Category Archives: Disasters

The Climate Fiasco is Solved through Socialism

Oh, Oregon is holding hearings on HB 2020, a baby step around putting feet to fire of those so-called polluters. I will list it below. I have been asked to attend a skyped hearing, one that tells me to go for no more than 3 minutes.

This is Kabuki Theater. The bill is about green as the new black. It’s always about Democrats and 350.org looking to capitalism to solve a problem — an entire set of problems — created by capitalism.

Instead of socialism — working for the environment, for the people, for communities and for a healthy truth-telling of how bad the climate disruption and changes are and will be — we have the Green New Deal/Plan that leaves out the 52 percent of the USA’s national budget — war, military, and all the tens of thousands of companies and corporations that make money off of prisons, surveillance, armaments, bombs, DARPA-inspired killing.

Forget the fact that the US military is the largest polluter in the USA, in the world. We are using valuable resources, funding, minds to perpetuate a dying project of star wars, Mother of All Bombs, perpetual war. So, what do I say, then, or do, when friends want me to go to a hearing and speak talking points? I have a letter below I tweaked to tell the truth to my two reps — David Gomberg, Democrat, District 10; and Arnie Roblan, Democrat, 5th District.

It’s milquetoast, still. Decorum and being respectful override being truthful and impassioned.

Image result for arctic ice melt

Dear Representatives:

I’m writing to urge you to make the Clean Energy Jobs bill a priority in the upcoming year. And that’s just a start. I’ve been an educator and journalist for more than 40 years, 80 combined years. I am 62, and have worked in public schools, community colleges, four-year land grant colleges, private universities and myriad of alternative and non-traditional learning places.

I have spent my time learning about the built environment many ways (master’s in urban planning) and sustainability tied to community participation (master’s in Communications/ English).

The bottom line is we need to do more than what HB 2020 asks for. This is only the tip of the iceberg, to use a prophetic way of telling you that we need more than a Marshall Plan to mitigate the negative effects of global warming. The scientists I communicate with and study are way ahead of any panel impaneled by the US government or corporations to look into global climate change.

We are in dire straits, tied to crop failures, record temperatures, desertification of ecosystems, lowering of oxygen in our atmosphere, species collapse, and a shift in the water cycle, to name just a few. We need to move quickly to an eco-socialist mindset.

If you can’t see HB 2020 as a small first step, yes, necessary, then your own myopia certainly would speak to an uninitiated mind. Hold all major polluters accountable with a price on greenhouse gases. Don’t allow for exemptions for any polluting industries.

Everyone under the cap! Make sure we’re reinvesting in Oregon to make our people resilient, to have food security, to plan sensibly, and to make sure our citizens are prepared for some tough times ahead. This is not a time to believe green is the new black (economically speaking).

The idea of green-washing vital human-ecosystems-cultural safety nets for the price of predatory capitalism as we have it in Oregon and in the USA, is worse than doing nothing at all. We need steady-state economic thinking, and to act and work locally and connect globally.

From better transit in cities to modern irrigation on farms, from renewable energy for homes to managing wildfire risk, the Clean Energy Jobs bill will benefit all communities in Oregon. I ask you to champion bold climate action with Clean Energy Jobs.

I’ll stay in touch about the progress of the bill. I ask you to get informed as quickly as possible to understand the full impacts of global climate catastrophe, over-harvesting of resources, and the impacts of business as usual in a no holds barred attitude that puts economy over equity and environment. Environment and equity far outpaces any economic boondoggles and schemes the industrialists and capitalists have devised for their immediate profit theft.

Sincerely, Paul Haeder

Crazy, I sent in such a mellow letter. I didn’t want to upset the political apple cart, by telling these representatives what they should be doing to grow Oregon: stop infinite growth, or any growth, and do steady state economics and the economics of the poor, as in the proposals of the barefoot economist, Manfred Max-Neef. Our entire system is flawed with town-halls and Skyped hearings. We need ecosocialism now, and a billion trees planted now. A plant-based diet NOW. All transportation predicated on true 200-mile diets and consumption patterns NOW. Durable goods manufactured locally NOW.

Related image

My fellow writer, John Steppling, has a good piece out today over at Dissident Voice. Please read it. “Scurrying Fascist Cockroaches”.

Already, I am having arguments about Bernie. Those who support him will not allow for any criticism. Then, I have to defend Sanders when dyed in the wool culture wars Democrats ply one of their top ten (will it be 23 total vying for the nomination in one form or another?) as the real choice/champ/darling-to-beat-Pence/Trump and attack Bernie for being unrealistic, a spoiler, a socialist!

Bernie or the rest of the shills are not for socialism. Period. They are for war, no taxes, endless confusion and chaos, which are the by-products of vulture-predatory-zombie Capitalism.

Now, Ocasio Cortez is floating something she calls the Green New Deal (which, in another form, was already promoted by Green Party candidate Jill Stein) and which is a nakedly pro capitalist bit of three card Monte that will provide a boost to the nuclear power industry and line various corporate pockets. It’s capitalism.

Omar and Ocasio Cortez also signed the odious Code Pink letter condemning US involvement in coups while at the same time slandering and fabricating stories about Maduro. The logic of the letter was that US proxy forces and covert activities had a counter productive effect and only helped to shore up the credibility of the Maduro government.

In other words, fascism is OK, is just fine, only please do it in ways that will not bruise my delicate sensitivities.

— John Steppling

Only socialism can tackle what is happening in the world now, not just tied to climate change, but also tied to the global economic inequities and the murder and plunder and sexism, ageism, racism, ableism which Capitalism not only creates, but breeds incessantly.

Think hard who cares about animals, the aged, the young, the land, air, water, soil, the whales, the bees, ending prisons, developing safety nets for we the people.

Think hard who cares about First Nations and Civil Society and peasant movements and self-determination for people of the land. It’s not going to be the elephant at the end of the feast; i.e., Republicans.

The right-wing does not care about any of these groups or concerns. Right wingers do not care about us, the 80 percent, or the Romney 41 Percent, or the 99 Percent when looking at billionaires running for the Democratic presidential nomination — Bloomberg and Starbucks Howdy Doody Schultz.

The right-wingers do not care about teachers, about public institutions, about science (real science, not bought and sold science for the industries of Capitalism, the polluters, financiers, lords of war, and the infinite consumption/retailers’ products of obsolescence, planned lack of durability, etc.)

And, well, the democrats, too, from Clinton to Pelosi, and all the usual suspects this election cycle — all war mongers, genuflecting to Israel and $$$ — they think of us as super predators, super naive, super Utopian.

Steppling:

To fix or at least manage, to some degree, the worst environmental problems will actually require drastic socialist programs. Not fascism as Noam Chomsky** suggests…or as Bernie Sanders or AOC or any of the rest of these capitalist sock puppets … but socialist.

And nothing, NOTHING of any good is ever going come out of the Democratic Party. And nothing of any significance can happen via the US electoral theater. The amount of energy wasted in endless debate about the virtues or ‘electability’ (sic) of Elizabeth Warren vs Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris vs Tulsi Gabbard etc is breathtaking. Imagine that time spent on something useful.

Like, oh, how to prevent more war and carnage. And how to create a sustainable form of human development.

Socialism, in its most radical form, is about substantive equality, community solidarity, and ecological sustainability; it is aimed at the unification—not simply division—of labor. —  “The Indispensable Radical Left”

Here, a great quote from Steppling citing John Bellemy Foster, Monthly Review, February 2019

Once sustainable human development, rooted not in exchange values, but in use values and genuine human needs, comes to define historical advance, the future, which now seems closed, will open up in a myriad ways, allowing for entirely new, more qualitative, and collective forms of development. This can be seen in the kinds of needed practical measures that could be taken up, but which are completely excluded under the present mode of production. It is not physical impossibility, or lack of economic surplus, most of which is currently squandered, that stands in the way of the democratic control of investment, or the satisfaction of basic needs—clean air and water, food, clothing, housing, education, health care, transportation, and useful work—for all. It is not the shortage of technological know-how or of material means that prevents the necessary ecological conversion to more sustainable forms of energy.103 It is not some inherent division of humanity that obstructs the construction of a New International of workers and peoples directed against capitalism, imperialism, and war. All of this is within our reach, but requires pursuing a logic that runs counter to that of capitalism. —

And again, proof about just how broken the logic of our lefty intellectual, N. Chomsky. Note**

Suppose it was discovered tomorrow that the greenhouse effects has been way underestimated, and that the catastrophic effects are actually going to set in 10 years from now, and not 100 years from now or something. Well, given the state of the popular movements we have today, we’d probably have a fascist takeover-with everybody agreeing to it, because that would be the only method for survival that anyone could think of. I’d even agree to it, because there’s just no other alternatives right now.

— Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, 2002

The counterpoint to any of these baby steps, to speak power to money at these capitalism-will-forever-rule-and-dictate-our-futures believers on all sides of the duopoly aisle, is real rebellion. Rebelling in a time of student loans that murder future, militarized police, informants, pigs ruling all media, and cult of celebrity sounds daunting, but do we have any other choice? Extinction Rebellion!

From Rolling Stone:

Drawing inspiration from the civil rights movement, Occupy Wall Street, and HIV/AIDS protest group ACT UP, Extinction Rebellion makes clear demands, among them that the government must “tell the truth about the climate” and “enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.”

But it also aims to acknowledge and draw on the intense emotions that come with the environmental calamity that’s upon us. “Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn,” is how Gail Bradbrook, one the organization’s founders in England, puts it.

