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

Posts Tagged ‘Technological Fundamentalism’

Peeling The Onion: Almost Everyone Involved In Developing Tor Was (Or Is) Funded By The US Government

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

tor-privacy-roger-dingledine-nsa-pentagon

Oldspeak: “None are more hopelessly than those who falsely believe they are free-Goethe.

YEEEESH…  i can’t say i’m surprised.  i’m more gullible than i thought.  Turns out TOR was/is a great way for governments to identify and track people who value their anonymity .  And was developed originally for spooks. Needless to say, don’t use Tor if you want to communicate and browse the internet securely. Or maybe this story is bullshit too, who the shit knows at this point. Le Sigh… ” -OSJ

By Yasha Levine @ Pando:

“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, “Oh, it’s another CIA agent.” If those are the only people using the network.”

—Roger Dingledine, co-founder of the Tor Network, 2004

***

In early July, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and two other security experts published a blockbuster story in conjunction with the German press. They had obtained leaked top secret NSA documents and source code showing that the surveillance agency had targeted and potentially penetrated the Tor Network, a widely used privacy tool considered to be the holy grail of online anonymity.

Internet privacy activists and organizations reacted to the news with shock. For the past decade, they had been promoting Tor as a scrappy but extremely effective grassroots technology that can protect journalists, dissidents and whistleblowers from powerful government forces that want to track their every move online. It was supposed to be the best tool out there. Tor’s been an integral part of EFF’s “Surveillance Self-Defense” privacy toolkit. Edward Snowden is apparently a big fan, and so is Glenn Greenwald, who says it “allows people to surf without governments or secret services being able to monitor them.”

But the German exposé  showed Tor providing the opposite of anonymity: it singled out users for total NSA surveillance, potentially sucking up and recording everything they did online.

To many in the privacy community, the NSA’s attack on Tor was tantamount to high treason: a fascist violation of a fundamental and sacred human right to privacy and free speech.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes Tor to be “essential to freedom of expression.” Appelbaum — a Wikileaks volunteer and Tor developer — considers volunteering for Tor to be a valiant act on par with Hemingway or Orwell “going to Spain to fight the Franco fascists” on the side of anarchist revolutionaries.

It’s a nice story, pitting scrappy techno-anarchists against the all-powerful US Imperial machine. But the facts about Tor are not as clear cut or simple as these folks make them out to be…

Let’s start with the basics: Tor was developed, built and financed by the US military-surveillance complex. Tor’s original — and current — purpose is to cloak the online identity of government agents and informants while they are in the field: gathering intelligence, setting up sting operations, giving human intelligence assets a way to report back to their handlers — that kind of thing. This information is out there, but it’s not very well known, and it’s certainly not emphasized by those who promote it.

Peek under Tor’s hood, and you quickly realize that just everybody involved in developing Tor technology has been and/or still is funded by the Pentagon or related arm of the US empire. That includes Roger Dingledine, who brought the technology to life under a series of military and federal government contracts. Dingledine even spent a summer working at the NSA.

If you read the fine print on Tor’s website, you’ll see that Tor is still very much in active use by the US government:

“A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs, and for security during sting operations.”

NSA? DoD? U.S. Navy? Police surveillance? What the hell is going on? How is it possible that a privacy tool was created by the same military and intelligence agencies that it’s supposed to guard us against? Is it a ruse? A sham? A honeytrap? Maybe I’m just being too paranoid…

Unfortunately, this is not a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory. It is cold hard fact.

Brief history of Tor

The origins of Tor go back to 1995, when military scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory began developing cloaking technology that would prevent someone’s activity on the Internet from being traced back to them. They called it “onion routing” — a method redirecting traffic into a parallel peer-to-peer network and bouncing it around randomly before sending it off to its final destination. The idea was to move it around so as to confuse and disconnect its origin and destination, and make it impossible for someone to observe who you are or where you’re going on the Internet.

Onion routing was like a hustler playing the three-card monte with your traffic: the guy trying to spy on you could watch it going under one card, but he never knew where it would come out.

The technology was funded by the Office of Naval Research and DARPA. Early development was spearheaded by Paul Syverson, Michael Reed and David Goldschlag — all military mathematicians and computer systems researchers working for the Naval Research Laboratory, sitting inside the massive Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling military base in Southeast Washington, D.C.

The original goal of onion routing wasn’t to protect privacy — or at least not in the way most people think of “privacy.” The goal was to allow intelligence and military personnel to work online undercover without fear of being unmasked by someone monitoring their Internet activity.

“As military grade communication devices increasingly depend on the public communications infrastructure, it is important to use that infrastructure in ways that are resistant to traffic analysis. It may also be useful to communicate anonymously, for example when gathering intelligence from public databases,” explained a 1997 paper outlining an early version of onion routing that was published in the Naval Research Labs Review.

In the 90s, as public Internet use and infrastructure grew and multiplied, spooks needed to figure out a way to hide their identity in plain sight online. An undercover spook sitting in a hotel room in a hostile country somewhere couldn’t simply dial up CIA.gov on his browser and log in — anyone sniffing his connection would know who he was. Nor could a military intel agent infiltrate a potential terrorist group masquerading as an online animal rights forum if he had to create an account and log in from an army base IP address.

That’s where onion routing came in. As Michael Reed, one of the inventors of onion routing, explained: providing cover for military and intelligence operations online was their primary objective; everything else was secondary:

The original *QUESTION* posed that led to the invention of Onion Routing was, “Can we build a system that allows for bi-directional communications over the Internet where the source and destination cannot be determined by a mid-point?” The *PURPOSE* was for DoD / Intelligence usage (open source intelligence gathering, covering of forward deployed assets, whatever). Not helping dissidents in repressive countries. Not assisting criminals in covering their electronic tracks. Not helping bit-torrent users avoid MPAA/RIAA prosecution. Not giving a 10 year old a way to bypass an anti-porn filter. Of course, we knew those would be other unavoidable uses for the technology, but that was immaterial to the problem at hand we were trying to solve (and if those uses were going to give us more cover traffic to better hide what we wanted to use the network for, all the better…I once told a flag officer that much to his chagrin).

Apparently solving this problem wasn’t very easy. Onion router research progressed slowly, with several versions developed and discarded. But in 2002, seven years after it began, the project moved into a different and more active phase. Paul Syverson from the Naval Research Laboratory stayed on the project, but two new guys fresh outta MIT grad school came on board: Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson. They were not formally employed by Naval Labs, but were on contract from DARPA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Center for High Assurance Computer Systems. For the next several years, the three of them worked on a newer version of onion routing that would later become known as Tor.

Very early on, researchers understood that just designing a system that only technically anonymizes traffic is not enough — not if the system is used exclusively by military and intelligence. In order to cloak spooks better, Tor needed to be used by a diverse group of people: Activists, students, corporate researchers, soccer moms, journalists, drug dealers, hackers, child pornographers, foreign agents, terrorists — the more diverse the group that spooks could hide in the crowd in plain sight.

Tor also needed to be moved off site and disassociated from Naval research. As Syverson told Bloomberg in January 2014: “If you have a system that’s only a Navy system, anything popping out of it is obviously from the Navy. You need to have a network that carries traffic for other people as well.”

Dingledine said the same thing a decade earlier at the 2004 Wizards of OS conference in Germany:

“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, ‘Oh, it’s another CIA agent.’ If those are the only people using the network.”

The consumer version of Tor would be marketed to everyone and — equally important — would eventually allow anyone to run a Tor node/relay, even from their desktop computer. The idea was to create a massive crowdsourced torrent-style network made up from thousands of volunteers all across the world.

At the very end of 2004, with Tor technology finally ready for deployment, the US Navy cut most of its Tor funding, released it under an open source license and, oddly, the project was handed over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We funded Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson to work on Tor for a single year from November 2004 through October 2005 for $180,000. We then served as a fiscal sponsor for the project until they got their 501(c)(3) status over the next year or two.  During that time, we took in less than $50,000 for the project,” EFF’s Dave Maass told me by email.

In a December 2004 press release announcing its support for Tor, EFF curiously failed to mention that this anonymity tool was developed primarily for military and intelligence use. Instead, it focused purely on Tor’s ability to protect free speech from oppressive regimes in the Internet age.

“The Tor project is a perfect fit for EFF, because one of our primary goals is to protect the privacy and anonymity of Internet users. Tor can help people exercise their First Amendment right to free, anonymous speech online,” said EFF’s Technology Manager Chris Palmer.

Later on, EFF’s online materials began mentioning that Tor had been developed by the Naval Research Lab, but played down the connection, explaining that it was “in the past.” Meanwhile the organization kept boosting and promoting Tor as a powerful privacy tool:

“Your traffic is safer when you use Tor.”

Playing down Tor’s ties to the military…

The people at EFF weren’t the only ones minimizing Tor’s ties to the military.

In 2005, Wired published what might have been the first major profile of Tor technology. The article was written by Kim Zetter, and headlined: “Tor Torches Online Tracking.” Although Zetter was a bit critical of Tor, she made it seem like the anonymity technology had been handed over by the military with no strings attached to “two Boston-based programmers” — Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, who had completely rebuilt the product and ran it independently.

Dingledine and Mathewson might have been based in Boston, but they — and Tor — were hardly independent.

At the time that the Wired article went to press in 2005, both had been on the Pentagon payroll for at least three years. And they would continue to be on the federal government’s payroll for at least another seven years.

In fact, in 2004, at the Wizards of OS conference in Germany, Dingledine proudly announced that he was building spy craft tech on the government payroll:

“I forgot to mention earlier something that will make you look at me in a new light. I contract for the United States Government to built anonymity technology for them and deploy it. They don’t think of it as anonymity technology, although we use that term. They think of it as security technology. They need these technologies so they can research people they are interested in, so they can have anonymous tip lines, so that they can buy things from people without other countries knowing what they are buying, how much they are buying and where it is going, that sort of thing.”

Government support kept rolling in well after that.

In 2006, Tor research was funded was through a no-bid federal contract awarded to Dingledine’s consulting company, Moria Labs. And starting in 2007, the Pentagon cash came directly through the Tor Project itself — thanks to the fact that Team Tor finally left EFF and registered its own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit.

How dependent was — and is — Tor on support from federal government agencies like the Pentagon?

In 2007, it appears that all of Tor’s funding came from the federal government via two grants. A quarter million came from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), a CIA spinoff that now operates under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. IBB runs Voice of America and Radio Marti, a propaganda outfit aimed at subverting Cuba’s communist regime. The CIA supposedly cut IBB financing in the 1970s after its ties to Cold War propaganda arms like Radio Free Europe were exposed.

The second chunk of cash — just under $100,000 — came from Internews, an NGO aimed at funding and training dissident and activists abroad. Tor’s subsequent tax filings show that grants from Internews were in fact conduits for “pass through” grants from the US State Department.

In 2008, Tor got $527,000 again from IBB and Internews, which meant that 90% of its funding came U.S. government sources that year.

In 2009, the federal government provided just over $900,000, or about 90% of the funding. Part of that cash came through a $632,189 federal grant from the State Department, described in tax filings as a “Pass-Through from Internews Network International.” Another $270,000 came via the CIA-spinoff IBB. The Swedish government gave $38,000, while Google gave a minuscule $29,000.

Most of that government cash went out in the form of salaries to Tor administrators and developers. Tor co-founders Dingledine and Mathewson made $120,000. Jacob Appelbaum, the rock star hacker, Wikileaks volunteer and Tor developer, made $96,000.

