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Struggling To Be “Fully Alive”: Reports On Coping With Anguish For A World In Collapse

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Oldspeak: “We need to transcend systems rooted in human arrogance and greed that lead us to believe that any individual is more valuable than another, that any group of people should dominate another group, or that people have a right to exploit the living world without regard for the consequences for the ecosystem. Because each of us has within us the capacity for constructive and destructive actions — for good and evil — our collective task is to shape a society that helps us act with caution and compassion…This radical message of humility and solidarity comes from a deep conception of respect: Respect for oneself, for other people, for other living things, and for the earth as a living system. That message animates the best of our philosophy, theology, poetry, and politics. ” -Robert Jensen

“The message i take away from this post is simply this: we are never alone. When we feel like we’re the crazy ones for feeling profound and deep grief, sadness, anger, frustration, that no one else seems to be experiencing, it’s not true. There are others bearing witness, struggling with their anguish.  To be as Joanna Macy says “fully present to what is happening in the world“. Be mindful, be vigilant in your practice of radical acceptance. Recognize that “All differences in this world are of a degree not a kind, because Oneness is the secret of everything.” Being in the present moment is all we can do. Professor Jensen’s original essay is definitely worth a read. “ -OSJ

By Robert Jensen @ Common Dreams:

“I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said many times over the centuries.”

That may have been the most insightful response to my essay asking people to report on how they cope with the anguish of living in a world in collapse.

That simple statement is a reminder that (1) the social and ecological crises we face have been building for a long time and (2) the best of our traditions have, for a long time, offered wisdom useful in facing those crises. The unjust social systems and unsustainable ecological practices of contemporary society started with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, when humans began dominating each other and the planet in evermore destructive fashion, and intensified dramatically over the 250 years of the industrial revolution. (For a historical perspective, see “The delusional revolution”.)

And for nearly that long, some people have resisted the power of elites and tried to protect the land. (For a contemporary example, see “Where agriculture meets empire.”)

So, we struggle in the moment with complex problems that defy simple solutions — problems that may be beyond our capacity to solve in any meaningful way. But describing the basics needed for a better world is not difficult if we draw on that wisdom. Here’s my condensed version:

We need to transcend systems rooted in human arrogance and greed that lead us to believe that any individual is more valuable than another, that any group of people should dominate another group, or that people have a right to exploit the living world without regard for the consequences for the ecosystem. Because each of us has within us the capacity for constructive and destructive actions — for good and evil — our collective task is to shape a society that helps us act with caution and compassion.

This radical message of humility and solidarity comes from a deep conception of respect: Respect for oneself, for other people, for other living things, and for the earth as a living system. That message animates the best of our philosophy, theology, poetry, and politics, and it was at the heart of nearly all the 300 responses to my essay. This notion of respect wasn’t defined as “being nice” or “not being judgmental.” Respect takes work — to understand the other, make judgments, and engage constructively when there are disagreements or conflicting needs.

Along with those calls for love, there was a lot of anger in the responses, much of it directed at elites — the politicians, business executives, and media propagandists who so often not only promote arrogant and greedy behavior over humility and solidarity, but also rationalize and prop up the political/economic/social systems in which the destructive behavior is fostered.

And many wrote that the while the anger we may feel toward elites is justified, we have to start with self-critique and examine our own place in these systems. For example, the anger toward BP officials over the “hole in the world” at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico co-exists with the recognition that we all live somewhere in the system that demands that oil:

“I speak of the oil spill going on and I acknowledge how implicated I am in it. My lifestyle — despite efforts to eat wild foods, look at waste streams as resources, and live frugally — depends heavily on oil. It’s like there are these [oil] stains on my hands, all over my hands, my body and the ground around me.”

In such a world, it is easy for those of us who live in affluent societies to be drained by an awareness of all this:

“My personal ambition seems to decrease in proportion to the increase in world suffering. I think that’s part of my emotional reaction to crisis. I don’t think I am fully alive. I’m not depressed, just weirdly diminished.”

Why would someone feel diminished today? For almost all of the people who responded, the heart of their struggle was in the realization that the human species, locked into industrial societies dependent on high-energy/high-technology systems to produce food and fuel, is on a path leading to the edge of a cliff. No one offered predictions for an end time, but:

“[W]hat I see as the reality of our situation — ecologically, politically, economically, and culturally — is that we are in the last days of our species, and I just don’t know what to do with that. The emotions are much too powerful, the grief, the sense of doom — how does one deal with the real possibility of the extinction of not just millions of species, but of one’s own species?”

