All posts by William Hawes

The Green Old Deal

There are a lot of things to like about the recent resolution for the Green New Deal. The commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the acknowledgment of the catastrophic events that will occur if the world does not act soon- these are all healthy signs. Like Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign which removed many stigmas about socialism, raising public consciousness about the structural changes needed to lessen the impacts of global warming are to be commended.

However, there are very serious problems with the language of the resolution, as well as the underlying assumptions, biases, and ideology which pervades the text.

Starting with an obvious problem, the “Green New Deal” is based on the political and economic mobilization of FDR’s New Deal. It was the New Deal, essentially, which saved capitalism from collapse in the US in the 1930s. If the Green New Deal is saying anything, it is offering cover to the ruling class- here is your propaganda model out of this mess you’ve created; here is another chance to save capitalism from itself. It’s a false promise, of course, as no purely technological scheme based in a capitalist economy will be able to fix what’s coming, but it’s a very convenient narrative for capitalist elites to cling to.

Roosevelt’s New Deal  placated workers and bought time for the bourgeoisie to rally, but it was the combined forces of post-WWII macroeconomic Keynesian economic stability, high taxes on the wealthy, the Bretton Woods agreement, the Marshall Plan and reconstruction of Japan which helped grow the middle classes in the mid-20th century.

Indeed, the Green New Deal (GND) mimics the mainline liberal/reformist agenda when it pledges to try: “directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry and business in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation…”

That’s about as boilerplate as one can get. You’d expect to hear this blather from anywhere on the mainstream spectrum, out of the mouth of a Chamber of Commerce hack or a College Republican newsletter.

Another issue of basic civil decency is that the GND is blatantly cribbing from the Green Party’s own ideas, and then watering them down, without any reference to their origins. The limitations of the GPUS do not need to be run through here, but the point remains: stealing policies from others who have been campaigning on this platform for decades, without offering even a token of acknowledgement, is not a good look.

I mean, this is all so obvious, and frankly, it’s disheartening and embarrassing to live in a country with such little common sense.

There’s more. The resolution calls for “net-zero global emissions by 2050”. This sounds great, except it leaves the foot in the door for a carbon trading scheme, where polluters will pay to offset their emissions with money, “investments in technology”, false promises to plant tree farms which they can renege on in court battles, etc.

Further, the GND states that it supports:

to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.

It calls for:

[The] Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses…

First, who in Congress is talking about implementing the kind of direct democratic practices alluded to here, or drawing on the expertise of community leaders, local governments, etc? Nobody. Who in Congress is calling for actually concrete material reparations, reconciliation, and public methods to heal the intergenerational traumas, inequities, and systemic racism and classism which continue to punish vulnerable communities? No one.  Who in Congress is calling for an end to our intervention in Venezuela and supporting the Maduro government from the obvious covert and military-corporate machinations currently underway? Not a soul.

I understand that this resolution is a first sketch, a very early draft which may go through many changes. I am not interested in demeaning people who are serious about fighting climate change; or scoring points by being “more radical” than others; or by igniting controversy around a critical “hot take” of the GND.

What I am curious about is how those in Congress foresee the types of jobs being created. Are we going to have millions of people planting trees (the best way to slow down climate change) or millions toiling in wind and solar factories? The most effective way to slow global warming would be to support the Trillion Tree Campaign.

Another ridiculous oversight is the lack of acknowledgement in the resolution of quite possibly the 2nd most pressing issue regarding humankinds’ survival, the threat of nuclear war and militarism. Obviously only international cooperation can determine the nuclear states relinquishing their arsenals, as well as shut down all reactors worldwide. Further, the huge budget of the military and the interests of the defense companies in promoting endless wars are not called out.

The only way a GND can work is through international collaboration. Asking other countries with far fewer resources, infrastructure, and technology at their disposal to “follow our lead” as we undergo a purely domestic New Deal within our 50 states and territories is cruel, shortsighted, and disingenuous. It would be the 21st century analogy to socialism in one country, expecting other nations to simply deal with the wreckage of climate disasters after we’ve fucked over the entire world.

What I’m attempting to sketch out is that to even put a dent in global warming in the 21st century and beyond, the feeble approaches by bourgeois democrats must be denounced for what they are. A GND for the USA as the “leader” is not in the cards; the analogy I’d use is more like a fully international Green Manhattan Project.

This would mean councils of expert indigenous peoples, climate scientists, ecologists, and socio-psychological experts in conflict resolution and ecological and cultural mediation worldwide would begin directing and implementing structural transformations of society, by addressing the separation from nature, historical amnesia, and emotional numbness endemic to Western society.

Natural building methods would have to take prominence over Green-washed corporate-approved LEED standards, massive conservation, ecological and restoration projects would have to get underway, along with the relocation of millions globally who live in unsustainably arid or resource hungry areas, and programs for regenerative organic agriculture would need to begin being taught to our youth right now. Is anything like this happening or being talked about in the mainstream?

These supporters in Congress as well as most progressives are assuming we still have twelve years to act, which the latest IPCC report warned was the maximum amount of time left. Perhaps people should be reminded that 12 years is just an estimate. We might have two years. We may be already over the tipping point.

Really, this is all just bullshit for Democrats to get each other reelected by LARPing as progressives and social democrats, and anyone with half a brain can see that. There can be no mass green transportation system unless urban cores get significantly denser, because as of now, perhaps half the country is still based on a post-WWII design to accommodate the whimsies of suburban property developers who only cared for profit and segregated communities, city planners with no conception of the consequences of rising energy demand, and homeowners in the fifties who likewise did not understand the devastation that sprawl, large energy-hogging single family homes, inefficient energy transmission, and long commutes would contribute to global warming.

How many mountains would need to be mined and blasted, how many wild plants and animals killed and desecrated, and rivers and waterways polluted would it take to get every soccer mom and Joe six-pack a new electric vehicle?

It is possible that only a mass relocation to urban cores with public infrastructure and fair compensation for citizens to move would allow for a green transportation and energy network to work properly. If not explained properly, these positive ideas for change would only feed into conservative far-right paranoia.

There are two people in Congress out of 535 that identify as anti-capitalist. The evidence even for these two is lacking, and we don’t have time to wait electing the other 270 or so. The military, financial institutions, defense companies, fossil fuel multinationals, intelligence sectors, and mainstream media are in total lockstep on the march towards societal and economic collapse and continued ecological degradation. Can anyone see the Pentagon, Halliburton, Shell and BP, and any Democrat or Republican giving away the equivalent of trillions of dollars in renewable technology, resources, IT networks, medicine, etc., to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia? I didn’t think so.

If even self-proclaimed socialists like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez don’t have the guts to speak out against imperial mechanized drone warfare and the CIA literally fomenting a coup in Venezuela, and the majority of citizens having no problem with this, it just goes to show the lack of empathy and education in this country. Both of them are childish and uneducated; and should be treated as such, even if we should show conditional support for this preliminary GND, if only because it could theoretically morph into something promising.

In short, this first draft GND is “old” for a couple of reasons:  first, the economic model and the signaling in the language come directly from the liberal-bourgeois-reformism of the FDR administration. Second, it is old in the sense of being behind the times environmentally; it doesn’t keep up with what science proves is necessary for humanity to thrive: the GND does not call for economic degrowth, a reduction in energy demand, a sharp reduction in obtaining protein from meat, and a thoroughly anti-capitalist method to regenerate civic life and the public commons.

The flip side is that to thrive in a truly green future, we will have to re-examine truly ancient “old” Green methods to balance the “new” methods of technological innovation: the ancient ways of working with nature that indigenous traditions have honed, which has provided humanity with abundance for tens of thousands of years.

Natural building, creating and promoting existing holistic, alternative medicine, localizing energy and agricultural production, and growing food forests must be at the top of any agenda for humankind in the 21st century. This might seem impossible to our Congress because these methods do not cater to “marketplace solutions”, do not rely on factories and financialization, do not use patents to create monopolies; i.e., because these priorities do not put more power in the hands of capitalists.

Here are a few final thoughts. The first is the whole premise of the GND is based on a very reductionist, analytical, and Anglo style of thinking. Basically, this resolution is insinuating that we can change everything about the economy and forestall climate change without taking apart the financial sectors, the war machine, etc.

The second thought follows from the first, which is that the Continental thinkers offer a more grounded, immanent approach which examines how capital itself has warped human nature. Specifically, many important researchers demonstrated how the culture industry has manufactured ignorance, false needs, and ennui on a mass basis.

For instance, in a US context, to put it in very crude stereotypes, how are we going to convince one half of the country to stop eating red meat, give up their pickup trucks, put their guns in a neighborhood public depot, and stop electing outright racists and sexists. On the other hand, how can we convince the other half to give up their Starbucks on every corner, give up their plane travel to exotic locations, not buy that 2nd posh home to rent out on Airbnb which leads to gentrification, etc.

Basically, most middle class people in the US don’t want to fundamentally change as of yet, and this resolution won’t have the force to confront the utterly fake, conformist, and escapist lifestyles most US citizens continue to choose at least partially of their own volition.

Simple, clear language is important to energize citizens and can lead to catalyzing change. The concept of the Green New Deal could very well be that theme which unites us. One hundred and two years ago, it was those three special words “Peace, land, bread” which helped unite a nation and sparked a revolution.

Here’s one last thing to chew on. In the 21st century, the nation-state has proven that its time is over, as it provides a vehicle which centralizes corporate and military power that now threatens the existence of life on this planet. The Green New Deal calls for:

obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples…

Although it is clear the writers meant this in a very general and vague kind of way, as obviously not a single agreement has been “honored” going back 500 years by invading settler-colonialists, enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples would mean the abolition of the USA. That’s a Green New Deal I can work with.

Discipline Will Remain…or Will It?

Last October, Philip Hammond, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the annual federal budget speech to the UK Parliament, said this: “Austerity is coming to an end, but discipline will remain.”

Talk about Orwellian doublespeak. The truth about austerity is that it is a means of social control, or as Hammond put it, discipline. Hammond’s recent comment is completely illogical. Austerity is economic discipline. Really, it’s just a way of making the poor suffer more, while continuing to bail out the rich every time they implode the economy.

It’s rare that the titans of finance slip up so well, and so egregiously with their language, but it happens, this being an excellent case study. Now we know, straight from the source, just what economic experts, being mouthpieces of multinational corporations, really want, just as much or even more than “austerity”: discipline! Or, another way of putting it, they want austerity, except we aren’t supposed to realize that we live in austerity anymore…or at least don’t try and resist. These people want a normalization of austerity, until we just accept that this is the way it is.

A cursory look at the upcoming UK budget shows more of the same: billions to update the nuclear weapon systems, continued cuts for many government ministries, cuts to Scotland when considering inflation rates, a cap on total welfare spending, with a few crumbs for their Universal Credit benefits, etc. All of this is happening while homelessness is rising dramatically (up 169% since 2010).

So what kind of discipline is Mr. Hammond really talking about? A writer for VICE (one Simon Childs) succinctly summed it up:

In the end, Spreadsheet Phil went with ‘Austerity is coming to an end but discipline will remain’. So it’s not ‘over’, it’s ‘coming to an end’, at some point. But ‘discipline’ will remain – for which you can read ‘austerity’. So really, that’s, ‘Austerity is coming to an end but austerity will remain.’ If that sounds contradictory, that’s because it is. Austerity is a decade-long ideological project which has seen poor and working class people pay for the financial crash through cutting the supposed largesse of the welfare state. The government is trying to loosen spending up a bit while the effects of that project become even more stark.

