"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Cognitive Dissonance’

For Those Who Still Refuse To Accept The Impending Demise Of Humans

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2015 at 2:45 am

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Oldspeak: “Yep. What he said. Hopium obliterating, physical reality-supported knowledge being imparted short and sweet below. Do Less, Be More, Love More, hate less. Take the remaining time to see and be as much beauty, wisdom, compassion, understanding, acceptance and love as you can. Marvel at the wondrous interbeing that is ALL OF IT. The time is now to Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out. It won’t be easy, as being is the hardest thing for humans to do… ” -OSJ

By Guy McPherson @ Nature Bats Last:

I’m frequently disparaged by relatively wealthy, Caucasian men who cannot think for themselves. It turns out to be a stunningly large proportion of the demographic. The line they trot out, time after time, is that I do not explain how a rapid rise in global-average temperature will cause human extinction.

Allow me, yet again, to explain with small words and short sentences. I doubt it’ll help, but I’m giving it one more try.

The genus Homo has occupied the planet for about 2.8 million years. We’ve never had humans at 3.3 C or higher above baseline in the past (baseline = beginning of the industrial revolution, commonly accepted as 1750).

Even when the genus Homo was present at relatively high global-average temperatures, the rise in temperature paled in comparison to the contemporary rate of change. Even the Wall Street Journal realizes it’s too late to mitigate. Well, of course it is: The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters.

And that’s based on the relatively slow rate of change so far. It fails to take into account abrupt climate change, which has begun only within the last few years.

Plants cannot keep up with the rate of change. So they die. For those without the slightest clue about biology, this seems to be a technical problem to which we’ll simply design a technical solution. Not so fast, engineers. The living planet is not merely a complex set of cogs to which we can apply wrenches and screwdrivers. Evolutionary change requires random mutations and subsequent heritability. Alas, there is no time for multi-generational adaptation to a rapidly changing physical environment.

Without plants, there is no habitat for the genus Homo. Without plants, our species has no food. Never mind the lack of water for Earth’s current human occupants. Never mind the early deaths of millions of people due to ongoing climate change. After all, the techno-fantasies of the engineers include the ability to create potable water with “free energy.”

Starvation lurks.

Even if we could manage to move plants from one area to another, don’t expect the plants to thrive unless we move the soil, too. And the rich array of organisms within the soil. And the relatively stable weather system with which the plants evolved.

Whoops, too late. The weather is too weird. The soils are too interactively alive.

We’re human animals. As with every other animal on the planet, we need habitat to survive. Once the habitat is gone, we won’t last long. But, immersed in abject misery, every moment will seem to last forever.

Forever is a long time. Especially toward the end.

Even Climate Change Experts & Activists Might Be In Denial About Ongoing Climate Calamity

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Oldspeak:”Urgent action on climate change is thus to be implemented within a business-as-usual framework of high growth and high consumption, despite growing evidence that such growth doesn’t make us happier and that it is very likely to deliver increasing carbon emissions for years and decades to come. In psychosocial theory these defence mechanisms are also referred to as “splitting”. Consciously we might be talking about the impending sustainability crisis, but unconsciously we find ways to actually maintain the status quo. This is also true for those climate experts who fly around the world, going from one global climate change summit to the next. The very carbon emissions associated with their work can be seen as part of a denial strategy.”-Stephan Bohm & Aanka Batta

“You recently saw a big, showy example of this irrational denial and cognitive dissonance at the “People’s Climate Farce” photo-op and parade and U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September. With less than a few weeks left before the widely scientifically agreed upon deadline of global carbon emissions peaking in 2015 and declining thereafter to have a probably negligible hope of averting the worst effects of climate change, is very, very, very badly missed, I’ve not been sure why the people who know best that the window is about to close are continuing to participate in this latest farcical round of “negotiations” and talks. This piece goes a long way in explaining the psychological roots of these unconscious defense mechanisms and denials of reality. “Ignorance Is Strength.” -OSJ

By Stephan Bohm & Aanka Batta @ The Conversation:

Another month, another important UN climate change conference. The latest is in Lima, the capital of Peru. Thousands of experts from the world of politics, business, academia and civil society – and Leonardo DiCaprio – have flown around the world to urge us all to curb our carbon emissions.

Recent meetings have failed to make significant progress. Yet, this year there are high hopes that the US-China climate deal and the New York UN Climate Summit will allow Lima to provide a stepping stone for a binding emissions agreement at next year’s meeting in Paris.

However, even if a deal can be reached – despite the urgent need for it – there is no guarantee that global greenhouse gas emissions will actually come down significantly and dangerous climate change can be averted. Psychoanalytic theory provides disturbing insights into why this may be so – and it is all to do with the split psychological make-up of those who work at the forefront of climate science, policy and activism.

Climate denial can be unconscious

For at least a century, psychoanalysis has taught us that we might be consciously thinking and saying one thing, but unconsciously doing another. In this context that means people are very consciously aware of the threats posed by climate change, even if they aren’t doing too much about it.

Not a week goes by without the media showing catastrophic images of environmental damage and social suffering seemingly caused by a changing climate. Research suggests that such threats lead us to adopt various unconscious coping and defence mechanisms.

But what to do about it? EPA

Many people try to keep the catastrophe at bay or deny it is happening. Vested interests such as the Koch brothers in the US and other conservative forces have cleverly exploited this unconscious response by supporting a small group of scientists, politicians and think tanks to spread the message of climate scepticism and denial.

This stuff works. Climate denial is undoubtedly on the rise, particularly in those media-saturated markets of North America, Europe and Australia. The Kochs and others are clearly filling a psychological void. Research has also shown that “people want to protect themselves a little bit”, particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty. If climate change simply isn’t happening, there’s nothing to worry about.

Another popular coping and defence mechanism is to pretend that we can address this global and urgent problem by tinkering at the edges of “business as usual”. For example, politicians and business leaders widely believe that we can achieve a decarbonisation of the global economy while maintaining high economic growth. Social psychologist Matthew Adams says such a response is part of an unconscious coping mechanism that simply implies that we have pushed the problem onto a distant future.

As the geographer Erik Swyngedouw shows, climate change politics could in fact be seen as a “post-political” phenomenon where apocalyptic images of environmental destruction and human suffering are used to justify swift action without allowing any real political and economic choices. For example, while on one day the UK government is acknowledging that climate change is already having stark impacts on developing countries by pledging £720m to poor countries, another day of the political calendar is dominated by rhetoric that emphasizes economic growth and even the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the UK.

Urgent action on climate change is thus to be implemented within a business-as-usual framework of high growth and high consumption, despite growing evidence that such growth doesn’t make us happier and that it is very likely to deliver increasing carbon emissions for years and decades to come.

In psychosocial theory these defence mechanisms are also referred to as “splitting”. Consciously we might be talking about the impending sustainability crisis, but unconsciously we find ways to actually maintain the status quo. This is also true for those climate experts who fly around the world, going from one global climate change summit to the next. The very carbon emissions associated with their work can be seen as part of a denial strategy.

