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

Posts Tagged ‘The Five Stages of Collapse’

Environmental Collapse: The Sixth Stage Of Collapse

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 at 8:57 pm

http://sillymickelsapocalypticwakeupcall.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/559624_4730113134571_700653948_n.jpgOldspeak: Dmitri Orlov is back with a brilliant addendum to his eerily prescient 2008 “The Five Stages Of Collapse“. Writing about  the all important stage of collapse he’d neglected to mention then.  Indeed, it is the only problem left worth preparing for. At the end of this stage Environmental Collapse, there is no other problem to be concerned with. The jig is up, there’s no home. The irony is we’re systematically eradicating the last remnants of people who know how we need to live to start reversing the damage we’ve done to our Mother. Relentlessly and increasingly exhausting at a non-renewable rate our essential ‘ecosystem services” for contrived reality driven “profit”. “Extend and pretend” can only go on for so much longer.” -OSJ

We don’t want to change who we are in order to live in harmony with nature; we want nature to live in harmony with us while we remain who we are. In the meantime, we are continuing to wage war on the sorry remnants of the tribes that had once lived in balance with nature, offering them “education,” “economic development” and a chance to play a minor role in our ruinous, negative-sum economic games. Given such options, their oft-observed propensity to do nothing and stay drunk seems like a perfectly rational choice. It minimizes the damage. But the damage may already have been done…

It seems like letting global industrial civilization collapse and all the nuclear power plants cook off is not such a good option, because it will seal our fate. But the alternative is to “extend and pretend” and “kick the can down the road” while resorting to a variety of environmentally destructive, increasingly desperate means to keep industry running: hydraulic fracturing, mining tar sands, drilling in the Arctic and so on. And this isn’t such a good option either because it will seal our fate in other ways…

Because, you see, there is also the sixth stage which I have previously neglected to mention—environmental collapse—at the end of which we are left without a home, having rendered Earth (our home planet) uninhabitable.

This tragic outcome may not be unavoidable. And if it is not unavoidable, then that’s about the only problem left that’s worth solving. The solution can be almost arbitrarily expensive in both life and treasure. I would humbly suggest that it’s worth all the money in the world, plus a few billion lives, because if a solution isn’t found, then that treasure and those lives are forfeit anyway.”
Dmitri Orlov
Related Story:
By Dmitri Orlov @ Club Orlov:
I admit it: in my last book, The Five Stages of Collapse, I viewed collapse through rose-colored glasses. But I feel that I should be forgiven for this; it is human nature to try to be optimistic no matter what. Also, as an engineer, I am always looking for solutions to problems. And so I almost subconsciously crafted a scenario where industrial civilization fades away quickly enough to save what’s left of the natural realm, allowing some remnant of humanity to make a fresh start.
Ideally, it would start of with a global financial collapse triggered by a catastrophic loss of confidence in the tools of globalized finance. That would swiftly morph into commercial collapse, caused by global supply chain disruption and cross-contagion. As business activity grinds to a halt and tax revenues dwindle to zero, political collapse wipes most large-scale political entities off the map, allowing small groups of people to revert to various forms of anarchic, autonomous self-governance. Those groups that have sufficient social cohesion, direct access to natural resources, and enough cultural wealth (in the form of face-to-face relationships and oral traditions) would survive while the rest swiftly perish.
Of course, there are problems even with this scenario. Take, for instance, the problem of Global Dimming. The phenomenon is well understood: sunlight reflected back into space by the atmospheric aerosols and particulates generated by burning fossil fuels reduces the average global temperature by well over a degree Celsius. (The cessation of all air traffic over the continental US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has allowed climate scientists to measure this effect.) If industrial activity were to suddenly cease, average global temperatures would be jolted upward toward the two degree Celsius mark which is widely considered to be very, very bad indeed. Secondly, even if all industrial activity were to cease tomorrow, global warming, 95% of which is attributed to human activity in the latest (rather conservative and cautious) IPCC report, would continue apace for the better part of the next millennium, eventually putting the Earth’s climate in a mode unprecedented during all of human existence as a species.
On such a planet, where the equatorial ocean is hotter than a hot tub and alligators thrive in the high Arctic, our survival as a species is far from assured. Still, let’s look at things optimistically. We are an adaptable lot. Yes, the seas will rise and inundate the coastal areas which over half of us currently inhabit. Yes, farmland further inland will become parched and blow away, or be washed away by the periodic torrential rains. Yes, the tropics, followed by the temperate latitudes, become so hot that everyone living there will succumb of heat stroke. But if this process takes a few centuries, then some of the surviving bands and tribes might find a way to migrate further north and learn to survive there by eking out some sort of existence in balance with what remains of the ecosystem.
We can catch glimpses of what such survival might look like by reading history. When Captain James Cook landed on the shore of Western Australia, he was the first white man to encounter aboriginal Australians, who had up to that point persisted in perfect isolation for something like 40.000 years. (They arrived in Australia at about the same time as the Cromagnons displaced the Neanderthals in Europe.) They spoke a myriad different languages and dialects, having no opportunity and no use for any sort of unity. They wore no clothes and used tiny makeshift huts for shelter. They had few tools beyond a digging stick for finding edible roots and a gig for catching fish. They had no hoards or stockpiles, and did not keep even the most basic supplies from one day to the next. They had little regard for material objects of any sort, were not interested in trade, and while they accepted clothes and other items they were given as presents, they threw them away as soon as Cook and his crew were out of sight.
They were, Cook noted in his journal, entirely inoffensive. But a few actions of Cook’s men did enrage them. They were scandalized by the sight of birds being caught and placed in cages, and demanded their immediate release. Imprisoning anyone, animal or person, was to them taboo. They were even more incensed when they saw Cook’s men catch not just one, but several turtles. Turtles are slow-breeding, and it is easy to wipe out their local population by indiscriminate poaching, which is why they only allowed the turtles to be taken one at a time, and only by a specially designated person who bore responsibility for the turtles’ welfare.
Cook thought them primitive, but he was ignorant of their situation. Knowing what we know, they seem quite advanced. Living on a huge but arid and mostly barren island with few native agriculturally useful plants and no domesticable animals, they understood that their survival was strictly by the grace of the surrounding natural realm. To them, the birds and the turtles were more important than they were, because these animals could survive without them, but they could not survive without these animals.
Speaking of being primitive, here is an example of cultural primitivism writ large. At the Age of Limits conference earlier this year, at one point the discussion turned to the question of why the natural realm is worth preserving even at the cost of human life. (For instance, is it OK to go around shooting poachers in national parks even if it means that their families starve to death?) One fellow, who rather self-importantly reclined in a chaise lounge directly in front of the podium, stated his opinion roughly as follows: “It is worth sacrificing every single animal out there in order to save even a single human life!” It took my breath away. This thought is so primitive that my brain spontaneously shut down every time I tried to formulate a response to it. After struggling with it for a bit, here is what I came up with.
Is it worth destroying the whole car for the sake of saving the steering wheel? What use is a steering wheel without a car? Well, I suppose, if you are particularly daft or juvenile, you can use it to pretend that you still have a car, running around with it and making “vroom-vroom!” noises… Let’s look at this question from an economic perspective, which is skewed by the fact that economists tend view the natural realm in terms of its economic value. This is similar to you looking at your own body in terms of its nutritional content, and whether it would make good eating. Even when viewed from this rather bizarre perspective that treats our one and only living planet as a storehouse of commodities to be plundered, it turns out that most of our economic “wealth” is made possible by “ecosystem services” which are provided free of charge.
These include water clean enough to drink, air clean enough to breathe, a temperature-controlled environment that is neither too cold nor too hot for human survival across much of the planet, forests that purify and humidify the air and moderate surface temperatures, ocean currents that moderate climate extremes making it possible to practice agriculture, oceans (formerly) full of fish, predators that keep pest populations from exploding and so on. If we were forced to provide these same services on a commercial basis, we’d be instantly bankrupt, and then, in short order, extinct. The big problem with us living on other planets is not that it’s physically impossible—though it may be—it’s that there is no way we could afford it. If we take natural wealth into account when looking at economic activity, it turns out that we consistently destroy much more wealth than we create: the economy is mostly a negative-sum game. Next, it turns out that we don’t really understand how these “ecosystem services” are maintained, beyond realizing that it’s all very complicated and highly interconnected in surprising and unexpected ways. Thus, the good fellow at the conference who was willing to sacrifice all other species for the sake of his own could never be quite sure that the species he is willing to sacrifice doesn’t include his own.
In addition, it bears remembering that we are, in fact, sacrificing our species, and have been for centuries, for the sake of something we call “progress.” Aforementioned Captain Cook sailed around the Pacific “discovering” islands that the Polynesians had discovered many centuries earlier, his randy, drunken, greedy sailors spreading venereal disease, alcoholism and corruption, and leaving ruin in their wake wherever they went. After the plague of sailors came the plague of missionaries, who made topless Tahitian women wear “Mother Hubbards” and tried to outlaw fornication. The Tahitians, being a sexually advanced culture, had a few dozen different terms for fornication, relating to a variety of sex acts. Thus the missionaries had a problem: banning any one sex act wouldn’t have made much of a dent, while a ban that enumerated them all would read like the Kama Sutra. Instead the missionaries chose to promote their own brand of sex: the “missionary position,” which is best analyzed as two positions—top and bottom. The bottom position can enhance the experience by taking a cold shower, applying blue lipstick and not breathing. I doubt that it caught on much on Tahiti.
The Tahitians seem to have persevered, but many other tribes and cultures simply perished, or continue to exist in greatly diminished numbers, so depressed by their circumstances that they are not interested in doing much beyond drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and watching television. And which group is doing the best? That’s the one that’s been causing the most damage. Thus, the rhetoric about “saving our species from extinction” seems rather misplaced: we have been doing everything we can to drive it to extinction as efficiently as possible for a few centuries now, and we aren’t about to stop because that would be uncivilized.
Because, you see, that’s who we are: we are educated, literate, civilized persons. The readers of this blog especially are economically and environmentally enlightened types, their progressivism resting on the three pillars of pointing out financial Ponzi schemes, averting environmental devastation and eating delicious, organic, locally grown food. We do wish to survive collapse, provided the survival strategy includes such items as gender equality, multiculturalism, LGBT-friendiness and nonviolence. We do not wish to take off all of our clothes and wander the outback with a digging stick looking for edible tubers. We’d rather sit around discussing green technology over a glass of craft-brewed beer (local, of course) perhaps digressing once in a while to consider the obscure yet erudite opinions of one Pederasmus of Ülm on the endless, glorious ebb and flow of human history.
We don’t want to change who we are in order to live in harmony with nature; we want nature to live in harmony with us while we remain who we are. In the meantime, we are continuing to wage war on the sorry remnants of the tribes that had once lived in balance with nature, offering them “education,” “economic development” and a chance to play a minor role in our ruinous, negative-sum economic games. Given such options, their oft-observed propensity to do nothing and stay drunk seems like a perfectly rational choice. It minimizes the damage. But the damage may already have been done. I will present just two examples of it, but if you don’t like them, there are plenty of others.
For the first, you can do your own research. Buy yourself an airline ticket to a tropical paradise of your choice and check into an oceanside resort. Wake up early in the morning and go look at the beach. You will see lots of dark-skinned people with wheelbarrows, buckets, shovels and rakes scraping up the debris that the surf deposited during the night, to make the beach look clean, safe and presentable for the tourists. Now walk along the beach and beyond the cluster of resorts and hotels, where it isn’t being continuously raked clean. You will find that it is so smothered with debris as to make it nearly impassable. There will be some material of natural origin—driftwood and seaweed—but the majority of the debris will be composed of plastic. If you try to sort through it, you will find that a lot of it is composed of polypropylene and nylon mesh and rope and styrofoam floats from the fishing industry. Another large category will consist of single-use containers: suntan lotion and shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, water bottles, fast food containers and so on. Typhoons and hurricanes have an interesting organizing effect on plastic debris, and you will find piles of motor oil jugs next to piles of plastic utensils next to piles of water bottles, as if someone actually bothered to sort them. On a beach near Tulum in México I once found an entire collection of plastic baby sandals, all of different colors, styles and vintages.
Left on the beach, the plastic trash photo-degrades over time, becoming discolored and brittle, and breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. The final result of this process is a microscopic plastic scum, which can persist in the environment for centuries. It plays havoc with the ecosystem, because a wide variety of animals mistake the plastic particles for food and swallow them. They then clog their digestive tracts, causing them to starve. This devastation will persist for many centuries, but it has started already: the ocean is dying. Over large areas of it, plastic particles outnumber plankton, which forms the basis of the oceanic food chain.
The ravages of the plastics plague also affect land. Scraped together by sanitation crews, plastic debris is usually burned, because recycling it would be far too expensive. Plastic can be incinerated relatively safely and cleanly, but this requires extremely high temperatures, and can only be done at specialized facilities. Power plants can burn plastic as fuel, but plastic trash is a diffuse energy source, takes up a lot of space and the energy and labor costs of transporting it to power plants may render it energy-negative. And so a lot of plastic trash is burned in open pits, at low temperatures, releasing into the atmosphere a wide assortment of toxic chemicals, including ones that affect the hormonal systems of animals. Effects include genital abnormalities, sterility and obesity. Obesity has now reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world, affecting not just the humans but other species as well. Here, then, is our future: chemical plants continue to churn out synthetic materials, most of these find their way into the environment and slowly break down, releasing their payload of toxins. As this happens, people and animals alike turn into obese, sexless blobs. First they find that they are unable to give birth to fertile male offspring. This is already happening: human sperm counts are dropping throughout the developed world. Next, they will be unable to give birth to normal male babies—ones without genital abnormalities. Next, they will be unable to produce male offspring at all, as has already happened to a number of marine species. Then they go extinct.
Note that no disaster or accident is required in order for this scenario to unfold, just more business as usual. Every time you buy a bottle of shampoo or a bottle of water, or a sandwich that comes wrapped in plastic or sealed in a vinyl box, you help it unfold a little bit further. All it takes is for the petrochemical industry (which provides the feedstocks—oil and natural gas, mostly) and the chemical plants that process them into plastics, to continue functioning normally. We don’t know whether the amount of plastics, and associated toxins, now present in the environment, is already sufficient to bring about our eventual extinction.
But we certainly don’t want to give up on synthetic chemistry and go back to a pre-1950s materials science, because that, you see, would be bad for business. Now, you probably don’t want to go extinct, but if you decided that you will anyway, you would probably want to remain comfortable and civilized down to the very end. And life without modern synthetics would be uncomfortable. We want those plastic-lined diapers, for the young and the old!
This leaves those of us who are survival-minded, on an abstract, impersonal level, wishing for the global financial, commercial and political collapse to occur sooner rather than later. Our best case scenario would go something like this: a massive loss of confidence and panic in the financial markets grips the planet over the course of a single day, pancaking all the debt pyramids and halting credit creation. Commerce stops abruptly because cargos cannot be financed. In a matter of weeks, global supply chains break down. In a matter of months, commercial activity grinds to a halt and tax revenues dwindle to zero, rendering governments everywhere irrelevant. In a matter of years, the remaining few survivors become as Captain Cook saw the aboriginal Australians: almost entirely inoffensive.
One of the first victims of collapse would be the energy companies, which are among some of the most capital-intensive enterprises. Next in line are the chemical companies that manufacture plastics and other synthetic organic chemicals and materials: as their petrochemical feedstocks become unavailable, they are forced to halt production. If we are lucky, the amount of plastic that is in the environment already turns out to be insufficient to drive us all to extinction. Human population can dwindle to as few as a dozen breeding females (the number that survived one of the ice ages, as suggested by the analysis of mitochondrial DNA) but in a dozen or so millennia the climate will probably stabilize, the Earth’s ecology recover, and with it will the human population. We may never again achieve a complex technological civilization, but at least we’ll be able to sing and dance, have children and, if we are lucky, even grow old in peace.
So far so good, but our next example makes the desirability of a swift and thorough collapse questionable. Prime exhibit is the melted-down nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Contrary to what the Japanese government would want everyone to believe, the situation there is not under any kind of control. Nobody knows what happened to the nuclear fuel from the reactors that melted down. Did they go to China, à la China Syndrome? Then there is the spent nuclear fuel pool, which is full, and leaking. If the water in that pool boils away, the fuel rods burst into flames and melt down and/or explode and then, according to some nuclear experts, it would be time to evacuate the entire northern hemisphere. The site at Fukushima is so radioactive that workers cannot go anywhere near it for any length of time, making it rather fanciful to think that they’ll be able to get the situation there under control, now or ever. But we can be sure that eventually the already badly damaged building housing the spent nuclear fuel will topple, spilling its load and initiating phase two of the disaster. After that there will be no point in anyone going to Fukushima, except to die of radiation sickness.
You might think that Fukushima is an especially bad case, but plants just like Fukushima dot the landscape throughout much of the developed world. Typically, they are built near a source of water, which they use as coolant and to run the steam turbines. Many of the ones built on rivers run the risk of the rivers drying up. Many of the ones built on the ocean are at risk of inundation from rising ocean levels, storm surges and tsunamis. Typically, they have spent fuel pools that are full of hot nuclear waste, because nobody has figured out a way to dispose of it. All of them have to be supplied with energy for many decades, or they all melt just like Fukushima. If enough of them melt and blow up, then it’s curtains for animals such as ourselves, because most of us will die of cancer before reaching sexual maturity, and the ones that do will be unable to produce healthy offspring.
I once flew through the airport in Minsk, where I crossed paths with a large group of “Chernobyl children” who were on their way to Germany for medical treatment. I took a good look at them, and that picture has stayed with me forever. What shocked me was the sheer variety of developmental abnormalities that were on display.
It seems like letting global industrial civilization collapse and all the nuclear power plants cook off is not such a good option, because it will seal our fate. But the alternative is to “extend and pretend” and “kick the can down the road” while resorting to a variety of environmentally destructive, increasingly desperate means to keep industry running: hydraulic fracturing, mining tar sands, drilling in the Arctic and so on. And this isn’t such a good option either because it will seal our fate in other ways.
And so it seems that there may not be a happy end to my story of The Five Stages of Collapse, the first three of which (financial, commercial, political) are inevitable, while the last two (social, cultural) are entirely optional but have, alas, already run their course in many parts of the world. Because, you see, there is also the sixth stage which I have previously neglected to mention—environmental collapse—at the end of which we are left without a home, having rendered Earth (our home planet) uninhabitable.
This tragic outcome may not be unavoidable. And if it is not unavoidable, then that’s about the only problem left that’s worth solving. The solution can be almost arbitrarily expensive in both life and treasure. I would humbly suggest that it’s worth all the money in the world, plus a few billion lives, because if a solution isn’t found, then that treasure and those lives are forfeit anyway.

