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

Posts Tagged ‘Unsustainable Culture’

Study – Earth’s Battery Level Critical: Continued Destruction Of Earth’s Biomass Foretells Grim Future For Life On Earth

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Fig. 1. Earth-space battery.The planet is a positive charge of stored organic chemical energy (cathode) in the form of biomass and fossil fuels. As this energy is dissipated by humans, it eventually radiates as heat toward the chemical equilibrium of deep space (anode). The battery is rapidly discharging without replenishment.

Oldspeak: I’ll let the scientists tell it:

Earth is a chemical battery where, over evolutionary time with a trickle-charge of photosynthesis using solar energy, billions of tons of living biomass were stored in forests and other ecosystems and in vast reserves of fossil fuels. In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth. This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources. The laws of thermodynamics governing the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery are universal and absolute; the earth is only temporarily poised a quantifiable distance from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space.

Although this distance from equilibrium is comprised of all energy types, most critical for humans is the store of living biomass. With the rapid depletion of this chemical energy, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.
Eventually, without sufficient living biomass to run the biosphere, it simply doesn’t matter how much oil, solar, nuclear, etc. energy you have, as there is no biosphere left for humans to use it. Biomass is not an interchangeable energy. There is no replacement and we are depleting it rapidly.
As we burn organic chemical energy, we generate work to grow our population and economy. In the process the high-quality chemical energy is transformed into heat and lost from the planet by radiation into outer space. The flow of energy from cathode to anode is moving the planet rapidly and irrevocably closer to the sterile chemical equilibrium of space.
Unless biomass stores stabilize, human civilization is unsustainable.
The Earth is in serious energetic imbalance due to human energy use. This imbalance defines our most dominant conflict with nature. It really is a conflict in the sense that the current energy imbalance, a crisis unprecedented in Earth history, is a direct consequence of technological innovation.
Ironically, powerful political and market forces, rather than acting to conserve the remaining charge in the battery, actually push in the opposite direction because the pervasive efforts to increase economic growth will require increased energy consumption.”
Dr. John R. Schramski et al. June 2015
the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity.” You can say that again. Not a “doomer”, not a “Nihilist” that said that, but a good old fashioned, dyed in the wool and presumably conservative, scientist. As I’ve been saying for some time now. It’s just physics at this point. And the physics are SHITTY for probability of continued survival of humans and most other forms of complex life on Earth. As has been discussed here, humans are using ever increasingly unsustainable quantities of biomass. With no tenable plans for population control in place or even being discussed (every one has a right to babies dammit!), or sufficiently sustainable limits to biomass consumption,  We can expect human population to increase in relation to depletion of biomass. Unfortunately for us, biomass is not infinite at current and future levels of consumption. We have used HALF the amount of biomass that it took billions of years to accumulate: 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass; in the last 2000 years. 10 percent of it in the last 100 years.  So energy consumption and energy depletion is increasing exponentially. This is unsustainable. Our technology and cleverness will not make everything ok this time. Our actions will likely make things worse. Yet we’re being driven maniacally, ceaselessly, to “do more”, to “fight climate change”, not understanding that every time we do something, we’re merely increasing our increasingly unsustainable and irreplaceable earth battery usage. And carbon footprint. Nothing we “do” can be done without plunging us further into ecological debt and destruction. That is what you call a conundrum Kimosabe. The technology many magical thinkers are trusting to “fix it”, requires tremendous amounts of resources and energy to produce and maintain. Resources and energy that are rapidly and unsustainably being depleted.  In this stage of this mass extinction event, our “actions” serve only to hasten our extinction. Marches won’t stop it. Policy changes wont stop it. Geo-engineering won’t stop it. Hopium won’t stop it. We’re simply too far gone now. Can’t shift into reverse. One of the studies author’s said it best: “I call myself a realistic optimist, I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong, but I haven’t found it.” Eventually Earth, the sacred battery upon which we depend inextricably for energy and life, will go dead. At some point shortly after that,  we and most life on Earth will go extinct, and at some point in the distant future, the microbes inherit the Earth. And SCENE. Show’s over folk. Humans will be added to the geologic history pile of  species that used to be here. It happens all the time. It’s the circle of life. Some times on, some times off. Read the actual Study if you can.  Good stuff in there.” -OSJ
Related Link:
Written By James Hataway @ University Of Georgia:

Unless humans slow the destruction of Earth’s declining supply of plant life, civilization like it is now may become completely unsustainable, according to a paper published recently by University of Georgia researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years,” said the study’s lead author, John Schramski, an associate professor in UGA’s College of Engineering. “The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”

Earth was once a barren landscape devoid of life, he explained, and it was only after billions of years that simple organisms evolved the ability to transform the sun’s light into energy. This eventually led to an explosion of plant and animal life that bathed the planet with lush forests and extraordinarily diverse ecosystems.

The study’s calculations are grounded in the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, a branch of physics concerned with the relationship between heat and mechanical energy. Chemical energy is stored in plants, or biomass, which is used for food and fuel, but which is also destroyed to make room for agriculture and expanding cities.

Scientists estimate that the Earth contained approximately 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass 2,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have reduced that amount by almost half. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of that biomass was destroyed in just the last century.

“If we don’t reverse this trend, we’ll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us,” Schramski said.

Working with James H. Brown from the University of New Mexico, Schramski and UGA’s David Gattie, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, show that the vast majority of losses come from deforestation, hastened by the advent of large-scale mechanized farming and the need to feed a rapidly growing population. As more biomass is destroyed, the planet has less stored energy, which it needs to maintain Earth’s complex food webs and biogeochemical balances.

“As the planet becomes less hospitable and more people depend on fewer available energy options, their standard of living and very survival will become increasingly vulnerable to fluctuations, such as droughts, disease epidemics and social unrest,” Schramski said.

If human beings do not go extinct, and biomass drops below sustainable thresholds, the population will decline drastically, and people will be forced to return to life as hunter-gatherers or simple horticulturalists, according to the paper.

“I’m not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics,” Schramski said. “These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it’s exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it.”

Schramski and his collaborators are hopeful that recognition of the importance of biomass, elimination of its destruction and increased reliance on renewable energy will slow the steady march toward an uncertain future, but the measures required to stop that progression may have to be drastic.

“I call myself a realistic optimist,” Schramski said. “I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong, but I haven’t found it.”

The study, on “Human Domination of the Biosphere: Rapid Discharge of the Earth-Space Battery Foretells the Future of Humankind,” will be available online at www.pnas.org/content/early/recent the week of July 13.

Anarchy And Near Term Extinction

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2014 at 3:34 am

https://i0.wp.com/fc05.deviantart.net/fs22/i/2008/021/1/3/we_want_anarchy_not_chaos_by_Swoboda.jpg

Oldspeak: “…militarists make a fundamental error in assuming that current forms of hierarchical organization will continue on indefinitely. Institutional hierarchy has only existed for about 1% of our time on Planet Earth. There is every reason to believe that hierarchical organization, far from being inevitable, is actually unnatural for human beings insofar as it creates massive social dysfunction…In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate statistically that more equal societies “enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher math and literacy scores, higher stands of child wellbeing, less bullying in schools, lower obesity rates, and few people in prison.”…Equally interesting, the psychological malaise caused by hierarchy extends to the men and women at the top of society’s pyramid. In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, psychotherapist Graham Music notes that “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behave… Those with more materialistic values consistently have worse relationships, with more conflict.”… If the assumptions inherent to state capitalism continue to be shared by majorities or large minorities, environmental collapse will likely entail an increase in intra-species violence, exactly as the militarists predict; however, as our rulers are quick to point out in their internal literature, in crisis there is opportunity. Environmental degradation may also force people to examine alternative ways of living, including those currently deemed “utopian.”…. War, poverty, environmental collapse and other catastrophes of modern existence are inextricably linked. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” states capitalist ideologue Thomas Friedman. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.” ” -Scott Noble

“Strong case for transitioning to a decentralized anacro-syndicalist socio-political system and doing away with the failing, ecocidal hierarchical system humans have only operated in for 1% of their time on this planet, yet have managed to bring about Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction. We have to ask ourselves why we’re so accepting of a such an unnatural, dysfunctional, debilitating system dependent on conflict, competition, untruth and violence to function at the expense of fully half of humanity and innumerable other lifeforms? Why are we allowing the state to “function as an artificial surrogate for real community“? Why have we abandoned ways of being that were sustainable, balanced regenerative for millions of years, and replaced them with ways of being that are suicidal, imbalanced, extractive and unsustainable for all life on this planet?” Why is Anarchy constantly being equated with violent chaos, when the reality is it’s the closest thing to pure democracy? (Probably because our rulers are mortally TERRiFiED of a rulerless, self-governed society) We’ve born witness to the violent chaos bred by hierarchy. Our hierarchical system is rapidly deteriorating. it is unsustainable. it is unhealthy. it must be retired before the worst comes.” -OSJ

By Scott Noble @ Dissident Voice:

It is often said that the invention of terrible weapons of destruction will put an end to war. That is an error. As the means of extermination are improved, the means of reducing men who hold the state conception of life to submission can be improved to correspond.

– Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1849)

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.

– Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)

According to the theory of Near Term Extinction (NTE) the human race is about to go the way of the Dinosaurs. Though polls on the subject are scarce, it is safe to assume that the majority of humanity disagrees. Most of us remain at least cautiously optimistic about our long term survival prospects. Notable exceptions can be found amongst various apocalyptic cults, whose followers anticipate near term divine intervention, as well as trans-humanists, who anticipate the rise of post-humans due to exotic new technologies. In contrast to these worldviews, NTE is not rooted in religion or science-fiction but a pessimistic reading of the environmental sciences, probability theory and the law of unintended consequences. Nor is NTE limited to the fringe. A growing number of scholars, including highly visible figures like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, have suggested that near term extinction is plausible, though certainly not inevitable (predictions range from years to decades to centuries). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, environmental crises such as climate change have supplanted global thermonuclear war in the pessimist’s hierarchy of doom. Yet these threats are not mutually exclusive. A leaked 2004 report by the Pentagon on global warming anticipates increased risk of “Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting…Once again, warfare [will] define human life.”1 Though such predictions are self-serving – environmental crises are deemed yet another threat that can only be contained by militarism – they are also rational. Under state capitalism, competition for diminishing resources may exacerbate violent conflict, creating a feedback loop not unlike global warming itself. This essay will argue that if the human race is to survive, anarchic systems based on participatory democracy must replace top down models of state rule.

Realpolitik

In his book The McDonaldization of Society, sociologist George Ritzer portrays rationalism as a paradox: highly rational models frequently produce highly irrational outcomes.2 The modern workplace, where we spend most of our waking hours, provides a familiar illustration: rationalist modes of production based on efficiency, calculability, predictability and control have reduced large swathes of humanity to human resources, disposable entities afforded little in the way of self-determination and dignity. In Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), the Little Tramp himself becomes part of the assembly line, compelled forward by gears and pulleys, sliding through the bowels of the machine.

When it comes to international affairs, rationalist models generally fall under the heading realpolitik, a term used to denote both cynical amorality and unflinching “realism” by political leaders acting for a perceived greater good. Unlike idealist interpretations of the state, which focus extensively on ethics, realpolitik is primarily concerned with power. The Italian philosopher and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote, “How we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that [the ruler] who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin rather than his preservation.”3 Since the ruler’s primary objective is to maintain power, immoral behaviour is not only acceptable but necessary.

Machiavelli did not usher in in a new political philosophy; he merely articulated what had always been understood by rulers anywhere and everywhere. In 1934, British historian A.J.P. Taylor suggested that the principles we associate with realpolitik are “a series of assumptions, with which statesmen have lived since their earliest years and which they regard as so axiomatic as hardly to be worth stating.”4 Nevertheless, Machiavelli remains scandalous to this day. His brutal practicality is summed up in Chapter 18 of The Prince – people ought either to be “well treated or crushed.”3

The 19th Century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin agreed with Machiavelli’s cynical understanding of power but came to very different conclusions about how humanity should proceed. He bitterly praised the Italian philosopher for exposing the state with “terrible frankness,” and demonstrating that “crime… is the sine qua non of political intelligence and true patriotism,” yet rejected the notion that such crime was inevitable. “We are the sons of the revolution… We believe in the rights of man, in the dignity and necessary emancipation of the human species.”5 The state – as well capitalism – should be abolished.

Up until the mid-twentieth century, and with the exception of a few rogue philosophers who advocated world government, self-government or no government at all, near-constant warfare between competing states has been viewed as an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of international relations. The invention of the nuclear bomb changed that – or would have, if the idealists were correct. American military strategist Bernard Brodie was overly optimistic when, in 1946, he wrote, “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.”6

The military establishment, soon to be termed the military industrial complex by President Eisenhower, did in fact have another purpose, namely to expand American power through imperialism. Tolstoy was proven correct: not even the creation of the most “terrible weapons of war” would put an end to the state’s quest for dominance.

Few people who consider themselves rational would advocate for the disarmament of the state apparatus in which they live. Yet in the age of nuclear weapons, it is precisely this insistence on “national security” through state power that is most likely to kill us. If, as Bakunin argued, “small states are virtuous only because of their weakness,”5 powerful states demonstrate an ineluctable tendency toward dominating others. The result is militarism.

MAD

The history of civilization is sufficiently blood-soaked that many modern intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, have argued that competitive state frameworks must be abandoned if the human race is to survive.

Following the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein implored:

A world government must be created which is able to solve conflicts between nations by judicial decision. This government must be based on a clear-cut constitution which is approved by the governments and nations and which gives it the sole disposition of offensive weapons.7

It is doubtful that a world government such as envisioned by Einstein – which allowed for the centralization of “offensive weapons” – would have eliminated the nuclear threat, let alone war, if for no other reason than secessionist movements and other power struggles would have remained a constant concern (we will return to this subject at the essay’s closing).

In any case, Churchill, Truman and Stalin would carve up most of Europe at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, creating the foundation for the Cold War. As if to underscore the improbability of world government, the three leaders had an argument over who would enter the Potsdam conference room first; they eventually decided that they would enter at precisely the same time through three separate doors.8

The new paradigm was MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. Because man is a rational being, he would not risk annihilation by attacking his foe. Game theorists at the Rand Corporation, a Pentagon think tank, provided the theoretical basis. According to the prisoner’s dilemma, both players had to assume the other was rational.

While most nuclear strategists took it for granted that the point of the game was to maintain peace between the super-powers, others believed, quite logically, that the point of the game was to win it.

Among those who embraced the “winner takes all” view was General Curtis Lemay, purported model for the character “Jack the Ripper” in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Best known for masterminding the massive bombing campaign against Japan during WWII (which resulted in half-a-million dead and about five million homeless), Lemay headed up the Strategic Air Command and served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965.