Feeling isolated but resolved to act

Where does that reality leave us emotionally? My essay inquired specifically about the feelings that accompany the intellectual understanding that we live in a world in collapse. That question led not only to descriptions of those emotions, but strategies for dealing with them. No single comment could sum up so many different people’s responses, but this one comes close:

“So I feel hopeless. I feel sad. I feel amused at the absurdity of it all. I feel depressed. I feel enraged. I feel guilty and I feel trapped. Basically the only reason why I’m still alive is because there are enough amazing people and things in my life to keep me going, to keep me fighting for what matters. I’m not even sure how to fight yet, but I know that I want to.”

One common response was gratitude for having a place to communicate these thoughts without worrying about being ridiculed. Many wrote about how isolated they felt, even from friends and family who don’t want to talk about these matters and either deny there are reasons to be concerned or ignore the evidence:

“I’m a drug addict with over 20 years clean, and I know all about using up my future and farting out lame excuses. I promised myself an honest life to stay clean, and the double-edged sword is that I started seeing just how much our culture swims in denial.”

Pressing these importance questions about systemic failure and collapse leads to resistance from others, who then assert that the real problem is anyone who wants to talk about collapse:

“I have been writing for a year and a half on a lot of things as it pertains to humanity’s lack of awareness and the potential to reconnect before we destroy the earth and each other.  People get angry at me for it and call me ‘dark’ and ‘negative’ and ‘sinful’ telling me to instead move to the ‘light,’ ‘positive’ and ‘love.’  Whatever.”

Some see a general “desensitization to the destruction of our planet [that] is nothing short of heart breaking” and worry about what the loss of the capacity for empathy means:

“It is considered feminine and naive to care about trees or animals. … In addition, it is also considered weak and feminine to empathize or display a proper emotion. We are becoming a nihilistic culture which is creating citizens who are numb to their emotions. This is doing us all a disservice. We are missing out on our bodily wisdom and becoming less and less in tune with our earth.”

Though people have different views on the role of high-technology responses to ecological collapse, everyone who wrote recognized that more gadgets aren’t going to save us:

“I have thought for a long time that the human species, notwithstanding its endless self-flattery, really is not very intelligent. One of the signs of its stupidity is, in fact, the very way that it equates intelligence with technological prowess.”

One of the most compelling comments on advanced technology came from a doctoral student in engineering at a prestigious university:

“I have come to this firm conclusion that any more technological development is purely unnecessary and technological progress is hyper-glorified by the developed countries just as a tool to continue their agenda of robbing the resources of our planet from the third world (and perhaps soon from neighboring astronomical bodies, too). And what is glorified as the rational, intellectual research that folks like me are doing over here is just a means towards facilitating this robbing activity; this implicit imperialism; this invisible killing of our planet earth.”

People also recognize the inadequacy of technological solutions to the end of cheap, plentiful energy. While endorsing more research on alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas, those who wrote to me were wary of claims that alternatives can magically replace the concentrated energy of fossil fuels and allow us to motor on in our affluence:

“[T]he only way that the terrible catastrophes on the way could have been softened would have been for everyone on the planet to have dropped business as usual 10 or 20 years ago, and to have started retooling all of society while there was still a reasonable surplus of high EROEI (energy return on energy investment) fossil fuel left to power the *energetically* costly conversion process of re-engineering energy production, housing, cities, suburbs, farming, fishing, and transport. That didn’t happen. And having lived through the period, it would have been completely impossible to motivate in the first or third world. But just as important, it is *even more* unlikely that this will begin to happen now.  This is because growing energy scarcity will cut into our flexibility as people scramble to prop up floundering systems.”

In addition to these critiques of life in the affluent world, many wrote of the grotesque disparities in wealth in the world today. As we struggle with fears of the future, billions of people cope with severe limitations in the present:

“[W]e in the U.S. are essentially living behind a military barricade. I heard a quote recently that ‘collapse means having the same lifestyle as the people who grow your coffee.’ I really, really liked that.”

And in many of the critiques of the affluent First World, there was an understanding that the heart of the problem is the United States:

“Americans today are living with a profound and apparently irreconcilable disparity between what we say we are, and what we actually are. Between the promise of democracy and the reality of a crumbling empire. The result of this schism, I believe, is the national equivalent of a disassociated personality. And it’s not just our shared history of betrayal and abuse that has caused it. It’s the myth of freedom as well. In the mythology of freedom, democracy was supposed to empower us all to make a change for the better.”

Although some wrote with certainty about their conclusions, more people expressed confusion and weariness over the effort needed to understand such a complex world:

“I spend a lot of time in my own head going back and forth over theories, philosophies, etc. Pretty much going through a process once a month of discarding everything I thought I knew and re-learning it. While this may be a good thing in the future, it does not feel good now. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am alone and lost and that I can’t find any truth in anything because I have so many different voices telling me what is right and wrong. Yet, I can never stop going back and looking at what’s happening to this real, physical, lovely and loving planet and feel outrage, sorrow, and confusion and why this culture is so insane.”

