Category Archives: Philosophy

Marx’s Labor Theory of Value: Bad Science and Bad for Ecological Socialism

Value and Socialist Distribution

Marxists need a scientific theory of value. I do not make that statement because I think it is controversial. I make it because I am not convinced that Marx provided one. By “scientific” I mean a theory that identifies an empirically detectable and measurable property that gives value to commodities, and a theory that is consistent with fundamental propositions of other relevant sciences, such as physics and chemistry. I do not reject the labor theory of value out of hand, and I do not believe that my criteria necessarily lead to rejection of everything Marx had to say about value theory. I am willing to consider the possibility that labor produces a value-endowing property, but to understand labor’s role, if any, in producing value, we must do more than repeat the familiar bromide that “labor creates value.” And we should keep in mind (while being careful not to conflate use value and exchange value) that Marx himself said: “Labour is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values as labour . . .”1

A scientific theory of value must answer these questions: In what way does labor serve as a source, or the source, of value, if it indeed does so? Is understanding value strictly a matter of quantifying physical properties produced by labor, or are other factors involved? How are quantities of labor and other relevant properties, measured? Do these quantities correlate with measurable quantities of value, and if so, how? Besides helping us understand how commodities acquire value and how value is measured, a scientific understanding of value is critical for implementing what I call the socialist principle of distribution.2  If we cannot understand and measure value, then we cannot implement the principle, and if we cannot do that, then we cannot have socialism; furthermore, we cannot have communism either, not if we think of communism as a mode of distribution that develops out of socialism.

What is the principle of socialist distribution? It has been expressed in many ways, but the gist of it is that under socialism the worker is supposed to receive a “fair” distribution, that is, he receives from society a quantity of goods and services equal in value to the labor he has performed, minus deductions for public purposes such as social insurance, public schools, reinvestment in public enterprises, or construction of public infrastructure, just to name a few. This contrasts with capitalist distribution in which the worker receives less value than he has contributed due to capitalist expropriation of surplus value at the point of production, which is supplemented by other expropriatory methods such as fraud, debt, rent, wage discrimination, taxation by the capitalist state, neoliberal austerity, full or partial privatization of public enterprises, and so-called corporate welfare.

In “Critique of the Gotha Program,” Marx expressed the socialist principle of distributive justice when he said that in the primary stage of socialism, the worker receives:

a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labour.3

This distributive principle presupposes the ability to measure quantities of labor, which are equated with quantities of value.

Other versions of the socialist principle have been influenced by Marx’s formulation, but they are not identical to it. Article 12 of the 1936 Constitution of the USSR states: “The principle applied in the U.S.S.R. is that of socialism: From each according to his ability to each according to his work.”4 Many socialist constitutions contain similar expressions. 5

The Soviet formula is worded differently than the statement in the Gotha Program. It speaks of distribution according to work, and thereby alludes to different kinds of work with presumably differing values, but it does not explicitly mention quantities of labor. What does this imply? Does the principle assume that different forms of work produce the same or different quantities of value, and what about differences in the quality of labor? Socialist countries that adopted the principle “to each according to his work,” did not practice equal compensation for all forms of work. This suggests they did not think all types of work had the same value. Recognition of quantitative and qualitative differences in various forms of work is likely the basis of that distinction.

Quantitative and qualitative differences were recognized as a matter of principle in socialist countries, and this was used to justify higher compensation for work considered above average in those terms. In Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, a 1960s training manual for Soviet cadres, differences of quantity and quality are said to determine both the size and quality of the rewards that workers receive.

In socialist society, the bulk of material and cultural values are distributed in accordance with the quantity and quality of labour expended by each worker in social production. Those who work more and better receive a larger and better reward for their work from socialist society.6

Obviously, this presupposes criteria for determining both quantitative and qualitative values of various forms of work, so that higher forms can be identified and given greater compensation. This raises many questions. What are the criteria for measuring the quantity and quality of labor? Can these things be measured directly or are they reducible to a more fundamental quantity?

For Marx, the difference between high and low-quality labor is apparently reduced to the production of lower and higher quantities of value. Marx developed the distinction in Capital. In explaining this distinction, I will take the basic proposition of Marx’s labor theory of value for granted: quantities of labor produce corresponding quantities of value; thus, it is clear that Marx reduced quantities of value to quantities of labor, which is in keeping with a labor theory of value.

In Capital, v. I, Marx distinguished simple and complex labor. Simple labor “is the expenditure of simple labour-power, i.e. of the labour-power possessed in his bodily organism by every ordinary man, on the average, without being developed in any special way.” Complex labor, by contrast, has an above average value-creating power that “counts only as intensified, or rather multiplied simple labour, so that a smaller quantity of complex labour is considered equal to a larger quantity of simple labour.”7  Complex labor is higher in quality in the sense that it expends more labor power in a given time than simple labor and therefore creates more value. For example, if a simple laborer and a complex laborer both work for an hour, the latter produces a higher quantity of value than the former.

In Capital, v. III, Marx offered concrete examples of simple and complex labor. He used day labor as an example of simplicity and goldsmithing as an example of complexity.8  Commercial workers were classified as complex laborers due to their knowledge of “commerce and languages, etc.” Marx wrote: “The commercial worker proper belongs to the better-paid class of wage laborer; he is one of those whose labour is skilled labour, above-average labour.”9  Skilled mechanics were included among complex laborers in a footnote to Capital, v. III, written by Engels.10  These examples reveal that complex labor is trained and educated labor; apparently Marx viewed this as the basis of its higher value productivity.

Evidently, Marx assumed that “simple” jobs, say, ditch digging or repetitive work in manufacturing, are less “complex” than the work of goldsmiths, mechanics, and commercial operatives. What characteristics do these forms of work possess which make them “above average” in complexity? They are more valuable, it will be said, but this is a mere tautology since value and complexity have already been equated. We need to know what Marx meant by complexity and why complexity is more valuable, in the sense of knowing what quantities complexity is reducible to (if any), and how these quantities are measured? How did he know that complexity of labor produces more value than simplicity? Did he just intuit this as self-evident? Granted, intuition (if that is what Marx used) can be correct, but he did not show why his intuition is correct. In the examples, complexity seems to mean a greater number of required skills; the complex job has more dimensions, more steps that must be mastered; it requires more training, education, and knowledge to perform than “simple” labor.

Does work that requires more training and education in and of itself produce more value than work requiring less? Has Marx drawn a distinction without an explanation? To merely repeat that complex work is more valuable because it represents more labor in a given time, and it represents more labor just because it is more complex, is a blatantly circular explanation. Once again, we are back to the fundamental problem of measuring quantities of labor and explaining how those quantities produce corresponding amounts of value—in short, the problem of value creation and measurement.

Creating and Measuring Value in Capital

Marx is usually called a materialist who was trying to put socialism on a scientific basis. Therefore, we shall expect the labor theory of value developed by Marx in Capital, v. I to identify the value-creating property of labor, whatever it happens to be, as a physical characteristic that serves as the quantifiable basis of exchange value. This is a reasonable expectation of any scientific theory, but will it be borne out?

In Capital, v.1, Marx begins his discussion of the labor theory of value by stating that two commodities of equal exchange value must share a common element that is present in both in equal magnitudes. If our assumption about Marx’s intention to develop a scientific theory is correct, he must be preparing to describe a physical and therefore quantifiable element.

Let us now take two commodities, for example, corn and iron. Whatever their exchange relation may be, it can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron, for instance, 1 quarter of corn = x cwt of iron. What does this equation signify? It signifies that a common element of identical magnitude exists in two different things, in one quarter of corn and similarly in x cwt of iron. Both are therefore equal to a third thing, which is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange-value, must therefore be reducible to this third thing.11

We should expect Marx to explain what this presumably physical element is, how it is measured, and on what basis he claims to know of its existence. But he offers this astonishing proclamation instead:

This common element cannot be a geometrical, physical, chemical, or other natural property of the commodities.12

Marx just said that the value-endowing element is not and cannot be a physical property. He did not bother to explain why he thinks this is the case, but it follows that he must believe commodities can have non-physical properties, does it not? This appeal to an immaterial element should cause profound consternation among those who think Marx had a scientific theory of value, scientific in the sense of making empirically testable claims about the nature of value, claims that can be nothing other than materialistic. Despite all the talk about Marx’s materialism, his theory is obviously based on an immaterialist metaphysics, which holds that all commodities share a common non-material property that gives them exchange value. Marx is not a materialist after all, at least not when it comes to exchange value. I will leave it to others to explain how an historical materialist can be an immaterialist regarding value creation, since analysis of changes in various modes of value creation; i.e., modes of production, are the basis of historical materialism.

If the value-creating property is not physical, then what are its properties, how are these properties known, and how is it possible to measure them if they are indeed non-physical?

A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because abstract human labour is objectified or materialized in it. How then is the magnitude of this value to be measured? By means of the quantity of the ‘value forming substance’, the labour contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale of hours, days, etc.13 “Abstract human labor,” according to Marx, is the “value forming substance” that is “materialized” in commodities. How does Marx know this? It is evidently a conclusion of pure reason that is not further analyzable. But how can an immaterial element (an abstraction) become materialized and take up residence in a physical commodity (like the word becoming flesh)? What a confusion of categories! The problem is only compounded by this additional description of the common element:

As exchange-values, all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour-time.  14

Here the value forming substance is described as “congealed time,” specifically labor time; apparently “congealed labor time” is used synonymously with “abstract human labor.” It seems strange to speak of time in this way. Can other kinds of time also “congeal” such as sleep time or mealtime? Or does the fact that labor time is spent working endow it with a unique (and fantastic) physical property that allows it to congeal? What can even be capable of congealing except material substances with specific physical properties? Marx does not say. What could he say? We are faced with an apparent contradiction: exchange value is an immaterial property and yet it congeals; the thing that congeals is time. But time is not form of matter that can alternate among various states, such as the classical states of solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, or the many high and low energy states discovered by modern physics. To say that time, which is a dimension of reality and not a state of matter, can “congeal” is to say that something immaterial can do that which only matter can do; it is an assertion that surpasses all understanding.

Marx’s treatment of the subject in Capital, v. II, exhibits this contradiction:

The substance of value is and remains nothing more than expended labour-power – labour independent of its particular useful character – and value production is nothing but the process of this expenditure.  . . . The process of production disappears in the finished commodity. The fact that labour-power was expended to create it now appears in the form that the commodity has the following concrete property: it possesses value. The magnitude of this value is measured by the amount of labor expended; the commodity value cannot be resolved into anything further, and consists of nothing more.15

There is no talk of congealed time in this passage, but the contradiction is apparent in that value is spoken of as a “concrete property” when we were assured in Capital, v. I, that value is a non-physical property (what can a concrete property be if not physical?). The term “congealed labour” appears soon after the above passage, when Marx makes the following comment on surplus value:

Over and above them both there is still the surplus value. This has in common with the value component that replaces the variable capital advanced in wages that it is a value newly created by the workers – congealed labour.16

Here Marx speaks of congealed labor rather than congealed time. To this writer, it is a significant difference: a theory in which “labor” congeals rather than “labor time” is a different theory. Did Marx have two theories or is it just one muddled theory? “Congealed labor” denotes a process that becomes congealed, whereas “congealed labor time” denotes a dimension, but Marx does not seem to be aware of this distinction. Alternate phrasings also appear in Capital, v. III; sometimes Marx writes “[t]he value contained in a commodity is equal to the labour-time taken in making it”17; at other times he refers to “the amount of labour contained in it” [the commodity].18  He might have thought the two phrases – congealed labor and congealed labor time – are synonymous, but they are not. It is a characteristic of well-formed scientific theories that terms are precisely defined and used consistently. Marx’s theory fails to meet this standard.

Try as I might, I cannot find any reason to accept either his “congealed labor time” or “congealed labor” terminology because both phrases seem equally nonsensical. Congealability is a property of physical substances, is it not? Melted fat, for example, “congeals” at the top of chicken soup as it cools, and blood with sufficient clotting factors “congeals” (coagulates) into a scab; both are examples of matter changing from liquid to solid. But again, time is not a state of matter; it is a dimension that does not change states. As a succession of moments, this dimension is a pre-condition that is necessary for matter to undergo qualitative changes from one state to another, such as water freezing solid then melting back into liquid or evaporating into gas. The fact that time provides the context in which matter changes states does not entail that time is a physical substance that congeals or undergoes other physical changes, likewise with so called “labor time.” To reiterate, Marx had no justification for saying that labor time can congeal into commodities, thereby giving them exchange value. Time cannot congeal into anything, let alone a commodity. Likewise, with “labor,” which denotes a process that consists of a series of activities. The activities are engaged in by physical beings and, of course, take place in time, but this does not mean that specific actions or entire sets of actions are physical substances that congeal like chicken fat.

The theory doesn’t make any more sense when applied to concrete situations. How would Marx use it to explain why one commodity has a higher exchange value than another? According to him, if it takes 10 times more labor time to produce a pair of pants than it takes to produce a box of paper clips, then the pants are 10 times more valuable than the clips. And if, in a given time, your labor produces 10 times the amount of value that mine does, then your labor is 10 times more valuable than mine. Why? Congealed labor time is the active ingredient, so to speak. Marx has to say that the pants have 10 times more abstract human labor time congealed in them, because your labor congealed more time than mine did. It also follows that your labor is more productive than mine, and this can be explained in two ways: it is either faster or it is more complex. How else could it create more value in the same amount of time?

Why is this a terrible explanation? Marx’s talk about congealed time (and congealed labor) has already been exposed as nonsensical, and a nonsensical explanation is not an explanation at all. Still, we might wonder if Marx’s theory really is so terrible. If we assume labor time is the measure of value, does it not follow that something that takes more time to produce is more valuable than something that takes less? It certainly does, but the conclusion follows only if we assume from the outset that labor time is the substance and measure of value. This is an obvious circular argument because the premise that needs to be proven is assumed to be true at the outset. When nonsense is acceptable, then all other forms of nonsense are acceptable as well; we might as well say that the patron saint of commodities conferred a larger blessing on the pants than on the paper clips, and that this blessing was manifested at a ratio of 10:1.

Keep in mind: Marx did not say that value comes from time spent laboring in some ordinary language understanding of “labor time.” He said more valuable commodities contain a larger amount of congealed abstract human labor time. That is why the pants have a higher exchange value than the box of paper clips. Please show me where I can find this congealed time, this “value-forming substance” among the fibers, dyes, tools, equipment, and energy used in making the pair of pants. It can’t be done, not because science has not yet found a way to detect the presence of this substance, but because the existence of such a substance is impossible in principle.

The obvious conclusion is that when Marx speaks of congealed labor time, he is talking nonsense. Before you condemn me for being uncharitable to Marx, consider this: what can talk of congealed time suggest except a quantity of time spent laboring in which the time itself hardens into the object that is being created? If anyone can explain to me what this means, how it occurs, and show it to me happening, I will abandon this criticism, but I do not think this is likely to happen.

Matter, Energy, and the Labor Theory of Value

Let us spend no more time – congealed or otherwise – on this embarrassing muddle. Labor is not a substance; it is a process performed and undergone by substances, by human workers and the products they work upon. This might seem like a mere truism, no more “substantive” than Marx’s talk of congealed time, but at least I can take you to a workshop, farm, or factory and show you an actual labor process happening. If Marx were there, he would have to say, “labor time is congealing here,” and if we responded – “What!?” – he would have no answer. To say that labor time is a substance makes about as much sense as saying that running time is a substance, and that a fast runner produces more of a substance called “running time” than a slow one. Of course, work and running obviously take place in time, which is a necessary condition for the unfolding of all processes, but that doesn’t help Marx’s argument. You may insist on talking about “labor time” as if you have made a great discovery, but it is unnecessary because everyone knows that labor requires time. I will insist on this, however; although value is created during time spent laboring, labor time is not the thing that creates or endows value; rather it is the dimension in which value is endowed.