“Our intention is to provoke an uprising on a scale that’s never been seen before in the U.S., a national coordinated economic and government disruption that will be maintained until the government is forced to negotiate with us.”

Utilizing strictly nonviolent tactics and operating within a largely decentralized structure, the Extinction Rebellion has three ambitious demands: to push governments to communicate the truth of the ecological crisis to the public, to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to allow the formation of a democratic “citizens assembly” to oversee the massive changes this would necessitate.

The New York City chapter of XR also includes a demand for climate justice, or “a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty.”

Or, do we really confront all systems and break away from all structures of power, including government, government controlled by the elites, government in the hands of despotic thinkers, corporations riding roughshod over all our lives? Cory Morningstar:

How would you describe the general impact of liberal foundations on the evolution of research within universities and on intellectuals more generally?

Cory: It is my belief that the impact has been debilitating beyond measure. Worse, it is not only underestimated by society, but I would go so far as to say that the co-optation of growth and intellect is not even recognized by society. We like to believe that Euro-Americans are the brilliant ones (after all, we’ve been battling Nature for eons and winning): yet collectively we (the supposedly educated) are destroying our own habitat at an ever-accelerating speed.

Those chosen for positions of power, which accelerate our demise via the industrialized capitalist system, are cherry-picked from the Ivy League. Corporate control (via direct funding and foundation funding) has resulted in a cohesive silence on almost everything that flies in the face of common sense. Creativity has been grossly stifled.

Critical thinking has been framed as confrontational while submission and obedience are deemed admirable. I covered this topic more extensively in part 3 of my investigative report on methane hydrates (The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction: Methane, Propaganda & the Architects of Genocide) under the subsection Universities as Bedfellows| Moral Nihilism.

[Excerpt: “Corporate funding effectively silences dissent and buys legitimacy where none is deserved. The corporate influence and domination, like a virus, crushes imagination, strangles creativity and kills individual thought. Education pursued for the collective good is dead. Transcendent values — dead. The nurturing of individual conscience — dead. Ethical and social equity issues are framed and accepted as passé. Political silence reigns. Moral independence within educational institutes is being effectively decimated. It is of little surprise that empathy has declined by 40% in college students since 2000.”]

See the source image

Indonesian Tsunami: Thievery, Ineptness and Presidential Elections

How low can a country governed by an unbridled greed, a notorious lack of morals and ubiquitous servility to its neo-colonialist masters, really sink?

And how can people tolerate lies, the naked cynicism and fanatical incompetence of the rulers? Can the regime in Indonesia, which was created in 1965, and then nurtured by the West, really get away with absolutely everything, even, literally, murder?

As I write this report, it has been confirmed that the tsunami which struck West Java on the 22nd of December, 2018, killed hundreds of people. It is almost certain that the death toll will soon climb to thousands.

Most houses destroyed belong to the poor

Yesterday, I drove to West coast of Java. I witnessed devastation, but I also observed, as on so many previous occasions, absolute collapse of the state functions, its phlegmatic unwillingness to mobilize, as well as absolutely shocking helplessness of the victims.

During an entire day, along the entire coast, I did not encounter one single foreign journalist, while the local press, corrupt and unprofessional, kept reporting only what it was paid and ordered to report, even arranging ‘positive’ shots, instead of exposing harsh reality.

*****

I gave myself 3 hours to write this report; only 3 hours, and not a minute more. That is how long my late evening flight from Jakarta to Bangkok will last. There is no time to delay what has to be urgently said. No time for ‘flowery reporting’. People are dying. Now it is December 25. The day before yesterday it was announced that at least 222 human lives were terminated. Yesterday the count stood at 370. Now, before my plane takes off, it is close to 500. What should we expect tomorrow; a thousand? Are we going to be informed in one week that several thousand men, women and children were swept away, crashed, torn apart, drowned, and starved to death?

Miserable structures could not withstand tidal wave

As in 2004 when a quarter of million people, mostly in Aceh, vanished after a devastating tidal wave, I have to repeat now what I declared then: in Indonesia, it is not a tsunami that murders; it is not at all. The regime imposed on this miserably poor country by the West, in 1965, reduced the entire archipelago to a monolithic, unproductive, resigned, awfully religious cluster of islands stripped off almost all of its natural resources as well as original fauna and flora; islands polluted, inhabited by uneducated and increasingly aggressive and intolerant people; both victimizers and victims at the same time.

These people cannot fight or resist anymore. They only brutalize each other, never their immoral rulers.

*****

She lost everything

Mrs. Rani from Cinangka, Anyer, used to be the owner of a tiny restaurant selling fresh fish from the nearby sea. Now she is standing next to her destroyed hut. First, she appears to be angry, but then she breaks down, begins hugging us desperately as if we were her last hope, crying bitterly:

The government does nothing, absolutely nothing for us. President Jokowi passed by here, in his motorcade, but he did not even slow down, at least to ask and see how we are doing. Nobody cares about us!

When the tsunami hit, we were sleeping. And my husband and I went out of the house and ran to that coconut tree across the road; you see, over there… In my mind, I still see my grilled fish tiny restaurant (warung) as if it was standing and safe. People shouted at us to go further up the hill, towards a safer place. But when we returned in the morning, to search for our house and restaurant, we were shocked – it was totally looted out by thugs!

Now, not only don’t I have a place to live, anymore, my only source of income is also gone.

As always when natural or man-made disasters strike in Indonesia, the only things one can hear are the sobs of the victims and the ridiculous honking of the sirens and horns, most of them belonging to private cars that are pretending to be on an important ‘mission’.

Those who survived are in terrible shock

But almost nothing moves. Heavy equipment like bulldozers and excavators, are there, but standing still, drivers and operators are either smoking or just staring in the distance. The sky is empty – no helicopters, no amphibious planes have been visible for the entire day that I worked in the area (later I was confidentially told that Indonesia doesn’t really have enough choppers, and hardly any pilots trained to fly them).

The entire coast is covered by Poskos (posts) that are, at least in theory, erected there, in order to provide relief to the victims. But most of them belong to political parties, or to religious organizations, interested only in showing off and in promoting their own agenda. There are extreme-right-wing groups like Pemuda Pancasila, with members snapping selfies of each other: or having leisure lunches and dinners at what had still survived of the local restaurants.

Religious cadres laughing while promoting their own agenda

Islamists in white robes are pointing their thumbs towards the sky, laughing loudly and ridiculously, and shouting “Prabowo – Sandi” referring to the presidential and vice-presidential candidate. Prabowo, a former army general, is a brutal military man, known to have committed countless crimes against humanity while serving in the plundered West Papua, and during the anti-government demonstration that rocked the capital many years ago. His posters are visible everywhere along the coast, and his people pose for cameras and for mobile phones, promoting their movement all along the ruined beaches.

Poskos are always full of people, those individuals who are constantly pushing their idiotic speeches, shouting slogans, but above all, taking photos of each other. I saw something similar in 2004 in Aceh. While the Japanese, Singaporeans and other foreigners were working, desperately trying to save the lives of the victims, the Indonesian NGO’s and ‘volunteers’ were laughing, taking photos of each other, and promoting their religious and political agendas.

Disaster or no disaster, almost every man here is puffing on his cigarette. There is always plenty of time for religion, for taking selfies, for a little cyber chat, and, of course, for a smoke. And while everyone is busy banging into their phones and exhaling smoke, almost no one is working.

This is a perfect warning to the world: what happens to a country fully abandoned to Western neo-colonialism, to religion, consumerism, corruption, as well as intellectual and moral void.

We are passing Posko PKS Peduli (Post of the ‘PKS Care’). PKS party belongs to Prabowo’s coalition. The post is well-visible, noticeable, full of slogans. It is there solely to attract voters, not to save victims.

****

After progressing further south, we exit the main road at Sukarame Village, drive again, then walk up to a hill, towards a ‘camp’, where the people displaced by the nearby coastal disaster area are supposed to be taken care of by the authorities.

What we encounter there is self-explanatory, and I make sure to record the situation visually.

As elsewhere in Indonesia, the area is overtaken by thugs who are ‘regulating traffic’ and arranging parking spaces, for a fee. For them, as for almost everyone else with the exception of the victims, all of this is a great business opportunity. They are bossing drivers around, maximizing both space and the profits. At one point it begins to rain.

We are following displaced people. Soon, a ‘tent city’ appears.

It consists of three tents at the lower part of the hill, and of few more a bit higher up. The tents are blue, and they are not yet assembled.

“Is that all?” I ask a man who is smoking even in the rain, periodically snapping his own selfie.

“Yes, it is,” he answers, phlegmatically.

Mr. Karid from Cibenda village recalls:

My son who is the caretaker of a villa on the coast, suffers from a broken leg and he lost one of his children. This grandson of mine was only 6 years old. I had to go back and forth between taking care of my son and also taking care of the funeral of my grandchild.

No one seems to be paying attention to the victims. They were told that the second wave may hit at any moment, and they are moving up, towards the highest ground, spontaneously.

“Do they help you?” We ask.

“Not really,” comes the reply, immediately. By now, it is a quite standard answer. “They don’t even give us real food”.

Police posing, doing nothing

Then it happens: some 20 police officers on expensive motorcycles, wearing yellow wests, arrive on the scene.

They walk slowly towards those parts of the tents lying on the grass and begin… Not working, no: they begin posing!

I film.

There are two men, one photographing for social media, the other in police uniform, giving precise instruction to the police officers, how to stand and how to pretend that they are actually working.

I keep filming.

Slowly, extremely slowly, those 20 well-fed men began putting together the frame of one tent. Others watched smoking and photographing.