A solution for avoiding the sixth stage must be found, but I don’t know what that solution would look like. I do find it unsafe to blithely assume that collapse will simply take care of the problem for us. Some people may find this subject matter so depressing that it makes them want to lie down (in a comfortable position, on something warm and soft) and die. But there may be others, who still have some fight left in them, and who do wish to leave a survivable planet to their children and grandchildren. Let’s not expect them to use conventional, orthodox methods, to work and play well with others, or to be polite and reasonable in dealing with the rest of us. Let’s just hope that they have a plan, and that they get on with it.

The Folly Of Empire

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

2013.10.14.HedgesOldspeak: “The American citizen thus lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than the original,” Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in his book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.” “We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real. We have become eager accessories in the great hoaxes of the age. These are the hoaxes we play on ourselves.”

Culture and literacy, in the final stage of decline, are replaced with noisy diversions and empty clichés. The Roman statesman Cicero inveighed against their ancient equivalent—the arena. Cicero, for his honesty, was hunted down and murdered and his hands and head were cut off. His severed head and his right hand, which had written the Philippics, were nailed onto the speaker’s platform in the Forum. The roaring crowds, while the Roman elite spat on the head, were gleefully told he would never speak or write again. In the modern age this toxic, mindless cacophony, our own version of spectacle and gladiator fights, of bread and circus, is pumped into the airwaves in 24-hour cycles. Political life has fused into celebrity worship…. Sensual pleasure and eternal youth are our overriding obsessions…. Education is primarily vocational. Intellectuals are cast out and despised. Artists cannot make a living. Few people read books. Thought has been banished, especially at universities and colleges, where timid pedants and careerists churn out academic drivel. “Although tyranny, because it needs no consent, may successfully rule over foreign peoples,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” “it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.” And ours have been destroyed….

Our elites and bureaucrats exhaust the earth to hold up a system that worked in the past, failing to see that it no longer works. Elites, rather than contemplate reform, which would jeopardize their privilege and power, retreat in the twilight of empire into walled compounds like the Forbidden City or Versailles. They invent their own reality. Those on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms have replicated this behavior. They insist that continued reliance on fossil fuel and speculations will sustain the empire. State resources, as Tainter notes, are at the end increasingly squandered on extravagant and senseless projects and imperial adventures. And then it all collapses.

Our collapse will take the whole planet with it.

It is more pleasant, I admit, to stand mesmerized in front of our electronic hallucinations. It is easier to check out intellectually. It is more gratifying to imbibe the hedonism and the sickness of the worship of the self and money. It is more comforting to chatter about celebrity gossip and ignore or dismiss what is reality.” -Chris Hedges

“There’s only so much longer we can continue to regard contrived reality more seriously than actual reality. We must come to terms with the consequences of our actions: the collapse of our civilization and our planet.  As Orwell predicted, lies have become truth… “Natural Gas” a.k.a. Methane is, “clean” and is “better for the environment”. Energy companies constantly pepper the airwaves with their deceptive propaganda. Never mind that emissions of increasingly massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere, is certain to lead to runaway global warming and irreversable non-linear feedback loops. Our president proudly crows about how much natural gas and oil we’re producing domestically. Leaving unmentioned the untold waste, contamination, and destruction of natural resources required to produce it. This is simply not sustainable.  We cannot continue to support individuals and institutions that focus on contrived reality and psudo-events. The U.S. is wholly and certainly in the process of Orlov’s “5 stages of  collapse” That is reality right now. We have to accept it and figure out a way forward.  Jung said it best: “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”  -OSJ

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

The final days of empire give ample employment and power to the feckless, the insane and the idiotic. These politicians and court propagandists, hired to be the public faces on the sinking ship, mask the real work of the crew, which is systematically robbing the passengers as the vessel goes down. The mandarins of power stand in the wheelhouse barking ridiculous orders and seeing how fast they can gun the engines. They fight like children over the ship’s wheel as the vessel heads full speed into a giant ice field. They wander the decks giving pompous speeches. They shout that the SS America is the greatest ship ever built. They insist that it has the most advanced technology and embodies the highest virtues. And then, with abrupt and unexpected fury, down we will go into the frigid waters.