In 2010, the State Department upped its grant to $913,000 and IBB gave $180,000 — which added up to nearly $1 million out of a total of $1.3 million total funds listed on tax filings that year. Again, a good chunk of that went out as salaries to Tor developers and managers.

In 2011, IBB gave $150,00, while another $730,000 came via Pentagon and State Department grants, which represented more than 70% of the grants that year. (Although based on tax filings, government contracts added up to nearly 100% of Tor’s funding.)

The DoD grant was passed through the Stanford Research Institute, a cutting edge Cold War military-intel outfit. The Pentagon-SRI grant to Tor was given this description: “Basic and Applied Research and Development in Areas Relating to the Navy Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.”

That year, a new government funder came the scene: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Sweden’s version of USAID, gave Tor $279,000.

In 2012, Tor nearly doubled its budget, taking in $2.2 million from Pentagon and intel-connected grants: $876,099 came from the DoD, $353,000 from the State Department, $387,800 from IBB.

That same year, Tor lined up an unknown amount funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors to finance fast exit nodes.

Tor at the NSA?

In 2013, the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had figured out various ways of unmasking and penetrating the anonymity of the Tor Network.

Since 2006, according to a 49-page research paper titled simply “Tor,” the agency has worked on several methods that, if successful, would allow the NSA to uncloak anonymous traffic on a “wide scale” — effectively by watching communications as they enter and exit the Tor system, rather than trying to follow them inside. One type of attack, for example, would identify users by minute differences in the clock times on their computers.

The evidence came out of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. It appeared that the surveillance agency had developed several techniques to get at Tor. One of the documents explained that the NSA “pretty much guaranteed to succeed.”

Snowden’s leaks revealed another interesting detail: In 2007, Dingledine gave at a talk at the NSA’s HQ explaining Tor, and how it worked.

The Washington Post published the NSA’s notes from their meeting with Dingledine. They showed that Dingledine and the NSA mostly talked about the technical details of Tor — how the network works and some of its security/usability tradeoffs. The NSA was curious about “Tor’s customers,” and Dingledine ran down some of the types of people who could benefit from Tor: Blogger Alice, 8 yr. old Alice, Sick Alice, Consumer Alice, Oppressed Alice, Business Alice, Law Enforcement Alice…

Interestingly, Dingledine told the NSA that “the way TOR is spun is dependent on who the ‘spinee’ is” — meaning that he markets Tor technology in different ways to different people?

Interestingly, the Washington Post article described Dingledine’s trip to the NSA as “a wary encounter, akin to mutual intelligence gathering, between a spy agency and a man who built tools to ward off electronic surveillance.” Dingledine told the paper that he came away from that meeting with the feeling that the NSA was trying to hack the Tor network:

“As he spoke to the NSA, Dingledine said in an interview Friday, he suspected the agency was attempting to break into Tor, which is used by millions of people around the world to shield their identities.”

Dingledine may very well have been antagonistic during his meeting with the NSA. Perhaps he was protective over his Tor baby, and didn’t want its original inventors and sponsors in the US government taking it back. But whatever the reason, the antagonism was not likely borne out of some sort of innate ideological hostility towards the US national security state.

Aside from being on the DoD payroll, Dingledine has spends a considerable amount of his time meeting and consulting with military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to explain why Tor’s so great, and instructing them on how to use it. What kind of agencies does he meet with? The FBI, CIA and DOJ are just a few… And if you listen to Dingledine explain these encounters in some of his public appearances, one does not detect so much as a whiff of antagonism towards intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

In 2013, during a talk at UC San Diego, Dingledine cheerfully recalled how an exuberant FBI agent rushed up to thank him during his recent trip to the FBI:

“So I’ve been doing a lot of talks lately for law enforcement. And pretty much every talk I do these days, sone FBI person comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘I use Tor everyday for my job. Thank you.’ Another example is anonymous tips — I was talking to the folks who run the CIA anonymous tip line. It’s called the Iraqi Rewards Program…”

Dingledine’s close collaboration with law enforcement aside, there’s the strangely glib manner in which he dismissed news about the NSA hacking into Tor. He seemed totally unconcerned by the evidence revealed by Snowden’s leaks, and played down the NSA’s capabilities in his comments to the Washington Post:

“If those documents actually represent what they can do, they are not as big an adversary as I thought.”

I reached out to Dingledine to ask him about his trip to the NSA and whether he warned the Tor community back in 2007 that he suspected the NSA was targeting Tor users. He didn’t respond.

How safe is Tor, really?

If Dingledine didn’t appear to be fazed by evidence of the NSA’s attack on Tor anonymity, it’s strange considering that an attack by a powerful government entity has been known to be one Tor’s principle weaknesses for quite some time.

In a 2011 discussion on Tor’s official listserv, Tor developer Mike Perry admitted that Tor might not be very effective against powerful, organized “adversaries” (aka governments) that are capable monitoring huge swaths of the Internet.

“Extremely well funded adversaries that are able to observe large portions of the Internet can probably break aspects of Tor and may be able to deanonymize users. This is why the core tor program currently has a version number of 0.2.x and comes with a warning that it is not to be used for “strong anonymity”. (Though I personally don’t believe any adversary can reliably deanonymize *all* tor users . . . but attacks on anonymity are subtle and cumulative in nature).

Indeed, just last year, Syverson was part of a research team that pretty much proved that Tor can no longer be expected to protect users over the long term.

“Tor is known to be insecure against an adversary that can observe a user’s traffic entering and exiting the anonymity network. Quite simple and efficient techniques can correlate traffic at these separate locations by taking advantage of identifying traffic patterns. As a result, the user and his destination may be identified, completely subverting the protocol’s security goals.”

The researchers concluded: “These results are somewhat gloomy for the current security of the Tor network.”

While Syverson indicated that some of the security issues identified by this research have been addressed in recent Tor versions, the findings only added to a growing list of other research and anecdotal evidence showing Tor’s not as safe as its boosters want you to think — especially when pitted against determined intelligence agencies.

Case-in-point: In December 2013, a 20-year-old Harvard panicked overachiever named Edlo Kim learned just how little protection Tor offered for would be terrorists.

To avoid taking a final exam he wasn’t prepared for, Kim hit up on the idea of sending in a fake bomb threat. То cover his tracks, he used Tor, supposedly the best anonymity service the web had to offer. But it did little mask his identity from a determined Uncle Sam. A joint investigation, which involved the FBI, the Secret Service and local police, was able to track the fake bomb threat right back to Kim — in less than 24 hours.

As the FBI complaint explained, “Harvard University was able to determine that, in the several hours leading up to the receipt of the e-mail messages described above, ELDO KIM accessed TOR using Harvard’s wireless network.” All that Tor did was make the cops jump a few extra steps. But it wasn’t hard, nothing that a bit of manpower with full legal authority to access network records couldn’t solve. It helped that Harvard’s network logging all metadata access on the network — sorta like the NSA.

Over the past few years, U.S. law enforcement has taken control and shutdown a series of illegal child porn and drug marketplaces operating on what should have been untraceable, hyper-anonymous servers running in the Tor cloud.

In 2013, they took down Freedom Hosting, which was accused of being a massive child porn hosting operation — but not before taking control of its servers and intercepting all of its communication with customers. The FBI did the same thing that same year with the online drug superstore Silkroad, which also ran its services in the Tor cloud. Although, rookie mistakes helped FBI unmask the identity of Dred Pirate Roberts, it is still a mystery how they were able to totally take over and control, and even copy, a server run in the Tor cloud — something that is supposed to be impossible.

Back in 2007, a Swedish hacker/researcher named Dan Egerstad showed that just by running a Tor node, he could siphon and read all the unencrypted traffic that went through his chunk of the Tor network. He was able to access logins and passwords to accounts of NGOs, companies, and the embassies of India and Iran. Egerstad thought at first that embassy staff were just being careless with their info, but quickly realized that he had actually stumbled on a hack/surveillance operation in which Tor was being used to covertly access these accounts.

Although Egerstad was a big fan of Tor and still believes that Tor can provide anonymity if used correctly, the experience made him highly suspicious.

He told Sydney Morning Herald that he thinks many of the major Tor nodes are being run by intelligence agencies or other parties interested in listening in on Tor communication.

“I don’t like speculating about it, but I’m telling people that it is possible. And if you actually look in to where these Tor nodes are hosted and how big they are, some of these nodes cost thousands of dollars each month just to host because they’re using lots of bandwidth, they’re heavy-duty servers and so on. Who would pay for this and be anonymous? For example, five of six of them are in Washington D.C.…”

Tor stinks?

Tor supporters point to a cache of NSA documents leaked by Snowden to prove that the agency fears and hates Tor. A 2013 Guardian story based on these docs — written by James Ball, Bruce Schneier and Glenn Greenwald — argues that agency is all but powerless against the anonymity tool.

…the documents suggest that the fundamental security of the Torservice remains intact. One top-secret presentation, titled ‘Tor Stinks’, states: “We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time.” It continues: “With manual analysis we can de-anonymize a very small fraction of Tor users,” and says the agency has had “no success de-anonymizing a user in response” to a specific request.

Another top-secret presentation calls Tor “the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity”.

But the NSA docs are far from conclusive and offer conflicting bits of evidence, allowing for multiple interpretations. But the fact is that the NSA and GCHQ clearly have the capability to compromise Tor, but it might take a bit of targeted effort.

One thing is clear: the NSA most certainly does not hate or fear Tor. And some aspects about Tor are definitely welcomed by the NSA, in part because it helps concentrate potential “targets” in one convenient location.

Tor Stinks… But it Could be Worse

• Critical mass of targets use Tor. Scaring them away might be counterproductive.

• We can increase our success rate and provide more client IPs for individual Tor users.

• We will never get 100% but we don’t need to provide true IPs for every target every time they use Tor.

Tor network is not as difficult to capture as it may seem…

In 2012, Tor co-founder Roger Dingledine revealed that the Tor Network is configured to prioritize speed and route traffic through through the fastest servers/nodes available. As a result, the vast bulk of Tor traffic runs through several dozen of the fastest and most dependable servers: “on today’s network, clients choose one of the fastest 5 exit relays around 25-30% of the time, and 80% of their choices come from a pool of 40-50 relays.”

Dingledine was criticized by Tor community for the obvious reason that funneling traffic through a handful of fast nodes made surveilling and subverting Tor much easier. Anyone can run a Tor node — a research student in Germany, a guy with FIOS connection in Victorville (which is what I did for a few months), an NSA front out of Hawaii or a guy working for China’s Internet Police.

There’s no way of knowing if the people running the fastest most stable nodes are doing it out of goodwill or because it’s the best way to listen in and subvert the Tor network. Particularly troubling was that Snowden’s leaks clearly showed the NSA and GCHQ run Tor nodes, and are interested in running more.

And running 50 Tor nodes doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult for any of the world’s intelligence agencies — whether American, German, British, Russian, Chinese or Iranian. Hell, if you’re an intelligence agency, there’s no reason not to run a Tor node.

Back in 2005, Dingledine admitted to Wired that this was a “tricky design question” but couldn’t provide a good answer to how they’d handle it. In 2012, he dismissed his critics altogether, explaining that he was perfectly willing to sacrifice security for speed — whatever it took to take get more people to use Tor:

This choice goes back to the original discussion that Mike Perry and I were wrestling with a few years ago… if we want to end up with a fast safe network, do we get there by having a slow safe network and hoping it’ll get faster, or by having a fast less-safe network and hoping it’ll get safer? We opted for the “if we don’t stay relevant to the world, Tor will never grow enough” route.

