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

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“Environmental Melancholia”- Mourning The Changes That Surround Us: Readers Speak Out On Climate Calamity

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2015 at 1:10 pm
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Footage from the Carlton Complex wildfire in north and central Washington State. The fire burned for more than 10 days before it could be quelled by firefighters and rain. (Photo: Wildfire via Shutterstock)

Oldspeak:”Are You as a human being aware of the total disorder and the degenerating process going on in the world around you and in yourself? Aware in the sense of observing what is actually taking place. Not imagining what is taking place, not making an idea of what is taking place, but the actual happening: the political, religious, the social, the moral degeneration of man. No institution, no guru, no higher principles are going to stop this degradation. It is happening the world over. Are we aware of that? –Jiddu Krishnamurti

People often conceptualize climate disruption in very theoretical terms – as if it is a phenomenon that will take place in the future. However….the impacts of planetary warming are very real – and they are happening now… Taken together, these readers’ observations offer a disconcerting look at the planet changing before our eyes. They also lead us to the inevitable task of dealing with the melancholy that is sure to arise from our paying attention to these dramatic planetary changes.” –Dahr Jamail

“The latest climate dispatch from Dahr Jamail, frames the ongoing calamity of mass extinction and global ecological collapse from the view of normal folk, courageous enough to bear witness to the horrific degeneration happening in our world . People share their feelings of mourning, melancholy, loss, exasperation, frustration and fear that are rarely discussed in polite company. This needs to happen more often. We are all living and coping maladaptively with a beyond human scale planetary traumatic stress disorder. No one is talking about it. We are still acting as though we are separate from our environment. The effects of this delusion on our collective psyche are ubiquitous and devastating whether we choose to recognize them as such or not.” -OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

In early July, I asked Truthout readers to share the weather anomalies they are witnessing on their home turf. Large numbers of readers responded with a range of harrowing observations, from vanishing snow, to shifts in seasons, to skyrocketing temperatures, to wildfires and floods. People often conceptualize climate disruption in very theoretical terms – as if it is a phenomenon that will take place in the future. However, as the Truthout community knows, the impacts of planetary warming are very real – and they are happening now.

Taken together, these readers’ observations offer a disconcerting look at the planet changing before our eyes. They also lead us to the inevitable task of dealing with the melancholy that is sure to arise from our paying attention to these dramatic planetary changes.

Vanishing Snowpack

“Here, from the center of town, we can see Mount Blanc, the highest peak in Europe at 4,008 meters,” Robert James Parsons, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote Truthout recently. “It is surrounded by less high peaks. When my sisters and mother visited me in September 1993, they had a rare view of the surrounding peaks without snow. These are slate gray, and their contrast with the dark green on the lower mountains and the white on the Mount Blanc range is quite beautiful.”

Parsons explained that this was a rare view because, ordinarily, the snow around Mount Blanc never entirely disappeared. Usually, by the middle of each September, the fall rains had begun in the lower elevations, bringing fresh snows higher up, and that would put an end to the exposed gray rock until the end of the next year’s summer.

“But this year, the gray rock was visible already at the end of April,” Parsons concluded grimly.

While no single climatological event or phenomenon can be attributed solely to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), consistent shifts in weather patterns, along with increasing frequency and intensification of events or phenomena, are being tied directly to ACD.

For example, Parson’s story evidences the scientific fact that ACD is literally shifting the timing of the seasons.

Gordon Glick has lived in Bremerton, Washington, nearby the Olympic Mountains in Olympic National Park since 1978.

“Bremerton is due east of the Olympic range, particularly the mountains called ‘The Brothers,’ which are visible from several vantage points around town and environs,” he wrote.

“These days, the snow pack and the glaciers are almost gone by the middle of June.”

“I’m a born New York City boy, and have always marveled at my good fortune in winding up here in the Northwest. When I first arrived, I was thrilled to see that the upper reaches of the Olympics were snow-capped all year long. Yes, the glaciers and snowpack melted and receded, and by August, would be at about their minimum. In September, the weather would change up on the peaks, and before you knew it, the sunrise would reveal the eastern flanks covered with brilliant, glittering snow, while down here at sea level, it would still be sunny and warm, soon to turn the gray of a Northwest autumn and winter. On clear days one could look up and see the peaks mantled in white.”

But things have changed dramatically.

“These days, the snow pack and the glaciers are almost gone by the middle of June,” Glick continued. “By August, you can’t tell they were ever covered in snow and ice. The heat at sea level has become very oppressive, and without the inspiring view of the frozen summits, which seemed to offer respite for a thirsty and sweaty shipyard worker, it feels even hotter. Summer temperatures in the 90s have been common the past few years, and the haze obscures the peaks on some days.”

As I pen this piece, entire eastern flanks of the Olympic Peninsula remain, as they have for several days in a row now, shrouded thickly in smoke from hundreds of Canadian wildfires, as well as a burning rainforest in southeastern Olympic National Park.

A 2012 Stanford University study, “Northern Hemisphere Snowpack Likely to Shrink Faster,” speaks directly to the phenomenon Glick is witnessing. The study cites the fact that water supplies throughout the western United States will most certainly decline dramatically due to faster than expected changes in less annual snowfall amounts.

Molly Brown, who lives near Mount Shasta in California, wrote about how that mountain had almost no snowfall through this last winter – after multiple years of more than five feet of snow accumulations.

“A tomato I planted in late April is already turning red and it’s just the first week of July.”

“[This year] we didn’t have to lift one shovelful,” she said. “The previous winter had only one significant snow storm; this year, only two small storms. Then it was so warm that our peach trees blossomed too early for the pollinators to arrive, so almost no fruit set. And then of course a later freeze finished off any fruit that had managed to make.”

Mitch Clogg, who wrote from Mendocino, California, echoed Brown’s observations.

“I’ve had a place in Trinity Mountains since 2000 beneath Trinity Alps in northern California,” he wrote. “An older long-term neighbor was the first one to tell me the snowpack had been melting earlier and there used to be snow until end of June. This year it ended by end of May.”

He added, “Mount Shasta in mid-June looks like end of August. The northern and western sides are very bare.”

Clogg also wrote of his experience witnessing the mega-drought in his state, which has, via numerous studies, been linked directly to ACD. He wrote that, by the end of April, “It was the driest … I had ever seen the earth and trees. A lot of small cedar trees in [the] front and back of my place had died. The Trinity River is slightly above my ankle. There are no ripples; it is more like a lake. When I left Trinity Lake on June 14, it had already receded to [the] point where it was last fall.”

Shifting Seasons

In Portland, Oregon, Val Eisman wrote of how blueberries and zucchinis were ripening three weeks earlier than they normally would.