Lemay drew up a war plan which involved dropping “the entire stockpile of atomic bombs in a single massive attack” on the Soviet Union. The Washington Post later quoted the General as stating, “Every major American city – Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles – will be reduced to rubble. Similarly, the principal cities of the Soviet Union will be destroyed.”9

According to then Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, Lemay was “absolutely certain” that “the US was going to have to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union” and that “we should fight it sooner rather than later.”9

Equally disturbing as the super-hawks at the Pentagon were the numerous academics – people who considered themselves highly rational – who advocated a similar strategy. Most found their home at the Rand Corporation.

One of Rand’s most notorious strategists was Herman Kahn. He believed that the US atomic arsenal was a wasting resource. So long as the Soviet Union continued to build its own arsenal, America’s would decrease in value. For Kahn, nuclear weapons were like a precious commodity in danger of depreciation on the global marketplace. Though he did not explicitly advocate a first strike, Kahn believed that a nuclear war was “winnable.”10

Breaking the Chain of Command

MAD is widely regarded as a triumph of both rationalism and hard-nosed realpolitik. The missiles stayed in their silos. We didn’t go extinct. Starry-eyed idealists who rejected Ronald Reagan’s belligerence and exorbitant military spending were proven wrong.

What few realize is that we escaped destruction primarily due to a handful of individuals who rejected the chain of command – and even the logic of their computer screens – in order to embrace the better angels of their being.

In my documentary film The Power Principle, I explore several of the biggest “close calls” during the Cold War.

The most serious event occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the midst of the conflict, a group of United States Navy Destroyers began dropping practice-depth charges on a Soviet submarine positioned near Cuba in order to force it to the surface. The sub commanders believed WWIII was underway.

According to Soviet military protocol, the commanders had previous permission to launch missiles if all three reached consensus. Two said yes – one said no. Then “an argument broke out among the three, in which only Vasili Arkhipov was against the launch.” Thomas Blanton, a director of the National Security Archive, later remarked, “A guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”11

In 1983, a computer malfunction at a nuclear warning facility near Moscow falsely indicated a nuclear attack by the United States. The probability indicator was at level 1.

The man in charge, Stanislav Petrov, did not have the ability to launch a retaliatory strike. However, were he to pass on the information to the top command, the Soviet leadership would have only had a few minutes to decide on whether to launch a counter-attack. According to Bruce Blair, a Cold War nuclear strategist, “the top leadership, given only a couple of minutes to decide, told that an attack had been launched, would [have made] a decision to retaliate.” Petrov broke military protocol, and waited.

It turned out that the computer malfunction was caused by “a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and satellites.”12

The third biggest close call occurred in the same year when NATO began a war exercise; the scenario – an all out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It was codenamed Able Archer.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union during WWII, they did so under the guise of a war game. Alarmed by Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric, as well as America’s deployment of Pershing II strategic missiles in Europe, hard-liners in the Kremlin became convinced that history was about to repeat itself. In the run up to the exercise, the Soviets secretly mobilized all key components of their military forces, including nuclear submarines. One mistake by either side and a holocaust would have resulted.

There are other examples, though not quite as hair-raising. A report by the Nuclear Files Foundation lists over 20 “close calls” during the Cold War.13

The greatest danger has never been a rogue commander in the vein of “Jack the Ripper” – though that threat is real enough – but accidental nuclear war caused by incompetence and/or technical malfunction.14

Former Defence Sectary Robert McNamara, who was present in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis, eventually came to a stark conclusion: “It can be confidently predicted that the combination of human fallibility and nuclear arms will inevitably lead to nuclear destruction.”15

Unlike most of the public, US military leaders are well aware of the numerous close calls of the Cold War. The same is presumably true of most men and women who (along with military leaders) formulate current US policy. If their goal was the survival, let alone health, of the human race, the United States would have long since abandoned aggressive war. A fraction of the US military budget could eliminate poverty worldwide,16 and in doing so drain the swamp of resentment and rage that provides the lifeblood of the “terrorist threat.”

For critics of American foreign policy, the failure of US leaders to pursue a peaceful path following the collapse of the Soviet Union is often attributed to a uniquely American belligerence or depravity. Yet a cursory glance through the history books shows that the American empire, while exceptional in terms of global reach and technology, is anything but exceptional in terms of base motivation; it is behaving in a remarkably similar fashion to every empire that preceded it. We can only conclude that powerful states – and the people to tend to wield great power within them – share peculiar forms of logic that are alien to most of their citizenry.

The Power Principle

The dominant view amongst anthropologists is that we have lived in relatively peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian societies for 99% of our history. In the words of anthropologist Christopher Boehm, “Humans were egalitarian for thousands of generations before hierarchical societies began to appear.”17 Many of the behaviours we now celebrate – “success” through the hoarding of wealth, for example – were traditionally considered socially deviant. Ethnographies of extant nomadic foragers reveal that they are “all but obsessively concerned with being free from the authority of others. That is the basic thrust of their political ethos.”18

The Utku in the Canadian Arctic have an extreme intolerance for “displays of anger, aggression, or dominance.”19 The Pintupi Aborigines insist that “One should assert one’s autonomy only in ways that do not threaten the equality and autonomy of others” (Myers).20 Among the Wape tribe in New Guinea, “A man will not tolerate a situation where a neighbour has more than he has. A man should not possess either goods or power to the disadvantage of others” (Mitchell).21

In both egalitarian and hierarchical societies, power is jealously guarded. For egalitarians, the goal is to maximize freedom through group solidarity; for despots, the goal is to maximize the “freedom” of rulers to oppress the majority.

Among political philosophers, only anarchists have seriously considered the threat posed by hierarchy in human affairs. For this reason they have been labeled “utopian.” Yet it may be that idealized notions of benevolent hierarchies are not only unrealistic but wildly implausible. Just as systems of domestic law have proven incapable of preventing tyranny, so too have international laws utterly failed to prevent war.

For anarchists, the reason for this is self-evident: the logic of power is power. There is no law or principle so compelling that it will not be tossed aside at the first sign that those who hold power are in danger of losing it. Hunter-gatherers are able to prevent social dominance hierarchies because they act in a group wide coalition; under the state apparatus, with its entrenched hierarchies, this ability is severely curtailed.

Nevertheless, for the vast majority of political philosophers, the idea that a select minority should rule over the mass is taken for granted. James Madison, the “father of the American constitution,” argued that a primary purpose of government was to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” His great fear was “levelling tendencies,” in other words, real democracy.22

If nation states existed in a vacuum, incapable of waging war against other states, minority rule would perhaps be tolerable, depending on the disposition of the men and women who happen to rule over the majority at a given time. The problem is that states are not content to rest on their laurels. Schopenhauer’s famous quote about wealth – that it is “like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we get” – applies equally to power itself. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson explained the phenomenon in terms of “optima” and “maxima”: “the ethics of optima and the ethics of maxima are totally different ethical systems. The ethics of maxima knows only one rule: more.”23

Egalitarian societies are able to maintain optima due to a low center of gravity. In large hierarchical societies, wherein power becomes centralized, leaders or entire social classes can easily become despotic. Lord Acton’s famous quote that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was more vividly expressed by the great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “Human beings are chimpanzees who become crazy drunk on power.”

Austrian political scientist Leopold Kohr, who described himself as a “philosophical anarchist,” regarded powerful states as the most dangerous expression of the maxima principle:

There could be no gentler peoples on earth today than the Portuguese, the Swedes, the Norwegians, or the Danes. Yet, when they found themselves in possession of power, they lashed out against any and all comers with such fury that they conquered the world from horizon to horizon. This was not because, at the period of their national expansion, they were more aggressive than others. They were more powerful.24

Great powers may temporarily “check” one another, to the point where – depending on the global power configuration – some powerful states may seem positively benign; nevertheless, by their very nature, states must exist in an environment of perpetual conflict; when a “critical quantity of power” is reached by one state in relation to others, war is a likely result. For these and other reasons, Bakunin believed that international law is always destined to fail.

There is no common right, no social contract of any kind between them; otherwise they would cease to be independent states and become the federated members of one great state. But unless this great state were to embrace all of humanity, it would be confronted with other great states, each federated within, each maintaining the same posture of inevitable hostility. War would still remain the supreme law, an unavoidable condition of human survival.

Every state, federated or not, would therefore seek to become the most powerful. It must devour lest it be devoured, conquer lest it be conquered, enslave lest it be enslaved, since two powers, similar and yet alien to each other, could not coexist without mutual destruction.5

Universal Hostility

When NATO was created in 1949, its ostensible purpose was to protect Europe from the Soviet Union. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO did not; in fact, it expanded.

Speaking in 2005, American military geostrategist Thomas Barnett boasted that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, “demand for our services has increased 4-5 times.”14 Instead of the “peace dividend” promised by Bill Clinton, aggressive war by the United States actually escalated.

Twenty years after Perestroika, Gorbachev lamented that his concessions – rather than creating more peace and harmony – had produced a “winner’s complex” among the American political elite.25 Gorbachev had envisioned for post-Soviet Russia a social democracy similar to the Scandinavian nations. What actually followed were a series of brutal “free market” reforms engineered by technocrats from the Chicago school of economics. It took decades for Russia to regain some semblance of stability. Now that it has – and despite the vanished pretext of an ideological battle between capitalism and communism – the Cold War is back with a vengeance.

When Gorbachev allowed for the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union, he was promised by George H.W. Bush that NATO would not expand “one inch to the east.”14 Instead, NATO has expanded to much of the world – including Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic and Central Asia. Coinciding with these aggressive policies of expansion and encirclement, the US has insisted on establishing anti-missile systems in Poland designed to eliminate Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

The theoretical basis behind America’s treatment of post-Soviet Russia crosses party lines. Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defence under George W. Bush, wrote in Defence Planning Guidance (1992): “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.”26 Similarly, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard that control of Eurasia – to the exclusion of Russia – is the key factor in ensuring American primacy:

Failure to widen NATO… would shatter the concept of an expanding Europe… Worse, it could reignite dormant Russian political aspirations in Central Europe… Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead in Eurasia… A wider Europe and an enlarged NATO will serve the short-term and longer-term interests of U.S. policy.27

In February 2014 the democratically elected albeit corrupt government of Ukraine was overthrown in a right-wing putsch supported by the United States, prompting Vladimir Putin to engineer a referendum in Crimea allowing for its annexation into Russia. Long before the crisis, and in response to previous provocations on Russia’s borders, Putin delivered a speech to the Kremlin in which he stated:

Their [U.S.] defence budget in absolute figures is almost 25 times bigger than Russia’s. This is what in defence is referred to as ‘their home — their fortress’. Clever… Very clever. But this means that we also need to build our home and make it strong and well protected. We see, after all, what is going on in the world. Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat, as the saying goes. It knows whom to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems.14

In Putin’s portrayal of America as a ravenous wolf we see an echo of Bakunin’s maxim that states must “devour lest [they] be devoured.”

The desire by Russian leaders to retain control of their Black Sea port in Crimea and to project power into neighbouring (NATO-affiliated) states is a classic expression of the cordon sanitaire or “quarantine line.” In state-craft, the term is defined as a protective barrier against a potentially aggressive nation or dangerous influence.

Putin has not been without his own forays into military violence, such as the brutal subjugation of Chechnya in the mid-90′s (during which the capital, Grozny, was largely reduced to rubble). Nevertheless, the Russian leader has focussed most of his attention on building economic alliances, most notably that of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Following the first BRICS summit in 2009, member nations called for a new global reserve currency (rather than the US dollar) that would be “diversified, stable and predictable.”28

Apart from the small matter of nuclear weapons, it is in the economic realm that Russia is considered most dangerous. Russia provides the European Union with about a third of its gas, remains one of Germany’s largest trading partners, and has arranged a massive natural gas supply deal with China.

In the same way that NATO has attempted to encircle Russia, the Pentagon’s “Asia pivot” seeks to quarantine China militarily. China has responded by announcing a new Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, overlapping disputed territories with Japan. In April, the US established a new “Defence” pact with the Philippines.

Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed US-sponsored Security Council Resolutions that would have allowed for the legal bombing of Syria (which houses one of Russia’s last foreign military bases outside of the former Soviet Union). Yet this has not prevented the United States from attempting to subvert the Syrian government through semi-covert means. The CIA, the British SAS, Saudi Arabia, and NATO member Turkey have been training and supplying Syrian rebels in Jordan and elsewhere since the beginning of the insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.29 Syria, in turn, has a mutual defence pact with Iran.

As always in the recent history of the Middle East, the wild card is Israel.

The destruction of Iran remains Israel’s primary foreign policy objective. Although Hezbollah has sensibly warned that an attack against Iran would “set the entire middle east ablaze.”30 Israeli leaders perceive Iran as a potential counter-check to Zionist power. In addition to geopolitical concerns, Israeli leaders embrace a peculiar military strategy known as the “Mad Dog” doctrine. First articulated by Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, it calls for Israel to behave “like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”31 North Korea seems to have embraced a similar strategy, though to considerably less effect.

The most disturbing manifestation of this strategy is the so-called “Samson option.” Named after the biblical character Samson, who pushed apart the pillars of a Philistine temple, thereby killing both himself and his captors, the Samson option calls for destroying much of the world in response to an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld explains: “We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions… We have the capability to take the world down with us.”32

The Samson option, and Israel’s behaviour in general, has led the American political scientist Norman Finkelstein to describe the country as a “lunatic state.”33

In his article “Marching as to War,” American paleoconservative author Pat Buchanan expresses incredulity over American Vice President Joe Biden’s post-Ukraine-coup trip through the former Soviet bloc countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. During the junket, Biden reiterated America’s commitment to “protect” these nations: “our word” is “solemn” and “iron clad.” According to Buchanan, Biden was “affirming war guarantees General Eisenhower would have regarded as insane.”34

Here we may say that while Biden’s actions may have been insane during the Eisenhower administration, they are perfectly logical under the Obama administration. In keeping with the theory of the Power Principle, or Kohr’s notion of “critical quantities of power,” the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated the primary check to the American empire. The dogs of war could be fully unleashed. Now that Russia is resurgent, and the US declining economically, there is a great deal of barking going on.

On April Fool’s Day, 2014, NATO Sectary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated:

NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people. And make no mistake, this is what we will do. We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.35

Rasmussen is nothing if not worldly, considering that “his” people evidently include populations from countries as varied as Albania, Croatia, Canada, France, Iceland, Italy, Romania, the UK and the USA.

The illegal bombing of Serbia by the Clinton administration may be regarded as the starting point in the New Cold War, for it was during the assault that NATO began its eastward shift.

The destruction of Yugoslavia was “rational,” argues historian Michael Parenti, because “Yugoslavia was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system and install a free-market economic order… Yugoslavs were proud of their postwar economic development and of their independence from both the Warsaw pact and NATO.”36

Considerably less rational was the behaviour of US General Wesley Clark during the conflict. According to British pop singer James Blunt (best known for his song “You’re beautiful”), who commanded 30,000 NATO troops in Bosnia, he was instructed by the US General to attack a squadron of Russian soldiers at the Pristina Air Base.