We said that labor is performed by a human worker, a physical being, upon another physical being, an object that we call a commodity. Time is a precondition of these events. It must be something that happens during this time that gives the commodity its exchange value. What happens? Workers consume and apply energy in orderly, planned, and desired ways to enhance and transform the useful properties of matter. The result is a commodity with exchange value. Rationally directed energy consumption is the common element that Marx was seeking.

Labor is the alteration of matter through the rationally governed consumption of energy. Thus, the labor process requires ability and skill, in addition to energy and matter. Since matter and energy are equivalent (E = mc2 after all) we can reduce this to the statement that commodity production requires the skillful use or consumption of energy. Since the law of the conservation of energy also applies here, we will understand “consumption” to mean the transformation of energy from one state into another, with no net gain or loss of energy and, correspondingly, the consumption or transformation of matter, again with no net gain or loss. Movement, changes of state, and consumption occur, but not creation in the sense of bringing substances into being out of nothingness nor annihilation in the sense of transforming substances from being into nothingness. Acquisition of skill also requires energy consumption, and again this consumption must be rationally directed to the desired end; therefore, in the case of labor the rational consumption of energy, a special case of energy consumption, is not further reducible.

We have reduced the statement that commodity production requires matter, energy, and skill to the statement that it requires energy and skill. We can shorten this to the statement that commodity production requires energy consumption, because the mental effort of acquiring and applying skill is a form of energy consumption. Skillful energy consumption contrasts with the non-rational consumption that occurs in nature, in the Sun, for example (as far as we know).

The amount of energy consumed is the irreducible component of value. The exchange value of any commodity is therefore reducible to the amount of energy expended to produce it, not the amount of time taken to expend that energy. Quantities of value do not correlate to quantities of time; they correlate to quantities of energy expended in a given time; the quantity of energy is the “common element” shared by the quarter of corn and the hundred weight of iron that Marx spoke of in Capital, vol. I. This includes the energy embodied in the substance and the energy required to transform the substance in the desired way. Obviously, greater or lesser amounts of energy can be expended in the same amount of time; the quantity depends on the form of energy and the skill of the worker. Skill, regardless of its degree of complexity, moves, allocates, or transforms energy and matter, but it does not create these things anew. Energy is the value-endowing ingredient of the labor process. It has a dual role in the process as both transformer and thing transformed.

Rationally expended energy is the “common element” of all commodities. The amount of expenditure represented by the finished commodity is its objective exchange value. From the worker’s standpoint, the sum of energy that he consumes while working, plus the amount of energy required to maintain himself as a worker, constitutes the value of his labor. This is also the quantity of value (matter/energy) owed him in exchange for his labor. This quantity can be expressed in any units you like – gram calories, kilogram calories, joules, British thermal units, etc. – provided we have a technique for measuring in terms of the unit in question and a method for converting into other commonly used units. In-depth treatment of the practical problems entailed by this theory are beyond the scope of this paper; however, it should be noted that measurement of human energy expenditure is a developed science with a history reaching back to 1919 with the formulation of the Harris-Benedict equation for estimating an individual’s basal metabolic rate.  19  The results of that science show without doubt that manual or simple labor requiring lower levels of training and education requires higher energy expenditures than intellectual or complex labor requiring higher education and training. Thus, there is no justification for wage discrimination against simple labor in our theory of value as energy expenditure.20

This is a rethinking, not a rejection, of the labor theory of value. It has the advantage of identifying the empirically observable and measurable feature of labor – energy expenditure – that endows a commodity with value. As a move toward a scientific theory of value, it is superior to Marx’s unscientific attempt to explain value by appealing to the existence of an unobservable value-endowing substance called “congealed labor time,” or sometimes just “labor time.” It is also consistent with the basic principles other scientific disciplines, such as physics and chemistry, which recognize the existence of matter and energy as physical substances and study the physico-chemical processes that fuel the transformations of the various states of matter. The theory is also compatible with the methodological principles of empiricism, which frown on explanations that postulate the existence of unobservable entities. This is real materialism, not a faux materialism disfigured by Hegelian metaphysical (and ultimately bourgeois) philosophical remnants. Removal of congealed time as a feature of Marxism can only improve its standing among the sciences.

Marxism and the Crisis of the Anthropocene

There is a connection between Marx’s theory of value, especially his overvaluation of complex or intellectual labor in contrast to simple or manual labor, and the procreationism, productionism, and consumerism that are core ideals of the original bourgeois Christian civilization. Marx (unwittingly?) adopted these ideals whole cloth.21  His vision of socialism strives to be truer to them than capitalism could ever be by striping them of their class character and democratizing them. These ideas have helped blind Marxists to the tight logical relationship between class struggle and ecology. Marx’s labor theory of value is implicated in this problem because productionism and consumerism are enabled and justified by the high consumerist privileges allegedly due to highly skilled workers who perform complex labor. Procreationism is a result of viewing people in advanced countries, with their large numbers of highly-skilled workers, as the crowning glory of humanity: the more there are, the better; the more they produce and consume, the better.

If Marxism is going to stay relevant in the twenty-first century and beyond, it must provide a theoretical basis for building forms of socialism and communism that can survive in the Anthropocene epoch. The term refers to our contemporary period in which modern economic systems are exerting increasingly harmful effects on Earth’s natural systems. Classical Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, and their numerous variants, share with capitalism this productionism, consumerism, and procreationism: a desire for unlimited expansion of production, consumption, and population that thrusts society toward environmental crisis.22 This outlook views nature mainly as a source of use values to be assimilated into the production process. It fails to appreciate nature as a delicately balanced complex system that harbors all life by providing its material basis. Unchecked, these tendencies lead to severe environmental degradation as the productive forces are developed and production and consumption increased. This condition afflicts any modern system, whether socialist or capitalist, that combines vast power to utilize and transform nature with the failure to perceive the consequences as threats to the viability of natural systems, species, and individual life forms. Socialism and communism must distinguish themselves from capitalism on this point by ridding themselves of productionism, consumerism, and procreationism. Societies that aim to liberate human beings from capitalism must have a clear understanding of the dangers posed by these interrelated phenomena and a definite plan for harmonizing the twin goals of meeting society’s material needs while preserving its organic and inorganic foundations. Marxism must place primary importance on the fact that the world’s irreplaceable ecosystems count as fundamental material needs of all life and the basis of material and cultural wealth. To accomplish this, Marxism needs new concepts and principles that elucidate the direct but overlooked relationship between class struggle and ecology.

Textual Evidence of the Problem: The Economic Purpose of Communism

Present at the dawn of Marxism was the tendency to view development as an unqualified good and to ignore its negative effects on nature. Consider The Communist Manifesto’s paean to the awesome productive forces unleashed by capitalism:

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all proceeding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?23

The Manifesto says that an immediate goal of the communist revolution is to make the proletariat “the masters of the productive forces of society.”24 It assigns to the new ruling class the task of using state power “to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.”25  These are the same productive forces that the bourgeoisie used to subject nature to the needs and designs of their class. This talk of subjugating nature is dangerous because nothing about socialism, in and of itself, guarantees that the proletariat will act with more wisdom toward nature than the bourgeoisie.

When the socialist revolution converts capital into the common property of society, only the class character of the property is changed. The potential of the mode of production to destroy the environment remains unchanged, despite it being socialized. Abolishing the class character of capital does not alter its disposition toward nature.26

Socialism does not guarantee environmental sustainability. Misuse of the productive forces to destroy nature remains just as much of a danger as it was under capitalism. In the primary stage of socialism, the struggle to free the new society from the remnants of capitalism must prioritize plans to build an ecological socialism. Ecology is therefore one of the primary missions of the class struggle, but the Communist Manifesto is blind to this, perhaps excusably blind given the period in which it was written, but blind nonetheless.

The danger of unbridled productionism and consumerism was apparently unrecognized by the later Marx as well. In the Critique of the Gotha Program, he envisioned the “higher phase of communist society”—sometimes referred to as “full communism,” as a time when the productive forces have expanded far beyond the already colossal extents of the capitalist and early socialist eras, when cooperatively produced wealth flows so abundantly that it can be distributed “to each according to his needs.”27  This implies the continuation of productionism and consumerism (and why suppose any limits on procreation?) under communism, while the environmental implications remain unacknowledged.

The productionism and consumerism at the heart of Marx’s conception of post-capitalist society is exacerbated by Lenin’s gloss on the Gotha Program which views communism as the period when “an enormous development of the productive forces” makes wealth so plentiful that:

[t]here will then be no need for society, in distributing the products, to regulate the quantity to be received by each; each will take freely ‘according to his needs’.  . . .  Everyone will have “the right to receive from society . . . any quantity of truffles, cars, pianos, etc.28

Lenin surpassed Marx by predicting that under communism consumer goods would be produced in limitless quantities completely free for the taking. We leave it to the reader to contemplate the environmental devastation that would result from unrestrained production and consumption of automobiles, not to mention truffles, pianos, etc. Some might try to dismiss these passages as instances of a revolutionary exuberance that had no effect on the actual practices of socialist countries. The extensive and easily accessible history of ecocidal development in these countries belies this view and exposes environmental practices under socialism as no better than under capitalism overall; the reader is urged to investigate this independently, since a full review of the history is beyond the scope of this paper.

Besides practice, we should consider theoretical discussions during actually existing socialism. Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism describes socialism as “an era of tempestuous development of productive forces” when “the socialist state considers that its main purpose is the expansion of production in order to provide a continuously rising living standard for the population.”29  This breakneck development will enable “the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries to undertake with full confidence the task of reaching . . . a level of consumption surpassing in every respect that of the most highly developed capitalist countries.”30  Socialist consumerism is but a prelude to the glittering consumerist paradise that will arrive with full communism. Following Lenin, the supply of goods will be so plentiful that controlling the amount of consumption will be unnecessary.31 People will assess their own needs and simply take as much as they want; there will be “no need to determine which needs are reasonable and which are not.”32  Nor should there be any worry about natural limits on growth. Shortages of raw materials, for example, will never occur because ever advancing agriculture, more intensive exploitation of lands and oceans, and creation of synthetic materials will be enough to satisfy every imaginable need.33 With no barriers to expansion, communist consumerism will be limitless.

Critics might accuse the author of ignoring passages from the Marxist canon that express serious regard for ecological issues. These might include: the recognition that humankind is fundamentally part of nature, as well as discussions on overcoming man’s alienation from nature found in numerous passages in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844; complaints about a lack of urban planning, air pollution and other unhealthy living conditions in the proletarian districts of English cities described in Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England  34, and in his Dialectics of Nature the recognition that “humans and nature exist in a coevolutionary relationship” and man should not become too smug about his victories over nature because “For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us.”35; the oft-cited discussion in Capital, volume 1, chapter 15 of soil depletion under capitalist farming caused by disruption of the “metabolic interaction between man and the earth” as well as the view that capitalist agriculture undermines “the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker”36; and the declaration in Critique of the Gotha Program that: “Labour is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values . . . as labour, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power.”37 Lenin’s enthusiasm for establishing nature reserves should also be mentioned here.38

Nevertheless, a set of disconnected ad hoc comments and policies does not amount to a mature theoretical treatment of and comprehensive policy toward ecological issues, nor does it temper, override, or repudiate the productionism, consumerism, and procreationism at the heart of the Marxist-Leninist conception of socialist and communist society.

Toward a Genuinely Ecological Marxism

 A convincing and effective ecological Marxism must amount to more than a tacked-on addendum without clear logical connections to the fundamental principles and revolutionary orientation of Marxism. These connections do exist. The Class Struggles in France contains Marx’s famous discussion of “The Four Alls” in which he explains that the task of the proletariat during the transition from capitalism to socialism is to abolish all class distinctions, all relations of production, all social relations, and all ideas that spring from capitalist society.39 Classical Marxism indeed viewed itself as much more than a mere logical extension of the bourgeois Enlightenment, sans economic classes, but it did not always realize this vision. Poductionism, consumerism, and procreationism are anachronistic leftovers from the philistinish, unscientific, and mindless optimism of the bourgeois Enlightenment, meshed with the capitalistic logic of profit maximization. Together they entail complete expropriation and commodification of nature for use in the valorization process. Ecocide is inherent in the logic of both profit maximization and the maximization of consumption. As required by the four alls, classical Marxism should have rejected bourgeois ideals such as unlimited production and consumption. They must be rejected now.40

There is nothing in the logic of Marxist socialism that necessitates such an error, especially provided the errors in Marx’s labor theory of value are overcome. The fundamental purpose of socialism, as understood by the founders of Marxism, is to organize society to cooperate in and coordinate its efforts to satisfy the material and cultural needs of its members and to return to workers the same amount of value that they invest in society, minus absolutely necessary deductions or unavoidable losses. This immediately raises questions about the extent of material and cultural production entailed by the word “satisfy.” Does ecology dictate limits on what is permissible here? Evidently it does. Historically, Marxists and Marxist-Leninists have had a weak grasp on this question and its answer. They apparently thought there was no need for any strictures on production and consumption, including the production of human beings (Chinese Marxism notwithstanding), but there really are objective limits dictated by the requirements of Earth’s ecology. Therefore, the dangerous and simplistic goal of perpetual quantitative increases in material living standards should be removed from Marxism and replaced by the explicit recognition that the achievement of socialism’s purpose is impossible without healthy ecosystems. Taking this necessary condition into account, it follows that the purpose of socialism is cooperation in the satisfaction of society’s material and cultural needs to the degree compatible with the preservation of nature. The idea that socialism and communism should place caps on production, consumption, and population growth, must become core guiding principles of Marxism in all its forms if they are to remain relevant in the Anthropocene.

Implications

(1) Marx’s labor theory of value overvalues labor power in the sense that it erroneously believes that human labor is the creator of a potentially infinite expansion of value. The realization that labor manipulates quantities of matter/energy, which may then be identified with quantities of value, rather than creating value, per se, disconnects compensation from the notion that its purpose is to remunerate acts of pure and potentially infinite creativity. When we cease to view human beings as “creators” of value rather than users and appreciators who need value, we reduce them from the bogus, quasi-divine status conferred on them by the more Promethean strains of the Enlightenment, to the lesser, but more honest status of normal living beings. Workers are then viewed as beings with needs that are worthy of respect, consideration, and satisfaction, but with no right to place their needs and wants above the health of the whole living system of Earth and its biosphere.

(2) To reiterate: Labor does not “create” value. It reconfigures pre-existing quantities of matter and energy to serve useful purposes. These purposes are not strictly class neutral. In capitalism they serve the capitalist class’ interest in profit maximization; under socialism they must satisfy the material and cultural needs of the working class within ecological limits. The importance of labor’s power to manipulate matter should not be underestimated, but it is not value creation, per se. Economic value is not a substance in and of itself. Therefore any such value judgments and value hierarchies based on them that are not grounded in quantifiable energy expenditures should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism. “Value” is not a uniquely independent substance, but this does not mean it is purely fictitious. It is an epiphenomenon of the labor process, of the rationally directed use of energy, and is real as such. But value in its original and grounding manifestation, the dual form of matter and energy, pre-exists human and all other life forms. The worker is an arranger and discoverer of values, but not a creator. Nature is the source of all values, not only use values, as Marx erroneously believed.

(3) In this concept of ecological socialism, the fundamental principle of socialist distribution that the individual receives from society a quantity of value equal to what he has contributed to it, remains in force; the difference is that value is reinterpreted in materialist terms as energy expenditure and return that on expenditure. Marx’s understanding of value as congealed labor time is rejected as an idealistic Hegelian reification of the concepts of labor and time that is incompatible with materialism.