As many commentators have pointed out, austerity is not based on any rational sense of finance or macroeconomic forces: it is an ideological mission, a moral argument stemming back to the Puritan/Calvinist and social Darwinist worldview. If you’re poor, it’s your fault, and all one has to do is pull oneself up by your bootstraps. Societal and systemic forces which consistently lead to high unemployment, substandard education, lack of social support structures, and stagnant wages are never addressed. What better way to keep people “disciplined” than to offload public spending onto the citizenry? Thus forcing private citizen, especially the poor and middle class, to pay more for essential services: this has predictably led to an explosion in college and personal debt.

The super-ego always judging itself produces a type of mental enslavement and has now engulfed the globe in late-stage capitalism. We are taught to always blame ourselves because we are not marketable, don’t keep up with technology, aren’t innovating or learning life skills to keep up in a gig/service economy with rising rates of poverty, which also is hollowing out all social forms of purpose and collective belonging.

The US educational system is complicit in this, since this is the first public institution most of us enter — a regimented oppressive nightmare of one-size-fits-all deluges of mostly useless information, where children are always competing and one-upping each other with grades, achievements, etc. As long as we were obedient little drones who raised our hands to ask questions, sat when told to, repeated the pledge of allegiance every day, and in general were (with our parent’s complicity) spoon-fed lies, omissions, and distortions of historical, scientific, and sociological facts, we could one day participate in adult life successfully. Of course, the more obvious sites for adult coercion and brainwashing barely need mention: jails, churches, mental institutions, large corporations, federal bureaucracies, etc.

The history of public education in our country is a history of indoctrination, or something worse, of which the horrors are so great they cannot be put into words, if one examines the African American or Indigenous histories of schooling. Modern schooling is freaking twelve years of boot-camp for the adult world of bio-psycho-social alienated labor. There is no use denying or getting around this fact.

The psycho-somatic beatings endured become embedded in our minds and the trauma is relived and has been passed down, generation to generation. This has created a militaristic society yet also a pacified and slavish one, which submissively bows down before capitalist/imperialist/colonialist systems of hierarchy. We are the “docile bodies” that Foucault spoke of.

We’ve been molded for the purpose of fitting into (increasingly mentally damaging) forms of labor. The stress of daily work in the US has almost completely precluded any serious resistance. I cannot stress this enough: as bodies synchronizing the finely-tuned engine of capital, we are poised to destroy ourselves and the majority of species on the planet if we continue down this path.

Once again, surprise surprise, the language we use has been beaten into us, and is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of capital. There’s a humorous anecdote in this Monthly Review article by Rebecca Stoner, spotlighting John Patrick Leary:

When General Motors laid off more than 6,000 workers days after Thanksgiving, John Patrick Leary, the author of the new book Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, tweeted out part of GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement: ‘The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,’ she said. Leary added a line of commentary to Barra’s statement:

‘Language was pronounced dead at the scene.’

As Stoner explains, when it comes to words like “entrepreneur”:

When we talk about “entrepreneurs” with an uncritical acceptance, we implicitly accept [the] view that wealth was created by entrepreneurs via a process of innovation and creative destruction—rather than Marx’s belief that wealth is appropriated to the bourgeois class by exploitation.

This is why I always think of don Miguel Ruiz’s first agreement: “Be impeccable with your word.” So, Phillip Hammond was being perfect with his wording, really: he wants discipline, dammit!

Others take a more, well, mendacious approach to their phraseology. When people say that jail will “rehabilitate” prisoners or that “innovation”, “increased productivity”, and “hard work” will provide the tools to lead a 21st century economy, I am skeptical. Especially with regard our carceral-industrial complex, how obviously and openly corrupt and racist the prison system is in our country, where length of sentences are absurdly long compared to other nations, and rates of jailing are exponentially higher for black and brown peoples, with 10 cent an hour wages metered out for a smoke, snack foods, or a cell phone call while the largest corporations make billions off of what amounts to slave labor, which, mind you, the Chinese have been replicating with the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province. I’d rather those in power tell us how they really feel. In a lecture on Nietzsche (with a nod to Foucault), Rick Roderick put it quite well:

The idea that we would send someone to prison in order to rehabilitate them…now we’re getting to be more honest about that. We’re getting a little more barbaric, and for Nietzsche that’d be better, it’d be a little more honest. We’re sending them to prison because we’re scared of them and we know if they go there really bad things will happen to them and it will ruin their lives and that will make us happy. That’s what we should say when we send one to prison.

That is what it comes down to for today’s centers of power. Kill, jail, torture, or condemn those lower on the totem pole to lives of penury, marginalization, and unpleasant labor. The chthonic chant from Trump’s base is connected to this impulse: “Lock her up!”… “Build the wall!” Whoever you can’t control so easily, ply them with media, drugs, fame, money, power.

This is how the system was designed from the early days of the Enlightenment. As Foucault asks rhetorically in Disciple and Punish: The Birth of the Prison: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” Architecturally one of the more famous blueprints for constant surveillance, interrogations, examinations, and constant monitoring of the social body came from Bentham’s design of the panopticon. We notice the ones under surveillance, or even those who think they’re being watched, increasingly self-censor and self-monitor themselves to avoid untoward further investigation or physical violence from state authorities, whether inside an institution or outside in the public sphere.

Rather than rehabilitation, the modern notion of discipline is to induce punishment, and goshdarnit, our culture sure does know how to punish those less fortunate. On any given year between 10 and 20 million people worldwide die of starvation, even as silos of food lie full all over the USA and Europe. Preventable childhood diseases kill perhaps another 10 million kids a year. A mobilization of food, medicine, and competent medical professionals along with a logistics network to access hard-to-reach rural areas in the Global South could solve these crises within a short time frame.

Today we see disciplinarian methods used as a general principle, a blunt instrument applied to daily life, where conformism, homogenization, and compliance to authority dictate modern culture in work and the home. Also, people avoid vocalizing their internal critiques of the state, authority, or the economy for fear of social reprisal, becoming an outcast, and basic issues of self-survival (in minority communities under attack from police brutality) in an atmosphere of generalized anxiety, suspicion, and paranoia.

Here we begin to uncover the archaeological, or rather, genealogical evidence and the ideological underpinnings of centers of power. Ideologues, economists, and capitalists do not need to explicitly promote “austerity” (they can just change the name), but they do need a certain type of discipline, and the contrived system of artificial scarcity which keeps the multitude desperate. This destructive economic system which we dub “neoliberal” stymies thought, kills dreams, exploits labor, and reaches into all facets of political and daily life.

In such an authoritarian state, today, just as in ages ago, women and children bear the worst forms of abuse and punishment even as they do most of the work, either unpaid in the home or in professional employment. Women still must deal with performing emotional labor for men in the West that have not self-analyzed, and cannot see how they directly benefit from patriarchal institutions of power that filter down into the workplace, community, home, etc.

The sociological make-up of the middle classes, constantly under threat of falling into penury until European and North American capitalist states underwent a significant shift in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Constant competition, the modern factory, and striving for status and material affluence shifted the previous belief in a “Protestant work ethic” towards one of Social Darwinism, and from there to a consumer-based age of affluence, where the might of economic powers to exploit becomes an inherent right, where monopolistic corporations use advertising to continually encourage consumptive, addictive, and childish behavioral patterns.

Coupled with eugenics and the westward spread of US territories under the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the genocidal policies of Social Darwinism and racist medical practices spread worldwide. The professional classes were fascism’s most slavish disciples: medical doctors joined the Nazi Party at a higher rate (some say 7 times the rate of joining as the average job) than any other profession in Germany.

The harsh, unrelenting regime of discipline inherent in such bourgeois values creates a new form of human behavior and outlook towards society: one which Erich Fromm called the “marketing orientation.” As he wrote:

The mature and productive individual derives his feeling of identity from the experience of himself as the agent who is one with his powers, this feeling of self can be briefly described as meaning ‘I am what I do.’ In the marketing orientation man encounters his own powers as commodities alienated from him. He is not one with them but they are masked from him because what matters is not his self-realization in the process of using them but his success in the process of selling them. Both his powers and what they create become estranged, something different from himself, something for others to judge and to use; thus his feeling of identity becomes as shaky as his self-esteem; it is constituted by the sum total of roles one can play: ‘I am as you desire me.’ It is worth remembering that mainstream economists such as Philip Hammond (or before him, fools such as Milton Friedman or Alan Greenspan in the US) are not basing their budgets or speeches or interest rates or stupid Powerpoint presentations for corrupt elites on any rational model, any shred of common sense, to help working classes or even middle class citizens. These people are PR spokespeople for capitalists, nothing more. They are as the multinational corporations and financial sector desire them.

We are all sort of becoming who the centers of power want us to be. Pliable, obedient, cowed, desperate. Also more hardened, isolated, commodified, and easier to control. The social conditioning is so deep here in the US.

When Philip Hammond says, “discipline will remain”, the capitalist and colonialist policies he and his elite associates pursue have global consequences. The effect of his words may be hidden from many Western eyes, but they are not any different from the direct violence in previous eras of the corrupt town sheriff, the racist prison warden, the sadistic psychiatrist, the violent headmaster of a school, the conquistador, the slave owner, the SS officer.

This is, in fact, exactly what modern day discipline is. Words, ideas, images, stock markets, debt ratios, and the concepts of the ruling classes become material life-threatening issues which undergird our system of artificial scarcity.

The spreading of this dark cloud of Western civilization, with all the concomitant issues of technology worship, reification, and commodification of the human spirit and creativity continues to tell us: be disciplined, be rational, be good citizens, even to be human (in a specific sense passed down by Enlightenment figures). It is unsurprising that many decades ago the first theoretical models for the post-human age were underway: since the beginning of the so-called Anthropocene era, we have seen how the artificial divisions of nature and culture have been exposed. Even today, much postmodern art and critique, which opens up new avenues for research by exploring ideas surrounding intersubjectivity, depthlessness, waning of affect, etc., still indulges in the fantasy of isolated, separate, urban-centered, and rational humans as a given.

Despite the push by liberal democracies to spread  a certain type of modern propaganda reminding us of our so-called secular, materialist, cosmopolitan, consumer society, the urge for spirituality, for raising of consciousness, still remains strong in contemporary culture via the rapidly expanding interest in yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices, psychedelics (another term is entheogens) and even paganism in the West. Yet even many of these basic self-exploratory and self-coping mechanisms are increasingly and continually mediated through corporations or at least small businesses and hierarchies, at the expense of cooperative and communal forms of organization.

What I think would be beneficial for people to think about is a return to a notion popular in 60s counterculture- the idea of a new sensibility (or sense-abilities, as it were). Readers may know about the ideas of/fury generated towards its most vocal theoretical promoters: Susan Sontag, Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown. I believe it would be worthwhile to revisit those concepts.