Speaking of spooks running Tor nodes…

If you thought the Tor story couldn’t get any weirder, it can and does. Probably the strangest part of this whole saga is the fact that Edward Snowden ran multiple high-bandwidth Tor nodes while working as an NSA contractor in Hawaii.

This only became publicly known last May, when Tor developer Runa Sandvik (who also drew her salary from Pentagon/State Department sources at Tor) told Wired’s Kevin Poulsen that just two weeks before he would try to get in touch with Glenn Greenwald, Snowden emailed her, explaining that he ran a major Tor node and wanted to get some Tor stickers.

Stickers? Yes, stickers.

Here’s Wired:

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Snowden’s request for Tor stickers turned into something a bit more intimate. Turned out that Sandvik was already planning to go to Hawaii for vacation, so she suggested they meet up to talk about communication security and encryption.

She wrote Snowden back and offered to give a presentation about Tor to a local audience. Snowden was enthusiastic and offered to set up a crypto party for the occasion.

So the two of them threw a “crypto party” at a local coffee shop in Honolulu, teaching twenty or so locals how to use Tor and encrypt their hard drives. “He introduced himself as Ed. We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell,” Sandvik told Wired.

But she did learn that Snowden was running more than one Tor exit node, and that he was trying to get some of his buddies at “work”to set up additional Tor nodes…

H’mmm….So Snowden running powerful Tor nodes and trying to get his NSA colleagues to run them, too?

I reached out to Sandvik for comment. She didn’t reply. But Wired’s Poulsen suggested that running Tor nodes and throwing a crypto party was a pet privacy project for Snowden. “Even as he was thinking globally, he was acting locally.”

But it’s hard to imagine a guy with top secret security clearance in the midst of planning to steal a huge cache of secrets would risk running a Tor node to help out the privacy cause. But then, who hell knows what any of this means.

I guess it’s fitting that Tor’s logo is an onion — because the more layers you peel and the deeper you get, the less things make sense and the more you realize that there is no end or bottom to it. It’s hard to get any straight answers — or even know what questions you should be asking.

In that way, the Tor Project more resembles a spook project than a tool designed by a culture that values accountability or transparency.

The Health Crisis You Love: Radiation, Wireless Technology And The Digital Toxification Of America

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm
http://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/rf-health-hazard-image.jpg?w=300&amph=193“As a multitude of hazardous wireless technologies are deployed in homes, schools and workplaces, government officials and industry representatives continue to insist on their safety despite growing evidence to the contrary. A major health crisis looms that is only hastened through the extensive deployment of “smart grid” technology.”

Oldspeak:.In April 2012 the AAEM (American Academy of Environmental Medicine) issued a formal position paper on the health effects of RF and EMF exposure based on a literature review of the most recent research. The organization pointed to how government and industry arguments alleging the doubtful nature of the science on non-thermal effects of RF were not defensible in light of the newest studies. “Genetic damage, reproductive defects, cancer, neurological degeneration and nervous system dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, cognitive effects, protein and peptide damage, kidney damage, and developmental effects have all been reported in the peer‐reviewed scientific literature… “When you put the science together, we come to the irrefutable conclusion that there’s a major health crisis coming, probably already underway,” George Carlo cautions. “Not just cancer, but also learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and psychological and behavioral problems—all mediated by the same mechanism. That’s why we’re so worried. Time is running out.” 

-James F. Tracy

“I’m just gonna go ahead and repost my comments from my post on this from 2011. Safe to assume in the time since , environmental conditions have, as expected gotten worse…‘These are some of  the documented deleterious effects of prolonged exposure to RF-EMF radiation. It is reasonable to assume there are many more we are unaware of.  And we’re exposed to it CONSTANTLY. But hey as long as Big Pharma gets to keep getting paid pumping our kids full of the ADHD meds they need because this radiation is making them go haywire and adversely affecting their memory and learning abilities, everything is fine, pay no attention to the men behind the curtain. Welcome to the largest human experiment EVER. And very few people are even aware of it. What’s most disturbing is the non-partisan research is being ignored, in favor of obviously bought and paid for by industry research….Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars surround us. We’ve come to see the technology that destroys us as indispensable. Ignorance Is Strength. -OSJ

Related Story

Radiation From Cell Phones & WiFi Networks Are Making People Sick — Are We All at Risk?

By James F. Tracy @ Global Research:

In October 2009 at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) solar energy station President Barack Obama announced that $3.4 billion of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act would be devoted to the country’s “smart energy grid” transition. Matching funds from the energy industry brought the total national Smart Grid investment to $8 billion. FPL was given $200 million of federal money to install 2.5 million “smart meters” on homes and businesses throughout the state.[1]

By now many residents in the United States and Canada have the smart meters installed on their dwellings. Each of these meters is equipped with an electronic cellular transmitter that uses powerful bursts of electromagnetic radiofrequency (RF) radiation to communicate with nearby meters that together form an interlocking network transferring detailed information on residents’ electrical usage back to the utility every few minutes or less. Such information can easily be used to determine individual patterns of behavior based on power consumption.

The smart grid technology is being sold to the public as a way to “empower” individual energy consumers by allowing them to access information on their energy usage so that they may eventually save money by programming “smart” (i.e, wireless enabled) home appliances and equipment that will coordinate their operability with the smart meter to run when electrical rates are lowest. In other words, a broader plan behind smart grid technology involves a tiered rate system for electricity consumption that will be set by the utility to which customers will have no choice but to conform.

Because of power companies’ stealth rollout of smart meters a large majority of the public still remains unaware of the dangers they pose to human health. This remains the case even though states such as Maine have adopted an “opt out” provision for their citizens. The devices have not been safety-tested by Underwriters Laboratory and thus lack the UL approval customary for most electronics.[2] Further, power customers are typically told by their utilities that the smart meter only communicates with the power company “a few times per day” to transmit information on individual household energy usage. However, when individuals obtained the necessary equipment to do their own testing they found the meters were emitting bursts of RF radiation throughout the home far more intense than a cell phone call every minute or less.[3]

America’s Telecom-friendly Policy for RF Exposure
A growing body of medical studies is now linking cumulative RF exposure to DNA disruption, cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and autoimmune diseases. Smart meters significantly contribute to an environment already polluted by RF radiation through the pervasive stationing of cellular telephone towers in or around public spaces and consumers’ habitual use of wireless technologies. In the 2000 Salzburg Resolution European scientists recommended the maximum RF exposure for humans to be no more than one tenth of a microwatt per square centimeter. In the United States RF exposure limits are 1,000 microwatts per centimeter, with no limits for long term exposure.[4] Such lax standards have been determined by outdated science and the legal and regulatory maneuvering of the powerful telecommunications and wireless industries.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ceased studying the health effects of radiofrequency radiation when the Senate Appropriations Committee cut the department’s funding and forbade it from further research into the area.[5] Thereafter RF limits were codified as mere “guidelines” based on the EPA’s tentative findings and are to this day administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

These weakly enforced standards are predicated on the alleged “thermal effect” of RF. In other words, if the energy emitted from a wireless antenna or device is not powerful enough to heat the skin or flesh then no danger is posed to human health.[6] This reasoning is routinely put forward by utilities installing smart meters on residences, telecom companies locating cellular transmission towers in populated areas, and now school districts across the US allowing the installation of cell towers on school campuses.[7]

The FCC’s authority to impose this standard was further reinforced with the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that included a provision lobbied for by the telecom industry preventing state and local governments from evaluating potential environmental and health effects when locating cell towers “so long as ‘such facilities comply with the FCC’s regulations concerning such emissions.’”[8]

In 2001 an alliance of scientists and engineers with the backing of the Communications Workers of America filed a federal lawsuit hoping the Supreme Court would reconsider the FCC’s obsolete exposure guidelines and the Telecom Act’s overreach into state and local jurisdiction. The high court refused to hear the case. When the same group asked the FCC to reexamine its guidelines in light of current scientific studies the request was rebuffed.[9] Today in all probability millions are suffering from a variety of immediate and long-term health effects from relentless EMF and RF exposure that under the thermal effect rationale remain unrecognized or discounted by the telecom industry and regulatory authorities alike.

Growing Evidence of Health Risks From RF Exposure
The main health concern with electromagnetic radiation emitted by smart meters and other wireless technologies is that EMF and RF cause a breakdown in the communication between cells in the body, interrupting DNA repair and weakening tissue and organ function. These are the findings of Dr. George Carlo, who oversaw a comprehensive research group commissioned by the cell phone industry in the mid-1990s.

When Carlo’s research began to reveal how there were indeed serious health concerns with wireless technology, the industry sought to bury the results and discredit Carlo. Yet Carlo’s research has since been upheld in a wealth of subsequent studies and has continuing relevance given the ubiquity of wireless apparatuses and the even more powerful smart meters. “One thing all these conditions have in common is a disruption, to varying degrees, of intercellular communication,” Carlo observes. “When we were growing up, TV antennas were on top of our houses and such waves were up in the sky. Cell phones and Wi-Fi have brought those things down to the street, integrated them into the environment, and that’s absolutely new.”[10]

In 2007 the BioInitiative Working Group, a worldwide body of scientists and public health experts, released a 650-page document with over 2000 studies linking RF and EMF exposure to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, DNA damage, immune system dysfunction, cellular damage and tissue reduction.[11]

In May 2011 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer categorized “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless cellphone use.”[12]

In November 2011 the Board of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), a national organization of medical and osteopathic physicians, called on California’s Public Utilities Commission to issue a moratorium on the continued installation of smart meters in residences and schools “based on a scientific assessment of the current available literature.” “[E]xisting FCC guidelines for RF safety that have been used to justify installations of smart meters,” the panel wrote,

“only look at thermal tissue damage and are obsolete, since many modern studies show metabolic and genomic damage from RF and ELF exposure below the level of intensity which heats tissues … More modern literature shows medically and biologically significant effects of RF and ELF at lower energy densities. These effects accumulate over time, which is an important consideration given the chronic nature of exposure from ‘smart meters.’”[13]

In April 2012 the AAEM issued a formal position paper on the health effects of RF and EMF exposure based on a literature review of the most recent research. The organization pointed to how government and industry arguments alleging the doubtful nature of the science on non-thermal effects of RF were not defensible in light of the newest studies. “Genetic damage, reproductive defects, cancer, neurological degeneration and nervous system dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, cognitive effects, protein and peptide damage, kidney damage, and developmental effects have all been reported in the peer‐reviewed scientific literature,” AAEM concluded.[14]

Radiating Children
The rollout of smart meters proceeds alongside increased installation of wireless technology and cell phone towers in and around schools in the US. In 2010 Professor Magda Havas conducted a study of schools in 50 US state capitols and Washington DC to determine students’ potential exposure to nearby cell towers. A total 6,140 schools serving 2.3 million students were surveyed using the antennasearch.com database. Of these, 13% of the schools serving 299,000 students have a cell tower within a quarter mile of school grounds, and another 50% of the schools where 1,145,000 attend have a tower within a 0.6 mile radius. The installation of wireless networks and now smart meters on and around school properties further increases children’s RF exposure.[15]

Many school districts that are strapped for cash in the face of state budget cuts are willing to ignore the abundance of scientific research on RF dangers and sign on with telecom companies to situate cell towers directly on school premises. Again, the FCC’s thermal effect rule is invoked to justify tower placement together with a disregard of the available studies.