(4) The distribution scenario for the primary stage of communism sketched by Marx in “Critique of the Gotha Program” is therefore rewritten:

He receives a certificate from society that he has consumed such and such an amount of energy (after deducting part of this amount for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same expenditure of energy. The same amount of energy which he has given to society in one form he receives back in another. But all expenditures must take place within quantifiable ecological limits.

The principle for the higher phase of communism is reworded:

From each according to his ability to each according to his need, within the limits of nature’s capacities!

(5) This reformulated theory of value requires reinterpretation of the concepts of exchange value, surplus value, price, and fair compensation. Exchange value is reinterpreted as the amount of energy required to produce the commodity; surplus value as the amount of energy contributed by the worker to the production process that exceeds the quantity of energy that he receives in return for his labor. Fair compensation now means an equal energy exchange between the worker and the owner of the productive enterprise, minus deductions necessary to maintain the enterprise and other socially necessary subtractions; under socialism the owner will be the whole society. Since ecology is logically prior to all society, this principle applies whether the owner is a capitalist, a class, an alliance of classes, a state, or a free association of workers.

(6) The only justification for differences in compensation is measurable differences in energy expended by workers during the labor process. This replaces Marx’s standard of labor time and the distinction between simple and complex labor. Compensation differences based on differences in the quality or complexity of different forms of work are unjustified in these terms. Justification requires demonstration of a quantifiable difference among forms of work. For example, if a construction worker expends more energy than an accountant, the former is owed higher compensation than the latter, if not, then not. Society may choose to use compensation differences to encourage quality improvements or the acquisition of complex skills, but such considerations are matters of social utility that violate the reformulated principle of socialist distribution if they are not justifiable in material terms. In this interpretation, the priority of socialist distribution is to return to individuals the amount of energy they have invested in society, minus necessary deductions. Adherence to this principle is incompatible with distribution regimes that promote either poverty or wealth by returning to workers either less or more than the amount of energy they have contributed. Furthermore, it has been argued that there is no scientific basis for such distinctions, contrary to Marx’s erroneous belief that complex labor necessarily has greater objective value because of its higher “value creating” capacity. In a socialist society, compensation differences permitted for reasons of social utility must be minimized and regulated to prevent capitalist restoration.

(7). Marx’s view that smaller quantities of complex labor are equal to larger amounts of simple labor is justified only if there is evidence that complex labor consumes more energy than simple labor. But there is no such evidence. The evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary: simple manual labor requires higher energy consumption than complex intellectual labor.41  The reformulated theory of value provides no justification for a compensation hierarchy favoring complex intellectual labor over simple manual labor.

(8) The fact that some forms of work involve manipulation of higher quantities of energy than others does not entail that workers in those fields expend more of their own metabolic energy during their work or as part of their labor in acquiring and maintaining their ability to perform high-energy work; nor are they entitled to higher compensation because they “create” higher energy fields. Energy and matter, in conformity to their respective conservation laws, are neither created nor destroyed. These fundamental constituents of our material reality may be transferred or transformed from one state into another by the worker, but unlike Shiva, the human worker, whether of hand or brain can neither create nor destroy matter and energy. Since value is reducible to quantities of energy, the conservation laws also apply to value. Strictly speaking, the view that labor creates value is erroneous. Labor manipulates quantities of matter and energy and thereby manipulates quantities of value. New methods of manipulating value are discovered during the labor process, but human beings do not possess the power of creating matter, energy, or value out of nothing. 

(9) Since the universe is composed of a pre-established quantity of matter and energy, the labor process in the broadest sense is the act of directing finite quantities of energy. The process can be exploitive (capitalism) or cooperative (socialism).

(10) A reasonable socialism aims to meet each person’s material needs (emphasis on needs, not wants) in quantities that correlate with the society’s productive capacity, preservation of its ecological foundations, and the functioning of society within known ecological limits. The reinterpreted theory of value promotes this, while Marx’s theory discourages it. Any deviation from these limits that favors intellectual workers (or any other social stratum) on the erroneous assumption that they contribute more labor or “create” more value than other workers is unjustified. Socialist society must respect objective energy values and the dialectic of needs and limits. It cannot shirk its responsibility to meet fundamental material needs, but it must prohibit breaking ecological limits to provide so called elite strata (intellectual workers or even elite populations such as North America or Western Europe) with extravagant compensation levels that they are erroneously judged to deserve under the old labor theory of value.

(11) In this concept of value, over consumption of energy by favored social strata that exceeds their actual contribution to society, is dealt with by limiting compensation to the quantity of energy contributed by the worker. This does not preclude the possibility that specific forms of energy, such as fossil fuels, may come under additional regulations required for maintaining a healthy ecology. Yes, a socialist society must return to workers what they invest in society, but it would be madness to give so much that its ecological foundations are destroyed in the process. The point is for socialism to fill basic needs, not unlimited wants.

(12) The primary concern of socialism must not be to provide human beings with limitless material abundance. It must strike a balance between material needs and known ecological limits, and the conception of need must evolve with changes in our knowledge of ecological limits. Socialism must fairly compensate workers for the energy they contribute to the common good, but whether this results in material abundance is a secondary concern. It must be decided how much growth is compatible with a thriving environment. Because the material world is ultimately entropic (as expressed by the Boltzmann entropy equation (S = k log W), life’s flourishing requires temporarily decreasing entropy through matter/energy inputs, both natural and rationally directed; consequently, there must be a sense of limits to disruptive growth, a preference for permitting nature to exist undisturbed, and recognition of the importance of letting things be.

(13) Consumption must be understood as compensation for one’s material contribution, not a reward for virtue of any kind (which must be its own reward if it is to remain virtuous); otherwise, talented workers, and this includes those who are talented at self-promotion, fraud, deception, theft, violence, and gluttony, will take the vast bulk of social goods for themselves and condemn other to second class status as the deserved outcome of their inferiority; in the process they will destroy the biosphere with their voracious consumption, which they view as “just” reward for their limitless superiority. Capitalism and the old productivist/consumerist socialism, with the groundless distinctions between work deserving of high and low rewards, must be rejected. A scientific socialism, scientific in the sense that it takes other sciences seriously (including climatology and ecology) must be about limiting human consumption, not unleashing it. Consumption must be within the limits defined by climatology and ecology, rather than the Promethean consumerist aspirations of classical liberalism, nineteenth-century Marxism, twentieth-century Marxism-Leninism, and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. This might seem unfair to Chinese socialism, which promises to build an “ecological civilization” amid rapid and massive development; but it is too soon to tell whether this promise will prove empty; what is certain is that it has already made a substantial contribution to the global climate crisis by releasing what are now world-leading quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

(14) The idea that scientific socialism must be compatible with other sciences requires clarification. It does not mean that socialists must acknowledge the established assumptions and findings of all sciences and explicitly agree with them. (Does it matter whether socialists know and accept the latest findings of actinology, otology, tribology, etc.? Probably not.)  It is enough for socialists to take account of established theoretical principles and empirical findings in all sciences that bear directly upon their project and take care not to violate their principles, unless they can show that the established principle is incorrect and must be abandoned. I mean by “established” principles and findings those that have withstood scrutiny so far and which have not been convincingly refuted by any other science, including Marxism. Marx should be criticized, for example, when he talks about labor time as a congealable ingredient that the labor process adds to the material substance of the commodity. This conflicts with a fundamental proposition of modern physics which views time as an immaterial dimension of reality, not an ingredient that can be added to things by some process or other, such as labor. If Marxists cannot provide convincing reasons to prefer their assumptions about time to those of modern physics, then the traditional Marxist theory of value should be reformulated in terms compatible with physics. On the other hand, if Marxists can refute standard physics by rigorously demonstrating that time should be regarded as a substance (the substance of value as Marx called it) then physics should adapt to Marxism, but this does not seem likely.

(15) Besides the need for an empirically defensible theory of value, Marxism must be kept relevant in the newly named Anthropocene epoch. This name denotes the present age of planetary environmental crisis. It is now clear that the intractable environmental problems facing humankind are the result of human activities, especially the complementary economic and scientific developments that have taken place since the Industrial Revolution (at the very latest). A terrifying increase in human power to devour the environment has occurred, causing a constellation of problems that includes: air, water, and soil pollution; global warming and climate change; human overpopulation; resource depletion; the global destruction of habitats; and mass extinctions. The stress on the material bases of life has killed vast numbers of organisms in what is called the Sixth Great Extinction.42 There is even some concern that Homo sapiens may not survive the Anthropocene. No one is sure whether life can survive if industrial civilization continues its trajectory toward unlimited economic growth, or whether humans, if they do survive, will be forced to revert to the lower consumption levels that characterized early- or pre-industrial eras. If Marxists can develop a theoretical and practical program for dealing with the problems of the Anthropocene, the world will flock to it; otherwise the world will look to capitalist solutions such as liberalism, neoliberalism, social democracy, and fascism for solutions. This will happen regardless of how dangerous and absurd it seems to Marxists.

(16) A scientific theory of value is necessary not only to bring Marxism in communion with the other empirical sciences, it is also a prerequisite of an ecological Marxism, which is in turn crucial to Marxism’s relevance in the Anthropocene. It must replace Marx’s “labor mixing” theory, which is a holdover from natural rights-based, labor-mixing theories of bourgeois political economists.43  It is scientifically correct that Marxists aim to replace these ideological mystifications with empirically verifiable propositions; it is also a wise political strategy, because science-based political strategies, like all human endeavors informed by the relevant scientific disciplines, actually stand a reasonable chance of achieving the intended results.

  1. Marx, Karl. “Critique of the Gotha Program.” In Robert Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels  Reader, 2nd ed. p. 525–541. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978 (1875),  525.
  2. Lenin used the term “socialism” to describe what Marx called the “first phase of communist society” and “communism” to denote Marx’s “higher phase of communist society.” I have followed this practice when I have considered it convenient to do so. Thus,  I refer to the distributive principles of the lower and higher phases as the “socialist principle of distribution” and the “communist principle of distribution,” respectively. For Lenin’s usage see The State and Revolution, Chapter V, §3-4; for Marx’s, see “Critique of the Gotha Program,” Part I, §1. For an objection to this practice see: Layton, Richard. “No Marx!Dissident Voice. April 9, 2015.
  3. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program,” p. 530.
  4. Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Moscow, 1936.
  5. Cf. Simons, William B., ed. The Constitutions of the Communist World. The Hague:  Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1984.
  6. Kuusinen, O.V., et al., ed. Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1963, p. 584.
  7. Marx, Karl. Capital, vol. 1. New York: Vintage Books, 1977 (1867), p. 135.
  8. Marx, Karl. Capital, vol. III. London: Penguin Books, 1991 (1898). p. 241.
  9. Ibid. p. 414.
  10. Ibid. p. 414 – 415, n. 39[a].
  11. Marx, Karl. Capital, vol. 1, p. 127.
  12. Ibid. p. 127.
  13. Ibid., p. 129.
  14. Ibid. p. 130.
  15. Marx, Capital, v. II, p. 462.
  16. Ibid. p. 464.
  17. Marx, Capital, v. III, p. 133.
  18. Ibid. p. 1006.
  19. Harris, J. Arthur and Francis G. Benedict. A Biometric Study of Basal Metabolism in Man. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1919. There is an extensive literature on human energy consumption in daily life, work, and recreational activities.  A small sample includes:  R. Passmore & J. Durnin. “Human Energy Expenditure.” Physiol Rev. 1955 Oct; 35(4) 801–840; T. Church et al. “Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity.” PLoS ONE.  2011 May; 6(5) 1–7; M. Mansoubi et al. “Energy Expenditure during Common Sitting and Standing Tasks: Examining the 1.5 MET Definition of Sedentary Behavior.” BMC Public Health. 2015: Article number 516; S. Bilici et al.  “Energy Expenditure and Nutritional Status of Coal Miners: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Archives of  Environmental & Occupational Health. 2016; 71(5) 293–299; R. Griffin, et al. “Gluttony and Sloth? Calories, Labor Market Activity, and the Rise of Obesity.” Journal of  the European Economic Association. 2016; 14(6) 1253–1286; J. Deyaert et al. “Attaching Metabolic Expenditures to Standard Occupational Classification Systems:  Perspectives from Time-Use Research.” BMC Public Health. 2017; Article number 620.
  20. Calories burned by a 185 lb person in 30 minutes in the following occupational activities: computer work – 61; light office work – 67; sitting in meetings – 72; desk work – 78; bartending/serving – 173; general construction – 244; coal mining – 266; masonry- 311; general steel mill – 355. From: Harvard Health Publishing. “Calories Burned in  30 Minutes by People of Three Different Weights.”
  21. For procreationism see Marx’s discussion of Malthus in Capital, v.1, p. 766–767, and his remarks on surplus population in Capital, v. 3, p. 324–325). Procreationism is a remnant of Judeo-Christian traditions, retained and gradually transformed into a human rights issue by some religious and secular liberals in bourgeois societies. This aspect of the tradition was abandoned by bourgeois clerics such as Malthus, who prescribed anti-procreationism as a solution to the poverty and misery of the surplus working-class population. Marx’s view is that there is no natural limit on human population. The immiseration of so-called “surplus populations” in capitalism is due solely to the exploitive relations of production in that system. Marx’s procreationsim grows out of the connections between Marx’s views on population, the higher value ascribed to intellectual workers by his labor theory of value, and his productionist/consumerist sympathies. Like capitalism, Marx’s socialism requires perpetual reproduction of producers (with an emphasis on highly skilled intellectual workers) and consumers in unlimited numbers to facilitate perpetual economic growth.
  22. For an early example of his productionism/consumerism see the section on “The Meaning of Human Requirements” in Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.
  23. Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. In vol. 6 of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works, 477–519. New York: International Publishers, 1976 (1848), p. 489.
  24. Ibid. p. 495.
  25. Ibid. 504.
  26. Ibid. p. 505. Except for a line on “improvement of the soil generally” as part of a program to expand agriculture, the manifesto’s 10-point program gives no indication that ecological concerns will play a role in the transition from capitalism to communism.
  27. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program,” p. 531.
  28. Lenin, Vladimir I.  The State and Revolution. In vol. 25 of V. I. Lenin: Collected Works, 385–497. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964 (1917), p. 473.
  29. Kuusinen, et al., Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, p. 544, 569.
  30. Ibid. p. 570.
  31. Ibid. p. 705.
  32. Ibid. p. 706-707.
  33. Ibid. p. 700.
  34. Engels, Frederick. The Condition of the Working Class in England. In vol. 4 of Karlarx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works, 294–596. New York: International Publishers, 1975 (1845), passim.
  35. The “coevolutionary” remark is from Clark, Brett and Richard York. “Reflections in Honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of Levin’s and Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist,” Monthly Review 57 (1) (May 2005): p. 13–22. The quote on victories over nature is from Engels’ Dialectics of Nature. London: Wellred Publications, 2012 (1883), p. 182.
  36. Marx, Capital, v. I., p. 637–638.
  37. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program,” p. 525.
  38. Foster, John Bellamy. “Late Soviet Ecology and the Planetary Crisis,” Monthly Review 67 (2) (June 2015): p. 1–20.
  39. Marx, Karl. The Class Struggles in France: 1848-1850. In vol. 10 of Karl Marx,  Frederick Engels: Collected Works, 45–145. New York: International Publishers, 1978 (1850), p. 127.
  40. Chinese socialism is an exception to the charge of procreationism; both the one-child policy and the recently adopted two-child policy firmly reject it.
  41. See note 20.
  42. Cf. Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Great Extinction. New York: Henry Holt and Comany 2014.
  43. For an early labor mixing theory see John Locke’s discussion of property in chapter 5 of The Second Treatise of Civil Government.