The last days of empire are carnivals of folly. We are in the midst of our own, plunging forward as our leaders court willful economic and environmental self-destruction. Sumer and Rome went down like this. So did the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Men and women of stunning mediocrity and depravity led the monarchies of Europe and Russia on the eve of World War I. And America has, in its own decline, offered up its share of weaklings, dolts and morons to steer it to destruction. A nation that was still rooted in reality would never glorify charlatans such as Sen. Ted Cruz, House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as they pollute the airwaves. If we had any idea what was really happening to us we would have turned in fury against Barack Obama, whose signature legacy will be utter capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. We would have rallied behind those few, such as Ralph Nader, who denounced a monetary system based on gambling and the endless printing of money and condemned the willful wrecking of the ecosystem. We would have mutinied. We would have turned the ship back.

The populations of dying empires are passive because they are lotus-eaters. There is a narcotic-like reverie among those barreling toward oblivion. They retreat into the sexual, the tawdry and the inane, retreats that are momentarily pleasurable but ensure self-destruction. They naively trust it will all work out. As a species, Margaret Atwood observes in her dystopian novel “Oryx and Crake,” “we’re doomed by hope.” And absurd promises of hope and glory are endlessly served up by the entertainment industry, the political and economic elite, the class of courtiers who pose as journalists, self-help gurus like Oprah and religious belief systems that assure followers that God will always protect them. It is collective self-delusion, a retreat into magical thinking.

“The American citizen thus lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than the original,” Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in his book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.” “We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real. We have become eager accessories in the great hoaxes of the age. These are the hoaxes we play on ourselves.”

Culture and literacy, in the final stage of decline, are replaced with noisy diversions and empty clichés. The Roman statesman Cicero inveighed against their ancient equivalent—the arena. Cicero, for his honesty, was hunted down and murdered and his hands and head were cut off. His severed head and his right hand, which had written the Philippics, were nailed onto the speaker’s platform in the Forum. The roaring crowds, while the Roman elite spat on the head, were gleefully told he would never speak or write again. In the modern age this toxic, mindless cacophony, our own version of spectacle and gladiator fights, of bread and circus, is pumped into the airwaves in 24-hour cycles. Political life has fused into celebrity worship. Education is primarily vocational. Intellectuals are cast out and despised. Artists cannot make a living. Few people read books. Thought has been banished, especially at universities and colleges, where timid pedants and careerists churn out academic drivel. “Although tyranny, because it needs no consent, may successfully rule over foreign peoples,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” “it can stay in power only if it destroys first of all the national institutions of its own people.” And ours have been destroyed.

Sensual pleasure and eternal youth are our overriding obsessions. The Roman emperor Tiberius, at the end, fled to the island of Capri and turned his seaside palace into a house of unbridled lust and violence. “Bevies of girls and young men, whom he had collected from all over the Empire as adepts in unnatural practices, and known as spintriae, would copulate before him in groups of three, to excite his waning passions,” Suetonius wrote in “The Twelve Caesars.” Tiberius trained small boys, whom he called his minnows, to frolic with him in the water and perform oral sex. And after watching prolonged torture, he would have captives thrown into the sea from a cliff near his palace. Tiberius would be followed by Caligula and Nero.

“At times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Céline wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”

The anthropologist Joseph Tainter in his book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” looked at the collapse of civilizations from the Roman to the Mayan. He concluded that they disintegrated because they finally could not sustain the bureaucratic complexities they had created. Layers of bureaucracy demand more and more exploitation, not only of the environment but the laboring classes. They become calcified by systems that are unable to respond to the changing reality around them. They, like our elite universities and business schools, churn out systems managers, people who are taught not to think but to blindly service the system. These systems managers know only how to perpetuate themselves and the system they serve, although serving that system means disemboweling the nation and the planet. Our elites and bureaucrats exhaust the earth to hold up a system that worked in the past, failing to see that it no longer works. Elites, rather than contemplate reform, which would jeopardize their privilege and power, retreat in the twilight of empire into walled compounds like the Forbidden City or Versailles. They invent their own reality. Those on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms have replicated this behavior. They insist that continued reliance on fossil fuel and speculations will sustain the empire. State resources, as Tainter notes, are at the end increasingly squandered on extravagant and senseless projects and imperial adventures. And then it all collapses.

Our collapse will take the whole planet with it.

It is more pleasant, I admit, to stand mesmerized in front of our electronic hallucinations. It is easier to check out intellectually. It is more gratifying to imbibe the hedonism and the sickness of the worship of the self and money. It is more comforting to chatter about celebrity gossip and ignore or dismiss what is reality.

Thomas Mann in “The Magic Mountain” and Joseph Roth in “Hotel Savoy” brilliantly chronicled this peculiar state of mind. In Roth’s hotel the first three floors house in luxury the bloated rich, the amoral politicians, the bankers and the business owners. The upper floors are crammed with people who struggle to pay their bills and who are steadily divested of their possessions until they are destitute and cast out. There is no political ideology among decayed ruling elites, despite choreographed debates and elaborate political theater. It is, as it always is at the end, one vast kleptocracy.

Just before World War II, a friend asked Roth, a Jewish intellectual who had fled Nazi Germany for Paris, “Why are you drinking so much?” Roth answered: “Do you think you are going to escape? You too are going to be wiped out.”

Chris Hedges

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

 

 

 

Project Censored 2013: The Expanding Police State Tops Annual List Of Stories Underreported By Mainstream Media

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Oldspeak: While the silenced majority is inundated with innumerable distractions via technology,  infotainment, reality tv, materialism, sex, sport, endless scandals, & plutocratic politics, the police state grows.  Our environment is in peril. Our food supply is toxified and at risk of collapse. Our water is being poisoned at an ever faster rate, Our economic system is poised to collapse. A disproportionately black and brown prison labor/slave work force is replacing gainful employment. Immigrants are being purged at historic rates. Whole cities and regions of the U.S. are being sacrificed for corporate profit. Banksters and other multinational corporations have co-opted our representative government. Our civil rights to protest and petition our government have been constrained.  The five stages of collapse are upon us. Yet we hear nothing from corporate media about it. The good news is the awakening is in progress, world-wide. People are beginning to see the current exploitation and extraction based societal model is unsustainable moving forward.  The paradigm shift is coming. And it will be right on time.

Related Story:
Top 25 Underreported Stories of 2013

By Yael  Chanoff @ Boulder Weekly:

People who get their information exclusively from mainstream media sources may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm on the left for President Barack Obama in this crucial election. But that’s probably because they weren’t exposed to the full online furor sparked by Obama’s continuation of his predecessor’s overreaching approach to national security, such as signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the indefinite detention of those accused of supporting terrorism, even U.S. citizens.

We’ll never know how this year’s election would be different if the corporate media adequately covered the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause and many other recent attacks on civil liberties. What we can do is spread the word and support independent media sources that do cover these stories. That’s where Project Censored comes in.

Project Censored has been documenting inadequate media coverage of crucial stories since it began in 1967 at Sonoma State University. Each year, the group considers hundreds of news stories submitted by readers, evaluating their merits. Students search Lexis Nexis and other databases to see if the stories were underreported, and if so, the stories are fact-checked by professors and experts in relevant fields.

A panel of academics and journalists chooses the Top 25 stories and rates their significance. The project maintains a vast online database of underreported news stories that it has “validated” and publishes them in an annual book. Censored 2013: Dispatches from the Media Revolution will be released Oct. 30.

For the second year in row, Project Censored has grouped the Top 25 list into topical “clusters.” This year, categories include “Human cost of war and violence” and “Environment and health.” Project Censored Director Mickey Huff told us the idea was to show how various undercovered stories fit together into an alternative narrative, not to say that one story was more censored than another.

In May, while Project Censored was working on the list, another 2012 list was issued: the Fortune 500 list of the biggest corporations, whose influence peppers the Project Censored list in a variety of ways.

Consider this year’s top Fortune 500 company: ExxonMobil. The oil company pollutes everywhere it goes, yet most stories about its environmental devastation go underreported. Weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin (58 on the Fortune list), General Dynamics (92), and Raytheon (117) are tied into stories about U.S. prisoners in slavery conditions manufacturing parts for their weapons and the underreported war crimes in Afghanistan and Libya.

These powerful corporations work together more than most people think. In the chapter exploring the “global 1 percent,” writers Peter Philips and Kimberly Soeiro explain how a small number of well-connected people control the majority of the world’s wealth. In it, they use Censored story number 6, “Small network of corporations run the global economy,” to describe how a network of transnational corporations are deeply interconnected, with 147 of them controlling 40 percent of the global economy’s total wealth.

For example, Philips and Soeiro write that in one such company, BlackRock Inc., “The 18 members of the board of directors are connected to a significant part of the world’s core financial assets. Their decisions can change empires, destroy currencies and impoverish millions.”

Another cluster of stories, “Women and Gender, Race and Ethnicity,” notes a pattern of underreporting stories that affect a range of marginalized groups. This broad category includes only three articles, and none are listed in the top 10. The stories reveal mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons, including being denied medical care and shackled during childbirth, and the rape and sexual assault of women soldiers in the U.S. military. The third story in the category concerns an Alabama anti-immigration bill, H.B. 56, that caused immigrants to flee Alabama in such numbers that farmers felt a dire need to “help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor.” So the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries approached the state’s Department of Corrections about making a deal where prisoners would replace the fleeing farm workers.

But with revolutionary unrest around the world, and the rise of a mass movement that connects disparate issues together into a simple, powerful class analysis — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent paradigm popularized by Occupy Wall Street — this year’s Project Censored offers an element of hope.

It’s not easy to succeed at projects that resist corporate dominance, and when it does happen, the corporate media is sometimes reluctant to cover it. Number seven on the Top 25 list is the story of how the United Nations designated 2012 the International Year of the Cooperative, recognizing the rapid growth of co-op businesses, organizations that are part-owned by all members and whose revenue is shared equitably among members. One billion people worldwide now work in co-ops.

The Year of the Cooperative is not the only good-news story discussed by Project Censored this year. In Chapter 4, Yes! Magazine’s Sarah Van Gelder lists “12 ways the Occupy movement and other major trends have offered a foundation for a transformative future.” They include a renewed sense of “political self-respect” and fervor to organize in the United States, debunking of economic myths such as the “American dream,” and the blossoming of economic alternatives such as community land trusts, time banking and micro-energy installations.

As Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes in the book’s foreword, “The majority of people now hold views about Western governments and the nature of power that would have made them social pariahs 10 or 20 years ago.”

Citing polls from the corporate media, Mosaddeq writes: “The majority are now skeptical of the Iraq War; the majority want an end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan; the majority resent the banks and financial sector, and blame them for the financial crisis; most people are now aware of environmental issues, more than ever before, and despite denialist confusion promulgated by fossil fuel industries, the majority in the United States and Britain are deeply concerned about global warming; most people are wary of conventional party politics and disillusioned with the mainstream parliamentary system.”

“In other words,” he writes, “there has been a massive popular shift in public opinion toward a progressive critique of the current political economic system.”

And ultimately, it’s the public — not the president and not the corporations—that will determine the future. There may be hope after all. Here’s Project Censored’s Top 10 list for 2013:

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1. Signs of an emerging police state

President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his “war on terror.” But it’s President Obama who signed the 2012 NDAA, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Obama promised that “my administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict” — leaving us adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise. Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the president, “in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.” The president is to be advised on this course of action by “the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, in conjunction with the National Economic Council.” Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause on Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement, but her ruling was overturned on Oct. 3, so the clause is back.

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2. Oceans in peril

Big banks aren’t the only entities that our country has deemed “too big to fail.” But our oceans won’t be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape — overfished, acidified, warming — and describes how the destruction of the ocean’s complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water. Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the “Great Dying,” a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on Earth took 30 million years to recover. In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 non-protected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that the marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.

