trump or Clinton: “Well, you’re asking me, do I prefer cholera or gonorrhea?” He may be a democratic liberal concerned with accountability, but at least he pinpoints the rottenness of the system.

Michael Moore has the “depressing news” that Trump will win. Moore may be a supporter of the ever-so-mild social democrat Bernie Sanders, but my sense is that he is right: Trump will win the election.

Meanwhile, as the material on the US election has begun to appear on Wikileaks (much more is to come), the Democrats have begun the propaganda – as Mary Dejevsky writes -of “All together now: let’s blame Putin.” If the Russians are meddling, who blames them, she asks, given the US interference in everybody else’s matters.

And John Pilger, who hits a few points and misses many, points out that the “danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton.” While Trump says the invasion of Iraq was a crime and that he doesn’t want to go to war with Russia and China, Clinton embodies the “resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted ‘exceptionalism’ is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face.”

In other words, Clinton is the imperialist warmonger (like so many Democrats, including Obama), while Trump is the one who embodies the awareness that the short-lived US empire is waning. There are simply too many problems in the USA for it to bother itself with the rest of world. His approach may trouble the hand-wringing liberals, and it may not be pretty in the USA itself, but the rest of the world will breath a huge sigh of relief.

 

 

 

A little on Roman cities in the pre-underwear age, as I am immersed in finishing The Time of Troubles. Although public baths had toilets, albeit shared in common, and although the most lavish peristyle house might have had a latrine next to the kitchen, most places did not. So people would relieve themselves on the street, in alleys, on stairways of houses, a corner of the bathhouse or even on tombs. A walk along the street would encounter many piles of fresh and not so fresh bowel movements. Apart from the smells and sights, a number of writings indicate how common this was.

You read to me as I stand, you read to me as I sit, You read to me as I run, you read to me as I shit (Martial, Ep 3.44).

And in various cities the following notices were scrawled:

Shit with comfort and good cheer, so long as you do not do it here (Pompeii).

If you shit against the walls and we catch you, you will be punished (Pompeii).

Twelve gods and goddesses and Jupiter, the biggest and the best, will be angry with whoever urinates or defecates here (Rome, Baths of Titus).

Whoever refrains from littering or pissing or shitting on this street may the goddesses in general favour. If he does not do so let him watch out (Salona).

Following on his statement that philosophy and the social sciences should flourish in China, Chairman Xi Jinping has made a major statement on the nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics (you can use the automatic translator in some search engines if needed).

The early Greek, Hesiod, had this advice for a young man (in Works and Days):

First get a house, a woman and a plough-ox – one bought, not married, who can also follow the oxen.

With a few weeks to go until Time of Troubles is due with the press, I am engaged in intensive reading and writing, which absorbs me for most of the day. Every now and then, I come across a delightful insight. This one comes from a study of Roman bathhouses.

People urinated into buckets in the middle of the street (and the urine was then used as detergent), men and women shared open toilets at the public latrines. Overall, in this pre‐underwear age, body parts that we today tend to conceal were much more on display.

From Yaron Eliav, ‘Bathhouses as Places of Social and Cultural Interaction’ (2010).

Carla Stea has written a great piece on the DPRK (North Korea) and UN Security Council Resolution 2270. It is called ‘The Crucifixion of North Korea, The Demonisation of the DPRK’ and is published in the Australian Marxist Review.

On 12 July, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague made a non-binding ruling concerning the Law of the Sea. The former regime of the Philippines (under Aquino) had made a unilateral application to have the Nanhai Zhudao (South China Sea Islands, known in English as the Spratley Islands) declared rocks rather than islands and therefore solely under its jurisdiction. The tribunal found in favour of the Philippines, which has led to the inevitable flurry of arguments back and forth. China indicated from the beginning that a ruling either way would have no impact or force. Taiwan has rejected the finding as well, since it lays claim to some of the islands, as does Vietnam. Of course, spokespersons in the USA and Australia are huffing and puffing about the ‘law of the sea’ and ‘freedom of navigation’.

So let us backtrack a little to get some perspective on the so-called ‘freedom of the seas’. The argument dates back to the ingenious Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius (1583–1645). He was called upon by the Dutch East India Company to find some way of justifying the capture of the Portuguese carrack Santa Catarina by the Dutch captain, Jabob van Heemskerck, on February 25, 1603. The seized cargo was sold in Amsterdam later that year for no less than three million Dutch guilders. It increased the coffers of the Company by fifty percent.

Obviously, much was at stake. Grotius musters all his legal, philosophical and theological to pen De jure Praedae (Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty). Two elaborate and key arguments were made with relevance to the current situation.

First, using all his Eurocentric assumptions, Grotius argues that possession of land and sea could only be claimed if there was evidence of human activity involving construction or the definition of boundaries. Wharves and jetties on shore may be fine, but on the open seas it is another matter entirely. Crucially, this argument is part of a much longer effort to retell the story of Genesis 1-3 so as to show that God willed and ordered private property and a universal ‘natural law’.

Second, he argues – good Armenian theologian that he was – that an individual is responsible for good and evil. This also means that an individual can punish evil and recompense good, subject of course to the universal principles established by God. Thus, Dutch mariners on their gunboats-cum-merchant ships were justified in seizing Portuguese ships. He does not mean a fleet of Dutch war ships under the direction of the government but individual captains working for a private company in the distant seas of the Indies, far from the practices of Western European customs and laws. As rational, free-willing actors, the Portuguese had willingly violated the laws of nature by claiming the seas as their own, but the Dutch captain also acted in accordance with those principles by punishing them for such an act.

What did the hard-headed directors of the Dutch East India Company make of all this? They were somewhat nonplussed by the deft philosophical, theological and legal arguments, peppered with quotations from classical Greek and Roman authors. Instead, they seized on a section and published it in 1609, with the title Mare Liberum (On the Freedom of the Seas). Another 250 years had to pass before the whole text was accidentally discovered.

These directors saw clearly that all of Grotius’s complex arguments were really propaganda. ‘Freedom of the seas’ really meant that the gunboats of the Dutch East India Company could sail where they wanted and seize who they wanted. A convenient argument that has been used ever since, whether by the British Empire or now the declining American Empire.

To return to the current situation concerning the South China Sea. Back in 1603, the Santa Catarina had been on its way from Macau to Malacca, laden with Ming porcelain, Chinese silk, musk and so on. Heemskerk seized the ship just off Singapore, after it had passed through the South China Sea. Further, the ship may have been Portuguese, but at the time Portugal was part of the Spanish Empire. And it was the Spanish who colonised the Philippines in 1565.

In 2016 we have China, a former Spanish colony (the Philippines), and the South China Sea, where a significant portion of the world’s shipping once again can be found. And the ‘arbitration’ takes place in The Hague, the Netherlands, where the Dutch East India Company first sought to develop the international law of the ‘freedom of the seas’ for its own purposes.

I cannot help thinking of Marx’s observation, ‘Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce‘.