Even with all this talk of their own struggles, the people who wrote were not asking others to feel sorry for them. Instead, the focus was outward, on how this affects others. That was clear in the comments not only of parents and grandparents, but also of people who chose not to have children — what is the fate of future generations?

“Being the parent of a young child right now is a mixed blessing: He’s my reason for waking up every morning and doing whatever it takes to keep up some semblance of normalcy, but it also frightens and worries me deeply when I think about his future.”

In the face of challenges that feel overwhelming — in the face of problems that may have no solutions — what should we do? Very few of the people who wrote suggested we should give up; most are committed to action:

“I guess the best thing we can do … point out problems, suggest solutions, work for radical system changes and not just reforms that too often are more cosmetic than substantial, and above all: keep the faith … and we need to project to others that we have the faith, or get the hell out of the work and retire or just wait for Armageddon.”

Many responses focused on the need not only to act collectively but also to reduce our consumption individually:

“I read a statement in the book Hard Times by Studs Terkel that I really liked: ‘Security is knowing what I can do without.’ Every day, I find something new that I can do without. My fiancé and I now grow much of the food we eat, we purchase necessities only, we shop at the Goodwill.”

and learn skills that have atrophied all too quickly in an affluent, high-energy culture:

“I’m not an old hippie that wants to return to sex, drugs and rock and roll on the commune. … I believe in hierarchy, rules and skills, but we must start something new, difficult and dangerous. We must also learn to not trust power and create small, subsistence communities. Instead of trying to mend the empire we should be teaching ourselves skills of our rural grandparents.”

Tipping points and panic

But still the question haunts us: What if the unsustainable systems in which we live are beyond the point of no return? There certainly are rational reasons to assume that we are past a tipping point.

For example, the March 2005 report of the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, based on the work of 1,300 researchers from 95 countries who spent four years examining 24 ecosystems worldwide, offered this “stark warning”:

“Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. … Nearly two thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are found to be in decline worldwide. In effect, the benefits reaped from our engineering of the planet have been achieved by running down natural capital assets.” http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.429.aspx.pdf

This kind of knowledge can be so overwhelming that people feel it’s not safe to open up emotionally:

“I would like to mourn but have not been able to let my guard down.  I could understand 9/11, but now I am witnessing the destruction of the planet and I don’t understand the magnitude of what that means. I feel on edge. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

How to live in that world and remain fully engaged, intellectually and emotionally? This comment sums up the task and a path:

“Recently several of our visionary thinkers have moved from the illusion that ‘we have 10 years to turn this around.’ They now say clearly that ‘we cannot stop this momentum.’ It takes courage and faith to speak so plainly. What can we do in the face of this truth? We can sit face to face and find the ways, often beyond words, to explore the reality that we are all refugees, swimming into a future that looks so different from the present. We can find pockets of community where we can whisper our deepest fears about the world. We can remain committed to describing the present with exceptional truth. We can cultivate a practice that enables us to witness suffering with hearts and minds open and with our faces turned toward one another.”

It would be easy to close on that note, blunt but positive. But for many, that kind of approach is difficult. I sent my essay to a political activist who is one of the most well-informed people I know in matters concerning politics and ecology. His response:

“I guess my emotional reaction is actually to suppress the emotional reaction. … [P]anic, which would probably be the emotional reaction, is something to be deferred until the situation is relatively safe. So I try to think about what is to be done and can be done, and promise myself that if we do get past these crises, I will enjoy the moment to panic about how dangerous a situation we were in.”

My response:

“I understand what you say, but it seems to me that an appreciation of the nature of the crises is necessary for sensible strategy, and I don’t know how to engage that intellectually without having emotional reactions. … My fear is that if we don’t discuss it, those of us struggling with these emotions will fade away from collective action. So, instead of this kind of discussion necessarily leading to political paralysis, I think it can prevent paralysis in some people.”

My friend didn’t contest my analysis: “I don’t advocate for my emotional response, but it is what it is.”

Though he didn’t argue with me, I didn’t feel as if I had won an argument. Emotions are what they are, and we don’t “win” by telling people what they should feel. It’s enough of a struggle to understand what I feel and why I feel it; I don’t think I’m qualified to dictate to others what they should feel. In dealing with multiple crises on all fronts — economic, political, cultural, and ecological failures that pose a significant threat to human life as we understand it — it’s folly for any one of us to imagine we figured out the right approach, or that there is a single right approach, or that there is any right approach at all.