“A tomato I planted in late April is already turning red and it’s just the first week of July,” he wrote.

Patricia Sanders, writing from east central Arizona, said that at the farm where she used to live the apricots ripened six weeks early this year.

“Also, there are Eurasian collared doves in abundance – never seen before at the farm (the farmer’s been there 35 years),” she added.

Folks in Montana are seeing some big changes as well.

“Here in Missoula, we are having incredibly hot and dry weather very early in the year,” wrote Tamara Kittelson-Aldred. “For years, I have noticed that my garden is earlier developing and two years ago we were officially reclassified Zone 5 by the USDA, instead of Zone 4.” She is referring to US Department of Agriculture-designated “plant hardiness” zones, which essentially categorize locations by how well plants grow there. Large numbers of plant hardiness zones across the United States are now in the process of being redesignated.

“Conditions here feel about six weeks ahead of schedule … the rivers are really low – about seven feet or so below normal.”

Kittelson-Aldred is witnessing dramatic changes in Missoula: “This year, for the first time, my rain barrels never have filled up. We have had virtually no rain in April, May or June. At the same time, we have been in a Stage 1 fire danger alert since June. This never usually happens until late July or August. My Nanking cherries are all done as of two weeks ago and they used to ripen in July. And we have cherries and raspberries several weeks early. How can anyone say things are not changing?”

Over in Prescott, Arizona, Terry Wofford is also witnessing sharp changes in plant growth.

“I have lived in different parts of Arizona for the last 40 years,” she told Truthout. “All those years I have had thriving geraniums and other plants in pots, regardless of season or altitude. Now, for the last three years or so, there have been relentless caterpillar attacks virtually destroying them. Also, aphid infestations on all my deck plants, vegetables and even aspen tree, whereas in the past it was only roses affected and only for a short time.”

Stephen Rioux wrote from Ontario, Canada, where he lives on the shores of Georgian Bay. Although some people may assume that temperatures are increasing across the board this summer, Rioux points to the complexity of shifts in weather: In some places, this summer is unusually cool.

“It’s been interesting to see how the melting Arctic ice is changing our weather patterns, for as warm as it is where you are [Olympic Peninsula] and right up into Alaska, we are experiencing much cooler than normal temperatures here in Ontario,” Rioux wrote of the disruptions he is witnessing. “In fact, today (Canada Day, July 1) where I live, the high is only 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit), about 10 degrees Celsius below the average for this time of year. So we have these extremes occurring. Of course, all this cooler weather here has meant some of the lesser informed are saying how this proves ‘there is no such thing as ACD,’ never understanding that record warm temperatures are being recorded all over the planet or how ACD actually works. Fools!”

Colin Ball wrote from Clare Valley, Australia, where, he says, “signs of chaotic change abound.”

Record high temperatures, perhaps the most obvious sign of our climate-disrupted planet, have long been linked to ACD.

“Where I live, almond trees are amongst the first, along with some native acacias, to blossom,” Ball wrote. “This used to be in mid- to late August (winter here). I’ve watched over the past decade or so as this blossoming has occurred earlier in the season, from early August to late July, mid-July, early July, until this year 2015, I was astounded to see buds burst on my property on June 28!”

He added that by early July they experienced a prolonged warming period during which one day reached 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), despite that usually being, traditionally, the coldest part of the year there.

“This prolonged warm patch induced an apple tree to an early blossom with one particular blossom commencing to form an apple about the size of a grape,” Ball wrote. “When winter returned a week or so later, the blossoming stopped and the little apple desiccated but remained on the tree as a sad indictment of its misled promise. When frosts came due to rainless and cloudless skies in late July/August all the almond and apple blossoms died. The result – no fruit in summer.”

Shawn Taylor, the executive producer for “The Thom Hartmann Program,” wrote about her observations from Portland, Oregon:

I am not liking the hot summer we’ve been dealt in the Pacific Northwest this year. Portland has been too hot with higher than normal [temperatures] and humidity. We have no snow on our mountains either … Mt. Hood has a little on the highest peak and Mt. St. Helen’s had barely a dusting last weekend … it’s probably gone by now too … Conditions here feel about six weeks ahead of schedule … the rivers are really low – about seven feet or so below normal (I live on a floating home so that is always a little scary); fruit that usually isn’t ripe until August is just about ready to pick now and the pond near my house is drying up now vs. mid-August.

Taylor also mentioned that the heat in Portland had been relentless, and a large number of creeks were now completely dry. She described it as “really disturbing,” and said that the local government in her area had yet to place any restrictions on water use.

“I don’t think anyone wants to admit we’ve ‘suddenly’ become California,” she concluded.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists shifting seasons as an indicator of ACD. The world over, these shifts are taking an alarming cumulative toll on food and water availability and agricultural production (usually causing it to decline), and having negative impacts on insect and animal species.

Record Temperatures

Like Taylor, Jessica Sweeney lives in Portland, Oregon, which she describes as “a part of the country that is historically wet and mild throughout the majority of the year.” However, Sweeney said, “That started changing a decade or so ago. Right now, we are experiencing the craziest stretch of hot weather I have ever experienced (and I am a lifelong Oregonian).”

Val Eisman, also a Portland resident, described the city’s record temperatures: “We have had almost three weeks of 90s degree weather in Portland. Usually during our hot weather it gets down to the high 70s by 9 pm. Now it’s in the low 80s at 10 pm.”

Sweeney said temperatures in Portland had ranged from the high 80s to the low 100s “for so many days – without any signs of precipitation, not even a cloud in the sky – that I can’t recall when they started. It feels like desert heat, the kind you experience in central Oregon and California, and as far as I know has never happened in Portland before.”

Record high temperatures, perhaps the most obvious sign of our climate-disrupted planet, have long been linked to ACD.

Sweeney also mentioned how Pacific Northwest salmon are dying from the unusually warm river water.

Another observation from the Pacific Northwest came from Ian Cameron, in Camas, Washington. He too mentioned the incredible heat and lack of rainfall in the region, and said, “11 of the last 12 months have been warmer than average and six of those 11 months were heat records. But this June and July it has been unbelievable and actually sincerely concerning as our well already has a low flow/refill rate.”

Cameron went on to share his concerns about the future – a future in which the western United States is likely to continue growing hotter and drier.

“I’m no expert but I predict that in the near future (10-15 years) we are going to see private wells dry up across the West, maybe in the thousands or hundreds of thousands,” he wrote. “People won’t be able to live in (long term at least) or sell their homes resulting in massive debt, widespread economic disruption, migration to areas with water and the subsequent increased depletion rate of those water resources.”