The direct command [that] came in from Gen Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Various words were used that seemed unusual to us. Words such as ‘destroy’ came down the radio.37

Like Vasili Arkhipov during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Stanislav Petrov during the 1983 nuclear-warning “computer glitch,” James Blunt disobeyed orders. He was backed up by British General Sir Mike Jackson. Said Jackson: “I’m not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III.”38

In contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which demands “good-faith” efforts to work toward nuclear disarmament, the United States is projected to spend 1 trillion maintaining and expanding its nuclear weapons systems over the next 30 years39 – assuming we survive that long.

Rationalizing War

No state, no matter how powerful or totalitarian, is capable of engaging in aggressive war absent ideological justification. These justifications typically take on two forms: a noble cause that the public can relate to and a cause that – though it would seem brutal and even immoral to the public – is deemed rational by members of a particular ruling class.

The celebrated American political philosopher Rienhold Neibuhr claimed that “rationality belongs to the cool observers.” Elites should recognize “the stupidity of the average man,” who must be ideologically manipulated via “emotionally potent oversimplifications.”40 Walter Lippmann, the “Father of modern journalism,” agreed, arguing that the “masses” are a “bewildered herd” who should be “spectators” in the affairs of state but not “participants.”40

Very often, a casus belli (or war pretext) will be manufactured by leaders to coerce a peaceful population into accepting war, though intensive propaganda is often sufficient. In the modern age, covert agencies like the CIA have allowed for a more cost-effective and PR-friendly alternative to transparent military aggression. Black operations are especially useful for the United States because the over-arching propaganda narrative (“freedom,” “democracy,” “human rights”) is diametrically opposed to the brutal realities of American foreign policy. Eisenhower’s concept of the Military Industrial Complex is better described as the Military Industrial Intelligence Complex.

The vast gulf between propaganda and realpolitik can be seen in various internal memos by figures like US Cold Warrior and State Department official George Kennan. While American leaders publicly warned of an existential threat to democracy posed by the Soviet Union, Kennan’s 1948 memo to the Secretary of State cooly observes:

We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.41

Kennan helped to establish the Office of Policy Coordination inside CIA.42 Despite its intentionally bland title, the OPC specialized in black operations: assassinations, torture, coups, false flags. Its officers did in the dark “what would have never stood the light of day”43 in a self-proclaimed democracy committed to freedom and human rights. After the attacks of 9/11, these tactics were brought out into the open – a dangerous gambit that has undermined America’s moral legitimacy both at home and abroad.

According to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the “neoconservatives” who would come to dominate the George W. Bush and Obama administrations were described by fellow analysts – in the 1970′s/80′s – as “The Crazies.”44 The neocons openly argued for war as a way of life, and for the projection of American power into every corner of the globe.

“Ideas do not succeed in history by virtue of their truth,” writes sociologist Peter Berger, “but by virtue of their relationship to specific social processes.”45 Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and coinciding with the increasing power of the Israeli Lobby, the neocon philosophy suddenly became not so crazy after all. It now had utility, and was widely accepted.

The philosophical “Godfather” of the neoconservative movement was the philosopher Leo Strauss. Born in Germany of Jewish parents, he emigrated to the United States and took up a teaching political science at the University of Chicago. Despite his lineage, Strauss’ teachings bear a disturbing similarity to those of the Nazis.

Shadia Drury, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, writes that Strauss believed in “perpetual war” and “an aggressive, belligerent foreign policy… Following Machiavelli, [Strauss] maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured.”46

For liberals and progressives, neoconservatism is the current Bete noir of American politics. In alleged contrast to the realist school, neoconservative are deemed idealistic, irrational, even insane, yet also uniquely ruthless and cunning.

In his book Reclaiming Conservatism, Mickey Edwards of the Aspen Institute argues that “Neoconservatives are driven by theoretical objectives, and by a moral or ethical compass that fails to take into account the complexities of world politics, [whereas] adherents to a Realpolitik foreign policy often seem to have no moral compass at all.”47

Apart from different propaganda narratives, the reader can be forgiven for failing to notice a significant difference between the neocons and their alleged ideological opponents in the American power structure. In terms of real world outcomes, what we actually find is a remarkable degree of uniformity between “realists” and “neoconservatives,” Democrats and Republicans, with foreign policy differences amounting to a friendly disagreement over exactly how to go about maintaining and expanding US hegemony. Increasingly, Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton are being described as “neocons” despite having no historical attachments to Strauss or his philosophy. This indicates a certain level of cognitive dissonance amongst the party faithful; unable to come to terms with the failure of the state capitalist model, they attribute the American empire not to structural factors but a diabolical clique that has usurped American power from its proper guardians.

A much more compelling and historically consistent explanation for the remarkable continuity between Democrat and Republican regimes has already been provided: the logic of power is power. For the half-a-million Iraqi children who perished under the sanctions program of Democrat Bill Clinton, or the similar number who perished under the Republican George W. Bush, the distinctions between philosophies of empire are meaningless. The ideological framework for imperialism may change, but the game remains the same.

In Love with Death

The Power Principle demands that the class that holds power attempts to retain and expand that power. Therefore, ruling classes within one nation find themselves in conflict not only with domestic populations but other nation states. The greatest fear of those who hold power is Anarchy – the loss of control by those who exercise it.

For neoconservatives like Irving Kristol, the 60′s counter-culture was an outbreak of “moral anarchy,” which, if it had been allowed to continue, would have led to the collapse of “ordered liberty.”48

Externally the same principles apply. “Realist” Zbigniew Brzezinski argues: “America’s withdrawal from the world… would produce massive international instability. It would prompt global anarchy.”49

When I asked the late historian Howard Zinn what he thought of the word “anarchy” being used as a synonym for chaos, he suggested that anarchic systems are actually much more stable than hierarchical systems. Anarchism is based on horizontal principles of free association and mutual aid, whereas hierarchical systems demand coercion and violence. “Our political systems are in chaos,” Zinn stated. “International relations are in chaos.”14 In the desire to dominate others in order to prevent chaos, chaos is the result.

It is by no means certain that chaos is considered undesirable by military strategists, provided it serves to weaken the opposition. In his “Strategy for Israel in the 1980′s,” Israeli strategic planner Oded Yinon advocated the fomenting of civil war throughout the entire middle east. Arabs would be turned against one another on the basis of nation, religion and ethnicity in order to increase Israel’s relative power.50

In countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya (or indeed Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia and Vietnam) we see the fruits of such strategies. Genocidal violence is not merely an unfortunate byproduct of well-intentioned plans for regime change but a goal in and of itself. It weakens competitors, and is therefore deemed justified. Human life has neither a positive nor a negative value, it is simply irrelevant – another number in the calculus of power.

Former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, the so-called “architect of the Vietnam war,” was obsessed with mathematics. “He was so impressed by the logic of statistics that he tried to calculate how many deaths it would take to bring North Vietnam to the bargaining table.”51 Millions of Vietnamese people were slaughtered by bullets and bombs, burnt with napalm, poisoned by Agent Orange; yet for the man who helped design the war, they were little more but numbers on a chalkboard. McNamara argued that US violence in Vietnam was preferable to the “complete anarchy” that might otherwise result.14

The psychologist Eric Fromm suggested that the desire to control and dominate may produce a necrophilous orientation. Such people are “cold, distant, devotees of ‘law and order’”52 who are excited not by love but death.

The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things…

He is deeply afraid of life, because it is disorderly and uncontrollable by its very nature. To the necrophilous person justice means correct division, and they are willing to kill or die for the sake of what they call justice. ‘Law and order’ for them are idols, and everything that threatens law and order is felt as a satanic attack against their supreme values.

…People are aware of the possibility of nuclear war; they are aware of the destruction such a war could bring with it – and yet they seemingly make no effort to avoid it. Most of us are puzzled by this behaviour because we start out from the premise that people love life and fear death. Perhaps we should be less puzzled if we questioned this premise. Maybe there are many people who are indifferent to life and many others who do not love life but who do love death.52

That many of our most beloved military figures had or have a necrophilous orientation is plainly evident. Observing the corpses and ruined architecture following a battle during WWII, George Patton remarked, “I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life.”53

The actor Richard Burton, who played Sir Winston Churchill in a television drama, became repulsed by the figure:

In the course of preparing myself… I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate them virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of endless power all through history… What man of sanity would say on hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, everyone of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of earth’? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity.54

In Churchill’s desire to “wipe out” the “Japanese race” we sense a sort of mania bordering on sadistic perversion. Indeed, on the other side of the conflict, Imperial Japan took sadistic perversion in warfare to horrifying extremes. Hitler brought sado-masochism into his bedroom; a coprophiliac, he was sexually aroused by having young ladies defecate on his face. In so doing he became, in the words of historian Robert Waite, “the personification of [his own] depraved self, as the persecutor who attacks a part of himself in his victims.”55

Hitler believed that it was in doom that art reached its highest expression. Consumed by sado-masochism and narcissism, hiding at last in his bunker, he devoutly wished for all of Germany to die with him. Afforded the opportunity, Western military leaders may well opt for global conflagration rather than conceding a diminution in their power.

The Tyranny of Borders

For Cold War General Curtis Lemay and nuclear strategist Herman Khan, it seemed perfectly logical to risk the annihilation of the human race in order to “win” the game against the Soviet Union. Missing in their analysis was that the game itself was insane.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that climate change could pose an irreversible, existential threat to civilization.56 Among the few American military strategists who commented on the report was retired Army Brig. Gen Chris King. Echoing the conclusions of the Pentagon’s leaked 2004 report on global warming, King emphasized that increased military conflict would seem to be the inevitable outcome of environmental collapse: “This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years… You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”56

Another American military figure, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, commented on the report:

You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.56

I began this essay by noting that under the rules of state capitalism, it is rational to regard climate change and other environmental crises as probable force multipliers for interstate conflict. At the same time, militarists make a fundamental error in assuming that current forms of hierarchical organization will continue on indefinitely. Institutional hierarchy has only existed for about 1% of our time on Planet Earth. There is every reason to believe that hierarchical organization, far from being inevitable, is actually unnatural for human beings insofar as it creates massive social dysfunction.

In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate statistically that more equal societies “enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher math and literacy scores, higher stands of child wellbeing, less bullying in schools, lower obesity rates, and few people in prison.”57

Equally interesting, the psychological malaise caused by hierarchy extends to the men and women at the top of society’s pyramid. In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, psychotherapist Graham Music notes that “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behave… Those with more materialistic values consistently have worse relationships, with more conflict.”58

If the assumptions inherent to state capitalism continue to be shared by majorities or large minorities, environmental collapse will likely entail an increase in intra-species violence, exactly as the militarists predict; however, as our rulers are quick to point out in their internal literature, in crisis there is opportunity. Environmental degradation may also force people to examine alternative ways of living, including those currently deemed “utopian.”

War, poverty, environmental collapse and other catastrophes of modern existence are inextricably linked. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” states capitalist ideologue Thomas Friedman. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.”59

“Globalization” has entailed a dual tendency: increased border militarization combined with the growth of powerful supranational institutions. While capital is increasingly liquid – penetrating borders with the mere click of a mouse – 99% of humanity remains confined within nation states. The dominant media has portrayed this process as one of increased border erasure, yet the reality is that borders have never been more militarized. The logic of increased “border security” in the era of elite globalization is explained by the anthropologist David Graeber:

If it were not possible to effectively imprison the majority of people in the world in impoverished enclaves, there would be no incentive for Nike or The Gap to move production there to begin with. Given a free movement of people, the whole neoliberal project would collapse. This is another thing to bear in mind when people talk about the decline of ‘sovereignty’ in the contemporary world: the main achievement of the nation-state in the last century has been the establishment of a uniform grid of heavily policed barriers across the world. It is precisely this international system of control that we are fighting against, in the name of genuine globalization.60

Though David Rockefeller is often accused of conspiring to engineer a “world government,” he remarked in a 2007 interview with Benjamin Fulford that be believed states are necessary, and that he does not view World Government as likely nor desirable.61 Nevertheless, in his memoirs, Rockefeller clearly states that he is a proud “internationalist.”

Rockefeller’s brand of internationalism is consistent with the rise of supranational institutions like the EU, the IMF and World Bank. The goal is not the elimination of borders but the elimination of any semblance of democratic control over elites. The state has come to function as the ultimate divide and conquer mechanism, reducing the human species to a series of artificial, warring tribes serving a decidedly unpatriotic transnational ruling class.

Government as Constant Reconquest

Thus far I have conceived of warfare primarily in terms of external competition. But internal competition is at least as important. The American dissident philosopher Randolph Bourne believed that war is not only a primary function of the state but the health of the state. At the outbreak of WWI he wrote:

The nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty – or mystic devotion to the State – becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.62

The domestic repercussions of war are typically regarded as an unintended consequence or happy accident for the ruling class; in the process of engaging in imperialism, or defending a population against imperialism, the state must neutralize subversive elements.

Neoconservative philosopher Leo Strauss believed the opposite: domestic control is the imperative, war the effect:

Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed… Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people.46

In 1984, Orwell also conceived of war in terms of domestic utility:

In some ways she was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda. Once when he happened in some connection to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep the people frightened.’63

Viewed through a macroscopic lens, the perceived separation between “domestic” and “foreign” is an illusion. There is no race except the human race, no nation except the world.

Does this mean we should embrace a world state?

Before examining the question, we should ask ourselves exactly what the state is.

In contrast to coercion theories of state formation, which argue that the first states were only beneficial to a privileged minority, and were achieved through a process of violence, conservative theories argue that the state was brought about through a process of “mutual benefit” and “consent of the governed.” Though understandably popular amongst apologists for state violence, conservative models are easily dismissed. As noted by the anthropologist James C. Scott:

…all ancient states without exception were slave states. The proportion of slaves seldom dropped below 30 per cent of the population in early states, reaching 50 per cent in early South-East Asia (and in Athens and Sparta as much as 70 and 86 per cent)…slaving was at the very centre of state-making.64

The state is a new phenomenon in the human experience. But what of warfare itself?