In his speech “Liberation from the Affluent Society”, Marcuse said:

Let us give one illustration of…the need for such a total rupture [which] was present in some of the great social struggles of our period. Walter Benjamin quotes reports that during the Paris Commune, in all corners of the city there were people shooting at clocks on the towers of churches, palaces and so on, thereby consciously of half-consciously expressing the need that somehow time has to be arrested; that at least the prevailing, established time continuum has to be arrested, and that a new time has to begin…

He continues:

This situation presupposes the emergence of new needs, qualitatively different and even opposed to the prevailing aggressive and repressive needs: the emergence of a new type of human, with a vital, biological drive for liberation, and with a consciousness capable of breaking through the material as well as ideological veil of the affluent society…society has invaded even the deepest roots of individual existence, even the unconscious of man…We must get at the roots of society in the individuals themselves…who, because of social engineering, constantly reproduce the continuum of repression…

Further on, he states:

…to give sensitivity and sensibility their own right, is, I think, one of the basic goals of integral socialism…They presuppose…a total trans-valuation of values, a new anthropology…we may say that today qualitative change, liberation, involves organic, instinctual, biological changes at the same time as political and social changes…no longer subject to the dictates of capitalist profitability and of efficiency…socially necessary labor, material production, would and could become increasingly scientific…it means that the creative imagination…would become a productive force applied to the transformation of the social and natural universe…

Quite clearly and perhaps being a tad self-conscious, he later says: “And now I throw in a terrible concept: it would mean an ‘aesthetic’ reality- society as a work of art.” Indeed. Marcuse goes on to cite, in the Western tradition, hippies, Diggers, and Provos as groups (we can think of many more today, especially indigenous cultures) who offered “a new sensibility against efficient and insane reasonableness.”

It is intense “social engineering” and “insane reasonableness” which we are loath to stand up against due to our own relative affluence. Today that affluence is disappearing especially in the developing world as climate change and ecological devastation threatens all. In the West the stores may be open, and the planes may run on time, but late capitalism is running on fumes. The “veil” remains, along with elitist media manipulation which distracts and diverts public attention, but various anti-capitalist forces are arrayed at its edges, preparing to draw in the masses. Discipline has been unmasked for what it really is- a one way ticket to an early grave for the poor; or a lifetime of spiritual turmoil for the ruling class and the collaborating professional/managerial class flunkies and sycophants.

Yet again, the violence of words such as productivity, efficiency, free markets, national sovereignty, etc., all contribute to the intolerable living conditions for large portions of the world’s population. This is the metaphysics of capital, where abstract business concepts have very real, and deadly, consequences. Jason Read writes in Crisis and Critique:

Labor power must be made virtual, and then productive. The foundation of the capitalist relationship is the separation of workers form the means of production, and thus the potential of labor power as a potential. Once this potential is sold, enters into the workplace, it must be actualized, transformed into actual productive acts.

He goes on to cite Pierre Macherey, student of Althusser:

From this point of view, we could say that when the capitalist occupies himself with his workers’ labor-power, which he has acquired the right to employ in exchange for a wage, treating it as a ‘productive power’ whose productivity he intends to increase in order to produce relative surplus value – he practices metaphysics not in a theoretical but in a practical way. He practices this peculiar sort of metaphysics not during his leisure time, as a distraction or mental exercise, as he would a crossword puzzle, but throughout the entire working day dedicated to production. By opening up his company to notions such as ‘power,’ ‘capacity’ and ‘causation,’ he thereby makes them a reality, realizing these fictions, these products of the mind, which he then employs with daunting efficacy. In this way, with payrolls and charts of organizational tasks at hand, he shows, better than a philosopher’s abstract proofs, that the work of metaphysics could not be more material, provided that one knows how to put it to good use in introducing it into the factory. One could, incidentally, derive from this a new and caustic definition of metaphysics: in this rather specific context, it boils down to a mechanism for profit-making, which is no small matter. This means that, amongst other inventions that have changed the course of history, capitalism has found the means, the procedure, the ‘trick’ enabling it to put abstract concepts into practice – the hallmark of its ‘genius.’

More bluntly, the contributors at the website Endnotes put it like this:

The abstract universal — value — whose existence is posited by the exchange abstraction, acquires a real existence vis-à-vis particular concrete labours, which are subsumed under it. The real existence of abstractions, which acquire the ability to subsume the concrete world of production under them — and posit themselves as the truth of this world — is for Marx nothing other than a perverted, enchanted, ontologically inverted reality. The absurdity and violence which Hegel perceives in a relation of subsumption applies not only to Hegel’s system itself, but also to the actual social relations of capitalist society.

As one can see, it takes a very specific sort of discipline to deploy this type of thought — as well as to mouth the PR Double-plus good Newspeak that Philip Hammond and the GM executive spoke of above. As we have seen through history, the consequences are not pretty. This shackling of the human spirit molds workers in a totalitarian way, and becomes the baseline ideology for accessing elite institutions of knowledge and power. Hence, this is why some today speak of “total subsumption.”

In this sense, production via exploitation of labor power only speaks of half of the problem: the flip side is that humans are produced as cogs, or, put another way; the social reproduction of the masses is instilled by the constant reminder under capitalism to be productive, market yourself, speak appropriately in every varied situation, etc. Thus, humans are molded to believe in the need for police, tax collection agencies, borders, and industrial civilization. As usual, the unwaged labor of care work in the home continues to oppress women around the globe, as feminists such as Martha Gimenez, Kathi Weeks, Nancy Fraser, Silvia Federici, and many others have shown.

Words cannot express how far capitalism extends into daily life; or the amount of harmful and hateful behavior it has led to. Humans are valued only insofar as they are productive: productive in a myopic framework designed to narrow consciousness, reduce potentialities, blight the human condition, and destroy and degrade wildlife and ecosystems. People all over the world are simply being “farmed” for their labor power, their creativity, their social media posts, to pay taxes, the various licenses, fees, and insurances needed to secure a bare means of existence. Not only are the elite thriving economically, the 1% are estimated to live 10 years longer than the average of the 99%, as Danny Dorling explains in Inequality and the 1%.

The modern calendar and clock also regiment, divides, and orients our perception around the holy grail of productivity, turning human potentialities for creativity, for organic agriculture, for art, for useful crafts, for efficient renewable energy systems, for basic joy, and destroy those possibilities. Instead, we find abstract notions of labor and value, which are then actualized and concretized into power “paving the way” for progress. Our time system, essentially from the very beginning of Western civilization in Mesopotamia, started with set dates for repaying debts, which eventually morphed into regularly scheduled time frames for starting wars, shackling us all to a five day work week, etc. Our time system is the operating system for Empire, its software; hence the Parisians desire to end it.

Solutions lie in listening to indigenous peoples worldwide who have been living sustainably for millennia, via processes of trust-building, of starting truth and reconciliation for past atrocities and modern day dispossession, of growing communities based on non-profit cooperatives, etc. Tight-knit indigenous livelihoods counter the growth of destructive forms of modern discipline, an unnatural system of time, instrumental reason, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy; through power structures distributed horizontally, with deliberative bodies and direct democratic practices.

Authentic resistance against our system should therefore question and dispel the lies embedded in what the rulers and functionaries of capital call “discipline.” Our interior lives have been colonized, our jobs are alienating and exploitative, and our social media and data are now “harvested” for wealth. The abstractions of capital must be abandoned. Perhaps only by returning to the “integral”, the holistic, something closer to the Earth, by finding something elemental, by reigniting desire, can the vast utopian dreams and potentialities, which for many lie dormant, lead us to find some sort of joy and sustainable methods of living to transform this mad society.

Discipline Will Remain…or Will It?

Last October, Philip Hammond, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the annual federal budget speech to the UK Parliament, said this: “Austerity is coming to an end, but discipline will remain.”

Talk about Orwellian doublespeak. The truth about austerity is that it is a means of social control, or as Hammond put it, discipline. Hammond’s recent comment is completely illogical. Austerity is economic discipline. Really, it’s just a way of making the poor suffer more, while continuing to bail out the rich every time they implode the economy.

It’s rare that the titans of finance slip up so well, and so egregiously with their language, but it happens, this being an excellent case study. Now we know, straight from the source, just what economic experts, being mouthpieces of multinational corporations, really want, just as much or even more than “austerity”: discipline! Or, another way of putting it, they want austerity, except we aren’t supposed to realize that we live in austerity anymore…or at least don’t try and resist. These people want a normalization of austerity, until we just accept that this is the way it is.

A cursory look at the upcoming UK budget shows more of the same: billions to update the nuclear weapon systems, continued cuts for many government ministries, cuts to Scotland when considering inflation rates, a cap on total welfare spending, with a few crumbs for their Universal Credit benefits, etc. All of this is happening while homelessness is rising dramatically (up 169% since 2010).

So what kind of discipline is Mr. Hammond really talking about? A writer for VICE (one Simon Childs) succinctly summed it up:

In the end, Spreadsheet Phil went with ‘Austerity is coming to an end but discipline will remain’. So it’s not ‘over’, it’s ‘coming to an end’, at some point. But ‘discipline’ will remain – for which you can read ‘austerity’. So really, that’s, ‘Austerity is coming to an end but austerity will remain.’ If that sounds contradictory, that’s because it is. Austerity is a decade-long ideological project which has seen poor and working class people pay for the financial crash through cutting the supposed largesse of the welfare state. The government is trying to loosen spending up a bit while the effects of that project become even more stark.

As many commentators have pointed out, austerity is not based on any rational sense of finance or macroeconomic forces: it is an ideological mission, a moral argument stemming back to the Puritan/Calvinist and social Darwinist worldview. If you’re poor, it’s your fault, and all one has to do is pull oneself up by your bootstraps. Societal and systemic forces which consistently lead to high unemployment, substandard education, lack of social support structures, and stagnant wages are never addressed. What better way to keep people “disciplined” than to offload public spending onto the citizenry? Thus forcing private citizen, especially the poor and middle class, to pay more for essential services: this has predictably led to an explosion in college and personal debt.

The super-ego always judging itself produces a type of mental enslavement and has now engulfed the globe in late-stage capitalism. We are taught to always blame ourselves because we are not marketable, don’t keep up with technology, aren’t innovating or learning life skills to keep up in a gig/service economy with rising rates of poverty, which also is hollowing out all social forms of purpose and collective belonging.

The US educational system is complicit in this, since this is the first public institution most of us enter — a regimented oppressive nightmare of one-size-fits-all deluges of mostly useless information, where children are always competing and one-upping each other with grades, achievements, etc. As long as we were obedient little drones who raised our hands to ask questions, sat when told to, repeated the pledge of allegiance every day, and in general were (with our parent’s complicity) spoon-fed lies, omissions, and distortions of historical, scientific, and sociological facts, we could one day participate in adult life successfully. Of course, the more obvious sites for adult coercion and brainwashing barely need mention: jails, churches, mental institutions, large corporations, federal bureaucracies, etc.

The history of public education in our country is a history of indoctrination, or something worse, of which the horrors are so great they cannot be put into words, if one examines the African American or Indigenous histories of schooling. Modern schooling is freaking twelve years of boot-camp for the adult world of bio-psycho-social alienated labor. There is no use denying or getting around this fact.

The psycho-somatic beatings endured become embedded in our minds and the trauma is relived and has been passed down, generation to generation. This has created a militaristic society yet also a pacified and slavish one, which submissively bows down before capitalist/imperialist/colonialist systems of hierarchy. We are the “docile bodies” that Foucault spoke of.