In fact, one could argue that those who are very close to the reality of climate change are particularly prone to a need to split their identity. The knowledge they have, and the images they have seen, might unconsciously lead them to the above-mentioned counter-balancing and coping behaviours. Not a good omen for the latest round of climate talks in Peru.

Bigger Than That- (The Difficulty Of) Looking At Climate Change In The Age Of Inhuman Scale

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Oldspeak:Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything…. it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and…it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.” –Rebecca Solnit

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….” -OSJ

It was the stuff of fantasy, of repeated failed expeditions and dreams that wouldn’t die.  I’m talking about the Northwest Passage, that fabled route through Arctic waters around North America.  Now, it’s reality.  The first “bulk carrier,” a Danish commercial freighter with a load of coal, just traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to Finland, cutting a week off its voyage, skipping the Panama Canal, and even, according to the Finnish steel maker Ruukki Metals, for whom the coal was intended, “reducing its greenhouse gas emissions because of fuel savings.” 

When dreams come true, it’s time to celebrate, no?  Only in this case, under the upbeat news of the immediate moment lies a far larger nightmare.  Those expeditions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries failed to find the Northwest Passage because Arctic sea ice made the voyage impossible.  There simply was no passage.  No longer.  Thanks to global warming, the melting of ice — glaciers are losing an estimated 303 billion tons of the stuff annually worldwide — staggers the imagination.  The Greenland ice shield is turning into runoff ever more rapidly, threatening significant sea level rise, and all of the melting in the cold north has, in turn, opened a previously nonexistent Northwest Passage, as well as a similar passage through Russia’s Arctic waters.

None of this would have happened, as the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out in its latest report, if not for the way the burning of fossil fuels (like that coal the Nordic Orion took to Finland) has poured carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  In other words, we created that Arctic passage and made it commercially viable, thus ensuring that our world, the one we’ve known since the dawn of (human) time, will be ever less viable for our children and grandchildren.  After all, the Arctic with its enormous reservoirs of fossil fuels can now begin to be opened up for exploitation like so much of the rest of the planet.  And there can be no doubt about it: those previously unreachable reserves will be extracted and burned, putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere, and anyone who tries to stop that process, as Greenpeace protestors symbolically tried to do recently at an oil rig in Arctic Russia, will be dealt with firmly as “pirates” or worse.  That dream of history, of explorers from once upon a time, is now not just a reality, but part of a seemingly inexorable feedback loop of modern fossil-fuel production and planetary heating, another aspect of what Michael Klare has grimly termed the Third Carbon Age (rather than a new Age of Renewables).

If we don’t need a little perspective on ourselves and our world now, then when? Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is here to offer us both that perspective and some hope for what we can do in the face of well-funded climate denialism and fossil-fuel company boosterism”. –Tom

By Rebecca Solnit @ TomsDispatch:

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept.

The mass media aren’t exactly helping. Last Saturday, for instance, the New York Times gave its story on the International Panel on Climate Change’s six-years-in-the-making report on the catastrophic future that’s already here below-the-fold front-page placement, more or less equal to that given a story on the last episode of Breaking Bad. The end of the second paragraph did include this quote: “In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” But the headline (“U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”) and the opening paragraph assured you this was dull stuff. Imagine a front page that reported your house was on fire right now, but that some television show was more exciting.

Sometimes I wish media stories were organized in proportion to their impact.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, there is not paper enough on this planet to properly scale up a story to the right size.  If you gave it the complete front page to suggest its import, you would then have to print the rest of the news at some sort of nanoscale and include an electron microscope for reading ease.

Hold up your hand. It’s so big it can block out the sun, though you know that the sun is so much bigger. Now look at the news: in column inches and airtime, a minor controversy or celebrity may loom bigger than the planet. The problem is that, though websites and print media may give us the news, they seldom give us the scale of the news or a real sense of the proportional importance of one thing compared to another.  And proportion, scale, is the main news we need right now — maybe always.

As it happens, we’re not very good at looking at the biggest things. They may be bigger than we can see, or move more slowly than we have the patience to watch for or remember or piece together, or they may cause impacts that are themselves complex and dispersed and stretch into the future. Scandals are easier.  They are on a distinctly human scale, the scale of lust, greed, and violence. We like those, we understand them, we get mired in them, and mostly they mean little or nothing in the long run (or often even in the short run).

A resident in a town on the northwest coast of Japan told me that the black 70-foot-high wave of water coming at him on March 11, 2011, was so huge that, at first, he didn’t believe his eyes. It was the great Tohoku tsunami, which killed about 20,000 people. A version of such cognitive dissonance occurred in 1982, when NASA initially rejected measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica because they indicated such a radical loss of ozone that the computer program just threw out the data.

Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.

It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

To understand climate change, you need to translate figures into impacts, to think about places you’ll never see and times after you’re gone. You need to imagine sea level rise and understand its impact, to see the cause-and-effect relations between coal-fired power plants, fossil-fuel emissions, and the fate of the Earth. You need to model data in fairly sophisticated ways. You need to think like a scientist.

Given the demands of the task and the muddle of the mainstream media, it’s remarkable that so many people get it, and that they do so despite massive, heavily funded petroleum industry propaganda campaigns is maybe a victory, if not enough of one.

Four months ago, two bombers in Boston murdered three people and injured hundreds in a way spectacularly calculated to attract media attention, and the media obeyed with alacrity. Climate change probably fueled the colossal floods around Boulder, Colorado, that killed seven people in mid-September, but amid the copious coverage, it was barely mentioned in the media. Similarly, in Mexico, 115 people died in unprecedented floods in the Acapulco area (no significant mention of climate change), while floods reportedly are halving Pakistan’s economic growth (no significant mention), and 166 bodies were found in the wake of the latest Indian floods (no significant mention).

Climate change is taking hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa every year in complex ways whose causes and effects are difficult to follow. Forest fires, very likely enhanced by climate change, took the lives of 19 firefighters facing Arizona blazes amid record heat waves in July.  Again, climate change generally wasn’t the headline on that story.

(For the record, climate change is clearly helping to produce many of the bigger, more destructive, more expensive, more frequent disasters of our time, but it is impossible to point to any one of them and say definitely, this one is climate change.  It’s like trying to say which cancers in a contaminated area were caused by the contamination; you can’t, but what you can say is that the overall rise in cancer is connected.)

Not quite a year ago, a climate-change-related hurricane drowned people when superstorm Sandy hit a place that doesn’t usually experience major hurricane impact, let alone storm surges that submerge amusement parks, the New York City subway system, and the Jersey shore. In that disaster, 148 people died directly, nearly that many indirectly, losses far greater than from any terrorist incident in this country other than that great anomaly, 9/11. The weather has now become man-made violence, though no one thinks of it as terrorism, in part because there’s no smoking gun or bomb — unless you have the eyes to see and the data to look at, in which case the smokestacks of coal plants start to look gun-like and the hands of energy company CEOs and well-paid-off legislators begin to morph into those of bombers.