David Kirsh, from Durham, North Carolina, wrote to share an experience he had in Jamaica. “I’m a lifelong shell collector and I’ve had the opportunity to vacation twice in the southwest corner of Jamaica called Treasure Beach (St. Elizabeth’s Parish), once in December 2013 and again this March,” he wrote.

Kirsh noticed that a place called “Great Pond” in Jamaica was only one-quarter to one-third full on his first trip, and he decided to explore the area for aquatic snails on his second trip.

“When we returned, I saw that it was completely dry,” he said. “The owner of the guesthouse where I stayed told me that it had been dry before but this is the longest time it’s been dry (perhaps eight months or more). Great Pond was the largest fresh body of water in Jamaica and was somewhat unique in its being so close to ocean water yet low salinity … It was a place where local Jamaicans used to fish and swim and boat (I don’t know how recently).”

Now, Kirsh wrote, the pond is a site of death. “I found the biggest single assemblage of shells I’ve ever seen in my lifetime at Great Pond – all dead,” he wrote. “Most of the shells I found on the surface of the dried mud are non-native and were introduced within the last 20 years, going by the records in a previous study. Admittedly without complete information, it seemed to me like a small habitat meant to be a canary in the coal mine.”

Another story about increasing temperatures came from Michael Gary, who wrote of his childhood home. It’s worth publishing in full:

In 1968, our family moved from Detroit, Michigan, to Westerville, Ohio, just north of Columbus.

In the winter months I would spend hours ice skating on Alumn Creek, along with hundreds of other members of our community. Year after year, without any interruption.

Decades went by before I found myself planning a trip back to that area and wanted to go ice skating again, as I had once enjoyed so much. In preparation I called the city office and inquired about how to learn about any planned activities. I was informed that the last time the creek had frozen was at least 20 years ago.

Global warming? I can’t say one way or another.

All I can say is that that creek froze year after year and I have seen photos of ice skating there dating back 100 years or so …

but it no longer does.

Ever.

Wildfires

Record wildfires abound, thanks to ACD. It is a scientific fact that there is now a greater frequency of wildfires, they are larger and hotter, and wildfire season is expanding dramatically, all due to ACD.

Thus far in 2015 alone, a staggering 3 million acres have burned in Alaska, and well over 5 million in Canada.

“It is the hottest and driest year in British Columbia that I have ever seen,” wrote Ellen Rainwalker, from Vancouver Island. “Sixty-four temperature records were broken in June. A lot of our rivers are fed from snowmelt but this year there was hardly any snow so the water in the rivers is very low. Lots of people’s wells have already run dry and it is only early July.”

She mentioned that while her area does sometimes have dry summers, this was the first time she was aware of that there have been such dramatic water shortages this early in the summer, “and I’ve lived here for a long time,” she said.

A recent local news report from her area underscored Rainwalker’s points, with a story on how the British Columbia government banned angling from over a dozen streams and rivers on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands because of low stream flows and warming water temperatures. Her province has also increased the drought rating for both of those areas to its highest level, and imposed new restrictions to protect what is left in the aquifers.

Another Canadian, Richard Miller from Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, also wrote to me about the wildfires and heat there.

“Fire is a major concern on this treed island and evacuation plans are in place,” he said. “Our crops are about a month early and many people on the island have dry wells. The regional government has banned new developments that draw water from stressed sources.”

Miller also reported on another anomaly: “lots of sightings of large sea animals in places they usually don’t show themselves, perhaps as a result ocean temperature change.”

Rising Sea Levels

Another glaringly obvious sign are rising sea levels, which science long ago linked to ACD.

Everett Wohlers is a consultant who works in developing countries, and a few years ago worked on a job in the Marshall Islands, where he observed something that troubled him greatly.

“When the US moved the Bikini islanders off Bikini to use it as the site for the H-bomb tests in the 1950s, they were resettled on Majuro, the atoll where the capital is located,” Wohlers wrote. “As part of the compensation package, the US built a high-quality paved road around the atoll, including through the capital.”

According to Wohlers, at the time the road was built, it was safely dry as it was well above the high-tide mark, even in stormy weather.

But things have changed.

“Now, at high tide, water routinely flows across the road just outside the hotel in which I stayed in the capital, even on perfectly calm days,” Wohlers wrote. “If you are not familiar with the Marshalls and the next island country to it, Kiribati, the maximum natural elevation on those atolls is about six feet, so it is only a matter of time until they become uninhabitable and eventually disappear, as did one of the Maldives islands a couple of years ago.”

Environmental Melancholia

While some people who wrote to Truthout about their environmental observations have spoken overtly about their exasperation, frustration and even fear, there is an even deeper emotional current surrounding the issue of climate disruption – and it is affecting all of us, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Regan Rosburg is a professional artist who is finishing her master’s thesis that explores the connection between grief, symbolism, environmental melancholia and mania. I was already well acquainted with Rosburg’s work, but she contacted me after I put out the call to Truthout readers.

Her perspective on what each of us is witnessing as the planet degrades is thus: “These are the personal mini deaths that, to me, are an entrance point for people to experience their own grief regarding environmental melancholia.”

Her thesis, which will be completed and fully online this November, will serve as both artwork and resource for those of us struggling to cope emotionally with the climate crisis, delving into the issue of what planetary death is doing to our psyches.

Rosburg continued:

A mini death is a death that is part of the larger ecological collapse story, but is close enough for someone to experience directly (in a way that resembles healthy mourning). For example, someone might see bees disappear from his yard, or she might experience a drought-related forest fire, or flooding. The person is having a direct experience with this death. Furthermore, his processing of the grief for this death is proportional to how much she directly engages her feelings and awareness towards the loss.

Rosburg explained that in contrast, the major deaths we witness, like the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica collapsing, or Chris Jordan’s photographs of plastic-filled albatross who feed in the open ocean, or even California’s record-breaking megadrought, remain “more indirect, abstract and overlapping.”

Rosburg sees these “major” deaths as being “too massive for the human mind to fully comprehend,” on top of the fact that we are all already desensitized by “a constant stream of small television, radio and social media sound bites, which further depersonalize these stories of massive losses around the world.”

Thus, we are left with, according to Rosburg, “no time to grieve; no symbolic ritual [is] in place, and [there is] no body to bury.” In other words, there is no real precedent for carrying out this kind of mourning.

“Thus, these notions of collapse are abstracted; they cannot be personalized, nor properly mourned,” Rosburg said. “Instead, the recurrent state of un-mournable deaths gives way to environmental melancholia.”

