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

Posts Tagged ‘“Mass Affluence”’

Is Every Day Black Friday? How Climate Inaction And Hypermaterialism Betray Our Children

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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Oldspeak: “In the wake of the latest hyperconsumption fueled “holiday” complete with shootings, pepper spraying and beatings, it is useful to consider the implications of the continuation of our ecocidal, unsustainable carbon-intensive civilization.  Every day really is black friday. We’re constantly and relentlessly exhorted to consume more and more and more. Consumption is Citizenship.  Consumption is Love.  Consumption is Happiness. Consumption is Freedom. Consumption is Safety. Consumption is Security. Consumption is Expression. Consumption is Creativity. Consumption is Well-Being.  Consumption is Connection with Others. it is the most widely practiced way in which we are encouraged to participate in society. This is the ethos that animates it.  All our structures of power depend on rapacious consumption. And this is seen as normal. We are committed to status quo business as usual.  There are no real efforts to de-grow economies, reduce wasteful consumption, live within our planets’ means and intelligently manage her remaining and rapidly depleting natural resources.   This can only continue for so long.  Infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. At some point, this global ponzi scheme will collapse, only this time the planet will collapse with it .”  -OSJ

We cannot stop catastrophic climate change — in the long term and possibly even the medium-term — without a pretty dramatic change to our overconsumption-based economic system. We have already overshot the Earth’s biocapacity — and the overshoot gets worse every yearWe created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows. You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior. But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy”. -Joe Romm

By Joe Romm @ Climate Progress:

Black Friday has become an orgiastic celebration of hyper-materialism.

Black Friday is a sort of reverse “Hunger Games,” an annual ritualized competition, but one built around overabundance, rather than scarcity. It is perhaps the inevitable outcome of a country whose citizens are commonly referred to as “consumers.”

So what better time to think about how the global economic system is a Ponzi scheme, an utterly unsustainable system that effectively takes wealth from our children and future generations — wealth in the form of ground water, arable land, fisheries, a livable climate — to prop up our carbon-intensive lifestyles.

We cannot stop catastrophic climate change — in the long term and possibly even the medium-term — without a pretty dramatic change to our overconsumption-based economic system. We have already overshot the Earth’s biocapacity — and the overshoot gets worse every year.

footprint-biocapacity-e1355415565855
“A quarter of the energy we use is just in our crap,” physicist Saul Griffith explains in his detailed discussion of our carbon footprint. You can watch the MacArthur genius award winner soberly dissect his formerly unsustainable lifestyle here and here.

Or listen to the MSNBC interview of “Reverend Billy Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping.” Seriously (sort of). Or you can read the Onion’s black humor, “Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe The Shit He Makes For Americans.”

Children1-300x225The tragic irony is that much of this holiday shopping is supposedly for our kids — and yet this overconsumption is a core part of our climate inaction, which, as president Obama has said, is a betrayal of our children!

Now it’s true, as I’ve said, that if we ever get really serious about avoiding catastrophic climate change, we could dramatically cut national and global emissions for decades under the auspices of our basic economic system. You could use a high and rising price for CO2 plus smart regulations to encourage efficiency at a state and national level.

Also, the end to hyper-consumerism is not something amenable to legislation. I’ve argued that it is most likely to come when we are desperate — when the reality that we are destroying a livable climate is so painful that we give it up voluntarily, albeit reluctantly, like a smoker diagnosed with early-stage emphysema. Bill Clinton didn’t become vegan until after he experienced serious heart trouble — twice.

Climate science is clear that inaction is suicidal (see here). That’s why “virtually all” climatologists “are now convinced that global warming is a clear and present danger to civilization,” as Lonnie Thompson has put it.

A recent must-read New York Times opinion piece by an Iraqi war veteran, “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene,” explains that a quantum shift in mindset is inevitable:

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

In the words of British poet Matthew Arnold, we are: “Wandering between two worlds, one dead / The other powerless to be born.”

On the subject of our global Ponzi scheme, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman interviewed me for a column back in 2009:

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who writes the indispensable blog climateprogress.org. We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.