Even the civil war in Syria may be a climate-change war of sorts: over the past several years, the country has been hit by its worst drought in modern times. Climate and Security analyst Francesco Femia says, “Around 75 percent of [Syrian] farmers suffered total crop failure, so they moved into the cities. Farmers in the northeast lost 80 percent of their livestock, so they had to leave and find livelihoods elsewhere. They all moved into urban areas — urban areas that were already experiencing economic insecurity due to an influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. But this massive displacement mostly wasn’t reported. So it wasn’t factoring into various security analyses. People assumed Syria was relatively stable compared to Egypt.”

Column Inches, Glacial Miles

We like to think about morality and sex and the lives of people we’ve gotten to know in some fashion. We know how to do it. It’s on a distinctly human scale. It’s disturbing in a reassuring way.  We fret about it and feel secure in doing so. Now, everything’s changed, and our imaginations need to keep pace with that change. What is human scale anyway? These days, after all, we split atoms and tinker with genes and can melt an ice sheet. We were designed to think about human-scale phenomena, and now that very phrase is almost as meaningless as old terms like “glacial,” which used to mean slow-moving and slow to change.

Nowadays glaciers are melting rapidly or disappearing entirely, and some — those in Greenland, for example — have gushing rivers of ice water eating through their base. If the whole vast Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

We tend to think about climate change as one or two or five things: polar ice, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, heat waves, maybe droughts. Now, however, we need to start adding everything else into the mix: the migration of tropical diseases, the proliferation of insect pests, crop failures and declining crop yields leading to widespread hunger and famine, desertification and flooded zones and water failures leading to mass population shifts, resource wars, and so many other things that have to do with the widest systems of life on Earth, affecting health, the global economy, food systems, water systems, and energy systems.

It is almost impossibly scary and painful to contemplate the radical decline and potential death of the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and the dramatic decrease of plankton, which do more than any other type of organism to sequester carbon and produce oxygen — a giant forest in microscopic form breathing in what we produce, breathing out what we need, keeping the whole system going. If you want to read something really terrifying, take a look at the rise of the Age of Jellyfish in this review of Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Maybe read it even if you don’t.

Only remember that like so much about climate change we used to imagine as a grim future, that future is increasingly here and now. In this case, in the form of millions or maybe billions of tons of jellyfish proliferating globally and devouring plankton, fish eggs, small fish, and bigger creatures in the sea we love, we know, we count on, we feed on, and now even clogging the water-intake pipes of nuclear power plants. In the form of seashells dissolving in acidic waters from the Pacific Northwest to the Antarctic Ocean. In the form of billions of pine-bark beetles massacring the forests of the American West, from Arizona to Alaska, one bite at a time.

It’s huge. I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at 350.org, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

The Great Wall, Brick by Brick

The changes required to address climate change are colossal, but they are made up of increments and steps and stages that are more than possible. Many are already underway, both as positive changes (adaptation of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency, new laws, policies, and principles) and as halts to destruction (for example, all the coal-fired plants that have not been built in recent years and the Tar Sands pipeline that, but for popular resistance, would already be sending its sludge from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico). The problem is planetary in scale, but there is room to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, and that room is full of activists at work. Much of that work consists of small-scale changes.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here’s the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It’s not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it’s burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

I hear people who are either uninformed or who are justifying disengagement say that it’s too late and what we do won’t matter, but it does matter, because a rise in the global temperature of two degrees Celsius is going to be very, very different from, say, five degrees Celsius for almost everything living on Earth now and for millennia to come. And there are still many things that can be done, both to help us adapt to the radical change on the way and to limit the degree of change to which we’ll have to adapt. Because it’s already risen .8 degrees and that’s been a disaster — many, many disasters.

I spent time over the last several months with the stalwarts carrying on a campaign to get San Francisco to divest from its energy stocks. In the beginning, it seemed easy enough. City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a nonbinding resolution to the Board of Supervisors, and to everyone’s surprise it passed unanimously in April on a voice vote. But the board turned out only to have the power to recommend that the San Francisco Retirement Board do the real work of divesting its vast holdings of fossil-fuel stocks. The retirement board was a tougher nut to crack.

Its main job, after all, is to ensure a safe and profitable pension fund and in that sense, energy companies have, in the past, been good investments. To continue on such a path is to be “smart about the market.” The market, in the meantime, is working hard at not imagining the financial impact of climate change.

The failure of major food sources, including fishing stocks and agricultural crops, and the resultant mass hunger and instability — see Syria — is going to impact the market. Retirees in the beautiful Bay Area are going feel it if the global economy crashes, the region fills with climate refugees, the spectacularly productive state agricultural system runs dry or roasts, and the oceans rise on our scenic coasts. It’s a matter of scale.  Your investments are not independent of nature, even if fossil-fuel companies remain, for a time, profitable while helping destroying the world as humanity has known it.

Some reliable sources now argue that fossil-fuel stocks are not good investments, that they’re volatile for a number of reasons and due to crash. The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to leave most of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground in the coming decades, that the choice is either to fry the planet or freeze the assets of the carbon companies. Activists are now doing their best to undermine the value of the big carbon-energy corporations, and governments clued in to the new IPCC report will likely join them in trying to keep the oil, gas, and coal in the ground — the fossil fuel that is also much of the worth of these corporations on paper. If we’re lucky, we’ll make them crash. So divesting can be fiscally sound, and there is a very strong case that it can be done without economic impact. But the crucial thing here isn’t the financial logistics of divestment; it’s the necessity of grasping the scale of things, understanding the colossal nature of the problem and the need to address it, in part, by pressuring one small group or one institution in one place.

To grasp this involves a feat of imagination and, I think, a leap of faith: a kind of conviction about what matters, about living according to principle, about understanding what is too big to be seen with your own eyes, about correlating data on a range of scales. A lot of people I know do it. If we are to pull back from the brink of catastrophe, it will be because of their vision and their faith. You might want to thank them now, and while your words are nice, so are donations. Or you might want to join them.

That there is a widespread divestment movement right now is due to the work of a few people who put forth the plan less than a year ago at 350.org. The president has already mentioned it, and hundreds of colleges are now in the midst of or considering the process of divesting, with cities, churches, and other institutions joining the movement. It takes a peculiar kind of genius to see the monster and to see that it might begin to be pushed back by small actions — by, in fact, actions on a distinctly human scale that could still triumph over the increasingly inhuman scale of our era.

Hold up your hand. It looks puny in relation to the sun, but the other half of the equation of scale is seeing that something as small as that hand, as your own powers, as your own efforts, can matter. The cathedral is made stone by stone, and the book is written word by word.

If there is to be an effort to respond to climate change, it will need to make epic differences in economics, in ecologies, in the largest and most powerful systems around us. Though the goals may be heroic, they will be achieved mostly through an endless accumulation of small gestures.

Those gestures are in your hands, and everyone’s. Or they could be if we learned to see the true scale of things, including how big we can be together.

Rebecca Solnit writes regularly for TomDispatch, works a little with 350.org, and is hanging out a lot in 2013 with the newly arrived Martin, Thyri, Bija Milagro, and Camilo, who will be 80 in the unimaginable year of 2093. Her most recent book is The Faraway Nearby.