We’ve been molded for the purpose of fitting into (increasingly mentally damaging) forms of labor. The stress of daily work in the US has almost completely precluded any serious resistance. I cannot stress this enough: as bodies synchronizing the finely-tuned engine of capital, we are poised to destroy ourselves and the majority of species on the planet if we continue down this path.

Once again, surprise surprise, the language we use has been beaten into us, and is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of capital. There’s a humorous anecdote in this Monthly Review article by Rebecca Stoner, spotlighting John Patrick Leary:

When General Motors laid off more than 6,000 workers days after Thanksgiving, John Patrick Leary, the author of the new book Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, tweeted out part of GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement: ‘The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,’ she said. Leary added a line of commentary to Barra’s statement:

‘Language was pronounced dead at the scene.’

As Stoner explains, when it comes to words like “entrepreneur”:

When we talk about “entrepreneurs” with an uncritical acceptance, we implicitly accept [the] view that wealth was created by entrepreneurs via a process of innovation and creative destruction—rather than Marx’s belief that wealth is appropriated to the bourgeois class by exploitation.

This is why I always think of don Miguel Ruiz’s first agreement: “Be impeccable with your word.” So, Phillip Hammond was being perfect with his wording, really: he wants discipline, dammit!

Others take a more, well, mendacious approach to their phraseology. When people say that jail will “rehabilitate” prisoners or that “innovation”, “increased productivity”, and “hard work” will provide the tools to lead a 21st century economy, I am skeptical. Especially with regard our carceral-industrial complex, how obviously and openly corrupt and racist the prison system is in our country, where length of sentences are absurdly long compared to other nations, and rates of jailing are exponentially higher for black and brown peoples, with 10 cent an hour wages metered out for a smoke, snack foods, or a cell phone call while the largest corporations make billions off of what amounts to slave labor, which, mind you, the Chinese have been replicating with the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province. I’d rather those in power tell us how they really feel. In a lecture on Nietzsche (with a nod to Foucault), Rick Roderick put it quite well:

The idea that we would send someone to prison in order to rehabilitate them…now we’re getting to be more honest about that. We’re getting a little more barbaric, and for Nietzsche that’d be better, it’d be a little more honest. We’re sending them to prison because we’re scared of them and we know if they go there really bad things will happen to them and it will ruin their lives and that will make us happy. That’s what we should say when we send one to prison.

That is what it comes down to for today’s centers of power. Kill, jail, torture, or condemn those lower on the totem pole to lives of penury, marginalization, and unpleasant labor. The chthonic chant from Trump’s base is connected to this impulse: “Lock her up!”… “Build the wall!” Whoever you can’t control so easily, ply them with media, drugs, fame, money, power.

This is how the system was designed from the early days of the Enlightenment. As Foucault asks rhetorically in Disciple and Punish: The Birth of the Prison: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” Architecturally one of the more famous blueprints for constant surveillance, interrogations, examinations, and constant monitoring of the social body came from Bentham’s design of the panopticon. We notice the ones under surveillance, or even those who think they’re being watched, increasingly self-censor and self-monitor themselves to avoid untoward further investigation or physical violence from state authorities, whether inside an institution or outside in the public sphere.

Rather than rehabilitation, the modern notion of discipline is to induce punishment, and goshdarnit, our culture sure does know how to punish those less fortunate. On any given year between 10 and 20 million people worldwide die of starvation, even as silos of food lie full all over the USA and Europe. Preventable childhood diseases kill perhaps another 10 million kids a year. A mobilization of food, medicine, and competent medical professionals along with a logistics network to access hard-to-reach rural areas in the Global South could solve these crises within a short time frame.

Today we see disciplinarian methods used as a general principle, a blunt instrument applied to daily life, where conformism, homogenization, and compliance to authority dictate modern culture in work and the home. Also, people avoid vocalizing their internal critiques of the state, authority, or the economy for fear of social reprisal, becoming an outcast, and basic issues of self-survival (in minority communities under attack from police brutality) in an atmosphere of generalized anxiety, suspicion, and paranoia.

Here we begin to uncover the archaeological, or rather, genealogical evidence and the ideological underpinnings of centers of power. Ideologues, economists, and capitalists do not need to explicitly promote “austerity” (they can just change the name), but they do need a certain type of discipline, and the contrived system of artificial scarcity which keeps the multitude desperate. This destructive economic system which we dub “neoliberal” stymies thought, kills dreams, exploits labor, and reaches into all facets of political and daily life.

In such an authoritarian state, today, just as in ages ago, women and children bear the worst forms of abuse and punishment even as they do most of the work, either unpaid in the home or in professional employment. Women still must deal with performing emotional labor for men in the West that have not self-analyzed, and cannot see how they directly benefit from patriarchal institutions of power that filter down into the workplace, community, home, etc.

The sociological make-up of the middle classes, constantly under threat of falling into penury until European and North American capitalist states underwent a significant shift in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Constant competition, the modern factory, and striving for status and material affluence shifted the previous belief in a “Protestant work ethic” towards one of Social Darwinism, and from there to a consumer-based age of affluence, where the might of economic powers to exploit becomes an inherent right, where monopolistic corporations use advertising to continually encourage consumptive, addictive, and childish behavioral patterns.

Coupled with eugenics and the westward spread of US territories under the ideology of Manifest Destiny, the genocidal policies of Social Darwinism and racist medical practices spread worldwide. The professional classes were fascism’s most slavish disciples: medical doctors joined the Nazi Party at a higher rate (some say 7 times the rate of joining as the average job) than any other profession in Germany.

The harsh, unrelenting regime of discipline inherent in such bourgeois values creates a new form of human behavior and outlook towards society: one which Erich Fromm called the “marketing orientation.” As he wrote:

The mature and productive individual derives his feeling of identity from the experience of himself as the agent who is one with his powers, this feeling of self can be briefly described as meaning ‘I am what I do.’ In the marketing orientation man encounters his own powers as commodities alienated from him. He is not one with them but they are masked from him because what matters is not his self-realization in the process of using them but his success in the process of selling them. Both his powers and what they create become estranged, something different from himself, something for others to judge and to use; thus his feeling of identity becomes as shaky as his self-esteem; it is constituted by the sum total of roles one can play: ‘I am as you desire me.’ It is worth remembering that mainstream economists such as Philip Hammond (or before him, fools such as Milton Friedman or Alan Greenspan in the US) are not basing their budgets or speeches or interest rates or stupid Powerpoint presentations for corrupt elites on any rational model, any shred of common sense, to help working classes or even middle class citizens. These people are PR spokespeople for capitalists, nothing more. They are as the multinational corporations and financial sector desire them.

We are all sort of becoming who the centers of power want us to be. Pliable, obedient, cowed, desperate. Also more hardened, isolated, commodified, and easier to control. The social conditioning is so deep here in the US.

When Philip Hammond says, “discipline will remain”, the capitalist and colonialist policies he and his elite associates pursue have global consequences. The effect of his words may be hidden from many Western eyes, but they are not any different from the direct violence in previous eras of the corrupt town sheriff, the racist prison warden, the sadistic psychiatrist, the violent headmaster of a school, the conquistador, the slave owner, the SS officer.

This is, in fact, exactly what modern day discipline is. Words, ideas, images, stock markets, debt ratios, and the concepts of the ruling classes become material life-threatening issues which undergird our system of artificial scarcity.

The spreading of this dark cloud of Western civilization, with all the concomitant issues of technology worship, reification, and commodification of the human spirit and creativity continues to tell us: be disciplined, be rational, be good citizens, even to be human (in a specific sense passed down by Enlightenment figures). It is unsurprising that many decades ago the first theoretical models for the post-human age were underway: since the beginning of the so-called Anthropocene era, we have seen how the artificial divisions of nature and culture have been exposed. Even today, much postmodern art and critique, which opens up new avenues for research by exploring ideas surrounding intersubjectivity, depthlessness, waning of affect, etc., still indulges in the fantasy of isolated, separate, urban-centered, and rational humans as a given.

Despite the push by liberal democracies to spread  a certain type of modern propaganda reminding us of our so-called secular, materialist, cosmopolitan, consumer society, the urge for spirituality, for raising of consciousness, still remains strong in contemporary culture via the rapidly expanding interest in yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices, psychedelics (another term is entheogens) and even paganism in the West. Yet even many of these basic self-exploratory and self-coping mechanisms are increasingly and continually mediated through corporations or at least small businesses and hierarchies, at the expense of cooperative and communal forms of organization.

What I think would be beneficial for people to think about is a return to a notion popular in 60s counterculture- the idea of a new sensibility (or sense-abilities, as it were). Readers may know about the ideas of/fury generated towards its most vocal theoretical promoters: Susan Sontag, Herbert Marcuse, Norman O. Brown. I believe it would be worthwhile to revisit those concepts.

In his speech “Liberation from the Affluent Society”, Marcuse said:

Let us give one illustration of…the need for such a total rupture [which] was present in some of the great social struggles of our period. Walter Benjamin quotes reports that during the Paris Commune, in all corners of the city there were people shooting at clocks on the towers of churches, palaces and so on, thereby consciously of half-consciously expressing the need that somehow time has to be arrested; that at least the prevailing, established time continuum has to be arrested, and that a new time has to begin…

He continues:

This situation presupposes the emergence of new needs, qualitatively different and even opposed to the prevailing aggressive and repressive needs: the emergence of a new type of human, with a vital, biological drive for liberation, and with a consciousness capable of breaking through the material as well as ideological veil of the affluent society…society has invaded even the deepest roots of individual existence, even the unconscious of man…We must get at the roots of society in the individuals themselves…who, because of social engineering, constantly reproduce the continuum of repression…

Further on, he states:

…to give sensitivity and sensibility their own right, is, I think, one of the basic goals of integral socialism…They presuppose…a total trans-valuation of values, a new anthropology…we may say that today qualitative change, liberation, involves organic, instinctual, biological changes at the same time as political and social changes…no longer subject to the dictates of capitalist profitability and of efficiency…socially necessary labor, material production, would and could become increasingly scientific…it means that the creative imagination…would become a productive force applied to the transformation of the social and natural universe…

Quite clearly and perhaps being a tad self-conscious, he later says: “And now I throw in a terrible concept: it would mean an ‘aesthetic’ reality- society as a work of art.” Indeed. Marcuse goes on to cite, in the Western tradition, hippies, Diggers, and Provos as groups (we can think of many more today, especially indigenous cultures) who offered “a new sensibility against efficient and insane reasonableness.”

It is intense “social engineering” and “insane reasonableness” which we are loath to stand up against due to our own relative affluence. Today that affluence is disappearing especially in the developing world as climate change and ecological devastation threatens all. In the West the stores may be open, and the planes may run on time, but late capitalism is running on fumes. The “veil” remains, along with elitist media manipulation which distracts and diverts public attention, but various anti-capitalist forces are arrayed at its edges, preparing to draw in the masses. Discipline has been unmasked for what it really is- a one way ticket to an early grave for the poor; or a lifetime of spiritual turmoil for the ruling class and the collaborating professional/managerial class flunkies and sycophants.

Yet again, the violence of words such as productivity, efficiency, free markets, national sovereignty, etc., all contribute to the intolerable living conditions for large portions of the world’s population. This is the metaphysics of capital, where abstract business concepts have very real, and deadly, consequences. Jason Read writes in Crisis and Critique:

Labor power must be made virtual, and then productive. The foundation of the capitalist relationship is the separation of workers form the means of production, and thus the potential of labor power as a potential. Once this potential is sold, enters into the workplace, it must be actualized, transformed into actual productive acts.