The School District of Palm Beach County, the eleventh largest school district in the US, provides one such example. Ten of its campuses already have cell towers on their grounds while the district ponders lifting a ban established in 1997 that would allow for the positioning of even more towers. When concerned parents contacted the school district for an explanation of its wireless policies, the administration assembled a document, “Health Organization Information and Academic Research Studies Regarding the Health Effects of Cell Tower Signals.” The report carefully selected pronouncements from telecom industry funded organizations such as the American Cancer Society and out-of-date scientific studies supporting the FCC’s stance on wireless while excluding the long list of studies and literature reviews pointing to the dangers of RF and EMF radiation emitted by wireless networks and cell towers. [16]

The Precautionary Principle / Conclusion
Surrounded by the sizable and growing body of scientific literature pointing to the obvious dangers of wireless technology, utility companies installing smart meters on millions of homes across the US  and school officials who accommodate cell towers on their grounds are performing an extreme disservice to their often vulnerable constituencies. Indeed, such actions constitute the reckless long term endangerment of public health for short term gain, sharply contrasting with more judicious decision making.

The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment & Development adopted the precautionary principle as a rule to follow in the situations utilities and school districts find themselves in today. “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”[17] In exercising the precautionary principle, public governance and regulatory bodies should “take preventive action in the face of scientific uncertainty to prevent harm. The focus is no longer on measuring or managing harm, but preventing harm.”[18]

Along these lines, the European Union and the Los Angeles School District have prohibited cell phone towers on school grounds until the scientific research on the human health effects of RF are conclusive. The International Association of Fire Fighters also interdicted cell towers on fire stations pending “’a study with the highest scientific merit and integrity on health effects of exposure to low-intensity [radio frequency/microwave] radiation is conducted and it is proven that such sitings are not hazardous to the health of our members.’”[19]

Unwitting families with smart meters on their homes and children with cell towers humming outside their classrooms suggest the extent to which the energy, telecom and wireless industries have manipulated the regulatory process to greatly privilege profits over public health. Moreover, it reveals how the population suffers for want of meaningful and conclusive information on the very real dangers of RF while the telecom and wireless interests successfully cajole the media into considering one scientific study at a time.

“When you put the science together, we come to the irrefutable conclusion that there’s a major health crisis coming, probably already underway,” George Carlo cautions. “Not just cancer, but also learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and psychological and behavioral problems—all mediated by the same mechanism. That’s why we’re so worried. Time is running out.”[20]

Notes

[1] Energy.gov, “President Obama Announces $3.4 Billion Investment to Spur Transition to Smart Energy Grid,” October 27, 2009,
http://energy.gov/articles/president-obama-announces-34-billion-investment-spur-transition-smart-energy-grid

[2] Ilya Sandra Perlingieri, “Radiofrequency Radiation: The Invisible Hazards of Smart Meters,” August 19, 2011, GlobalReserach.ca, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26082

[3] Dr. Bill Deagle, “Smart Meters: A Call for Public Outrage,” Rense.com, August 30, 2011, http://www.rense.com/general94/smartt.htm. Some meters installed in California by Pacific Gas and Electric carry a “’switching mode power-supply’ that ‘emit sharp spikes of millisecond bursts’ around the clock and is a chief cause of ‘dirty electricity.’” See Perlingieri, “Radiofrequency Radiation: The Invisible Hazards of Smart Meters.” This author similarly measured bursts of radiation in excess of 2,000 microwatts per meter every 30 to 90 seconds during the day, and once every two-to-three minutes at night.

[4] Magda Havas, BRAG Antenna Ranking of Schools, 2010,
http://electromagnetichealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/BRAG_Schools.pdf

[5] Susan Luzzaro, “Field of Cell Phone Tower Beams,” San Diego Reader, May 18, 2011,
http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2011/may/18/citylights2-cell-phone-tower/?page=1&

[6] FCC Office of Engineering and Technology, http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety

[7] Luzzaro, “Field of Cell Phone Tower Beams”; Marc Freeman, “Cell Towers Could Be Coming to More Schools,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, January 5, 2012,
http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-01-05/news/fl-cell-towers-schools-palm-20120105_1_cell-towers-cellular-phone-towers-stealth-towers

[8] Amy Worthington, “The Radiation Poisoning of America,” GlobalResearch.ca, October 9, 2007, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7025

[9] Worthington, “The Radiation Poisoning of America.”

[10] Sue Kovach, “The Hidden Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation,” Life Extension Magazine, August 2007, http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2007
/aug2007_report_cellphone_radiation_01.htm

[11] Susan Luzzaro, “Field of Cell Phone Tower Beams”; Bioinitiative Report: A Rationale For a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard For Electromagnetic Fields, http://www.bioinitiative.org/freeaccess/report/index.htm.

[12] World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer, “IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic,” May 31, 2011, www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf; Joseph Mercola, “Be Aware: These Cell Phones Can Emit 28 Times More Radiation,” Mercola.com, June 18, 2011,
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/06/18/finally-experts-admit-cellphones-are-a-carcinogen.aspx.

[13] American Academy of Environmental Medicine, “Proposed Decision of Commissioner Peevy [Mailed 11/22/2011] Before the Public Utilities Commission of the State of California,” January 19, 2012. www.aaemonline.org

[14] American Academy of Environmental Medicine, “The American Academy of Environmental Medicine Calls for Immediate Caution regarding Smart Meter Installation,” April 12, 2012, http://www.aaemonline.org/

[15] Havas, BRAG Antenna Ranking of Schools, 31-38.

[16] Donna Goldstein, “Health Organization Information and Academic Research Studies Regarding the Health Effects of Cell Tower Signals,”Planning and Real Estate Development, Palm Beach County School District, January 30, 2012.

[17] Havas, BRAG Antenna Ranking of Schools, 17.

[18] Multinational Monitor, “Precautionary Precepts: The Power and Potential of the Precautionary Principle: An Interview with Carolyn Raffensperger,” September 2004, http://multinationalmonitor.org/mm2004/09012004/september04interviewraffen.html.

[19] Luzzaro, “Field of Cell Phone Tower Beams.”

[20] Kovach, “The Hidden Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation.”

James F. Tracy is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. He is an affiliate of Project Censored and blogs at memorygap.org.

The Myth of Human Progress And The Collapse Of Complex Societies

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2014 at 6:44 pm

http://veganismisnonviolence.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/failed-experiment.pngOldspeak: “i think the problems we’re seeing now, whether you’re talking about hunger, massive inequity, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity, have been driven over the last 200 years by a system of overproduction of stuff and a overconsumption of stuff. And then that’s been inflated and inflated and inflated to the point where it really is not in any way reasonable. The companies and those within government who have supported that approach are now saying they will provide new technologies, to continue that consumption of stuff, that level of production, it’s just not realistic. “-Jim Thomas

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a “deadly trio” that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet’s history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure. .. Yet we… rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess…The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth…. Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion…. Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the “burnt people”—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth…. Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us….  Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry…. Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity….  “One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote….  That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” calls the “progress trap.” We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature…. In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us. Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.-Chris Hedges

Enlightenment is a destructive process. it has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. it is the seeing through the fascade of false pretense. it’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” -Adyashanti

“We must realize and reject the myth that infinite human progress and perpetual growth equal prosperity and happiness. This deranged and ecology detached thinking is hurtling us toward extinction. it is time for the people to realize that we are not our jobs, our “wealth”, our status, our titles, our ownership, our enslavement, our things. Realize that we are a part of our mother; that we are destroying her and by extension ourselves. Realize the only sane course of action for humanity from this point forward is to withdraw its support for the globalized “painless concentration camp” that takes away our universally affirmed rights. A system that threatens us with the violence of starvation and homelessness if we do not comply with its work program, which mainly functions confine us & perpetuate and expand the camp. Realize that our most important task, in the time we have left in this realm is to regain our humanity, our compassion, our empathy, our love, our human spirit. And face our demise with unfathomable grace, dignity, fellowship, peace and love.” -OSJ

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Editor’s note: The following is the transcript of a speech that Chris Hedges gave in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 13, 2013. To purchase a DVD of Hedges’ address and the Q-and-A that followed, click here.

The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia.

Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship’s 30-man crew—there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel—is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which in a previous encounter maimed the ship’s captain, Ahab, by dismembering one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod’s destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

“If I had been downright honest with myself,” Ishmael admits, “I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”

Our financial system—like our participatory democracy—is a mirage. The Federal Reserve purchases $85 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—much of it worthless subprime mortgages—each month. It has been artificially propping up the government and Wall Street like this for five years. It has loaned trillions of dollars at virtually no interest to banks and firms that make money—because wages are kept low—by lending it to us at staggering interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent. … Or our corporate oligarchs hoard the money or gamble with it in an overinflated stock market. Estimates put the looting by banks and investment firms of the U.S. Treasury at between $15 trillion and $20 trillion. But none of us know. The figures are not public. And the reason this systematic looting will continue until collapse is that our economy [would] go into a tailspin without this giddy infusion of free cash.

The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life. The oceans, of course, have absorbed much of the excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. This absorption is rapidly warming and acidifying ocean waters. This is compounded, the report noted, by increased levels of deoxygenation from nutrient runoffs from farming and climate change. The scientists called these effects a “deadly trio” that when combined is creating changes in the seas that are unprecedented in the planet’s history. This is their language, not mine. The scientists wrote that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one [part] of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation. They warned that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already under way, the first in some 55 million years. Or look at the recent research from the University of Hawaii that says global warming is now inevitable, it cannot be stopped but at best slowed, and that over the next 50 years the earth will heat up to levels that will make whole parts of the planet uninhabitable. Tens of millions of people will be displaced and millions of species will be threatened with extinction. The report casts doubt that [cities on or near a coast] such as New York or London will endure.

Yet we, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize our collective madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward economic, political and environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.

The corporate assault on culture, journalism, education, the arts and critical thinking has left those who speak this truth marginalized and ignored, frantic Cassandras who are viewed as slightly unhinged and depressingly apocalyptic. We are consumed by a mania for hope, which our corporate masters lavishly provide, at the expense of truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil” holds that only a few people have the fortitude to look in times of distress into what he calls the molten pit of human reality. Most studiously ignore the pit. Artists and philosophers, for Nietzsche, are consumed, however, by an insatiable curiosity, a quest for truth and desire for meaning. They venture down into the bowels of the molten pit. They get as close as they can before the flames and heat drive them back. This intellectual and moral honesty, Nietzsche wrote, comes with a cost. Those singed by the fire of reality become “burnt children,” he wrote, eternal orphans in empires of illusion.

Decayed civilizations always make war on independent intellectual inquiry, art and culture for this reason. They do not want the masses to look into the pit. They condemn and vilify the “burnt people”—Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cornel West. They feed the human addiction for illusion, happiness and hope. They peddle the fantasy of eternal material progress. They urge us to build images of ourselves to worship. They insist—and this is the argument of globalization ¬¬—that our voyage is, after all, decreed by natural law. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. We ignore and belittle the cries of the burnt people. And, if we do not swiftly and radically reconfigure our relationship to each other and the ecosystem, microbes look set to inherit the earth.