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3. U.S. deaths from Fukushima

A plume of toxic fallout floated to the U.S. after Japan’s tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States. One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and they would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published emails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group. And in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Jeanette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the U.S., mostly among infants. Later, Mangono and Sherman updated the number to 22,000.

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4. FBI agents responsible for terrorist plots

We know that FBI agents go into communities such as mosques, both undercover and in the guise of building relationships, quietly gathering information about individuals. This is part of an approach to finding what the FBI now considers the most likely kind of terrorists, “lone wolves.” Its strategy: “seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity,” writes Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronsen. The publication, along with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, examined the results of this strategy, 508 cases classified as terrorism-related that have come before the U.S. Department of Justice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. In 243 of these cases, an informant was involved; in 49 cases, an informant actually led the plot. And “with three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”

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5. Federal Reserve loaned trillions to major banks

The Federal Reserve, the U.S.’s quasi-private central bank, was audited for the first time in its history this year. The audit report states, “From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars … in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system.” These loans had significantly less interest and fewer conditions than the high-profile TARP bailouts, and were rife with conflicts of interest. Some examples: the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served as a board member of the New York Federal Reserve at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. William Dudley, who is now the New York Federal Reserve president, was granted a conflict of interest waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time the companies were given bailout funds. The audit was restricted to Federal Reserve lending during the financial crisis. On July 25, 2012, a bill to audit the Fed again, with fewer limitations, authored by Rep. Ron Paul, passed the House of Representatives. H.R. 459 was expected to die in the Senate, but the movement behind Paul and his calls to hold the Fed accountable, or abolish it altogether, seem to be growing.

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6. Small network of corporations run the global economy

Reporting on a study by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich didn’t make the rounds nearly enough, according to Censored 2013. They found that, of 43,060 transnational companies, 147 control 40 percent of total global wealth. The researchers also built a model visually demonstrating how the connections between companies — what it calls the “super entity” — works. Some have criticized the study, saying control of assets doesn’t equate to ownership. True, but as we clearly saw in the 2008 financial collapse, corporations are capable of mismanaging assets in their control to the detriment of their actual owners. And a largely unregulated super entity like this is vulnerable to global collapse.

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7. The International Year of Cooperative

Can something really be censored when it’s straight from the United Nations? According to Project Censored evaluators, the corporate media underreported the U.N. declaring 2012 to be the International Year of the Cooperative, based on the co-op business model’s stunning growth. The U.N. found that, in 2012, 1 billion people worldwide are co-op member-owners, or one in five adults over age 15. The largest is Spain’s Mondragon Corporation, with more than 80,000 member-owners. The U.N. predicts that by 2025, worker-owned co-ops will be the world’s fastest growing business model. Worker-owned cooperatives provide for equitable distribution of wealth, genuine connection to the workplace, and, just maybe, a brighter future for our planet.

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8. NATO war crimes in Libya

In January 2012, the BBC “revealed” how British Special Forces agents joined and “blended in” with rebels in Libya to help topple dictator Muammar Gadaffi, a story that alternative media sources had reported a year earlier. NATO admits to bombing a pipe factory in the Libyan city of Brega that was key to the water supply system that brought tap water to 70 percent of Libyans, saying that Gadaffi was storing weapons in the factory. In Censored 2013, writer James F. Tracy makes the point that historical relations between the U.S. and Libya were left out of mainstream news coverage of the NATO campaign; “background knowledge and historical context confirming Al-Qaeda and Western involvement in the destabilization of the Gadaffi regime are also essential for making sense of corporate news narratives depicting the Libyan operation as a popular ‘uprising.’”

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9. Prison slavery in the U.S.

On its website, the UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims that its products are “made in America.” That’s true, but they’re made in places in the U.S. where labor laws don’t apply, with workers often paid just 23 cents an hour to be exposed to toxic materials with no legal recourse. These places are U.S. prisons. Slavery conditions in prisons aren’t exactly news. It’s literally written into the Constitution; the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, outlaws “slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” But the articles highlighted by Project Censored this year reveal the current state of prison slavery industries, and its ties to war. The majority of products manufactured by inmates are contracted to the Department of Defense. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body army and camouflage uniforms. Of course, this is happening in the context of record high imprisonment in the U.S., where grossly disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos are imprisoned, and can’t vote even after they’re freed. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year’s book: “This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color.”

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10. H.R. 347 criminalizes protest

H.R. 347, sometimes called the “criminalizing protest” or “anti-Occupy” bill, made some headlines. But concerned lawyers and other citizens worry that it could have disastrous effects for the First Amendment right to protest. Officially called the Federal Restricted Grounds Improvement Act, the law makes it a felony to “knowingly” enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in “disorderly or disruptive” conduct in or near the zones. The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be — places such as the White House, areas hosting events deemed “National Special Security Events,” or anywhere visited by the president, vice president and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of an election); and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order. These people could be anywhere, and NSSEs have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls and the Academy Awards. So far, it seems the only time H.R. 347 has kicked in is with George Clooney’s high-profile arrest outside the Sudanese embassy. Clooney ultimately was not detained without trial — information that would be almost impossible to censor — but what about the rest of us who exist outside of the mainstream media’s spotlight?

New NYPD Anti-Occupy Wall Street Tactics: Sexual Assaults Of Peaceful Female Protestors

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm


Oldspeak:
“US security apparatus has long “used sexual humiliation as a tool of control.” -Naomi Wolf  “Why target women in particular? No doubt it’s partly simply the logic of the bully, to brutalize those you think are weak, and more easily traumatized. But another reason is, almost certainly, the hope of provoking violent reactions on the part of male protestors… As Gandhi revealed, non-violent protest is effective above all because it reveals how power really operates: it lays bare the violence it is willing to unleash on even the most peaceful citizens when they dare to challenge its moral legitimacy. And by doing so, it reveals the true moral bankruptcy of those who claim authority to rule us. Occupy Wall Street has demonstrated this time and time again.” –David Graeber Behold! The horror of naked, unbridled, unaccountable state-sponsored terroristic violence. Security forces breaking bones, violating civil/human rights, terrorizing peaceably assembled women, elderly, and children. The pattern repeated the world over, where ever there is protest, there is vicious and brutal police/military violence in response. Whether you choose to see it or not, The Transnational Corporate Network’s security forces are active world wide, repressing dissent and consolidating control over conscientious  dissenters. As more of us refuse to assent to the “violence inherent in the system” it will become harder and harder to  ignore it because EVERYONE will be repressed by the corporatocracy in order to perpetuate this obviously broken and unsustainable system (As many of us already are, but don’t know). Even those who think these protests have nothing to do with them or their lives. “Stay Asleep” “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

The U.S. & The Five Stages Of Collapse

By David Graeber @ Naked Capitalism:

A few weeks ago I was with a few companions from Occupy Wall Street in Union Square when an old friend — I’ll call her Eileen — passed through, her hand in a cast.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“Oh, this?” she held it up. “I was in Liberty Park on the 17th [the Six Month Anniversary of the Occupation]. When the cops were pushing us out the park, one of them yanked at my breast.”

“Again?” someone said.

We had all been hearing stories like this. In fact, there had been continual reports of police officers groping women during the nightly evictions from Union Square itself over the previous two weeks.

“Yeah so I screamed at the guy, I said, ‘you grabbed my boob! what are you, some kind of fucking pervert?’ So they took me behind the lines and broke my wrists.”

Actually, she quickly clarified, only one wrist was literally broken. She proceeded to launch into a careful, well-nigh clinical blow-by-blow description of what had happened. An experienced activist, she knew to go limp when police seized her, and how to do nothing that could possibly be described as resisting arrest. Police dragged her, partly by the hair, behind their lines and threw her to the ground, periodically shouting “stop resisting!” as she shouted back “I’m not resisting!” At one point though, she said, she did tell them her glasses had fallen to the sidewalk next to her, and announced she was going to reach over to retrieve them. That apparently gave them all the excuse they needed. One seized her right arm and bent her wrist backwards in what she said appeared to be some kind of marshal-arts move, leaving it not broken, but seriously damaged. “I don’t know exactly what they did to my left wrist—at that point I was too busy screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. But they broke it. After that they put me in plastic cuffs, as tightly as they possibly could, and wouldn’t loosen them for at least an hour no matter how loud I screamed or how much the other prisoners begged them to help me. For a while everyone in the arrest van was chanting ‘take them off, take them off’ but they just ignored them…”

On March 17, several hundred members of Occupy Wall Street celebrated the six month anniversary of their first camp at Zuccotti Park by a peaceful reoccupation of the park—a reoccupation broken up within hours by police with 32 arrests. Later that evening a break-away group moved north, finally establishing itself on the southern end of Union Square, two miles away, even sleeping in park—though the city government soon after decided to defy a century-old tradition and begin closing the park every night just so they would not be able to establish a camp there. Since then, occupiers have taken advantage of past judicial rulings to continue to sleep on sidewalks outside the park, and more recently, on Wall Street itself.

During this time, peaceful occupiers have been faced with continual harassment arrests, almost invariably on fabricated charges (“disorderly conduct,” “interfering with the conduct of a police officer”—the latter a charge that can be leveled, for instance, against those who try to twist out of the way when an officer is hitting them.) I have seen one protestor at Union Square arrested, by four officers using considerable force, for sitting on the ground to pet a dog; another, for wrapping a blanket around herself (neither were given warnings; but both behaviors were considered too close to “camping”); a third, an ex-Marine, for using obscene language on the Federal steps. Others were reportedly arrested on those same steps for singing a satirical version of the “Officer Krumpke” song from West Side Story. Almost no march goes by without one or two protestors, at least, being hurled against vehicles or have their heads bashed against the ground while being arrested for straying off the sidewalk. The message here is clear. Law has nothing to do with it. Anyone who engages in Occupy Wall Street-related activity should know they can be arrested, for virtually any reason, at any time.

Many of these arrests are carried out in such a way to guarantee physical injury. The tone was set on that first night of March 17, when my friend Eileen’s wrists were broken; others suffered broken fingers, concussions, and broken ribs. Again, this was on a night where OWS actions were confined to sitting in a park, playing music, raising one or two tents, and marching down the street. To give a sense of the level of violence protestors were subjected to, during the march north to Union Square, we saw the first major incident of window-breaking in New York. The window in question was broken not by protestors, but by police—using a protestor’s head. The victim in this case was a street medic named José (owing to the likelihood of physical assault and injuries from police, OWSers in New York as elsewhere have come to carry out even the most peaceful protests accompanied by medics trained in basic first aid.) He offered no resistance.

Here is a video of the incident. The window-breaking begins at 3:45.

Police spokesmen later claimed this incident was a response to a bottle that was hurled at a police vehicle used to transport arrestees. Such claims are made almost automatically when videos appear documenting police assaults on non-violent protestors, yet, despite the presence of cameras everywhere, including those wielded by the police themselves, no actual documentation of any such claims ever seems to appear. This is no exception. In fact numerous witnesses confirmed this simply isn’t true, and even if a bottle had been thrown at an armored vehicle, not even the police have suggested they had any reason to believe the medic whose head was smashed into the window was the one who threw it.

Arbitrary violence is nothing new. The apparently systematic use of sexual assault against women protestors is new. I’m not aware of any reports of police intentionally grabbing women’s breasts before March 17, but on March 17 there were numerous reported cases, and in later nightly evictions from Union Square, the practice became so systematic that at least one woman told me her breasts were grabbed by five different police officers on a single night (in one case, while another one was blowing kisses.) The tactic appeared so abruptly, is so obviously a violation of any sort of police protocol or standard of legality, that it is hard to imagine it is anything but an intentional policy.