After one part of the tent was assembled, police officers gathered in a circle and began chatting.

It was now raining, heavily. Victims were slowly walking by: no one pays any attention to them.

Down at the side of the road, I saw something that may resemble a local TV crew, dragging the operator of a huge excavator, to his cabin. A man climbed up, put his hands on the control, and… nothing. No roar of the engine, no movement. He was being photographed from below. When he climbed down, he is interviewed, his idle heavy equipment clearly visible behind his back.

Not far from the scene, people are searching through the rubble, for their belongings, for their ID papers and who knows, perhaps even for their loved ones.

While the Indonesian public and the world is shown what they are supposed to see: a natural disaster and the nation mobilizing to help its fellow citizens.

But nothing moves. Only those countless vehicles belonging to the NGOs and the right-wing political parties (there are no left-wing parties in this country), are blocking the streets, creating traffic jams. People on board are honking, blasting sirens, trying to look macho and determined, while doing nothing substantial, except what they do all their lives: smoking, sitting in endless traffic jams, and listening to junk music.

And the people, hundreds or perhaps thousands of them, are dying just a few meters away.

*****

And the sky is still clear: there are no helicopters or airplanes, even when it begins to rain, or when it stops raining.

And there are no battleships visible near the coast.

The Indonesian army has been well known for fighting, killing and raping its women and children, after the 1965 military coup, or in East Timor or now, in West Papua. It is also very good at protecting Western mining companies against the people, local victims. It is not here to defend its citizens: on the contrary. It commonly commits treason, but instead of being court-martialed and facing a firing squad, it is being praised and continuously rewarded with cash, training and equipment from the West.

The same can be said about the Indonesian academia and media. They are not here to tell the truth and defend the nation. They are paid to be quiet and to say what is ordered ‘from above’ and from abroad.

And no foreign media would go where I am routinely working. I am always alone here, no matter what horrors are occurring around me. The fascist, pro-Western, religious regime here reduced the Indonesian people into submissive, self-centered cowards. I don’t care. They are willing to betray, even to kill, for their own privileges. So I am trying to perform their duties, instead.

It is their problem what they do. While it is my obligation to document. Alone or not alone.

*****

Some 60 kilometers further south, everything stops. By the time we arrive, it is late at night. The road is heavily damaged. This is ‘the border’. No private vehicles can pass.

Behind this point, the destruction is, most likely, even more horrid.

Were this to be a ‘normal’, read ‘not collapsed country’, there would be countless military heavy vehicles repairing the road. There would be provisory lights, thousands of experts and military men building the bridges, filling deep ditches. Helicopters would be flying, and big NAVY ships would be providing support from the sea. There would be a constant, determined fight to save human lives.

I saw it in Japan and in Chile. In Chile, after a terrible tsunami, the entire nation mobilized. The motorway was clogged with constant streams of vehicles, bringing to the devastated areas pre-fabricated wooden houses of high quality, bringing water, gas, food, medical supplies. To witness such mobilization performed by the then, still, socialist government, made one feel proud to be a human being. As a result, very few people died. Everyone got taken care of, re-housed and compensated by the government.

Here, in Indonesia, at the ghostly, destroyed village of Cikujang, we only encountered two men sitting among the rubble of destroyed house. They reluctantly explained:

Our car got stuck in a deep ditch. Engine died. Now we are just waiting that someone will rescue us.

All around – darkness and destruction. Carcasses of cars and motorcycles, collapsed houses, personal belongings of people scattered all around. I am trying to film and photograph, using the high beam of the car. What I see is not for the faint-hearted.

As I am working, I am aware of the warnings: the second tsunami wave can strike at any moment. If it does, my tiny crew and I will get fucked. But we have to work, because behind our backs, somewhere in the total darkness, there are tens of thousands of people, cut off from any help, abandoned by this monstrous nightmarish system.

Up the hill, we find an old scout center. There, many victims are gathered.

Mr. Iwan, the leader of this provisory camp of displaced people, readily explains:

 We have five people who lost their lives, 4 are already buried but we are still missing 1 person.

People are praying. No one dares to blame the government or the system. To them, it is all normal.

We are told, again and again, that there is absolutely no way to go any further. We try, but confronted with flooded road, finally turn back.

There is no activity. No action. Behind this line, most likely thousands of people are dying.

*****

It is now clear that the early warning system failed the people of West Java.

It was reported that it was ‘vandalized’. In fact, it was stolen. Supplied by Malaysia, Germany and UK, it was looted by local folks. And the government knew it, and did nothing at all to replace it.

In Vietnam or China, officials who allow such a disaster to take place, would be facing a firing squad, for treason.

In Indonesia, the entire system is mobilized to cover up what has taken place, and what is still taking place while this report goes to print: the ineptness of the government, of the armed forces, the tremendous greed of the NGO’s and private individuals of the country.

In Indonesia, human lives are worth absolutely nothing. Public welfare means nothing as well. The only thing that matters is profit, plus religious rituals. And the big natural disasters like this one are truly great opportunities to enrich even further those corrupt gurus of turbo-capitalism.

While thousands of families have irreversibly lost their homes and small businesses, the entire nation is mourning a pop band from Jakarta, called ‘Seventeen,’ which was performing for the elites in an exclusive beach resort, when tsunami hit the area. All band members died except their lead vocalist.

I have worked in 160 countries of the world; I have seen a lot, really a lot, but nothing so morally collapsed and corrupt as the Indonesian regime. And I have never encountered any establishment so capable of covering-up its own crimes.

*****

Now most of the reports are repeating ‘how and why this tsunami occurred’. People who know nothing about science, are repeating like idiots about some underwater plates moving, about an explosion of a volcano, and other ‘technical’ issues.

But what really happened here, as has already happened so many times this year, and every other single year, is that people died for absolutely ridiculous and preventable reasons: the unwillingness of the regime to spend money on anything that does not generate ‘profit’ (like an early tsunami warning system), pathetic, laughable ‘city planning’ as well as the lack of enforceable regulations for both urban and rural areas located in danger zones, plus the endemic corruption, terrible education and therefore lack of any vision or enthusiasm, as well as many other factors along these lines.

The victims in West Java are, as it always happens here, resigned – they are as locals saypasrah. Poor people, the great majority of Indonesian citizens, are submissive. They repeat what the ‘elites’, the West and religious ‘leaders’ want them to repeat: that they are ‘grateful to God’ even for being alive. I hear it in the slums, and in devastated areas. By now, people here have nothing against their tormentors; against capitalism or imperialism (they don’t even know what these terms really symbolize). They steal from each other, but do not dare to fight those who are robbing them on a greater scale.

By not providing basic services, the state is murdering thousands, more precisely millions, annually. Now it has done it again. The definition of a ‘failed state’ is precisely that: the ‘inability to provide basic services to its citizens’. Full stop.

And my 3 hours are now up. The plane is descending.

I have just witnessed mass murder, in Java, Indonesia. Not a ‘natural disaster’, but mass murder. There is no time for elegant reporting. This is what I saw, and therefore, this is what I write. Tens of thousands are still left behind on the coast, with almost no help. The Indonesian ‘elites’ are now making profits from their suffering.  It is already dark in Bangkok, where I am landing.

It must be horribly dark ‘back there’, in Banten: dark and frightening.

Late at night

I am writing this in order to warn the world: let us all unite against the regimes that have been implanted by the West in the colonies. Let us not allow such genocides to happen again and again!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

What Killed Thousands of Indonesians: The Quake or the Misery?

As I was reading, on board an Air Canada flight from Mexico City to Vancouver, The Globe and Mail coverage of the horrors that have been unraveling for several days on the island of Sulawesi, I felt two powerful and contradictory emotions: I wanted to be there, immediately, ‘on the ground’, in the city of Palu, filming, talking to people, doing everything possible to help… and at the same time, I sensed that I was ‘already there’, so many times before, whenever the nightmares like those in Sulawesi were taking place all over the Indonesian archipelago.

And I wrote about them, I documented them, I was sending warnings, but nothing was done. The government (or I’d rather call it the ‘Indonesian regime’), is expert in hearing nothing and doing nothing, ignoring all frontal criticism. The same goes for the Indonesian elites. They are blind as they are deaf, as long as they can grab, steal and then, do absolutely nothing for the welfare of the Indonesian people.

Look, in 2004, I was there, right after the tsunami hit Aceh. It took me just a few days to arrive. More than 200,000 people died! The same stuff: a powerful earthquake, then tsunami. Well, nobody really knows how many vanished, but 240,000 is the absolute minimum! A quarter of a million! That is 100 times more than a number of those who died during 9-11 in New York.

What was left of Banda Aceh

In Banda Aceh, I lived in a tiny house that had been flooded just a few days earlier, in a room where two children died; two little girls. There were stuffed animals all over, wet, soaked wet, everywhere. The bodies of the children were taken away. I swear I thought I heard their voices every single night – voices talking to me, pleading with me…. After sundown, the family would lock me inside the house, simply in order to protect both me and the house, from the looters.

The Indonesian state did nothing to help the people. In Aceh, as well everywhere, where the disasters hit, the relief operations immediately become a huge commercial operation. ‘Compassion’? Solidarity? Get real! Please get real. Everything became a ‘commodity’, even the excavation of the corpses; even burying them was done for a fee – for an incredibly high fee. After all, Indonesia is one of the most turbo-capitalist countries on Earth. Death is a good business. Everything is. The bigger the natural disaster, the more dead bodies there are – it all immediately turns into huge commerce, at least for some.