Clive Hamilton in his “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth—intellectually and emotionally—and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us.

The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite—are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year [2012] in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward.

Complex civilizations have a bad habit of ultimately destroying themselves. Anthropologists including Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. The difference this time is that when we go down the whole planet will go with us. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new civilizations to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate. The long struggle between the human species and the earth will conclude with the remnants of the human species learning a painful lesson about unrestrained greed, hubris and idolatry.

Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity.

“One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote.

That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress” calls the “progress trap.” We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion, Wright notes, that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.

And as the collapse becomes palpable, if human history is any guide, we, like past societies in distress, will retreat into what anthropologists call “crisis cults.” The powerlessness we will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist beliefs in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us. The Christian right provides a haven for this escapism. These cults perform absurd rituals to make it all go away, giving rise to a religiosity that peddles collective self-delusion and magical thinking. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the later part of the 19th century as the buffalo herds and the last remaining tribes were slaughtered. The Ghost Dance held out the hope that all the horrors of white civilization—the railroads, the murderous cavalry units, the timber merchants, the mine speculators, the hated tribal agencies, the barbed wire, the machine guns, even the white man himself—would disappear. And our psychological hard wiring is no different.

In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to [Chelsea] Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. And we are blind to the evil within us.
Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.

“All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.”

Ahab, as the historian Richard Slotkin points out in his book “Regeneration Through Violence,” is “the true American hero, worthy to be captain of a ship whose ‘wood could only be American.’ ” Melville offers us a vision, one that D.H. Lawrence later understood, of the inevitable fatality of white civilization brought about by our ceaseless lust for material progress, imperial expansion, white supremacy and exploitation of nature.

Melville, who had been a sailor on clipper ships and whalers, was keenly aware that the wealth of industrialized societies was stolen by force from the wretched of the earth. All the authority figures on the ship are white men—Ahab, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb. The hard, dirty work, from harpooning to gutting the carcasses of the whales, is the task of the poor, mostly men of color. Melville saw how European plundering of indigenous cultures from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives, was the engine that enriched Europe and the United States. The Spaniards’ easy seizure of the Aztec and Inca gold following the massive die-off from smallpox and [other diseases] among native populations set in motion five centuries of unchecked economic and environmental plunder. Karl Marx and Adam Smith pointed to the huge influx of wealth from the Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the industrialized state with technologically advanced weapons systems, turning us into the most efficient killers on the planet.

Ahab, when he first appears on the quarterdeck after being in his cabin for the first few days of the voyage, holds up a doubloon, an extravagant gold coin, and promises it to the crew member who first spots the white whale. He knows that “the permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man … is sordidness.” And he plays to this sordidness. The whale becomes like everything in the capitalist world a commodity, a source of personal profit. A murderous greed, one that Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate, denounces as “blasphemous,” grips the crew. Ahab’s obsession infects the ship.

“I see in [Moby Dick] outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it,” Ahab tells Starbuck. “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

Ahab conducts a dark Mass, a Eucharist of violence and blood, on the deck with the crew. He orders the men to circle around him. He makes them drink from a flagon that is passed from man to man, filled with draughts “hot as Satan’s hoof.” Ahab tells the harpooners to cross their lances before him. The captain grasps the harpoons and anoints the ships’ harpooners—Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo—his “three pagan kinsmen.” He orders them to detach the iron sections of their harpoons and fills the sockets “with the fiery waters from the pewter.” “Drink, ye harpooneers! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow—Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!” And with the crew bonded to him in his infernal quest he knows that Starbuck is helpless “amid the general hurricane.” “Starbuck now is mine,” Ahab says, “cannot oppose me now, without rebellion.” “The honest eye of Starbuck,” Melville writes, “fell downright.”

The ship, described as a hearse, was painted black. It was adorned with gruesome trophies of the hunt, festooned with the huge teeth and bones of sperm whales. It was, Melville writes, a “cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.” The fires used to melt the whale blubber at night turned the Pequod into a “red hell.”

Our own raging fires, leaping up from our oil refineries and the explosions of our ordinance across the Middle East, bespeak our Stygian heart. And in our mad pursuit we ignore the suffering of others, just as Ahab does when he refuses to help the captain of a passing ship who is frantically searching for his son, who has fallen overboard.

Ahab has not only the heated rhetoric of persuasion; he is master of a terrifying internal security force on the ship, the five “dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.” Ahab’s secret, private whale boat crew, who emerge from the bowels of the ship well into the voyage, keeps the rest of the ship in abject submission. The art of propaganda and the use of brutal coercion, the mark of tyranny, define our lives just as they mark those on Melville’s ship. The novel is the chronicle of the last days of any civilization.

And yet Ahab is no simple tyrant. Melville toward the end of the novel gives us two glimpses into the internal battle between Ahab’s maniacal hubris and his humanity. Ahab, too, has a yearning for love. He harbors regrets over his deformed life. The black cabin boy Pip is the only crew member who evokes any tenderness in the captain. Ahab is aware of this tenderness. He fears its power. Pip functions as the Fool did in Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Ahab warns Pip of Ahab. “Lad, lad,” says Ahab, “I tell thee thou must not follow Ahab now. The hour is coming when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him. There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady. Like cures like; and for this hunt, my malady becomes my most desired health. … If thou speakest thus to me much more, Ahab’s purpose keels up in him. I tell thee no; it cannot be.” A few pages later, “untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven. … From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.” Starbuck approaches him. Ahab, for the only time in the book, is vulnerable. He speaks to Starbuck of his “forty years on the pitiless sea! … the desolation of solitude it has been. … Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? How the richer or better is Ahab now?” He thinks of his young wife—“I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck”—and of his little boy: “About this time—yes, it is his noon nap now—the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.”

Ahab’s thirst for dominance, vengeance and destruction, however, overpowers these faint regrets of lost love and thwarted compassion. Hatred wins. “What is it,” Ahab finally asks, “what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time. …”

Melville knew that physical courage and moral courage are distinct. One can be brave on a whaling ship or a battlefield, yet a coward when called on to stand up to human evil. Starbuck elucidates this peculiar division. The first mate is tormented by his complicity in what he foresees as Ahab’s “impious end.” Starbuck, “while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.”

And so we plunge forward in our doomed quest to master the forces that will finally smite us. Those who see where we are going too often lack the fortitude to actually rebel. Mutiny was the only salvation for the Pequod’s crew. It is our only salvation. But moral cowardice turns us into hostages.

I am reading and rereading the debates among some of the great radical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries about the mechanisms of social change. These debates were not academic. They were frantic searches for the triggers of revolt. Lenin placed his faith in a violent uprising, a professional, disciplined revolutionary vanguard freed from moral constraints and, like Marx, in the inevitable emergence of the worker’s state. [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon insisted that gradual change would be accomplished as enlightened workers took over production and educated and converted the rest of the proletariat. [Mikhail] Bakunin predicted the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, something we are likely to witness in our lifetimes, and new autonomous worker federations rising up out of the chaos. [Peter] Kropotkin, like Proudhon, believed in an evolutionary process that would hammer out the new society. Emma Goldman, along with Kropotkin, came to be very wary of both the efficacy of violence and the revolutionary potential of the masses. “The mass,” Goldman wrote bitterly toward the end of her life in echoing Marx, “clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify!”

The revolutionists of history counted on a mobilized base of enlightened industrial workers. The building blocks of revolt, they believed, relied on the tool of the general strike, the ability of workers to cripple the mechanisms of production. Strikes could be sustained with the support of political parties, strike funds and union halls. Workers without these support mechanisms had to replicate the infrastructure of parties and unions if they wanted to put prolonged pressure on the bosses and the state. But now, with the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base, along with the dismantling of our unions and opposition parties, we will have to search for different instruments of rebellion.

We must develop a revolutionary theory that is not reliant on the industrial or agrarian muscle of workers. Most manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and, of those that remain, few are unionized. Our family farms have been destroyed by agro-businesses. Monsanto and its Faustian counterparts on Wall Street rule. They are steadily poisoning our lives and rendering us powerless. The corporate leviathan, which is global, is freed from the constraints of a single nation-state or government. Corporations are beyond regulation or control. Politicians are too anemic, or more often too corrupt, to stand in the way of the accelerating corporate destruction. This makes our struggle different from revolutionary struggles in industrial societies in the past. Our revolt will look more like what erupted in the less industrialized Slavic republics, Russia, Spain and China and uprisings led by a disenfranchised rural and urban working class and peasantry in the liberation movements that swept through Africa and Latin America. The dispossessed working poor, along with unemployed college graduates and students, unemployed journalists, artists, lawyers and teachers, will form our movement. This is why the fight for a higher minimum wage is crucial to uniting service workers with the alienated college-educated sons and daughters of the old middle class. Bakunin, unlike Marx, considered déclassé intellectuals essential for successful revolt.

It is not the poor who make revolutions. It is those who conclude that they will not be able, as they once expected, to rise economically and socially. This consciousness is part of the self-knowledge of service workers and fast-food workers. It is grasped by the swelling population of college graduates caught in a vise of low-paying jobs and obscene amounts of debt. These two groups, once united, will be our primary engines of revolt. Much of the urban poor has been crippled and in many cases broken by a rewriting of laws, especially drug laws, that has permitted courts, probation officers, parole boards and police to randomly seize poor people of color, especially African-American men, without just cause and lock them in cages for years. In many of our most impoverished urban centers—our internal colonies, as Malcolm X called them—mobilization, at least at first, will be difficult. The urban poor are already in chains. These chains are being readied for the rest of us. “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread,” Anatole France commented acidly.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan examined 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements in their book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” They concluded that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings. Violent movements work primarily in civil wars or in ending foreign occupations, they found. Nonviolent movements that succeed appeal to those within the power structure, especially the police and civil servants, who are cognizant of the corruption and decadence of the power elite and are willing to abandon them. And we only need 1 to 5 percent of the population actively working for the overthrow of a system, history has shown, to bring down even the most ruthless totalitarian structures. It always works on two tracks—building alternative structures such as public banks to free ourselves from control and finding mechanisms to halt the machine.

The most important dilemma facing us is not ideological. It is logistical. The security and surveillance state has made its highest priority the breaking of any infrastructure that might spark widespread revolt. The state knows the tinder is there. It knows that the continued unraveling of the economy and the effects of climate change make popular unrest inevitable. It knows that as underemployment and unemployment doom at least a quarter of the U.S. population, perhaps more, to perpetual poverty, and as unemployment benefits are scaled back, as schools close, as the middle class withers away, as pension funds are looted by hedge fund thieves, and as the government continues to let the fossil fuel industry ravage the planet, the future will increasingly be one of open conflict. This battle against the corporate state, right now, is primarily about infrastructure. We need an infrastructure to build revolt. The corporate state is determined to deny us one.

The state, in its internal projections, has a vision of the future that is as dystopian as mine. But the state, to protect itself, lies. Politicians, corporations, the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and our ridiculous television pundits speak as if we can continue to build a society based on limitless growth, profligate consumption and fossil fuel. They feed the collective mania for hope at the expense of truth. Their public vision is self-delusional, a form of collective psychosis. The corporate state, meanwhile, is preparing privately for the world it knows is actually coming. It is cementing into place a police state, one that includes the complete evisceration of our most basic civil liberties and the militarization of the internal security apparatus, as well as wholesale surveillance of the citizenry.