Incredible Lightness of Quetzalcóatl

From the far distance sounded the muffled howling of a family of monkeys, monos gritones, passing the night in the crowns of the mighty trees. It echoed through the jungle like the roar of an angry mountain lion. Gruesome and terrifying, it seemed to tear the night apart, but it did not disturb the jungle. It sang and fiddled, chirped and whistled, whined and whimpered, rejoiced and lamented its ever-unchanging song with the constancy of the roaring sea.

B. Traven, “Trozas”

Note: This is part two in a series on Mexico and the passion and the glory of an American (me) rejiggering his relationship to finally yawn out of the swill of this sick North American consumer fiesta and move away. We’ll see how that unfolds, as I too am in the grip of viscous repeated battered country abuse syndrome!

*****

She holds onto her role as daughter in this patriarchal land — Mexico. Not sure how patriarchal it would have turned out if the Spanish sword, swine, syphilis, santos, holy see, germs had never set root in this New World.

She’s 52, unmarried, unable to birth progeny. She spent years in the USA to gain a stake so she might get a sliver of her father’s property for which to build a little casita.

Her brothers get the father’s and deceased mother’s land and small houses, small parcels. Claudia has a small school supply store in Axochiapan (her deceased mother’s for years) but she can’t make a living at it thanks to Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart and other box store cancers. She has her younger sister in Cuernavaca, and she works three jobs to barely survive with her technical degree in computer repair and IT. These two women — Claudia and Alejandra — have more “la capacidad” in their pinky fingers than all of America has in its jowls. Claudia was so broke she ended up buying 30 buenas noches (poinsettias for the Christmas time) to sell on the street in upscale neighborhoods in Cuernavaca. She made no sales as Land Rovers and Lexus coupes zoomed by.

The plague of propaganda, low prices, low quality, and brand loyalty has run rampant in this southern land, like dengue mosquitoes lighting upon the children while still in vitro.

Years ago, both Alejandra and Claudia spent time in a print plant in Gresham, Oregon, and most of their siblings had also thrown in around Portland, and many more hoofed it through the causeway to Minneapolis. Many made it to the El Norte without proper papers from the US Gestapo.

Claudia thinks sometime in 2020 she might be eligible to return to the USA. For Alejandra, that’s five years down the pike. We’ll vouch for and sponsor both of them.

Both are proud, smart, feminist, and self-determined. They are full of empathy, and would give the shirts off their backs to help friends, family, anyone in need.

They worked hard in El Norte, conjoined efforts, lived small, and saved money. Mexico was always in their dreams, and they were here to try and build something back home.

Back home, 90 years of bastard politicians in the two parties  — PAN and PRI —  literally have ripped off trillions from Mexico’s coffers;  and the bastards’ bastard, USA, El Yanqui, and the other financiers and the dirty industry honchos, all have a history of theft and murder, and are still readily staged to exploit, which is another word for steal.

Very little is allowed to be manufactured in Mexico — cars, buses, equipment, more. NAFTA allows for a pipeline of US-made and US-provisioned stuff that the Mexicans could easily produce. We all know what the NAFTA two-step American gut disease is.

Claudia’s hardy but sad, admitting to bouts of depression; and her friend, my spouse, came to see her for the very first time for a visit to Claudia’s homeland. To her small pueblo where cane fields, corn forests and a few cows populate the land. All of that, plus me, new in my spouse’s life with a trainload of history with Mexico, Latin America, La Raza, hatred of El Yanqui, created a unique mix of ingredients that bonded us quickly as we went through by car (a friend of Claudia’s rented a new KIA Sole to us cheap) and saw many parts of Morelos and Guerrero.

These are powerful rendezvouses you’ll never get from Holly-Dirt Netflix originals. This story is not closed, but it’s universal.

In the chaotic Stockholm Syndrome lives of North Americans, nothing about the struggle to overthrow the chains of Capitalism and crony corruption resonates since North America is one flagging mall-dragging country, where the population is compliant in the workplace, but mad as hell on the troll worlds of on-line “discourse.” Sort of the salt peter of revolution and real deterministic radical action — the world wide web; Holly-dirt; Youtube; the infantilism and Chlamydia of mainstream pop culture;  wacko political correctness; the four seasons of  24/7  violence for younger and younger males with their sweaty warped joysticks; the endless joke-joke of Americans relishing in their own stupidity and air power; the endless useless pedantics in academia, the courts, and the state department.

It is so real, how falsely revisionist the North American concept of history for this Turtle Island. Trump is the culmination of all of the superficiality, all the Ponzi schemes, all the bankruptcy courts, the insipid hubris of the stupid, all the PT Barnum hustle, all the smoke and mirrors, all the self-aggrandizement, all the narcissistic syndromes, all the puffed-up faux bravado of a man (and many MAGA men) who would last 10 seconds in a field with some of my former veterans who are mad as hell at the lies of empire, the lies at the top, the failure of ALL POTUS’s.

Not one has the capacity to understand “third” world people, or people in Mexico, or the races, the Indians, the tug of the white supremacists who launched their hairy bodies into Mesoamerica to play their swindle for King-Queen-Captain-Cardinal on a people who had pretty much figured out things for several millennia before the hordes of hustlers and rapists and murderers from Iberia and the Anglo lands penetrated their soil and jungles and bays.

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Cuernavaca

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry was one of my top 100 books a while back. It shows the anachronistic debased values of a British envoy, drunkard, impotent, and the the emerging pathogen of Nazism embraced by the industrialists and that included some in Mexico. The Power and the Glory, too, by Graham Greene. The passion, impassioning, and possessiveness of men. Macario and Treasure of Sierra Madre (B. Traven and John Huston books and scripts respectively) and Night of the Iguana.

Contemporary writers in Mexico and some of their well-known titles also inspire:

In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi.
The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel.
Diablo Guardián by Xavier Velasco.
Down The Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos.
The Uncomfortable Dead by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos.
Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa.

More here, Mexico’s Finest Contemporary Writers: Tracing a Cultural Renaissance

More authors I’ve danced with during mescal-induced jaguar nights: Luis Spota, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, Jaime Sabines, Martin Luis Guzman, and Valeria Luiselli.

And the simple poetics of Mexicans who were determined to break the yoke of the oppressors:

My sole ambition is to rid Mexico of the class that has oppressed her and given the people a chance to know what real liberty means. And if I could bring that about today by giving up my life, I would do it gladly.

Pancho Villa

In that first blow to the deaf walls of those who have everything, the blood of our people, our blood, ran generously to wash away injustice. To live, we die. Our dead once again walked the way of truth. Our hope was fertilized with mud and blood.

Subcomandante Marcos

Like all of Latin America, Mexico after independence in 1821 turned its back on a triple heritage: on the Spanish heritage, because we were newly liberated colonies, and on our Indian and black heritages, because we considered them backward and barbaric. We looked towards France, England and the U.S., to become progressive democratic republics.

— Carlos Fuentes

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My good friend from Tucson, John, who became bi-lingual early in his life before his three years as an Army LT,  ended marrying a woman from Cuernavaca. I was at the wedding 33 years ago. He’s got three daughters, and he’s been divorced a while. She came from upper class environs, and he was a Navy commander’s son living in the desert. He and I like our motorcycles, and he is now a translator on the international market, from home, via Skype, phone, what have you. He’s single again, living the desert rat life of many a gringo who has gotten a taste of Mexico in their blood and entwined it into his children’s DNA.

He forewarned me to not head to Cuernavaca or the State of Guerrero or anywhere away from the quintessential tourist zones. He was citing US State Department provisos, whichever news feeds he reads, and the broken down minds of his fellow Arizonans.

Of course, he and the State Department are dead wrong, as was Reagan’s idiotic ambassador to Mexico, Gavin. But with Trump and idiotic millionaires like Maddow and the like, the USA is one starched up Marvel comic book world of good and bad, light and evil, where the highest thinkers (sic) are at least a couple of notches below Lex Luther’s mental prowess, for sure.

The result of this xenophobia is a large city, Cuernavaca, that in December had very non-Mexican few tourists. The city is looking tired and worn, as is most of Mexico, excluding the industrial complexes, mining operations, smelting outfits, et al.

The ebb of life, though, even in the threadbare places in Mexico, is compelling. Laughter and hands held. The peek-a-boo amazing sights, sounds, and smells around every corner and in every walkway.

Our second largest trading partner behind Canada, Mexico is a shell of a country in many ways. Ugly Botoxed white women and men on billboards, their green and blue eyes like a cold lizard’s, and on TV, in positions of power, while la gente is continually denigrated and spat upon by the elites.

Axe

We are hatchets of steel and fire.
We live to reap and illuminate.
With the metal,
we fell the trunk.
With the flame,
we illuminate the cut,
the felling of what we are.

Carmen Boullosa

 

Diego Rivera, Liberation of the Peon, B. Traven

Invasions

Trump told the previous president of Mexico that he would be sending in the American cavalry to take care of “those bad hombres.”

He accused Peña Nieto of harboring “a bunch of bad hombres down there” and warned:

You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.

But there is a history of US meddling, both through “diplomatic channels,” through the economic structural violence our hit men are known for, and with troops:

When Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, he inherited a chaotic diplomatic relationship with Mexico. Two years earlier, the country’s longtime head of state, Porfirio Díaz, had been deposed. Over three decades in power, Díaz had been strongly aligned with American economic interests, which came to control 90 percent of Mexico’s mineral resources, its national railroad, its oil industry and, increasingly, its land. Resentful of the “peaceful invasion” from their northern neighbors, in 1911 middle-class and landless Mexicans overthrew Díaz and installed a noted public intellectual and reform champion, Francisco Madero, in the presidency. Not long after, the military, under the leadership of General Victoriano Huerta, deposed and executed Madero.

Displaying his deep piety and moral conviction, Wilson declared that he would never “recognize a government of butchers” and declared his intent to “teach” Mexico “a lesson by insisting on the removal of Huerta.” To that end, he sent two personal envoys to Mexico City to instruct the country’s political leaders—“for her own good”—to insist on Huerta’s resignation. The mission fared poorly. For one, the envoys—William Bayard Hale, a journalist, and John Lind, a local politician from Minnesota—spoke not a word of Spanish. Lind privately regarded Mexicans as “more like children than men” and conducted himself accordingly, to the detriment of the mission.

[…] At first, Villa sought to align himself with Wilson, but as his grasp on power became more tenuous, he sought to raise additional resources by taxing American corporations and through general banditry. He took matters a step too far when his forces confiscated the sprawling Mexican ranch of American publisher William Randolph Hearst and briefly invaded a New Mexico border town, crying “Viva Villa! Viva Mexico!”

Incensed, Wilson raised a “punitive expedition” of 10,000 soldiers under the direction of General John J. Pershing. Equipped with all the modern trappings of war—reconnaissance aircraft, Harley Davidson motorcycles—the invading army searched high and low for Villa. It was like finding “a needle in a haystack,” Pershing would soon complain. Though Villa’s forces continued to plunder and maraud, the Americans proved incapable of finding and capturing the rebel leader. When Villa surfaced briefly in Glenn Springs, Texas, with his troops, only to disappear soon thereafter, the Wilson administration was left mortified and bereft of an explanation.

American entry into the Great War allowed Wilson and Pershing to save face. In February 1917 the expedition returned to American soil. Within weeks, Pershing sailed for Europe to command the nation’s war effort.

Trump has now warned the new Mexican president that he will deem drug cartels as terrorist organizations, igniting the TNT of war and invasion. This was on all the people’s minds when I was traveling just days ago in Mexico; even in the conservative mass media. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said:

But in these cases we have to act independently and according to our constitution, and in line with our tradition of independence and sovereignty.

War is irrational. We are for peace.

AMLO’s comments came after Trump fired off a series of tweets Tuesday morning offering Mexico “help in cleaning out these monsters.” Trump:

The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!” Trump said. “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!

No matter how barbaric the cartels are, and how in bed they are with the police, army, government, the barbarism of the US is in line with the Spanish and Portuguese slave traders. Each and every weapon manufactured and sold in the USA that gets south of the border is part of that barbarism. Every line of coke and hit of Meth consumed by the great happy USA population is a bullet to the head of the innocents of Mexico.

Like Italy, Mexico is at the whim of the Church and Mafia. Like Western Culture, every blinking moment in every individual’s life is determined by the billionaires, their cabal of financial and retail felons. We are at the whim of the heads of Boeing, Exxon, Raytheon and any number of resource extractors and consumer bombers. Fortune magazine praises the millionaires and billionaires and their disruptive industries, technologies, financial instruments. All of it is still American sodomy of a race, a culture, a place, a land.

In Mexico, the juxtaposition of Nestle bottles everywhere or the VW’s and the Dodge’s is easily supplanted by the hard lives of Mexicans still eking out livings and conjugating their traditions, no matter how deeply Western Plastic Culture and Consumer Goods have infiltrated their land.

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Family Wedded to Culture, Land, History

Yanquis and Stars and Bars flag wavers are the sum total of their genocidal roots destroying First Nations’ peoples and the enslavement of Africans, but also the deep racism and bigotry perpetrated against not just Filipino and Chinese and Japanese, but against the Jew, Eastern European, German, Irish, Italian, et al.

Drowning women deemed witches, complete decimation of the grasslands, the wetlands, the bayous, the slaying of buffalo and wolf and grizzly, and the metal machines cutting into earth and stoking the flames and smoke of today’s generation of cancer-riddled people. I have these trolls attempting to harass me, trolls who listen to that ape of a man, Stephen King of Iowa, who drivels his white supremacist crap on how the white Christian lands/peoples have contributed 90 percent or more of the marvels of modern humanity — from the internet to microscopes, from splitting of the atom to cinema, from supersonic jets to soda pop. These pigs are on the airwaves, both of the Tucker Carson kind and the liberal Hollywood and media types continually showing the great boom of intelligence in the Western White World, or in many cases, the great achievements of the Judaeo-Christian.

“Shit-hole” country may have come out of the racist whites’ moldy mouths decades/centuries before Trump’s bloviating (how many US presidents have shown outright racism against  ALL nations of color?), but it’s in the minds of liberals, democrats, those so-called professional class, the college educated, and the journalists and diplomats. Most Americans see the words “backwards” or “not evolved enough” or “heathen” or “simpleton” when they see Mexico or Mexicans.

[link] The irony is that Trump’s own ancestors came from Africa, as did all mankind. In the book and documentary “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey,” the geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells traces the human migration out of Africa. He travelled the world for a decade to trace genetic markers by taking blood samples—from Bushmen in the sweltering Kalahari Desert and the Chukchi in icy Siberia to the Hopi in the American West—to prove the trail of the human migration. Wells concludes, “Old concepts of race are not only socially divisive but scientifically wrong.”

In the end we know which country is the shit-hole, the shitty one, and its collective stupidity and infantilism continues to lobotomize the masses. I teach k12, and the food these kids eat and then waste is criminal, but emblematic of the American project of exceptionalism and the right to pollute, throw away, discard, waste, over-consume. The youth have no culture, no art, no interest in anything but making a few dollars fast.

The reality is this throw-away society is right now generating, through this corrupt capitalism, more and more discarded peoples in this country and in other countries. The AI-Robot-GIG-Uber-ization-Amazon-ification-Economies of Scale-Centralization will again generate more and more disposed of humanity — in the USA, and elsewhere.

We know socialistic systems of organizing are the only way to stem this destruction. Read or watch  any number a a million essays, interviews, books on the subject.

