Selling Our Birthrights

I see today that Wikileaks has leaked the draft chapter of the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations that deals with intellectual property rights.  The Guardian also reported on the leak in “Wikileaks publishes secret draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership

I don’t think many people really understand the import of these secretive negotiations and agreements amongst global elites. Conservatives often talk glibly about “Washington elites” or “Ottawa elites”, or about “transparency and accountability” while remaining completely silent or oblivious towards these secretive negotiations between global elites that have far more consequence for them in terms of potentially disenfranchising and dispossessing the electorate of their political rights.

“Selling your birthright for a mess of pottage” is an old saying that is very applicable. Probably few understand what it means. It comes from the story in the Old Testament about the brothers Esau and Jacob. Esau was the elder brother, and as such, had prior rights to his father’s blessing (which was not a trivial matter in those times). The story goes that Esau, having returned from a hunting trip, was starving and his younger brother, Jacob, seeing his own advantage in his brother’s weakness, offered to make him a bowl of lentil stew (“pottage”) in exchange for his birthright — the father’s first blessing. Esau, apparently witless from hunger, surprisingly agrees to this deal, and while momentarily satisfying his hunger he forfeits his rights as the elder brother. Hence, “selling one’s birthright for a mess of pottage” is considered extremely foolish behaviour.

But that is basically what many of these so-called “free trade” agreements amount to. In exchange for blithe promises of greater prosperity and facile mindless slogans like “a rising tide lifts all boats”, the consumer in the citizen, not the citizen in the consumer, is appealed to, and the consumer sells out his or her birthright as a citizen — the right of a democratic electorate, and not a techno-corporate elite, to determine and decide what will be public policy and the future  — for a mess of pottage. It’s sometimes called “the appeal to the pocketbook”.

Unfortunately, the canard works in this decadently narcissistic, consumerist, and economistic age, when the electorate seems even to have become cynical about democracy and politics anyway, and of their own birthright of political and civil liberties. Why NOT sell your birthright for a mess of pottage? And so Esau probably told himself also, as he didn’t seem to truly value his birthright either.

Esau became disinherited and dispossessed as a result of Jacob’s shrewd trick and his own short-sightedness. This is called “short-termism” today, but the moral of the story remains the same.  At the very least, we should insist that the politicians live up to their rhetoric about political “transparency and accountability” instead of using such cynical rhetorical tricks and slogans as a diversionary tactic — part of “perception management” designed to actually  obscure our perception and confound clarity.

The politicians and their courtiers and “media handlers” (if not also their  hair-dressers) count on something called “logocentrism” — the confusion of word and thing; of mistaking the word for the thing.  And logocentrism of this kind is merely another aspect of narcissism, as are ego-centrism, ideo-centrism, anthropocentrism, ethnocentrism, etc.

All just other words for human narcissism.


10 responses to “Selling Our Birthrights”

  1. alexjay says :

    At least Esau got to enjoy a bowl of soup. The only thing people will get from the TPP (there’s also a European version currently negotiated) is Monsanto’s poison and lots of happy pills from big pharma. But then, the jig was up when the Supreme Court gave corporations the status of personhood in Citizens United. Pretty much confirms what most non-corporate-bought-for political observers have been warning about for decades. Still … “I have become … comfortably numb …”

    God help us!

    • Scott Preston says :

      God help us!

      Well, you share that with the philosopher Heidegger whose life work he basically summarised in a terse phrase shortly before his death when he said “only a god can save us now”.

      Interesting that one can spend an entire life in philosophical speculation only to arrive at that one, simple conclusion.

      Well.. maybe only a god can save us now. But if you read Rosenstock’s essay on Farewell to Descartes (the URL is below), this is also what Rosenstock is saying. Very odd. At the point of outbreak of any revolution, man returns to his condition as God’s addressee and respondent (this is sometimes called the “dialogical” philosophy, and is often associated with Martin Buber,

      If “only a god can save us now” is Heidegger’s final word on the situation of Late Modernity, it is the conclusion of a man who thinks mankind has reached an impasse or dead end. More significantly, it is the confession of a man of the intellect (or mental-rational structure of consciousness) who now comes to the conclusion that this mode of consciousness has become deficient — exactly as Gebser put it — “deficient rationality”. That’s what is most interesting about Heidegger’s statement.

      Indeed, in that Buber and Rosenstock-Huessy concur with Heidegger. But their dialogical approach (rather than the dialectical approach or Cartesian approach) finds reason for faith in mankind’s survivability in returning to this condition of addressee and respondent. So, although in a kind of ironic sense they concur with Heidegger that “only a god can save us now”, but do not see this as impasse and dead end, but as the transcendental situation of coming to “live beyond” the impasse and the dead end.

      The irony, though, lies in this: for Heidegger, “only a god can save us now” represents a decisive conclusion to man’s affairs. With Buber or Rosenstock, this conclusion now becomes the basis or springboard for a new beginning instead. It is revolutionary.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    “A rising tide lifts all boats” — this mendacious and witless slogan, belief, dogma, and mantra that is supposed to summarise the intents and aims of neo-liberalism — persists despite its patent falsehood. It is so evidently contrary to the reality that the notorious and secretive leaked “Plutonomy memos” of the Citigroup “Plutonomy Symposium” (never adequately addressed in the mainstream media, in seems) put it more bluntly — “a rising tide lifts all yachts”. (The leaked memos have apparently been successfully suppressed from the public domain using “copyright infringement” as a pretext, according to the blog “Political Gates”)

    It is, in fact, difficult to find these memos now. The Plutonomy memos nonetheless detailed the real interests driving neo-liberalism, not the pretexts and pretenses.