A G. Hanlon wrote me from California, and shared several examples of collapsing natural systems around him, including the drought, wildfires and chronically higher temperatures. He ended his email by sharing a deeply personal experience that speaks directly to the concept of “environmental melancholia”:

Until I read your interview [“Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It“], I was very much aware of climate change, of threats it posed to living entities … etc … but I lacked a sense of its immediacy. After reading it, I looked at an image I had taken of a friend’s daughter (16 years of age) participating in a race on July 4 at Mt. Shasta. As she ran past me, she flashed a natural, fabulously beautiful smile. I thought of her future (and others) but hers was deeply personal. I wept uncontrollably for sometime afterwards (10-20 minutes). Shopping today I paid attention to all those unknown people of all ages and asked myself “how can we allow this (extinction) to happen? I lack the words beyond sadness, sorrow … to express my feelings about these passing. None of those people (and millions and billions like them) deserve a potential fate of a hell on earth in two to three decades and their horrid deaths that will follow.

Rosburg sees the solution, at least emotionally, as allowing ourselves to dive headfirst into the emotions that are elicited each time we witness a mini-death, so as to render ourselves more capable of fathoming the broader collapse that is taking place across the planet.

“If someone can acknowledge the pain and ambivalence that comes with a mini-death, then that person can extend that awareness to the larger ecological collapse,” Rosburg said.

Given that the numbers of both mini- and major-ecological deaths are mounting on a daily basis, we would all do well to heed Rosburg’s suggestion.

Meanwhile, I want to say thank you to the Truthout community for contributing to this piece with such enthusiasm and insight. The first step to wrestling with the calamity of climate disruption is to acknowledge it. Your observations mark a path forward, toward awareness – and, hopefully, healing.

 

Materialism And Misery

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 4:47 pm

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Oldspeak:Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division, all of which run contrary to, and move us away from, our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity.  Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model…Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment…Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings….The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’… Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness…With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior, further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity…A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’…rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors…With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress….Reward and punishment are major weapons of neoliberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and, of course, it saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for, and of, activity….The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the well being of the group and not the individual.” -Graham Peebles

“Behold! The fruits of globalized Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy. Destroyer of  World. Begetting a whole universe of maladaptive thoughts, behaviours and policies which run completely counter to our natural state of being and literally making us and our ecology  terminally ill. Change is coming whether we’re aware of it or not. All the systems and ways of being that we believe to be immutable & sacrosanct will change. Make a concerted effort to prepare. Not materially. (Though it would be wise to practice consuming and doing with less of everything, as we are depleting and destroying most natural material  our species is dependent on at rates faster than it can be replenished.) But spiritually and emotionally. Practice ‘Creative Maladjustment’.  No amount of material wealth, well-being and security will be sufficient to insulate you from the madness to come. Let go of you attachments to objects & things, you’ll feel so much better that you did.” –OSJ
You have an inclination: In the flash of one second, you feel what needs to be done. It is not a product of your education; it is not scientific or logical; you simply pick up on the message. And then you just act: You just do it. That basic human quality of suddenly opening up is the best part of human instinct.” –Chögyam Trungpa Rimpoche

 

By Graham Peebles @ Dissident Voice:

We live under the omnipresent shadow of a political/economic system, which promotes materiality, selfishness and individual success over group wellbeing. It is a model of civilisation that is making us miserable and ill. Dependent on continuous consumption, everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and competition and ambition are extolled as virtues. Together with reward and punishment this trinity of division has infiltrated and polluted all areas of contemporary life, including health care and education.

It is a system that denies compassion and social unity.  Unhappiness and mental illness, as well as extreme levels of inequality (income and wealth) flow from the unjust root, causing social tensions, eroding trust and community. Over half the world’s population (3.5 billion people) live in suffocating poverty on under $2 a day (the World Bank’s official poverty line), whilst the wealthiest 10% owns 85% of global household wealth. This level of inequality is growing, is unjust and shameful, and has far reaching consequences. Materialistically obsessed societies such as America (where income and wealth inequality is the highest of any industrialised nation), have higher levels of drug and alcohol dependency, mental illness, crime and incarceration, as well as child pregnancies and homicides, than more equal nations. People in unequal societies are suspicious of ‘the other’ – that’s anyone who looks thinks, and/or acts differently – and generally speaking don’t trust one another. A mere 15% of people in America confessed to trusting their fellow citizens, compared to 60% in less unequal parts of the world. The resulting divisions aggravate social tensions, fueling criminality and a cycle of mistrust and paranoia is set in motion.

Focus on the material, on self-fulfillment and success places us in competition with one another and strengthens feelings of distrust, alienation and division, all of which run contrary to, and move us away from, our underlying nature, resulting in the inculcation of fear and insecurity.  Mental illness, including anxiety and depression – a worldwide epidemic claiming 5% of the global population – are further consequences of this dysfunctional social model. Millions are hooked on pharmaceuticals (legal and illegal), much to the delight of the multi-national drug companies whose yearly profits in America alone nestle comfortably in the trillions of US $. Suicide, according to a major report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the third highest cause of death amongst adolescents (road accidents and HIV are one and two), and the primary cause is depression.

Desire division discontent

Over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught that desire and attachment to the object(s) of desire is the root of all suffering. His message of moderation and balance is more relevant today than perhaps at any other time.

Those who love material objects are less inclined to love other people and the natural environment. So says Tim Kasser of Knox University, Illinois in The High Price of Materialism after various studies. Love of objects strengthens the desire principle, causing fear and dissatisfaction, giving rise to anxiety, stress and unhappiness. Desire entraps: insatiable, it breeds fear and is the underlying cause of discontent and all manner of associated sufferings. “Abandoning all desire and acting free from longing, without any sense of mineness or sense of ego one attains to peace.” [Bhagavad Gita 11, verse 71] Such perennial truths expressed by the Buddha, Christ and other visionary teachers as well as Krishna are ignored in the search for immediate happiness derived from sensory pleasure.

The neo-liberal model promotes such short-term artificial goals: goals that strengthen desire, greed and dissatisfaction, pre-requisites for encouraging consumerism and materialism and the perpetual expansion of the ubiquitous ‘market’. In a detailed study by Baylor University associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Jo-Ann Tsang found that materialistic people “are more likely to focus on what they do not have and are unable to be grateful for what they do have, whether it is their family, a nice house or a good job.” Contentment is the natural enemy of the system; discontent is it’s life-blood, serving well the ‘Masters of Mankind’ as Adam Smith famously tagged the ruling elite and their ‘vile maxim’ – “all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, Graham Music refers to a study at Berkeley University that seems to demonstrate Smith’s truism. “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behaved … consistently those who were less rich showed more empathy and more of a wish to help others.” [The Guardian] Self-centered behavior, motivated by reward, not only erodes any sense of community and social responsibility, it breeds unhappiness. Music, a consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, makes the point that our “monetised western world is going to make us more and more lose touch with our social obligations.”