I can show you the photos, but better not, as the faint-hearted would puke, or faint. Do you know how the bodies look, if they are left rotting in a pit, in the tropical heat, for several days? Better not ask. But you know why they were there? Because the relatives could not pay bribes to have them buried!

In Aceh, everyone was complacent, including the UN. Indonesia is hardly criticized by the West – it is Washington’s, Canberra’s and London’s great chum, perfectly corrupt, capitalist, anti-Communist and anti-Chinese. The West does not care about the rest.

Do you know that the Indonesian police and army were going from posko to posko, from local NGO tents to others, demanding money, bribes, in order not to destroy drinking water deposits for the victims; water that was delivered from abroad. If bribes were not paid, they used their knives, cutting through the plastic deposits.

While people were dying from thirst and hunger.

Then the Vice-President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kala, to boost his popularity among the Muslim cadres, kicked out dozens of Indonesian doctors, volunteers, from the heavy Hercules transport planes. Engines were running at Halim Airport in East Jakarta. Instead of doctors and their gear, he stuffed the aircraft with several hundred religious zealots. Later, they landed in Banda Aceh, saw corpses, took selfies, puked, and eventually flew back to the capital.

Should I go on or are you getting the point?

Like now in Sulawesi, in Aceh, all the warning signals ‘miraculously’ failed. And there was never enough of the national relief supplies.

You know why? Because Indonesia is a failed state. Because nothing works there. Because nobody gives a damn about anything, except money and the religious rituals (of any denomination, to be precise).

But you will never read it in the pages of The Globe and Mail or The New York Times.

I saw disasters in Indonesia, I saw ‘sectarian’ and religious killings, and I saw genocides, from East Timor to Aceh, Central Java, from Lombok to Ambon. And periodically, I feel that I cannot take more of the same, but the situation is so horrific, that in the end I always come, again and again, and I film, document. It is because I feel that I have to come, that it is my ‘internationalist’ duty; because if I don’t come, then really, damn it, who will?

*****

But once again: why do these horrors happen?

Indonesia is, according to the UN, the most ‘disaster-prone country’.

But why? Is it really because of nature, because of that proverbial ‘Ring on Fire’ on which it is sitting?

No, of course not!

Look, basically it is like this: no matter how the statistics are ‘massaged’, no matter how the UN grazes on the pathetically distorted data coming from the Indonesian authorities, the country is extremely poor. Most people there are miserably poor. And even what they call the ‘middle class’, or at least most of it, would hardly qualify as the middle class anywhere else.

All this is being covered up, by 5 and 4-star hotels in every provincial capital, and by monstrous luxury hotels in Jakarta and Bali. Plus, mass-produced shopping malls were constructed everywhere. And those tremendous, out of place mosques made of marble, flooded with Saudi/Wahabi money.

But Jakarta and, of course, every single island of Indonesia, is inhabited by the poor, extremely poor people. The great majority of the Indonesians lives in destitution, but it does not know how poor and miserable it actually is (there is no opposition mass media to inform them, and no decent school to educate them about their conditions). Everything is make-believe, or pop, or however you choose to call it.

I filmed in Borneo and in Surabaya, where people shit into the rivers, and then use the same water to brush their teeth and wash dishes (I have it all clearly documented, on film), but if you ask people about their misery, they would get offended, or even attack you, because they have been brainwashed into believing that they are living some kind of biasa (normal) lives. They know nothing about the surrounding world, and they have been conditioned into not being able to compare. China, Bolivia – these are different planets for them.

In Aceh, or in Sulawesi, or even in Central Java, local kampungs (villages in both rural and urban areas) are made like shit, and they are made of shit, and there is almost no government supervision, because everything can be simply bought, or because there is no one who would like to supervise anything (it is easier to steal money than to work).

A great majority of the dwellings in Indonesia are absolutely unfit for being inhabited by human beings!

Anyone who would like to prove it could easily do so. Thousands of PhDs could be made on this and similar topics, but the Indonesian academia (and media) is paid and scared into being quiet, and so the ‘academics’ (who often happened to double, ‘as government or public employees’) are writing bizarre works, instead of laboring on behalf of the Indonesian people, who are thoroughly poor and hopelessly ignorant of their condition.

Such submissiveness, such cowardice, kills people.

But who cares, as long as the West says and writes that Indonesia is a ‘normal’ and ‘democratic’ country.

Indonesian elites are living from plundering the natural resources, and stealing from the poor. Indonesia used to be incredibly rich, insanely wealthy; not unlike another failed state – Saudi Arabia, which is still relatively rich (but full of social disparities and injustice), because of the oil. Indonesia used to have everything under and above its surface, but most of it is now gone! The West helped to trigger the 1965 anti-Communist coup, and since then, everything was robbed and disappeared into the deep pockets of the local gangsters – corrupt and unpatriotic new rich, foreign companies, and their servants at the top government positions.

The masses are unprotected. Communism and socialism are basically banned, and so is atheism. If someone, like the former left-leaning Governor of Jakarta, tries to improve his city and lives of the Indonesian people, he is thrown into jail, in his case, for ‘insulting Islam’.

And so, whenever natural disaster strikes, all lies immediately collapse, together with the shacks and other terrible dwellings, in which most of the Indonesian people live. But they collapse only for those who are well aware of the conditions inside the country, never for the masses.

But things are never reported as such. There is always a plentitude of ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’ reasons, for the country’s failure to protect its people.

Early tsunami warnings equipment? Well-planned villages that would be earthquake-resistant? The use of the high-quality design and materials, which would be fit for the seismic and geographical condition of each particular area of the country? The money that should be allocated to such ‘frivolous’ designs, found in such places as, most likely, in Australia, or Singapore; could be found in the huge villas of Indonesian officials and ‘business people’, or in the luxury vehicles shamelessly licking the edges of countless slums of Jakarta.

How many tasteless palaces were already built from the misery of the Sulawesi people? And how many of them will be built now, after this?

In Banda Aceh, recently, the city planners were seriously discussing, at a national conference, how to turn tsunami ‘heritage’ into a tourist attraction, not unlike that of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. They should, but it ought to be a monument to corruption, the total collapse of human decency, and greed.

Now the government of Indonesia says that it is open to receive help from abroad. What great benevolence! One does not know whether to laugh or to throw up! Does the cynicism of Indonesian regime know no bounds? All like during the Aceh disaster!

Instead of allocating state funds (there are plenty of them, especially from the plundering of natural resources or Borneo/Kalimantan, Papua, Sumatra and yes, Sulawesi itself!) that are going to buy the Prada skirts of the official’s wives, or the new fake-baroque palaces, let the foreigners ‘come and save the poor’.

The ruin of Aceh

I remember in Aceh, while the Singaporeans and Japanese and others were digging corpses out of the mud, countless local ‘crews’ and ‘relief workers’ were crouching nearby, smoking kretek, pointing fingers at the foreigners and laughing at them, for ‘working too hard’.

But it is ‘all fine’; it is biasa

*****

And so, here is conclusion: Those thousands of people in Sulawesi who recently vanished, or who are still vanishing, did not die because of some earthquake, or tsunami. They vanished because they are poor, because their rulers have no morals, and because society abandoned them, basically already collapsed.

Indonesia is losing both its people and its resources. But the people, the majority of them poor, have absolutely no understanding of their condition.

In Aceh, after the tsunami, some were using the fact that one big mosque survived intact, in the middle of the total desolation, as a proof that there was some kind of divine intervention. The reality was different: the mosque survived because the Gulf States pumped millions of dollars into it. It was made of marble and granite, while the ‘houses’ around it were made of mud and shit.

The poor died in both Aceh and Sulawesi, simply because all over Indonesia, the poor (and I have to repeat – the poor form the great majority of the citizens) were robbed of absolutely everything. Unless they learn how to fight; how to protect themselves, many more will continue to die, aimlessly.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Charting a Jagged Course through the Apocalypse

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop

— Economist Herbert Stein

Those who live in the reaches of the Arctic Circle tend to convey the same humbling lesson: Mother Nature calls the shots and survival depends upon preparing for her mood swings. It’s an adage that will take on increasing relevance as history unfolds because disaster has been baked into our future. Decades ago a whole series of events was set into motion and it may be too late to break their momentum. Civilization will be tested as large swathes of the globe become uninhabitable. While it might be tempting to seek refuge in the form of denial or nihilism, doing so won’t prevent what’s coming down the pike.

It’s Much Worse than You Think   

The indicators are hard to miss. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels not seen for nearly a million years. Roughly half of India’s population (which tips the scales at over a billion) currently faces extreme water scarcity and within two decades India’s demand for water will likely rise to twice the available supply. Moreover, by the end of the century scientists assess that population centers across the Middle East will confront “temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.” Which is a polite way of describing a death trap. One that will probably snap shut even if emissions are somehow kept within internationally agreed upon levels.

At some point our system’s requirement for infinite economic growth will hit the limits of a finite planet. As the ensuing collision transpires there will be widespread famine, mass migration, and disease. Thus setting the stage for military conflict on a global scale. People rarely go gently into the night when their backs are thrust against a wall. For instance, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising if Pakistan and India end up in a nuclear war over water rights to the Indus river system.

This kind of regional clash can spread like a contagion, dragging larger actors into the fray. Daniel Ellsberg, who briefed the Kennedy administration on President Eisenhower’s nuclear war plans, believes that it’s a miracle there hasn’t already been a nuclear war. Given the veritable litany of close calls, he asks “Could we survive another 70 or 100 years without nuclear winter?” To which Ellsberg responds “It’s unlikely.” Other high-ranking Pentagon insiders share Ellsberg’s assessment. Former Defense Secretary William Perry claims that “The likelihood today of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than during the Cold War.”