    Again, a report in today’s Guardian newpaper highlights the real mendaciousness of the claim that neo-liberalism advances equitability and opportunity. The evidence is that the exact opposite is true and more in accord with the Citigroup’s Plutonomy memos and findings that, in fact, neo-liberalism is leading to a plutocracy. Former Conservative UK PM John Major embarrassed his colleagues in government recently by pointing out the obvious — that neo-liberalism is strangling social mobility — that is to say, opportunity and equitability. It is not the tide lifting all boats.

    That the Conservative government in the UK has acknowledged the truth of Major’s charges is itself an admission that the claims neo-liberalism makes for itself are mendacious, and that, in reality, the creed is strangling and suffocating the societies in which it takes hold as “the common sense” — in terms of universality, equity, opportunity, and indeed creativity. “A rising tide lifts all boats” makes claims to an ideal of universality which is a manifest lie, for it is in fact undermining and negating the principle of universality which it claims to be promoting.

    In fact, the situation has come to resemble the pre-revolutionary situation described by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in his essay “Farewell to Descartes” in which society has come to resemble the extremes of “Ego” and “It” that Rosenstock identifies as the radical dualism that precedes social breakdown and a potentially pre-revolutionary condition. The extremes of “Ego” and “It” are, today, represented in the 1% versus 99%. (Rosenstock’s essay, well worth reading, is available online at for those who have not read it).

    It is no exaggeration to say that the state of the civilisation in Late Modernity and at our “end of history” is one of massive self-contradiction, and that this is really what people mean when the speak of the “Orwellian” situation, or what Erich Kahler means by “breakdown of the human form” or (equivalently) Jean Gebser’s “disintegration” of the mental-rational structure of consciousness. These symptoms are known more generally as “nihilism”.

    It really is “the Matrix”.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It really is “the Matrix”.

      Could add, that this reflects how ideology often comes to overrule and override consciousness, so that it is a complete error to equate ideology and consciousness, as is often done. That is also part of the deception.

      Ideology is more like a computer programme that runs in the head, so that it provides cookie-cutter responses and stock answers to almost any situation. It not only is allowed to determine perception, but to relieve the mind of the effort and responsibility for truly thinking at all, or even becoming aware. Thus ideology obscures more than it actually illuminates. Clarity is not provided by ideology, but only by cleansing “the doors of perception”, as Blake put it.

      Ultimately this is what Einstein was referring to in speaking of Reason (that is, the mental-rational consciousness) as a good servant, but a terrible master.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I might point out also, in regards to the Citigroup memos, how “copyright infringement” is now being used as a weapon of political censorship, and this is a most disturbing aspect of negotiations around “intellectual property rights”, and an example of how our democratic political rights can be sneakily bargained away under the guise of “free trade”.

      The political rhetoric of the day is quite perverse, in that sense. Take the Snowden case. Snowden is accused of “stealing” information from the state. In fact, the state stole that information from the public. The information Snowden leaked was paid for by tax dollars. If this is “theft”, it’s more akin to Robin Hood — stealing from the information rich, giving to the information poor. That comparison, however, has to be buried under mountains of deliberately obfuscatory rhetoric.

  3. alexjay says :

    “Only God can save us” —-

    ‘Tis the refuge of the tragedian (Euripides in particular), i.e. “deus ex machina”. In Greek drama, when the hero found himself in an inescapable bind, one of the stage crew would use a crane (machine or other escape devices) to hoist the actor out of harms way off stage. Of course, Nietzsche hated that device. After all, tragedies shouldn’t have earthly resolutions, but rather “metaphysical consolations” (music). When it comes to the TPP (a real tragedy in the making), I suspect that even Frederick might allow us some indulgence in earthly resolutions via divine intervention. Or perhaps, more likely, he would find the matter too mundane and trivial to give it any thought? Did he foresee that corporations would replace religion after the death of God?

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    When will the elite begin to realize that central domination of natural and human resources will only add to the uncertainty in the environment of doing business? Centralization does not work.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Awareness of the imminence of death has a wonderful way of sobering up the mind, which is why none of the authors I know of foresee any changes occurring until we pass through the crucible of catastrophe and the “near death experience”.

      In the meantime it’s the Land of Oz, and the “adults” will play pretend and the children will age and grow ragged before their time.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Awareness of the imminence of death has a wonderful way of sobering up the mind, which is why none of the authors I know of foresee any changes occurring until we pass through the crucible of catastrophe and the “near death experience”

        That process is called “apocalypse”, by the way.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          “In the meantime it’s the Land of Oz, and the “adults” will play pretend and the children will age and grow ragged before their time.”

          Yes, the children “will age and grow ragged before their time,” both mentally (as hopelessness will set in when the cheerfulness in the commercials and happy predictions in the mass media don’t actually translate into real-world circumstances) as well as physically (consuming processed food + poor lifestyle decisions which is based on poor cognition of what goes on around them).

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