In his book A Terrible Love of War, American psychologist James Hillman argues that war “is the father of all things,” “the first of all norms” and “the ultimate truth of the cosmos.”53 For militarists, this view is a comfortable one: war is inevitable, it has always existed and always will. Another prominent psychologist, Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, has also advanced a “Constant warfare” theory of human evolution, suggesting that civilization and the state have actually diminished war, pacifying our instinctually savage, warlike ways. Like conservative theories of state formation, Pinker’s theories are easily debunked.65

In Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, and the Origins and Intensification of War, Ferguson analyzes worldwide evidence of violence before 10,000 years ago. He finds that while violence certainly existed, it was comparatively rare, and in no way indicative of war. Thus, a study of all skeletons available from 100,000-10,000 in southwestern France finds that only 2.5% show any signs of fractures – and even these could have been caused by accidental injury. In the Middle East, amongst 370 skeletons from the Natufian (10,800-8,500 BC), only 2 showed signs of trauma.66 Similar patterns are evident throughout the world:

Warfare is largely a development of the past 10,000 years. The multiple archaeological indicators of war are absent until the development of a more sedentary existence and/or increasing sociopolitical complexity, usually in combination with some form of ecological crisis and/or steep ecological gradients.67

Ethnographies of extant nomadic hunter-gatherers help to explain why war would have made little sense to our forebears. Anthropologist Douglas P. Fry writes:

The very nature of nomadic-band social organization makes warfare, slavery, or despotic rule well-nigh impossible. The small social units lack the ability to engage in large-scale slaughter—and since positions of authoritative leadership are also lacking, there is nothing to plunder, tools and weapons are rudimentary, and population density is extremely low. The archaeological facts speak clearly, showing for particular geographic areas exactly when war began.  And in all cases this was recent, not ancient activity—occurring after complex forms of social organization supplanted nomadic hunting and gathering.68

The cause of hierarchy and warfare is disputed, but a common explanation is the shift from nomadic bands to sedentary tribes; when these new domesticated forms combined with technological innovation and increased social complexity, the result was the state. Engels long ago suggested that agriculture was a primary determinant; it allowed for surplus, which in turn gave rise to social classes. In The Evolution of Political Society, Morton Fried points out that extreme social stratification is inherently unstable; thus, in any large hierarchical society, an organization with a monopoly on “warfare and killing” is required.69

The state has attempted to effect a reconciliation between different classes by arrogating to itself a monopoly on “legitimate” violence. Yet violence alone is not sufficient. Ideologically, the “religion” of the state is nationalism. In lieu of class analysis, nationalism is successful because it appeals to primal human desires for solidarity and belonging, as well as fear of the unknown (“outsiders”). Fear of outsiders is deliberately cultivated by rulers in order to mystify the real cause of the people’s discontent (namely rulers themselves), especially during times of economic/environmental crisis. Ultimately, the state has come to function as a sort of artificial surrogate for real community.

The textbook A Short History of War, provided to students at the US Army War College, is surprisingly candid about the state’s role as surrogate not only for community but spirituality and even “God”:

The aggregation of large numbers of people into complex societies required that those living within them refocus their allegiances away from the extended family, clan, and tribe, and toward a larger social entity, the state. This psychological change was facilitated by the rise of religious castes that gave meaning to the individual’s life beyond a parochial context. Organized belief systems were integrated into the social order and given institutional expression through public rituals that linked religious worship to political and military objectives that were national in scope and definition. Thus, the Egyptian pharaoh became divine, and military achievements of great leaders were perceived as divinely ordained or inspired.70

The role of state as surrogate helps to explain why the popularity of state leaders tends to rise – often dramatically – during times of war. George W. Bush began his presidential term with an approval rating of 50%; following 9/11, that number skyrocketed to 92% (the highest number ever recorded for an American president since modern polling began).71 The “rally around the chief” effect is no secret, and has been satirized in several Hollywood films such as Canadian Bacon and Wag the Dog.

Though egalitarianism alone is not sufficient to bring about peace (sedentary tribal societies often engaged in war, albeit on a far lesser scale than state societies), it is a necessary precondition for the simple reason that the perceived interests of rulers are often radically different – and even diametrically opposed – to those of their subjects. Nowhere is this more apparent than during times of violent conflict. Leaders are celebrated and aggrandized even as their subjects are oppressed and slaughtered. Indeed, Anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson has gone so far as to suggest that hierarchy may be the the most fundamental cause of war.

…My view is that in most cases — not every single one — the decision to wage war involves the pursuit of practical self-interest by those who actually make the decision. The struggle can be joined over basic subsistence resources, but it can just as easily erupt over goods available only to elites.
…Not only do these leaders experience vastly different costs, benefits and powers in war, leaders may literally require successful war to establish and maintain rule.72

In Ferguson’s view, the problem is not limited to competition over resources but the manner in which such competition – or lack thereof – is expressed.

Since a world government would constitute the apotheosis of hierarchical organization, such an entity could not possibly put an end to war (which is, after all, simply organized killing by one group of humans against another). If a world state came into existence, propaganda models could simply be reconfigured to reflect the new cultural dynamic: internal enemies would replace external enemies, creating something akin to civil war on a global scale.

The Austrian philosopher Leopold Kohr, who was especially concerned with the problem of size in human social structures, found the prospect of world government positively chilling:

The process of unification, far from reducing the dangers of war, seems the very thing that increases them. For, the larger a power becomes, the more is it in a position to build up its strength to the point where it becomes spontaneously explosive. But not only does unification breed wars by creating war potentials; it needs war in the very process of its establishment. As states did not come into existence by natural development but by conquest, so they cannot maintain themselves except by conquest – the constant reconquest of their own citizens through a flow of patriotic propaganda setting in at the cradle and ending only at the grave.73

Kohr rejected the idea of artificial unity in favour of harmony, which he regarded as the natural order of the universe. The unity of a world government would need to be imposed, if for no other reason than consensus between different regions would be impossible (imagine, for a moment, attempting to create a system of law incorporating the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri rainforest; the people of Waco, Texas; the Inuit; and the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan). The result would not be the end of war but the constant reconquest of the global citizenry.

Conceivably, as technology advances, a logical solution for the ruling class to the “problem” of cultural differentiation, “surplus population” and rebellion may be the deliberate culling of the human race. This seems to have been one of the great fears of the brilliant yet homicidal primitivist Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber), who wrote:

Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses and because human work will no longer be necessary, the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system; if the elite is ruthless, they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity.74

There is no question that our elite is “ruthless” (over a thousand children die every day due to easily treatable diseases) so we can put aside moral conundrums. Interestingly, the quotation of Kaczynski has been cited by leading trans-humanists such as Ray Kurzweil, who currently works as Google’s Director of Engineering. Bill Joy of Wired magazine also cites the quote in his article “Why the Future doesn’t need us,” sub headed, “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nano tech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species”.74

The Path to Peace: Correcting the Power Imbalance

Now that we have examined what won’t work, we can start imagining real alternatives to the present system of state competition.

As we have seen, the greatest fear of world leaders in anarchy.

Though the term is falsely equated with violent chaos, Anarchy is defined by Noam Chomsky as “the closest you can get to pure democracy.”14 Chomsky also interprets anarchism as a “set of principles” rather than an a pure ideology. The word itself derives from the Greek Anarkos meaning “without rulers.” Rather than electing a politician who makes decisions for you, anarchists believe that decision-making capacities should lie with the people affected by those decisions.

It is often said that if politicians had to fight in wars, there would be no more war. By the same measure, if the CEO of a company polluting a water source was forced to drink that water daily, he or she would presumably be much less likely to dismiss concerns about water pollution. A key issue is accountability. Under our present system, our “leaders” have none. Indeed, we have managed to create a system whereby we begrudgingly elect the most depraved, venal individuals in society to rule over us.

In 2012, The Atlantic published an article entitled, “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as Psychopaths.” Noting that “Psychopathy is a psychological condition based on well-established diagnostic criteria, which include lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, cunning and manipulative behaviour, and refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others,” the article goes on to state that psychopaths may in fact be “particularly well suited” for careers in politics.75

Debates continue over whether what we call psychopathy is bio-genetic or culturally programmed (or some combination of the two), but there can be no disputing the fact that when it comes to the well-being of the majority, our “leaders” are at best disinterested and very often downright malevolent. This is well understood, even in the United States. Polls demonstrate that the Congress – which is imagined by orthodox political scientists to be a “check” on power – has an approval rating roughly on par with cockroaches.76

Instead of centralized power and competition, anarchists advocate decentralization and cooperation. Decentralized communities can be federated horizontally, thus ensuring stability through a low center of gravity rather than the precarious, ever-shifting power configurations of top-down rule. Anarchism does not demand a “one size fits all” model, and therefore embraces the organic rather than the mechanical.

Above all, anarchism demands equality; human beings should not be permitted to dominate their fellows.

In The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society, Sam Dolgoff writes:

Federation is the coordination through free agreement – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. A vast coordinated network of voluntary alliances embracing the totality of social life, in which all the groups and associations reap the benefits of unity while still exercising autonomy within their own spheres and expanding the range of their freedom.77

Paradoxically, for some “small a” anarchists, the state itself may be a tool. It can be used to protect the public against private power, create more equitable social conditions, and help facilitate horizontal power through participatory democracy. Some Latin American anarchists have described this process as “expanding the floor of the cage.”78

Other anarchists want little or nothing to do with the state, and believe in acting outside of official political channels. This is the traditional tendency amongst anarchists, and requires no explication.

The concepts of anarcho-pluralism and Pan-Secessionism seek “radical localism” and “the simple territorial withdrawal withdrawal of regions and localities and renunciation of the central state by secessionists.”79

Though anarcho-X-adjective strategies differ significantly, in common with all anarchists is a desire to prevent social dominance hierarchies whereby a privileged class is permitted to oppress the majority. Viewed globally, such oppression takes on the form of genocide and war.

The first step in solving a problem is to admit that there is a problem. For the majority, the state and its armies are viewed as a necessary evil. They are imagined to be required, at minimum, to defend populations from aggression by other states. This seemingly rational belief has produced the irrational consequence of possible near term extinction. Once we begin – as a global community – to conceive of states, as well as capitalism, as unnecessary and indeed harmful constructs, we can start to build alternatives from the bottom up. A pessimist view would regard such radical change as unlikely absent a massive global awakening. Yet such an awakening is not far-fetched, if for no other reason than current socio-economic models are unsustainable. Even a fatalist interpretation offers hope – that if humanity survives the coming calamities, our descendants may not automatically repeat the mistakes of our hierarchical, violent age. Anarchism will return us to our basic survival mechanisms as a species – cooperation, equality and peace.

  1. Mark Townsend and Paul Harris, “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us” The Observer (22 February 2004). []
  2. George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1998): 12. []
  3. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513): Chapter 15. [] []
  4. John Bew, “The Real Origins of Realpolitik.” []
  5. Mikhail Bakunin, “The Immorality of the State.” [] [] []
  6. Gregory G. Brunk, Donald Secrest, Ioward Tamashiro, Understanding Attitudes about War (University of Pittsburg Press, 1996): 37. []
  7. Nicholas Hagger, The World Government (John Hunt Publishing, 2010): 30. []
  8. Brad MacDonald, “President Obama and the Phone Call that Endangered America” The Trumpet (17 October 2013). []
  9. Paul Lashmar, “Stranger than ‘Strangelove’: A General’s Forays into the Nuclear Zone,” Washington Post (3 July 1994): C9. [] []
  10. Louis Menand, “Fat Man: Herman Kahn and the Nuclear Age” The New Yorker (27 June 2005). []
  11. Marion Lloyd, “Soviets Close to Using A-Bomb in 1962 Crisis, Forum is Told” Boston Globe (Retrieved 7 August 2012): A20. []
  12. Burrell’s Information Service, “War Games,” Dateline NBC (November 12, 2000). []
  13. Alan F. Philips, “20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War.” []
  14. The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012). [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  15. J. Peter Scoblic, “Robert McNamara’s Logical Legacy.” []
  16. Bo Filter, “Slaying Goliath: Give David a Stone.” []
  17. Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour (Harvard University Press, 2009): 5. []
  18. Boehm, 68. []
  19. Boehm, 50. []
  20. Boehm, 74. []
  21. Boehm, 98. []
  22. Noam Chomsky, “Consent Without Consent.” []
  23. Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (Cornell University Press, 1981): 506. []
  24. Leopold Kohr, “The Power Theory of Aggression,” Panarchy. []
  25. Claire Shipman, “Gorbachev: ‘Americans Have a Severe Disease’,” ABC News (21 July 2006). []
  26. “Excerpts from Pentagon’s Plan: ‘Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival’,” New York Times (8 March 1992). []
  27. Mike Whitney, “Showdown in Ukraine.” []
  28. “BRIC wants more influence,” Euronews (21 June 2009). []
  29. Greg Miller, “CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels,” Washington Post, (2 October 2013). []
  30. “Hamas will not come to Iran’s aid in a case of war with Israel: official,” Al Arabiya (13 April 2014). []
  31. Jonathan Cook, “‘Mad dog’ diplomacy: A cornered Israel is baring its teeth.” []
  32. Felicity Arbuthnot, “Attack Iran? Nuclear Insanity,” Dissident Voice. []
  33. Norman G. Finkelstein, “Israel is Now a Lunatic State.” []
  34. Patrick Buchanan, “Marching as to War.” []
  35. NATO takes measures to reinforce collective defence, agrees on support for Ukraine.” []
  36. Michael Parenti, “The Rational Destruction of Yugoslavia.” []
  37. “Singer James Blunt ‘prevented World War III’,” BBC (14 November 2010). []
  38. “Singer James Blunt ‘prevented World War III’” BBC (14 November 2010). []
  39. Robert Dodge, “Budgets as Moral Documents.” []
  40. Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion.” [] []
  41. Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Interventions in Central America (South End Press, 1985): 48. []
  42. Sarah-Jane Corke, “George Kennan and the Inauguration of Political Warfare.” []
  43. See Bill Moyers, “The Secret Government.” []
  44. American Intelligence Analysts Have a Patriotic Duty to Speak out and Transcend the Cult of Secrecy: An Interview with Ray McGovern,” Dissident Voice. []
  45. Peter Berger, “Towards a Sociological Understanding of Psychoanalysis,” Social Research, 32 (Spring 1965): 32. []
  46. Jim Lobe, “Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.” [] []
  47. Mickey Edwards, Reclaiming Conservatism (Oxford University Press, 2008): 141. []
  48. Ira Chernus, “Ukraine plus Flight 370 = Bad news for Neocons.” []
  49. Chris Erenesto, “The Eurasian Chessboard: Brzezinski Mapped Out ‘The Battle for Ukraine’ in 1997.” []
  50. Israel Shahak, “Greater Israel: The Zionist Plan for the Middle East.” []
  51. David K. Shipler, “Robert McNamara and the Ghosts of Vietnam,” New York Times Magazine (10 August 1997). []
  52. Eric Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil: 37. [] []
  53. Gracy Trosclair, “War’s Attraction: Love or Fascination?.” [] []
  54. Howard Zinn, Howard Zinn on War (Seven Stories Press, 2001): 194. []
  55. Robert G.L. Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler (Da Cap Press, 1993): 241. []
  56. Eric Holthaus, “‘Climate Change War’ Is Not a Metaphor,” Slate. [] [] []
  57. Richard Wilkinson, “In Defence of Equality.” []
  58. Tanya Gold, “How Materialism Makes us Sad.” []
  59. John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World (Verso, 2002): 114. []
  60. David Graeber, “The New Anarchists,” New Left Review (January-February 2002). []
  61. Benjamin Fulford Interview with David Rockefeller. []
  62. Randolph Bourne, “War is the Health of the State” (1918). []
  63. George Orwell, 1984 (1949): 127. []
  64. James C. Scott, “Crops, Towns, Government.” []
  65. See Brian Ferguson, “Pinker’s List.” []
  66. Comments on Pinker’s History of Violence.” []
  67. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Reality Denial: Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence,” Dissident Voice. []
  68. Douglas P. Fry, “Peace in Our Time.” []
  69. Keith F. Otterbein, How War Began (Texas A&M University Press, 2004): 100. []
  70. Richard A. Gabriel and Karen S. Metz, A Short History of War (Professional Readings in Military Strategy, No. 5, 1992): Chapter 1. []
  71. Behind the Numbers: Approval Highs and Lows,” Washington Post. []
  72. R. Brian Ferguson, “The Birth of War.” []
  73. Leopold Kohr, “The Power Theory of Aggression.” []
  74. Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Wired. [] []
  75. James Silver, “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as Psychopaths” The Atlantic (31 July 2012). []
  76. Congress somewhere below cockroaches, traffic jams, and Nickelback in Americans’ esteem,” Public Policy Polling, 2013. []
  77. Sam Dolgoff, The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society (AK Press, 1 Jan 1989). []
  78. “Expanding the floor of the cage: Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamiam,” Z Magazine (April 1997). []
  79. Keith Preston, “Anarcho-Pluralism and Pan-Secessionism: What they are and what they are not.” []

 

 

 

Save The World, Work Less

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?…. This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically….But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea…It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets….Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes….What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs….Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.” -Steven T. Jones

“While the assertion is nice, the fact is at this point, working less will not save the world. The deed is done. We’re fucked. But, at some point we have to seriously consider where this ethos of “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”, “More, More, More”, “GO GO GO”, “i’ll sleep when i’m dead” has gotten us. Mortally obese, neurosis-driven, overmedicated, hyperviolent, hyperaggressive, hypersexual, hyperconsumptive, fear filled, disconnected from our life-sustaining ecology…. This is not sustainable. Consider getting off the ever accelerating hamster wheel. There is nothing to be gained from working yourself to death but a dead planet and by extension, you. The trickle down economy of greed and growth can no longer animate our “civilization”.  “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” -Karl Marx. “Productivity” does not equal “Progress”. Your individual gains spell our collective annihilation. ” -OSJ

By Steven T. Jones @ SF Bay Guardian:

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs.