What capitalism has done is gut Mexico, forcing families to break up sisters and brothers, sons and  daughters, uncles and aunts, grandkids and cousins, friends and lovers, husbands and wives to head to El Norte tob e exploited by capitalism on steroids and to weather the scourge of racist Americans, police, policies, bureaucracies, attitudes.

The amount of hate against Mexicans or Latino/a people is high in USA.

In their own country, the people of the land in Mexico are now sugar coated, eating crappy food, drinking soda, and hauling their bodies full of hormone disrupters, full of petro-chemicals, GMOs, nitrous oxide, and a million other particulates created by the full-scale NAFTA exploitation and the theft of their own culture, land, resources by the white devils in their own country — the elites educated in the Milton Friedman school of destruction.

Brotherhood

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

Netflix, The 43 — This docuseries with Paco Ignacio Taibo II in it, disputes the Mexican government’s account of how and why 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College vanished in Iguala in 2014.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II—leader in the 1968 Mexican student strike, journalist, social activist, union organizer—is widely known for his crime novels, and is considered the founder of the neo-crime genre in Latin America. One of the most prolific writers in Mexico today, more than 500 editions of his 51 books have been published in over a dozen languages. Taibo has won many awards, including the Grijalbo, the Planeta/Joaquin Mortiz in 1992, and the Dashiell Hammett three times, for his crime novels. His biography, Guevara: Also Known as Che (St. Martin’s Press, 1996), has sold more than half a million copies around the world and won the 1998 Bancarella Book of the Year award in Italy. Taibo organizes the Semana Negra (Noir Week), a crime fiction festival held every year in Gijón, Spain.

Taibo: Yes. I wanted to destroy the old idea that history is science and fiction is fantasy. Everybody knows that is not true. It’s a game: Just Passing Through starts asking if it’s really a novel, if it’s rather a history book, because of this and this and this. And then, in the second paragraph, it says: this is a novel, this cannot be a history book, it’s full of fiction. Then, in the third paragraph, what the hell is a novel, what the hell is a history book? The game is trying to destroy this secure attitude of historians to history and this secure attitude of fiction writers about fiction. There’s nothing secure in history. I don’t like security. History shouldn’t be a secure space, a comfortable space. Comfortable for whom? Readers? Writers? It’s the opposite.

We’ll go deeper in this reclamation of what it means to be in, live in, be with, hold onto Mexico and Mexicans!

Grown-Ups

We need to have a talk.

A real, down-to-earth, grown-up talk.

But not with the kids.

We need to have a grown-up talk with the grown-ups.

People like us—grown-ups, adults, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents—we’ve lived our lives mostly optimistically, and, regardless of religion (or irreligion) with one shared article of faith: that we were working toward progress and, specifically, that each new generation would have things better than the last. Better lives. Better opportunities. Better tools. Better rules. And a brighter future. It’s been a staple of most of our existences. It’s been a goal and an ongoing process, and—regardless of our politics or world-view—we’ve all coalesced around our simple faith in it. We have been united by this dream and committed to this wonderful aspiration.

Unfortunately, however, we have also been blinded by it. We believe it is simply part of our DNA. We seem unable to acknowledge that it is no longer possible.

By the time the Baby Boomers were in their thirties, well into careers, raising kids, settling into adulthood, etc., blue-collar wages were great. The average journeyman electrician, for example, made just over $20 an hour. It was a comfortable, living wage for important work. The typical automobile at that time cost $3,000 and the average home ran around $15,000. Today, the hourly wage for the average journeyman electrician is still just over $20—but the typical automobile costs $36,000 and the standard home $200,000.

This is the state of the American dream. Most American citizens are upside down in terms of their finances and basically live check to check.

The next generation isn’t going to have or enjoy or afford near as much as the Baby Boomers did. The next generation isn’t going to be able to have or enjoy or afford as much as Generation X did. Put it out of your mind. We all had more and they’re going to have less. And their lesser spoils aren’t even going to be real, satisfying or healthy.

While we were growing up, starting lives, having kids, engaged in careers, etc., we could, for the most part, at least count on a significant portion of the food on our tables being real, naturally occurring, produced without gobs of preservative byproducts, created without genetic modification, pumped full of growth hormones or antibiotics, sprayed with poisons, etc. Today, current and future food stores are shot and our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will consume foodstuff that contains known carcinogens as a matter of course—and be happy to do so. Because there isn’t enough left to go around and things will get worse.

The generations to come will not breathe clean air.

The generations to come will not drink clean water.

And, unlike so many of us, who, after lives of safe, unremarkable sedimentary posts in the employ of corporate conglomerates who promised pension plans and retirement savings (and partially delivered), the generations to come will not even be able to retire, much less afford retirement.

We tell our children and grandchildren to pursue the same surrenders we did, to spend the bulk of their adult lives in various endeavors of corporate inertia; but their payoff will not come. We’re well aware of the chipping away of pensions and retirement plans today—we know that they won’t be around in the near future. But we don’t have time to worry about that and can’t afford to tell the truth about it to our children. If they stopped buying into the lie and refused to reduce themselves to the fleecing we took, our retirement plans would be disrupted.

This dream is dead. This goal is no longer achievable. Our descendants will inherit our folly.

But we still deserve ours, right?

We smile and say everything is going to be okay, but it will not.

It’s almost funny. No, it’s actually intensely sad.

In 2003, we were led to war in masse over a fractional potentiality. Our leaders told us if there was a one percent chance that another leader had nuclear weapons, we must act, we must take up arms. Because the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud. Because we couldn’t afford to take that chance. Because we couldn’t ignore that infinitesimally small possibility.

Today—quite conveniently—we see things differently. Today, there’s only a one percent chance we’ll survive climate change unscathed, whole cities sunk, massive swathes of entire continents reduced to desert, whole natural food sources vanished, and catalogues of entire species disappearing before our eyes.

And yet we—and especially the grown-ups—refuse to act at all.

The smoking gun is a smoking blue orb, and the second-hand “smoke” from fossil fuels is choking us all. The smoking gun is the dead zones appearing where our poisoned rivers meet the rising seas. The smoking gun is the continent-sized garbage patches in our oceans, the dying coral reefs, the reliance on genetically modified food sources, food source cloning, rising sea temperatures, longer drought seasons, killer heat waves, the increasing severity of natural disaster damage, etc. A hellscape for the generations to follow. A better life for no one except grown-ups today, right now, until the consequences of our ignorance and wishful thinking are writ cataclysmically large.

And yet, you and I still manage to sleep at night.

And yet, you and I still manage to look ourselves in the mirror without contempt.

And you and I go back to the football games on TV or the latest binge-watch on cable.

Grown-ups.

The most shameless fools in human history. And the last comfortable adults in our bloodlines.

Why Revolutionaries Should be Atheists

Orientation

As one of the co-founders of Planning Beyond Capitalism, you might ask why we would publish an article about atheism? Shouldn’t we just stick to political economy and leave people’s beliefs about the origin of the universe and our place in it for future generations to figure out?  We have many reasons for thinking that an atheist stance is crucial for revolutionaries to take. Politically, I trust atheists more than anyone else, because I trust that their political commitment is to this world since we do not have a back-door escape of some God looking after us in the next life in case the revolution doesn’t work out.

Most people believe in the existence of invisible spiritual beings. But most of them have not thought out clearly why they believe in them and how their lives would be different if they didn’t believe in them. On the surface, it seems to me a major reason why people believe in spiritual beings is because their parents believed in them, along with other authority figures in their lives.  Belief in spiritual beings might be practiced out of love and respect for those who have cared for them. Belief in God helps us to overcome a fear of death by the promise of not only a life in the hereafter, but an eternal life in the hereafter. These beliefs, combined with the propaganda of the churches, not just in books but in the liturgy, rituals, architecture, and statues that have been created, are bought and paid for by gullible parishioners.

For atheists it’s a different story. My guess is that most people who are atheists have thought long and hard about the existence of spiritual beings. Like most people who are in a minority, we know far more about the beliefs of the majority than the majority knows about our beliefs. If theists understood us, we would not be accused of being hedonists, or evil people with no morality.

The purpose of this article is to flesh out some of my own reasons for rejecting the existence of spiritual beings in the hopes of strengthening the commitments of other atheists who came to it more intuitively.

Qualifications

My references to monotheism will be limited to Christianity, which I know best. I’m confident there will be overlap with Judaism and Islam, at least in part. Secondly, I am only focused on the existence of God, not the subset of issues that come with it. So, there will be no discussion of where we came from or the existence of life after death.

Anthropological and historical reasons

In my opinion, atheists begin their contention with those who believe in God by mistakenly accepting that the monotheists move to dismiss animism and polytheism from the debate. Instead, I think atheists should make the monotheistic religion face that:

  1. For most of human history from 100,000 years ago until 5,000 years ago tribal societies did not believe in gods or a single god. They believed in earth spirits, ancestors’ spirits or totems.
  2. Once people began to believe in high gods (with the rise of agricultural states) they were polytheistic gods and goddesses for another 2,500 years before monotheism became a contender.

We should dispute this monotheistic assumption by making them face that people have not always believed in God and that their belief in monotheism is:

  1. historically recent, and;
  2. only appeared in certain parts of the world.

We must also challenge their assumption that monothetic belief is somehow naturally arrived at through the use of reason. We must make them face their blood-stained history of the subjugation of pagan earth-spirits, ancestor spirits, gods and goddesses on their way to a maniacal rule. We should not let monotheists smuggle in their claim to solely represent the forces of spirituality. A real discussion about atheism should be between atheists, believers in earth spirits, ancestor spirits, goddesses, gods and God. Monotheists should have to debate, not just atheists, but animists and polytheists. This will weaken the force of monotheism because in this light they are outnumbered, both historically and cross-culturally by animists and polytheists.

Geological reasons

Belief in gods or a single God was due in part to the results of large-scale natural disasters—earthquakes, volcanoes and floods or comet debris. These events filled people with terror and triggered their imagination with the belief that the god(s) must be angry. When people lack an explanation for natural events that threaten them, they imagine the disaster comes from a God who controls nature.

Notice how God is in control. There is no monotheistic deity who is out of control. In other words, nothing happens by chance. Monotheists prefer accepting even the devil to chance. At least the devil has a focus, a will and is predictably evil. The most important thing for monotheists to believe is that someone had better be driving. This hoped-for control makes it possible to influence God through propitiation, casting spells or praying.

Sociological reasons

As Marx pointed out, religion is the opium of the people. For the lower classes, it is opium because it teaches people to wait patiently through a miserable life in the hopes of a future “pie-in the sky”. Religion is also an expression of humanity’s alienated creativity. God is the doer of all things humanity wishes it could do but it cannot. Humanity then disowns its own creativity and projects it onto a god who then tells humanity what to do. Therefore, the utilitarian achievements in irrigation, agriculture and the calendar are attributed to the workings of God, not of humanity’s own creation. Others say that gods were once great human beings on earth who were reified by future generations that did not experience the new inventions directly.

If people wanted to be objective about the characteristics of God, those characteristics would have little or nothing to do with our own comfort level. But what do we find with the monotheistic deity? We have either a tempestuous father figure of the Old Testament or a loving father of the New Testament who, one way or another, is looking out for us just like the parents we wish for.

Furthermore, when life gets confusing or difficult, we are consoled by the prospect that God has a “plan” for each of us. But how does the plan work? How can it possibly be coordinated with God’s plan for everyone else? In answer to this we might be told “God works in mysterious ways”. In other words, secondary rationalizations.

A good objection to Marx’s theory that religion is the opium of the people is that if God is just a consolation prize for the lower classes, then that should mean that people in the middle and upper classes who have good material lives would be able to see through the subterfuge of theism and become atheists. But, as we know, there are plenty of people in the higher classes who have a good life, yet still believe in God. How can that be explained?

It is true that most middle and upper middle-class people continue to believe in God in spite of their comfortable conditions. However, it also is true that a higher percentage of atheists will be found in these classes. Yet this doesn’t explain the rationale of the rest of them. Another factor to consider is whether the economy or ecology of a society is stable or unstable. My prediction is that the more stable the political economy of a society, the percentage of people who are atheists will rise. But when the ecology or political economy becomes unstable, it’s a different story for the upper classes. For example, in contemporary capitalist society, the upper classes live very well, yet capitalism is very unstable and might give capitalists reason to consider believing in God because they don’t know how long they can count on their wealth.

Political reasons

The favorite explanation for the Radical Enlightenment is that religion is the tool of elites to keep people ignorant and distracted by the promise of a world to come after death.  This enables these elites to hold onto their power and property in this world. It is important for elites to ensure that people believe they are tainted with original sin because that weakens people’s self-confidence and resilience to navigate in the world with neither God nor the elites. It is also important that God be seen as a father, for that is a model for the habit of submission in the family.

Psychological reasons

I think Freud hit the nail on the head with this one. He said belief in religion was infantile. It was a wish to climb back into the womb where there is no conflict, pain or uncertainty. Everything is taken care of by the father.  People believe in God as a substitute parent who loves them unconditionally.

Wilhelm Reich thought that religion requires that sexuality must be repressed. Sexuality is a way for humans to give each other pleasure without the need of elites or deities. If people can be taught that sex is a bad thing, they will be more dependent on religious authorities to give life meaning. Or in the case of sour grapes, you can repress the desire for sex while pretending to be above it all, as Nietzsche might point out. Belief in God helps us to overcome a fear of death by the promise of not only a life in the hereafter, but an eternal life in the hereafter.

Where does this repressed sexuality lead? There is nothing sicker than the fantasy life and deeds of religious authorities whose sexual life is repressed. One only has to look at the torture techniques of the religious authorities against midwives in Early Modern Europe and the Catholic priests’ contemporary continuing molestation of little boys.

Ontological reasons

How can God be all loving and all powerful while there is great suffering in the world? How to account for the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who are bombed, starved and inhumanely treated in the name of nationalism? Either God is not all-powerful because there is great suffering which he is powerless to do anything about, or he is all-powerful and not all-loving because he permits suffering to continue.

“Divine Intervention” by God into human history is a big thing. But what does it say about God’s engineering prowess if he constantly has to butt into his creation process? Human beings design things that can last a very long time without any intervention. What kind of engineer is a god who has to intervene in his creation from time to time because he botched things the first time? If God were all powerful it seems the world would not be in the mess that it is in. “Thoughts and prayers?” Why is prayer necessary if God has a plan? Why are we begging for mercy from a lousy engineer? Divine intervention reveals God to be a bad engineer.

Atheism and politics

The relationship between atheism and politics is tricky. Broadly speaking, those who are atheists are divided into liberals and socialists. Many liberal atheists are still supportive of capitalism. So too, many socialists are monotheists when they believe in some kind of liberation theology like those of the Catholics who consider Christ to be a revolutionary. Yet for all the reasons addressed above, those who are the most trustworthy for carrying through revolutionary socialism are atheists. As socialist atheists, we gain immortality through building heaven on earth, either in our own generation or in generations to come.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

Alien Invaders and the Ethic of the Earth

Imagine this rather typical SF scenario: alien invaders arrive on Earth. They are vastly superior in intelligence, technology, and most importantly, ethics. They quickly perceive that Earthlings are a dire mortal threat to the Earth’s biosphere. They reason that they must take decisive action soon, or else the Earth will meet its biological death. What are they to do?

First, they take up a consequentialist position and reason that eliminating a significant portion of the human population would immediately alleviate Earth’s acute environmental problems while saving countless numbers of species.

Second, they reason deontologically according to a “planetary ethic” that the biosphere of a planet and all the species that inhabit it are sacred and must be protected at all costs. If one species is destroying it, it must be destroyed before it is further able to inflict greater and lasting damage to it.