For obvious reasons, most of the women who have been victims of such assaults have been hesitant to come forward. Suing the city is a miserable and time-consuming task and if a woman brings any charge involving sexual misconduct, they can expect to have their own history and reputations—no matter how obviously irrelevant—raked over the coals, usually causing immense damage to their personal and professional life. The threat of doing so operates as a very effective form of intimidation. One exception is Cecily McMillan, who was not only groped but suffered a broken rib and seizures during her arrest on March 17, and held incommunicado, denied constant requests to see her lawyer, for over 24 hours thereafter. Shortly after release from the hospital she appeared on Democracy Now! And showed part of a handprint, replete with scratch-marks, that police had left directly over her right breast. (She is currently pursuing civil charges against the police department):

I’d like to emphasize this because when I first mention this, the usual reaction, from reporters or even some ordinary citizens, is incredulity. ‘Surely this must be a matter of a few rogue officers!’ It is difficult to conceive of an American police commander directly telling officers to grope women’s breasts—even through indirect code words. But we know that in other countries, such things definitely happen. In Egypt, for example, there was a sudden spate of sexual assaults by security forces against protestors in November and December 2011, and followed a very similar pattern: while women activists affirmed there had been beatings, but relatively few specifically sexual assaults during the height of the protests, starting in November, there were dozens of reports of women being groped or stripped while they were being beaten. The level of the violence in Egypt may have been more extreme, but the circumstances were identical: an attempt to revive a protest movement through re-occupation is met by a sudden ratcheting up of tactics by the security forces, and in particular, the sudden dramatic appearance of a tactic of sexual attacks on women. It is hard to imagine in either case it was a coincidence. In Egypt, no serious observer is even suggesting that it was.

Of course we cannot how such decisions are made, or conveyed; in fact, most of us find it unpleasant even to contemplate the idea of police officials ordering or encouraging sexual assault against the very citizens they are sworn to protect. But this seems to be precisely what is happening here.
.
For many, the thought of police officials ordering or condoning sexual assault—even if just through a nod or a wink—seems so shocking that absolute proof would be required. But is it really so out of character? As Naomi Wolf has recently reminded us, the US security apparatus has long “used sexual humiliation as a tool of control.” Any experienced activist is aware of the delight police officers so often take in explaining just how certainly they will be raped if placed in prison. Strip searches—which the Supreme Court has recently ruled can be deployed against any citizen held for so much as a traffic violation—are often deployed as a tool of humiliation and punishment. And one need hardly remark on well-documented practices at Guantanamo, Bagram, or Abu Ghraib. Why target women in particular? No doubt it’s partly simply the logic of the bully, to brutalize those you think are weak, and more easily traumatized. But another reason is, almost certainly, the hope of provoking violent reactions on the part of male protestors. I myself well remember a police tactic I observed more than once during the World Economic Forum demonstrations in New York in 2002: a plainclothes officer would tackle a young female marcher, without announcing of who they were, and when one or two men would gallantly try to come to her assistance, uniforms would rush in and arrest them for “assaulting an officer.” The logic makes perfect sense to someone with military background. Soldiers who oppose allowing a combat role for women almost invariably say they do so not because they are afraid women would not behave effectively in battle, but because they are afraid men would not behave effectively in battle if women were present—that is, that they would become so obsessed with the possibility of women in their unit being captured and sexually assaulted that they would behave irrationally. If the police were trying to provoke a violent reaction on the part of studiously non-violent protestors, as a way of justifying even greater brutality and felony charges, this would clearly be the most effective means of doing so.

There’s a good deal of anecdotal evidence that would tend to confirm that this is exactly what they are trying to do. One of the most peculiar incidents took place on a recent march in New York where police seem to have simulated such an assault, arresting a young women who most activists later concluded was probably an undercover officer (no one had seen her before or has seen her since), then ostentatiously groping her as she was handcuffed. Reportedly, several male protestors had to physically restrained (by other protestors) from charging in to help her.

Why is all this not a national story? Back in September, when the now famous Tony Bologna arbitrarily maced several young women engaged in peaceful protest, the event became a national news story. In March, even while we were still hearing heated debates over a single incident of window-breaking that may or may not have been by an OWS activist in Oakland four months earlier, no one seems to have paid any significant attention to the first major incident of window-breaking in New York—even though the window was broken, by police, apparently, using a non-violent protestors’ head!

I suspect one reason so many shy away from confronting the obvious is because it raises extremely troubling questions about the role of police in American society. Most middle class Americans see the primary role of police as maintaining public order and safety. Instances when police are clearly trying to foment violence and disorder for political purposes so fly in the face of everything we have been taught that our instinct is to tell ourselves it isn’t happening: there must have been some provocation, or else, it must have just been individual rogue cops. Certainly not something ordered by the highest echelons. But here we have to remember the police are an extremely top-down, centralized organization. Uniformed officers simply cannot behave in ways that flagrantly defy the law, in full public view, on an ongoing basis, without having at least tacit approval from those above.

In this case, we also know precisely who those superiors are. The commander of the First Precinct, successor to the disgraced Tony Bologna, is Captain Edward J. Winski, whose officers patrol the Financial District (that is, when those very same officers are not being paid directly by Wall Street firms to provide security, which they regularly do, replete with badges, uniforms, and weapons). Winski often personally directs groups of police attacking protestors:

Winsky’s superior is Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, former director of global security of the Wall Street firm Bear Stearns:

And Kelly’s superior, in turn, is Mayor Michael Bloomberg – the well-known former investment banker and Wall Street magnate. The 11th richest man in America, he has referred to the New York City Police Department as his own personal army:

One of the great themes of Occupy Wall Street, of course, is the death of US democracy—the near-total capture of our political system by Wall Street firms and the financial power of the 1%. In the beginning the emphasis was on political corruption, the fact that both parties so beholden to the demands of Wall Street and corporate lobbyists that working within the political system to change anything has become simply meaningless. Recent events have demonstrated just how much deeper the power of money really goes. It is not just the political class. It is the very structure of American government, starting with the law and those who are sworn to enforce it—police officers who, as even this brief illustration makes clear, are directly in the pay of and under the orders of Wall Street executives, and who, as a result, are willing to systematically violate their oaths to protect the public when members of that public have the temerity to make a public issue out of exactly these kind of arrangements.

As Gandhi revealed, non-violent protest is effective above all because it reveals how power really operates: it lays bare the violence it is willing to unleash on even the most peaceful citizens when they dare to challenge its moral legitimacy. And by doing so, it reveals the true moral bankruptcy of those who claim authority to rule us. Occupy Wall Street has demonstrated this time and time again. What the current spate of assaults shows is just how low, to what levels of utter moral degradation, such men are really willing to sink.

Update (3:40 PM): In comments, a reader asked why I did not go to the media. My response:

To be honest my first impulse was to call a sympathetic Times reporter. He said he was going to see if he could spin a story out of it. Apparently his editors told him it wasn’t news.

 

Systems Collapse When The Irrational Is Considered Rational

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Oldspeak:“One of the most essential, and immutable facts of life on this planet. So basic, so simple, yet supposedly educated, thoughtful, and experienced men have systematically, intentionally and aggressively ignored it. We see the results before us. 1930’s era inequality, upward transfer and concentration of wealth, intractable debt, 6 wars, a wholly co-opted, corporatized, and corrupted political class, controlled by an unseen and unelected shadow government controlled primarily by global bankers and power brokers. ‘A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.’ –Woodrow Wilson, after signing the Federal Reserve into existence. So the system collapses, the corporatocracy profits off of it, further concentrating wealth and power in their hands, leaving the People ever more vulnerable and helpless against their smiling and reassuring domination, while simultaneously depriving the People of their inalienable rights to protest, dissent and resist. I fear only when the seductive and alluring artifice of this cosmetic, consumption, competition, communitainment, and copulation-driven unreality that’s been engineered for us to exist in starts to fall away will the People consciously awaken to actual reality, and by then, it will be too late.  There’s a question that I find rattling around in my head when I walk the streets of New York, with millions bustling by blissfully oblivious to reality…. ‘What happens when it all falls down? When this entirely unsustainable way of life we hold so dear, the infinite growth model, the technology, the incessant communitainment distractions, the destruction in the name of peace, the convenience, the plentiful food, water, and energy, what happens when all that is no longer sustainable and goes away?’ More of us need to devote more time and energy to answering those questions because the time is fast approaching when we will have no choice but to.  “Ignorance is Strength.“, “Freedom is Slavery.” “War is Peace.

Related Video:

Bill Moyers PBS “The Secret Government” – 1987 

 

Related Story:

A Hidden World Growing Beyond Control

By Danny Schecter @ Disinformation:

Oh thank you, Wikipedia, for this definition:

“Irrationality is cognition, thinking, talking or acting without inclusion of rationality. It is more specifically described as an action or opinion given through inadequate reasoning, emotional distress, or cognitive deficiency. The term is used, usually pejoratively, to describe thinking and actions that are, or appear to be, less useful or more illogical than other more rational alternatives.”

And what about this one? Market Psychology?  This term is defined in the Investopedia this way:

“The overall sentiment or feeling that the market is experiencing at any particular time. Greed, fear, expectations and circumstances are all factors that contribute to the group’s overall investing mentality of sentiment.”

Q: What do we have when we put the two together?

A: The current madness and market mayhem.

S&P’s downgrade is being blamed for the market panic even though all the business media expected a downgrade and initially minimized its potential impact. The ratings agency blamed the government’s failure to deal with the debt including the stalemate in Congress.

The Republicans, predictably blamed Obama and the Democrats went after the Tea Party as the culprits behind the market plunge. But then, investors who at first denied that a downgrade would be significant overreacted to it by pumping more money into government treasuries adding to government debt.

The Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart’s sensible reaction: “are you f*cking kidding me?”

Does this make any sense?

We are taught to think of businessmen and their minions as absolute worshipers of objective truth as they allegedly practice “due diligence” to confirm underlying facts and insure that their decisions are based on research and thoughtful decisions.

That’s what we are taught—but is that what they do?

In fact, the “smartest guys in the room” as the Enronians were called proved to be the dumbest, buying into a warped worldview, and then, believing their own hype leading to decisions that brought the house down.

And that’s what happens again and again, over and over, as panic seizes The Street followed by a herd of decision makers making bad decisions.

Paul Farrell has written about this phenomenon on Marketwatch.

He speaks of all the too-greedy-to-fail fatheads running Wall Street? And, unfortunately, Main Street America’s 95 million irrational and self-sabotaging investors

Yes, all of us! We’re Americans. Don’t confuse us with the facts, with reality. We’re the greatest in history, a legend in our own minds. And a rapidly mutating virus is spreading this lethal pandemic far beyond the shores of Lake Wobegon. Yes, folks, the “Lake Wobegon Effect” is hard-wired in America’s brain, an illusion of superiority, a smug arrogance where each knows we are the best, the chosen ones.

Warning: The Lake Wobegon Effect is the single best summary of today’s stock market psychology, high frequency trading, behavioral economics theories and the new science of irrationality … and it’s sucking the life out of America’s soul. Here, listen to more of these arrogant musings surfacing everywhere from deep in our collective brains.

So forget all of our devices, our forever present blackberries, iPhones, iPads and Bloomberg terminals with their enhanced graphics and multiple sources. Alas, there’s no panic button that gives you a quick dose of financial history, perspective or context. Our hi-tech world often leads to repeating low-tech mistakes in a speeded up environment driven byall those dazzling terminals. TVscreens blazing and the pundits buzzing.