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Empire Under Obama, Part 1: Political Language & The ‘Mafia Principles’ Of International Relations

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Oldspeak: “When it comes to empire, language is equally – if not more – deceptive; hiding immoral, ruthless and destructive interests and actions behind the veil of empty words, undefined concepts, and make-believe ‘values.’ I firmly believe that in order to understand the world – that is, to gain a more realistic understanding and view of how the global social, political and economic order actually functions – we need to speak more plainly, directly, and honestly to describe and dissent against this system. If we truly want a world without war, destruction, empire and tyranny, we must speak honestly and openly about these concepts. If we adopt the language of deception to describe that which we are given no accurate words to describe, we run a fool’s errand….

To rectify this, we must speak and think honestly about empire. To think and speak honestly, we must look at the world for what it is, not to see what we want to see, that which supports our pre-conceived notions and biases, but to see what we want to change. We have at our fingertips more access to information than ever before in human history. We have the ability to gather, examine and draw explanations from this information to create a more coherent understanding of the world than that which we are presented with through the media and political pandering. In establishing a more accurate – and ever-evolving – understanding of the world, we are able to reveal the lies and hypocrisy of those individuals, institutions and ideologies that uphold and direct the world we live in.” –Andrew Gavin Marshall

“Basically, our society is structured to perpetuate and proliferate this “the language of deception” a.ka. Propaganda. The public mind is utterly enveloped in and animated by the language of deception. We’ve created whole industries to propagate it, we’re bombarded with waves of deception on multivariate and variegated media and infotainment platforms. it’s much like Chomsky said when he remarked “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” We must awaken from our comfortably numb, narcissism and ego moderated states of passivity and obedience. We must look beyond  and let go of the “necessary illusions” of political, social, cultural, material & spiritual differences. We must resist, degrade and withdraw our support for this latest imperial empire. For the sake of our life support system, our mother earth, we mush reverse this cursed course we’re on. We must cease valuing consumption of life over conservation of life. We’re losing, 200 species A DAY. We’ll bear witness to the extinction level events we’ve precipitated, i guess at this point it’s just a mater of how we choose to face the end of our civilization. As gluttonous blood lustful infinitely growing locusts,  devouring all in our paths?  Or as courageous, accepting, fearless lovers of all that we see before us…” -OSJ

By Andrew Gavin Marshall @ The Hampton Institute:

In the first part of this essay series on ‘Empire Under Obama,’ I will aim to establish some fundamental premises of modern imperialism, or what is often referred to as ‘international relations,’ ‘geopolitics’, or ‘foreign policy.’ Specifically, I will refer to George Orwell’s writing on ‘political language’ in order to provide a context in which the discourse of imperialism may take place out in the open with very little comprehension on the part of the public which consumes the information; and further, to draw upon Noam Chomsky’s suggestion of understanding international relations as the application of ‘Mafia Principles’ to foreign policy. This part provides some background on these issues, and future parts to this essay series will be examining the manifestation of empire in recent years.

On August 21, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was accused of using chemical weapons on its own population, prompting Western countries – led by the United States – to declare their intention to bomb Syria to somehow save it from itself. The reasons for the declared intention of launching air strikes on Syria was to punish the Syrian government, to uphold international law, and to act on the ‘humanitarian’ values which the West presumably holds so dear.

George Orwell discussed this in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, written two years prior to the publication of 1984. In his essay, Orwell wrote that, “the English language is in a bad way” and that language is ultimately “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.” The decline of language, noted Orwell, “must ultimately have political and economic causes… It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Still, Orwell suggested, “the process is reversible.”[1] To reverse the process, however, we must first understand its application and development.

When it comes to words like “democracy,” Orwell wrote: “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”[2]

In our time, wrote Orwell, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties.” Thus, he noted, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” Orwell provided some examples: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” This type of “phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”[3] Today, we use words like counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to describe virtually the same processes.

Thus, noted Orwell: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms… All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia… But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can be spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.” Political language, wrote Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”[4]

These critiques are arguably more valid today than when Orwell wrote them some 67 years ago. Today, we not only use political language to discuss ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty,’ but to justify war and atrocities based upon our ‘humanitarian’ interests and ‘values.’ I have previously discussed the uses and abuses of political language in the context of the European debt crisis, using words like ‘austerity,’ ‘structural reform,’ ‘labour flexibility’ and ‘economic growth’ to obfuscate the reality of the power interests and effects of the policies put in place, spreading poverty, misery and committing ‘social genocide.'[5]

When it comes to empire, language is equally – if not more – deceptive; hiding immoral, ruthless and destructive interests and actions behind the veil of empty words, undefined concepts, and make-believe ‘values.’ I firmly believe that in order to understand the world – that is, to gain a more realistic understanding and view of how the global social, political and economic order actually functions – we need to speak more plainly, directly, and honestly to describe and dissent against this system. If we truly want a world without war, destruction, empire and tyranny, we must speak honestly and openly about these concepts. If we adopt the language of deception to describe that which we are given no accurate words to describe, we run a fool’s errand.

In other words, if you are against war and empire in principle, yet engage in the concocted debates surrounding whatever current war is being pushed for, debating the merits of the one of usually two positions fed to the populace through the media, punditry and pageantry of modern political life, then you simply reinforce that which your own personal values may find so repulsive. If you are not given a language with which to understand issues and the world in a meaningful way, then you are curtailed in your ability to think of the world in a non-superficial way, let alone articulate meaningful positions. By simply adopting the political language which makes up the ‘discourse of empire’ – allowing for politicians, pundits, intellectuals and the media to justify and disagree to various degrees on the objectives and actions of empire – your thoughts and words become an extension of that discourse, and perpetuate its perverse purposes.

In the recent context of Syria, for example, those who are ‘in principle’ against war, and hold personal values akin to those ‘humanitarian’ values which are articulated by the political elites in the name of justifying war, may then be succumbed into the false debate over – “what is the best course of action?” – “to bomb or not to bomb?” – and while the horror of chemical weapons use may trigger an impulse to want to end such usage, the media and political classes have framed the debate as such: should we let Syria get away with using chemical weapons? Should provide more support to the ‘rebels’? How should we try to end the conflict in Syria?

This is a false debate and empty, for it poses answers as questions instead of questions looking for answers. In other words, the question is not – ” what can we do to help Syria?” – the question is: “what have we done in Syria?” When you ask that question, the answer is not appealing, as the strategy of the West – and specifically the United States – has been to prolong the civil war, not stop it. Thus, when you have asked the right questions, and sought more meaningful answers, then you can ask – “what can we do to help Syria?” – and the answer becomes simpler: stop supporting civil war. But one must first learn to ask the right questions instead of choosing from one among many pre-packaged “solutions.”

Mark Twain once wrote, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uniformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” If you view yourself as ‘politically conscious’ or ‘engaged,’ and yet, you engage only with thoughts and words presented to you by the corporate-owned media and politicians – who allow for a very limited spectrum of variation in views – you’re not “politically conscious,” but rather, politically comatose. Though your own personal values, interests and intentions may be honourable and sincere, they are made superficial by adopting superficial language and thoughts.