Moby Dick rams and sinks the Pequod. The waves swallow up Ahab and all who followed him, except one. A vortex formed by the ship’s descent collapses, “and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

As the planet begins to convulse with fury, as the senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion implodes the global economy, as our civil liberties are eviscerated in the name of national security, shackling us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York, how shall we endure and resist?

Our hope lies in the human imagination. It was the human imagination that permitted African-Americans during slavery and the Jim Crow era to transcend their physical condition. It was the human imagination that sustained Sitting Bull and Black Elk as their land was seized and their cultures were broken. And it was the human imagination that allowed the survivors in the Nazi death camps to retain the power of the sacred. It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence. Chants, work songs, spirituals, the blues, poetry, dance and art converged under slavery to nourish and sustain this imagination. These were the forces that, as Ralph Ellison wrote, “we had in place of freedom.” The oppressed would be the first—for they know their fate—to admit that on a rational level such a notion is absurd, but they also know that it is only through the imagination that they survive. Jewish inmates in Auschwitz reportedly put God on trial for the Holocaust and then condemned God to death. A rabbi stood after the verdict to lead the evening prayers.

African-Americans and Native Americans, for centuries, had little control over their destinies. Forces of bigotry and violence kept them subjugated by whites. Suffering, for the oppressed, was tangible. Death was a constant companion. And it was only their imagination, as William Faulkner noted at the end of “The Sound and the Fury,” that permitted them—unlike the novel’s white Compson family—to “endure.”

The theologian James H. Cone captures this in his book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Cone says that for oppressed blacks the cross was a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” Cone continues:

That God could “make a way out of no way” in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross. Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the “troubles of this world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Believing this paradox, this absurd claim of faith, was only possible in humility and repentance. There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.

Reinhold Niebuhr labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

The prophets in the Hebrew Bible had this sublime madness. The words of the Hebrew prophets, as Abraham Heschel wrote, were “a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.” The prophet, because he saw and faced an unpleasant reality, was, as Heschel wrote, “compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected.”

Primo Levi in his memoir “Survival in Auschwitz” tells of teaching Italian to another inmate, Jean Samuel, in exchange for lessons in French. Levi recites to Samuel from memory Canto XXVI of Dante’s “The Inferno.” It is the story of Ulysses’ final voyage.

We cheered, but soon that cheering turned to woe,

for then a whirlwind born from the strange land

battered our little vessel on the prow.

Three times the boat and all the sea were whirled,

and at the fourth, to please Another’s will,

the aft tipped in the air, the prow went down,

Until the ocean closed above our bones.

“He has received the message,” Levi wrote of his friend and what they shared in Dante, “he has felt that it has to do with him, that it has to do with all men who toil, and with us in particular.” Levi goes on. “It is vitally necessary and urgent that he listen, that he understand … before it is too late; tomorrow he or I might be dead, or we might never see each other again.”

The poet Leon Staff wrote from the Warsaw ghetto: “Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all.”

It is only those who harness their imagination, and through their imagination find the courage to peer into the molten pit, who can minister to the suffering of those around them. It is only they who can find the physical and psychological strength to resist. Resistance is carried out not for its success, but because by resisting in every way possible we affirm life. And those who resist in the years ahead will be those who are infected with this “sublime madness.” As Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the only morally reliable people are not those who say “this is wrong” or “this should not be done,” but those who say “I can’t.” They know that as Immanuel Kant wrote: “If justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” And this means that, like Socrates, we must come to a place where it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. We must at once see and act, and given what it means to see, this will require the surmounting of despair, not by reason, but by faith.

“One of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt,” Camus wrote. “It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. … It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

“… [T]he people noticed that Crazy Horse was queerer than ever,” Black Elk said in remembering the final days of the wars of Western expansion. He went on to say of the great Sioux warrior: “He hardly ever stayed in the camp. People would find him out alone in the cold, and they would ask him to come home with them. He would not come, but sometimes he would tell the people what to do. People wondered if he ate anything at all. Once my father found him out alone like that, and he said to my father: ‘Uncle, you have noticed me the way I act. But do not worry; there are caves and holes for me to live in, and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people.’  ”

Homer, Dante, Beethoven, Melville, Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson and James Baldwin, along with artists such as the sculptor David Smith, the photographer Diane Arbus and the blues musician Charley Patton, all had it. It is the sublime madness that lets one sing, as bluesman Ishman Bracey did in Hinds County, Miss., “I’ve been down so long, Lawd, down don’t worry me.” And yet in the mists of the imagination also lie the absurdity and certainty of divine justice:

I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
Someday it’ll burst this levee and wash the whole wide world away.

Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and heroines—Prospero, Antony, Juliet, Viola, Rosalind, Hamlet, Cordelia and Lear—all have this sublime madness. King Lear, who through suffering and affliction, through human imagination, is finally able to see, warns us all that unbridled human passion and unchecked hubris mean the suicide of the species. “It will come,” Albany says in “Lear.” “Humanity must perforce prey on itself, Like monsters of the deep.” It was the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca that sustained the republicans fighting the fascists in Spain. Music, dance, drama, art, song, painting [have been] the fire and drive of resistance movements. The rebel units in El Salvador when I covered the war there always traveled with musicians and theater troupes. Art, as Emma Goldman pointed out, has the power to make ideas felt. Goldman noted that when Andrew Undershaft, a character in George Bernard Shaw’s play “Major Barbara,” said poverty is “[t]he worst of crimes” and “All the other crimes are virtues beside it,” his impassioned declaration elucidated the cruelty of class warfare more effectively than Shaw’s socialist tracts. The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state, the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, sever the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems.

Culture, real culture, is radical and transformative. It is capable of expressing what lies deep within us. It gives words to our reality. It makes us feel as well as see. It allows us to empathize with those who are different or oppressed. It reveals what is happening around us. It honors mystery. “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest,” James Baldwin wrote, “so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight which in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires us to embrace this sublime madness, to find in acts of rebellion the embers of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside of certain success. It is to at once grasp reality and then refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. It is, and I say this to people of all creeds or no creeds, to make an absurd leap of faith, to believe, despite all empirical evidence around us, that good always draws to it the good, that the fight for life always goes somewhere—we do not know where; the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we sustain our belief in a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.

The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who spent most of his adult life in prison or in exile, knew something of despair. But he knew something too of resistance, of that rebellious spirit which must define us in times of terrible oppression and woe if we are to remain fully human. Any act of resistance is its own eternal triumph. Hikmet captured this in his poem “On Living.”

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example—
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people—
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast . . .
Let’s say we’re at the front—
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind—
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.

III
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

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The Big Picture: Anthropocentrism, Essential Psychopathy & Ecocide

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Oldspeak: “Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’… Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists…. Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on… Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature…. And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations…. Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community….With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born… And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land…. When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest… We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world… By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?… Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable.  Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.” –Richard Posner

We are illusionists. There is very little that is physical in the world we’ve created and made ourselves to believe. From Friday to November to religious dogma to the boundaries of Russia to fiat currency to political parties … all are constructs – simplifications – to structure and order the world around us in our collective minds. We have the power to chart our future actions on this planet, and hence the flows of energy and matter that result from whatever rules guide our collective minds. If this is the case, then why do we fetishize a particular set of rules that understands human progress as continuous throughout (i.e. extraction, production, consumption and waste)? Why does the dominant human culture, which has extended to every corner of the globe, continually persist in advancing this goal, without comprehending the biophysical touchstone that allows such throughput to occur in the first place?”-Vijay Kolinjivadi, Economic Growth is Killing Us

All countries are basically social arrangements, accomodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact, they are all artificial and temporary-Strobe Talbott

“At what point will the rapidly changing circumstances on our planet force us to pay attention to reality and reject the artificial and temporary unreality we’re being drowned in? Probably not until industrial civilization collapses. Enjoy the ride to extinction…-OSJ

By Richard Posner @ The Hampton Institute:

Kind reader;

Being a self-educated generalist, it has long been my practice to wade in the shallows of many disciplines rather than plunging into and fully immersing myself in any one. I think this has served me fairly well since I have consequently not been restrained by the bounds of specialisation. I have not drowned myself in the depths of any single field of study to the exclusion of all others.

It’s my opinion that being a generalist enhances one’s ability to take a broader view of Life, its tumultuous history and seemingly endless mutability. It enables one to more readily see “the big picture”.

You may note, and I trust it will not be too disconcerting, that I follow something of a non-linear path with this essay. That’s simply because that’s how it was conceived and consequently presented.

I may occasionally diverge from the specific subject of any given section to temporarily pursue a tangential but relevant thought, only to return a paragraph or two later.

There may also be some instances of redundancy, which simply means I feel that certain points warrant repetition.

The Rise of the Human Empire

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”

Albert Schweitzer
A basic rule of thumb in evolution seems to be: the larger and more complex the organism, the more slowly it adapts to changes in the environment and, consequently, the longer its evolutionary path. With a very short generational time line, a virus may mutate in a matter of days or even hours while a creature like a whale, or a human, with generations lasting many years, may require hundreds or even thousands of those long generations to undergo any widespread, substantial, physiological alteration.

All the creatures of Earth that have come and gone over a span of years numbered in hundreds of millions, excepting only Homo sapiens, have either succeeded or failed while attempting to adapt and evolve to the environmental changes Nature has thrown at them. Our species alone, in lieu of adaptation, has turned to the radical and irreparably destructive process of altering the environment, on a massive scale, to suit our preferences.

Discounting events such as asteroid strikes, massive volcanic activity or other rapidly occurring natural disasters, some triggering widespread extinction events, manifold species have either managed to adapt to changes in their landbase or migrated to new places that better suited their physiology. If their survival tactics failed, they simply disappeared into the void of extinction.

Our ancient ancestors, going back some five or six million years, adapted and evolved in the same manner until quite recently. During the Paleolithic Period, beginning a mere 750,000 years ago, we still existed as a part of and in balance with Nature.

The Paleolithic ended around 15,000 years ago and, sometime shortly thereafter, in the early stages of the Neolithic Period, something happened that took the human species off the path of natural evolution.

Somewhere around 10,000 to as long as 13,000 years ago, our ancestors started behaving oddly. They abandoned the way of Life that had allowed the primate family Hominidae, the hominids, which includes H. sapiens, to survive for some five million years.

“In the Levant – the area that today encompasses Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, and western Syria – archaeologists had discovered settlements dating as far back as 13,000 B.C. Known as Natufian villages (the name comes from the first of these sites to be found), they sprang up across the Levant as the Ice Age was drawing to a close, ushering in a time when the region’s climate became relatively warm and wet”. (source)

These settlements were not constructed by farmers but by hunter-gatherers.

“Yet although the Natufians lived in permanent settlements of up to several hundred people, they were foragers, not farmers, hunting gazelles and gathering wild rye, barley, and wheat. It was a big sign that our ideas needed to be revised,” says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef . (source)

Archaeological evidence from locations such as Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, indicates that, around eleven thousand years ago, Neolithic humans started building large structures, temples, and places for ritualistic gatherings. At the same time, most significantly and most damning, we began to think of ourselves as separate from and superior to all the other Life of Earth.

“Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies.

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it ” (emphasis added). (source)

We were thus set upon the path of ecocide.

This seems to be when, where and why the human animal stopped evolving. Our physiology and mores are essentially still much the same as they were in the Paleolithic era. Our “progress,” advancing exponentially since the Neolithic, has been far too rapid for our bodies and morality to keep pace.