According to one official who studied the topic at length, economically crippling the United States would only take something in the ballpark of a half dozen sub-megaton nuclear devices detonated in strategically vital cities. The core subset of such targets includes financial hubs (e.g. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), ports (e.g. Los Angeles, Savannah) and cities with internal waterway access (e.g. Toronto). A strike of this nature is well within the reach of current nuclear powers.

Hope as a Form of Procrastination

Most Americans shrug and quietly hope that experts like Ellsberg and Perry are wrong. But hope can sometimes make things worse. By postponing a much needed reality check. What if it’s too late? What if, as Ellsberg warns, we’ve dramatically underestimated the likelihood of nuclear war? What if civilization is about to perform an epic face-plant, leaving only feudal vestiges of the economy and infrastructure?

Enter John Mosby, the nom de plume of a Special Forces alumnus who has cultivated a keen interest in the decline of empires. Mosby’s insights about survival are drawn from a combination of academic research, piles of military documents, and his own first-hand participation in what he mordantly labels as “nation-building” operations. Mosby is an army veteran who has seen with his own eyes what happens in a country when the state ceases to function.

We’re All Rick Grimes Now 

The future that Mosby envisions isn’t for the faint of heart. In the aftermath of a collapse he expects that the United States would give way to “historically typical failed-state neo-tribalism.” Afghanistan is a textbook example. A destination that the Department of Justice refers to as “largely lawless, weak, and dysfunctional.” In other words, hungry country where groups of farmers struggle to eke out a living amidst mafia-style networks and despotic warlords.

In a setting like this it’s only natural that communities would band together for their common defense. Evolution has programmed us to do so. This, according to Mosby, will be vital for survival. As a lone individual you’ll succumb to the environment. Presumably starve to death or perhaps get run over by a pack of marauders. Only as a member of a larger community do you stand a chance. When the going gets tough, the tough posse up.

This emphasis on social collaboration is noteworthy because it contrasts sharply against the stereotype of the lone survivalist. Crouched down in a basement with their freeze-dried food and ammunition. In fact, Mosby predicts that the billionaire crowd is unlikely to survive over the long run despite their high-end designer bunkers. Mosby concedes that “to some degree, the patrician classes CAN buy their way out of some trouble.” However, once society has been steamrolled by calamity, Mosby asserts that “the masses of people will start looking for leadership, towards people who can offer them security in the form of food and protection.”

The oligarchs, with their self-justifying philosophy of radical individualism, are unlikely to acquire this degree of trust. Because it’s not something you can buy. Mosby says that “It is about being the person who puts the tribe before himself.” He concludes “the super-rich probably don’t have that ability.” The financial strip mining of the middle class that followed the events of 2008 stands in testimony.

The bad news is that tribalism is hardly a utopia. Mosby observes that it will be characterized by “continuous endemic violence” and that — given the state of modern armaments — it will result in “catastrophic losses to all parties involved.” Again, Afghanistan comes to mind. Where the typical life expectancy is approximately 50 years. A place so hazardous that it has garnered a reputation as the graveyard of empires.

Or consider Great Britain after the Romans finally lost their grip in 410 A.D. With the Romans gone the island quickly passed into a dark age where it was relentlessly invaded by northern tribes. Wave after wave of conquering Angles, Saxons, and Vikings. Life was uncertain. Death was everywhere. Something as basic as red meat was a luxury that few could afford. The aftermath of a nuclear exchange will almost certainly result in comparable instability and deprivation. Suffice it to say, in the wake of such a catastrophe there will be a sizable contingent of survivors who’ll wish that they’d simply perished at ground zero.

Out of the Ashes

In spite of the gloomy desolation of the post-apocalypse, there’s still a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. History will not end. Yes, it’s true, civilizations fall. But after a rocky transition period new ones emerge from their remains. And as centuries pass fiefdoms unite and fledgling nations are born. While the Romans left England to fend for itself, the turmoil of Britain’s lost years gradually gave way to the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The rule of monarchs, which persisted for millennia, was supplanted by rule of law.

In due time established ideologies like socialism and capitalism will be abandoned for doctrines that produce better results. Technology will continue to progress and yield ever more fearsome weapons. Confronted with near term extinction the human species will be obliged to learn from its mistakes and evolve beyond destructive tendencies. Otherwise Mother Nature will relegate the human race to Darwin’s wastebasket and dutifully move on with new experiments.

The Fires This Time

This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.

— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The wildfires may be out of the headlines, but they are not out. Visual images seem the only way to comprehend the scope. The cluster of little flaming circles indicating active fires, crowded over interactive maps of the Western U.S. and Canada, covering their landmasses like an infestation of cartoon bugs, and with NASA’s hallucinatory satellite imagery color-coding them among all the atmospheric wildness in Gaia’s Revenge this summer: smoke, fire, dust, deluge, typhoon. However, the sheer acreage burned requires a return to the numerical: there’s no way to capture it in a single image. And yet whatever those numbers are, they still seem utterly disconnected from the Dow Jones, or the price of eggs at the supermarket, or flights to Spain, and so they are still inadequate.

But in Canada, with 550 fires burning last month in British Columbia alone, and smoke coating the west from border to border and beyond, someone thought to write about the mental and physical anguish of being surrounded by wildfire and its consequences, watching a familiar landscape, once vibrant, benevolent, be transformed into something fearful and toxic, in which you are trapped. When the suffocating smoke covers a thousand miles for weeks on end, where is there to run?

The article mentions the concept of “solastalgia,” a word coined to describe the experience of longing for a lost place when you are still in it—when you haven’t changed location, but it has changed character, for the worse. Uprootings, migration, exile: these, and the trauma they cause, have been endemic to civilization from the get-go, because civilization has been sustained by warfare. But to see your home place transmogrified by chthonic forces into an alien and hostile environment even as it still surrounds you—this is a sea change. (Literally, for some communities.) It means, among other things, that something is happening on a scale whereby the privilege of not being uprooted by merely human imbalances of power is no longer worth much.

There is a fearful sense that “thinking globally” will always require solastalgia now. That we are, Big Yellow Taxi-style, discovering the importance of places in our lives, and of the biosphere we grew up in, even as we lose them, forever.

The Meaning of 1968

It is also exactly half a century since the “fateful fork” year of 1968. We have just passed the anniversary of the bloody police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are already assassinated, Paris’ May uprising quelled and its energy disintegrating, the Prague Spring crushed. The final phase of the Tet offensive ends with no general revolt and staggering Viet Cong casualties, preparing the way for years of mass slaughter in a military deadlock, the U.S. defeat already inevitable, the Vietnamese victory Pyrrhic. Still ahead that year: the murder of hundreds of student protesters and fellow marchers in Mexico City in October, to make Mexico safe for the Olympics. In November: the triumph of Richard Nixon, successfully playing on the fears of Southern racists to get them to abandon the Democratic Party.

We have never escaped the shadow of that year of disenchantment. Not with the formal decolonization of Africa, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the election of a neoliberal black man as U.S. President. In the ensuing 50 years, only one revolution has had the kind of cumulative, irreversible, touching-all-lives effect that we used to mean when we used the term: the technological one. Information, communication, and the means of production have been revolutionized, without in any way diminishing alienation, systemic violence, or exploitation. “Everything has changed, except the mind of man [sic],” said Einstein after the atom was split. The second half of that sentence ought to be tagged on every time the first is used nowadays as well.

James Baldwin’s rhetoric was already apocalyptic in 1962 when the essays in The Fire Next Time were published. By 1968 he had seen too much of it, too much of “kill the best and buy the rest,” (as Bruce Cockburn sang twenty years later, when the utopian hopes that had been razed in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia rose briefly in Latin America, only to be crushed again.) Ed Pavlic, Baldwin scholar, says in one of a group of excellent articles in the Boston Review: “Baldwin described the journey from 1955 to 1969 as a ‘terrible descent.’” It’s interesting how differently white progressives and radicals saw that same arc. But history bears Baldwin out as the more prescient—he knew that if race relations in the U.S. could not be transformed, there would be no meaningful social progress of any kind. The rest of the “two-thirds” world, and now, we clearly see, the world of nature, are simply other foci of systemically reinforced objectification.

Baldwin, America’s greatest essayist, perhaps the 20th century’s best from any land, suffered himself to vibrate in every nerve and capture with every word the horror of a society in complete denial of just about everything that could redeem it: its past, the blood on its hands; its fears: of blackness, sensuality and sexuality, honesty, complexity, intellect, love. Its servile and now centuries-long acceptance of the constructed notion that “the concept of Property was more important—and more real—than the possibilities of the human being.”

For a time, he used his formidable skills to try to wake white people from the zombie-like trance of their parsimonious privilege to see that the richness of a real life would only be possible—for them—if all were free. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, as an old order seemed to be breaking down around the world, his central question was: How much can Americans truly stand of this nightmare before we shake it off? Surely, now we must begin to wake. But with the murder of King, he realized without question that whiteness would not be dissolved on his watch. The collective capacity to go along to get along, to refuse to know what was profoundly evident, to ignore or even defend lies, torture and killing, turned out to be every bit as great as he had feared, and infinitely greater than he might once have dared to hope. He went on speaking out for two more decades, but with the bitter knowledge that his words were without agency against the Biggest American Lie.

