Category Archives: Science/Technology

Climate change’s ‘evil twin’ Ocean Acidification (and problem stepchild, Ocean Hypoxia)

People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. Ninety-seven percent earth’s water is there. It’s the blue heart of the planet – we should take care of our heart. It’s what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won’t get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.

—- Sylvia Earle

Note: I am helping beat the drum here on the Central Oregon Coast around climate change, pollution, development, plastics and the like, by writing small stories (that’s what I am limited to) for the local newspaper, Newport News Times.

This is an exercise in concision, as Noam Chomsky was once told by Jeff Greenfield of ABC. While the mainstream corporate media hold sway over the public’s lack of understanding of almost everything important to our communities’ and earth’s survival, small town news, this Newport paper I am writing for also holds sway over some of the Central Oregon Coast’s news: it’s owned by a conglomerate, News Media Corporation, which, according to the web site, has dozens of small-town newspapers in its stable — 43 Years in Business;  150+ Publications; 9 States; 600,000+ Subscribers.

Here, at the Columbia Review of Journalism (CRJ), another Poll: “How does the public think journalism happens?”

Is it any wonder why Americans do not trust the press? But, do they trust politicians? Or millionaires and billionaires? The US Military? Teachers? Doctors? Social workers? Presidents?

In reality, Americans are born delusional thinkers because of their lack of critical thinking and unwillingness to learn this country’s foundational history as a subjugator of other peoples, as possibly the biggest threat to world peace, and as the biggest purveyor of pollution, financial war and arms sales.

But, back to the topic — writing for free, cutting back on not only nuancing but depth, to make a small blurb in the local rag to try and bring attention to a topic very important to the fragile cultural and economic bedrock of Central Oregon coast — this place needs clean beaches, decent ways to control growth, a strong, healthy marine and near beach ecosystem, and some way to help old and young human residents to thrive economically, educationally and locationally.

Here, about concision:

As one of the most important scholars alive, Noam Chomsky has frequently been asked about his thoughts on his virtual blacklisting from the American media. He has long been regularly featured in international media outlets — yet, in his own country, he was often ignored. In a segment on the University of California program “Conversations in History” in the early 2000s, Chomsky explained that one of the ways media outlets justified this was with the requisite of “concision.”

Chomsky joked that he could never be on ABC’s “Nightline,” because “the structure of the news production system is you can’t produce evidence.” He recalled “Nightline’s” Jeff Greenfield, who, when asked why Chomsky was never featured on the show, said it was because the scholar “lacks concision.”

“The kind of things I would say on ‘Nightline’ you can’t say in one sentence, because they depart from standard religion. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you’re expected to give evidence, and that you can’t do between two commercials,” Chomsky explained.”

“Therefore you lack concision; therefore you can’t talk,” he continued. “That’s a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again and that nothing else is heard.”

I’ve gone through J-school, in 1975, in Arizona, covering all sorts of emerging issues, and ending up in Tombstone on a lab paper, and then working for a small conglomerate of newspapers along the Southern Arizona Border. Cutting my teeth in El Paso for the two dailies, one of which went belly up (Herald-Post).  The same bellying up happened in Tucson, where I learned journalism — Arizona Daily Star won out and the afternoon paper, Tucson Daily Citizen died.

So, you have all these small newspapers being shut down or being bought up to promote advertising. Little towns can’t get the news from on-line forums or big papers in Portland or Eugene. No matter how much the public loves to hate the media, or the Press, or journalists, the fact is real journalists (come on, if you don’t know what a real journalist is, then, you haven’t been reading) are out there in the tens of thousands, and in other countries, they end up splayed on the streets, shot through the head, and disappeared. Check out Reporters without Borders! United States, ranked 45 for press freedoms!

Back to the little outing I made April 4, 2019, to listen to a PhD with the state of Oregon talk about Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) and harmful algal blooms (HAB) and the how, why, what, where, when and who around the connected issues of culture, livelihood, marine health, resiliency, mitigation, adaptation.