“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate …’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

The adults, in short, are not standing up. Sadly, most haven’t even taken the time to understand that they should.

And so every generation that comes after the Baby Boomers is poised to experience the dramatic changes in lifestyle that inevitably follow the collapse of any Ponzi scheme.

Regular readers are familiar with this metaphor of a global Ponzi scheme. But it bears repeating on Black Friday since it is not just a metaphor, but a central organizing narrative of how to think about the fix we have put ourselves in. As an aside, since some shopping is unavoidable, remember that Black Friday is 50 times more carbon-intensive than Cyber Monday.

What exactly is a Ponzi scheme? Wikipedia (had a good entry:

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term “Ponzi scheme” is used primarily in the United States, while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and pyramid schemes.

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going.

In our case, investors (i.e. current generations) are paying themselves (i.e. you and me) by taking the nonrenewable resources and livable climate from future generations. To perpetuate the high returns the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources (especially hydrocarbons) and natural capital (fresh water, arable land, forests, fisheries), and, the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all — a livable climate.

See also a new study “The Monetary Cost of the Non-Use of Renewable Energies,” which finds that “every day we delay substituting renewables for fossil fuels,” every day “fossil raw materials are consumed as one-time energy creates a future usage loss of between 8.8 and 9.3 billion US Dollars.” Oil and coal are essentially too valuable to burn even ignoring the cost of their climate-destroying emissions.

The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments.

See, for instance “Shocking World Bank Climate Report: ‘A 4°C [7°F] World Can, And Must, Be Avoided’ To Avert ‘Devastating’ Impacts”).

Usually, the scheme is interrupted by legal authorities before it collapses because a Ponzi scheme is suspected or because the promoter is selling unregistered securities.

Yes, well, the authorities (i.e. world leaders, opinion makers, the cognoscenti) haven’t been doing much interrupting over the past two to three decades since, unlike a typical Ponzi scheme, they are heavily invested in the scheme and addicted to the returns!

Knowingly entering a Ponzi scheme, even at the last round of the scheme, can be rational in the economic sense if a government will likely bail out those participating in the Ponzi scheme.

But Friedman quotes Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International, explaining, “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

We aren’t all Madoffs in the sense of people who have knowingly created a fraudulent Ponzi scheme for humanity. But given all of the warnings from scientists and international governments and independent energy organizations over the past quarter-century (see for instance IEA’s Bombshell Warning: We’re Headed Toward 11°F Global Warming and “Delaying Action Is a False Economy”) — it has gotten harder and harder for any of us to pretend that we are innocent victims, that we aren’t just hoping we can maintain our own personal wealth and well-being for a few more decades before the day of reckoning. Après nous le déluge.

In short, humanity has made Madoff look like a penny-ante criminal.

By enriching the authorities, as noted, we encouraged those with the most power to solve the problem to do nothing. Heck, the only way in which the global economy hasn’t become a Ponzi scheme is that everything being done is perfectly legal!

By most enriching those who did the most plundering, we enabled them to fund lobbying and disinformation campaigns to convince substantial fractions of the public and media that there is no Ponzi scheme — that global warming is “too complicated for the public to understand” and nothing to worry about.

And by “paying ourselves” with the wealth from future generations — indeed, from the next 50 generations and next 100 billion people to walk the earth (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe) — we cleverly took advantage of victims not yet born, those not able to even know they were being robbed.

Madoff is reviled as a monster for targeting charities. We are targeting our own children and grandchildren and on and on. What does that make us?.

 

 

Propaganda and the Fear Factor(y)

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Oldspeak:In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” -Dr. Gary Allen Scott “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Video:

Noam Chomsky: Necessary Illusions – Thought Control in a Democratic Society Part 1 (1989)

 

By Dr. Gary Allen Scott @ Common Dreams:

Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.
George Gerbner (Former Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania)

It is the merest truism that thought-control is unnecessary in totalitarian societies. A one-party rule and the repression of freedoms render irrelevant what people think. But in a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.