He goes on to cite Pierre Macherey, student of Althusser:

From this point of view, we could say that when the capitalist occupies himself with his workers’ labor-power, which he has acquired the right to employ in exchange for a wage, treating it as a ‘productive power’ whose productivity he intends to increase in order to produce relative surplus value – he practices metaphysics not in a theoretical but in a practical way. He practices this peculiar sort of metaphysics not during his leisure time, as a distraction or mental exercise, as he would a crossword puzzle, but throughout the entire working day dedicated to production. By opening up his company to notions such as ‘power,’ ‘capacity’ and ‘causation,’ he thereby makes them a reality, realizing these fictions, these products of the mind, which he then employs with daunting efficacy. In this way, with payrolls and charts of organizational tasks at hand, he shows, better than a philosopher’s abstract proofs, that the work of metaphysics could not be more material, provided that one knows how to put it to good use in introducing it into the factory. One could, incidentally, derive from this a new and caustic definition of metaphysics: in this rather specific context, it boils down to a mechanism for profit-making, which is no small matter. This means that, amongst other inventions that have changed the course of history, capitalism has found the means, the procedure, the ‘trick’ enabling it to put abstract concepts into practice – the hallmark of its ‘genius.’

More bluntly, the contributors at the website Endnotes put it like this:

The abstract universal — value — whose existence is posited by the exchange abstraction, acquires a real existence vis-à-vis particular concrete labours, which are subsumed under it. The real existence of abstractions, which acquire the ability to subsume the concrete world of production under them — and posit themselves as the truth of this world — is for Marx nothing other than a perverted, enchanted, ontologically inverted reality. The absurdity and violence which Hegel perceives in a relation of subsumption applies not only to Hegel’s system itself, but also to the actual social relations of capitalist society.

As one can see, it takes a very specific sort of discipline to deploy this type of thought — as well as to mouth the PR Double-plus good Newspeak that Philip Hammond and the GM executive spoke of above. As we have seen through history, the consequences are not pretty. This shackling of the human spirit molds workers in a totalitarian way, and becomes the baseline ideology for accessing elite institutions of knowledge and power. Hence, this is why some today speak of “total subsumption.”

In this sense, production via exploitation of labor power only speaks of half of the problem: the flip side is that humans are produced as cogs, or, put another way; the social reproduction of the masses is instilled by the constant reminder under capitalism to be productive, market yourself, speak appropriately in every varied situation, etc. Thus, humans are molded to believe in the need for police, tax collection agencies, borders, and industrial civilization. As usual, the unwaged labor of care work in the home continues to oppress women around the globe, as feminists such as Martha Gimenez, Kathi Weeks, Nancy Fraser, Silvia Federici, and many others have shown.

Words cannot express how far capitalism extends into daily life; or the amount of harmful and hateful behavior it has led to. Humans are valued only insofar as they are productive: productive in a myopic framework designed to narrow consciousness, reduce potentialities, blight the human condition, and destroy and degrade wildlife and ecosystems. People all over the world are simply being “farmed” for their labor power, their creativity, their social media posts, to pay taxes, the various licenses, fees, and insurances needed to secure a bare means of existence. Not only are the elite thriving economically, the 1% are estimated to live 10 years longer than the average of the 99%, as Danny Dorling explains in Inequality and the 1%.

The modern calendar and clock also regiment, divides, and orients our perception around the holy grail of productivity, turning human potentialities for creativity, for organic agriculture, for art, for useful crafts, for efficient renewable energy systems, for basic joy, and destroy those possibilities. Instead, we find abstract notions of labor and value, which are then actualized and concretized into power “paving the way” for progress. Our time system, essentially from the very beginning of Western civilization in Mesopotamia, started with set dates for repaying debts, which eventually morphed into regularly scheduled time frames for starting wars, shackling us all to a five day work week, etc. Our time system is the operating system for Empire, its software; hence the Parisians desire to end it.

Solutions lie in listening to indigenous peoples worldwide who have been living sustainably for millennia, via processes of trust-building, of starting truth and reconciliation for past atrocities and modern day dispossession, of growing communities based on non-profit cooperatives, etc. Tight-knit indigenous livelihoods counter the growth of destructive forms of modern discipline, an unnatural system of time, instrumental reason, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy; through power structures distributed horizontally, with deliberative bodies and direct democratic practices.

Authentic resistance against our system should therefore question and dispel the lies embedded in what the rulers and functionaries of capital call “discipline.” Our interior lives have been colonized, our jobs are alienating and exploitative, and our social media and data are now “harvested” for wealth. The abstractions of capital must be abandoned. Perhaps only by returning to the “integral”, the holistic, something closer to the Earth, by finding something elemental, by reigniting desire, can the vast utopian dreams and potentialities, which for many lie dormant, lead us to find some sort of joy and sustainable methods of living to transform this mad society.

Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via COINTELPRO, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner. The first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to Create. May contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of History, Benjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson and Crick, Margulis and Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws.

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do, in fact, create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently; i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the September 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty”

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern thought and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of Physics. Exploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rd edition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rain forests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults whose conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climatically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of Authenticity. As Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song; i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

Ecology: The Keystone Science

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back.

The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way. Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion — and growing — humans.

Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

Theirs is a sort of one-dimensional, infantile distortion of Vishnu-consciousness (preservation, in their minds at all costs), an unadulterated cogito, which does not let in the wisdom of his partner Lakshmi (true prosperity) or the harbinger of change and the symbol of death and rebirth, Shiva. Industrial life must be dismantled from the core for a new order to arise. Instead of clinging to this techno-dystopian model of the elites, we must replace it with what I call a Planetary Vision.

The Stone that the Builders Refuse

Only a serious education in ecology for a significant minority of the globe’s workforce can allow for a return to naturally abundant and life-enhancing complex habitats for humanity and all species to thrive. Understandably, fields such as botany, zoology, and conservationism are not for everyone, as much of humanity has been and continues to be more interested in technological fields, the arts, music, sports, religion, etc. It would only take perhaps 10% of the globe to be critically informed, and to be able to act, deliberatively and democratically, about subjects relating to ecosystem preservation and all the attendant sub-fields for a functional, ecocentric culture to flourish.

Thankfully, the foundation of such an ecological vision has been laid by millennia of indigenous cultures, as well as modern prophets and science whizzes such as Rachel Carson, Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Barry Commoner, Donella Meadows, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, and many others.

Even Marx and Engels observed the basic deteriorating nature of advanced agriculture in what they termed “metabolic rift”, where they learned from European scientists of the overwhelming degradation of soil fertility on the continent due to poor farming techniques, razing of forests, and heavy industry.

Despite its current limitations, the United Nations offers a model of supra-national regulation and governance, especially the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the almost totally forgotten Brundtland report of 1987.

The Deep Wisdom of Ecology

Modern nations, corporations, vertical hierarchies, and industrial civilization do not serve human health or well-being. It excludes the majority, cuts them from a connection to their neighbors and the land, and privileges an elite rentier class who sponges and sucks the marrow out of the bowels of the Earth and those born money, property, privilege, without a silver spoon in hand.

Ecological thinking, on the other hand, imparts us with the deep truth that we are all connected to each other, and the planet.

Permaculture farming has managed to match and even outpace productivity on giant agribusiness farms using low-impact or even no-till methods.

Food forests can be created around the globe using layers of edible plants at high densities to allow for the growth fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial shrubs, groundcover, and herbs. This is the real meaning of the Garden of Eden, an agroforestry model which ancient people lived off of for millennia alongside responsible crop rotation, seasonal burns, biochar, animal herding, hunting and foraging, and obtaining protein from fish and shellfish.

Arid, barren lands have been reforested by planting native trees: in Assam, India, one man recovered over 1300 acres by planting just one sapling a day for 30 years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been ongoing for years to help improve water quality. Just one adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a single day.

An average acre of boreal forest can hold over 100 tons of carbon above and below ground in soil and biomass. As more forests burn carbon is instantly released, and as temperatures rise soils thaw out, leading to increased soil respiration and thus increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With 1,400 gigatons of methane stored in the Earth’s permafrost, any significant release into the atmosphere could ramp up warming even faster.

Wildlife corridors must be funded at multiples of current levels and substantially increased in size to allow for keystone, threatened, and endangered species to maintain population sizes and spread over increasingly patchy and unsustainable habitat due to urban growth, roads, and industry. Millions of acres of land should be reforested (some say 500 million total) to provide carbon sinks to offset the coming effects of global warming. Currently 18 million acres of forest are lost per year due to deforestation for grazing and corporate agriculture.

National parks, forests, monuments, as well as coastal, marine, and wildlife refuges as well as state-run areas should be coordinated at the highest levels of national and international regulation. I say coordinated, but I do not mean controlled by in a vertical hierarchy. Responsibility should “telescope” (borrowing a term from political scientist Robyn Eckersley) according to the size of the problem at hand: local deliberative councils may work best for bioregional approaches, whereas some framework of a supra-national structure will be needed for the mega-problems of climate change, plastic pollution, and GMO proliferation, just to name a few.

We have all heard terms such as “apex predator” or “top of the food chain” which capitalists and social Darwinists have misconstrued and adopted to fit their own hierarchical, fascistic beliefs. Yet anyone who has examined a food web knows there are interrelationships and mutualistic interdependencies between myriad species which dwarf and blow away any notion of rigid, calcified structures of permanent dominance of any species or eco-biome.

A systemic examination of global trade would teach the same lesson. There is no way to make any one country “great again” at the expense of other nations. This is a false binary embedded in Western culture that goes by the name of the “Either/Or”.  Rather, we must adopt the “And/Both” model of cultures synergistically and mutually thriving.

(Trickster/Provocateur homework for US citizens: Welcome or respond to someone on our upcoming 4th of July with a cheery greeting of “Happy Interdependence Day!”)

This false dichotomy has insidiously found its way into the Earth sciences, with the categorization and response to “invasive species”. Human disturbance accounts for upwards of 95% of invasives causing harm to new ecosystems, yet even within the academy, detailed plans for shifting our lifestyles are few and far between, and predictably ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere has this sort of milquetoast-iness been more visceral for me than in listening to a guest lecturer years ago in a conservation biology class, when, at the outset of the lecture and without prompting, she announced that she would not tolerate any questions about humans as “invasive species”. This was perhaps understandable given the narrow definition of the term by some, or the aim and scope of her forthcoming talk, yet still, the rigid reactionary nature and tone of her dictum managed to produce a chill.

Further, the steps involved in combating invasive, non-woody plants do not usually involve more than a tractor mower or a backpack sprayer and Round-up, in public and private operations. Little is done to thwart the habitat systemically disturbed by human activity, the nutrient-depleted soil, over-salinization, etc. No thought given to the notion that the invasives in many cases are the only plants able to germinate and tolerate nutrient-starved soil and edge habitat which falls outside the purview of agricultural land, or the delusional urge within forestry management to preserve wooded or grassland areas in some pre-colonial or pre-industrial chrysalis.