Moreover, I know for a fact learning how to report on climate change — and ocean acidification is tied to the amount of CO2 the ocean absorbs (CO2 being a greenhouse gas and acidifier once it reacts to the chemistry of ocean, wave, air, organisms) — is not only vital in this day and age of dumb downing everything, but also because of the proliferation of the corporate PR firms and burgeoning corporate water carriers that the mainstream corporate media is (pressitutes).

A one-day conference, put on by the Nation and CRJ, titled: “Covering Climate Change.”

A new playbook for a 1.5-degree world

How does the media cover—or not cover—the biggest story of our time? Last fall, UN climate scientists announced that the world has 12 years to transform energy, agriculture, and other key industries if civilization is to avoid a catastrophe. We believe the news business must also transform.

Why haven’t (most) news organizations been covering this story as if everyone’s lives depended on it? How can they craft stories that resonate with audiences? How do they cover this urgent, far-reaching story at a time when journalism’s business model is so precarious?

The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation are assembling some of the world’s top journalists, scientists, and climate experts to devise a new playbook for journalism that’s compatible with the 1.5-degree future that scientists say must be achieved. Join us for a town hall meeting on the coverage of climate change and the launch of an unprecedented, coordinated effort to change the media conversation.

Tuesday, April 30 from 9:00am–3:00pm
Columbia Journalism School
New York, NY

As always, everything is centered in-around-because of New York City, East Coast. So, we have the west coast, from California to Alaska, and Baja, Mexico, that produces much of the seafood those diners in New York City love, yet, how many reporters from the West Coast will be there, and, should we be injecting kerosene soot and water vapors and CO2 directly into the atmosphere with all this flying/jetting around for one-day conferences?

Oh, the conundrum of it all, and yet, 4o people met on a glorious Thursday night to listen to one scientist try to do some jujitsu around the colluding topics tied to ocean warming, acidification, eutrophication, hypoxia, red tides, plastics, sedimentation and  declining oyster cultivation, declining wild salmon stocks, threats to the Dungeness crab industry and other fisheries threats. We didn’t even get around to how many impacts will befall cetaceans — the iconic grey whales (and other dolphins and whales that migrate and hang around) which are part of a growing whale watching tourism industry.

Here is the story for the Newport News Times. It hits around 1,120 words, certainly not reaching the concision of small town twice-a-week newspapers. It might be cut so much (mangled is my term) that it will be a shell of its original self.

At the end of this read, I will insert a few elements I believe are more necessary to this story and the contexts than the pure reportage and narrative flow I create, which I have been told are worthy of a read.  PKH

****

Climate Change’s ‘Evil Twin’ 

Ocean Acidification (and problem stepchild, Ocean Hypoxia)

In today’s changing world of climate change, it might not seem unusual to see a room with forty Lincoln County residents at the Visual Arts Center overlooking Nye Beach on a windless, rainless evening to talk about biochemistry, the atmosphere and oceanographic sciences.

It was a perfect Central Oregon Coast Thursday for tourists and residents alike – low tide and a sunset unfolding inside a cloud-enhanced blue sky. One fellow from Vancouver, Washington, with his family of four asked me where Café Mundo was, and then said, “Man, you are living in paradise. Absolute paradise.”

A few quick introductions for those attending the MidCoast Watersheds Council monthly meeting, and we were about to be schooled in pteropods, pelagic snails, corrosive sea water, pitted and wonky oyster larvae shells, with large doses of talk about Newport’s and the entire Oregon coast’s economic threats caused by increased ocean acidification.

We are talking about $270 million annually the west coast oyster industry generates. “I love looking at critters,” said Caren Braby, manager for Oregon’s Marine Resources Program. “I love working on policy issues important to residents and the communities I love. I’ve lived here in Newport and the West Coast for over ten years.”