As Robert Dahl has shown in his book How Democratic is the American Constitution?, our Constitution provides several mechanisms for insuring rule by a minority. One is the great disparity in the value of the suffrage. Voters in sparsely populated states, such as Wyoming, elect two senators that represent about 500,000 people. In California, the two senators represent some 35,000,000 people. This means that the weight of one’s vote in Wyoming is far greater (by 70 times!) than the weight of one’s vote in California. And in a Senate vote, the two Senators from Wyoming can negate the votes of California’s two Senators. Another such mechanism is the electoral college, which is another way in which losers can still win. The electoral college came into play most recently and most decisively in the 2000 presidential election. A third mechanism is the “first past the post”, or “winner take all” systems that afford no proportional share of votes to the second, third, or fourth place finisher in an election.

Notwithstanding these three mechanisms, the appearance of popular democracy must be preserved. So the rich and well connected must also still find ways to maintain the appearance of real democracy, even while they are greatly outnumbered by a factor of 50-60 to 1. Therefore, the ruling elite must find other ways of making up for being vastly outnumbered at the polls. This is why it is so important for such elites to shape the public mind. A recent example of this phenomenon occurred when the wealthiest Americans succeeded in repealing an “estate” or “inheritance tax” levied only on several thousand of the richest families in America by dubbing it a “death tax”, whose repeal generated popular support, in the wake of millions of dollars spent to shape public opinion. (This amazing feat is largely a result of the belief that every American has a chance to become rich, despite all the evidence to the contrary. As Bill Moyers said recently, “the surest way to become rich is to choose your parents well“. So even poor people supported the repeal in the fanciful belief that they might one day need this “tax relief”.)

Huge public opinion and marketing machines, along with the advertising industry provide commercial forms of propaganda. Their success flows from their ability to keep people self-indulgent, to keep people consuming, to keep them on the debt treadmill, and to keep them complacent, self-absorbed, and hedonistic.

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World  for a while, now is a good time to pick them up and re-read them. I submit that American society today seamlessly blends the self-satisfaction of Huxley’s Soma with Orwell’s ubiquitous telescreens and the thought-control they engender. When people are afraid, they need the Soma all the more: fear produces anxiety and hysteria; Soma provides the escapism. It is a powerful 1-2 punch. In the remainder of this essay, I shall attempt to offer some antidotes to what is ailing American society today.

Here are a few steps people might take to liberate themselves from fear and propaganda:

1. Turn off the television! 
Never forget this simple principle: The more television one watches, the more dangerous the world will seem to be. The author of the quote at the top of this article taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications for more than 30 years, and he believed that fearful people may even be lured to television precisely on account of their fear. Frightening images of house break-ins, car-jackings, murders, rapes, terrorists, viruses, natural disasters, and all manner of hysteria-producing hobgoblins have a seductive power to keep people watching and to keep people afraid, even paranoid.I remember when Fox launched its network with programs with titles like “When Good Dogs Go Bad” and “When Animals Attack”. Now they’ve refined their “fair and balanced” programs to feature human animals attacking, from Bill O’Reilly, to Chris Matthews to the steady stream of screamers who do not really engage in discussion or debate, but simply shout at one another and call each other names. Turn it off. There are other ways of keeping informed and the medium, to quote Marshall McLuhan, really is the message. In contrast to television, which McLuhan termed a “hot” medium, reading engages a different part of oneself, allowing critical thinking and analytic reasoning. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but that is exactly why images are able to continue to scare us, long after the initial impression has been made. Turn off the television and pick up a book, such as Gavin de Becker’s “Fear Less” or Ropeik and Gray’s book “Risk: A Practical Guide for Determining What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You”. Radio, too, supplies news and analysis without the frightening images. Listen to National Public Radio, Pacifica (especially “Democracy Now!”) and the BBC and the CBC online or on the radio.