The only thing I’m sure of is that, to quote singer/songwriter John Gorka, “the old future’s gone.” The future of endless bounty for all, which some once imagined would be the product of the application of human reason to problems of the world, is not the future we face. How can we open a conversation about what’s coming when so much is unknown and so many resist? Rather than pontificate, I will end with the reflections of an elder:

“I’m about to celebrate my 70th birthday. I live in a rural intentional community, close to land that feeds us and supports us. I’ve lived long enough now to be very aware of how different the world has become, how the cycles of nature are off kilter, how the seasons and the climate have shifted. My garden tells me that food doesn’t grow in quite the same patterns, and we either get weeks of rain or weeks of heat and drought. This is the second year in a row that our apple trees do not have apples on them. But most people get their food in grocery stores where the apples still appear, and food still arrives, in season and out, from all over the world. This will soon end, and people won’t understand why. They don’t see the trouble in the land as I and my friends do. I grieve daily as I look on this altered world. My grandchildren are young adults who think their lives will continue as they have been. Who will tell them? They can’t hear me. They, and many others, will have to see the changes for themselves, as I have. I can’t imagine that anything else will convince them. My grief for the world, and for them, is compounded by this feeling of helplessness because there is no way we can have the collective action you speak of when the ‘collective’ is still in denial. Thank you for listening.”

—————————————————————————————————————————-

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (City Lights, 2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity;  The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege; Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity; and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.  An extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff is available here.

He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online here.

Abnormal is The New Normal: Connecting The Dots On Climate Change

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 3:34 am

ENSO temp influence

Oldspeak: “Even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out thattoday we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.” -Guy McPhereson

“Was watching environmental activist Bill McKibben on Bill Moyers the other day. He was peddling this “there’s a global movement to solve the climate crisis” bullshit. i don’t know why a man who founded 350.org to draw attention to the fact that we needed to keep atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 350 parts per million to have a chance at a livable planet when CO2 concentrations are currently at 400 parts per million and rising, would continue to spew this nonsense. Focusing so much energy and time on things that don’t matter, like protesting, marching,  getting arrested and appealing to leaders bought and paid for by fossil energy producers. He like many others have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change. The basic fact of the matter is whatever actions needed to be taken to avert extinction of most life on earth needed to be taken 40 years ago.  We are just beginning to see the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change as conditions continue to worsen. it’s a safe bet that in the next 29 years humans will emit many more extinction inducing emissions than it has in the last 436 years as developing nations burn more fossil energy and dirtier fossil energy is extracted; that is of course if we last 29 years.” -OSJ

Guy McPhereson @ Nature Bats Last:

I’m routinely accused of cherry picking information about climate change. I plead guilty, with the following 1,000-word disclaimer.

I’ll start with a line from recently deceased professor emeritus and long-time teacher Albert Bartlett: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” When I speak and write about climate change, most members of the audience are stuck in fifth grade, unaware that nature often exhibits non-linearity.

I pick cherries because I see nobody else connecting the dots on climate change. I see nobody else making an honest effort to describe our predicament. So, by default, I’m The Connector. I collate, summarize, and synthesize information about climate change. And in the process of serving as host for the finest reality show on the Internet, I connect people, too.

In return, I’m the dark-horse candidate for Golden Horseshoe liar of the year award. No, really: You can read all about it. This planet has become so Orwellian that those who collate the facts and pass them along are hated as liars.

I see plenty of support for denying the obvious. According to a December 2013 paper in Climatic Change, the climate change counter-movement is funded to the tune of nearly a billion dollars each year. That’s just in the United States, where we continue to brag about our prowess in destroying the living planet long after a few of us recognized the irony in the following advertisement from Life magazine in 1962. The story is similar in other countries.

humbleoilad

How obvious is ongoing climate change induced by anthropogenic global warming? If you’re unwilling to look outside, consider the following graph from Climate Central.

10 warmest years on record

And even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out that “today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.

I’ve given up on civilized humans making any effort to take relevant action. Never mind our stunning myopia: The money to be made is clearly more important than the extinctions we cause, including our own.