The biochemist/biologist with a self-professed passion for all invertebrates gave the listeners a caveat: “I’m going to relate some pretty gloomy things in this presentation, but I will end it with some bright spots, some hope, solutions.”

The attendees were introduced to the basic chemistry of ocean acidification and hypoxia with a 13-minute video: “Ocean Acidification – Changing Waters On The Oregon Coast” – sponsored by Oregon Fish and Wildlife, OSU College of Earth, Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences, OSU’s College of Science, Sea Grant Oregon and the Turner Trust.

“The ocean may look the same, but the water is changing, especially on the Oregon coast,” said Francis Chan, an associate professor and senior researcher in Oregon State University’s Department of Integrative Biology. It’s all tied to the amount of carbon the ocean is absorbing largely due to fossil fuel burning and deforestation. “Carbon is changing ocean chemistry faster than it has the last million years.”

Tying the negative impacts of human development, consumption and resource harvesting on the environment, to lower PH in our waters is depressing and challenging. For Braby, who’s big on “focusing on Oregon … describing the problem” Ocean Acidification threatens the Oregon Coast socially, culturally, economically and recreationally.

For instance, the Dungeness crab industry is Oregon’s single most valuable commercial fishery at $75 million last year. While the sea snails are the building blocks for salmon and other marine species food webs, acidification effects all shell-building species, including the iconic crab.

Those four threats Braby listed, plus the fact lawmakers are concerned with the state’s rural communities, are driving the legislature to follow the lead of marine scientists and stakeholders such as Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw Indians, the shellfish industry, commercial fishing groups, conservation organizations and others to create in 2017 the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (SB 1039).

Both holders of doctorates, Jack Barth, director of Marine Studies Initiative-OSU, and Brady are the OAH Council’s co-chairs.

Unintended consequences should be the lesson of the century when teaching young people how to tackle all these problems scientists like Brady, Barth and Chan are “describing.” For Caren Braby, acidification, hypoxia and harmful algal blooms are a triple whammy of not just alphabet soups – OA, OH, OAH, HAB —  but could be the tipping points in this coast’s livelihood, lifestyle and environmental, economic and cultural longevity.

“Even if we stop releasing carbon dioxide today, there will still be a thirty- to fifty-year increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean upwelling from deep within the ocean,” Braby told the audience. This lag time will affect the ocean’s PH level, causing more acidification. How much, we don’t know.

The deep-ocean conveyor belt brings to the Oregon coast cold water, called upwellings. That water comes from deep in the ocean and carries more nutrients that sustain ocean life. However, bad comes with the good – that water has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Taking decades to travel to the West Coast, this water last touched the atmosphere decades earlier, when CO2 levels were lower than today. So future upwellings will carry the “memory” of today’s annual increases in CO2.

Ice core science is now giving us an atmospheric earth snapshot that goes back 800,000 years. Today,  atmospheric carbon dioxide is well over the maximum level during this long span. The rapid increase in fossil fuel burning and other man-made carbon dioxide emitters paints a gloomy picture for the past six decades – 1958 at 310 ppm versus 2018 at 410 ppm.

The hypoxia – dead zones – is basically less oxygen in large areas of the ocean. Much of the oxygen is displaced by harmful nutrient runoff or sedimentation, as well as algal blooms. However, OSU is looking at complex climate change elements, including wave and eddy action in the oceans.

Brady emphasized that biotoxins in several algae species – commonly known as a red tide — closed fisheries in 2015. Again, HAB’s are tied to acidified conditions in the ocean. The state’s scientific and commercial fisheries are looking at not only the predictive tools for HABs, but how to mitigate the impacts to clams, crabs, oysters and other commercial species along the food web.

“A massive hypoxic event caused the halibut to go away in both Washington and Oregon,” Braby stated. Add to that acidification’s effects on young salmon.

“Research shows ocean acidification could affect salmon’s ability to smell, which the fish rely on to avoid predators and navigate to their natal rivers.”