2. Once one has taken this giant step, one may want to continue reading by digging into American history. I do not have in mind here the typical, sanitized history of the indoctrinating textbooks that present America as the shining city on a hill and its people as perpetually honorable innocents. I recommend instead some alternative histories that examine the underbelly of both our remote and recent past. I would recommend beginning with three books: WWII pilot and longtime Boston University professor, Howard Zinn’s “A Peoples History of the United States”; then go on to William S. Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?”; and finally, read M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival?”. It may be interesting to explore a particular question, such as: How does a country’s rulers mobilize people (over and over again) to lay down their lives for some cause or other, while the rich and powerful are asked to make little or no sacrifice at all. Heck, George W. Bush started a war in Iraq and then pushed through not one but two sets of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Such tax cuts when “the country is at war “(as he loves to say) is unprecedented in U.S. history. Indeed, one may come to learn that this same rich and powerful elite are making huge profits while poor, ‘average’ people are dying in droves. Think for a moment about the corporate mission of a Lockheed-Martin or any other manufacturer of weapons and weapons systems: Is it not clear that they make money on other people’s deaths? And is it not such powerful lobbies for the largest arms sellers in the world (the United States) who promote policies that would keep the country in perpetual war precisely because it is so good for their business?

3. Take a course in self-defense. 
I’m not talking about physical self-defense; I’m talking about intellectual self-defense, a self-defense course for the mind! Intellectual self-defense involves learning to think critically, to keep your eyes and ears open, and to flush those eyes and ears with a healthy dose of skepticism. If 100% or nearly 100% of media outlets are parroting the same line, saying the same thing about any issue, it is well to remember that even a small group of friends is likely to experience some disagreement on just about any issue, so why are all the pundits saying the same thing? Chances are, what you’re hearing is propaganda and spin.

4. Look beneath the surface.
Try to evaluate claims that people make. Learn to distinguish an assertion from an argument, a claim from proof, and learn to identify logical fallacies in what people say; then ask, Who benefits and who may be harmed? Dig into the matter and look for a reason, a warrant, a justification, and if you can’t find a convincing one, be skeptical. Don’t believe everything you hear. It will take much longer to be worn down by the constant repetition of the spin-meisters half-truths and outright falsehoods once one has turned off the television and cultivated a healthy skepticism. Most people are simply too trusting, and this stems from two main deficiencies: not knowing history (as Howard Zinn has recently argued) and failing to think critically or to be doggedly skeptical. (I note with great disappointment that neither of these qualities are possessed by the mainstream media in the U.S. today, as Tom Engelhardt has shown convincingly.) Let me offer a prime example to illustrate the point.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the American people were told over and over again (both explicitly and obliquely) that Iraq possessed chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. It was asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed not only the chemical weapons with which the U.S. supplied him during the 1980′s Iran-Iraq War (the same ones he used on the Kurds in 1991), but that he had also developed a nuclear program under ten years of sanctions and under a rigorous inspection regime that had found no evidence of such weapons. The American people were told that such a nuclear weapons program was “not an assertion” but a fact. The water was carried here principally by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell. Rice speculated about a ‘mushroom cloud’, a statement George W. Bush repeated publicly. Colin Powell helped out by putting on a dog-and-pony show at the U.N. Based on this hype, Iraq was deemed a ‘imminent threat’ to U.S. security.

Now, if one were skeptical, one might have pulled out a map and noticed that Iraq shares a border with six countries. One might then have deferred judgment to the people closest to this dangerous and imminent threat. So now one might have done a little digging on the Internet and found polls that showed that none of the populations of these six neighboring countries (who would be the closest targets if the allegations of WMD possession had been true) were in favor of the U.S. starting a war with Iraq. Nor were the European countries in favor of the U.S. attack, even though they were all much closer to Iraq than is the U.S. In fact, most countries (including Mexico and Canada) believed that the U.S. presented a greater threat to world security than either al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Only America and the United Kingdom were able to thoroughly dupe their citizenry.