Farrell reminds us of a psychological game called “The Invisible Gorilla.”

He calls it “one of the most famous psychological demos ever. Subjects are shown a video, about a minute long, of two teams, one in white shirts, the other in black shirts, moving around and passing basketballs to one another. They are asked to count the number of aerial and bounce passes made by the team wearing white, a seemingly simple task.”

Stop. Test yourself before you read on. What does “The Invisible Gorilla” study tell you about the brains of folks gambling in Wall Street’s casinos? Where billions of shares, trillions of dollars, stocks, bonds, derivatives trade daily? What’s “invisible” to you?”

Institutionalized Irrationality—perhaps even insanity— helped cause the financial crisis as the federal inquiry commission pointed out quoting an appraiser who watched the real estate industry underwrite loans with no collateral over and over again:

“I see a lot of irrationality,” he added. He said he was unnerved because people were saying, “It’s different this time”—a rationale commonly heard before previous collapses.”

Many writers of distinction could see the irrational trumping the rational coming, as I wrote in my book Plunder that came out a month before the 2008 crash.

I quoted Mark Twain, America’s greatest man of letters, He once asked, “Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” (His novella, The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg, was written while he was in Europe on the run from creditors.)

Fast forward a century or more as business and political leaders alike try to make sense of a relatively sudden and unexpected market meltdown in the summer of 2007 then again in 2008 and then again this past week.

Ultimately perhaps Twain’s insight will lead to great novels that will capture the corruption of the underlying culture that allowed so many financial manipulations and so much greed, avarice, and irrationality in this era in the way that great writers of economic upheaval in America like Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, or Jack London castigated theirs.

It seems to have always been true, as a friend who watched his multi- ethnic city of Sarajevo implode into a bloody genocidal war in Bosnia years ago confided to me, “Only fiction has to be plausible. Real life has no such constraint.”

As a journalist with perhaps less fictional imagination than I need, I can only try to probe deeply into some of the forces that took our economy down in such an unexpected way at a time when our national leaders were looking elsewhere and thought they saw the only threat to our country coming from terrorists hiding in caves in far away lands.

They – and I include among them, representatives of both parties, and most of our mass media – ignored cries for help from victims of predatory lenders dating back into the 1990s, and, then, for years warnings from David Walker, the Comptroller of our Currency and head of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) that our growing debt burden could lead to a sudden collapse threatening our national security. He had been labeled “Dr. Gloom” for his sobering prognostications. In February, 2008, he stepped down from government, frustrated by his inability to promote changes.

A closer look, usually in times of crisis, offers a window into another kind of financial world, a world of panic and fear, where irrationality is the order of the day, an irrationality that goes by the name of “Market Psychology.”

Forget the bulls or the bears…this is a world of sharks deeply in need of shrinks.

When things go well, the wizards of Wall Street are anointed by the media as geniuses. When they don’t, you get Time Magazine’s condescending putdown of “Wall Street’s mad scientists blowing up the lab again.”

This kind of humor seems out-of-place when we are talking about what many fear has lead to the collapse or at least a severe wounding of the global economy with millions of jobless and homeless victims who believed in the system until it failed them.

And yet, as we saw in the great manufactured budget stalemate in Washington, members of Congress were and still are prepared to trigger a collapse in the name of a naïve but rigid ideology.

Some of us argue with them thinking our facts can refute theirs but at bottom, fanaticism is not neutralized by rational argument. You need countervailing power and a willingness to fight for another vision.

Filmmaker and News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org.

The U.S. & The Five Stages Of Collapse

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Oldspeak: When I first read this 3 years ago, I could shrug it off. Today, in the wake of the first downgrading of U.S. debt EVER; it’s glaringly obvious that in the U.S. Stage 1. Financial collapse is very far along. Stages 2 and 3, Commercial and political collapse are in progress. Stages 4 and 5 social and cultural collapse are in progress in many parts of the U.S. At some point all the communitainment in the world won’t prevent us from acknowledging the actual reality happening around us.  We’ve seen this movie before in the 1920s-30s. Extreme inequality, oligarchy, rampant joblessness, austerity, deflationary policy, Acute consolidation of power and influence in the hands of a monied few. It’s unfortunate that the U.S. has not learned the lessons of its history. At some point we will have no choice but to heed the lessons from The U.S.S.R., Rome, The Maya, Mesopotamia, and other great empires the have risen and fallen in much the same way. U.S. Default is not a matter of if, but when. Printing money and raising the debt ceiling can only put off the inevitable for so long. We have to have serious discussion about what happens after. ”

By Dmitri Orlov @ Energy Bulletin:

Hello, everyone! The talk you are about to hear is the result of a lengthy process on my part. My specialty is in thinking about and, unfortunately, predicting collapse. My method is based on comparison: I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and, since I am also familiar with the details of the situation in the United States, I can make comparisons between these two failed superpowers.

I was born and grew up in Russia, and I traveled back to Russia repeatedly between the late 80s and mid-90s. This allowed me to gain a solid understanding of the dynamics of the collapse process as it unfolded there. By the mid-90s it was quite clear to me that the US was headed in the same general direction. But I couldn’t yet tell how long the process would take, so I sat back and watched.

I am an engineer, and so I naturally tended to look for physical explanations for this process, as opposed to economic, political, or cultural ones. It turns out that one could come up with a very good explanation for the Soviet collapse by following energy flows. What happened in the late 80s is that Russian oil production hit an all-time peak. This coincided with new oil provinces coming on stream in the West – the North Sea in the UK and Norway, and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska – and this suddenly made oil very cheap on the world markets. Soviet revenues plummeted, but their appetite for imported goods remained unchanged, and so they sank deeper and deeper into debt. What doomed them in the end was not even so much the level of debt, but their inability to take on further debt even faster. Once international lenders balked at making further loans, it was game over.

What is happening to the United States now is broadly similar, with certain polarities reversed. The US is an oil importer, burning up 25% of the world’s production, and importing over two-thirds of that. Back in mid-90s, when I first started trying to guess the timing of the US collapse, the arrival of the global peak in oil production was scheduled for around the turn of the century. It turned out that the estimate was off by almost a decade, but that is actually fairly accurate as far as such big predictions go. So here it is the high price of oil that is putting the brakes on further debt expansion. As higher oil prices trigger a recession, the economy starts shrinking, and a shrinking economy cannot sustain an ever-expanding level of debt. At some point the ability to finance oil imports will be lost, and that will be the tipping point, after which nothing will ever be the same.

This is not to say that I am a believer in some sort of energy determinism. If the US were to cut its energy consumption by an order of magnitude, it would still be consuming a staggeringly huge amount, but an energy crisis would be averted. But then this country, as we are used to thinking of it, would no longer exist. Oil is what powers this economy. In turn, it is this oil-based economy that makes it possible to maintain and expand an extravagant level of debt. So, a drastic cut in oil consumption would cause a financial collapse (as opposed to the other way around). A few more stages of collapse would follow, which we will discuss next. So, you could see this outlandish appetite for imported oil as a cultural failing, but it is not one that can be undone without causing a great deal of damage. If you like, you can call it “ontological determinism”: it has to be what it is, until it is no more.

I don’t mean to imply that every part of the country will suddenly undergo a spontaneous existence failure, reverting to an uninhabited wilderness. I agree with John-Michael Greer that the myth of the Apocalypse is not the least bit helpful in coming to terms with the situation. The Soviet experience is very helpful here, because it shows us not only that life goes on, but exactly how it goes on. But I am quite certain that no amount of cultural transformation will help us save various key aspects of this culture: car society, suburban living, big box stores, corporate-run government, global empire, or runaway finance.

On the other hand, I am quite convinced that nothing short of a profound cultural transformation will allow any significant number of us to keep roofs over our heads, and food on our tables. I also believe that the sooner we start letting go of our maladaptive cultural baggage, the more of a chance we will stand. A few years ago, my attitude was to just keep watching events unfold, and keep this collapse thing as some sort of macabre hobby. But the course of events is certainly speeding up, and now my feeling is that the worst we can do is pretend that everything will be fine and simply run out the clock on our current living arrangement, with nothing to replace it once it all starts shutting down.

Now, getting back to my own personal progress in working through these questions, in 2005 I wrote an article called “Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century”. Initially, I wanted to publish it on a web site run by Dale Alan Pfeiffer, but, to my surprise, it ended up on From The Wilderness, a much more popular site run by Michael Ruppert, and, to my further astonishment, Mike even paid me for it.

And ever since then, I’ve been asked the same question, repeatedly: “When? When is the collapse going to occur?” Being a little bit clever, I always decline to give a specific answer, because, you see, as soon as you get one specific prediction wrong, there goes your entire reputation. One reasonable way of thinking about the timing is to say that collapse can occur at different times for different people. You may never quite know that collapse has happened, but you will know that it has happened to you personally, or to your family, or to your town. The big picture may not come together until much later, thanks to the efforts of historians. Individually, we may never know what hit us, and, as a group, we may never agree on any one answer. Look at the collapse of the USSR: some people are still arguing over why exactly it happened.

But sometimes the picture is clearer than we would like. In January of 2008, I published an article on “The Five Stages of Collapse,” in which I defined the five stages, and then bravely stated that we are in the midst of a financial collapse. And ten months later it doesn’t seem that I went too far out on a limb this time. If the US government has to lend banks over 200 billion dollars a day just to keep the whole system from imploding, then the term “crisis” probably doesn’t do justice to the situation. To keep this game going, the US government has to be able to sell the debt it is taking on, and what do you think the chances are that the world at large will be snapping up trillions of dollars of new debt, knowing that it is being used to prop up a shrinking economy? And if the debt can’t be sold, then it has to be monetized, by printing money. And that will trigger hyperinflation. So, let’s not quibble, and let us call what’s happening what it looks like: “financial collapse”.

2.
So here are the five stages as I defined them almost a year ago. The little check-mark next to “financial collapse” is there to remind us that we are not here to quibble or equivocate, because Stage 1 is pretty far along. Stages 2 and 3 – commercial and political collapse, are driven by financial collapse, and will overlap each other. Right now, it is unclear which one is farther along. On the one hand, there are signs that global shipping is grinding to a halt, and that big box retailers are in for a very bad time, with many stores likely to close following a disastrous Christmas season. On the other hand, states are already experiencing massive budget shortfalls, laying off state workers, cutting back on programs, and are starting to beg the federal government for bail-out money.

Even though the various stages of collapse drive each other in a variety of ways, I think that it makes sense to keep them apart conceptually. This is because their effects on our daily life are quite different. Whatever constructive ways we may find of dodging these effects are also going to be different. Lastly, some stages of collapse seem unavoidable, while others may be avoided if we put up enough of a fight.

Financial collapse seems to be particularly painful if you happen to have a lot of money. On the other hand, I run across people all the time, who feel that “Nothing’s happened yet.” These are mostly younger, relatively successful people, who have little or no savings, and still have good paying jobs, or unemployment insurance that hasn’t run out yet. Their daily lives aren’t much affected by the turmoil on the financial markets, and they don’t believe that anything different is happening beyond the usual economic ups and downs.

Commercial collapse is much more obvious, and observing it doesn’t entail opening envelopes and examining columns of figures. It is painful to most people, and life-threatening to some. When store shelves are stripped bare of necessities and remain that way for weeks at a time, panic sets in. In most places, this requires some sort of emergency response, to make sure that people are not deprived of food, shelter, medicine, and that some measure of security and public order is maintained. People who know what’s coming can prepare to sit out the worst of it.