However, some aliens see the problem more complexly. They in their turn try to work out a maximally “virtuous” solution that will both ensure the continuance of the human race and the flourishing of the biosphere.

Of course, in this tale, most humans would root for the third option.

The question for us then is how do we get there?

If we adopt a mix of all three perspectives perhaps we will be closer to a solution.

If we accept some version of a “categorical planetary ethic” then we as a species have an absolute duty to both the biosphere and all its inhabitants. We have a sacred duty of care and preservation.

If this first premise is widely agreed upon then a number of possible restrictive actions follow:

1) Human reproductive freedom should/must be immediately limited to a rate of replacement and thus 0 growth. It is neither rational nor ethical that human population growth should be unlimited while the capacity of the biosphere to sustain such growth is not.

2) Human economic, political, scientific endeavors should be structured/organized in such a way as to produce the maximum benefit to the biosphere and its inhabitants. The source of all life takes precedence over particular lives and their parochial interests.

3) Humans should be educated and sensitized to their universal duty to the planet viewing themselves not just as “cosmopolitans” but as “defenders of the biosphere”.

4) Radical green politics should coordinate their policies on a voluntary, if urgent, worldwide foundation. Thus, Global governance should “green” with time.

These, of course, are just some basic ideas. The future of the Earth and not just humanity depends on both a change of consciousness and new ethical practices. We must leave our old nationalist, productivist, consumerist, paranoically competitive identities behind and become a new collectivity of planet loving “aliens” who have come to rescue us from ourselves.

What is Property?

All power structures are rooted in ideology. A shared belief in this ideology is what keeps the structures of power in place. Under capitalism, the edifice of social control is built on the collective illusion of private property, and the sanctity of the so-called “free market.” Any moves taken to challenge this logic will therefore provoke pushback from the system’s indoctrinated cheerleaders, and will certainly catch the attention of the repressive and recuperative functionaries of the state. But as the saying goes… you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. And you definitely can’t overthrow capitalism without messing with people’s stuff.

So… what is property, anyway? And what do anarchists have against it?

From Colombia to Galapagos to California and OSU

New information breakthroughs for me are exhilarating. Working with all that whale data is like looking into the dark with a flashlight. It’s work that is able to contribute new information to the field.

— OSU Whale Researcher, Daniel Palacios

Whaling’s first commercial iteration with harpoons started in Japan around 1570. With many more nations participating in killing whales for exploitation over the proceeding centuries – seeking oil, blubber, flesh, and other body parts – by the turn of the 20th Century, many of the 90 species of whales were on a steep decline, endangered or near extinction.

For one Oregon State University research faculty member of the Marine Mammal Institute, the cetacean is his passion, his life. Daniel Palacios was intellectually and spiritually connected to cetaceans after seeing the iconic humpback whale banners and picket signs deployed on Earth Day, while watching religiously the series, The Under Sea World of Jacques Cousteau, and through regaling in his own country’s mythological Amazon biosphere.

Image result for Daniel Palacios OSU"

Two-parts passion, one-part inspiration, and three-parts intellectual drive propelled him to where he is today – researching the pathways, habitats and health of earth’s largest animals.

The harpoon this 50-year-old scientist throws is outfitted with both a satellite tracking tag and small biopsy plug extractor to harvest not whale meat, but rather to collect valuable data on what whales do, what they eat, where they go, and for future research concerns, how well their overall physical health is.

Palacio’s been working with teams collecting the information on sperm, humpback, gray, blue and other whale species to determine their range and pelagic journeys throughout the Pacific coastal upwelling, all the way down to the Gulf of California.

“One of my drivers is discovery and knowledge, what you could say is strict hardcore science . . . pure analytical and statistically important science,” he tells me while we share coffee at a café in the Wilder community near OCCC.

Early Dreams Bring a Boy from South America to the Central Oregon Coast

His love and interest in science started young – five or six years of age while growing up in landlocked Bogotá. His parents (an engineer father and lawyer mother) bought him encyclopedias and books on animals. “I was continuously reading about African animals. I was mesmerized.”

He stresses living in an urban and cosmopolitan capital city was like being worlds away from his own country’s swath of Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon jungle would have been like Africa to me growing up in a big city. Our world was so disconnected from the natural world. We had no sense of the ocean or the Amazon.

Some 45 years later — traversing his early curiosity attending a Catholic school in a city of 7 million, to now, with all those titles and associations from OSU (“PhD/ Endowed Associate Professor in Whale Habitats/ Whale Telemetry Group/ Marine Mammal Institute and Dept. of Fisheries & Wildlife”) — Palacios has kept his eye on the proverbial prize of being a marine scientist.

He states his parents sacrificed to put him and his two sisters into the best schools they could afford. His grandparents came from humble beginnings in rural Colombia not far from Bogotá. He reminisces about this K-12 experience where he was taught math, physics, and liberation theology – a philosophy that measures helping the poor and understanding the plight of the underprivileged tied to capitalism’s great class divide as part of religious enlightenment.

This Calasanz school from the Escolapios Order bore the name of the Spanish founder who went to Rome in the 1500s to teach the very privileged, and on his daily crossing back over the Tiber River after teaching these rich youth, saw the poverty and disadvantaged circumstance of the masses.

In Bogotá, they would send us to a sister school for the poor and we’d help teach the kids. Even though it was a religious school, going to college my first two years was a walk in the park. We were really well prepared by the priests.

Meeting of the Whale Minds

Currently, Daniel spends most of his time analyzing all the data from satellite tags and biopsies. He likes the vigorous, meticulous nature of this work, even though 90 percent of his time is not working with whales directly in their habitat.

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I first met Daniel at the American Cetacean Society monthly meeting in Newport. It was his 15 minutes of fame with his Power Point in front of a packed room at the public library. “This is actually the second time I have presented to the ACS. Something like 17 years ago, in Monterey.”

Monterrey was his home for more than a decade, and his boss was NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) as he was tasked to answer why these humpbacks are in abundance in this upwelling ecosystem of Northern California, and to determine their migratory patterns and territorial range.

My dream was to work with these people studying this classic upwelling ecosystem.

As he shows slides and wonderful images of humpbacks to us naturalists who are interested in science, yes, and informed but not steeped in hard science, he states he understands the allure of the charismatic whale.

“All these people who have a strong affinity to whales are genuinely interested in their plight which makes funding the OSU foundation and Endowment easier.” It turns out one of Palacios’ mentors, OSU’s Bruce Mate, was a forerunner in getting the general public to support their work. That donor base serves as a buffer facilitating Palacios and others to continue their work collecting and analyzing so much data from satellite tags.

He later tells me that while he has authored all these professional journal articles (75) in periodicals such as Marine Mammal Science (through the Society of Marine Mammalogy), he realizes few read these rarefied articles; whereas, the real passion and interest in his field rests with whale watchers, naturalists, eco-tourists and writers.

Palacios counts his lucky stars and serendipity in his life: “I am at a place beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve received so much support, and where I’ve gotten to is due to the generosity of many people.”

If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us.

-– David Suzuki, Canadian scientist and documentary producer

The price of ecosystems and individual species is difficult to access, and for most ecologists, no amount of monetary exchange can replace, say, a Military Macaw parrot or whale shark. However, we ecologists do call a forest or wetlands an “ecosystem” that provides invaluable services to the entire life web, to include humans.

A healthy coastal ecosystem with vibrant forests, clear streams and non-diked wetlands provide humans billions of dollars of “free life-giving/saving services” – clean air and water, healthy soils, pure estuaries, unmolested bays, erosion prevention.

There’s even a formula of sorts to put a price to a whale.

“Anyone know how much a whale is worth?” Palacios asks the ACS crowd tongue-in-cheek. There are a few bids from the crowd of a few thousand here, eighty thousand there for the going rate of a humpback whale.

According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) one whale’s biological value is two million dollars over its lifetime.

Daniel rattles off the capitalist values – “Considering the whale watching and tourism industry and the fact they are the biggest animals on earth they are amazing at combating climate change.” They consume carbon in the form of plankton and krill. Once their feces fall to the bottom of the ocean, it’s sequestered carbon that doesn’t make it into the atmosphere. When the whale dies, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Each is thousands and thousands of pounds, and both the whale poop and decaying bodies serve as nutrients for plankton and other myriad of marine life.

The Odyssey

During Daniel’s final year of college in Cartagena, he was hunting for a doctoral program in the USA – such as Scripps or Wood Hole. His life at a young age is a tale of serendipity.

He ended up in Panama, waiting for the Odyssey — a 93-foot scientific sailboat loaded with research equipment ready for heavy-hitters from around the world heading to the Galapagos. Daniel wanted to board that ship as a scientist-in-training. Big names in whale research like Roger Payne were scheduled to board the vessel.

They laughed when I asked if I could go with them to the Galapagos. ‘You just show up and expect us to take you with us?’ That’s what they told me.

However, after Odyssey’s trip from Key West to Panama, it was moored in a slip in order to receive parts and repairs. The young graduate was enlisted to help chip paint from the hull.

I had never been on a sailboat before, and this was an operation on an entirely different scale. I worked on the boat with the scientists-slash-crew for two weeks, and it was the day they were leaving when they told me I could come with them.

Their caveat was the science team would drop Daniel off in the Galapagos and he’d have to find his own way home.

This was a diverse crew, and while they motored to the Galapagos, they conducted oceanographic research.

They embraced me, and indicated I was a good crew member. But I had a secret weapon: I spoke Spanish.

The Odyssey was stopped and boarded by the Colombian Navy since they were sailing along known drug-smuggling routes. When the ship arrived at the islands, it turned out they had to obtain many permits to work in a highly-regulated marine reserve.

Every day the scientist-slash-interpreter “kid from Colombia” met with the officials in the National Parks office and Ecuadoran Navy to get the paperwork in order.

After a month delay, the Odyssey was on its way studying the sperm whales in this incredible ecosystem as well as tackling other oceanic matters. Daniel now was part of the crew; many of the premier scientists who had been scheduled to be on the Odyssey had to delay their scientific journeys.

Daniel learned how to construct a harpoon-staging platform as well as integrate hydrophone technology so the team could track sperm whales vis-a-vis their calls.

It was a 24/7 operation. Amazing minds, amazing ecosystems, and a real journeyman scientist’s apprenticeship propelled Palacios to seek more and more scientific pursuits.

It’s a Small-Small World in Marine Mammal Research Circles

That Odyssey adventure also parlayed into a job in Massachusetts with the non-profit Whale Conservation Institute. That was his first foray into the United States. He credits his mobility and lack of family responsibilities to his flexibility to move where the research was.

He did work in the mid-1990s with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. That was part of a huge NOAA project on eastern Pacific dolphin recovery.

Scripps is the Harvard of marine sciences, with Woods Hole and Texas A & M a close second and third as the best rated schools in ocean studies. However, Daniel said he did not come from a well-off family, and Scripps expected all PhD students to have their own scholarships/grants and per diem sources to attend.

That Odyssey trip again paid off. Bruce Mate was the lead scientist Daniel worked with on sperm whale tagging, and he then contacted the Colombian to see if he wanted to get into OSU’s marine mammal program, ranked in the top five in the US.

The experience at OSU I believe was better for me than if I had gotten accepted to Scripps.

Leave it to magic of the Odyssey to continue on in another scientific expedition – five years around the world with a number of international scientists participating in some deep research. Daniel says that many of the leading marine mammal people had once been an Odyssey fellow or crew-slash-scientist.

Ironically, an Australian couple, Chris and Gen, were crew members and communications experts – writing stories and producing blogs and interview pieces. He said they have considered writing a book on the Odyssey’s odyssey.

I’m still meeting people in my field who had been on the Odyssey in some part of the world.

Diversity of Ecosystems, Diversity of Scientists

That PhD in oceanography came from OSU, but in 2003 he was called back to research whales at NOAA studying their presence in the upwelling ecosystem of North California. That was a 12-year sojourn.

Again, in 2013 Bruce Mate lured Daniel Palacios, PhD, back to OSU with a research professorship. The work involves advancing research in whale tracking and data analysis.

The grant he works under is through the auspices of the US Navy, which is conducting more training and development activities in whale territory. Federal legislation puts restrictions on some of the activities in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

As is the case in a Capitalistic society, there are many exceptions to “do no harm scientific principles,” when so-called national security issues are put ahead of everything else. “Biological acceptable limits” and monitoring are what guide the Navy’s contract with OSU and other colleges concerning whales being affected by military activities.

Sounds, bombs, boat and ship traffic, radar, and more do play roles in altering whale behavior, physiology and general habitat conditions.

Diverse ecosystems, diverse species in and diverse intrusions on their natural world are both intriguing and challenging to confront. On the personal front, Daniel and I delve into his own perplexing identities while growing up a male in machismo Colombia.

“I knew as a small child I was different,” he said, emphasizing that he was feeling like he was attracted to males around age five or so. He comes from a culture where being gay is the worst thing a man could be, bringing “huge shame and guilt to a gay.”

As is the case in many histories of homosexuals confronting that bigotry and bias against being queer, gays end up marrying as heterosexuals, even raising families with female wives. Daniel did meet a woman at OSU when he was a student, and she became his wife. Almost six years into the marriage, he came out to her.

She was (and still is) supportive, but she insisted on a divorce. That was 2004 when he came out, and the guilt of having ruined the life of someone he loved and all the other issues associated with living a closeted life required “a lot of therapy.”

Even though his parents are conservative and traditional, they’ve been very supportive, he says.

He expressed to me on several occasions how we all are evolving creatures, and that decision to live his life as a gay man means he can be authentic.

With that, we talked about the fact there were no role models in his field for gay scientists. In the lead up to a 2015 conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, he broached the idea of having a social mixer on the agenda for LGBTQA scientists.

I told one of the scientists who happened to be lesbian that the Society doesn’t provide any notion of being accepting of homosexuals in their field.

The networking mixer for queers was announced, and there were over 100 people who attended it – LGBTQA and allies.

When an aspiring marine mammal scientist doesn’t see people like him in the field, it’s hard to be fully realized, he states.

There is a deep spiritual need to see people like myself in my profession. My sexuality has zero relevance to the science I am conducting; nevertheless, how I identify myself definitely defines who I am. Those walls we build around ourselves when we are gay – the struggle and insight, too – when they begin to fall, there is a feeling of liberation, and becoming fully realized as a person.

We decided to do a bit of a question and answer interview to end this story of a Colombian whale expert who is now a US citizen working on protecting the enigmatic humpback (known as the songster whale) in our little corner of the world – Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Whale photo provided by Craig Hayslip

Interview

Paul Haeder: If you had to put down your philosophy of life in a sentence or two, what would it be?

Daniel Palacios:  As far as I approach things, I’m drawn toward excellence and beauty in nature. I find satisfaction in giving my best and in what I learn through the process of creating and discovering, especially if it fulfills my curiosity toward the natural world.

PH:  Science and the arts can’t be separated. I can give you a piece, “A Faustian Bargain,” by Gregory Petsko —  The quote is below, and the highlight is what I want you to riff with, sir!

‘Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It’s also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I’m right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future.’

DP: I wholeheartedly agree that science is best when considered in the context of the humanity that produced it, and the increasing capacity and demand by the general public to absorb science is evidence of that. I also agree that those universities that embrace this notion will play an important role in the future, but at the same time I’m concerned that there’s relatively few universities that are equipped for this, and also that those that are may not reach outside their walls unless they make very concerted efforts, such that these gains would mostly benefit a few people.

PH: What do you believe the biggest challenges in whale ecology and whale survivability will be in the next two decades, and explain.

DP: With the exception of a few whale species that remain critically endangered, most whale populations have been slowly recovering since commercial hunting stopped in 1986. Today the biggest challenges to whale conservation are largely the same ones that affect marine ecosystems as a whole: chemical and noise pollution, shipping, habitat degradation, and over-harvesting of marine resources for human consumption. These are much more pervasive and complex problems, and addressing them requires the engagement and participation of all segments of society.