With its focus on the material – including the physical aspect of our-selves – the ‘monetised’ system encourages vanity, selfishness and narcissistic behavior, further strengthening division, separation and aloneness, feelings that are in opposition to the underlying truth of human unity. “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” [Swami Vivekenanda] This is the view repeatedly enunciated by those great men – divine men some would say – who have freed themselves of all limitations and have shared their wisdom with us.

We are one, brothers and sisters of One Humanity. As Mahatma Gandhi famously declared:  “all humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.” Separation from one another, from the natural environment and from that which we call God is an illusion. This is the perennial lesson proclaimed loud and clear by an army of Teachers of the Race, who have sought to guide us.

A materialistic value system with its focus on the individual as opposed to the group, inevitably feeds a consciousness of separation, strengthening what Esotericism calls ‘The Great Illusion.’ If humanity is, in fact, one, it follows that our nature is to be unselfish, socially responsible and helpful. In a series of fascinating behavioral studies The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology observed that 14-month-old babies spontaneously acted with kindness when an adult in the room needed help. Children love helping, and they do not need a reward. Actions, which are inherently selfless, offer an intrinsic reward because they facilitate relationship with our true nature. In fact, when material rewards were introduced the children’s focus shifted, they lost interest in the act of kindness and became fixated on the object of reward. Their action became conditioned and, in a very real sense, polluted. Observing this fact, Graham Music concludes that, “rewards don’t make anyone happy and something very fundamental is lost when we reward for certain behaviors.” And he adds that, “other studies have shown that toddlers feel happier giving treats than receiving them”. [Mercator Net]

With reward and punishment come desire and fear, desire for the reward and fear or anxiety over possible punishment if we fail. The effect is individual discontent and collective disharmony. Selfishness is strengthened, and, in opposition to the underlying impulse to be helpful, kindness is sacrificed, creating the conditions for depression and stress. Studies undertaken in San Francisco found that those members of the community who “volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older. New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good.” [Healthy Living] Serving the needs of others is de-centralising.  It shifts one’s focus away from the self, with its petty, albeit painful anxieties.

Reward and punishment are major weapons of neoliberalism, which has infiltrated almost every area of contemporary society. The destructive duality is a methodology common in many areas of education, and, of course, it saturates corporate life. Goals, bonuses, commission, perks: these are the language of business, the motivating force for, and of, activity.

The present unjust economic model has fostered a value system rooted in materiality that is a major cause of unhappiness, anxiety and depression. Change is urgently needed; change rooted in justice and the well being of the group and not the individual; change imaginatively designed, which sees the economy as a way of meeting human rights and addressing human need, not one that plays on and inflames human desire.

The materialist may hold that mankind is naturally selfish, and that competition, reward and ambition are necessary and good. Without them we would do nothing and society would grind to a dysfunctional halt, goes the narrow reactionary argument. This conveniently cynical view of man’s nature (usually one held by those who are more or less economically and socially comfortable) is fundamentally wrong and is used to perpetuate the divisive model. The damaging effects of this model are being revealed by a range of studies, which substantiate the ancient message that human kindness, selflessness and community service are not only positive attributes to aspire to, they are the healthy, natural and peaceful way for humanity to live.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org. Read other articles by Graham.

Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

Oldspeak: Ginsberg would be proud. 🙂 This brilliant riff mirrors sooo many of my thoughts. Enjoy. Hope it speaks to you as deeply as it did to me. :-)” –OSJ

Related Content:

By David DeGraw @ Daviddegraw.org:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by debt
Struggling to get by, dying to make ends meet
Shopping for an angry fix
Wage slaves burnin’ for the illusion,
a fleeting connection to the celebrity driven machinery of slow death
Assembly line souls who had no choice but to sacrifice themselves
to the false idols
of almighty mass consumerism as their only religion
Illuminated through the church of television
& every medium of ill communication
Force-fed into their head… mind raped, since birth
Overwhelmed, sound bite attention span
Over-prescribed, bi-polar ADD youth
Bred to be numb, a dumbed down mindless consumer drone
No depth of thought, untaught
As they slept walked through universities
Not realizing the cost of it will enslave them
in a never-ending vicious cycle of debt
Naive youth first time away from home, on their own
Targeted by credit cards & loans
& taxes… to pay for endless war… against themselves
Death by a thousand cuts
Nickel & dimed, every second of… all the time
A generation chained to a game not of their making
Rat racing, inner-self repressed, freedom denied
Thinking thoughts of suicide inside sanitized walls
Surrounded by electronic plasma radiating terror, cellular cancer
Diseased souls smoking & drinking & drowning in flashing light
Trying to escape their repetitive life
by popping ecstasy & snorting coke in a paradise of bass beats in the night
Filled with… emptiness
Having random meaningless sex, hoping not to get STDs
Searching… for any hint of love & life
as they go through the motions
Day after day more of the same meaningless game
Monotonous & mundane
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Routine, repetition
Less than human
Nothing left to believe in…
Praying…
Yearning… for a last minute escape, that never comes, from this madness
Flipping… through channels & tabloids
Vicariously living through the stars
Daydream delusions of fame
While eating… genetically modified, supersized fast food & drinking diet coke
Running on a treadmill in a plastic paradise of silicone & botox
Energy bars & supplements
Downloading / streaming porn & sterile music
Hoping to meet someone, anyone, online
Instant messages from distant “friends”
Like, LOL, OMG
Fractured family, holiday acquaintances, obligations
Travel expenses, gifts, time you don’t have to give
Got to keep hustlin’
Bills to pay, bills to pay, bills to pay
Pills to sleep, pills to take away the pain, pills to lose… weight, wait
Wrapped in a womb of insecurity
Giving off the illusion of prosperity
Fancy car lease, overpriced homes they cannot afford
Overpriced doctor bills, overpriced education, overpriced… everything
Runnin’ w/ the Joneses
White picket fences… & mouths to feed
The fake grass is always greener
There is no other side
Shopping malls & destruction
Chemical pesticide, pissing in the water supply
Gas pump pumping toxins into the sky
Ultra Violet rays shinning through ozone curtains
The shade recedes, the tides rise
Tanning under toxic skies
Human waste penetrates skin
Go take a swim in an ocean of pollution
Bathing in… raw sewage
Change in… the weather
A species with a disease
The pathology of greed
Race to the bottom
lowest common
denominator
Dominated…
Chewed up & spit out
Downsized & outsourced
Head hunting for temp work
Without benefits, no vacation, sickness unpaid, no health care
Home searching, showerless in underwear
Hiding behind a computer screen
Staring blankly, clicking madly
Burning bloodshot aging eyes…
Pounding veins & frying caffeinated brains
Who have ceased asking the big questions
Scampering for small lives
Bread crumbs from the table, circuses of distraction
A generation expelled from freedom, unknowingly
for being passive soldiers in the falling empire
Who know their vote doesn’t count
Disillusioned & marginalized, a systematic farce
Blanketed by lies & a four year dog & pony ritual
Watching plastic puppet politicians spew scripted words from tongues on a teleprompter leash
Watching shocking scandal after scandal
Watching unprecedented crimes go unpunished
Watching our future be sold & auctioned off to the highest bidder
A cancerously corrupted civilization
An entire generation born to conform & be blind to wider reality
& anything not repetitively projected on the TV
Who sit thoughtlessly & apathetically while surroundings burn
The silent & passive desperation of a defeated generation
The beaten masses & mass disaster
Denial & death
with little time left…