We all observed this duplicitous portrayal of those evil invasives for many years following the media-driven and pseudo-scientific outrage and mania of the kudzu vine in the South. Covering roadsides and disturbed, recently deforested areas, the vine was portrayed with puritanical hatred. The loathed vine cannot penetrate into shaded forest and acted as a projection of our own fears, malicious intent, and ignorance.

The Revolution as Poetic Enchantment

There is also the problem of revolutionary activity where organization and specific roles are needed. We’ve been told that any and all organizing inevitably leads to corruption, hierarchy, greed, and ego inflation. Yet nature has managed to organize and spontaneously birth everything we depend on for sustenance and pleasure. The works of Mauss, Sahlins, and others have shown human behavior to be mostly peaceful, based on reciprocity, lived in balance with a naturally abundant environment.

The succession of a habitat, from the first pioneer species advancing to a climax community in dynamic equilibrium, is poetry in motion, an endless cycle of community relations where the dead provide for the living, just as the winds of history continue to shape our present, the lessons of our ancestors provide the courage to persevere, and the very real trauma and torment of past generations continues to stalk humanity, perhaps even epigenetically in our cells.

Nature’s ability to play freely and its tendency for creative, regenerative self-discovery offers a model attractive to the public where traditional approaches to ideology, mainstream politics, and moral exhortation have failed. Ecology uniquely offers an approach to our self-interest, with pragmatic and deep ethical implications, and in our nuclear and fossil fuel age, to our very survival.

Recent uprisings in Zucotti Park, South Dakota, Tahrir and Taksim Squares, Tunisia, and many other places demonstrate the organic, spontaneous nature of our ability to resist the systemic oppression endemic to our neoliberal, colonial, imperial world order.

The question of what comes after a successful revolt undoubtedly plagues many people, considering the bloody sectarianism that followed in many historical instances. Yet one of the root causes of such post-revolutionary failings necessarily includes the loss of jouissance, the senses of optimism, exuberance, and mutual aid which erupted throughout history in Paris communes, military barracks and factories in Petrograd, communes in Catalonia, etc.

Many progressives and so-called radicals in the US today seem more interested in internecine bickering and petty squabbling over turf than in implementing an authentic plan to re-enchant a comatose public. A citizenry, mind you, which has become exhausted and disillusioned from politics and any notion of defending the public sphere and commons due to relentless propaganda, neoliberal economics, structural racism, and a perverse imperial edict of global warfare which knows no bounds and sees no end.

Such small-mindedness and insularity is only compounded by a geographically isolated, narcissistic, spectacle craving media, celebrity-worshiping culture, and chattering class smugness which has robotized, dehumanized, and intoxicated a public which no longer seems to have the psychic or physiological energy and stamina to resist. This can be countered by providing material and intellectual nourishment, especially to our youth, through wholesome organic farming, natural medicines, and alternative education systems which promote and instill environmentalism, forms of direct democracy, and critical thinking skills, as well as continuing education for adults and seniors.

Much of our culture’s confusion is reinforced by a digital, social media driven, an ahistorical narrative, and a dematerialized market in the West where information and leisure is metered out to the poor, elderly, disabled, and working classes in a slow drip of bandwidth, bytes, pixels: poisonous cups of soma which we believe must all imbibe to partake in our “culture”.

Yet so many are now beginning to rattle their cages. Part of the reason being that savings and material wealth for the majority has declined, life expectancy dropping in neglected areas, suicide and addictive behaviors are increasing, inequality and gentrification skyrocketing. Yet also partly because creativity has been stifled, free time is eaten up by a gig economy relentlessly eating up our leisure, wild open spaces are diminishing, and the effects of a polluted, over-crowded world where alienation appears to reign and many see No Exit.

Digital technology, trickle-down finance, and media narratives are pushed so hard by the powers-that-be, in a pyramid scheme Ponzi economy bound to collapse. And data-driven, quantifiable, “objective” information doused on the public is losing its effect. Masses can now see through the high priests of officialdom, because their policies do not relate to any place or time, it is not embodied in the commons. The deluge of “empirical” statistics and innovation spouting out of mainstream media, government bureaucracies, and non-profit policy centers borders on absurd, and one could summarize their work as Informationism, for it truly represents an ideology. These are the apologists and court historians for the grand viziers of capital. They have created their own veritable echo-chamber ecology within the former swamplands of the Potomac basin.

How can the hegemony of corporate and state rule be further undermined? By acknowledging how they employ words, propaganda, ideology, and a false version of history as weapons to create a habitat of hate and fear. As the Situationists wrote: “Words work — on behalf of the dominant organizations of life…Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words.”

As the SI further noted:

Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution — indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry — but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has “world enough and time,” seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.

Part of poetic resistance simply is awareness. We are not going to save the world without learning how to actually live in the world. Here words fall far short, they “float”, are too abstract. At the level of ontological awareness helpful concepts like “Dasein” and “existence precedes essence” can only show the doorway, yet the point is to walk through it. This is why I don’t consider, for example, Leary’s words of “Find the others” to be an escapist fantasy: they are a call to mytho-poetic revolution, for only in collective struggle can one transcend a selfish ego and a sick, dying culture. Communal living will be a big part of this, especially as the world economy seems very likely to fall into depression or outright collapse within a couple decades at most.

Initiation into adulthood, a model of dying and rebirth, is of utmost importance, as Barry Spector and Martin Prechtel, among others, have shown. Without this, the modern world is stuck in an infantile state, forever craving more, never satisfied.

The domination of man by man and nature by man now reaches global proportions. In our Anthropocene Age all boundaries between human and nature collapse, as we come to understand the web we are enmeshed in. Studies in modern psychics prove on the cosmological scale (relativity) and sub-atomic scales (quantum entanglement, superposition, double-slit experiment) have all proven definitely what ancient traditions have understood for millennia. Andre Malraux was correct when he prophesized that: “The 21st century will be spiritual or will not be.”

All major religions hold ecological balance, love of your neighbor, and conservation as a core truth. Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, Hindu concepts of ahimsa and karma, Buddhist right livelihood, Islam’s tawhid, khilafa, and akhirah all have shown this, as well as indigenous mythology.

Sadly, most of the dissenters in our culture have been totally marginalized. The best minds of our generation have no longer fallen to madness; they are ignored, imprisoned, killed, or shipped off to a permanent “Desolation Row”. Consider the great works of Gary Snyder, Arne Naess, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Barry, as well as environmentalists such as Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Sylvia Earle: the collective brilliance is astounding, yet industrialism allows no avenues for a praxis, for their ideas to be put to work or play.

Only an understanding of relationship and interdependencies can account for how our policy at the border, for instance, is connected to environmental destruction, factory farming, resource extraction, habitat destruction, the killings overseas in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on. It goes on for so long that the mind grows numb. Yet, we must counter this. Our government is the primary driver of the perpetual crimes of total warfare, planetary destruction, neo-feudal debt-based serfdom and global immiseration, and most of us have been complicit in varying degrees.

Have no doubt, many in power around the world, consciously or not, are waiting to start a new Kristallnacht against minorities and the poor which they will use to further the next stage of their privatized, totalitarian, surveillance-laden brave new world. It’s already started here in the US and in Italy against the Roma among other places. Theirs is an aesthetic of terror and brainwashing which knows no bounds.

Yet their individual pathologies only tell us part of the story: it is the system of alienation which breeds hate and must be dismantled, not replacing one figurehead leader with another seemingly benign one, as we did with Obama. Only a culture which understands the connections of how capitalism ultimately leads to fascism, one which comprehends the Earth’s limits, our own psycho-somatic frailties, and our bio-social relationships with each other and with flora and fauna can provide the resistance needed in this perilous age.

Global Weirding

Oh, what fun it truly was to experience the “bomb cyclone” in January in New England: the snowfall gave a sense of peace and calm, the winds were less strong than predicted, and the snow, while heavy, was not dense enough to take down trees and power lines in most areas. The following period of intense cold through February and March in the eastern half of the US, on the other hand, seems a harbinger of climate instability which will most likely worsen in upcoming years. As the jet stream weakens and buckles due to climate change, storm intensity and temperature fluctuations are certain to get worse.

The biggest danger for East coasters will remain the hurricane, as September 2017 registered as the most active month in recorded history for the Atlantic.

On the West coast, things are getting a bit Biblical: raging fires alternate with intense flooding and mudslides in Montecito and southern California a few months ago. The 2017 fire season set aflame over eight million acres mainly in the Western states. It’s not just a domestic issue: Portugal faced an epic firestorm in June of last year, killing close to 100, partly due to the monocultures of eucalyptus trees planted across the country. Millions face conditions of famine and drought worldwide.

Sadly, most reporting and discussion of global warming and climate change serves to abstract the issues into a diversionary attitude that the Earth is in crisis. Well, the planet, as a self-regulating super-organism, will do just fine without us, even if it takes millennia to recover from our misdeeds. It is stable and abundance-providing ecosystems that are in crisis, species that are going extinct at 1000 times the background rate, and humanity is the culprit.

Even though man-made global warming is acknowledged by most people, there is still a conflation going on in the West that the all-devouring Earth-mother is out to get us. Rather, it is Western civilization which is stalking any chance for future generations to live and prosper.

Ecosystems in Crisis

In Germany, a study was done measuring insect populations in nature reserves, and it was discovered that there was a 75% drop in total insects collected in only 25 years. Scientists estimate that 30-50% of all species may become extinct by 2050.

Tragically, regarding honeybees, scientists have discovered an important link between fungicide use and the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), showing a negatively synergistic effect on bee colonies and resistance to fungal infection. Bees seem to actually prefer honey set in traps with a small percentage of Roundup or fungicides added. Humans are not the only species to enjoy mind-altering drugs, even poisonous ones.

All of our problems involving the destruction of habitat are ultimately bound up in the fact that there are too many of us, conditioned to respond in violent outbursts, consuming too many resources, leading to stress, war, and unimaginable acts of cruelty. These acts are often sanctioned by the state or the corporation or religion or patriarchal vertical hierarchies.

The exponential population growth from the industrial revolution is already slowing and bound to top off at anywhere from 10-12 billion people by 2050-2100, if we manage to avoid the many catastrophes hurtling our way. Thus the growth curve will resemble an S-curve barring unforeseeable circumstances, with small waves and ripples due to the complexities of changing times, food sources, and a multitude of variables. In theory this population model could then lead to a steady decrease in total population due to a voluntary decision by humanity to slowly and carefully have fewer children due to stresses on ecosystems and natural resources. If we don’t convert to decentralized renewable energy and organic, communal-based agriculture, however, there is another model we may follow, and it’s not pretty one. Fossil fuel use is the habit that must be kicked for humanity to help recreate a sustainable world.

One of the most famous examples from studying mammalian populations is the debacle of St. Matthew Island, a warning to humanity. A tiny island located in the Bering Strait, with no carnivores, some lonely US coast guard officers decided to introduce reindeer onto the island. From a starting population of 29 in 1944, the hungry caribou ate through the entire island’s many lichen species, ballooning to 6,000 by 1963. Within two years and no other food source, the die-off was drastic, and only 42 remained in 1965. The entire population vanished by the 1980s. If our coal, gas, and oil run out without a democratic and scientific plan to make the leap to renewables, we are doomed to the same path.