PH: How can your work, and Bruce Mate’s and others’ help “manage” the multiple jurisdictions with so many competing Exclusive Economic Zones and national agencies and economic drivers in the mix?

DP: Whale migrations truly exemplify the requirements of marine fauna for vast expanses of habitat, often covering an entire ocean basin. Although some countries have made good progress in protecting these species in their national waters, once they cross into another jurisdiction or into international waters those protections no longer apply. Therefore, there’s a need for developing policy at the highest levels to achieve adequate conservation across jurisdictions. These policies are best developed through regional, international, and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations’ Convention on Migratory Species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or the International Whaling Commission, among others. There are several such initiatives currently underway — one example being the ‘Migratory Connectivity of the Ocean’ project, and we are engaged with them by providing tracking data and results for informing these processes.

PH: Give me the typical funder and donor elevator speech on the value and importance of funding marine mammal research, specifically, on whales.

DP: We start from the basis that, owing to their majestic beauty, whales have always captured the human imagination like few other species. But for us scientists, whales have a number of unique biological adaptations and behaviors that we’re just starting to understand. Through the use of cutting-edge technology we’re making fascinating scientific discoveries about them, which benefit all of humanity. And this information often contributes to efforts to improve their protection as well. For example, using satellite tracking we can follow them on their long migrations and determine where they go, how they get there, and what risks they may encounter along the way. Management agencies require this information in order to assess the status of the species and to enact spatially explicit conservation measures.

PH: What advice would you give a young aspiring marine scientist, say, from Colombia or another Latin American country with even fewer options in their respective countries to pursue the work you are now doing? What do you recommend their pathway, both intellectually and practically, be?

DP: Believe in your dreams, keep an open mind, and have a steely determination and things will start turning around — not always exactly in the way you envisioned, but opportunities will present themselves. These days access to knowledge is no longer a limitation thanks to the internet, but dedicated academic study and networking are still critical requirements to succeed and become an established scientist. Joining and being active in a professional society is helpful, especially for making connections with colleagues as well as for benefiting from mentoring and other programs intended for young scientists as well as those from developing nations.

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An Aperspectival View of the Culture War

Each stage in the history of the civil rights movement has had a specific theme and focus. In the 19th century it was race and gender, in the 20th it was race, gender, gay, bi, trans, queer, in the 21st it is all of them +.

One could say that these are ideas whose time has come, but what kind of society lets members of its own species become slaves, servants and second-class citizens in the first place? How does a society become more civilized when it just waits for solutions to come about in their own time?

If it has taken this long for these smaller, minor civil issues to be resolved, does that mean that the larger ones, that affect us all, will take even longer?

A revolution is only revolutionary if its supporters are enterprising enough to provide an alternative to the system they are rebelling against. It doesn’t matter whether it’s gay rights, affirmative action, or gender parity when it’s the exact same system with the same problems.

I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and for a long time I believed that racism and sexism had been abolished during the civil rights era of the previous decades. That once we had made it through we could not or would not go back. But it seems that knowing history isn’t enough to prevent it from repeating, as if humanity is realizing a perverse desire to go a few more rounds before the pyrrhic victory is declared. Because if humans can’t disagree about something, they have nothing to do.

Up until now we have been in conflict with each other, but we are beginning to realize that our little identity groups are insignificant compared with the bigger picture issues (global socio-economics, climate change, black budgets, criminal enterprises) that make our little factions seem a lot more harmonious than they did before.

It is concerning, but also cathartic, that we are referring to the free exchange of ideas as a war. Concerning because there are people, large numbers of them on both sides, who are very passionate about their ideas and are ready to defend them, violently if necessary, but cathartic because these ideas have always been there, in potentia, and are finally now being expressed.

Historically they have found form as arguments, protests, movements and demonstrations and for a while it looked like we were making some progress, but now it seems that we are fighting for them all over again and not one at a time, but all at once. Fortunately, it is unlikely to ever become a fighting war because of its basis in culture and the intellect.

In culture, people live their ideology, whereas in politics they merely pay tribute to it once in a while. We’ve had political wars, they involve the logistics of people and materiel, while culture wars are fought primarily with words, the casualties are ideas and beliefs, that depending on the outcome, may never be rehabilitated.

That’s not to say that the culture war is not political, identity politics has infiltrated many areas of policy, science and the humanities, but at root these are still social and cultural ideas that are being bandied about. Only laws and policies make them political, which is what has focused the discussion on freedom of speech. Both sides accusing the other of putting limits on this most fundamental requirement of successful communication. But both of these assertions cannot be true. They cannot be true because the whole thing is illogical. It’s not just a freedom of speech issue, a civil, sexist, racist or even a classist one, it’s a human rights issue and human rights transcends logic and rationality to occupy the broader category of integral-aperspectival or ‘vision-logic’.

As its name implies, vision-logic sees the bigger picture rather than looking over here, (Right) or over there, (Left). It is a higher-order, holistic, almost holographic system of ideas. Therefore, from an integral-aperspectival point of view there is no culture war. It’s not racism or sexism that are the problem, they’re not even real because they have no basis in logic. They are ideas that can only be held by equally illogical people.

But many of us have not made it this far yet. We’re still trapped in the old dualist paradigm and the only reason the culture war has lasted this long is because no one can stop watching. It is new territory, equivalent to finding a tunnel to the unconscious outside of the psychologist’s office. Every new development is a new discovery and the ‘so-called’ authorities, our self-appointed guides through this treacherous terrain, have no idea how to deal with it either. But instead of meeting the challenge and following the tunnel where it leads, they have applied policies that restrict the outcome of events rather than letting them unfold naturally.

Just as things were starting to get really real, the frontier was moved, and in order to stave off conflict and possible violence, these policies have limited access into the shadowy world of the unconscious preventing us from giving it a name. Or perhaps this is part of the plan; to make the unconscious, where no one is necessarily safe from criticism, a no-person’s land guarded by taboo terms and arbitrary rules. While this may be possible for a little while, the archetypes and psychological contents are sure to find their way out one way or another like a repressed emotion, which goes on to make an even bigger scene.

Despite all the shadows and shades that have been cast over that particular part of the psycho-sociological terrain, the sounds can still be heard. There is no silencing it, and apart from all the laws that are imposed, the law of the shadow land, or Intellectual Dark Web, is free speech and freedom of expression.

It’s a well-known fact that people become more conservative as they age, that is if they have anything to lose, and many of those people who call themselves revolutionaries now, may end up resenting their teachers, politicians and acquaintances for indulging their utopian ideas about the way the world should be, rather than the way it is. They’re wonderful ideas, of course, but if one is not prepared to dedicate their lives to them, what good is a liberal education?

Whether consciously or not, people are beginning to realize that far from fair, life is in fact arbitrary and what gives it meaning is us. It’s not rich people’s fault, or men’s fault or white people’s fault, but rich, white, men. We could all consider ourselves oppressed and under-privileged in some way, even a few of us white males, which is exactly what we are saying. We were promised something that we cannot have—just like everybody else. What we must do is work together to change the power structure that has enslaved us all.

Race, gender, class and sexuality are not all we’re made of, just as our bodies are not all we’re made of. We must find ways to integrate these aspects and move on to what we do after the fighting is over, what life is really about. If it’s equality and human rights we want, we can work towards that, if it’s fairness, that’s another matter and we are just going to end up disappointed, while feeding everyone else the red pill in the process.

Framing Houses, Framing Lives

“You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.”

— Michael Crawford, writer

One might think a profile of a former Oceanlake school, Taft elementary youth and a teen who dropped out of Taft High School (Lincoln City, Oregon) who now, 21 years later, works hard as a carpenter might not be the stuff of legends.

In fact, speaking with 37-year-old Justin Marical is like a breath of fresh air along with bursts of déjà vu.

He’s scrappy, he’s gone through ups and downs as a framer and construction worker, and he faces the struggle of being a quasi-step-dad to four children and a biological father to his 16-year-old boy who lives in Sedona.

We meet in Waldport, as I shadow him building his specialty now — high-end sheds or office spaces on people’s properties. We cover a lot of ground while he’s putting up siding on the 200-square-foot shed at a house on Bay Street.

He does the work from dawn to dusk, leaving no detail unfinished for this craftsman-like gig before he heads to the next job.

His business — JM Sheds — is going on 12 years, and his life is representative of a lot of young American men’s lives: dropping out of high school after 10th grade, getting sent to an aunt and uncle’s farm to be home schooled, getting a GED and learning a trade to survive.

Add to his formative years a biological father who ended up leaving the family with Justin at the tender age of six.

“I don’t know what the true effects of the divorce on me are, but I am sure I was hurt, yet at the time I wasn’t aware of anything.”

Justin says the Central Coast is a great area for which to grow up, or at least it was when he was younger, although he admits he did “slack off in school” and stopped going to Taft.

“I really wasn’t in any trouble, but I did ditch school, and did smoke a bit and got stoned.”

However, a safety net appeared: he was sent to an uncle and aunt on their 500-acre apple, pear, and cherry farm in Yakima. This really set the foundation for the young Justin’s life and where he is now.

“My uncle worked hard and recently retired well off. That farm was everything to him and to my aunt.”

We talk about the uncle’s hidden but brilliant plan for the young Justin. He had three cousins on the farm, and his uncle bought a bunch of lumber and put Justin to work with a challenge — make a playhouse for the younger girl.

The project was a full-on micro house — eight-by-eight, full-height walls, a roof, windows and a door, all finished in cedar shingles.

It was an after-school project, which Justin did on his own.

“I realized I had just built a building on my own. I totally remembered what my dad did as a framer. All that stuff stuck with me.”

That playhouse 20 years ago set Justin off into a world of construction, and this shed and micro-home business. Thus far, he’s built about a hundred sheds and office spaces.

Justin’s worked for Highline Homes in Salem, keeping busy as a commercial framer. Justin soon realized he could be his own boss, set his own schedule and make more money. Before shed making as a business enterprise, he worked in full home-building construction, but the jobs dried up during the 2008 recession.

“I could have quit and done something else after the jobs dried up. Instead, I built sheds, utilizing my construction skills.”

Justin reminds himself while speaking to me that building sheds got him his first home, got him a nice truck and trailer, and has helped to support his significant other, Emily, and her four children.

All of these skills he learned came from job sites his father, albeit as a divorced dad, took him on. He learned to do grunt work, observed the intricacies of a job site, and picked up vital carpentry skills that got him that golden prize — a complete, cool playhouse built by his own two hands.

It’s clear that once he starts a job, Justin is like a Tasmanian devil: “Once I get that job in front of me, I can’t stop.”

This is one work ethic that is a win-win for his clients who put down several thousand dollars for a nice outbuilding that not only serves as office or studio space, but enhances any property’s value.

“I knew early on I wanted to be a framer, to be in construction.” Luckily for Justin, his Yakima uncle instilled in him to shoot higher — be your own boss, work smarter not harder, and don’t make a living just doing grunt work for someone else.

 

In ordinary life, a mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building an emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of ecstasy.”

–Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men

Justin and I talk about the failing school system, how tough it is to work with young men today to motivate them, and what it means to be a man in this world where sometimes the headlines and book titles can be off-putting: “Adam’s Curse: A Future without Men;” “The Y Chromosome is Disappearing — So What will Happen to Men?” “Do We Need Men?” “Are Men Going Extinct — Some Experts Give Men Five Million Years.”

While his biological dad always worked and even took the young Justin to job sites, expecting the 8-year-old to throw in as a laborer, Justin is conflicted by some of his relationships with men.

I wish I had listened to the advice of men when I was younger. You know, listened to my buddies’ dads. If I had, I’d be in a lot better place.

He lists off more savings, sticking to one thing and not frittering from job to job, better investment strategies, and making a plan as some of those mentor men’s tips he let go by the wayside. He labored hard in his 20s, framing, but it was working for Friday nights to come around in order to hit the bars and find parties.

This is where a simple story about a plain 10-by-20-foot shed turns into a deeper conversation about the meaning of life, and the meaning of what it takes to raise children — boys in particular — to help them make it in life with a sense of dignity, respect and work ethic.

We talk about Michael Crawford’s book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work — Two of this philosopher’s words resonate when I speak to Justin —

• Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.

• Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right.

While Justin has upped his game with a nice website with amazing photographs of his craftsmanship encouraged by his spouse, Emily, he looks at the value of his skills translated into what young men and women might gain by working with their hands and brains.

A few years ago, Justin was hiring others to help with the shed projects. He could get one of these 10-by-20 sheds up in two days with that help. “I ended up shaking hands, developing quotes and running around getting materials. I wanted to put hands on projects. I had friends and their families who depended on me.”

Have Tools, Will Travel

Now he’s going at these projects alone, putting five or six days into the solo work. This gives him a lot of time to think what he might be doing to not only help his spouse’s two boys, 13 and 16, but to serve his community.

We talk about the housing crisis, about veterans who are homeless, about families not finding any affordable housing. The other crisis — PK12 education — might be the interconnected salvation for a county and state that face colluding forces that tear at the fabric of communities, down to the family level.

Justin drills down into the truancy issues of these two boys, and discusses how young men want to mimic gang-like behavior or even associate themselves with miscreants or wannabe gang-bangers while also skirting doing an honest, hard day’s work. Justin laments what he sees as young men and boys demonstrating a complete lack of respect for their elders, parents.

We both agree that having boys and girls building things, and planning, designing and following through on projects like building greenhouses, sheds, chicken coops would go a long way in the right direction to enable our youth to bring both meaning and skills to their young lives.

Justin and I talk while he puts up a shed, and he asks me about my work in education, about a writing project I am engrossed in to virtually explode the myths that tinkering with public education will make it better. “I have had these questions rolling around my head for a long time, but meeting you, I see what needs to be done.”

Hands-on, no more classrooms. Then, teachers that are inspired, inspiring and with multiple disciplines. We talk about getting youth to raise vegetables, chickens, orchards (permaculture). We talk about youth figuring out how to plan, draft, carry out and finish a building project, like a tiny home for needy people within their own community. We talk about teach-ins — having members of the community come to schools on a monthly or weekly basis instructing youth on their myriad avocations, skills and professions in these elegant round-table community engagements.

Justin wants to figure himself into this mix, working his magic as a builder to mentor and instruct youth on building something that is permanent, things that they can look at with pride.

“Not many young people are learning a trade. With that lack of hands on skill set, they are not getting any sense of accomplishment.”

Answers for Life

In his busy schedule working on this job on our coast, dealing with intermittent rain deluges and sunny breaks in the weather, Justin seriously pondered these questions I raised:

1. What does it mean to be a young man in America today?

For Justin, he sees struggle for young men, and confusion. “They have no solid ground to stand on as males.” He believes that too much screen time, too many other distractions and general parental lack of discipline add to the struggle. Justin isn’t thrilled with the economy getting Balkanized with fewer and fewer small businesses and apprenticeship opportunities.

2. Is there much difference from when you were 17, 20 years ago, then what it is to be 17 today in the USA?

3. How can we motivate young men to follow through, have a work ethic and care about doing honest work and living authentically?

We both believe that the education system — where youth spend 200 days a year, eight hours a day in the “system” — needs overhauling. Justin would like to have a part of educating, working with both disadvantaged youth and others on valuing their minds, bodies and creative spirits doing things with their hands. The “doing and making of things” he emphasized, and Justin means anything from skills working with engines, farming, building, crafting and engineering.

4. One word to describe your work ethic?

Obsessed.