HOWL NOW

“Your Regular Dose Of Fear”: The Enemy-Industrial Complex & How To Turn A World Lacking In Enemies Into The Most Threatening Place In The Universe

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm
Bomb at Boston Marathon

Oldspeak:”The U.S… is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century. All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a “global war on terror.”  We’ve poured money into national security as if there were no tomorrow.  From our police to our borders, we’ve up-armored everywhere.  We constantly hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.”… Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than shark attacks, but not much else…  Post-9/11, major media outlets were generally prepared to take the enemy-industrial complex’s word for it and play every new terrorist incident as if it were potentially the end of the world.  Increasingly as the years went on, jobs, livelihoods, an expanding world of “security” depended on the continuance of all this, depended, in short, on the injection of regular doses of fear into the body politic… To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major dangers in U.S. life: suicide by gun and death by car.  In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns.  (In the same year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.)  In 2011, 32,000 Americans died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012).  In other words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six 9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.  Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more than 110 planes for vehicular deaths. And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them).  No one has built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal with them.  In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown debate over gun control has made all too clear.  On both scores, Americans have decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all.” –Tom Engelhardt. This piece was written 2 days ago. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Boston, I thought this piece was apropos. We see today, the corporate media doing its job, magnifying fear and threats, we see the attack being framed as a “massacre”,”a national tragedy”, “like 9/11”, “calming the public”, while constantly running video of the explosions and pictures of the aftermath on 24/7 loops. Flags have been lowered nationwide. Moments of silence are being observed.  “Security” is being beefed up. The illusion of safety is being bolstered. Meanwhile, the same day, 37 people died in 20 separate attacks  in Iraq. Coordinated bomb strikes killed 20 in Somalia. Unknown numbers of innocents are killed via randomly executed U.S. drone strikes on a regular basis in Yemem, Somalia, Pakistan, and who knows what other poverty-stricken areas of the world. No wall to wall coverage and analysis of those horrific attacks though.  It’s a sad fact that some lives matter more than others, and if those lives aren’t led in the U.S. of A., they matter that much less. Terrorist attacks in the U.S. matter much more than exponentially more acute threats from guns Americans turn on themselves, and the cars every other commercial is imploring them to buy. This attack perfectly articulates the sad reality, that Americans and most people around the world care about what they’re told to care about. There’s no real discussion of the root causes of terrorism and how addressing them could eliminate it completely. One obvious root cause is poverty. The poverty that find 80% of humanity living on less than 10 dollars a day. If you’ll notice, 99.9% of the areas the U.S. is prosecuting the “War On Terror” are poverty-stricken. It seems logical enough to deduce eliminating poverty would go along way toward eliminating terrorism. As usual though, this event is viewed, wholly de-contextualized. No connection is drawn between, poverty, inequality, structural violence, and the human meat grinding system of capitalism that begets terrorism.  We’re just supposed to be in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety & obedience while we’re told that we’re tough, fearless, and resilient in the face of terror. And that life will go on. Until the next attack provides us with our next dose of fear, and the cycle starts all over again. Terrorism is big business, trillions of  dollars in “security”, “defense”, and surveillance spending depend on it.  Terrorism is the Emmanuel Goldstein of our age, a shape-shifting, nebulous and ever-present enemy we’re vigilantly to focus our attention in the stead of multiple global existential threats. This fear is manufactured and wholly preventable. “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” –Noam Chomsky. We need to understand and internalize this basic truth if we really want to end the “War On Terror”. We need to stop acting like the terrorism we experience occurs in a vacuum. We need to stop acting like the terrorism we experience is not a response to the terrorism done in our names. We need to close the gap between illusion and reality. “Ignorance is Strength.”

By Tom Engelhardt @ Tomdispatch:

The communist enemy, with the “world’s fourth largest military,” has been trundling missiles around and threatening the United States with nuclear obliteration.  Guam, Hawaii, Washington: all, it claims, are targetable.  The coverage in the media has been hair-raising.  The U.S. is rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam, deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast, sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of miles on mock bombing runs, pressuring China, and conducting large-scale war games with its South Korean ally.

Only one small problem: there is as yet little evidence that the enemy with a few nuclear weapons facing off (rhetorically at least) against an American arsenal of 4,650 of them has the ability to miniaturize and mount even one on a missile, no less deliver it accurately, nor does it have a missile capable of reaching Hawaii or Washington, and I wouldn’t count on Guam either.

It also happens to be a desperate country, one possibly without enough fuel to fly a modern air force, whose people, on average, are inches shorter than their southern neighbors thanks to decades of intermittent famine and malnutrition, and who are ruled by a bizarre three-generational family cult.  If that other communist, Karl Marx, hadn’t once famously written that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce,” we would have had to invent the phrase for this very moment.

In the previous century, there were two devastating global wars, which left significant parts of the planet in ruins.  There was also a “cold war” between two superpowers locked in a system of mutual assured destruction (aptly acronymed as MAD) whose nuclear arsenals were capable of destroying the planet many times over.  Had you woken up any morning in the years between December 7, 1941, and December 26, 1991, and been told that the leading international candidate for America’s Public Enemy Number One was Kim Jong-un’s ramshackle, comic-opera regime in North Korea, you might have gotten down on your hands and knees and sent thanks to pagan gods.

The same would be true for the other candidates for that number one position since September 11, 2001: the original al-Qaeda (largely decimated), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula located in poverty-stricken areas of poverty-stricken Yemen, the Taliban in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, unnamed jihadis scattered across poverty-stricken areas of North Africa, or Iran, another rickety regional power run by not particularly adept theocrats.