Political collapse is more painful yet, because it is directly life-threatening to many people. The breakdown of public order would be particularly dangerous in the US, because of the large number of social problems that have been swept under the carpet over the years. Americans, more than most other people, need to be defended from each other at all times. I think that I would prefer martial law over complete and utter mayhem and lawlessness, though I admit that both are very poor choices.

Social and cultural collapse seem to have already occurred in many parts of the country to a large extent. What social activity remains seems to be anchored to transitory activities like work, shopping, and sports. Religion is perhaps the largest exception, and many communities are organized around churches. But in places where society and culture remain intact, I believe that social and cultural collapse is avoidable, and that this is where we must really dig in our heels. Also, I think it is very important that we learn to see our surroundings for what they have become. In many places, it feels as if there just isn’t that much left that’s worth trying to save. If all the culture we see is commercial culture, and all the society we see is consumer society, then the best we can do is walk away from it, and look for other people who are ready to do the same.

3.
There is nothing particularly deep or magical about the five stages I chose, except that they seem convenient. They correspond to the commonly distinguished aspects of everyday reality. Each stage of collapse also corresponds to a certain set of beliefs in the status quo, that is about to go by the wayside.

It is always an impressive thing to observe when reality shifts. One moment, a certain idea is seen as preposterous, and the next moment it’s being treated as conventional wisdom. There seems to be a psychological mechanism involved, where nobody wants to be seen as the last fool to finally get the picture. Everybody starts pretending that they’ve thought that way all along, or at least for a little while, for fear of appearing foolish. It is always awkward to ask people what caused them to suddenly change their minds, because with the fear of looking foolish comes a certain loss of dignity.

The most compelling example of lots of minds suddenly going “snap” is, to my mind, the sudden demise of the USSR. It happened with Boris Yeltsin standing atop a tank, and being asked the question: “But what will become of the Soviet Union?” And his answer, pronounced with maximum gravitas was: “Henceforth I shall only refer to it as the FORMER Soviet Union.” And that was that. After that, whoever still believed in the Soviet Union appeared as not just foolish, but actually crazy. For a while, there were a lot of crazy old people parading around with portraits of Lenin and Stalin. Their minds were too old to go “snap”.

Here in the US, we are yet to experience any of the really major, earth-shattering realizations, the ones that look preposterous immediately before and completely obvious immediately after they occur. We have had minor tremors, mostly relating to financial assumptions. Is real estate a good investment. Will private retirement allow you to retire? Will the government bail us all out? All the major realizations are yet to come, or, as my die-hard Yuppie friends keep telling me, “Nothing’s happened yet.”

But by the time something does happen, it will have been too late for us to start planning for it happening. It doesn’t seem all that worthwhile for us to sit around waiting for the happy event of everybody else feeling foolish all at the same time. Arrogant though that may seem, we may be better off accepting their foolishness before they do, and keeping a safe distance ahead of the prevailing opinion.

Because if we do that, we may yet succeed in finding ways to cope. We may learn to dodge financial collapse by learning to live without needing much money. We may create alternative living arrangements and informal production and distribution networks for all the necessities before commercial collapse occurs. We may organize into self-governing communities that can provide for their own security during political collapse. And all of these steps put together may put us in a position to safeguard society and culture.

Or we can just wait until everyone starts agreeing with us, because we wouldn’t want them to look foolish.

4.
The important dynamic, when it comes to financial collapse, is obvious by now. It’s the collapse of credit pyramids, “the whole house of cards” as President Bush put it. The technical term is “deleveraging,” and the response is the bailout. The federal government will be bailing out the banks and the insurance companies, the auto companies, and state governments. Call it the bail-out treadmill: we are borrowing faster and faster just to keep from falling down. The treadmill is actually a good metaphor. Imagine what would happen if you went to a gym, got on a treadmill machine, and just kept punching up the speed, as high as it will go. What happens is you trip and fall, and find yourself flying backwards.

It is instructive to ask the question, Who are we borrowing this bail-out money from? People will tell you that we are borrowing it from “the taxpayer.” But it’s not as if federal tax receipts have automatically shot up by a few trillion over the past couple of months, and so this begs the question, Who is “the taxpayer” going to borrow this money from in the meantime? From other Americans? No, because our savings rate has been abysmally low for quite some time now, and what little we have saved is in housing equity, which is dwindling, and in stocks and bonds, through mutual funds and 401ks and such, which are down by a third or so. The value of these investments is crashing, and if we dumped these investments to raise the cash to fund this new debt, that would just make them crash even faster. In effect, we’d only be moving money from one pocket to another. So, really, the bailouts have to be financed by foreigners. And what if these foreigners decide not to trust us with any more of their savings? Then our only recourse is to “monetize” the debt: to print money.

And so the next question is, how much money would we have to print? The purpose of the bailouts is to provide liquidity to insolvent companies, to avoid deleveraging. To understand what that means, we have to understand that for every actual dollar within the economy, in the sense of it not being borrowed, there are over 13 dollars of borrowed money, which only exists while the debt can be rolled over. If our credit is maxed out while the economy is growing, that’s bad enough, but the US economy is shrinking because of the recent oil shock. A smaller economy cannot carry as much debt, and this is part of the reason why we have deleveraging. Once the process of debt going sour gets started, it is hard to stop, and if deleveraging were to run its course, we would be down over 1300%. To monetize that much debt would require over 1300% inflation. And once that gets started, it becomes very hard to stop.

And, that, believe it or not, is actually the good news. Because most of our debt is denominated in our own currency – the US dollar – the US will not have to declare sovereign default, like Russia was forced to do in the 1990s. Instead, we can inflate our way out of national bankruptcy, by printing a lot of dollars. We will repay our national debt, but we will do so in worthless paper money, bankrupting our international creditors in the process. There is sure to be plenty of pain for everyone, especially everyone who is used to having plenty of money, because their money will no longer make the world go around. Once the US has to start earning foreign currency in order to pay for imports, you can be sure that imports will become quite scarce.

5.
Here are before and after snapshots of the most salient characteristics of financial collapse, as they will affect the vast majority of the population. Here, I am assuming that commercial and political collapse are slower in arriving, and that government is still there to step in with emergency aid of various sorts, and that a market economy of some sort continues to function. It could come down to everyone walking around with their little food stamps debit cards, and the only place they can use them that’s within walking distance is McDonalds, but I am assuming some semi-stable period during which other adjustments can occur before other stages run their course.

The adjustments would have to do with major aspects of the living arrangement, from where we live to how we grow food to how we relate to each other. With money scarce and not particularly potent, other ways of winning the cooperation of others would need to be evolved in a hurry. The financial realm can be seen as a complex system of fences: your bank account is fenced off from my bank account. This arrangement allows you and me to not worry too much about each other, provided each of us has enough to live on. Though this is largely a fiction, we can fancy ourselves to be independent economic players on a level playing field. But once these conceptual fences become irrelevant, because there is nothing behind them, we become each others’ burden, in an immediate sort of way, that would come as a shock to most people. The indignity of such physical interdependence would be psychologically devastating to many people, raising the human toll from financial collapse beyond what you’d expect from a problem that really only exists on paper. This is going to be particularly hard for a nation brought up on the myth of rugged individualism.

6.
Commercial collapse, when it arrives, will again cause much more of a psychological crack-up than you’d expect from a purely organizational problem. The quantities of immediately available goods and services right before and right after the collapse would remain about the same, but because market psychology is so ingrained in the population, no other ways of coping would be considered. Hoarding would become widespread, with looting as the obvious antidote. There would be an instant, huge black market for all sorts of necessities, from shampoo to vials of insulin.

The market mechanism works well in some cases, but it doesn’t work at all when key commodities become scarce. It leads to profiteering, hoarding, looting, and other pernicious effects. There is usually a knee-jerk reaction to regulate the markets, by imposing price controls, or by introducing rationing. I found it quite funny that the recent clamoring for re-regulating the financial markets was greeted with cries of “Socialists!” Failing at capitalism doesn’t make you a socialist, any more than getting a divorce automatically make you gay.

If by the time commercial collapse is upon us, there is still enough of the political system left intact to implement rationing and price controls and emergency distribution schemes, then we should count these among our blessings. Such heavy-handed governance is certainly not a crowd-pleaser during times of plenty, when it’s also unnecessary, but it can be quite a life-saver during times of scarcity. The Soviet food distribution system, which was plagued with chronic underperformance during normal times, proved to be paradoxically resilient during collapse, allowing people to survive the transition.

7.
If prior to commercial collapse the challenge is finding enough money to afford the necessities, afterward the challenge is getting people to accept money as payment for these same necessities. Many of the would-be sellers will prefer to be paid in something more valuable than mere cash. Customer service comes to mean that customers must provide a service. Given that most people won’t have much to offer, other than their now worthless money, should they still have any, most purveyors of goods and services decide to take a holiday.

With the disappearance of the free and open market, even the items that still are available for sale come to be offered in a way that is neither free nor open, but only at certain times and to certain people. Whatever wealth still exists is hidden, because flaunting it or exposing it just increases the security risk, and the amount of effort required to guard it.

In an economy where the vast majority of manufactured items is imported, and designed with planned obsolescence in mind, it will be difficult to keep things running as imports dry up, especially imports of spare parts for foreign-made machinery. The pool of available equipment will shrink over time, as more and more pieces of equipment become used as “organ donors.” In an effort to keep things running, entire cottage industries devoted to refurbishing old stuff might suddenly come together.

8.
It is sometimes hard to discern political collapse, because politicians tend to be quite good at maintaining the pretense of power and authority even as it dwindles. But there are some telltale signs of political collapse. One is when politicians start moonlighting because their day job is no longer sufficiently gainful. Another is when regional politicians start to openly defy orders from the political center. Russia experienced plenty of each of these symptoms.

One thing that makes political collapse particularly hard to spot is that the worse things get, the more noise the politicians emit. The substance to noise ratio in political discourse is pretty low even in good times, making it hard to spot the transition when it actually drops to zero. The variable that’s easier to monitor is the level of political embarrassment. For instance, when Mr. Nazdratenko, the governor of the far-east Russian region of Primorye, stole large amounts of coal, made strides in the direction of establishing an independent foreign policy toward China, and yet Moscow could do nothing to reign him in, you could be sure that Russia’s political system was pretty much defunct.

Another telltale sign of political collapse is actual disintegration, where regions declare independence. In Russia, that was the case with Chechnya, and it led to a prolonged bloody conflict. Here, we might have a “Reconquista” where former Mexican territories become ever more Mexican, the South might rise again. New England, California, and the Pacific Northwest might decide to go their separate ways. Once the interstate highway system is no longer viable and the remaining domestic airlines are extinct, there is not much to keep the two coasts together. What once united the country was the construction of the continental railroad, but railroads have been too neglected to hold it together now. A country consisting of two halves tied together via Panama Canal is de facto at least two countries.

Yet another thing to watch for is foreign incursions into domestic politics. When foreign political consultants start stage-managing elections, as happened with Yeltsin’s reelection campaign, you can be sure that the country is no longer in charge of its own political system. In the US, there is a gradual surrender of sovereignty, as sovereign wealth funds buy up more and more US assets. That sort of thing used to be considered akin to an act of war, but these are desperate times, and they are allowed to do so without so much as a nasty comment. Eventually, they may start making political demands, to extract the most value out of their investments. For instance, they could start vetting candidates for public office, to make sure that we remain friendly to their interests.