Rather than adapting to a changing world, humans began radically and destructively altering the planet to suit their needs and desires. Eventually desire came to be more important than need. Our inability to keep pace with the speed of our “progress” has sickened us physically and morally.

We became “civilised” and were overwhelmed by pathological anthropocentricity.

Is anthropocentricity a genetic aberration?

“Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’.”

Anthropocentrism:

(1) Viewing the world in terms of human experience and values.

(2) The belief that our species is the star that crowns an evolutionary Christmas tree of Life.

(3) The belief that humans are the pivot upon which our divinely ordained universe turns.

“Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists.

Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on.” (source)

Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature.

And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations.

Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community.

With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born.

The following examples make clear how the psychopath was kept in check for millennia until the cancer of civilisation metastasised during the Neolithic Revolution. In a few remote locations that still harbour indigenous people who have not yet been “civilised,” ponerogenesis is still held at bay by the social power of the small traditional community.

A story reported by Dr. Jane M. Murphy, now director of Harvard’s Psychiatric Epidemiology Unit, serves as an example of the vigilant stance that one millennia-old, indigenous culture – a group of Inuit in Northwest Alaska – takes regarding psychopathic types within their midst . (emphasis added)

So aware is this group regarding the existence of these individuals that their language includes a term for them – kunlangeta – which is used to refer to a person whose “mind knows what to do but does not do it,” resulting in such acts as lying, cheating, stealing and taking advantage of the tribe without making sufficient contribution. (emphasis added – a concise description of the modern capitalist financier, corporate CEO or politician)

And how seriously do the group’s members take the need to respond to the threat such individuals pose to the group’s sustainability? When asked what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, Murphy was told “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking”. (source)

Ancient Indians referred to the culture Christopher Columbus brought to the new world as “wetiko” – meaning a culture of cannibals – a culture that feeds off the lives of others. (source)

In the West, the formal recognition of psychopaths goes back at least as far as Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, whose study of the Unscrupulous Man defines the basic characteristics of psychopathy. (source)

While research into prehistoric psychopathy is admittedly sparse, due to the absence of recorded accounts or other physical evidence, the narrative of the “kunlangeta” above indicates clearly that there have been psychopaths among us for thousands of years. Ergo, they have survived in spite of being more easily detected during the ages before very large concentrations of population became the norm.

Though they might have been unable to achieve any dominance in small tribes or groups, which is by no means a given in all cases, they were nonetheless able to procreate. The ponerogenic gene was thereby passed along and into the era of the Neolithic Revolution where I theorise that the psychopathic met with the opportunity to flourish.

And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land.

When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest.

We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world.

By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?
A Matter of Priorities

It seems likely that the Anthropocene Epoch will not be discussed in any future history books or scientific journals for the simple reason that there will be no such books or journals nor historians or scientists to fill them.

But for now, every day, there are thousands of “articles” to be read online regarding the multitude of catastrophic issues facing the human species.

A mob of “pundits,” who make a lot of effort to sound like they know what they’re talking about, write lengthy and often mind-numbing disquisitions about a plethora of these “issues”:

  • the economy
  • unemployment
  • food stamps
  • social security
  • medicare
  • education

· the financial industry (now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one)

  • police brutality
  • gun laws
  • politics
  • global warming
  • climate change
  • nuclear power
  • war
  • poverty
  • same sex marriage
  • peak oil
  • renewable energy
  • hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
  • the ostensible war on terror
  • health insurance
  • unions
  • mountain top removal
  • strip mining
  • deforestation
  • etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum

The list could go on for pages and that’s a major problem, because all these individual issues we face today add up to one very big problem: global ecocide. This can end only one way: near term extinction of humans and possibly all Life on Earth.

The expert commentators, more often than not, treat these incidental problems as if they were of the utmost importance and their resolution vital to the general welfare of humanity.

In fact, nearly all these “issues” are nothing but distractions, and many are kept in the public focus for that very reason.

These issues are merely branches of a poisonous tree. Everyone is hacking at the branches but ignoring the root. Even if you cut down the tree and grind away the stump, any root allowed to remain below the surface will continue to send up new shoots. You cannot kill the tree by hacking at the branches; you must destroy the root. The root of this tree is industrial civilisation.

This is not to say that the human race must be destroyed. But, after many years in denial, during which time I clung desperately to a utopian illusion of a sustainable, enlightened, techno-industrial society, I have finally reached the conclusion that industrial civilisation must be brought to an end or the human race will effectively destroy itself and quite possibly all Life on Earth.

The single “issue” that must be resolved above all others is the destruction of the ecosystem, the murder of the planet. The only resolution is the end of civilisation as we know it. All the other issues only exist as effects of civilisation. Putting an end to civilisation will, in due course, automatically and naturally resolve them all.

It won’t be pretty or pleasant, easy or even bearable, but nothing less will suffice.
What Have We Done?

In all probability, the global warming “tipping point” has already been passed, a planetary state shift has begun and the Sixth Great Extinction is underway.

Humans began contributing to environmental lead pollution as early as 8,000 years ago, according to a University of Pittsburgh research report. ( source)

Demand for the mercury compound vermilion was strong enough to support a large-scale mercury mining industry in the Andes as far back as 1400 B.C., according to a new study. (source)

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. ( source)

London also recorded one of the earlier extreme cases of water quality problems with the Great Stink on the Thames of 1858, which led to construction of the London sewerage system soon afterward. (source)

The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, first reliably experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. (source)

In 1896 Adolf Just wrote, in “Return To Nature”:

Man in his misguidance has powerfully interfered with nature. He has devastated the forests, and thereby even changed the atmospheric conditions and the climate. Some species of plants and animals have become entirely extinct through man, although they were essential in the economy of Nature. Everywhere the purity of the air is affected by smoke and the like, and the rivers are defiled. These and other things are serious encroachments upon Nature, which men nowadays entirely overlook but which are of the greatest importance, and at once show their evil effect not only upon plants but upon animals as well, the latter not having the endurance and power of resistance of man .” (emphasis added)

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that ” half the world’s great forests have already been leveled and half the world’s plant and animal species may be gone by the end of this century.”

“It is with the coming of man that a vast hole seems to open in nature, a vast black whirlpool spinning faster and faster, consuming flesh, stones, soil, minerals, sucking down the lightning, wrenching power from the atom, until the ancient sounds of nature are drowned in the cacophony of something which is no longer nature, something instead which is loose and knocking at the world’s heart, something demonic and no longer planned-escaped, it may be-spewed out of nature, contending in a final giant’s game against its master.”

Loren Eiseley, (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s.

So, as we can see, we have been receiving cautionary messages regarding our reckless, headlong rush of “progress” for a long time. We have been “polluting” Earth’s atmosphere since we learned to use fire. However, it was not until the Neolithic Revolution and the consequent growth of permanent settlements with the attendant sedentary agriculture and surge in the growth of human population that pollution began its evolution into something Nature could not deal with.

This steady, unrestrained poisoning of our biosphere finally became insuperable with the eruption of the industrial age. Unless this industrialised civilisation is stopped and dismantled, the fate of human Life on Earth seems dubious at best.

That being said, it must be added that those who conflate “the end of the world” with the extinction of Homo sapiens are experiencing the delusion of human exceptionalism. Contrary to popular misconception, the world does not need us. We need the world and we need it to exist within very narrow parameters in order to ensure our survival. Our “civilisation” is moving the conditions of Earth’s ecosystems far outside those parameters. If we do not make the necessary fundamental changes to our culture immediately our species will not survive. But, if that be the case, after we are gone Earth and whatever Life remains will continue to evolve quite nicely within the new paradigm of the world without people.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to be stuck in a mindset that demands any actions we take to address the multitude of distracting issues created by our culture be predicated upon the continuation of the very “civilisation” that is their cause. I don’t think so.

A problem cannot be solved by applying more of the same reasoning and principles that precipitated it.

A culture and economy that demands perpetual growth and depends, for its very existence, upon the endless and unrestrained extraction and destruction of non-renewable resources cannot endure.

As far as I can see, it all shakes out about like this: Industrial civilisation is unsustainable. The existing paradigm can end only one way: the collapse of civilisation.

The landing could be made a little softer if, putting our accrued knowledge and power to good use, civilisation was intentionally and rationally dismantled, but that’s not likely to happen.

Instead, the ruling class will cling to their self-proclaimed, unquestioned “right” to exploit everything and everyone; unhindered, until it’s physically impossible to do so. Then civilisation will crash, hard.

The longer we wait for civilisation to break down, or the longer we delay bringing it down ourselves, the greater the suffering and death for whatever Life survives through and after the collapse.

Seems to me nobody has a clue how bad things really are or will become. Suffice it to say it will probably be worse than anyone is expecting.

I’d suggest anyone under the age of eighteen be given a crash course on how to live as a hunter-gatherer, sooner rather than later. Why wait til the last minute?
Evil Stew

Whether or not governments, corporations and financial institutions of civilisation are evil depends upon whom you ask. I think it’s more likely that the actual evil is to be found in the essential psychopaths who create and sustain such institutions. The institutions themselves are only symptoms of the terminal disease called industrial civilisation.

Ultimately there are no solutions to any of the separate issues in this mélange of catastrophe that will make any significant difference in the big picture and over the long term. This disease cannot be cured by putting band-aids on the symptoms. Unless the cause of the disease is eliminated, the patient’s premature death is assured. The end of civilisation as we know it is the only cure that can ensure the possibility of continued human Life on Earth.

Acculturation to the compartmentalised character of our civilisation makes it extremely difficult for its individual members to reach an understanding of its mortiferous nature. The forest cannot be seen for the trees. People just don’t see the big picture. They are consumed by their own pet issues, their specialised functions and their own self-interest.

However, it should by now be getting easier for people to see that this system cannot be “fixed”, that we can’t get things back to “normal”, that normal is the problem, not the solution.

Simply put, the main function of industrial civilisation is to turn all things into profit for the purpose of keeping a ruling class in power. This is done by killing the planet and transforming that death into sellable commodities for us to “consume”.

That the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources without restraint cannot go on forever should be self-evident to anyone. Yet this culture not only consumes non-renewables with reckless abandon but devours or destroys renewables, like land, trees, fish, all other food sources and water, at a rate far surpassing that of their recovery. Any culture that depends for its very existence upon such a system cannot endure.

What is the big picture?

Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable. Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.

Only when humans have completed the transformation of Earth from a luxuriant, verdant, bountiful and nurturing home into something akin to their own sterile, barren and lifeless inner landscape will they finally understand the horror they have visited upon themselves; and then it will be too late.

Consummatum est

 

Chomsky: The Richest Countries Are Racing Us Towards Disaster While ‘Primitive’ Societies Are Trying to Stop It

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Noam Chomsky, the Salon interview: Governments are power systems, trying to sustain power

Oldspeak: “The growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice… In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control or maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be…It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.” -Noam Chomsky

“When one understands that so-called “advanced” societies have completely decoupled from the ecology and regard the destruction of irreplaceable natural capital as mere “externalities” and not vital parts of the web of life to be respected, sustained and cared for while so-called “primitive” societies thrive in intimate daily contact with the ecology and know something is terribly wrong;  it’s not ironic atal.  In advanced societies, infinite growth and profit are paramount, while in primitive societies symbiotic equilibrial coexistence in the ecology is paramount. While advanced societies dominate on this planet, we can expect more of the same heedless careening toward ecological catastrophe and mass extinction.” -OSJ

By Natasha Leonard @ Salon:

In his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Indeed, his schedule is so demanding, our interview had to be booked a good number of weeks in advance and my time on the phone with the MIT professor was sandwiched between another press interview and another one of his many commitments.