All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a “global war on terror.”  We’ve poured money into national security as if there were no tomorrow.  From our police to our borders, we’ve up-armored everywhere.  We constantly hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.”  And yet, when you knock on the door marked “Enemy,” there’s seldom anyone home.

Few in this country have found this striking.  Few seem to notice any disjuncture between the enemy-ridden, threatening, and deeply dangerous world we have been preparing ourselves for (and fighting in) this last decade-plus and the world as it actually is, even those who lived through significant parts of the last anxiety-producing, bloody century.

You know that feeling when you wake up and realize you’ve had the same recurrent nightmare yet again? Sometimes, there’s an equivalent in waking life, and here’s mine: every now and then, as I read about the next move in the spreading war on terror, the next drone assassination, the next ratcheting up of the surveillance game, the next expansion of the secrecy that envelops our government, the next set of expensive actions taken to guard us — all of this justified by the enormous threats and dangers that we face — I think to myself: Where’s the enemy?  And then I wonder: Just what kind of a dream is this that we’re dreaming?

A Door Marked “Enemy” and No One Home

Let’s admit it: enemies can have their uses.  And let’s admit as well that it’s in the interest of some in our country that we be seen as surrounded by constant and imminent dangers on an enemy-filled planet.  Let’s also admit that the world is and always will be a dangerous place in all sorts of ways.

Still, in American terms, the bloodlettings, the devastations of this new century and the last years of the previous one have been remarkably minimal or distant; some of the worst, as in the multicountry war over the Congo with its more than five million dead have passed us by entirely; some, even when we launched them, have essentially been imperial frontier conflicts, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or interventions of little cost (to us) as in Libya, or frontier patrolling operations as in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Northern Africa.  (It was no mistake that, when Washington launched its special operations raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan, to get Osama bin Laden, it was given the code name “Geronimo” and the message from the SEAL team recording his death was “Geronimo-E KIA” or “enemy killed in action.”)

And let’s admit as well that, in the wake of those wars and operations, Americans now have more enemies, more angry, embittered people who would like to do us harm than on September 10, 2001.  Let’s accept that somewhere out there are people who, as George W. Bush once liked to say, “hate us” and what we stand for.  (I leave just what we actually stand for to you, for the moment.)

So let’s consider those enemies briefly.  Is there a major state, for instance, that falls into this category, like any of the great warring imperial European powers from the sixteenth century on, or Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, or the Soviet Union of the Cold War era?  Of course not.

There was admittedly a period when, in order to pump up what we faced in the world, analogies to World War II and the Cold War were rife.  There was, for instance, George W. Bush’s famed rhetorical construct, the Axis of Evil (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), patterned by his speechwriter on the German-Italian-Japanese “axis” of World War II.  It was, of course, a joke construct, if reality was your yardstick.  Iraq and Iran were then enemies.  (Only in the wake of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have they become friends and allies.)  And North Korea had nothing whatsoever to do with either of them.  Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq was once regularly compared to the U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan, just as Saddam Hussein had long been presented as a modern Hitler.

In addition, al-Qaeda-style Islamists were regularly referred to as Islamofascists, while certain military and neocon types with a desire to turn the war on terror into a successor to the Cold War took to calling it “the long war,” or even “World War IV.”  But all of this was so wildly out of whack that it simply faded away.

As for who’s behind that door marked “Enemy,” if you opened it, what would you find?  As a start, scattered hundreds or, as the years have gone by, thousands of jihadis, mostly in the poorest backlands of the planet and with little ability to do anything to the United States.  Next, there were a few minority insurgencies, including the Taliban and allied forces in Afghanistan and separate Sunni and Shia ones in Iraq.  There also have been tiny numbers of wannabe Islamic terrorists in the U.S. (once you take away the string of FBI sting operations that have regularly turned hopeless slackers and lost teenagers into the most dangerous of fantasy Muslim plotters).  And then, of course, there are those two relatively hapless regional powers, Iran and North Korea, whose bark far exceeds their potential bite.

The Wizard of Oz on 9/11

The U.S., in other words, is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century.  There is no other imperial power on the planet capable of, or desirous of, taking on American power directly, including China.  It’s true that, on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a remarkable, apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people died.  When those giant towers in downtown New York collapsed, it certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days, the media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn’t actually an apocalyptic event.

The enemy was still nearly nonexistent.  The act cost bin Laden only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series of trillion-dollar wars.  It was a nightmarish event that had a malign Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant effects.  It in no way endangered the state.  In fact, it would actually strengthen many of its powers.  It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one.  It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a small, murderous organization then capable of mounting a major operation somewhere on Earth only once every couple of years.  It was meant to spread fear, but nothing more.

When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to the horizon, it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less.  And yet 9/11 was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor moment — a sneak attack by a terrifying enemy meant to disable the country.  The next day, newspaper headlines were filled with variations on “A Pearl Harbor of the Twenty-First Century.”  If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however, it lacked an imperial Japan or any other state to declare war on, although one of the weakest partial states on the planet, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill adequately enough for Americans.

To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major dangers in U.S. life: suicide by gun and death by car.  In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns.  (In the same year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.)  In 2011, 32,000 Americans died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012).  In other words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six 9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.  Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more than 110 planes for vehicular deaths.

And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them).  No one has built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal with them.  In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown debate over gun control has made all too clear.  On both scores, Americans have decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all.

Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than shark attacks, but not much else.  Like a wizard, however, what Osama bin Laden and his suicide bombers did that day was create an instant sense of an enemy so big, so powerful, that Americans found “war” a reasonable response; big enough for those who wanted an international police action against al-Qaeda to be laughed out of the room; big enough to launch an invasion of revenge against Iraq, a country unrelated to al-Qaeda; big enough, in fact, to essentially declare war on the world.  It took next to no time for top administration officials to begin talking about targeting 60 countries, and as journalist Ron Suskind has reported, within six days of the attack, the CIA had topped that figure, presenting President Bush with a “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” a plan that targeted terrorists in 80 countries.

What’s remarkable is how little the disjuncture between the scope and scale of the global war that was almost instantly launched and the actual enemy at hand was ever noted here.  You could certainly make a reasonable argument that, in these years, Washington has largely fought no one — and lost.  Everywhere it went, it created enemies who had, previously, hardly existed and the process is ongoing.  Had you been able to time-travel back to the Cold War era to inform Americans that, in the future, our major enemies would be in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and so on, they would surely have thought you mad (or lucky indeed).