As pointed out in March 2012 in Nature Climate Change, several psychological reasons explain why people have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change (David Roberts comments at length in his article at Grist:

1. To the extent that climate change is an abstract concept, it is non intuitive and cognitively difficult to grasp.

2. Our moral judgement system is finely tuned to react to intentional transgressions — not unintentional ones.

3. Things that make us feel guilty provoke self-defensive mechanisms.

4. Uncertainty breeds wishful thinking, so the lack of definitive prognoses results in unreasonable optimism.

5. Our division into moral and political tribes generates ideological polarization; climate change becomes politicized.

6. Events do not seem urgent when they seem to be far away in time and space; out-group victims fall by the wayside.

At considerable risk of pummeling the dead equine, I’ll reiterate a couple paragraphs I pointed out before:

Leading mainstream outlets routinely lie to the public. According to a report published 11 January 2014, “the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds over six years trying to keep secret an extraordinary ‘eco’ conference which has shaped its coverage of global warming.” At the 2006 event, green activists and scientists — one of whom believes climate change is a bigger danger than global nuclear war — lectured 28 of the BBC’s most senior executives.

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.”

In other words, science selects for conservatism (aka picking cherries long after they are ripe). Science, after all, is merely the process of elucidating the obvious. Climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama” (aka looking for the cherries long after they’ve fallen off the tree, onto the ground, and been consumed by rodents).

The feedbacks are too numerous, the inertia too strong. We fired the clathrate gun by 2007 or earlier, coincident with crossing the point of no return for climate change. The corporate media and corporate governments of the world keep lying, and too few hold them accountable.

____________

This essay is permalinked at Seemorerocks, Speaking Truth to Power and Before It’s News.

____________

With an eye to improving my “bedside manner” when I deliver presentations, I’ve recently become a certified grief-recovery counselor. A brief summary of the program, which I learned about from a contact on Facebook, is here.

I was extremely impressed by the workshop. In fact, I told the facilitator it was about a thousand times better than I expected halfway through the first of four emotionally wrenching days. The facilitator was among the best teachers I’ve ever seen.

I learned about my own grief, and how to deal with it. I learned dealing with grief is a process that requires practice. I learned that some losses associated with individuals represent opportunities to move on from the relationship.

I have suffered many of the usual and customary losses typically associated with grief, along with a few others. Who knew there are more than 40 kinds of losses? These include moving, losing a job, divorce, death of a loved one, and many others. I suffered considerable grief when I left the university: the loss of ego, friends, and colleagues was enormous, as was the sudden inability to teach.

I also learned a little bit about helping others deal with their own grief. That in itself is a big deal for a left-brained, science geek. I recommend this workshop to almost anybody who is willing to put themselves into the position of eager, heart-wide-open student.

I’m still working through the tools I picked up at the workshop. I suspect the process will continue for a long time. Like, as long as I have.

______________________

Please join me in supporting our friend OzMan as he literally walks away. Click here for more information.

____________

Thursday, 6 February 2013, 7:00 p.m., West End Cultural Centre, 586 Illice Avenue at Sherbrook, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, “Straight Talk About Climate Change”

Thursday, 20 February 2014, 5:15 p.m., Singer room, Eugene Public Library, 100 West 10th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Friday, 21 February 2104, 7:00 p.m., Vancouver Public Library, 901 C Street Vancouver, Washington, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Saturday, 22 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Avenue Bellingham, Washington, “Climate Chaos”

Monday, 24 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Odd Fellows Hall, 112 Haven Road, Eastsound, Washington (on Orcas Island), “Climate Chaos”

Wednesday, 26 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., San Juan Island Library, 1010 Guard Street, Friday Harbor, Washington

Thursday, 27 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., location to be determined, Tacoma, Washington

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 7-day seminar, 24-31 May 2014, Moho Creek, Belize, Central America.

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 June 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.

____________

Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by more than 15 readers at Amazon.

Another Government Is Necessary: The People Can Rule Better Than the Elites

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Oldspeak: “Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.  One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly… This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation. The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.” –Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese.  Vesting power in corporate sponsored politicians will inexorably lead to government for the corporations, by the corporations.  One can see this in any number of obvious examples. Multi-trillion dollar bailouts for corporations who repeatedly engage in criminal business practices that crashed the global economy, while the people who need bailouts most are saddled with debt, austerity measures, & poverty-stricken existence. Unwavering commitment by corporocrats to continue investing resources in earth and life killing dirty energy sources. Unequal enforcement of the law, based on caste, where high caste citizens generally avoid punishment, for heinous offenses like laundering drug money for terrorists any falsely foreclosing on people’s homes while middle and low-caste citizens are incarcerated at historic rates for non-crimes like walking between subway cars, and bidding on land T Unprecedented prosecution of patriotic and law-abiding  Americans; government whistleblowers who’ve tried to expose fraud, waste and illegality.  Etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum. This state of affairs cannot continue. Government for the people and by the people needs to be restored. Democracy’s gone, oligarchical collectivism reigns.”