Beyond the Fateful Fork

That privileged capacity for denial, accommodation and selective blindness is as pronounced as ever, now that the world is burning and flooding. Fifty years on from 1968, a global consumer society now exists that has not resolved a single fundamental question that the 20th century posed of how we ought to live, in the way Baldwin construed it, one which has only deepened its contradictions (“incoherence,” Pavlic says, was Baldwin’s chosen word, for both the personal and the political miasma) at electronically accelerated speed. This, now that the teleological ideologies of the 20th century have all dissolved in blood, is a civilization with no vision beyond immediate perpetuation, become nothing more than a Brobdingnagian game of Jenga.

Lerone Bennett, historian of slavery, coined the phrase “fateful fork.” When he reviewed the history of European civilization on this continent, he identified missed opportunity after missed opportunity to create a society that did not depend upon the objectification of some by others in order to function.

A nation is a choice. It chooses itself at fateful forks in the road by turning left or right, by giving up something or taking something — and in the giving up and the taking, in the deciding and not deciding, the nation becomes. And ever afterwards, the nation and the people who make up the nation are defined by the fork and by the decision that was made there, as well as by the decision that was not made there. For the decision, once made, engraves itself into the landscape, engraves itself into things, into institutions, nerves, muscles, tendons; and the first decision requires a second decision, and the second decision requires a third, and it goes on and on, spiraling in an inexorable process which distorts everything and alienates everybody.1

With the utmost respect for those uncounted millions who have valiantly tried to rescue civilization from itself—to create, out of the torrents of blood that have gushed down the millennia like those in the elevator scene from The Shining, the first civilization that was not also “a document of barbarism,” as Walter Benjamin wrote—perhaps the notion of missed opportunity isn’t really salient here. Perhaps there’s something more fundamental at work. In fact, what Bennett seems to be describing is more like what scientists call a feedback loop. Once a collective choice is inscribed it is reified, making its unmaking impossible, and even its overturning increasingly difficult. The idea that revolution would represent a tabula rasa, a total reboot, was the ultimate logical fallacy. We need to revise our notion of progress, because the old Enlightenment view of an inevitably upward trajectory for humanity, as unidirectional as the timeline, is patently wrong.

And now a revolution is happening, on a scale larger than humans have ever seen. But it is nature’s revolt, not humanity’s. We have never lived in a world warming as quickly (and thus as chaotically) as the one we are entering. We have never witnessed a Great Extinction, never mind perpetuated one. At the same time, human society has never been a single global entity, so populous, so vastly complex, and therefore so vulnerable to reverberating effects from seemingly minor events as it is now. And our civilization’s response so far is to double down on the behaviors that unleashed the revolution—but that is because hierarchical civilization is the very definition of a feedback loop, one that has been reifying its precepts for thousands of years to attain this global reach.

Energy and systems theorist Richard Heinberg says our contemporary hierarchies, our systemic inequalities, are stark enough to be analogous to predator-prey relationships. While he rightly qualifies the metaphor repeatedly in order to avoid pernicious social Darwinism (like predators being somehow “superior” to prey species), he uses it to show how extreme inequality (over-predation) is a feature of a particular phase in both natural ecosystems and human societies. That phase generally heralds a rapid reduction in energy consumption, levels of complexity and population size. In the context of an integrated global society, however, it becomes a question of impacts that stretch beyond a single generation:

To the extent that we are today eroding the carrying capacity on which future generations would otherwise depend, our way of life could be characterized as intergenerational “predation;” to put it crudely, the old are “eating” the young.

Reinventing the Futureand the Present

What to do with such a time? Many conscientious collective responses are possible; many are already in motion; none is likely on its own to be transformative. But since you can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it, maybe one meaningful place to start is in re-conceptualizing the real, and then re-imagining the possible.

In an essay for The Dark Mountain Project, ecologist Tim Fox asks us to flip our conceptual script. Imagine that there is not a final cataclysm somewhere on the horizon (nor is there some kind of anthropo-topia, technocratic socialist or otherwise), but that you are already living in an apocalypse that has been unfolding for generations, like a volcanic eruption in slow motion. This is what civilization looks like from the perspective of the planet’s biodiversity, and the diversity of its indigenous cultures. Then begin to imagine that the post-apocalypse, instead of being a dreaded wasteland, is the time when a different human presence emerges: multiform, circumscribed, integrated—like the non-human species in a healthy ecosystem. A revivification and re-diversification, such as have followed previous mass extinctions. As Fox says:

So long as the prevailing stories continue to paint the Apocalypse as a nightmarish tomorrow rather than as a current event, we’ll continue to prolong and worsen the very thing we are trying, with increasing desperation, to avoid. We will also continue to miss the opportunity before us: a better world.

And that is where words come in, and images, and agency. For our narratives have only one kind of agency, and that is to enable the survival of ideas that can inspire broadly collective behaviors at some confluence of events that we can try to facilitate but cannot foresee.

L’imagination au pouvoir! comes echoing through the clouds of tear gas down the decades since May 1968. And somewhere a picture of John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics is circulating right now. The survival of such memes is as important for our cognitive and social evolution as genes are for our physical evolution. As long as they remain in our collective memory, however faintly, they have a chance to find expression in the culture we create, down the eons or in the next instant. We are both shaper and shaped, and the stories we tell ourselves are as important to the shaping as anything else we do. If they appropriate our imaginations instead of stimulating them, that’s a sure sign they are not the narratives that will help us thrive in a thriving world.

In his introduction to the 1984 edition of Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin quotes Doris Lessing: “…while the cruelties of the white man toward the black man are among the heaviest counts in the indictment against humanity, colour prejudice is not our original fault, but only one aspect of the atrophy of the imagination that prevents us from seeing ourselves in every creature that breathes under the sun.” (emphasis mine)

If we are faithful to that conception, then we will recognize that our new pietá is the image of an orca mother in the Salish Sea carrying her dead calf for 17 days. We won’t worship death, or despise our own humanity, but we will allow ourselves to grieve a lost ecosystem, a species gone extinct, and we will understand how we are implicated in them. We won’t wait for a future cataclysm and some eschatological redemption; we will recognize that the post-apocalypse begins now, with us. Rather than conjuring up the classic post-apocalyptic wasteland, we will conjure up an Enlivenment, our stunted political imaginations revivified by biophilia, regeneration, belonging.

Baldwin, knowing exactly how bad things were by 1984, how miserabilist American society was, and how much human possibility had been betrayed since the fateful fork of 1968, responds to Lessing’s words:

“Amen. En avant.”

  1. Lerone Bennett, “The Road Not Taken,” from The Shaping of Black America. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1975, pp. 61-82. Originally published in Ebony, vol. 25 (August, 1970), pp. 71- 77).

Finding Fault and Faulty Infrastructure: Genoa’s Morandi Bridge Disaster

Bridges are the great symbols of human connection. They suggest a certain animal pride in the human race, a technological capacity to trick, and even subordinate nature.  Across ravines, rivers and bodies of space, the bridge suggests the raising and linking of the miraculous, a suspension that facilitates contact and speed.  They also suggest power, triumph, and continuity.

Little wonder then, that such disasters as the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on August 14 cripple pride and shock the senses.  On this occasion, nature was not going to be tricked.  A storm did its work, and duly brought down a 100 metre section of the viaduct, inaugurated in 1967, with ferociously lethal consequences.  Decades of maintenance had failed to stem the fall, and 35 cars and heavier vehicles plummeted some 45 metres below. This beast of Italian structural engineering was gone.

Almost 40 people are dead, several lie in critical condition and more bodies promise to be found.  In the words of fire fighter Stefano Zanut, “We are trying to find points where we can penetrate these incredibly heavy slabs.  Then the earthmoving equipment moves in to create a passageway where dogs can enter.”

The Italian government duly blamed the operator of the viaduct, Autostrade per l’Italia, promising mild retribution in the form of stripping contracts and revoking operating licenses.  “It is the company that holds the license who is responsible for maintenance and safety,” explained Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, an observation that suggested more than a hint of hand washing of responsibility.  “If a bridge like this one collapsed it means this maintenance hasn’t been carried out.”

The process of revocation began over the weekend, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte promising in a statement that the government had “formally sent to Autostrade per l’Italia the letter of complaint that launches the process of revoking the concession.”  The company, for its part, is claiming that it did all that was necessary to ensure monitoring “with highly specialised technology.”

But the broader picture was hard to ignore: creaking infrastructure is back on the cards, and various agents are being viewed as catalysts.  Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has issued an irate order to the company to pay 500 million euros to assist the families and local government.  In a move that suggests that the horse has all too readily bolted, the Ministry of Infrastructure will be given more intrusive powers of monitoring and inspection and compel motorway operators to shift more profits from their enterprise towards safety and maintenance.

A number of the grieving families of the dead showed little interest in participating in a state funeral duly run in the hall in Genoa on Saturday.  They have pointed fingers in fury at state authorities who have all too readily divested their obligations on safety, favouring the good graces of the private sector.  “It is the state who has provoked this; let them show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” came the remarks of one aggrieved mother, whose views of resigned fury were noted in La Stampa.

Where there is crisis, there are those willing to speculate and exploit.  Crisis breeds chances and prospects.  Large dollops of blame are being handed out to a range of players, much of it done with calculated effect.  More reactionary elements of the British press, ever keen to suggest traces of primitive provincialism in Italy, suggested that the mafia might have had a hand in it, notably in its link to using an inferior form of cement known as “cemento depotenziato”.  No hard evidence has been adduced on that specific connection in the Genoa disaster, but that hardly stops speculation from flapping its wings.