Creating an Enemy-Industrial Complex

Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much that was done in Washington in these years might have been unattainable.  The vast national security building and spending spree — stretching from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah, where the National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center for storing the world’s intercepted communications — would have been unlikely.

Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything, money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our weaponized safety.  The exponential growth of the national security complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to national security matters, would have far been less likely.

Without 9/11 and the perpetual “wartime” that followed, along with the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and potentially capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons, we would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the 17-outfit U.S. Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget would have been far less impressive; our endless drone wars and the “drone lobby” that goes with them might never have developed; and the U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint Special Operations Command, gestating inside it — effectively the president’s private army, air force, and navy — and already conducting largely secret operations across much of the planet.

For all of this to happen, there had to be an enemy-industrial complex as well, a network of crucial figures and institutions ready to pump up the threat we faced and convince Americans that we were in a world so dangerous that rights, liberty, and privacy were small things to sacrifice for American safety.  In short, any number of interests from Bush administration figures eager to “sweep it all up” and do whatever they wanted in the world to weapons makers, lobbyists, surveillance outfits, think tanks, military intellectuals, assorted pundits… well, the whole national and homeland security racket and its various hangers-on had an interest in beefing up the enemy.  For them, it was important in the post-9/11 era that threats would never again lack a capital “T” or a hefty dollar sign.

And don’t forget a media that was ready to pound the drums of war and emphasize what dangerous enemies lurked in our world with remarkably few second thoughts.  Post-9/11, major media outlets were generally prepared to take the enemy-industrial complex’s word for it and play every new terrorist incident as if it were potentially the end of the world.  Increasingly as the years went on, jobs, livelihoods, an expanding world of “security” depended on the continuance of all this, depended, in short, on the injection of regular doses of fear into the body politic.

That was the “favor” Osama bin Laden did for Washington’s national security apparatus and the Bush administration on that fateful September morning.  He engraved an argument in the American brain that would live on indelibly for years, possibly decades, calling for eternal vigilance at any cost and on a previously unknown scale.  As the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), that neocon think-tank-cum-shadow-government, so fatefully put it in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” a year before the 9/11 attacks: “Further, the process of transformation [of the military], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”

So when the new Pearl Harbor arrived out of the blue, with many PNAC members (from Vice President Dick Cheney on down) already in office, they naturally saw their chance.  They created an al-Qaeda on steroids and launched their “global war” to establish a Pax Americana, in the Middle East and then perhaps globally.  They were aware that they lacked opponents of the stature of those of the previous century and, in their documents, they made it clear that they were planning to ensure no future great-power-style enemy or bloc of enemy-like nations would arise. Ever.

For this, they needed an American public anxious, frightened, and ready to pay.  It was, in other words, in their interest to manipulate us.  And if that were all there were to it, our world would be a grim, but simple enough place.  As it happens, it’s not.  Ruling elites, no matter what power they have, don’t work that way.  Before they manipulate us, they almost invariably manipulate themselves.

I was convinced of this years ago by a friend who had spent a lot of time reading early Cold War documents from the National Security Council — from, that is, a small group of powerful governmental figures writing to and for each other in the utmost secrecy.  As he told me then and wrote in Washington’s China, the smart book he did on the early U.S. response to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, what struck him in the documents was the crudely anti-communist language those men used in private with each other.  It was the sort of anti-communism you might otherwise have assumed Washington’s ruling elite would only have wielded to manipulate ordinary Americans with fears of Communist subversion, the “enemy within,” and Soviet plans to take over the world.  (In fact, they and others like them would use just such language to inject fear into the body politic in those early Cold War years, that era of McCarthyism.)

They were indeed manipulative men, but before they influenced other Americans they assumedly underwent something like a process of collective auto-hypnotism in which they convinced one another of the dangers they needed the American people to believe in.  There is evidence that a similar process took place in the aftermath of 9/11.  From the flustered look on George W. Bush’s face as his plane took him not toward but away from Washington on September 11, 2001, to the image of Dick Cheney, in those early months, being chauffeured around Washington in an armored motorcade with a “gas mask and a biochemical survival suit” in the backseat, you could sense that the enemy loomed large and omnipresent for them.  They were, that is, genuinely scared, even if they were also ready to make use of that fear for their own ends.

Or consider the issue of Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, that excuse for the invasion of Iraq.  Critics of the invasion are generally quick to point out how that bogus issue was used by the top officials of the Bush administration to gain public support for a course that they had already chosen.  After all, Cheney and his men cherry-picked the evidence to make their case, even formed their own secret intel outfit to give them what they needed, and ignored facts at hand that brought their version of events into question.  They publicly claimed in an orchestrated way that Saddam had active nuclear and WMD programs.  They spoke in the most open ways of potential mushroom clouds from (nonexistent) Iraqi nuclear weapons rising over American cities, or of those same cities being sprayed with (nonexistent) chemical or biological weapons from (nonexistent) Iraqi drones.  They certainly had to know that some of this information was useful but bogus.  Still, they had clearly also convinced themselves that, on taking Iraq, they would indeed find some Iraqi WMD to justify their claims.

In his soon-to-be-published book, Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill cites the conservative journalist Rowan Scarborough on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s growing post-invasion irritation over the search for Iraqi WMD sites.  “Each morning,” wrote Scarborough, “the crisis action team had to report that another location was a bust.  Rumsfeld grew angrier and angrier.  One officer quoted him as saying, ‘They must be there!’  At one briefing, he picked up the briefing slides and tossed them back at the briefers.”

In other words, those top officials hustling us into their global war and their long-desired invasion of Iraq had also hustled themselves into the same world with a similar set of fears.  This may seem odd, but given the workings of the human mind, its ability to comfortably hold potentially contradictory thoughts most of the time without disturbing itself greatly, it’s not.

A similar phenomenon undoubtedly took place in the larger national security establishment where self-interest combined easily enough with fear.  After all, in the post-9/11 era, they were promising us one thing: something close to 100% “safety” when it came to one small danger in our world — terrorism.  The fear that the next underwear bomber might get through surely had the American public — but also the American security state — in its grips.  After all, who loses the most if another shoe bomber strikes, another ambassador goes down, another 9/11 actually happens?  Whose job, whose world, will be at stake then?

They may indeed be a crew of Machiavellis, but they are also acolytes in the cult of terror and global war.  They live in the Cathedral of the Enemy.  They were the first believers and they will undoubtedly be the last ones as well.  They are invested in the importance of the enemy.  It’s their religion.  They are, after all, the enemy-industrial complex and if we are in their grip, so are they.

The comic strip character Pogo once famously declared: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” How true. We just don’t know it yet.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.