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese @ Truthout:
More people are taking action in their communities to meet their basic needs because of government corruption at all levels that protects the status quo when urgent change is needed. People are moving on many fronts to challenge the system and create the world they want to see.On Earth Day, another step was taken to challenge elite rule. A new alternative government was announced. It is an extension of the Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala Green Party campaign for president and vice president. The Green Shadow Cabinet currently consists of more than 80 activists, scientists, lawyers, advocates, economists, health professionals, labor leaders and artists who are independent of the corporate duopoly and are actively working on solutions to the crises we face. These top-level people in their fields have taken on this responsibility as volunteers. (Full disclosure: Margaret Flowers serves as secretary of health and Kevin Zeese as attorney general, and both serve on the administrative committee of the Shadow Cabinet.) The cabinet comes at a time when people are increasingly ready to leave the corrupt two-party system. With President Obama supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare, drone-bombing countries with which we are not at war, and appointing Wall Street and other big business interests to his cabinet, many voters are searching for somewhere to go. Even the former head of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, is talking about leaving the Democrats.

The cabinet will serve as an independent voice in US politics, putting the needs of people and protection of the planet ahead of profits for big corporations. Members of the cabinet will demonstrate what an alternative government could look like. However, creating an alternative form of governance will depend in large part on what people do at the local level.

Another World Is Possible; Another Government Is Necessary

Shadow cabinets have existed in other countries throughout history. They are usually created by opposition parties as a way to show what they stand for as they work toward regaining power. This Shadow Cabinet is different in a few aspects.

First, the Green Shadow Cabinet is a response to the corruption and dysfunction of the current economic and political systems. There are real solutions to the crises we face and majorities of the public support these solutions, but both parties in government are not considering them and are, in fact, doing the opposite.

The people could rule better than the elites, and that is why it is time for the people to take matters into our own hands. As cabinet member Christopher Cox explained on the day of the announcement, “There is no time for slow incremental change.” Cox also affirmed that “We have the possibility of addressing these issues at the level of humanity.” The Cabinet is not waiting, but is taking action now to encourage people to build a government that is really of, by and for the people.

And second, because political debate in the United States is limited to what the two corporate parties allow, the Cabinet will bring attention to real solutions to our crises that are not being discussed. At present, there is no discussion of full employment, even though that is a critical ingredient to creating an economy that works for everyone. There is no discussion of ending the carbon-nuclear–based energy economy, despite the crisis of climate change, the risks of carbon-nuclear energies to air, water, and life, and the obvious end of the cheap oil and gas era.

One of the goals of the Shadow Cabinet is to inject these issues into the US political dialogue. For example, here are excerpts of statements some cabinet members released on the day the Cabinet was announced:

  • Two members of the economic team wrote statements. Richard Wolff, who chairs the Council of Economic Advisers, calls for tax fairness with progressive taxation, more higher income tax brackets and increased corporate taxes consistent with the successful policies used when the United States built a powerful post-World War II-economy. Labor economist Jack Rasmus points to the failure of fiscal policy and will be urging a makeover of the Federal Reserve into a transparent and democratic agency that responds to the needs of the economy, not to the banks.
  • Leah Bolger, defense secretary, urges a truly defensive military and calls for an end to the Afghanistan War, a 50 percent cut in Pentagon spending, cessation of the drone program and operating within the rule of law. David Swanson, secretary of peace, highlights the militarization of US foreign policy, which sells record numbers of weapons and spends nearly as much as the whole world combined on war. Noting he has no counterpart in the current government, he urges the United States to work for peace every day and asserts that investing war dollars in job creation at home will do more for the economy than spending $1 trillion on war and war preparation.
  • David Cobb, chair of the commission on corporations and democracy, begins by acknowledging that corporations have become the most dominant institution in America who rule over us “as masters once ruled slaves and as Kings ruled their subjects.” The solution to corporate power? “We must educate, agitate and organize. In other words, we must change the culture of this country.”
  • Roshan Bliss, the assistant secretary for higher education, says “Education is a human right, a public good, and a critical infrastructure without which no society can prosper.” As a student, he sees how outdated, underfunded and increasingly controlled by unaccountable private interest groups higher education has become. His top two priorities: empower students to be all they can become and equip schools to uplift society and be integrated in their communities.
  • Steve Chrismer, secretary of transportation, notes that when he went to Texas to join the Tar Sands Blockade, he thought about how few jobs were created by the pipeline compared to how many jobs would be created by a new mass transit and rail system. He believes we need to recreate the transportation system and build infrastructure that will serve the nation for generations, rather than pipelines that hasten our destruction.
  • Mark Dunlea, secretary of agriculture, calls for a new food system that is sustainable, affordable and not based on pesticides or other chemicals, but produces healthy foods and fair profits for farmers. The current food czar is a former Monsanto executive whose policies favor corporatization of farming, subsidies that result in overuse of water, widespread use of chemicals and allowing genetically modified foods. Dunlea’s views are echoed by Maureen Cruise, assistant secretary of health for community wellbeing, who promotes urban farming to bring food to the people who live in food deserts.