Italian authorities have also found their handy alibi: spending constraints stemming from Brussels in the name of budgetary prudence.  Salvini is certainly convinced, linking the bridge collapse in Genoa to EU budget rules.  “If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules.”  Ever sniffing a populist chance, Salvini insisted that there could be “no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians.”

The EU budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, dismissed Salvini’s remarks as being “very human”, which was another way of claiming he was being erringly foolish.  “It is very human to look for somebody to blame,” he tweeted with dripping condescension, in the face of such disasters.  Nor could the EU be accused of being miserly on the issue of funding.  It had already forked out some 2.5 billion euros to fund Italian roads and trains for the current budgetary cycle.

Commission spokesperson Christian Spahr felt a need to issue a clarification over the remarks of the interior minister. “Under agreed fiscal rules, member states are free to set specific policy priorities, for instance, the development and maintenance of infrastructure.”  The Commission had also been generous, approving in April 2018 “under European state aid rules an investment plan for Italian motorways.”

The shoe, came the implication, was actually on the other foot.  Indigenous factors had come into play.  Italy needed to ensure that infrastructure such as motorways needed to be monitored and inspected on a regular basis.  Neither Salvini nor his populist ally Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, have much time for such paperwork niceties. A point worth noting here is that the Five Star Movement citizen’s committee in Genoa had declared, in an April 2013 release, that any potential collapse of the Morandi bridge was the stuff of fairy tales.  For them, the EU looms like a chiding, despotic behemoth, dictating budgetary rules of prudence that have duly sacrificed efforts to keep Italian infrastructure in good hands.

On the home front, the Italian government will be facing a bind.  Autostrade is hardly going out of pocket, nor will it do so without a fight.  Cancellation of the license will result in compensation – some 20 billion euros is one estimate.  Where infrastructure fails, death might ensue, but money payments will always follow.  In the meantime, the problems of funding ailing infrastructure will continue to give the government profound headaches.  The battle over irresponsibility will continue to be fought.

The MH370 Report

It does little to allay the grief of relatives and friends, but the MH370 report on the doomed, and ever spectral Malaysian passenger liner merely added smidgens of further speculation. The report from Malaysian authorities into the disappearance of the Boeing 777 on route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 will do little to contain the fever that accompanies such stories of disappearance, with MH370’s vanishing deemed by The Washington Post “the biggest airplane mystery since the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.”

The Post has a point, and Earhart’s vanishing, along with navigator Fred Noonan over the Pacific in July 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe did prompt a costly effort to rival that of the fruitless search for MH370: a sixteen day, Presidentially mandated scouring of an area the size of Texas comprising nine vessels, four thousand crewmen, sixty-six aircraft and a bill of $4 million.

Kok Soo Chon, head of the MH370 safety investigation team, told a news conference on Monday that his team was “unable to determine the real cause for disappearance of MH370.” Such an answer would only be possible “if the wreckage is found”. Nor could his team “determine with any certainty the reasons that the aircraft diverted from its filed flight plan route.”

The chief investigator did dangle a few theories: there might have been interference from any one of the 237 people on the plane with the pilots. “We cannot establish if there was third partly involvement but we also cannot exclude unlawful third party interference.”

As for the pilots themselves: “We examined the pilot, the flight officer. We are quite satisfied with their background, with their training, with their mental health, mental state. We are not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot.”

That said, there was an undeniable fact: “that there was an air turnback. We cannot deny the fact that, as we have analysed, the systems were manually turned off with intent or otherwise.” Tantalisingly, the motives are left to be pondered over, built upon and inflated.

Agency, in short, is everything; and speculation about how that agency manifested itself has been frenetic and rife. Pilots Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid have furnished investigators and conspiracy theorists over the years ample, if somewhat indigestible fodder. The MH370 investigation team preferred a different diet of solids. The rest have been left to fill in the blanks.

The captain had certainly done his bit to excite various opinions, with Malaysian police documents suggesting that he had been practising a “suicide route” on his home flight simulator. But as ever, the police were simply patching together scenarios rather than accepting them. The Australian was more brazen: Zaharie had hijacked the plane, locked the co-pilot out, depressurised the plane only to then re-pressurize it before landing gracefully upon the waters of the southern Indian Ocean then sinking it.

Such pictures of horrifying finality are always sealed by theories of the mandatory cover-up. In Earhart’s case, one catchy, and very elastic version, is that US Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal felt disposed to conceal the destruction of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E at Aslito Field on Saipan in 1944. The aeronautical beast, so goes this theory, survived its occupants. Destroying the beast would destroy speculation.

Forrestal’s diaries remain silent on the issue, but this did not discourage the idea that Japanese forces might have been responsible for doing away with the two flyers in an act of blood lust. This, suggest Thomas E. Devine and Richard M. Daley in The Amelia Earhart Incident, could well have been a pre-war Japanese atrocity against Earhart and Noonan, who “conceivably flew hundreds of miles off course and might well have observed forbidden military preparations in the Japanese Mandates.” Forrestal, being savvy to a post-war order where Japanese assistance would be needed to counter the communist menace, kept mum on the whole affair.

Those working for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have been irritated with the cover-up narrative regarding MH370, breaking their silence this year. “There’s no earthly reason,” claimed an agitated Peter Foley, “why someone in control of an aircraft would exhaust its fuel and then attempt to glide it when they have the option of ditching.”

The authorities, however, have not covered themselves in professional, well-regarded glory. The Ministry of Transport did not see fit to have representatives to answer questions from family members. The report is also silent on the foot-dragging. It took hours before any interest was taken in pursuing the flight. When a search did commence, eight days were wasted in a mistaken spot. Then came 1,605 days of waiting for an unsatisfactory 449 page report.

Left with such questions, those seeking answers have filled the void of grief with legal actions and repeated promptings for clarification. Voice 370, a group claiming to represent the victims’ relatives, is keen to identify “any possible falsification or elimination of records related to MH370 and its maintenance.” The legend, agonisingly unresolved, will only proliferate in form and versions, aided by Kok’s own observation this was not “the final report. It would be presumptuous of us to say it is.”

Eternal Disappearance: MH370 and the Hangar Gossipers

It has fuelled enough speculation to fill libraries and populate databases at catchy speed.  The disappearance of MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, one of two Malaysian Airlines flights to perish that year, continues to torment relatives and tantalise the diviners of mystery.

Ocean Infinity, the Houston-based company retained by the Malaysian government to conduct the vain search for the missing flight, will conclude its contract on May 29.  The incentives for Ocean Infinity were considerable, not least the $93 million promised in the event of a successful find over a 90-day search of the southern Indian Ocean. (The company had requested an extension till May 29.)  To date, tormenting samples of the flight have washed up.

With little on the table, legal representatives for the families of victims could only scrounge for faint praise for the newly constituted Malaysian government.  “As a lawyer who acts for 76 relatives of passengers on board MH370,” reflected Ganesan Nethi, “I find this to be a very heartening approach and refreshing change of approach by the new Government.”

Inhabiting the grieving world of the living, relatives have been met with opaque processes and unfulfilled promises.  MAS was always reluctant to part with compensation monies.  The airforce and the Department of Civil Aviation ventured to strike out the claims by families due under law.  Claims have been filed in Australia, the United States and China.

Interest in the plane has not diminished. Sporadic reports bubble with near feverish speculation.  Last March, an Australian mechanical engineer, Peter McMahon, made the bold and boastful claim that he had found the plane.  The mystery had been solved by a meticulous search of Google Earth. With precision, McMahon claimed that wreckage could be found 16km south of Round Island, some 22.5 km north of Mauritius.

This finding was complicated by a minor inconsistency noted by a spokesperson for the Joint Agency Coordination Centre: the prize image had been snapped on November 6, 2009, “more than four years before the flight disappeared.”

Central to McMahon’s contention is secrecy and subterfuge. “They have made sure that all information received has been hidden from the public, even our government – but why?”  Happily for McMahon, an explanation offers itself: the area cannot be searched because it is being kept out of bounds by US officials.  They “do not want it found as it’s full of bullet holes, finding it will only open another inquiry.”

Surviving relatives have offered their own explanations.  Ghyslain Wattrelos, who lost his wife and two children, propounds the theory that the plane was shot down.  Silence, notably on the part of Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, is taken as admission.

Another particularly attractive version is doing the rounds: did the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah land the plane somewhere in the Indian Ocean with malicious intent?  Unlikely, suggests aviation expert Christine Negroni, dismissing the claim by Canadian air crash investigator, Larry Vance and fellow hangar gossipers.

Vance has been busying himself with the MH370 circuit, which has become something of a cottage industry and extensive meal ticket.  Earlier this month, he suggested to Australia’s 60 Minutes that the pilot had taken off fully intent on accomplishing a suicide mission.  He “was killing himself; unfortunately, he was killing everybody else on board, and he did it deliberately.”

Much of this amounted to recycling, given Vance’s debut on the MH370 circuit in 2016.  Then, Australia’s 60 Minutes similarly pumped Vance for his views, courtesy of prodding by a fairly uncritical correspondent Ross Coulthart.

The suicide theory thereby made its blazing march to absurdity, despite the contrary assertions of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau suggesting that the aircraft “was in a rapid rate of descent” when it met its doom.  So much for the guided-landing theory.

Simon Hardy is of similar mind to Vance but prefers to outdo him, even going for a sentimental, soap opera touch.  As the pilot flew the plane over Penang, he tipped, according to the mind-reading Hardy, the aircraft wing as a “farewell gesture”.