To rectify this, we must speak and think honestly about empire. To think and speak honestly, we must look at the world for what it is, not to see what we want to see, that which supports our pre-conceived notions and biases, but to see what we want to change. We have at our fingertips more access to information than ever before in human history. We have the ability to gather, examine and draw explanations from this information to create a more coherent understanding of the world than that which we are presented with through the media and political pandering. In establishing a more accurate – and ever-evolving – understanding of the world, we are able to reveal the lies and hypocrisy of those individuals, institutions and ideologies that uphold and direct the world we live in. The hypocrisy of our self-declared values and intentions is exposed through looking at the real actions and effects of the policies we pursue under the guise of political language.

If the effects of our actions do not conform to the values we articulate as we undertake them, and yet, neither the language nor the policies and effects change to remedy these inconsistencies, we can come to one of two general conclusions. One, is that our political leaders are simply insane, as Einstein defined it – “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results” – or; they are liars an deceivers, using words for which they hold personal definitions which are not articulated to the populace, attempting to justify the indefensible, to promote the perverse and serve interests which the general population may find deplorable. While I think that – in many cases – it would be presumptive to rule out insanity altogether, it strikes me as more plausible that it is the latter.

Put in different terms, politicians – if they rise high enough to be in positions in which they become advocates and actors in the propagation of empire – are high-functioning sociopaths: they deceive and manipulate for their own selfish interests, hold no hesitations to act immorally and knowingly cause the suffering and destruction of others. Imagine what our world would look like if serial killers were running countries, corporations, banks and other dominant institutions. I imagine that our world would look exactly at it is, for those who run it have the same claims to moral superiority as your average serial killer; they simply chose another path, and one which leads to the deaths of far more people than any serial killer has ever – or could ever – achieve.

So, let’s talk about Empire.
Mafia Principles and Western ‘Values’

Renowned linguist, scholar and dissident Noam Chomsky has aptly articulated Western – and notably American – foreign policy as being based upon ‘Mafia Principles’ in which “defiance cannot be tolerated.” Thus, nations, people and institutions which “defy” the American-Western Empire must be “punished,” lest other nations and peoples openly defy the empire. This principle holds that if a smaller, seemingly more insignificant global actor is able to “successfully defy” the empire, then anyone could, and others would likely follow.[6]

Thus, for the empire to maintain its ‘hegemony’ – or global influence – it must punish those who detract from its diktats, so that others would not dare defy the empire. As Chomsky has suggested, this is akin to the way the Mafia would punish even the smallest of vendors who did not pay their dues, not because of financial loss to the ‘Godfather,’ but because it sends a message to all who observe: if you defy the Godfather, you will be punished.

Extending this analogy to ‘international relations,’ we can conclude that the United States is the ‘Godfather’ and the other major Western states – notably Britain, France, and Germany – are akin to the Mafia ‘capos’ (high-level bosses). Then you have China and Russia, who are significant crime bosses in their own right, though far from holding anywhere near the same weight of influence as the ‘Godfather.’ Think of them as separate crime families; usually working with the Godfather, as there is a relationship of co-dependency between them all: the Godfather needs their support, and they need the Godfather’s support in order for all parties to have a significant influence in their criminal racketeering and illicit markets.

As with any crime families, however, cooperation is often coupled with competition. When the Godfather steps on the personal turf of the other crime families – such as Syria in relation to Russia and China – then the other families push back, seeking to maintain their own turf and thus, maintain their leverage when it comes to power and profits.

Now, for those who believe American and Western political leaders when they discuss ‘values’ that they uphold, such as ‘democracy’, ‘liberty’, the ‘rule of law’, or any other ‘humanitarian’ notions of life, justice and peace, I have two words for you: grow up. The Western world has no precedent for upholding values or acting on the basis of ‘morality.’ One of the central issues we face when dealing with modern empire is that we have very little means – or practice – in communicating honestly about the nature of the world, or our role within it. Language is undermined and inverted, even destroyed altogether. Waging war in the name of ‘peace’ undermines any meaningful concept of peace which we may hold. Supporting coups in the name of democracy reveals an empty and inverted concept of what we may typically think of as democracy. Yet, this is common practice for the West.

When Cuba had its revolution in 1959, brining Castro to power on a little island just south of the United States, overthrowing the previous American-supported dictator, the U.S. implemented a policy of covert, military and economic warfare against the tiny and desperately poor nation. The main reasoning was not necessarily that Cuba had become ‘Communist’, per se, but rather, as a 1960 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate noted, Cuba had provided “a highly exploitable example of revolutionary achievement and successful defiance of the U.S.”[7] For the ‘Godfather,’ such an example of “successful defiance” could spur other nations to attempt to defy the U.S. Thus, Cuba had to be made an example of.

When the Eisenhower administration imposed economic sanctions upon Cuba (which have been extended through every subsequent administration to present day), the objective was articulated within internal government documents of the National Security Council (NSC) and other U.S. agencies responsible for the maintenance and expansion of American imperialism (such as the State Department, CIA, Pentagon, etc.).

Noting that the sanctions “would have a serious effect on the Cuban people,” denying them medical equipment, food, goods and necessities, President Eisenhower explained that the “primary objective” of the sanctions was “to establish conditions which bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies,” and that, if Cubans were left hungry, “they will throw Castro out.” Under the Kennedy administration, a top State Department official stated that, “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba… to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of the government.”[8]

In other words, the intentions of sanctions are to punish populations in order to undermine support for regimes that “successfully defy” the empire. No concerns are paid to the actual suffering of human beings, though, as these policies are articulated by the political class – and their supporters in the media and intellectual establishment – they were justified on the basis of a grand struggle between the “democratic” West and the “threat” of totalitarian Communism, of upholding “values” and supporting “freedom” of peoples everywhere.

Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, was appointed by President Reagan in the early 1980s to chair the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (known as the ‘Kissinger Commission’) which was created to assess the strategic threat and interests to the United States in Central America, as many nations had been experiencing revolutions, leftist insurgencies against U.S.-backed dictators, and large social movements. The Reagan administration’s response was to undertake a massive war of terror in Central America, killing hundreds of thousands and decimating the region for decades. Kissinger provided the imperial justification for the U.S. to punish the tiny Central American countries for their “defiance” of the Godfather, when he wrote in 1983, “If we cannot manage Central America… it will be impossible to convince threatened nations in the Persian Gulf and in other places that we know how to manage the global equilibrium.”[9] In other words, if the Empire could not control a tiny little region just south of its border, how could it be expected to wield influence elsewhere in the world?

Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski co-chaired President Reagan’s U.S. National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, outlining U.S. imperial strategy and interests over the long term, publishing the report, Discriminate Deterrence, in 1988. They wrote that the U.S. would continue to have to intervene in conflicts across much of the Third World, because they “have had and will have an adverse cumulative effect on U.S. access to critical regions,” and if such effects cannot be managed, “it will gradually undermine America’s ability to defend its interest in the most vital regions, such as the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific.”[10]

Noting that most Third World conflicts were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” which included “guerrilla forces” and “armed subversives,” referring to revolutionary and resistance movements, the U.S. would have to acknowledge that within such “low intensity conflicts,” the “enemy” is essentially “omnipresent,” meaning that the U.S.-designated enemy is essentially the population itself, or a significant portion of it, and thus, “unlikely ever to surrender.” But it would be necessary for the U.S. to intervene in such wars, the report noted, because if they did not do so, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”[11]

In other words, if the U.S. does not intervene to crush insurgencies, uprisings, rebellions or generally steer the direction of ‘internal conflicts’ of Third World nations, then its proxy-puppet governments around the world will lose faith in the ability of the Godfather/Empire to support them in maintaining their dictatorships and rule over their own populations if they ever get into trouble. It would also damage the ‘faith’ that the Godfather’s ‘capos’ (or Western imperial allies like France and Britain) would have in the U.S.’s ability to serve their imperial interests. If client states or imperial allies lose faith in the Godfather, then the U.S. likely won’t remain the Godfather for long.

An internal assessment of national security policy undertaken by the Bush administration in 1991 was leaked to the media, which quoted the report’s analysis of U.S. imperial policy for the future: “In cases where the U.S. confronts much weaker enemies, our challenge will be not simply to defeat them, but to defeat them decisively and rapidly… For small countries hostile to us, bleeding our forces in protracted or indecisive conflict or embarrassing us by inflicting damage on some conspicuous element of our forces may be victory enough, and could undercut political support for U.S. efforts against them.”[12] In other words, the weaker the “enemy,” the more “decisive and rapid” must be their defeat, so as not to “embarrass” the empire and undermine its reputation for maintaining power and punishing those who defy its power. Imagine a small-time crook standing up to the Godfather in defiance: his punishment must not only be quick, but it must be severe, as this sends a message to others.

It has since been acknowledged by top imperial strategists and government agencies that the Cold War was little more than a rhetorical battle between two behemoths to advance their own imperial interests around the world. Samuel Huntington, one of the most influential political scientists of the latter 20 th century, closely tied to the American imperial establishment and served in high-level government positions related to the running of foreign policy, commented in a 1981 discussion, when reflecting upon the “lessons of Vietnam,” that “an additional problem” for strategists when they decide that there is a conflict in which “you have to intervene or take some action,” he noted, “you may have to sell it in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting… That is what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman Doctrine [of 1947].”[13]

In other words, the concern of the ‘Cold War’ was not really the Soviet Union, it was the populations across the ‘Third World’ who were seeking independence and an end to imperialism. However, to intervene in wars where the interests were about repressing popular uprisings, revolutions, crushing independence movements, maintaining imperial domination and subjugation, one cannot – if you proclaim to be a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ society upholding grand ‘values’ – articulate accurately these interests or the reasons for intervening. Thus, as Huntington noted, the United States would “create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting.” So long as the domestic population was made to fear some outside malevolent enemy – formerly the Soviet Union and today ‘terrorism’ – then strategists manage to justify and undertake all sorts of atrocities in the name of fighting “communism” or now “terrorism.”

When the Cold War was coming to an official end and the Soviet Union was collapsing in on itself, President George H.W. Bush’s administration released the National Security Strategy of the United States in 1990 in which it was acknowledged that following decades of justifying military intervention in the Middle East on the basis of a Cold War struggle between democracy and communism, the actual reasons for intervention “were in response to threats to U.S. interests that could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” Further, while the Soviet Union collapses, “American strategic concerns remain” and “the necessity to defend our interests will continue.”[14]

In 1992, Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote an article for the establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, in which he bluntly assessed the reality of the ‘Cold War’ battle between America and the USSR – between the causes of democratic ‘liberation’ versus totalitarian communism – writing: “The policy of liberation was a strategic sham, designed to a significant degree for domestic political reasons… the policy was basically rhetorical, at most tactical.”[15]

America’s imperial interests had long been established within internal government documents. In a 1948 State Department Policy Planning document, it was acknowledged that at the time the United States controlled half the world’s wealth with only 6.3% of the world’s population, and that this disparity would create “envy and resentment.” The task for American in the world, then, was “to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming,” and instead focus “on our immediate national objectives,” which were defined as managing foreign policy in such a way as “to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” With such an objective in mind, noted the report, “We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”[16]

In other words, to maintain the “disparity” between America’s wealth and that of the rest of the world, there was no point in pretending that their interests were anything otherwise. Imperial planners were direct in suggesting that “we need not deceive ourselves” about their objectives, but this did not imply that they did not have to deceive the American population, for whom internal documents were not meant to be read.

In the Middle East, imperial interests were bluntly articulated by the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, who defined the region as “an area in which the United States has a vital interest.” The oil wealth of Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole was said to “constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” and that controlling the oil would imply “substantial control of the world.”[17]

Threats to these interests were quick to arise in the form of Arab Nationalism – or “independent nationalism” – most effectively represented by Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt, where nations sought to pursue a policy both foreign and domestic in their own interests, to more closely address the concerns of their own populations rather than the interests of the Godfather, and to take a ‘neutral’ stance in the Cold War struggle between the US and USSR.

A 1958 National Security Council report noted that, “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” and rather, that the US was simply “seeking to protect its interests in Near East oil by supporting the status quo” of strong-armed ruthless dictators ruling over repressed populations. This, the report noted, was an accurate view that Arab peoples held of the U.S., stating that, “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.” Further, because the U.S. was so closely allied with the traditional colonial powers of the region – France and Britain – “it is impossible for us to avoid some identification” with colonialism, noted the report, especially since “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area.”[18]

Thus, a key strategy for the U.S. should be to publicly proclaim “support for the ideal of Arab unity,” but to quietly “encourage a strengthening of the ties among Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq,” all ruthless tyrants, in order to “counterbalance Egypt’s preponderant position of leadership in the Arab world.” Another strategy to “combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary” would be “to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power.”[19]

In Latin America, long considered by U.S. imperial planners as America’s ‘backyard,’ the “threat” was very similar to that posed by Arab nationalism. A 1953 National Security Council memo noted that there was “a trend in Latin America toward nationalistic regimes maintained in large part by appeals to the masses of the population,” and that, “there is an increasing popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses.” For the U.S., it would be “essential to arrest the drift in the area toward radical and nationalistic regimes” which was “facilitated by historic anti-U.S. prejudices and exploited by Communists.” To handle this “threat,” the NSC recommended that the United States support “the development of indigenous military forces and local bases” to encourage “individual and collective action against internal subversive activities by communists and other anti-U.S. elements.” In other words: the U.S. must support repression of foreign populations.[20]

American strategy thus sought to oppose “radical and nationalistic regimes” – defined as those who successfully defy the U.S. and its Mafia capos – and to “maintain the disparity” between America’s wealth and that of the rest of the world, as well as to continue to control strategically important resources and regions, such as oil and energy sources. America was not alone in this struggle for global domination, as it had its trusted Mafia capo “allies” like Britain, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent, Japan, at its side. Concurrently, other large powers like Russia and China would engage in bouts of cooperation and competition for extending and maintaining influence in the world, with occasional conflicts arising between them.