The Unspoken Links

It would be simplistic to relegate these new and unprecedented levels of strangeness to the spheres of ecology and climate science. The deep wounds Western man has inflicted on fellow species and the planet are also inflicted on ourselves. From everything to decreased attention spans, the rise of xenophobia and mistrust towards minorities and immigrants, and billions living in poverty, these are by and large self-inflicted wounds. We must learn to see ourselves in the other, and see the other in ourselves

Cell phone, TV, tablet, and computer use, dubbed “screen time”, can now be understood to have a net-negative effect on human communities when consumed in vast quantities, as it drives anti-social behavior and isolation from the wider community. A recent study concluded the average screen time for US adults was around 70 hours per week. Keep in mind, that means for every person getting 40 hours of screen time there is another getting 100 hours per week.

The rising rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions may be partly due to the stressors and conditions of modern life, including longer lifespans, but they do not account for the majority. Our polluted world and environmental crises play a mostly invisible role in the West, as our federal agencies such as the EPA and FDA have become corrupted by pharmaceutical and corporate interests.

With no way to systemically study or properly account for the rise of ill health and mental stupefaction of the public, medical and health professionals, shackled in their dim caves staring at shadows, have designated the “genetic” component to dis-ease as the Holy Grail. There is some truth to this: undoubtedly certain forms of breast cancer are linked to specific areas on chromosomes, etc. The idea, however, that billions of dollars in research must be shunted into the reductionist model of DNA manipulation and gene therapy is a huge waste of time, resources, and brainpower. (No, I don’t have mainstream “credentials” or a PhD, but I was happy to have my suspicions about targeted gene therapy confirmed straight out of the mouth of a former top researcher at the National Cancer Institute.)

The best way I’ve heard it phrased, regarding chronic disease and our toxified world, is like this: genetics is the loaded gun, and the environment is the finger pulling the trigger. Yes, many people are at risk due to genetic inheritance for many forms of cancers, diabetes, and the list goes on, but magnifying the capacities of the double helix as the primal cause of these conditions is not only dubious, it’s intellectually dishonest and dangerous. One may be at higher risks for certain disorders, but a healthy lifestyle can often slow, negate, or reverse chronic disease.

Many of today’s chemical dangers are invisible and thus fly under the radar of doctors and scientists. Yet, there are visible changes in our bodies that have manifested with the rise of industrial agriculture after World War Two. One change being the rise in obesity worldwide. Yes, we have increased meal portion sizes and live more sedentary lifestyles, and yes, food serves as a palliative for depression and anxiety.

Yet, this does not explain the study (summarized in an Atlantic article here) which concluded that between 1988 and 2006 a person with the same diet, nutrient and exercise routines would be 10% heavier in 2006. This is a historic finding, and I can find nothing in the literature which reports a change in size of any other species in such short a time frame (18 years), other than weight gain in the abhorrent factory farming conditions of chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problem is, as the authors of the study note, there are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to determine what the culprit is. There are persistent organic pollutants, hormones in our food which act as endocrine disruptors, prescription drug overuse which leads to weight gain, and the possibility of a change in our gut bacteria due to mass antibiotic use in animal produce. In all likelihood, it is a combination of all of these factors that is driving the obesity and cancer epidemics. While many researchers are waking up to effects from increasing use of digital technology and social media, hardly anyone in the scientific community and academia have bothered to think about the huge changes to our bodies in the past few decades.

For every one human cell in our bodies, there are about 10 symbiotic bacterial cells. We are in very real sense super-organisms, and the huge influx of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in our food is forming a negatively synergistic effect on our ability to reason, to exercise, to relax, and to resist these new forms of genetic-biologic oppression.

This comes down to the nexus of corporate agribusiness, complicit federal health “experts”, lack of funding for research and grants for responsible scientists, and a poisoned food and water supply which has hijacked and somehow rewired our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune-response pathways. Have no doubt, this is an uncontrolled experiment being run on us all, without our permission.

The rise in cancer in particular can be tied to the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, as I and many others have posited. Estimates range that anywhere from 1 million to 50 million or even higher have already died/may die in the coming century earlier than they otherwise would have, because of cancer due to nuclear radiation from these tests.

The chance of getting cancer in one’s lifetime is expected to rise to a 33% chance for women and a 50% chance for men by 2050. This is the microcosm within the macrocosm of a world system based on infinite growth on a finite planet. The ideology of capitalism is death, and there should be no mystification as to why the clear unhealthiness of the hegemonic socio-economic system has been transported into our very bodies via cancer.

A major problem is that modern medicine has become ideological and insular, with predictably deadly results. There can be no patents for plants, herbs, mushrooms, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices, thus no conglomerate, multinational, corporate money to be made.

If it becomes clear on a mass scale that traditional practices including, but not limited to, herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, holistic traditional healing, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine has immense value beyond the instrumental rationality of allopathic medicine, the gig is up for mainstream pill-pushers. Most health professionals would be unveiled as the educated fools that they are, drug pushers promoting dangerous drugs for children and the elderly, not to mention endless unnecessary tests and procedures which make billions for Big Pharma and medical technology companies.

Let me be clear here: I am not by any means trying to scapegoat every medical professional, as researchers and people who treat medical emergencies, trauma, surgeons, and doctors dealing with acute medical conditions do amazing work every day. What I’m driving at is the allopathic way of treating most chronic conditions is a farce, and our society should return to promoting preventative, holistic treatments.

Thanato-politics

Sadly, there is a legitimate reason why so much of society is organized around ignorance, fear, violence, denial of the body, and consumption: the death-drive. One does not have to subscribe to Freud’s exposition of thanatos to understand this: the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desertification of our world, the razing of habitat shows this quite clearly.

Modern civilization does not only lead to obedience, submission, and structural violence, but also to a certain form of captivity. Humans tend to rebel against such a depraved social order, even if only symbolically, with varying amounts of success. Some do so constructively, forming social movements and protests, yet masses have fallen prey to the siren-songs of nationalism, consumerism, addiction, and war. Along with the enclosure of public land and the destruction of the commons (“There is no such thing as society”) comes a culture of fear, cruelty, and ultimately projections of the outer world as scary and downright evil.

Captivity in action: consider the recent missile alert in Hawai’i. Was this not an example of a captive audience, doomed by elites to worry and scatter over a phantom nuke over the horizon? None of us asked for this. Most of humanity simply wants to be left alone from the vagaries of government and corporate rule to live stable, happy lives. Yet the sad truth of the matter is the elites are not going to leave us alone. Their appetite is insatiable, and they will, in fact, drag down the entire biosphere, because in their current state of mind, they hate life, and want to transcend this world, either to heaven (the Christian fundamentalists) or have their consciousness uploaded or bodies cryogenically frozen for future immortality (the Kurzweillian techno-futurists).

Evil, or rather, a disdain for authentic living, is banal in many senses: one of these is the utter unimaginativeness resting in the dark hearts of our political leaders. Evil is a lack, a poverty of the soul. It is incapacity to create, an absence of imagination, spontaneous creativity, and compassion. You can sense this in our “technocratic” leadership, pushing us ever closer to the abyss of economic depression and ecological ruin.

It often conjures up a chuckle when I remind people of David Graeber’s comments (paraphrasing here) on the elitist corporate/managerial/bureaucratic mindset: “These are the most unimaginative people ever.” This is basically a gallows humor, as the elite are numbing citizens of the will, mental capacities, and physical abilities to organize and resist effectively, and are setting up the masses for collapse of our civilization.

Reclaiming Eros

If there does exist some sort of death drive (most explicitly recognized in Nazi, Italian, and Spanish fascist ideology: “¡Viva la muerte!”) that modern civilization is imposing on us, is there a countervailing force?

Countering the bleak pessimism of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization offers clues. We can extrapolate and widen their focus on libido to consider Eros as an analogy for life-force or life-energy, similar to Eastern notions of prana and chi. If modern society has, in fact, regimented our lives around a Marcuse-esque performance principle, it does so at the cost of our very souls. It was no mythological coincidence that the ancient Greeks wedded the god Eros in immortal bliss with Psyche. One cannot exist without the other.

Alienation in the workplace is so all-pervasive it often goes unnoticed or unremarked upon. Perhaps this orientation around surplus repression is most visible in leisure activities such as today’s gyms, the insular form of physical exercise for the corporate workers and bosses. Regimenting the mind in the office is not enough: bodies must be splayed across endless rows of treadmills and metal strength-enhancing machines like legions of marching ants, with the requisite phone or Ipod and headphones attached. As for the flabby and out-of-shape, it is once again a lack of discipline and failure to take individual responsibility, rather than any oppressive social structure which is the causal factor.

These are the pod people, exemplified in a New York Times piece about a former Nike exec and artist who has refused to watch or read any news since Donald Trump became elected, who even goes to far as to use noise-canceling headphones blaring white noise in coffee shops to not overhear any chatter about world affairs. Why not just play music? “Stray conversation can creep in between songs.” The same game goes for the power elite: stray news about the poor and oppressed, and any possibilities of social transformation, are simply shushed away.

Thus, when the business and political elite blurt the snide “Be reasonable!” they are at the same time using the cynical trope of “no grand ideologies” (read: Marxism) which, of course, hides behind the moral relativism and lack of conception of the good life which liberal democracy has always played at, which is ideology at its purest: “the end of history”, “there is no such thing as society”, “there is no alternative”.

These people, whose ideas simply parrot the cultural hegemonic ruling class framework, are asserting the “logic of domination”. Drawing on Arendt and Orwell, Alexander Stern has dubbed this “Bingespeak”. Following Marcuse:

Reason is to insure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of the human potentialities. But in the process the end seems to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs- and defines the needs themselves. The Logos shows forth as the logic of domination. When logic then reduces the units of thought to signs and symbols, the laws of thought have finally become techniques of calculation and manipulation.1

This corrupted Logos seems to have pushed aside Eros in the modern world. Nietzsche would call it Apollonian overtaking the Dionysian. As the socially-constructed ego has developed under patriarchy, civilization, and capitalism, it has done so with the fear of the maternal-based clan, and the Earth-based tribal modes of life. Returning to Marcuse:

The Narcissistic phase of individual pre-genitality ‘recalls the maternal phase of the history of the human race. Both constitute a reality to which the ego responds with an attitude, not of defense and submission, but of integral identification with the ‘environment.’ But in the light of the paternal reality principle, the ‘maternal concept’ of reality here emerging is immediately turned into something dreadful, negative. The impulse to re-establish the lost Narcissistic-maternal unity is interpreted as a ‘threat,’ namely, the threat of ‘maternal engulfment’ by the overpowering womb. The hostile father is exonerated and reappears as savior who…protects the ego from its annihilation in the mother.2

Does this fear not play out between the lines of today’s discourse around the environment? It cannot be the patriarchal, murderous version of global capitalism which is at fault, but rather, an all-consuming mother planet bent on destroying us all (even though it’s all our own fault due to rampant fossil fuel use). In fact, the father figure of global capital now swoops in to act as a savior for everything he has destroyed.

Contrast, for example, the rush to space and immortality that the Silicon Valley techno-utopian folk seem to prefer, or even the “pragmatism” of Steward “we are as gods and have to get good at it” Brand; with the ecocentric approach of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, co-creators of Gaia theory. Corporate-funded mainstream environmentalists would have us geo-engineer the planet and proliferate dangerous 5G technology via an internet-of-things around the globe. Rather, we should convert to small scale, decentralized renewable tech, and attempt to live in harmony with the biosphere by adhering to an ecological precautionary principle.