Negroni will have none of that, withering in her criticism of the Vance-Hardy version as “far-fetched” and peppered with “hokum”.  “Ladies and gents, thanks to 60 Minutes, pilots Vance and Hardy are in the cockpit.  They’ve fuelled up with alternative facts and are taking us on a flight to the absurd.”

A battle of expertise and faith was bound to propel matters the longer the fruitless search for the plane continued.  To Negroni’s own work The Crash Detectives can be added Florence de Changy’s Flight MH370 Did Not Disappear.  These struggle in seemingly unsuccessful standoffs with spectacular theories, of which the Vance-Hardy version is one.  For Negroni, evidence counts, and Vance, with deluded self-confidence, has ignored such points as a forensic examination which “showed the flaperon was very likely stowed, not deployed when the plane crashed.”

As with other events of the disappearing kind, such events are drearily eternal.  Competitive inventiveness displaces the pursuit for empirical verification.  Even as Ocean Infinity prepares to pack up its mission, the one thing that will continue humming will be the sort of speculation that, unfortunately, serves to line pockets and garner airtime rather than terminate fables.

Nuclear Disaster at Chernobyl: Reality and Unreality

With the escalating doom of climate change hovering over us, it is tempting to push nuclear horror to the back of our minds.  To those of us who grew up in the 1950s, it was omnipresent.  Nuclear war could not exist without nuclear power and on April 26, 1986 the world experienced a form of nuclear horror it will never forget.

Why did Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explode on that day?  Did operator error cause it? Was design flaw the reason?  Should we look deeper into the Soviet system for the cause?  Or should we look deeper still into the very existence of nuclear power?

In May 2018, Basic Books released Serhii Plokhy’s “Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe.”  It could well become the definitive story of that disaster.  Chernobyl will raise eyebrows.  The book features detailed interviews with key actors, meticulous research, and then a big “uh-ooh.”

Plokhy delves into the background of the infamous nuke, including its site selection in 1966, its location by the river and town both named Prypiat, and intense discussions over the type of reactor to build.  Should they construct the safer but more expensive VVER (Water-Water Energy Reactor) or the cheaper and more powerful RBMK (High Power Channel Reactor) which lacked a cement containment shield?

The author goes beyond looking at the people involved in building the plant and describes their mutual relationships and their interactions with construction problems and delays.  These personal relations figured heavily into the uncertainty and miscommunication regarding a turbine test that led to the explosion – something unexpected that plant operators had been assured was impossible.

The book could also gain widespread attention from its documentation of the spreading levels of disbelief.  Not knowing that burning nuclear material is completely different from other fires, dozens of firefighters were exposed to lethal and near-lethal levels of radiation.

The night of the explosion plant director Victor Briukhanov closed his ears to reports of radiation measurements.  When he finally understood how dire the situation was, politicians refused to heed his advice to evacuate the neighboring town.  Even as plant workers were admitted into the hospital with acute radioactive poisoning, seven Prypiat weddings went on as scheduled.

The terror was multiplied as actors began to realize that the “experts” had no idea of what to do.  Some said the reactor should be covered with sand, clay, boron and lead.  Others replied that would needlessly sacrifice the lives of helicopter pilots dropping the mixture and could increase the chance of a new explosion.

Some identified the main threat as the reactor burning down to the water table and causing a new steam explosion.  They focused on removing the water.  Others said that was not possible.  The unsure politicians decided to try virtually everything.

Spreading disbelief gave rise to wave after wave of cover-ups.  Attempts to conceal the dangers from Prypiat residents morphed into hiding them from all of the Ukraine.  Hoodwinking efforts spread to Russia and then to the entire world.

The cover-ups turned into blame games that festered in the Ukraine from 1987 on.  Hoping to sidetrack discussion of the faulty plant design, Moscow bureaucrats put Ukrainian operators on trial.  But Ukrainians knew that designers of the RBMK had promised that it was so safe that it had no need for a concrete containment structure and could be installed on Red Square in Moscow.  Events were seen as an assault on Ukrainian national pride.

While nationalists wrote of Chernobyl as a malicious plot by Moscow, literary artists and academics who had previously praised the “modernity” of nuclear power now joined in its vilification.  At the end of the 1980s Ukrainian environmentalists were portraying Chernobyl as a symptom of Moscow’s eco-imperialism.

By 1990, many political candidates linked denuclearization with Ukrainian independence and the new parliament approved a five year moratorium on new nukes.  That moratorium was annulled in 1993 as rulers of the newly independent Ukraine decided that the country’s market economy needed energy and employment and that nuclear power could provide both.

The big factor that could advance the popularity of Plokhy’s Chernobyl is its constant portrayal of the Soviet system as the ultimate cause of the disaster with the alternative being the safer nukes constructed by western countries.  Count on the US nuclear industry to give a standing ovation to that conclusion.

This is the “uh-ooh.” Do we really need cold war propaganda masquerading as insight to bring down the nuclear behemoth?  Instead, let’s take a realistic account of problems with the full life cycle of nuclear power:

  • mining uranium exposes every living creature in its path to radiation;
  • milling radioactive material exposes workers and nearby residents;
  • transporting nuclear fuel by rail or truck to a plant potentially exposes every living thing along the route;
  • everyday operations of nukes exposes people to radiation leaks and “near misses;”
  • the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima catastrophes continue to be devastating for millions;
  • decommissioning a nuke affects workers as it permanently degrades the surrounding area;
  • transportation of nuclear waste to a storage site again threatens every living thing en route;
  • storage of radioactive waste for millions of years has the same potential to unravel the web of life as does climate change and poses the question: How can the short term economic benefits possibly outweigh the costs of nuclear storage for eternity?
  • military use of nuclear material has always lurked behind claims of economic benefits, meaning that all nuclear power plants increase the likelihood of war; and,
  • perils of the destructive potential of nukes inherently require a monolithic and controlling state, as opposed to wind and solar power which are vastly less risky.

By catering to the crafted misperception that explosions are the single, solitary danger of nukes and barely mentioning or ignoring these obvious hazards, the book sidesteps the big picture.

Plokhy briefly notes that Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” nuclear weapon expansion forced the USSR to escalate in response, even though it was seeking an opposite course.  In doing so, the author refutes his own claim that the root cause of the Soviet plan to increase nuclear power was its internally driven urge to expand production.

If the ultimate cause of the Chernobyl explosion could be shifted from operator error and design flaw to an alleged Soviet fascination with nukes, then why not shift the cause further to the US-sponsored nuclear expansion which provoked the response by the USSR?  An honest analysis of the devastation of Chernobyl would identify nuclear technology itself as the fundamental problem, regardless of the country employing it.

Even though the book refers to the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown in the US and Japan’s 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, it continuously blames Soviet incompetence for Chernobyl.  Clearly the author has an axe to grind against the bureaucratic mode of production and this muddles his explanations.

In particular, it muddles interpretation of nasty efforts to cover up the catastrophe at every step of its unfolding.  Yes, Soviet bureaucrats were less than forthcoming in the extreme. Interpreting this as a symptom of Sovietism implies that rulers of capitalist society are beacons of truth and openness.  To put it mildly, this is false.

Immediately after the Three Mile Island meltdown US citizens were told that there were no radiation releases; then “informed” that the radiation was “insignificant;” then told that fuel inside the core did not melt and no one needed to evacuate the area.  Similarly, volumes could be written of cover-ups of agrochemicals and other toxins, climate denial, and under-reporting of species extinctions in the US and they would still barely scratch the surface of what we do not hear.

Asking readers to believe that Western nukes are somehow “safer” than Chernobyl is a bit like saying that a high school shooter who kills 4 students is “safer” than one who kills 17.

In the 1950s, my parents heard the promise that nuclear plants would soon be producing electricity that was “too cheap to meter.”  When an elementary school student, I participated in absurd “duck and cover” exercises.  As the sirens were going off, we marched into the hall, sat with our backs to the wall, ducked our heads down and covered them with our hands.  As if that would protect us from a nuclear fallout.  A decade later, others who had the same childhood experience created the famous poster including those instructions and ending with the command to put your head down between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

Though assuring readers that US reactors are safer than Soviet-era ones, the author fails to mention the Price-Anderson Act, passed in 1954 at the dawn of the nuclear era to encourage private companies to build nukes by limiting total liability to $700 million.  The hushed-up fear was that no one would insure a nuke if the power company had to pay out untold billions of dollars in damages.  If US nukes are “relatively” safe, then there is no need for Price-Anderson and it should be repealed.  The fact that no power company advocates this is proof that they could never pay out-of-pocket for the full damage one of their nukes could cause.

How can a statement be true and false at the same time?  It is true if the facts given are correct.  It can simultaneously be false if it cherry-picks those facts in order to manufacture a broad interpretation divorced from reality.  Plokhy shows how to do this in an account of Chernobyl.

One of the biggest pieces he leaves out of the Chernobyl puzzle is the number of deaths caused by the accident.  Plokhy briefly quotes the estimates of 4000 by the UN and 90,000 by Greenpeace International.  But he relies most heavily of the figure of 5000 cancer deaths by WHO in 2006.  He does not even mention the far more thorough 2009 study by Yablokov, Nesterenko and Nesterenko published by the New York Academy of Sciences. That analysis cites much more research, covers a much larger area, includes projected future radiation poisoning, examines a broader range of cancers and birth defects, and estimates 985,000 deaths.

After documenting the incredible suffering in the Ukraine, the author of Chernobyl makes an astounding call for more international cooperation in EXPANDING nuclear power.  Though providing a fascinating story of what happened there, he ends up amplifying the very problem he condemns.

• This review was first published at Green Social Thought

 

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.