The International Peace Research Institute (IPRI) in Oslo, Norway, compiled a dataset for assessing armed conflict in the world between 1946 and 2001. For this time period, IPRI’s research identified 225 conflicts, 163 of which were internal conflicts, though with “external participants” in 32 of those internal conflicts. The number of conflicts in the world rose through the Cold War, and accelerated afterward.[21] The majority of conflicts have been fought in three expansive regions: from Central America and the Caribbean into South America, from East Central Europe through the Balkans, Middle East and India to Indonesia, and the entire continent of Africa.[22]

Another data set was published in 2009 that revealed much larger numbers accounting for “military interventions.” During the Cold War era of 1946 to 1989 – a period of 44 years – there were a recorded 690 interventions, while the 16-year period from 1990 and 2005 had recorded 425 military interventions. Intervention rates thus “increased in the post-Cold War era.” As the researchers noted, roughly 16 foreign military interventions took place every year during the Cold War, compared to an average of 26 military interventions per year in the post-Cold War period.[23]

Interventions by “major powers” (the US, UK, France, Soviet Union/Russia, and China) increased from an average of 4.3 per year during the Cold War to 5.6 per year in the post-Cold War period. Most of these interventions were accounted for by the United States and France, with France’s numbers coming almost exclusively from its interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. During the Cold War period, the five major powers accounted for almost 28% of all military interventions, with the United States in the lead at 74, followed by the U.K. with 38, France with 35, the Soviet Union with 25, and China with 21.[24]

In the post-Cold War period (1990-2005), the major powers accounted for 21.2% of total military interventions, with the United States in the lead at 35, followed by France with 31, the U.K. with 13, Russia with 10, and China with 1. Interventions by Western European states increased markedly in the post-Cold War period, “as former colonial powers increased their involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa,” not only by France, but also Belgium and Britain.[25]

Meanwhile, America’s actual share of global wealth has been in almost continuous decline since the end of World War II. By 2012, the United States controlled roughly 25% of the world’s wealth, compared with roughly 50% in 1948.[26] The rich countries of the world – largely represented by the G7 nations of the U.S., Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada – had for roughly 200 years controlled the majority of the world’s wealth.[27] In 2013, the 34 “advanced economies” of the world (including the G7, the euro area nations, and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea) were surpassed for the first time by the other 150 nations of the world referred to as “emerging” or “developing” economies.[28]

Thus, while the American-Western Empire may be more globally expansive – or technologically advanced – than ever before, the world has itself become much more complicated to rule, with the ‘rise’ of the East (namely, China and India), and increased unrest across the globe. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted in 2009, the world’s most powerful states “face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”[29]

Notes

[1] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 24 July 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/07/24/austerity-adjustment-and-social-genocide-political-language-and-the-european-debt-crisis/

[6] Seumas Milne, “‘US foreign policy is straight out of the mafia’,” The Guardian, 7 November 2009:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/07/noam-chomsky-us-foreign-policy

[7] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “Economic Warfare and Strangling Sanctions: Punishing Iran for its “Defiance” of the United States,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 6 March 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/03/06/economic-warfare-and-strangling-sanctions-punishing-iran-for-its-defiance-of-the-united-states/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Edward Cuddy, “America’s Cuban Obsession: A Case Study in Diplomacy and Psycho-History,” The Americas (Vol. 43, No. 2, October 1986), page 192.

[10] Fred Iklé and Albert Wohlstetter, Discriminate Deterrence (Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy), January 1988, page 13.

[11] Ibid, page 14.

[12] Maureen Dowd, “WAR IN THE GULF: White House Memo; Bush Moves to Control War’s Endgame,” The New York Times, 23 February 1991:

http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/23/world/war-in-the-gulf-white-house-memo-bush-moves-to-control-war-s-endgame.html?src=pm

[13] Stanley Hoffmann, Samuel Huntington, et. al., “Vietnam Reappraised,” International Security (Vol. 6, No. 1, Summer 1981), page 14.

[14] National Security Strategy of the United States (The White House, March 1990), page 13.

[15] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Cold War and its Aftermath,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 71, No. 4, Fall 1992), page 37.

[16] George F. Kennan, “Review of Current Trends U.S. Foreign Policy,” Report by the Policy Planning Staff, 24 February 1948.

[17] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “The U.S. Strategy to Control Middle Eastern Oil: “One of the Greatest Material Prizes in World History”,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 2 March 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/03/02/the-u-s-strategy-to-control-middle-eastern-oil-one-of-the-greatest-material-prizes-in-world-history/

[18] Andrew Gavin Marsha, “Egypt Under Empire, Part 2: The ‘Threat’ of Arab Nationalism,” The Hampton Institute, 23 July 2013:

http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/egyptunderempireparttwo.html#.UjTzKbxQ0bd

[19] Ibid.

[20] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security”,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 14 December 2011:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/12/14/the-american-empire-in-latin-america-democracy-is-a-threat-to-national-security/

[21] Nils Petter Gleditsch, Peter Wallensteen, Mikael Eriksson, Maragreta Sollenberg, and Havard Strand, “Armed Conflict 1946-2001: A New Dataset,” Journal of Peace Research (Vol. 39, No. 5, September 2002), page 620.

[22] Ibid, page 624.

[23] Jeffrey Pickering and Emizet F. Kisangani, “The International Military Intervention Dataset: An Updated Resource for Conflict Scholars,” Journal of Peace Research (Vol. 46, No. 4, July 2009), pages 596-598.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Robert Kagan, “US share is still about a quarter of global GDP,” The Financial Times, 7 February 2012:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d655dd52-4e9f-11e1-ada2-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2euUZAiCV

[27] Chris Giles and Kate Allen, “Southeastern shift: The new leaders of global economic growth,” The Financial Times, 4 June 2013:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b0bd38b0-ccfc-11e2-9efe-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl#axzz2euUZAiCV

[28] David Yanofsky, “For The First Time Ever, Combined GDP Of Poor Countries Exceeds That Of Rich Ones,” The Huffington Post, 29 August 2013:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/gdp-poor-countries_n_3830396.html

[29] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009), page 54.

Turning A Blind Eye To Catastrophic Truths In The Age Of Unreality

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Oldspeak:Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities. George Gerbner  Fear. It is a powerful motivator. It is a powerful captor.  It drives us to greatness & calamity.  It captivates us with ubiquitous illusions of safety, stability & sanity. It plays an essential and ironically unseen part in our refusal to see truths like those imparted by Osho – ‎”Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.” We’ve been socially engineered to not see that which is. To not think, just react. To avoid all that is real. This engineering has one fatal flaw. It has not taken into account the unavoidability of reality and the natural world we are a part of.  It it only a matter of time before we are no longer able to turn blind eyes to catastrophic truths.” “”Ignorance Is Strength”

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets. They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. They force us to confront unexamined assumptions, ones that, if not challenged, lead to destruction. They expose the ruling elites as hollow and corrupt. They articulate the senselessness of a system built on the ideology of endless growth, ceaseless exploitation and constant expansion. They warn us about the poison of careerism and the futility of the search for happiness in the accumulation of wealth. They make us face ourselves, from the bitter reality of slavery and Jim Crow to the genocidal slaughter of Native Americans to the repression of working-class movements to the atrocities carried out in imperial wars to the assault on the ecosystem. They make us unsure of our virtue. They challenge the easy clichés we use to describe the nation—the land of the free, the greatest country on earth, the beacon of liberty—to expose our darkness, crimes and ignorance. They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.