We published statements, too. Margaret coordinates the health council and advocates for Medicare-for-all as part of the solution to the health crisis in the United States. Kris Alman and Patch Adams join her in calling for breaking free of corporate medicine, and Adams urges communities to act now to build community-based health centers, calling for “revolutionizing health care delivery by replacing greed and competition with generosity, compassion and interdependence.”

Kevin, who coordinates the justice council, emphasizes the need for rule of law, which includes holding corporations accountable for both environmental damage and for collapsing the economy; rule of law also means ending the torture of confinement without charges at Guantanamo. Cliff Thornton, administrator of drug policy, calls for the end of the war on drugs and highlights the problems of mass incarceration, crime, violence and urban neglect, all made worse by the drug war. Their immediate task is putting forward policies to respect the will of voters in Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize marijuana, as well as of those in the 16 states and Washington, DC that allow medical use of marijuana.

In addition to publishing statements, Cabinet members are involved in advocacy and activism. Last weekend, six members participated in the anti-drone protest at the Hancock Air Force base, and a few days earlier, three participated in the protests at the Bush Library. Cheri Honkala is preparing for the May 18-24 Operation Green Jobs March on Washington. And the cabinet includes activists like climate justice’s Tim DeChrisotpher, labor leader Richard Monje, economic democracy advocate Gar Alperovitz and others. Many Cabinet members are working to build the nonviolent, transformative mass movement that is needed to bring real change to the United States.

While the cabinet evolved out of the Stein-Honkala campaign, it is not a project of the Green Party and is not limited to the Green Party. It is open to anyone who is independent of the duopoly and supportive of the Stein-Honkala Green New Deal platform.

In some ways, the cabinet is structured similarly to the current system, with a president, vice president, secretary of state, and heads of various government agencies. This was felt to be important at this stage so that media and the public would recognize that whomever was speaking on a given issue was acting as an alternative to those who currently hold these positions. When someone in power makes a statement or puts forth a policy, the corresponding cabinet member will respond with an alternative view.

However, the cabinet is structured differently from the current system in that it is composed of six branches: Democracy, Ecology, Economy, Foreign Affairs, General Welfare and Justice. Within these branches, in addition to traditional positions, are councils and new positions, so it is larger and less hierarchical than a traditional cabinet. Over time, we anticipate that more new positions will be added, the councils will grow and the structure will evolve.

If the people of the United States put another government in place, the mistakes of the past should not be repeated. It is time to truly create a participatory democratic structure where people have greater control over and benefit from the policies that affect them. An alternative system must be protected from becoming another top-down structure that ignores the voices and desires of the people.

The United States: A Managed Democracy That Protects Plutocrats

It was necessary to create the cabinet to break out of the mirage democracy of managed elections. Although citizens have the right to vote, the choice is restricted to candidates who are selected by large corporations and the wealthy elite. They represent political parties that are dominated by Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other big business interests. Third-party candidates are at an extreme disadvantage, and our most vulnerable populations are losing the right to vote.

Efforts to build parties and run independent candidates outside of the duopoly encounter major obstacles, especially at the national level. Ballot access laws vary from state to state, and it is not unusual for third parties who have done the work of collecting signatures and registering voters to see the legitimacy of their work challenged by boards of elections, state legislatures and judges from the duopoly. Third-party candidates find themselves spending so much time and energy to gain ballot access that there is little left for campaigning.

Since the United States does not have public funding of public elections, another obstacle is finances. The cost of running a campaign in the United States, especially at the federal level, is prohibitive. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2012, the corporate duopoly presidential candidates spent $2 billion. And that doesn’t count the money spent on their behalf by super PACs, nonprofit political organizations, issue advocacy organizations and “shadow money.” Incumbent senators raised $11 million, nearly ten times what their challengers raised. And in the House, incumbents raised $1.5 million, more than six times what their challengers raised.

A third major obstacle is media and debate access. Media access depends on how much a candidate can spend or whether the media chooses to provide coverage. In general, there is a media blackout of third-party candidates, including in media polls on presidential preference

Third-party candidates are largely excluded from public debates and entirely excluded from the presidential debates. The League of Women Voters officially withdrew from the debates in 1988 because of excessive control of the debate format and lack of transparency by the corporate duopoly. In a strong statement, the LWV president said, “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

In 1987, the corporate duopoly and their big business funders created a private corporation to sponsor the debates. They gave this debate an official sounding name, the Commission on Presidential Debates, so most people think it is a government commission. Each election, the duopoly negotiates a contract that determines who can participate, who will moderate, who can attend and what questions will be asked. The rules are set up to keep non-duopoly candidates out. And the corporate debate commission ensures that discussion remains within a narrow confine of what corporate interests allow.