Thus, the “primal father” version of the future which Brand and his “green capitalist” (an oxymoron) acolytes believe in necessarily involves sacrifice of the masses and more exploitation of natural resources We are told this everyday: “austerity” is needed for economic recovery; delay gratification to pay off debts; foreigners must be killed and are simply collateral damage to protect the world from terrorism, public land is off-limits or only for recreation, not sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; etc.

Reconciling Apollo and Dionysus, Logos and Eros, a less repressive society would not simply focus on what we must sacrifice, but allow space for passion, imagination, and desire. A democratic society would allow for collective decision-making regarding the scale and scope of a host of socioeconomic issues, including sustainable agriculture, genetic research, preventative medicine, animal testing, as well as chemical use in farming and industry.

With a healthy balance between Logos and Eros, we can transcend the deadly framework of instrumental reason and positivism to build a livable future. Some like to call this a “supra-rational” outlook, a transpersonal and holistic view of the world, where emotional intelligence is blended with the analytic, intuition with abstract logic.

What lessons can we draw here? There must be a concerted effort to blend work and play, especially in regards to communal farming, collective home building, and low-scale renewable energy, to create the grounds for authentic liberation from capitalism.

Sustained and coordinated efforts to build autonomous zones free from governmental and hierarchical organization are paramount: indigenous movements throughout South America and worldwide, the mass strikes in France, Christiania in København, freedom fighters in Chiapas and Rojava, and the MST in Brazil offer models of resistance.

We are going to have to adopt a type of bricolage (Levi-Strauss) culture, scavenging what has not been absorbed by global capital, to create beauty in the ruins of empire. Thus, we can begin the Herculean effort to deterritorialize (as in Deleuze and Guattari) and thus reassemble a heterogeneous, co-evolving, transformational commons; to decolonize our minds from a simulated, mechanical mode of life; to detach from the Spectacle; to unlearn and deschool ourselves (Illich) from the oppressive social systems designed to rob and eventually destroy everything we know and care for.

  1. Marcuse, Herbert. (1974) Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. Originally published 1955. pp. 111-112.
  2. Ibid., p. 230.

Review: Humanity: The World Before Religion, War, and Inequality

In his groundbreaking work, Humanity: The World Before Religion, War, and Inequality, author Barry Brown has managed to definitively prove humankind’s natural tendencies to be peaceful, cooperative, and egalitarian. Brown’s work is the first ever to document the history of humankind before and after the advent of warfare. Barry takes the reader on a tour de force through humanity’s prehistory as well as providing detailed evidence for his assertions about ancient mysteries such as the Venus statues, the original meaning of the swastika, his theory about the location of the Garden of Eden, and the real purpose of the Gobekli Tepe site, an enigmatic archaeological site in southeast Turkey.

Brown’s background as a journalist is his greatest asset, as he manages to make connections that are seemingly overlooked and/or downplayed by the world’s leading archaeologists, paleontologists, historians, and even evolutionary biologists.

One of Brown’s main supporting arguments can be found in a Scientific American essay which elucidates the nearly completely non-violent behaviors of chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest living ancestors, as well as the early fossil record of hominids, where no group warfare among masses of people is found before the advent of agriculture, cities, and hierarchies. This indicates that our biological nature is peace-loving, and that our tendency towards group violence has become normalized due to propaganda, socialization, and cultural factors. Although small cases of individual killing did occur in hunter-gatherer societies, these are outliers, not the norm. The first ninety-nine percent of human history was peaceful, without organized warfare.

Brown starts off documenting the evolutionary history of our primate ancestors, exploring the possibility that having a better sense of balance with a more complex inner ear, and the consciousness of having a center of gravity, is what differentiated Homo sapiens from other hominids. With the tenacity of an investigate journalist, Brown offers unique insights into the mysteries of the ancient world, including that: Venus statues were the world’s first book, an object for reflection and to stimulate insight regarding anatomy, culture, psychology, and femininity. Also, Gobekli Tepe was the world’s first university, as it shows no permanent signs of settlement or religious use, where people from all over the region could come to learn farming techniques, animal husbandry, and share culture. The swastika was a symbol of peace and friendship, a signpost for travelers of welcome and to encourage newcomers that friendly human settlements were nearby.

Barry’s Brown is the first of its kind to look at humanity’s history before and after the advent of warfare. His central argument is that warfare started approximately 4000 BCE in India, which is documented in the epic Mahabharata, of which a small part is documented in the Bhagavad Gita. Brown also notices a possible correlation in the Old Testament, where it is his interpretation that the Jewish people descended from Eastern India, near the Ganges River, which was the original “Garden of Eden.”

Social divisions were the precursor to war, as the forming proto-caste system in ancient India bred alienation, vertical hierarchies, patriarchy, wealth inequality, and families and clans demanding blind loyalty and obedience from their followers.

Brown’s contention that the war between the rival clans, the Kurus and the Pandavas, was the first war in history, which fractured social relations in India and spread suspicion, fear, and hatred throughout the premodern world. Divisions and hierarchical relations in ancient India were exacerbated to such a point that no person or group dared to challenge to reconcile the two clans. Elaborate musical and gaming events, clan rivalry, and mass religious rituals most likely were the precursors to the actual war, devolving into war games designed to let off steam and social tensions, which further devolved into actual warfare.

After this first great war, much of advanced Indian society shifted west to the Indus Valley civilization, where a democratic, egalitarian society flourished from about 3000-2000 BCE. However, the dark forces of empire, organized violence, and social hierarchies spread to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, where they eventually gave rise to monotheistic, dogmatic religions, fear, insecurity, and permanent wars.

Brown explains how the wounds of ancient violence, strife and fear, this turn towards warfare and discord, remain with us to this day. When security is traded for liberty, where “freedom from” hunger, tyranny, and poverty is replaced by a selfish creed of “freedom to” do anything one likes with their time, private property, and money, humanity as a whole suffers.

The roots of global conflict go back to this change in our shared history, a shift from helpful, friendly, cooperative communities to fearful, divided, traumatized nations who now threaten the entire world with the crises of global warming, habitat destruction, and nuclear war, just to name a few. Barry Brown’s revelatory work shows us a clear path in how to return to our natural, peaceful state of being.

 

Humanity: Before and After the Advent of War

In the groundbreaking work, Humanity: The World Before Religion, War, and Inequality, author Barry Brown has provided definitive evidence of humankind’s natural tendency to be peaceful, cooperative, and egalitarian. Brown’s work is the first ever to document the history of humankind before and after the advent of warfare. Brown takes the reader on a tour de force through humanity’s prehistory as well as providing detailed evidence about ancient mysteries such as the Venus statues, the original meaning of the swastika, his theory about the location of the Garden of Eden, and the real purpose of the Gobekli Tepe site, an enigmatic archaeological site in southeast Turkey.

Brown’s background as a journalist is his greatest asset, as he makes connections that are seemingly overlooked and/or downplayed by the world’s leading archaeologists, paleontologists, historians, and even evolutionary biologists.

One of Brown’s main supporting arguments can be found in a Scientific American essay which elucidates the nearly completely non-violent behaviors of chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest living ancestors, as well as the early fossil record of hominids, where no group warfare among masses of people is found before the advent of agriculture, cities, and hierarchies. This indicates that our biological nature is peace-loving, and that our tendency towards group violence has become normalized due to propaganda, socialization, and cultural factors. Although small cases of individual killing did occur in hunter-gatherer societies, these are outliers, not the norm. The first ninety-nine percent of human history was peaceful, without organized warfare.

Brown starts off documenting the evolutionary history of our primate ancestors, exploring the possibility that having a better sense of balance with a more complex inner ear, and the consciousness of having a center of gravity, is what differentiated Homo sapiens from other hominids. With the tenacity of an investigative journalist, Brown offers unique insights into the mysteries of the ancient world, including that: Venus statues were the world’s first book, an object for reflection and to stimulate insight regarding anatomy, culture, psychology, and femininity. Also, Gobekli Tepe was the world’s first university, as it shows no permanent signs of settlement or religious use, where people from all over the region could come to learn farming techniques, animal husbandry, and share culture. The swastika was a symbol of peace and friendship, a signpost for travelers of welcome and to encourage newcomers that friendly human settlements were nearby.

Humanity is the first to look at humanity’s history before and after the advent of warfare. His central argument is that warfare started approximately 4000 BCE in India, which is documented in the epic Mahabharata, of which a small part is documented in the Bhagavad Gita. Brown also notices a possible correlation in the Old Testament, where it is his interpretation that the Hebrew people originated in Eastern India, near the Ganges River, which Brown claims was the original “Garden of Eden.”

Social divisions were the precursor to war, as the formation of a proto-caste system in ancient India created alienation, vertical hierarchies, patriarchy, wealth inequality, and where families and clans demanded loyalty and obedience from their members.

Brown’s contends that the war between the rival clans, the Kurus and the Pandavas, was the first war in history. It fractured social relations in India and spread suspicion, fear, and hatred throughout the premodern world. Divisions and hierarchical relations in ancient India were exacerbated to such a point that no person or group dared to challenge or reconcile the two clans. Elaborate musical and gaming events, clan rivalry, and mass religious rituals most likely were the precursors to the actual war, devolving into war games designed to let off steam and social tensions, which further devolved into actual warfare.

After this first great war, much of advanced Indian society shifted west to the Indus Valley civilization, where a democratic, egalitarian society flourished from about 3000-2000 BCE. However, the dark forces of empire, organized violence, and social hierarchies spread to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, where they eventually gave rise to monotheistic, dogmatic religions, fear, insecurity, and permanent wars.

Brown explains how the wounds of ancient violence, strife and fear, warfare and discord remain with us to this day. When security is traded for liberty, where “freedom from” hunger, tyranny, and poverty is replaced by a selfish creed of “freedom to” do anything one likes with their time, private property, and money humanity as a whole suffers.

The roots of global conflict go back to this change in our shared history, a shift from friendly and cooperative communities to fearful, divided, and traumatized nations which now threaten the entire world with the crises of global warming, habitat destruction, and nuclear war, just to name a few. Importantly, Brown’s Humanity shows us a clear path to return to our natural, peaceful state of being.

Ode to America

My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.

— Guster, “Center of Attention”, Lost and Gone Forever Live, 2014

So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.

Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.

Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.

The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.

This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.

The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven-and-a-half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.

There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.

Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.

While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.

There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect

I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.

The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.

As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).

There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.

Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course, I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.

Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle out of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls for increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.

Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.

I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming.  Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.

Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.

What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.

What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bio-regional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.

Visioning

What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.

Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of bio-dynamic farming, perma-culture, and agro-forestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.

Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bio-regional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.

The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.

Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how some have tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.

Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.

Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.

Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has  clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.

Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.

This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.

More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.

Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.

The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.

Ode to America

 

My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.

-Guster, “Center of Attention

So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.

Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.

Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.

The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.

This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.

The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven and a half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.

There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.

Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.

While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.

There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect

I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.

The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.

As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).

There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.

Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.

Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle out of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.

Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.

I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming.  Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.

Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.

What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.

What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bioregional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.

Visioning

What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.

Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of biodynamic farming, permaculture, and agroforestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.

Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bioregional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.

The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.

Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how some have tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.

Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.

Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.

Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has very clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.

Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.

This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.

More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.

Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.

The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.