5. Is building a shed creative work? If so, explain.

Just watching Justin go into a project, I can see he is thinking a mile a minute, putting the pieces together in his head. The craft involves architectonics and design and aesthetics.

6. If you weren’t building sheds and framing, what would you be doing?

He tried his hand at logging, and while working like a mule on big construction sites taught him the value of hard work and refining skills, Justin seems to be at place designing, marketing and organizing construction projects, from inception to completion.

7. What do you like about the Central Coast of Oregon?

He impresses upon me that the places on the coast still are and feel like small towns with people willing to get to know neighbors and customers. Just on one job site, all the neighbors around the project site talked with him. More than a half dozen drive-by neighbors looked at his project as it was being put up.

8. Define success.

He sees self-sufficiency and having the flexibility to be his own boss. Justin considers himself “homeless” in that he has no apartment or house mortgage, and he lives on the road, sometimes in his big truck while completing projects. His significant other of 10 years is a safe harbor from the constant dislocation, yet Justin says with all the tools, the trailer and his truck and his skills, he can virtually go anywhere and do his trade.

9. Define failure.

“Simply, being my own man.” Justin emphasizes the person in that statement. He thinks that if he was doing things to cut corners or to scam or rip-off people, he’d be a failure. Do unto others as you would have people do unto you.

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We end on a complicated note: More and more companies like Amazon and the like have kits for both sheds, tiny homes and other building types. “I am told by some that, ‘Hey, your shed is $2,000 more than what I saw at Costco for a kit.’ Well, I laugh and tell them good luck with putting up that product by yourself.”

With Justin working here in Waldport, he’s stayed at a local resort for days, he’s been to restaurants, shopped at the locally-owned Ray’s Market for groceries, put gas in his truck at the local Chevron, and purchased construction items at the locally-owned lumber yard and hardware store.

That multiplier effect is not the only value-added service JM Sheds provides the Coast. We get to see a hometown kid done good, pounding and sawing away, on site, with all the personal touches you can’t get from a kit sent to you from Amazon or IKEA.

Czechoslovakia to Chile, Back to Oregon Coast

We’re being accused of being eco-terrorists. But the way the laws are right now, the corporations have priority over the citizens’ right to defend their own health and safety. That’s terrorism.

— Newport resident Maria Sause

We meet at Oceana Natural Foods Co-op. Maria Kraus will turn 77 December. 9. Her face reflects five or six iterations of her life’s journey.

Just four days 80 years ago could have changed this interview – she might not have been conceived and born. Maria’s father Franta (Francisco)  left Czechoslovakia a scant 96 hours after Nazi Germany took over her parents’ homeland.

The Czech family line goes way back: “I just got in touch with a second cousin two years ago who has completed the family tree. The Kraus family goes back to the late 1700s in Czechoslovakia.”

I’m with Maria on a warm Sunday, ready to feature her life — amazing intellectual and creative journeys she’s taken having being born in Chile in 1942 and her own family’s powerful narrative of survival.

I am also scrambling to get some ink down concerning the Lincoln County Community Rights’ “loss” in state court after being successful with a countywide aerial herbicide ban on forestland, AKA, clear-cuts. The short-lived ban was the first in the country won by popular vote.

On September 23rd Judge Sheryl Bachart issued her ruling that Measure 21-177 is invalid based on state law regulating pesticide use. That Measure (for the ban) was voted on by citizens in 2017 okaying the prohibition of aerial spraying of all pesticides.

The fight for our legal, constitutional, and fundamental right of local self-government marches on, and it is going to take the political will of the people to make it a reality if we ever want to stop living under the thumb of corporate government.

—  Rio Davidson, President of Lincoln County Community Rights.

LCCR is now in overdrive, setting up townhall meetings to strategize to fight the judge’s reversal. For people like Maria, this is a huge blow to her community and to her concept of democracy.

Pre-emption laws are made whenever government and industry see the people are rising up against their projects. A government that protects industry at a higher level than it protects the safety of the people is unconstitutional.

— Maria Sause

This concept of having a fundamental right enshrined by the constitution that allows people to decide locally on issue of health, safety and the environment, is held dearly by Sause.

She has witnessed the devastation of total forest removal in her own neck of the woods where she lives in small above-garage apartment on acreage along Fruitvale Road. The stumps are emblematic of her own fight and LCCR’s fight against clear-cutting.

With the ban reversed, who knows when the timber company will begin spraying glyphosate, Atrazine and 2,4-D (an ingredient in Agent Orange made infamous in Vietnam) near where she lives.

“Right where I live, they clear cut an enormous parcel of the forest.” Interestingly, her life-long avocation of painting now reflects thick forest, sky and clear-cut landscape.

Holocaust, History, Chile

Maria is an avowed anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist. Her early days in Santiago, Chile, with her industrialist father (he was a licensed medical doctor from Czechoslovakia whose credentials were not recognized in Chile) was one of struggle since he was a highly intelligent but dictatorial man.

Her father was prescient enough to have sent his wife, Lisabet Erica Hirsch (maiden name), to England in 1938 before things got ugly in Europe.

Maria and I talk about history, about the saga of her Jewish heritage and roots. Her Kraus family line was virtually extinguished — 54 members on her father’s side (and an unknown number on her mother’s side) were exterminated in places like Auschwitz. Nazis processed professional Jews through the town of Theresienstadt, a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto established by the SS during World War.

My father in his youth belonged to several left movements. Maybe it was the shock and trauma of losing parents and the entire family that turned him into a right wing conservative.

Maria and her sister were sent to private schools outside of Santiago in the 1940s and ’50s. Her parents, in fact, split when she was one-and-a-half years old and the legal battle for the children put them into a children’s home.

That was a German couple who ran a summer camp that took them in, until Maria was more than six years old when her father took them to live with him and his new wife and new son.

Ironically, the New World formerly conquered by Spain — much of South America, including Chile — is where the Kraus Family ended up. During so-called biblical times world Jewry’s most concentrated homeland was located in what is now Spain. Maria says her paternal grandmother comes from the Sephardic Jewish population, which according to history books had established themselves in Spain almost 1,700 years ago.

Her own diaspora as a secular, non-practicing Jew is what she herself precipitated once she hit age 19 and her father approved of Maria coming to the US to study at the San Francisco State College. She stayed with an aunt and uncle there. That residence lasted six months before Maria was out on her own, working, going to school, and eventually marrying a man and having a son together, Christopher.

Summer of Love, and Ms. Sause’s Radical Education

Maria talks about her vibrant circle of friends and compatriots now in Lincoln County. At 76, Maria has good friends in Lincoln County, and the Lincoln County Community Rights organization is also a life force for her. She has three grandchildren from a single offspring, Christopher, who has spent time in Portland, Tempe, San Francisco and Chile.

Maria’s gone to school to learn English literature as an avocation to becoming a public-school teacher, which she tried her hand at as a single mother raising Christopher, who graduated from Newport High a long time ago.

That lesson, after having gained a master’s in education in a one-year intensive program at Portland’s Reed College, was tough. Getting to Lincoln County/Toledo was a journey unto itself.

She says working as an English-Art-Journalism teacher at Siletz High School was a hard lesson. “The kids just ate me up. I wasn’t prepared for all the behavioral issues. I gave the principal my resignation after two years.”

The Politicization of a Chilean

Maria Sause is busily writing press releases for the Lincoln County Community Rights. Town hall meetings were being set as we spoke at Oceana. The framing to the talks is foundational:

  • Ask your questions
  • Have your say!
  • Find out what’s next
  • What can I do?
  • How can I donate?

Meetings in Newport (October 15) and Yachats (October 16) will have already occurred by the publication of the hard copy of Oregon Coast Today. Lincoln City, however, has one set from 2 to 4 pm, October 20 at the Cultural Center.

The odds against the 21-177 measure were huge more than two years ago — the opponents were funded by big industry groups, to the tune of $475,000; on the other hand, the LCCR citizens group who wrote the initiative received support of $21,600 in cash and in-kind contributions, most of them small gifts from individuals. That was a drop in the bucket for LCCR, according to Sause, to lobby against the national and multinational stakeholders who fought to continue chemical sprays.

She has faced bigger struggles, but the Community Rights movement is her cause celebre, now.

Love and Death in a time of Chile

She returned back to Chile to take care of a dying mother (1990), after she had already taken care of her dying sister in Israel (1987 for five weeks). Both died of cancer. Maria’s is a crisscross journey from Chile to Portland to Newport to San Francisco.

This last time she returned to Southern Chile (1990) for the purpose of taking care of her mother: she met a man, fell in love, started a business and took care of an ailing father for one and a half years before his death. Maria stayed in Chile 18 years.

Cesar Retamal had lived in many places, including studying in East Germany as a machine builder. He had been imprisoned in Chile by the junta. He was an activist, a communist and blacklisted in Chile. He had been arrested by the goons deployed by the country’s American-backed dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

Cesar, like thousands of students, professionals, union activists, was “disappeared” and tortured in one of the hundreds of torture houses Pinochet’s secret police had set up throughout Chile.

Cesar escaped because he knew one of the guards.

This is a period of time when I had an enormous education.

The couple was afforded their own home next to Maria’s father’s. He purchased it so Maria and Cesar could be close as they took care of him after the once robust man (he had been hiking in the Andes up to age 83) was paralyzed after cervical surgery.

After her father’s death (her mother had died years earlier) they ended up with inheritances (both Maria and Cesar got separate amounts) they ended up looking for land in the South of Chile: near Temuco, about 675 kilometers from Santiago. They ended up living in the foothills of the Andes.

“We built a house which I designed and made a scaled down exact model of it. Four months later the cabin-like home was built by locals. Great gatherings of friends and acquaintances were common there. Politics were central to the parties.

Socialist Owners and Conservative Workers

Maria laughs when she tells me of the construction business she and Cesar embarked upon. “We made sure everyone got the same wages. Cesar and I were working without pay. We did not have any business background.”

The administrators/owners were leftists and the laborers right wing. She laughs hard at that dichotomy.

The business went bust and the creditors were on their backs; eventually, the relationship ended. After that, Maria and Cesar stayed there for two years, in the house they had built. She painted, gardened, and worked as a translator, where she made a decent living conducting legal and technical cross translation (Spanish to English, English to Spanish).

Those years in Chile were vital to where Maria is now in Newport. She witnessed her father turn softer in his old age, becoming friends of Cesar, the avowed communist. The Pinochet regime murdered tens of thousands of innocent people of Chile. Her father was disgusted with that history of right wing politics.

The country is still collectively traumatized by the ugly years of Pinochet: 1973-1990.

Pinochet was arrested in London October 16, 1998. He was 82, recovering from back surgery. The charge was crimes against humanity on the basis of an international warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

He not only was hit with allegations of human rights abuses committed against Spanish citizens in Chile during the military regime, but also the murder, torture, hostage-taking and genocide of Chileans and other nationals.

Pinochet died one year before Maria returned to Oregon to visit her son and grandchildren. That was 2007.

Setting Down Roots

I have a love-hate relationship with Oregon,” she tells me. “It’s got a reputation for having an environmentally minded government. Yet it’s clear industry runs the state.

She recalls John Kitzhaber, when he was governor, saying he couldn’t do anything about the clear-cutting and aerial spraying in Oregon because “my arms are tied by the timber industry.”

So this final iteration of her vagabond life started in Lincoln County when she ended up sharing a house with her former San Francisco State College (now University) Shakespeare professor — Edward van Aelstyn.

That was 2007, and Maria lived with him on Nye Beach, from 2007-2016. He passed away May 23, 2018 at age 82.

Interestingly, van Aelstyn became an Associate Professor of English at San Francisco State College in 1967 mostly teaching Shakespeare. His involvement with the cultural life of San Francisco, and his participation in a union-led faculty strike supporting students were part of the “Education of Ms. Sause.”

“I was very naïve about the United States, about the world and politics. I was taking care of my son, going to school, working odd jobs — a lawyer’s office, for a record distributor and in offices.” She remembers striking faculty at SFSC in solidarity with students, and remembers how those striking faculty were fired.

That’s what began to stoke fire in her belly. van Aelstyn founded the Newport-based Teatro Mundo, which Sause thinks fondly of.

“I like what I am doing now – drawing and painting, sort of getting back into it. I am still finding my way,” she says while describing her life in a studio apartment above a garage as pretty ideal.

“I am almost 77 (December 9) and I am very fortunate to spend my time here on the coast. I am not interested in being a tourist,” she laughs, saying that she couldn’t afford to be a globe trotter even if she wanted to.

She tells me that the fight for a community bill of rights, reversing these state pre-emption laws and having communities determine their health, safety and sustainability takes time.

Maria Sause is no fly on the wall, no Polly Anna, and certainly has certain gravitas in the community. She’s up on the issues why the Liquid Natural Gas proposed port in Coos Bay, Jordan Cove, is wrong for that community and the state.

She alludes to the youth around the world, and in Newport, protesting for climate action. She applauds them.

In the end, her goal with LCCR is “to provoke structural change in government. In that sense, education is key to “give people the  opportunity to see government is not really there to protect their safety.”

“This is why I am here in Newport. I have good friends. I can do my painting. Work on community rights. People have to rise up for their most fundamental rights.”

In an Activist’s Own Words

Paul:  In a few sentences, explain what your philosophy is in terms of your life and your idea of what we as a species have to do on earth.

Maria:  My “philosophy” in terms of my life, if I have one, has to do with learning how to love better and better throughout life, to always live in such a way that I am actively learning something, and with doing things that are meaningful.  I don’t make a big distinction between work and entertainment.  I can have as much fun working as doing something conventionally called entertainment. Work can be, and should be, entertaining, and entertainment, for me, can be something that requires effort and is difficult to do.

What we as a species have to do on earth is a big question which I don’t know anyone knows how to answer.   There are a lot of things we, as a species, shouldn’t do.  We unfortunately learn about them as we witness ourselves doing them and causing harm to other species and our own.  So, what I think we as a species have to do on earth today is retrace our steps in many ways, and start living in a way that allows other species to live and flourish, even if that means relinquishing many comforts we take for granted today.

Paul:  If you could do some things over in your life, what would they be, and why?

Maria:  There are many things I would do differently and hopefully better.  But that happens to all of us.  We learn our lessons precisely because we cannot do those things again.  Don’t we?

Paul:  The value of art and the arts. Can you give us your take on that?

Maria:  Art is a translation of experience into something we can feelingly see, hear, or touch.   So, in a sense, it is experiencing life in another language or in a medium separate from ourselves.  It gives us a deeper connection with life, allowing us to renew our focus on it.  How it does that is a mystery, and mystery is a gift all by itself.

Paul:  If you could meet one person, alive or in history, who would that be, and what would you ask her or him?

Maria:  Maybe it would be a person who lived in pre-historic times.  I have always had a yearning to know what life was like then, and how people saw their lives, and what they thought about life.

Paul:  Homo sapiens is, unfortunately, through the lens of capitalism, an invasive species, with the concept of might makes right, the victors write the history, and those with power and money have always ruled. How do you reframe this for some of the young people you and I now see on the street, valiantly striking for climate change mitigation or awareness or change?

Maria:  I don’t have the answer to this question.  The harm to our beautiful planet home is being done at an alarming rate every day that passes.  What we can and desperately need to do is change that lens – capitalism – through which we see the world and make our choices in life.  We have to regroup, rethink ourselves as the caretakers of Mother Earth, who is growing old.  We have received from her for millennia and now it is time to give back, to ask for forgiveness.  Our social and government structures have to mirror that attitude.  Only that can allow Mother Earth to heal.  Only that way can we as a species have a future.

Paul:  If you were to have a tombstone, what would that say once you pass on? Write it!

Maria:  “We don’t know why we pass through. Let no step we take while here be wasted.”