In 2012, the Occupy movement and others exposed and protested the sham presidential debates. The Naked Emperor created this animated video to illustrate the political charade that is the presidential debates. People held rallies at each of the debate sites and Green candidates Stein and Honkala were arrested for trying to attend the debate in New York. As a result of these actions, three corporations withdrew from sponsoring the CPD, and independent media outlets and organizations held debates for third-party candidates.

While these were positive steps, the reality is that current restrictions to third party candidates completely prevent the election of a candidate that represents the will of people rather than large corporations. The ability of people to express their will through elections is further impeded by barriers to voting.

In many countries, registration to vote is universal. When citizens reach the legal age, they are automatically registered. In the United States, there are barriers to registration resulting in 70 million eligible voters who are not registered to vote. It is also becoming more common for voters to be erased from registration lists. And voter suppression through disenfranchisement and Election Day shenanigans is common.

The Sentencing Project estimates that 5.85 million Americans have lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. An astonishing number of African-Americans, 1 out of 13, no longer has the right to vote. As we wrote in” A Forest of Poisonous Trees: The US Criminal Injustice System,” the current economic and criminal justice systems result in the incarceration of massive numbers of people, which creates a vicious cycle such that those who are oppressed lose their ability to affect the system.

Over the past three years, more than 250 laws have been passed at the state level to suppress voting. These laws primarily target the elderly, young and minority voters, as documented in this March report by Project Vote. In addition to legal challenges to voting, tactics are used in minority communities to prevent people from voting. These include underequipped polling stations, moving polling stations without notice, and leafleting neighborhoods with misinformation about voting days and voting requirements.

This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation.

A System That Favors Corporate Profits Over People and the Planet

If there is any question about whether the current political system favors the wealthy, one need only turn to recent events. Last week, in an awesome display of bipartisanship, Congress repealed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, Act, known as the STOCK Act. This was a bill signed into law last year with great fanfare by President Obama. The law required that members of Congress and certain executive staffers publish their financial investments online in a searchable format. It was touted as an important step towards transparency and the rule of law. Remember that last year was an election year.

This year, it took all of ten seconds for the repeal to pass in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House. The unrecorded unanimous consent vote meant not a single member of Congress expressed dissent. The president quickly and quietly signed the repeal into law.

Now it will be more difficult for the public to know when elected officials are supporting policies that benefit them financially. For instance, when former senator John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State, it was revealed that he had investments in TransCanada, the company that is building the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department has authority to approve the pipeline, which is being protested by people in the United States and Canada because of its environmental impact. Indeed, Kerry had to divest nearly 100 stocks in order to avoid the conflicts of interest between his investments and his duties. Of course, the same conflicts of interest existed when he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee.

Another example is the deficit and austerity charade that was exposed last week. A doctoral student, Thomas Herndon, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst analyzed an economic study published by Reinhart and Rogoff. The results of the Reinhart-Rogoff study were cited widely by politicians and pundits to justify cuts to social and other government programs. Herndon found significant errors in the study that make the findings inaccurate.

Reinhart and Rogoff are linked to the Peter G. Peterson Foundatio,n which has a mission to promote policies that end our legacy social insurances – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Peterson Foundation has been heavily involved in the federal budget process for most of Obama’s presidency. It provided staff support and funding to the deficit commission appointed by Obama in early 2010 and funded national “town halls” called “America Speaks.”

The chairs of the deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, have also played an important role in the ongoing effort to cut social insurances, including leading the new Fix the Debt campaign composed of more than 80 tax-dodging CEOs who are starting with a budget of $60 million to lobby and build public support for their austerity proposals.

Solutions Exist; Transformation Depends on You

The Shadow Cabinet will not change the world; that task is up to all of us. Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.

One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly.

The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.

The Shadow Cabinet seeks to join and amplify those efforts and encourage more people to come together in their communities to form structures that solve problems through community-led initiatives and pressure on local governments. This can happen at the level of neighborhoods or through coalitions of organizations, or some communities may choose to form local shadow governments.

The people of the United States have the wisdom to do what needs to be done. The answers are part of our DNA. It is time to recognize and manifest our power.

You can listen to our interview about the Announcement of Green Shadow Cabinet with Cheri Honkala, Christopher Cox and Sean Sweeney on Clearing the FOG.