Lastly, the power vacuum created by the collapse of legitimate authority tends to be more or less automatically filled by criminal syndicates. These often try to commandeer the political establishment by getting their heads elected or appointed to political offices. Examples include Russian oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovsky, who got himself elected to Duma, the Russian parliament, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who thought he could use his oil wealth to buy his way into the political establishment. Luckily for Russia, Berezovsky is in exile in England, and Khodorkovsky is in jail.

9.
A great many people in the US insist that they do not need government help, and that they would do just fine if only the government would leave them alone. But this is really just a pose; there is a great deal that that government does to make their lives possible. In the United States, the federal government keeps many people alive through programs such as Medicaid, Social Security, and food stamps. Local governments provide for trash removal and water and sewer line maintenance, road and bridge repair, and so on. Police departments try to defend people from each other.

When all of that starts to unravel, it is likely to do so from the bottom, not from the top. Local officials are more accessible than remote Washington bureaucrats, and so they will be the first to be overwhelmed by the anger and confusion of their constituents, while Washington remains unresponsive. One likely exception may have to do with the use of federal troops. It seems almost a given that troops repatriated from the more than 1000 foreign military bases will see action right here at home. They will be reassigned to domestic peacekeeping duties.

10.
Aside from the big government programs, there is little available in the US to help those in need. Again, Americans make a big show of their philanthropy, but, compared to other developed countries, they are in fact quite stingy when it comes to helping those in need. There is even a streak of political sadism, which, for example, shows up in people’s attitudes toward welfare recipients. This sadism can be seen in the so-called welfare reform, which has forced single mothers to work jobs that barely cover the cost of daycare, which is often substandard.

Aside from the government, there are charities, many of which are church-based, and so they have the ulterior motive of recruiting people to their cause. But even when a charity does not make any specific demands, its real purpose is to reinforce the superiority of those who are charitable, at the expense of those who are the recipients. There is a flow of forced gratitude from the beneficiary to the benefactor. The greater the need, the more humiliating is the transaction to the beneficiary, and the more satisfying it is to the benefactor. There is no motivation for the benefactor to provide more charity in response to greater need, except in special circumstances, such as immediately following a natural disaster. Where the need is large, constant, and growing, we should expect charities to matter very little when it comes to satisfying it.

Since neither government largesse nor charity is likely to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, we should look for other options. One promising direction is a revival of mutual help societies, which take membership contributions and then use them to help those in need. At least in theory, such organizations are vastly better than either government aid or charities. Those who are helped by them do not have to surrender their dignity, and can survive difficult times without being stigmatized.

To make it intact through times of great need, the only reasonable approach, it seems to me, is to form communities that are strong and cohesive enough to provide for the well-being of all of their members, that are large enough to be resourceful, yet small enough so that people can relate to each other directly, and to take direct responsibility for each other’s well-being.

11.
If this effort fails, then the outlook becomes dire indeed. I would like to emphasize, once again, that we must do all we can to avoid this stage of collapse. We can allow the financial system, and the commercial sector, and most of the government institutions to collapse, but not this.

What makes this particularly challenging is that the existence of finance and credit, of consumer society, and of government-imposed law and order has allowed society, in the sense of direct, mutual help and of freely accepting responsibility for each others’ welfare, to atrophy. This process of social decay may be less advanced in groups that have survived recent adversity: immigrant and minority groups, or people who served together in the armed forces. The instincts that underlie this behavior are strong, and they are what helped us survive as a species, but they need to be reactivated in time to create groups that are cohesive enough to be viable.

12.
Culture can mean a great many things to people, but what I mean here is a specific very important element of culture: how people relate to each other face to face. Take honesty, for instance: do people demand it of themselves and others, or do they feel that it is acceptable to lie to get what you want? Do they take pride in how much they have or in how much they can give? I took this list of virtues from Colin Turnbull, who wrote a book about a tribe in which most of these virtues were almost entirely missing. Turnbull’s point was that these personal virtues are also all but destroyed in Western society, but that for the time being their absence is being masked by the impersonal institutions of finance, commerce, and government.

I believe that Turnbull has a point. Ours is a cold world, in which the citizens are theoretically expected to fend for themselves, but in reality can only survive thanks to the impersonal services of finance, commerce, and government. It only allows us to practice these warm virtues among family and friends. But that is a start, and from there we can expand this circle of warmth to encompass more and more of the people who matter to us and we to them.

13.
In his amazing book about the legacy of European colonialism, Exterminate all the Brutes, Sven Lindqvist makes the stunning observation that violence renders one unrecognizable. The aggressor, whether active or passive, becomes a stranger.

The violence does not have to be physical. One subtle type of mental violence that abounds in our world is the act of refusing to acknowledge someone’s existence. We may believe that it makes us safer to walk past people without making eye contact. That is certainly true if our look is blank and indifferent, and it is then better to avert one’s gaze than to look, and in effect to say: “I do not recognize you.” That definitely does not make you any safer. But if your look says “I see you, you are OK,” or even “I recognize you,” then the effect is quite the opposite. Dogs understand this principle perfectly well, and so should people.

14.
When I was doing a radio tour to promote my book, a lot of the AM radio motor-mouths who interviewed me would sum up the interview with something like “So this is all doom and gloom, isn’t it.” And then I would have maybe 15 seconds for a rebuttal. So here is my standard 15 second rebuttal: “No, my message is actually quite hopeful. I want to let people know that they can find ways to lead happy, fulfilling lives even as this doomed system crumbles all around them.” Here, I can give you a longer answer.

I believe that the financial pyramid scheme and globalized consumerism are done. But I think that having no government at all is not an option. Forget entitlements, forget military bases on foreign soil, forget the three-ring circus that passes for representative democracy here, but we will still need agencies to print passports, to control the nuclear stockpile, as well as many other mundane but essential services that only a central government can provide. For most other needs, local self-government may be the best we can do, but that may not be bad at all.

Commercial collapse need not be final. It is quite possible that a new economy will arise spontaneously, one without all the frills and the waste, but able to provide for most of the basic needs. In the places that are socially and culturally intact, this is almost inevitable, as people take charge and start doing what’s necessary without waiting for official sanction.

As far as social and cultural collapse, as I already mentioned, to some extent they have already happened, but this is being masked, for the time being, by the availability of finance, commerce, and government. But they can be undone, not everywhere, of course, but in quite a few places, because the instincts are there, and a dire common predicament can be the catalyst that changes society, bringing it closer to the human norm.

15.
Knowing what to expect can provide us with peace of mind, even in the midst of collapse. Wallowing in nostalgia over the good old days, or denying that sweeping changes are before us — these responses are definitely unhealthy.

If we know what’s coming, we can start ignoring the things that we will not be able to rely on. If we do enough of this, we may find ourselves in a different world, quite possibly a better one, rather quickly. Here is a personal example. Some years ago, I decided to give up the car, finding it quite impractical, and started bicycling instead. It wasn’t that easy at first, but once I got used to it, a strange thing happened to my perception: I started seeing cars quite differently. On the way to work in the morning, I would ride along a stretch of highway, which was always packed with cars. When you are driver, you see it as normal, because you are part of this herd of mechanized insects. But what I saw was sheet metal boxes with people imprisoned inside them, strapped down to a chair inside a tiny padded cell, and most of these poor crazies were just pictures of misery: an angry, desperate, lonely mob, condemned to move about in circles. And then I would happily pedal away, through a park and around a pond, and leave that horrible, dying world behind.

And so it is with a great many things. We can wait until the lifestyle that is killing the planet and is making us crazy and sick is no longer physically possible, or we can opt out of it ahead of time. And what we replace it with can be difficult at first, but quite a lot better for us in the end.

16.
So let us summarize our findings. Financial collapse is already quite far along, and is guaranteed to run its course. Bailouts can make insolvent institutions look solvent for a time by providing liquidity, but one thing they cannot provide is solvency. For instance, no matter how much we bail out the auto companies, making any more cars will still be a bad idea. Similarly, no matter how much money we give to banks, their loan portfolios, loaded down with houses built in places that are inaccessible except by car, will still end up being worthless. By continuously nationalizing bad debt, the country will make itself into a bad credit risk, and foreign lenders will walk away. Hyperinflation and loss of imports will follow.

17.
Commercial collapse is likewise guaranteed to happen. One key import is oil, and here the loss of imports will cause much of the economy to shut down, because in this country nothing moves without oil. But it should be possible to come up with new, far less energy-intensive ways to provide for the basic needs.

18.
Political collapse is guaranteed as well. As tax receipts dwindle, municipalities and states will no longer be able to meet the minimal maintenance requirements for existing infrastructure: roads, bridges, water and sewer mains, and so forth. Municipal services, including police, fire departments, snow removal and garbage collection, will also be curtailed or eliminated. The better-organized communities may be able to find ways to compensate, but many communities will become impassable and uninhabitable, generating a flood of internal refugees.

Currently, the political class couldn’t be farther from understanding what is about to happen. I listened in on one of the recent presidential debates (I don’t have a television set, but I caught a chunk of it on NPR). It struck me that the two candidates spent most of the time arguing over ways of spending money that they don’t have. For me, listening to them was a waste of time that I didn’t have. I suspect that my book, would sell better if McCain got elected; nevertheless, I choose to remain selflessly apolitical. National politics is a distraction and a waste of time.

Actually, I should be gratified. A while ago I proposed a whimsical Collapse Party. The Collapse Party platform featured planks such as the freeing of prisoners to whittle down the prison population before a general amnesty becomes necessary due to lack of funds, a jubilee – forgiveness of all debts – to wipe the slate clean of all these bad loans, and a few others. Elsewhere, I proposed that it is a good idea to stop making new cars – just run down the ones we already have, and we’ll run out of cars just as we run out of gas. I am happy to report that this has been banner year for the Collapse Party. Without fielding a single candidate, we managed to push through much of our agenda: many states are releasing prisoners due to the fiscal crisis, the federal government is now involved in avoiding foreclosures, a huge credit card debt write-off is in the works (not quite a jubilee, but still…) and now automakers are ready to consolidate or declare bankruptcy. Next year, perhaps we will repatriate troops and shut down overseas military bases, also in line with the Collapse Party platform.

19.
Continuing with our recap, I see social collapse as avoidable, but not in all places. In many places, the task is to reconstitute society before the first three stages run their course, and it may already be too late. But this is where we need to make a stand, if only to be remembered for something more than the sum total of our mistakes.

20.
Lastly, cultural collapse is something that’s almost too horrible to contemplate, except that in some places it seems to have already happened, and is being masked by the various institutions that still exist, for the time being. But I believe that a lot of people will come around and remember their humanity, the better parts of their natures, when dire circumstances force them to rise to the occasion.

Also, there are some intact pockets of culture here and there that can be used as a sort of cultural seed stock. These are communities and groups that have seen some adversity in recent times, and have some social cohesion left over from the experience. They may also be those who made certain conscious decisions, to simplify their living arrangements in order to lead saner, more fulfilling lives. We must do all we can to avert this final stage of collapse, because what is at stake is nothing less than our humanity.

21.
I hope that, if you have been following along, by this point this slide is self-explanatory. Collapse is not one monolithic thing. Each kind of collapse requires a response, be it jumping clear ahead of time, sitting it out, or opposing it with all you got. At this point, if anyone in this room got up and tried to tell us what to do to avoid financial collapse, we would probably find that quite funny. On the other hand, if we stand by and let social and cultural collapse unfold, then what’s the point of any of this?

That’s all. Thank you for listening.

Editorial Notes

This article is a talk that was originally given by Dmitry Orlov at the Community Solutions Conference in Michigan in November 2008.

Thanks to SO and KS for the formatting. This was an especially difficult job.

-BA