That’s quite a feat, and it is an embarrassing testament to our collective irrationality and, therefore, our gullibility. But this is the way propaganda works. It relies upon simple slogans, however illogical they may be (such as, “We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them at home.” Obviously, these two alternatives are not mutually exclusive! One may in fact have noticed that there seem now to be a whole lot more ‘terrorists’ than there were before the invasion of Iraq! Propaganda also relies on hatred and racism to promote its group-think. And there is little doubt that propaganda is a largely stealth weapon; it flies under the radar of reason and is usually not even identified as propaganda. Above all, it plays on our fears, because the more frightened people are, the more illogical their reasoning becomes.

Dr. Gary Alan Scott is an associate professor of philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland and he is currently the Director of Loyola’s International Study Abroad Program in Leuven, Belgium. He welcomes your comments or questions atgaryalanscott@yahoo.com.

Mass Marketing Goes Platinum: Marketers Embrace Growing Gulf Between Rich & Poor

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Oldspeak:Advertising Age, the marketing industry’s top publication, has curtly declared that “mass affluence is over.” Nearly half of consumer spending today is done by the richest 10 percent of households, and the richest of these richies are deemed to be the most desirable of consumers. Simply put, a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsized purchasing influence. Thus it is that advertising authorities have deemed the middle class itself (roughly 60 percent of us, depending on where you draw the income line) to be unworthy consumers. We’re too poor to matter, they say.” -Jim Hightower.  In this age of  the “Shock Doctrine”, the true face of the corporatocracy is revealed. Despite the fact that “Mass Affluence” would benefit us all, and expand their bottom line; “Mass Affluence” is not an objective. Not atal interested in The People, but primarily people with the most money to buy the most shit they don’t need, thus providing it with its lifesblood; PROFIT.  Look past all the benevolent commercials and sponsorships and understand that everything a multinational corporation does is for one purpose. Generating maximal profit. Usually at the expense of quality, safety, worker protection & environmental protection. This is a stark illustration of a fundamental fact about the monetary system: Scarcity and inequality are the key. If everyone had everything they needed, the monetary system would fail. Selling things, wage slavery, straight up slavery would be pointless. Poor disenfranchised and exploited people are an essential part of this system. Goods, services and behaviors are assigned values as a function of their benefit to perpetuating the monetary system, irrespective of their benefits or detriments to the only system that ultimately matters: the eco-system. Our civilization is essentially built on a system that values greed, excess, hedonism, materialism,  hyper-consumption, stratification, exploitation and wanton disregard for our fellow-man and our environment that provided the resources to create our self-annihilating way of life. It can’t last forever. At some point we’ll have to seriously consider a fundamental change to a more sustainable way of life, before it’s too late. Moral of the story; poor, disenfranchised and exploited people are an essential part of this system and they simultaneously don’t matter, socially, politically and financially.

By Jim Hightower @ Other Words:

In today’s fast-moving world of consumer styles, when you’re out, you’re out. Not just out-of-style, but so far out that you no longer interest the big marketers.

Thus it is that advertising authorities have deemed the middle class itself (roughly 60 percent of us, depending on where you draw the income line) to be unworthy consumers. We’re too poor to matter, they say.

Catering to the RichIndeed, even though America’s workaday majority has produced a phenomenal rise in wealth during the past decade, that majority’s income has shrunk — and there’s no improvement in sight. Where did the gains go? Practically all of the new wealth flowed straight up to the richest 10 percent of America’s people, who own more than 80 percent of all stocks and bonds.

Instead of deploring this widening disparity, major hawkers of consumer products are choosing to embrace it. Advertising Age, the marketing industry’s top publication, has curtly declared that “mass affluence is over.” Nearly half of consumer spending today is done by the richest 10 percent of households, and the richest of these richies are deemed to be the most desirable of consumers.

“Simply put,” says Ad Age, “a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsized purchasing influence.”

The magazine goes on to inform us that households with less than $200,000 in annual income are henceforth on the outs, holding little interest for advertisers. Sure enough, corporate executives in such diverse businesses as airlines, movie theaters, banks, and health care are focusing more and more on platinum-level customers.

Gosh, does this mean they’ll stop inundating me with ads and a flood of other come-ons? I could live with that.

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