Save the world, work less. That dual proposition should have universal appeal in any sane society. And those two ideas are inextricably linked by the realities of global climate change because there is a direct connection between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Simply put, every hour of work we do cooks the planet and its sensitive ecosystems a little bit more, and going home to relax and enjoy some leisure time is like taking this boiling pot of water off the burner.

Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?

This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically.

But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea.

Last year, there was a brief burst of national media coverage around this “save the world, work less” idea, triggered by a report by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change.”

“As productivity grows in high-income, as well as developing countries, social choices will be made as to how much of the productivity gains will be taken in the form of higher consumption levels versus fewer work hours,” author David Rosnick wrote in the introduction.

He notes that per capita work hours were reduced by 50 percent in recent decades in Europe compared to US workers who spend as much time as ever on the job, despite being a world leader in developing technologies that make us more productive. Working more means consuming more, on and off the job.

“This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change,” the report said before going on to study various climate change and economic growth models.

It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets.

Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes. The Rosnick report contemplates only a slight reduction in working hours, gradually shaving a few hours off the week and offering a little more vacation time.

“The paper estimates the impact on climate change of reducing work hours over the rest of the century by an annual average of 0.5 percent. It finds that such a change in work hours would eliminate about one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in (i.e. warming that would be caused by 1990 levels of greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere),” the report concludes.

What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs.

Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.

Perhaps this forgotten goal is one worth remembering at this critical moment in our economic and environmental development.

HISTORY LESSON

Author and historian Chris Carlsson has been beating the “work less” drum in San Francisco since Jimmy Carter was president, when he and his fellow anti-capitalist activists decried the dawning of an age of aggressive business deregulation that continues to this day.

They responded with creative political theater and protests on the streets of the Financial District, and with the founding of a magazine called Processed World, highlighting how new information technologies were making corporations more powerful than ever without improving the lives of workers.

“What do we actually do all day and why? That’s the most basic question that you’d think we’d be talking about all the time,” Carlsson told us. “We live in an incredibly powerful and overarching propaganda society that tells you to get your joy from work.”

But Carlsson isn’t buying it, noting that huge swaths of the economy are based on exploiting people or the planet, or just creating unproductive economic churn that wastes energy for its own sake. After all, the Gross Domestic Product measures everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“The logic of growth that underlies this society is fundamentally flawed,” Carlsson said. “It’s the logic of the cancer cell — it makes no sense.”

What makes more sense is to be smart about how we’re using our energy, to create an economy that economizes instead of just consuming everything in its path. He said that we should ask, “What work do we need to do and to what end?”

We used to ask such questions in this country. There was a time when working less was the goal of our technological development.

“Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of worktime was one of the nation’s most pressing issues,” professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. “Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten.”

Work hours were steadily reduced as these debates raged, and it was widely assumed that even greater reductions in work hours was all but inevitable. “By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of 38,” Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

“People tend to think the way things are is the way it’s always been,” Carlsson said. “Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn’t happen.”

Writer David Spencer took on the topic in a widely shared essay published in The Guardian UK in February entitled “Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life: Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn’t make sense.”

He cites practical benefits of working less, from reducing unemployment to increasing the productivity and happiness of workers, and cites a long and varied philosophical history supporting this forgotten goal, including opposing economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.

Keynes called less work the “ultimate solution” to unemployment and he “also saw merit in using productivity gains to reduce work time and famously looked forward to a time (around 2030) when people would be required to work 15 hours a week. Working less was part of Keynes’s vision of a ‘good society,'” Spencer wrote.

“Marx importantly thought that under communism work in the ‘realm of necessity’ could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. Whatever irksome work remained in realm of necessity could be lessened by the harnessing of technology,” Spencer wrote.

He also cited Bertrand Russell’s acclaimed 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” in which the famed mathematician reasoned that working a four-hour day would cure many societal ills. “I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached,” Russell wrote.

Spencer concluded his article by writing, “Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realize their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more.”

JOBS VS. WORK

Schor’s research has shown how long working hours — and the uneven distribution of those hours among workers — has hampered our economy, hurt our environment, and undermined human happiness.

“We have an increasingly poorly functioning economy and a catastrophic environmental situation,” Schor told us in a phone interview from her office at Boston College, explaining how the increasingly dire climate change scenarios add urgency to talking about how we’re working.

Schor has studied the problem with other researchers, with some of her work forming the basis for Rosnick’s work, including the 2012 paper Schor authored with University of Alabama Professor Kyle Knight entitled “Could working less reduce pressures on the environment?” The short answer is yes.

“As humanity’s overshoot of environmental limits become increasingly manifest and its consequences become clearer, more attention is being paid to the idea of supplanting the pervasive growth paradigm of contemporary societies,” the report says.

The United States seems to be a case study for what’s wrong.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that countries with high annual work hours have much higher carbon emissions and carbon footprints,” Schor told us, noting that the latter category also takes into account the impacts of the products and services we use. And it isn’t just the energy we expend at work, but how we live our stressed-out personal lives.

“If households have less time due to hours of work, they do things in a more carbon-intensive way,” Schor said, with her research finding those who work long hours often tend to drive cars by themselves more often (after all, carpooling or public transportation take time and planning) and eat more processed foods.

Other countries have found ways of breaking this vicious cycle. A generation ago, Schor said, the Netherlands began a policy of converting many government jobs to 80 percent hours, giving employees an extra day off each week, and encouraging many private sector employers to do the same. The result was happier employees and a stronger economy.

“The Netherlands had tremendous success with their program and they’ve ended up with the highest labor productivity in Europe, and one of the happiest populations,” Schor told us. “Working hours is a triple dividend policy change.”

By that she means that reducing per capita work hours simultaneously lowers the unemployment rate by making more jobs available, helps address global warming and other environmental challenges, and allows people to lead happier lives, with more time for family, leisure, and activities of their choosing.

Ironically, a big reason why it’s been so difficult for the climate change movement to gain traction is that we’re all spending too much time and energy on making a living to have the bandwidth needed to sustain a serious and sustained political uprising.

When I presented this article’s thesis to Bill McKibben, the author and activist whose 350.org movement is desperately trying to prevent carbon concentrations in the atmosphere from passing critical levels, he said, “If people figure out ways to work less at their jobs, I hope they’ll spend some of their time on our too-often neglected work as citizens. In particular, we need a hell of a lot of people willing to devote some time to breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry.”

world

That’s the vicious circle we now find ourselves in. There is so much work to do in addressing huge challenges such as global warming and transitioning to more sustainable economic and energy systems, but we’re working harder than ever just to meet our basic needs — usually in ways that exacerbate these challenges.

“I don’t have time for a job, I have too much work to do,” is the dilemma facing Carlsson and others who seek to devote themselves to making the world a better place for all living things.

To get our heads around the problem, we need to overcome the mistaken belief that all jobs and economic activity are good, a core tenet of Mayor Ed Lee’s economic development policies and his relentless “jobs agenda” boosterism and business tax cuts. Not only has the approach triggered the gentrification and displacement that have roiled the city’s political landscape in the last year, but it relies on a faulty and overly simplistic assumption: All jobs are good for society, regardless of their pay or impact on people and the planet.

Lee’s mantra is just the latest riff on the fabled Protestant work ethic, which US conservatives and neoliberals since the Reagan Era have used to dismantle the US welfare system, pushing the idea that it’s better for a single mother to flip our hamburgers or scrub our floors than to get the assistance she needs to stay home and take care of her own home and children.

“There is a belief that work is the best form of welfare and that those who are able to work ought to work. This particular focus on work has come at the expense of another, far more radical policy goal, that of creating ‘less work,'” Spencer wrote in his Guardian essay. “Yet…the pursuit of less work could provide a better standard of life, including a better quality of work life.”

And it may also help save us from environmental catastrophe.

GLOBAL TIPPING POINT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top research body on the issue recognized by the United Nations, recently released its fifth report summarizing and analyzing the science and policies around climate change, striking a more urgent tone than in previous reports.

On April 13 at a climate conference in Berlin, the panel released a new report noting that greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than ever and urgent action is needed in the next decade to avert a serious crisis.

“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report, told The New York Times. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

After the panel released an earlier section of the report on March 31, it wrote in a public statement: “The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises.”

The known impacts will be displaced populations in poor countries inundated by rising seas, significant changes to life-supporting ecosystems (such as less precipitation in California and other regions, creating possible fresh water shortages), food shortages from loss of agricultural land, and more extreme weather events.

What we don’t yet know, these “surprises,” could be even scarier because this is such uncharted territory. Never before have human activities had such an impact on the natural world and its delicate balances, such as in how energy circulates through the world’s oceans and what it means to disrupt half of the planet’s surface area.

Researchers have warned that we could be approaching a “global tipping point,” in which the impact of climate change affects other systems in the natural world and threatens to spiral out of control toward another mass extinction. And a new report funded partially by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Goodard Space Center combines the environmental data with growing inequities in the distribution of wealth to warn that modern society as we know it could collapse.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” the report warned.

It cites two critical features that have triggered most major societal collapses in past, both of which are increasingly pervasive problems today: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’),” which makes it more difficult to deal with problems that arise.

Both of these problems would be addressed by doing less overall work, and distributing the work and the rewards for that work more evenly.

SYSTEMIC PROBLEM

Carol Zabin — research director for the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, who has studied the relation between jobs and climate change — has some doubts about the strategy of addressing global warming by reducing economic output and working less.

“Economic activity which uses energy is not immediately correlated with work hours,” she told us, noting that some labor-saving industrial processes use more energy than human-powered alternatives. And she also said that, “some leisure activities could be consumptive activities that are just as bad or worse than work.”

She does concede that there is a direct connection between energy use and climate change, and that most economic activity uses energy. Zabin also said there was a clear and measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the Great Recession that began with the 2008 economic crash, when economic growth stalled and unemployment was high.

“When we’re in recessions and output and consumption slow, we see a reduction in impact on the climate,” Zabin said, although she added, “They’re correlated, but they’re not causal.”

Other studies have made direct connections between work and energy use, at least when averaged out across the population, studies that Rosnick cited in his study. “Recent work estimated that a 1 percent increase in annual hours per employee is associated with a 1.5 percent increase in carbon footprint,” it said, citing the 2012 Knight study.

Zabin’s main stumbling block was a political one, rooted in the assumption that American-style capitalism, based on conspicuous consumption, would continue more or less as is. “Politically, reducing economic growth is really, really unviable,” she told us, noting how that would hurt the working class.

But again, doesn’t that just assume that the pain of an economic slowdown couldn’t be more broadly shared, with the rich absorbing more of the impact than they have so far? Can’t we move to an economic system that is more sustainable and more equitable?

“It seems a little utopian when we have a problem we need to address by reducing energy use,” Zabin said before finally taking that next logical step: “If we had socialism and central planning, we could shut the whole thing down a notch.”

Instead, we have capitalism, and she said, “we have a climate problem that is probably not going to be solved anyway.”

So we have capitalism and unchecked global warming, or we can have a more sustainable system and socialism. Hmm, which one should we pick? European leaders have already started opting for the latter option, slowing down their economic output, reducing work hours, and substantially lowering the continent’s carbon footprint.

That brings us back to the basic question set forth in the Rosnick study: As productivity increases, should those gains go to increase the wages of workers or to reduce their hours? From the perspective of global warming, the answer is clearly the latter. But that question is complicated in US these days by the bosses, investors, and corporations keeping the productivity gains for themselves.

“It is worth noting that the pursuit of reduced work hours as a policy alternative would be much more difficult in an economy where inequality is high and/or growing. In the United States, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973-2007 went to the top 1 percent of households. In that type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less. The analysis of this paper assumes that the gains from productivity growth will be more broadly shared in the future, as they have been in the past,” the study concludes.

So it appears we have some work to do, and that starts with making a connection between Earth Day and May Day.

EARTH DAY TO MAY DAY

The Global Climate Convergence (www.globalclimateconvergence.org [2]) grew out of a Jan. 18 conference in Chicago that brought together a variety of progressive, environmental, and social justice groups to work together on combating climate change. They’re planning “10 days to change course,” a burst of political organizing and activism between Earth Day and May Day, highlighting the connection between empowering workers and saving the planet.

“It provides coordinated action and collaboration across fronts of struggle and national borders to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements. These grassroots justice movements are sweeping the globe, rising up against the global assault on our shared economy, ecology, peace and democracy. The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to unravel civilization as soon as 2050, intensifies all of these struggles and creates new urgency for collaboration and unified action. Earth Day to May Day 2014 (April 22 — May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions,” the group announced.

San Mateo resident Ragina Johnson, who is coordinating events in the Bay Area, told us May Day, the international workers’ rights holiday, grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour workday in the United States, so it’s appropriate to use the occasion to call for society to slow down and balance the demands of capital with the needs of the people and the planet.

“What we’re seeing now is an enormous opportunity to link up these movements,” she told us. “It has really put us on the forefront of building a new progressive left in this country that takes on these issues.”

In San Francisco, she said the tech industry is a ripe target for activism.

“Technology has many employees working 60 hours a week, and what is the technology going to? It’s going to bottom line profits instead of reducing people’s work hours,” she said.

That’s something the researchers have found as well.