Happily, though, speaking with Chomsky in late December gave occasion to look back on this year — a year of revelation and obfuscation regarding U.S. government activity.

Chomsky told Natasha Lennard about his thoughts on the slew of NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling towards its own demise.

Q: This year’s revelations about the scope of surveillance-state activity are certainly not the first major leaks you’ve seen draw scrutiny on government spying. Is there something particular or unique, in your view, about the NSA revelations?

In principle it’s not an innovation; things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the incredibly ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s the kind of thing one should expect. The history goes back a long way. So, for example, if you go back a century ago, right after the U.S. invasion of the Philippines — a brutal invasion that killed a couple hundred thousand people — there was a problem for the U.S. of pacification afterwards. What do you do to control the population to prevent another nationalist uprising? There’s a very good study of this by Alfred McCoy, a Philippines scholar at University of Wisconsin, and what he shows is that the U.S. used the most sophisticated technology of the day to develop a massive system of survelliance, control, disruption to undermine any potential opposition and to impose very tight controls on the population which lasted for a long time and in many ways the Philippines is still suffering from this. But he also points out the technology was immediately transferred home. Woodrow Wilson’s administration used it in their “Red Scare” a couple years later. The British used it, too.

Q: Do you think revelations about sprawling surveillance have prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology?

Governments are power systems. They are trying to sustain their power and domination over their populations and they will use what means are available to do this. By now the means are very sophisticated and extensive and we can expect them to increase. So for instance, if you read technology journals you learn that in robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop small drones, what they call “fly-sized drones,” which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it.

We’re developing technologies that will be used by our own governments and by commercial corporations and are already being used to maximize information for themselves for control and domination. That’s the way power systems work. Of course, they’ve always played the security card. But I think one should be very cautious about such claims. Every government pleads security for almost anything it’s doing, so since the plea is predictable it essentially carries no information. If after the event the power system claims security, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a functioning principle. And if you look at the record, you discover that security is generally a pre-text and security is not a high priority of governments. If By that I mean the security of the population — security of the power system itself and the domestic interests it represents, yes, that’s a concern. But security of the population is not.

Q: You’ve often highlighted flaws in mainstream media’s insidious institutional fealty during your career — notably in your book “Manufacturing Consent” [1988]. What do you think of the current state of the U.S. media? Do you have much hope for new ventures like Glenn Greenwald’s, which has already promised to aggressively take on government and corporate wrongdoing?

The availability of the Internet has offered a much easier access than before to a wide variety of information and opinion and so on. But I don’t think that is a qualitative shift. It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development. [The Internet] gives more access — that part is good — but on the other hand, it is combined with a process of undermining independent inquiry and reporting within the media themselves. There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs. And that’s declining. Local newspapers, I need not inform you, are becoming very much narrower in their global outreach, even their national outreach.  And that’s the real meat of inquiry of information gathering. We can criticize its character and the biases that enter into it, and the institutional constraints on it, but nevertheless it’s of inestimable importance. I’ve never questioned that. And that’s diminishing at the same time as accesses to a wider range of materials is increasing. The Greenwald initiative is a very promising one. He himself has had an impressive career of independent thinking, inquiry, analysis and reporting. I think there is good reason to have a good deal of trust in his judgement. Where it will go, we don’t know, it hasn’t started yet so it is just speculation.

I think that, for example,  the New York Times will remain what’s called the “newspaper of record” for the foreseeable future. I don’t see any competitor arising which has the range of resources, of overseas bureaus and so on again, I think there is plenty to criticize about it, but it is nevertheless an invaluable resource. There are many other independent developments which are quite significant of themselves so it’s valuable to have say Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now or Salon or any other independent voice. But I don’t see any indication that there is going to be some radically new form of gathering, reporting and analyzing information.

Q: As an academic and a political figure, you stand in an interesting position to observe shifting trends in the academy. How, in your view, have spiking tuition fees, sky-rocketing student debt and a corporatization of academic institution affected higher education? What’s your outlook on shifts in the education system in general in this country?

Well for me personally, it hasn’t been a change, but there are changes and developments in the higher education system and also K-12 which I think are extremely threatening and harmful. To keep it at the higher education: Over the past generation — roughly speaking the neoliberal period — there has been a substantial shift towards corporatization of the universities, towards imposing of the business model on higher education. Part of that is what you’ve mentioned, tuition rises. There has been an enormous increase in tuition. I don’t think you can give an economic argument for that. Take a look at the comparative evidence. Right to our south, Mexico, which is a relatively poor country, has a quite respectable higher education system, and it’s free. The country that consistently ranks among the highest in educational achievement is Finland. A rich country, but education is free. Germany, education is free. France, education is free.

Take a look at the United States: Go back fifty years to the early post-war decades. It was a much poorer country than it is now, but for a large portion of the population, education was free. The GI Bill provided education for a great number of people who never would have been able to go to college otherwise. It was highly beneficial for them, and highly beneficial to the country in terms of the contributions they were able to make in terms of the economy and culture and so on. And it was essentially free. Even private universities costs were very slight by today’s standards. And that was a much poorer country than it is now. So in general I think that the economic arguments for the sharp rise in tuitions in the United States and to a lesser extent in England and a few other places, one can’t offer a persuasive economic argument for that, these are policy decisions. They are related to other changes that have taken place, so for example over the same period there has been an enormous expansion of administration in universities. The proportion of the University budget that goes to administration has skyrocketed…. This is all part of the imposition of a business model which has an effect also on curricular choices and decisions.

Similar things are happening at K-12 level with, first of all, the underfunding of schools, which is very serious as is the demeaning of teachers, the undermining of teacher’s respect and independence. The pressure to teach to tests, which is the worst possible form of education. In fact most of us have been through the school system have plenty of experience with courses we weren’t very much interested in, we had to study for an exam, you study for the exam and a couple weeks later you forget what the course was about. This is a critique that goes way back to the enlightenment, where they condemned the model of teaching as analogous as pouring water into a vessel — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. This undermines creativity, independence, the joy of discovery, the capacity to work together with others creatively — all of the things that a decent educational system should foster. It’s going in the opposite direction, which is quite harmful. So there is a lot to reverse if we want to get back to a much healthier system of education and preservation and growth of cultural achievement.

Q: What other contemporary issues particularly concern you? Do you find signs of hope or resistance around these issues that, perhaps, you finding heartening?

Well, we can make a long list, including the things we’ve talked about, but it’s also worth remembering that, hovering over the things we discussed, are two major problems. These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing. The second one we know, at least in principle, how to deal with it. There is a way of significantly reducing that threat; the methods are not being pursued but we know what they are. In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control of maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be.

It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

Time To Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical Is The New Normal

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2013 at 10:29 am

A protest in support of Tim DeChristopher, Bidder 70, in February, 2011.

Oldspeak: “When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.” –Robert Jensen. This for me is the crux of the problem facing our civilization. Our ecocidal and reality-detached attachment to maintaining material comfort at all costs.  It is just as Professor Jensen said: “The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority… to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end.” How do people with critical sensibilities get those engaging the dysfunctional denial; pill popping, conspicuous consumption & positivity peddling that our dominant culture is enveloping us in to deal with the reality that bigger is not  better. That greed is not good. That ever “MORE” is not sustainable.  To recognize and accept as reality that “we now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything.” To reject the existing systems of power predicated on extraction, growth, profit, & externalizing, and consider sustainable, inclusive, and collaborative, mutually beneficial systems. Agitate. Resist. Engage. Question. Confront. Speak truth to power and anyone you encounter every chance you get. It will be hard. You’ll probably lose some friends and acquaintances over it. We’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to obey, to accept injustice and illegitimate authority. We’ve been led to believe that our technology is and will make everything better. Explode the official myths with reality based critical thought. The more and more people do this, the less power we give to dominant cultures and their attendant institutions. The more and more people “unplug” the weaker these unsustainable systems become. Your actions will inspire others to lift the world that has been pulled over their eyes to blind them from the truth. Be water, my friends.”

By Robert Jensen @ YES! Magazine:

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world. We are intensifying an assault on the ecosystems in which we live, undermining the ability of that living world to sustain a large-scale human presence into the future. When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality.

In these circumstances, anxiety is rational and anguish is healthy, signs not of weakness but of courage. A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work.

Perhaps that sounds odd, since we are routinely advised to overcome our fears and not give in to despair. Endorsing apocalypticism seems even stranger, given associations with “end-timer” religious reactionaries and “doomer” secular survivalists. People with critical sensibilities, those concerned about justice and sustainability, think of ourselves as realistic and less likely to fall for either theological or science-fiction fantasies.

Many associate “apocalypse” with the rapture-ranting that grows out of some interpretations of the Christian Book of Revelation (aka, the Apocalypse of John), but it’s helpful to remember that the word’s original meaning is not “end of the world.” “Revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden, a coming to clarity. Speaking apocalyptically, in this sense, can deepen our understanding of the crises and help us see through the many illusions that powerful people and institutions create.

But there is an ending we have to confront. Once we’ve honestly faced the crises, then we can deal with what is ending—not all the world, but the systems that currently structure our lives. Life as we know it is, indeed, coming to an end.

Let’s start with the illusions: Some stories we have told ourselves—claims by white people, men, or U.S. citizens that domination is natural and appropriate—are relatively easy to debunk (though many cling to them). Other delusional assertions—such as the claim that capitalism is compatible with basic moral principles, meaningful democracy, and ecological sustainability—require more effort to take apart (perhaps because there seems to be no alternative).

But toughest to dislodge may be the central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy: that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?

Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using ever more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction).

Oh, did I forget to mention the undeniable trajectory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption?

Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson has written, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem—for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning. We do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world—the planet will carry on with or without us—but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life. “Apocalypse” need not involve heavenly rescue fantasies or tough-guy survival talk; to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values.

First, we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society. We take on projects that we know may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.

Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.”

There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.

Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.

Here’s another cliché to jettison: Necessity is the mother of invention. During the industrial era, humans exploiting new supplies of concentrated energy have generated unprecedented technological innovation in a brief time. But there is no guarantee that there are technological fixes to all our problems; we live in a system that has physical limits, and the evidence suggests we are close to those limits. Technological fundamentalism—the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always appropriate, and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences can be remedied by more technology—is as empty a promise as other fundamentalisms.

If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.

It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice.

Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.

Adopting this apocalyptic framework doesn’t mean separating from mainstream society or giving up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination.

I am apocalyptic, but I’m not interested in empty rhetoric drawn from past revolutionary moments. Yes, we need a revolution—many revolutions—but a strategy is not yet clear. So, as we work patiently on reformist projects, we can continue to offer a radical analysis and experiment with new ways of working together. While engaged in education and community organizing with modest immediate goals, we can contribute to the strengthening of networks and institutions that can be the base for the more radical change we need. In these spaces today we can articulate, and live, the values of solidarity and equity that are always essential.

To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life. As James Baldwin put it decades ago, we must remember “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.” By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

As Baldwin put it so poignantly in that same 1962 essay, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It’s time to get apocalyptic, or get out of the way.

Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (City Lights, 2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing” (Media Education Foundation, 2009), which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. An extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff is online here

Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online here.