Human societies see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy. They ignore unpleasant facts that intrude on self-glorification. They trust naively in the notion of linear progress and in assured national dominance. This is what nationalism is about—lies. And if a culture loses its ability for thought and expression, if it effectively silences dissident voices, if it retreats into what Sigmund Freud called “screen memories,” those reassuring mixtures of fact and fiction, it dies. It surrenders its internal mechanism for puncturing self-delusion. It makes war on beauty and truth. It abolishes the sacred. It turns education into vocational training. It leaves us blind. And this is what has occurred. We are lost at sea in a great tempest. We do not know where we are. We do not know where we are going. And we do not know what is about to happen to us.

The psychoanalyst John Steiner calls this phenomenon “turning a blind eye.” He notes that often we have access to adequate knowledge but because it is unpleasant and disconcerting we choose unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, to ignore it. He uses the Oedipus story to make his point. He argued that Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon and the “blind” Tiresias grasped the truth, that Oedipus had killed his father and married his mother as prophesized, but they colluded to ignore it. We too, Steiner wrote, turn a blind eye to the dangers that confront us, despite the plethora of evidence that if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships to each other and the natural world, catastrophe is assured. Steiner describes a psychological truth that is deeply frightening.

I saw this collective capacity for self-delusion among the urban elites in Sarajevo and later Pristina during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. These educated elites steadfastly refused to believe that war was possible although acts of violence by competing armed bands had already begun to tear at the social fabric. At night you could hear gunfire. But they were the last to “know.” And we are equally self-deluded. The physical evidence of national decay—the crumbling infrastructures, the abandoned factories and other workplaces, the rows of gutted warehouses, the closure of libraries, schools, fire stations and post offices—that we physically see, is, in fact, unseen. The rapid and terrifying deterioration of the ecosystem, evidenced in soaring temperatures, droughts, floods, crop destruction, freak storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels, are met blankly with Steiner’s “blind eye.”

Oedipus, at the end of Sophocles’ play, cuts out his eyes and with his daughter Antigone as a guide wanders the countryside. Once king, he becomes a stranger in a strange country. He dies, in Antigone’s words, “in a foreign land, but one he yearned for.”

William Shakespeare in “King Lear” plays on the same theme of sight and sightlessness. Those with eyes in “King Lear” are unable to see. Gloucester, whose eyes are gouged out, finds in his blindness a revealed truth. “I have no way, and therefore want no eyes,” Gloucester says after he is blinded. “I stumbled when I saw.” When Lear banishes his only loyal daughter, Cordelia, whom he accuses of not loving him enough, he shouts: “Out of my sight!” To which Kent replies:

See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.

The story of Lear, like the story of Oedipus, is about the attainment of this inner vision. It is about morality and intellect that are blinded by empiricism and sight. It is about understanding that the human imagination is, as William Blake saw, our manifestation of Eternity. “Love without imagination is eternal death.”

The Shakespearean scholar Harold Goddard wrote: “The imagination is not a faculty for the creation of illusion; it is the faculty by which alone man apprehends reality. The ‘illusion’ turns out to be truth.” “Let faith oust fact,” Starbuck says in “Moby-Dick.”

“It is only our absurd ‘scientific’ prejudice that reality must be physical and rational that blinds us to the truth,” Goddard warned. There are, as Shakespeare wrote, “things invisible to mortal sight.” But these things are not vocational or factual or empirical. They are not found in national myths of glory and power. They are not attained by force. They do not come through cognition or logical reasoning. They are intangible. They are the realities of beauty, grief, love, the search for meaning, the struggle to face our own mortality and the ability to face truth. And cultures that disregard these forces of imagination commit suicide. They cannot see.

“How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,” Shakespeare wrote, “Whose action is no stronger than a flower?” Human imagination, the capacity to have vision, to build a life of meaning rather than utilitarianism, is as delicate as a flower. And if it is crushed, if a Shakespeare or a Sophocles is no longer deemed useful in the empirical world of business, careerism and corporate power, if universities think a Milton Friedman or a Friedrich Hayek is more important to its students than a Virginia Woolf or an Anton Chekhov, then we become barbarians. We assure our own extinction. Students who are denied the wisdom of the great oracles of human civilization—visionaries who urge us not to worship ourselves, not to kneel before the base human emotion of greed—cannot be educated. They cannot think.

To think, we must, as Epicurus understood, “live in hiding.” We must build walls to keep out the cant and noise of the crowd. We must retreat into a print-based culture where ideas are not deformed into sound bites and thought-terminating clichés. Thinking is, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “a soundless dialogue between me and myself.” But thinking, she wrote, always presupposes the human condition of plurality. It has no utilitarian function. It is not an end or an aim outside of itself. It is different from logical reasoning, which is focused on a finite and identifiable goal. Logical reason, acts of cognition, serve the efficiency of a system, including corporate power, which is usually morally neutral at best, and often evil. The inability to think, Arendt wrote, “is not a failing of the many who lack brain power but an ever-present possibility for everybody—scientists, scholars, and other specialists in mental enterprises not excluded.”

Our corporate culture has effectively severed us from human imagination. Our electronic devices intrude deeper and deeper into spaces that were once reserved for solitude, reflection and privacy. Our airwaves are filled with the tawdry and the absurd. Our systems of education and communication scorn the disciplines that allow us to see. We celebrate prosaic vocational skills and the ridiculous requirements of standardized tests. We have tossed those who think, including many teachers of the humanities, into a wilderness where they cannot find employment, remuneration or a voice. We follow the blind over the cliff. We make war on ourselves.

The vital importance of thought, Arendt wrote, is apparent only “in times of transition when men no longer rely on the stability of the world and their role in it, and when the question concerning the general conditions of human life, which as such are properly coeval with the appearance of man on earth, gain an uncommon poignancy.” We never need our thinkers and artists more than in times of crisis, as Arendt reminds us, for they provide the subversive narratives that allow us to chart a new course, one that can assure our survival.

“What must I do to win salvation?” Dimitri asks Starov in “The Brothers Karamazov,” to which Starov answers: “Above all else, never lie to yourself.”

And here is the dilemma we face as a civilization. We march collectively toward self-annihilation. Corporate capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill us. Yet we refuse, because we cannot think and no longer listen to those who do think, to see what is about to happen to us. We have created entertaining mechanisms to obscure and silence the harsh truths, from climate change to the collapse of globalization to our enslavement to corporate power, that will mean our self-destruction. If we can do nothing else we must, even as individuals, nurture the private dialogue and the solitude that make thought possible. It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.