“Right now, the problem is workers aren’t getting any of those productivity gains, it’s all going to capital,” Schor told us. “People don’t see the connection between the maldistribution of hours and high unemployment.”

She said the solution should involve “policies that make it easier to work shorter hours and still meet people’s basic needs, and health insurance reform is one of those.”

Yet even the suggestion that reducing work hours might be a worthy societal goal makes the head of conservatives explode. When the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about how “working a bit less” could help many people qualify for healthcare subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (“Lower 2014 income can net huge health care subsidy,” 10/12/13), the right-wing blogosphere went nuts decrying what one site called the “toxic essence of the welfare state.”

Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders parroted the criticism in her Feb. 7 column. “The CBO had determined that ‘workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.’ To many Democrats, apparently, that’s all good,” she wrote of Congressional Budget Office predictions that Obamacare could help reduce hours worked.

Not too many Democratic politicians have embraced the idea of working less, but maybe they should if we’re really going to attack climate change and other environmental challenges. Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let’s talk about slowing things down.

“There’s a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do,” Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn’t dictate the work we do. “Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things.”

And what about those who would choose idleness and sloth? So what? At this point, Mother Earth would happily trade her legions of crazed workaholics for a healthy population of slackers, those content to work and consume less.

Maybe someday we’ll even look back and wonder why we ever considered greed and overwork to be virtues, rather than valuing a more healthy balance between our jobs and our personal lives, our bosses and our families, ourselves and the natural world that sustains us.

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs

NASA Study: Continued Resource Overconsumption & Extreme Inequality Could Lead To Collapse Of Industrial Civilization Within Decades

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm

https://i0.wp.com/fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2011/268/d/7/global_warming_by_dc1983-d4ax1f2.jpgOldspeak: “Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common…It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation: “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”….the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”Dr Nafeez Ahmed , Executive Director, Institute for Policy Research & Development.

“At this point it’s just physics.  There is nothing controversial about this. There is a finite amount of the  “natural capital” needed to sustain the current iteration of industrial civilization on the earth. industrial civilization is currently extracting that capital at a rate that would require 1.5 to 2 earths to sustain. At some point earth’s biocapacity will be reached and  Population will no longer be supported. Runaway climate change will devastate already fragile water, agricultural and energy systems and displace billions of people. Water and food production will  grind to a halt as temperatures rise & we relentlessly poison and contaminate the water and land we need to grow our food. Every other empire prior to this one has collapsed when they experienced conditions that exist today. We can’t act like we don’t know what coming for much longer. Our Mother won’t allow it. We’re done whether we want to acknowledge it or not.” -OSJ

By Dr Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

 

Humanity in Flux: Would a Species that Recognizes Its Own Worth Be Actively Destroying Itself

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Oldspeak: ” The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise… The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other…. Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist… In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness.[6] There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. -Kali Ma

Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.” ―Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Behold! The bitter and poisonous fruits of globalized capitalist patriarchy! Competition, aggression, dehumanization, injustice, inequality, violence, avarice, objectification, domination, exploitation, fear, exclusion… The systems around which we’ve organized our civilization are an incalculable failure. Our silence will not help us. We need to dismantle the repetitive crisis generating disimagination machine and find a more humane way to face our demise.” -OSJ

By Kali Ma @ The Hampton Institute:

It is common sense that what we value, we wish to take care of, preserve, and treat with respect. Often times, this care is expressed towards material objects such as cars, jewelry, and luxury items; or more abstractly, towards traditions such as religious holidays or family and cultural customs. But what is the value we assign to the life of a human being?

When we take a look at how we treat each other as people, it is safe to say that we do not seem to value human beings very much. In a system based on materialism and the pursuit of “success,” money and power have come to define a human being’s value. Consequently, nothing has inherent worth – everything is just a means to obtaining a desired end and satisfying our seemingly obsessive need for recognition and power. In the pursuit of these goals, the environment is being destroyed with a fanatical vigor one expects of an adolescent consciousness whose shortsighted impulse for instant gratification leaves it dangerously indifferent to the consequences of its actions; at the same time, countless human lives are sacrificed in wars over resources while financial tyranny waged against the working class in the form of austerity is plunging millions of people into poverty across the globe. Nothing is off limits in corporate capitalism’s suicidal quest for profits. But, when everything has a price, nothing has inherent value.

One of the most important and sacred ­­­processes any human being undergoes is the development of his or her own personhood. It is the highly personal choice of who we wish to be in the world and how we wish to express our own individuality and uniqueness as part of the human community. Central to this development of the Self is education. But instead of serving as a building block for individual and collective development, education today is merely a means for getting a “good job” and “moving up” in the world. It has no intrinsic value: the joy and curiosity that accompany learning and discovery about ourselves and the world have been completely commodified and turned into what Dr. Cornel West often refers to as “cheap schooling.” [1] In this “cheap schooling,” the curricula is defined by what is profitable in the “marketplace,” not what is valuable for individual growth and humanity as a whole. Social studies, the humanities, arts, and anything that presents an alternative to the sterile and lifeless corporate culture that has permeated all corners of our existence is degraded, ridiculed, and deemed unworthy by the “marketplace,” which only seeks to employ mindless, obedient drones who will do as they are told.

Critical thinking and a person’s unique perspective are highly undesirable in a system of hierarchical ownership and top-down management of resources and institutions. The right to cultivate our personhood is sacrificed at the altar of corporate capitalism, which provides us with a cheap substitute for individuality and self-expression through a false sense of belonging, empty personal achievements far below our true potential, and, of course, the formation of a “unique” crowd identity through fashionable consumer products manufactured by wage slaves in foreign countries whose working conditions regularly cause mass deaths and drive others to suicide.[2] As a result, the system effectively robs humanity of citizens whose genuine development of individuality, identity, and a true sense of Self would result in a more conscious society that values life, diversity of expression, and that views each living being as an invaluable part of the whole.

But how can we expect people to appreciate anything for its innate value when most of us do not even recognize the inherent worth of a human being? We discriminate against one another because we deem others unacceptable and, thus, not worthy enough of our respect; we kill and maim other humans on mass scales through wars and conflicts in the name of profit, all the while masked as heroic undertakings for “worthy” causes in “defense” of one’s “superior” tribe; on a more social level, we assign worth and value to human beings based on their socio-economic status and whether they are “productive” members of society. This is why “failure” can be so devastating to a person’s mental well-being and self-image: because our worth, value, and sense of purpose are defined by external achievements which, if removed, decimate our sense of self-worth and make us invisible casualties of corporate capitalism’s disposable culture. What these few examples show us is that just being a human is not enough. One has to do something or be a particular way in order to be considered valuable or worthy. This mentality – the belief in the inherent worthlessness of a human being – lies at the core of the hatred and condemnation we direct towards one another. The message is clear: unless you meet society’s standards of what it means to be “valuable,” you are worthless.

The owners of the system – the corporate oligarchs – have, through mass propaganda and cultural conditioning over time, taught us that worth is about how much money a person has, the type of job they hold, the amount of property they own, and how “successful” they are (i.e. how well they reflect the values of the dominant culture).[3] In this type of society, materialism and the trivial become our Gods to which we pledge allegiance in an economy that constantly profits from our desperation to be accepted and seen as worthy. The meaning of life is reduced to achieving “success” and recognition while the deep-seated desires of one’s soul for truth and connection are willfully sacrificed for superficial achievements whose promises of “happiness” and “worth” never seem to materialize. In the end, life itself becomes meaningless.

When money, recognition, and materialism determine a human’s worth, only the few are seen as valuable. As Chris Hedges explains in“Let’s Get This Class War Started,” [4] the rest of us are deemed worthless, “disposable human beings” in service of corporate oligarchs who view the lower classes as “uncouth parasites, annoyances that have to be endured, at times placated and always controlled in the quest to amass more power and money.”

Our oligarchic rulers have successfully convinced us that their values are ours – most of us seem to believe that humans are inherently worthless and only serve as means to achieving one’s personal objectives. In this kind of culture, everything and everyone – including friends and family – become disposable commodities to be used, exploited, and worn out for self-interest and shortsighted ego-desires. Unsurprisingly, in such a society, friendship is a foreign concept and practiced in superficial settings and contrived “meet ups” that mask an inner sense of isolation and loneliness, a natural by-product of an egocentric culture. We are disconnected from one another because we do not value anything for its essence – the inherent worth of cooperation, friendship, and genuine togetherness is considered a bore and a waste of time. There always seems to be some ulterior interest inherent in our relationships that satisfies our fleeting appetite for company – rarely do people get together out of a genuine desire to connect and honestly share themselves with each other.

Our devaluation of people and life itself is simply a reflection of our own personal, deep-seated sense of worthlessness as human beings. It is what psychiatrist Carl Jung referred to as projection – the act of prescribing one’s unconscious inner quality onto an object that lies outside of oneself – which “change[s] the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”[5] What we are reflecting on the outside is a belief that we are nothing more than worthless biological creatures here to consume, amass, hoard, and “succeed” (read: dominate) over those around us and for much of humanity, a vile creation whose sole purpose is to repent and make up for its existence to a wrathful, authoritarian God-figure. No wonder we have no respect for life and each other.

The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise.

The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other.

Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist.

In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness.[6] There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. We can only do so once we recognize our own inherent worth and decide to act on our potential as unique creations of an ever-evolving consciousness whose existence is worth saving. Viewed from this perspective, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Will we heed the call?

Notes

[1] “Cheap schooling” is different from “deep education,” which Dr. West refers to as the “formation of attention” . . . the “shift from the superficial to the substantial, from the frivolous to the serious, from the ‘bling bling, to wrestling with life, death, sorrow, sadness, [and] joy[.]” Dr. Cornel West, Speech at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Transcript, last accessed December 3, 2013,http://www.hws.edu/about/presidentsforum/west_speech.aspx; see also Sonoma State Star, “Activist Cornel West meets students, gives lecture,” April 16, 2013, http://www.sonomastatestar.com/news/activist-cornel-west-meets-students-gives-lecture-1.3028957?pagereq=1 (reference to “cheap schooling”); Smiley and West, The Conversation: Julian Assange (Remastered), published August 2, 2013, https://soundcloud.com/smileyandwestshow/august-2-2013-julian-assange (reference to “cheap schooling”).

[2] Jason Burke, “Bangladeshi factory collapse leaves trail of shattered lives,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/bangladesh-factory-building-collapse-community ; Aditya Chakrabortty, “The woman who nearly died making your iPad,” The Guardian, August 5, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/woman-nearly-died-making-ipad

[3] Being “successful” in society’s eyes most often includes having a family, a “respectable” job or career, owning property, and generally living one’s life in accordance with cultural and social expectations.

[4] Chris Hedges, “Let’s Get This Class War Started,” TruthDig.com, October 20, 2013, https://www.truthdig.com/report/item/lets_get_this_class_war_started_20131020/

[5] C.G. Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self, Vol.9, Pt. II (Bollingen Series XX/Princeton University Press 1959) pp. 8-9

[6] For starters, ask yourself some basic questions: What does value and worth mean to me? What makes me valuable . . . the simple fact that I am human or is that not enough? Do I believe that human beings are inherently worthy or do I place conditions on the value of human life? Do I view nature as a means to an end, something to be conquered and dominated or do I see humanity as an intricate part of nature whose existence depends on the cooperation with the environment? Our thoughts about ourselves and our relationship to nature reveal a great deal about our current state of awareness. Because much of our existence rests upon unquestioning obedience to authority and cultural dogmas, we rarely ask ourselves these fundamental questions and thus remain largely unconscious of our participation in humanity’s self-destruction.

Scientists Warn ‘Mass Extinction’ In Seas May Be Underway

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Oldspeak: “Humankind faces an immediate and pressing choice between exerting ecological restraint and allowing global ecological catastrophe….as with terrestrial ecosystems, humankind has been expanding the natural capital of the ocean with little restraint…. although concealed beneath the waves, the evidence of wholesale degradation and destruction of the marine realm is clear, made manifest by the collapse of entire fisheries and the growth of deoxygenated dead zones, for example. The cumulative result of our actions is a serial decline in the ocean’s health and resilience; it is becoming demonstrably less able to survive the pressures exerted upon it, and this will become even more evident as the added pressures of climate change exacerbate the situation…The belief among scientists is that the window of opportunity to take action is narrow. There is little time left in which we can still act to prevent irreversible, catastrophic changes to marine ecosystems as we see them today…. Failure to do so will cause such large-scale changes to the ocean, and to the overall planetary system it supports, that we may soon find ourselves without the natural capital and ecosystem services necessary to maintain sustainable economies and societies as we know them, even in affluent countries…Without significant changes in the policies that influence human interactions with the marine environment, the current rate of ecosystem change and collapse will accelerate and direct consequences will be felt by all societies. Without decisive and effective action, no region or country will be immune from the socioeconomic upheaval and environmental catastrophe that will take place – possibly within the span of the current generation and certainly by the end of the century. It is likely to be a disaster that challenges human civilisation” –International Programme on the State of the Ocean Report (2013)

This is no small thing. The scientists note that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation—and said they fear that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already underway, the first in some 55 million years.” –Scott Martelle

“The Situation couldn’t be more clear. The “deadly trio”  that preceded all other mass extinctions are in full bloom across the globe There is a very narrow window for possibly averting global ecological catastrophe. Yet if you spend any time watching fossil fuel and bankster corporation financed infotainement outlets, the wholly manufactured crises of ” U.S. Government “Shutdown” (except for 90% of military personnel btw) and “debt ceiling debate” are the most dire threats to humanity. And still we ever more “drill baby drill” permanently destroying countless watersheds. Untold species of life going extinct. Less oxygen in the seas and air than pre-industrial times as we relentlessly cut down the ancient forests that clean our air for paper to blow our noses and wipe our asses. This is not sustainable. Seems like substantive change will not come until it’s far too late to matter” -OSJ

Related Story:

Life Or Death in the Open Seas

By Scott Martelle @ Truthdig:

Remember the articles about how the ocean was absorbing more carbon and heat, giving us a slight reprieve from the effects of global warming? Not so good for the ocean, it turns out. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean warn in a new report that the seas are changing much more rapidly than previously thought, and becoming increasingly inhospitable to life.

The ocean is shielding us from the worst effects of accelerating climate change by absorbing excess CO2 and heat from the atmosphere. The twin effects of this — acidification and ocean warming — are combining with increased levels of deoxygenation, caused by nutrient run-off from agriculture near the coast, and by climate change offshore, to produce what has become known as the ocean’s ‘deadly trio’ of threats whose impacts are potentially far greater because of the interaction of one on another. The scale and rate of this change is unprecedented in Earth’s known history and is exposing organisms to intolerable and unpredictable evolutionary pressure.

This is no small thing. The scientists note that each of the earth’s five known mass extinctions was preceded by at least one of the “deadly trio”—acidification, warming and deoxygenation—and said they fear that “the next mass extinction” of sea life is already underway, the first in some 55 million years. Given the role of the ocean in the worldwide ecosystem, from the plankton that absorb sun energy to the fish we eat—more about that in a moment—the rapid poisoning of the seas will have grave consequences for nearly all species. “These impacts will have cascading consequences for marine biology, including altered food web dynamics and the expansion of pathogens,” the report said.

Some of these conclusions were contained in a 2011 IPSO report, but the new one says the changes underway are occurring at a much faster and more intense rate than previously believed.

And then there’s the overfishing and poor fisheries management to add another stressor to the biological health of the seas:

Continued overfishing is serving to further undermine the resilience of ocean systems, and contrary to some claims, despite some improvements largely in developed regions, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to the ecosystems on which marine life depends. In 2012 the UN FAO determined that 70% of world fish populations are unsustainably exploited, of which 30% have biomass collapsed to less than 10% of unfished levels. A recent global assessment of compliance with Article 7 (fishery management) of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, awarded 60% of countries a “fail” grade, and saw no country identified as being overall “good.”

They offer some potential steps to lessen the impact, but given the lack of international response to the looming ecological crisis, don’t expect much action in this issue, either. Still, the scientists says the world community should:

—Cut global carbon dioxide emissions enough to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. They note that “current targets for carbon emission reductions are insufficient in terms of ensuring coral reef survival and other biological effects of acidification.” And they say that current models don’t include added effects on the atmosphere from methane release from a melted permafrost and coral dieback, which “mean the consequences for human and ocean life could be even worse than presently calculated.”

—Emphasize small-scale fisheries, seek regional cooperation for management of shared environments and ban “destructive fishing gear” with laws that are enforced.

—“Build a global infrastructure for high seas governance that is fit-for-purpose. Most importantly, secure a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of” the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Radical Embrace: Breaking The Cycle Of An Unfertile Demise

In Uncategorized on October 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm

https://i0.wp.com/thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/hug-earth-16348052.jpgOldspeak: ““Let’s look at it like this. If we discovered tomorrow that there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and – because physics is a fairly simple science – we were able to calculate that it was going to hit Earth on 3 June 2072, and we knew that its impact was going to wipe out 70% of all life on Earth, governments worldwide would marshal the entire planet into unprecedented action. Every scientist, engineer, university and business would be enlisted: half to find a way of stopping it, the other half to find a way for our species to survive and rebuild if the first option proved unsuccessful. We are in almost precisely that situation now, except that there isn’t a specific date and there isn’t an asteroid. The problem is us.” —Stephen Emmott

Our governments and their corporate buddies act as though there is no climate crisis and as if even without the current reality, the living populations of the Earth are heartless and utterly expendable. The business-as-usual nonsense of perversely progress-profit-driven and placating, pandering governments the world over, the menacing reality of genetic engineering wanting to reprogram everything with or without a pulse, including you and me, and spray it all down with more petroleum-based pesticides to combat the damage its own techno-scientific roots created in the first place (i.e. super-bugs and super-weeds), the ongoing acidification and collapse of the oceans, and you might agree with what Emmott sums up his article: “We’re fucked.”

Most people I know either don’t believe or don’t want to believe reality, or have no interest to apprehend the evidence. I understand. It’s devastating, and I still don’t think we can truly comprehend the reality of the near future. Yet most of the world plods along as if none of it were coming. At best, we get lip service from government officials, backed up by equivocal action. It’s hard to imagine the real storm, Emmott’s proverbial asteroid, is coming more quickly than any of us would like. And this places us humans in a very strange predicament…

We need for the entire capitalist system to crumble. Or some other miracle, in this 11th hour. And I don’t mean the religious kind. I mean a grounded change in every one of us to live differently. We did not really create the problem, but it is our responsibility to try to fix, because no one else will. In effect, if each of us self-imposed what our governments will not impose, we could turn this thing around, to some degree. We could self-impose upon ourselves all the boycotts we are spared, which would in turn shut down the factories, the multinationals, the corporatocracy running and ruining the party for us all. Would we have to agree to do this all at once? How many of would be needed? It’s hard to get even my friends to chin up. But we have to, and we will all be forced to soon enough.

We want our goodies, to take our due reward for enduring life’s pains and injustices, another week at the grind of work we hate. Life owes us, the Earth owes us, God owes us, and we exact our entitlements, empowering the wave of environmental collapse. Indeed, the failure of humanity is one of denying and avoiding at all costs pain, difficulty, and ironically, the threat of death. We run from it, bury it, or burn it, or say it’s someone else’s, and this way perpetuate that darkness and medicate with the adornments of the American dream, and so build our nightmare. We shop, smoke, fuck, drink, eat, sleep, blame, and sunshine it away. The repressed dark night — which when embraced on a regular basis profoundly heals — and all her power and rage are upon us now. This is not negativity; this is the divine power of the Great Mother here to shut down the light-loving, sun-only worshippers of all kinds — the Industrial Revolution optimists, the neurotic meaningless-manufacturing entrepreneurs, the fundamentalists, the GMO liars, the clueless capitalists, the fracking-fools, pharma-fanatics, the worshippers of chemistry and “convenience,” the happy-obsessed, and the new-agers — who have all reigned for too long

None of this is easy. But it can get easier. We all still have to make a living, and we need things, but it seems the only way to make headway is to give up living luxuriously and to live with scarcely a surfeit of anything, except courage and care and some other c-words. Taking a vow of material poverty is a rich thing—not to pursue poverty as a goal, but to accept it as a consequence of breaking the hamster cycle of (arrows mean “engenders/creates”): denial of pain/fertile darkness > irrational fear/insecurity > imagined need > unfulfilling work > dirty money > more denied pain (suffering), guilt, and remorse > consuming to numb, maintain excesses, and avoid our pain and fertile darkness underneath our habits and unsustainable culture.

We need a new cycle, something to the tune of: caring enough to challenge ourselves into extreme simplicity > frees up our need to make so much money > creating more room for meaningful work that might pay little or nothing and with time to heal our inner-life complexities > time to create and live more earnestly, creatively, and essentially > time and space to sink into and be passionately reborn from the passion of heartbreak and fertile darkness > money enough to survive and to fund direct, potently sustainable endeavors > consuming to survive and thrive in outward simplicity, and to celebrate nature and one another with the deep-down good feeling that we are acting with wisdom for now and a hundred years from now. This is not hippie talk; it is cutting edge survival strategy.” –Jack Adam Webber

By Jack Adam Webber @ Nature Bats Last:

Every once in a while we read something that stops us in our tracks. But in short time, we forget about it. Less frequently, we read something that stays with us, grows in us, and rather than disappear, it changes us so that every aspect of our very lives is tinged by the new information. I came across such a piece of writing a few months back, on overpopulation, climate change, and anticipated planetary changes. Here is an excerpt:

“Let’s look at it like this. If we discovered tomorrow that there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and – because physics is a fairly simple science – we were able to calculate that it was going to hit Earth on 3 June 2072, and we knew that its impact was going to wipe out 70% of all life on Earth, governments worldwide would marshal the entire planet into unprecedented action. Every scientist, engineer, university and business would be enlisted: half to find a way of stopping it, the other half to find a way for our species to survive and rebuild if the first option proved unsuccessful. We are in almost precisely that situation now, except that there isn’t a specific date and there isn’t an asteroid. The problem is us.” —Stephen Emmott

Before a storm, there is the proverbial calm, then the changes begin. Our collective calm is already fading; the changes are everywhere. Melting ice caps and permafrost, newly created methane vents spewing megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, severe droughts, huge storms, rising tides, plastic ridden warming oceans, widespread nuclear contamination — you know the story, I hope. We are at a crossroads, barely claiming a footing on the path would be more accurate, as we witness the world as it likely will never be again. Of course this has always been the case. But this time is radically different than at all other times in recorded history. Never has a single catastrophic condition engulfed the entire globe as climate change (which sweeping changes include global warming) now does. In the words of Emmott, “I believe we can rightly call the situation we’re in right now an emergency – an unprecedented planetary emergency.”

To even be discussing going to war in Syria, banning GMO food crops and fracking, conserving habitat for wolves and whales, building the XL Pipeline, expanding the filthy, cancerous Tar Sands operation, opening millions of acres in the Ecuadorian Amazon to oil drilling, is simply insane. These should be no-brainers. We should not be wasting time on these considerations nor forcing intelligent, earnest citizens to be using their personal un-paid time to fight for these minimal, if not relatively conciliatory, securities. We have urgent work to do far beyond considering more war and pollution; to even consider moving forward with these plagues is radical denial of the big picture.

Our governments and their corporate buddies act as though there is no climate crisis and as if even without the current reality, the living populations of the Earth are heartless and utterly expendable. The business-as-usual nonsense of perversely progress-profit-driven and placating, pandering governments the world over, the menacing reality of genetic engineering wanting to reprogram everything with or without a pulse, including you and me, and spray it all down with more petroleum-based pesticides to combat the damage its own techno-scientific roots created in the first place (i.e. super-bugs and super-weeds), the ongoing acidification and collapse of the oceans, and you might agree with what Emmott sums up his article: “We’re fucked.”

Where I live on the windward side of Hawai’i Island it rains about half of what it used to 6 years ago. Each year has gotten drier. The usually lush perennial peanut groundcover in my orchard is currently crunchy brown. A natural cycle, a normal anomaly? Maybe, but doubtful, given similar anomalies the world over. With each decade, each moment really, our climate changes are soberly projected to become exponentially more severe. We, and nature as we know it, are on the chopping block. In all likelihood, we, and our children, will never know nature as it is now. This means that we must celebrate her with all our hearts, and we must continue to fight to save her, if only out of honor.

The grim realities of climate change are too much for most to deal with. People who have little experience with enduring their own pain, the dark night of their own soul, will have an even harder time embracing the dark night of the world soul. Thus the denial. Therefore the disputes and controversy over what 97% of climate scientists generally agree to be true. And, the truth is likely closer to what the minority of these scientists predict; the chance to cover up the grim forecast is taken up in most instances for any number of reasons: political pressure, outright lying, media propaganda, denial on the part of the reporter, corporate fear and greed, saving one’s job or other personal agenda, and of course, the occasional innocent human error.

Most people I know either don’t believe or don’t want to believe reality, or have no interest to apprehend the evidence. I understand. It’s devastating, and I still don’t think we can truly comprehend the reality of the near future. Yet most of the world plods along as if none of it were coming. At best, we get lip service from government officials, backed up by equivocal action. It’s hard to imagine the real storm, Emmott’s proverbial asteroid, is coming more quickly than any of us would like. And this places us humans in a very strange predicament.

The Power of Heartbreak

Didn’t you know your heart was meant to break a thousand times to make everything beautiful again?

—excerpt from Thanksgiving: An Activist’s Grace

How do we occupy ourselves now, inwardly? How do we handle this emotionally and spiritually? The choice is each of ours. I handle the bad news the way I deal with all heartbreak; I feel the pain and let my heart break. I go into the dark, I let it all work on me, keep my eyes open down there, and let myself be transformed. The result? I emerge every time with more wisdom, more love, more care. Climate change reality is not different than embracing dying (if not our own then that of our children or grandchildren and others we care about). except that it is not only our own death but likely that of the majority of complex life forms and ecosystems as we know them. In other words, our hearts face breaking open as they never have before. Each of us is alive at the most unique time in all of human history because never have we imminently faced with such certainty the impending demise of so much at once. And this is poignant, any way you look at it. Poignancy is power. And the power we can all reap now is in our hearts, a passionately compassionate spiritual power made available by breaking…open.

When we deny heartbreak, we deny what is sacred. It is precisely this lack of heartbreak, and the feminine power of compassion and wisdom that blossom as a result, that causes humans to obsess over external power. Thus is born the sociopath, the corporation with no power of vulnerability, that denies the small, metaphorical and paradoxical death of heartbreak, and thereby fosters a massive, pervasive literal death. As I wrote in another article, “avoiding paradox lands us squarely in the midst of living out the dark side of its irony.”

Indeed, renewing your love for the natural world in light of ongoing environmental collapse will break your heart, if you let it. Heartbroken, we can feel a deeper passion, born of suffering and injustice. This way we can continue to grow and act wisely from our sadness, from our outrage, our intelligence, from our passionate and dignified, poignantly beautiful love. Our chance now is to love as we never have before, by the most paradoxical of means, the way deep, grounded love has always been born.

To be heartbroken is a modern-day enlightenment—recognizing that heaven is right here, under your feet, before your eyes, in your own body, which is a little chunk of this planet. Heartbreak, sadness, and fear are not distractions and impediments to fulfillment, enlightenment, and belonging; they are the way to a fertile, just world made of sane, caring people. To deny these emotions, as well as genuine humble joy and celebration, is to sow the seeds of sociopathy. Just about anything on any day can break you open, if you let it. The way to wholeness hounds you and me every day, which we often push aside as nuisances. This collective denial is precisely what has led to our current dire straits. Now or never is the time stop running and to break open, for all we have to bid farewell and all the beauty we still can welcome.

Fall In Love Again

The consensus of scientific facts is not getting us to change, at least not enough. Our rational minds are not enough to catalyze us and our governments into firm action.

A typical response to pain and imminent decline is to shut down, embitter, and become selfish. So, what is left? Courage is left, passion is left, love is left. But again, not just a light-worshipping, feel-good sort of love, except for maybe at first, in the honeymoon phase of re-loving the world, which needs our love now more than ever before. The courageous path, then, is to love more, fiercely more, to reconcile as much of the pain of the world through service and the celebration of radical beauty as we can.

The formula is this: fall in love with the world, especially the natural world and the good nature (even if buried) of your fellow humans. Bathe in the rapture of a forest, fresh air, the ocean, wildflowers in the high meadow, the stark gorgeous geometry of dunes, the sounds and refreshment of a river, the food you just picked in your garden—these heirlooms that are enjoying their last hoorah, as we are (even without climate change!), for no moment is quite like the next. Take heart for every human being who, like you and me, is trying, is tortuously beautiful, is confused and scared, still innocent because none of us knows the big answers. Even the assholes, the villains in this story, and their cargos of pain, that would have destroyed you or me long ago. Feel their angst, their confusion. Forgive them.

Let your heart break in the face of its decimation; sit with that feeling in your body, and let your good mind register the unedited upshot. Of its own accord, in its own time, this sadness can catalyze you, as the passion of devastation. Keep channeling the passion and compassion of your sacredly broken-open heart towards more reverence of nature, one another, and yourself, while acting to protect and enjoy and care for all of it. This is radical embrace. Seek the support and comfort and nurturance of good friends and allies, and nature herself. Let your tears flow and bathe you and the precious ground. Maybe you will decide to sacrifice some of your leisure, distraction, and pleasure time because the pull of your heart trumps your indulgence in “freedom” now for the option to be free tomorrow, or a year from now. This is also why it is helpful to know what’s coming. So, pull in the laundry, close the windows, hunker down, be ready, open your heart, big-time.

We humans want to feel good, most all the time. And this, again, ironically, is our downfall. I believe, as do a number of scientists, that most of our decisions are made with the intent to feel good — now, or very soon from now — immediate gratification. In one sense, the moment is all we have. Yet we must also discern how to live in the moment so that we also respect future moments. This is wisdom, which thinks into the future, sometimes seven generations into the future. We lack living according to wisdom, which is another form of wisdom in itself. We don’t want to sacrifice now for ten years from now, or even next week, and this part of the problem. We are poisoned by living in the moment as much as we are graced by it.

Our (as in the vast majority of people) habit for instant gratification does not help us prepare for climate change. And being heartbroken doesn’t feel good, now. We postpone it in intimate relationships, even when we see it coming, as we do when we ignore the facts of what we are doing to the world around us. Because of this, we must trust in the paradox of heartbreak, or at least begin with feel-good love to give us the sustenance to also grieve. This kind of love actually gives us the power, courage, and resources to act righteously in the face of pain and strife, the stamina to feel worse so that we might do something that gives us more of a chance for feeling better, for many tomorrows than the present moment of today.

When we fall in love with nature — its beauty, power, and lessons of wisdom — it gives us the power to endure these hardships in the cauldron of our psyches. It gives us what we need to move forward with resolve and fierce compassion — because something in our blood knows what is right, knows just where we belong, and that without the deep, abundant, and untamed natural world we will have lost something that completes and comprises our very souls, even if you don’t believe in a literal soul.

Medicine as Metaphor

As a physician, when I think of our predicament, and fish for a clue for if we collectively can stave off environmental and civil collapse, I think of my patients. What do you do when weight gain, a poor diet, or a sedentary life threaten you with diabetes or a heart attack? When smoking sets you up for emphysema? Or, more commonly, when you feel run down and on the verge of coming down with a cold? If you are one who would pass up dinner out with friends, a late night at the movies, a day off of work to rest and recover, then you are in the minority. You might also be part of the minority acting wisely now, not blindly indulging the moment, on behalf of our very sick planet. Unlike you, most keep pushing, and even when ill often do little to heal before things get worse. Indeed, the palest examples of our collective sickness are our governments and global corporations, who push on at any expense for the preservation of poisoning everyone, ensuring capitalistic cancer a foothold, and unfortunately, a takeover.

We don’t stop until we absolutely have to. But the problem with climate change is a bit like digestion. We don’t feel full in our bellies until after we pass the point of feeling sated. Our stomachs do not communicate satiation to our brains until fifteen or so minutes after the fact. We are all stomachs for the Earth’s fulfillment and health. We are, as David Suzuki echoes in similar meaning, past the point of fullness. We are over-eating, we are getting fat now on tomorrow’s rations and laying waste tomorrow’s fields (speaking of which, fallow fields are also a metaphor for sanity and sustainability, one the chemical giants have all but obliterated). We can’t wait until we already feel full; it will be too late. So, if you are a person who stops eating before you are full, this might be another sign that you are part of the solution to halt the storm of climate change before it strikes more pervasively. Please share your good habit with everyone you can.

Not long ago I read a staggering article in the New York Times (“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”) about how junk food manufacturers engineer their products to cater your greatest weaknesses. It is not surprising that these processed food manufacturers assemble addictive ingredients in just the right carefully studied and calibrated combinations to help override your body’s natural instinct to stop eating. They do it to hook you, to make more money off your and desensitized body-mind which can then consume even more without feeling its slow demise, while these mega-corporations capitalize on your ill health. It’s a staggering article, a long one that I wish did not end.

Per my metaphor of changing our ways before crossing the threshold into illness, I’d say the processed food manufacturers amount to the antithesis of supporting all the sensitive, wise, proactive qualities each of us needs in order to stop consuming, stop denying, and to avert disaster before it arrives. The junk food companies embody disease and demise on every level and numb us to becoming part of the solution, which we urgently needed yesterday and the year before.

Collectively, and especially in the ever-optimistic, light-bearing and trailblazing USA that carries on with business as usual (we are the only nation that did not ratify the Kyoto protocol, remember), every sign says we are going to get really sick before we stop. And it will be too late then, too late to stomach, to recover what we lost and can no longer live without, unless we undergo some strange genetic manipulation to survive a deranged future, a future without nature and a climate uninhabitable for our current genetic heritage. We’re already beyond the point that I would have turned back and lain in bed for a day or three to recover. Now I don’t have time to lie in bed; ironically, none of us do. And many believe it is already too late, even if we do all the right things now.

This is not a joke. It is not a bad movie. It is not a story of a far-off land. It is here and getting closer every day. So, whether you choose to party your brains out and indulge all you can before things get even worse, this of course, is your choice. It’s just not part of the solution; it’s a big part of what got us here. After all, it’s still totally legal to trash the planet. In fact, it’s encouraged. And I nor anyone else can stop you, perhaps not even if you actually wanted to be stopped. Consumerism, distraction, denial, and life-as-usual are as tough as cigarettes and high fructose corn syrup to kick. Personally, what comes up for me in the face of all this is deep sadness. But this sadness is quickly, somehow, converted to passion, and compassion. Compassion for every citizen on the planet that didn’t really create this mess. Compassion for every animal and tree and mountain that definitely did not create this.

“Insanity”: the New Sanity

If our president were to announce that no more children could be birthed for ten years, that you could not buy more than 300 dollars worth of gadgets a month, that pesticides and perfume and petroleum products were officially banned, that anyone could only travel in an airplane once a year, that cigarettes and nuclear power plants and the spewing guts of factories were to be shut down, that cattle raising (the largest contributor to greenhouse gases) were illegal and now banned, that the multinational corporations that really drive this insanity were to be disbanded, their leaders thrown in jail or left to feast on their own mutant creations in refugee camps, and their profits diverted to building a sustainable infrastructure that first and foremost protects the integrity of the soil, the rivers, the forests and the air we breathe, he’d be put in a mental hospital, or impeached, or worse. And when I say “sustainable” I mean a way of living that embraces the nourishment derived from decline and good old-fashioned death that fosters new life (i.e., fertile darkness), not some idyllic homeostasis of perpetual light and abundance — in other words, nature as usual.

But, this is exactly what we need. We need the sanity that is labeled “insane.” We need for the entire capitalist system to crumble. Or some other miracle, in this 11th hour. And I don’t mean the religious kind. I mean a grounded change in every one of us to live differently. We did not really create the problem, but it is our responsibility to try to fix, because no one else will. In effect, if each of us self-imposed what our governments will not impose, we could turn this thing around, to some degree. We could self-impose upon ourselves all the boycotts we are spared, which would in turn shut down the factories, the multinationals, the corporatocracy running and ruining the party for us all. Would we have to agree to do this all at once? How many of would be needed? It’s hard to get even my friends to chin up. But we have to, and we will all be forced to soon enough.

We want our goodies, to take our due reward for enduring life’s pains and injustices, another week at the grind of work we hate. Life owes us, the Earth owes us, God owes us, and we exact our entitlements, empowering the wave of environmental collapse. Indeed, the failure of humanity is one of denying and avoiding at all costs pain, difficulty, and ironically, the threat of death. We run from it, bury it, or burn it, or say it’s someone else’s, and this way perpetuate that darkness and medicate with the adornments of the American dream, and so build our nightmare. We shop, smoke, fuck, drink, eat, sleep, blame, and sunshine it away. The repressed dark night — which when embraced on a regular basis profoundly heals — and all her power and rage are upon us now. This is not negativity; this is the divine power of the Great Mother here to shut down the light-loving, sun-only worshippers of all kinds — the Industrial Revolution optimists, the neurotic meaningless-manufacturing entrepreneurs, the fundamentalists, the GMO liars, the clueless capitalists, the fracking-fools, pharma-fanatics, the worshippers of chemistry and “convenience,” the happy-obsessed, and the new-agers — who have all reigned for too long.

Fallow for Fertility

Until we collectively have a resting place — a figurative yet palpable emptiness and nurturing embrace inside our own bodies dedicated to sadness, reflection, long pauses, the decay of what does not work and has failed us, to our own greed and self-importance, to the grand satisfaction that is the simple beauty and awe of the natural world, and for all this to be more than enough — we will run the light of false optimism and hubris too hard and far into the ground and into the soft terrain of our bodies where it does not belong, where it poisons the sacred space that would save us from maniacal and perverted growth and neurotic progress at any cost.

In addition to taking sick time and ceasing to gorge ourselves before we get too full at the helm of the junk food corporations, we can extend this restorative motif to the sorts of fields of food now consuming American soils. Like lying in bed for a day to recover, or ceasing to stuff ourselves silly, we could return to the cycles of fallow fertility as the richness of emptiness we have honored in ourselves, which generations before us revered, where sadness and remorse are given room to break down and compost our dangerously overgrown ambitions. This, instead of the scorching heat of constant fake fertilizers and pesticides applied to mutant GMO crops, all of which try to replace the fecundity found only when darkness and decline are embraced and honored as essential to a sustainable, reverent, and organic means of building a decent and honorable future — from the ground up, but never too high, towards the scorching sun. This metaphor also illuminates why the simple acts of taking care of ourselves through the restorative, down-phases of life, instead of medicating them away to stay constantly up, energized, afloat and happy, or comfortably numb, are in reality the very necessary beginnings of saving the world by means of changing ourselves — our relationship to the sacred feminine principle, to darkness and to light, and therefore to our thinking, to our emotions, and a practical spirituality.

The world is getting stranger and stranger. They want to genetically modify trees to “grow” sterile forests. Genetically modified humans are not far behind. I’m against it all, not only for the poisons and sterility they inoculate into the biosphere, but because it’s unnecessary. The arguments for GMO farming to produce more food, saving “underdeveloped” nations, and using less pesticide, have been debunked by peer reviewed studies, with more on the way. Monoculture reminds me of the Holocaust. It’s also morally incorrect because monoculture, especially on a large scale, flies in the face of a respect for the biodiversity that has existed for thousands of years before us. The whole game is justified by fake heroics; in reality, it is evil upon evil. Big Business creates many of the problems then claims hero in “solving” the problems, only to create more, more toxic junk — they stuff their pockets on the way in and the way out, leaving a wake of detritus for us and the rest of life on the planet.

When we no longer can live in the cradle — the fierce yet beautiful and invigorating embrace and sane limits embrace — of the natural world as we have known it for millennia, I can’t imagine a life worth living. The genetic modification of the planet is a curse perpetuated by people who have lost their connection to an ordinary, awesomely abundant and truly fulfilling, self-renewing life. And they seem to believe their own lies that we need this nonsense. This kind of progress is both the problem and the impediment to our cure. Imagine: if all the resources poured into nuclear, pesticide and petroleum-based technology were channeled into less invasive, renewable ones. It’s a no-brainer. But greed and fear too often trump common sense, so the shows the evidence. Unfortunately, a small percentage of the people on Earth have gotten bored with ordinary beauty, with kindness, and fooled us into believing their way is best, only so they can keep playing their sick little game.

Again, the choice is yours. Each of us is still free to destroy the planet; it is still legal and encouraged, even glorified, under the red white and blue of normal. It may never become illegal to destroy what we love and what we need to survive. So, we have to make our own rules; we have to grow up, on our own, without Father and Big Brother to guide us. We need to remember, live by, and take to heart the nature-centered wisdoms from once ago. At the very least, our scientists are giving us the warning, the justification to act out of line, even insanely, in the name of urgent sanity. Each of us needs to be a little crazy nowadays, and really crazy if we want to save the party called life, as we know it now. Is it too late? Maybe. But every day is later not doing anything.

The Way Forward

It’s not enough anymore not to be doing something directly to rescue a part of the Earth. It’s not enough only to be a massage therapist and make people feel less stressed so they can return to work and get stressed out allover again, while contributing to the problem. My medical practice is no longer enough; I have to minister even more to the global biosphere and to the collective ecological sickness of humanity so that not only my patients but all of us might have the opportunity to live a normal life and contract decent, unavoidable diseases, not the perversion of environmental illness and technology-driven immune collapses and cancers, which are all on the rise despite our best efforts to conquer them with technology and more poison, rather than at their root via wisdom and restraint.

While science and technology have produced wonderful things, they also have contributed to a severe imbalance symbolically characterized by too much light, most starkly and pervasively evident in the warming of the planet. Human life expectancy has more than doubled in the last two centuries. We have vaccines and drugs and medical interventions and sewage management systems that keep people alive for longer. But are we happier, or happy enough? We cannot be.

Yet so much emphasis is placed on “being happy.” Again, the brainwashing of light-only worship. We desperately need sadness and fear and remorse for the grounded, mature love that develops from them, to save ourselves.

We have too many people on the planet and we’re projected for nine-billion by 2040 or so. It’s a sticky situation. Even with full cognizance of the problem, neither you nor I, for example, would likely choose to reject technological intervention to save a loved one’s life, or our own. Few want to sacrifice the innate drive to have children. But somehow, to do these very things makes sense for the big picture — counterintuitive, urgent sense. Yet they remain unimaginable, and also unreasonable. Unless we can miraculously reverse the trend of climate change, something has to give. We need a cure, if only to embrace of our own dignified surrender, which is not to give up, per se, but to concede what we can no longer change. What we deny and repress cannot be transformed; whatever we consciously embrace is yet potentially fertile, especially that which is dark.

None of this is easy. But it can get easier. We all still have to make a living, and we need things, but it seems the only way to make headway is to give up living luxuriously and to live with scarcely a surfeit of anything, except courage and care and some other c-words. Taking a vow of material poverty is a rich thing—not to pursue poverty as a goal, but to accept it as a consequence of breaking the hamster cycle of (arrows mean “engenders/creates”): denial of pain/fertile darkness > irrational fear/insecurity > imagined need > unfulfilling work > dirty money > more denied pain (suffering), guilt, and remorse > consuming to numb, maintain excesses, and avoid our pain and fertile darkness underneath our habits and unsustainable culture.

We need a new cycle, something to the tune of: caring enough to challenge ourselves into extreme simplicity > frees up our need to make so much money > creating more room for meaningful work that might pay little or nothing and with time to heal our inner-life complexities > time to create and live more earnestly, creatively, and essentially > time and space to sink into and be passionately reborn from the passion of heartbreak and fertile darkness > money enough to survive and to fund direct, potently sustainable endeavors > consuming to survive and thrive in outward simplicity, and to celebrate nature and one another with the deep-down good feeling that we are acting with wisdom for now and a hundred years from now. This is not hippie talk; it is cutting edge survival strategy.

In the midst of this self-imposed austerity we might just find, paradoxically and ironically, the richness, the beauty we thought was to be found through busy accumulation and filling the space inside—the space that must remain empty and fillable not with things but by the intangibles born of integrity, compassion, and common sense.

Dissention among us because of differences of religion, beliefs, nationality, race, even family issues and old grudges, need to take a back seat now. It is crucial that we forgive and embrace one another; we have a huge task at hand that we need to work on together, if only in tending to our collective grief and celebrating the brilliance of the quickly fading natural world and what still sparkles in each other.
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Jack Adam Weber is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist, author, organic farmer, celebrated poet, and an activist for Earth-centered spirituality. He is currently at work on his next collection of poems for personal and planetary transformation. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com. He is also on Facebook.