This is a global problem, but Braby and others caution Oregonians to not take the “we can’t do anything to solve this because India and China are causing it” approach.

Again, back to our sandbox: Oregon’s coast and watersheds. Braby admits there is not enough money allocated to both study and mitigate the ocean acidification and hypoxia issues we are facing. The Sept. 15, 2018 report she helped write posits five immediate next steps:

  1. continue the science and monitoring
  2. reduce causes of OAH
  3. promote OAH adaptation and resiliency
  4. raise awareness of OAH science, impacts and solutions
  5. commit resources to OAH science

For us overlooking Nye Beach, Brady emphasized the fourth step – socializing these issues through outreach, communication. She admits that scientists haven’t always been good at talking to the public, but Braby is armed to continue these sorts of public outreach events to get the message out about OAH and HAB.

 

Climate Change Mollifiers and Great Balls of Fire CO2 Deniers:

We Can Play the Game of Wack the Mole, But Think Hard Ocean Chemistry

The realities around acidification and hypoxia and biotoxicins and algal blooms will continue, continue, continue no matter how many reports are filed, agencies are created, scientists deployed, and public comment periods extended.

So, the great yawing world of pacifism and passive hope which is focused on our warped political system and endless pleas with lawyers to assist environmental groups and looking to technological fixes and active geo-engineering” things” to get the climate back on track, well, it’s what makes white civilization so-so flawed. There are real solutions tied to a deeper spiritual core than what white business Western Civilization can produce.

We are fiddling while the planet burns.

At the event written about above during that glorious waning night one big final ending struck me — people in the audience (mostly fifty years of age and upwards of 65 and older) wanted to discuss what the scientist and state bureaucrat, Caren Braby, had presented. They really want a forum, a community of purpose, to develop better tools to hash these “climate change issues” with neighbors, politicians, business owners, et al.

The gentleman with the MidCoast Watershed Council wanted the room cleared and questions quashed at a certain “acceptable” moment in the evening. However, people gathering and listening to a PowerPoint want civic engagement. The opportunity to engage 40 people and have some action plan drafted was lost in this American Mentality of Limited Scoping.

This so-called choir needs more tools to discuss the conjoining issues of climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity, growth (human & development), true sustainability, what energy in and energy out is, and so-so much more.

In fact, one of the active members of the Council discussed how insincere the political will is, discussed how flawed any movement on ocean acidification and hypoxia is without strengthening watershed rules, and how a regional approach is the only real way to move ahead, not just a state to state baby step approach. His 15 seconds of fame went poof, and the conversation ended.

There are many natural climate solutions tied to land stewardship that are not in place to help mitigate this huge problem for coastal communities and the marine life around them. This is where the rubber meets the pavement for small communities like Newport or Lincoln City.

While I am not a big proponent of harvesting the seas for food as a way to provide 20 percent of the earth protein, right now, the earth is criss-crossed with four to five times the number of fishing fleets than the oceans can sustain if fisheries are to stay robust and healthy. Many fisheries are in deep decline or near collapsing.

For Oregon, 37 percent of all greenhou se gasses originate through bad land use. Planting timber is the real solution to carbon sequestration, clean watersheds, protecting terrestrial and avian species and for the so-called coastal economies. How simple is that, planting billions of trees? In a world where private land rights trump everything, well, that seems to be the discussion point a group of forty citizens need to start massaging.

Unfortunately, these green solutions are not high on the table of scientists looking at chemistry and the invertebrates tied to specific fisheries.

Then, you can get so mired in the blue carbon and green solutions that are not high on the scale of bringing down global carbon dioxide levels.

The solutions, unfortunately, are all tied to wrecking “lifestyles, growth rates, consumption patterns, me-myself-and-I ego-centrism, recreation desires, class inequalities” Business As Usual mentality, from the Western Civilization’s (sic) perspective.

It’s all about human-focused survival, that is, what’s only good for Homo Sapiens — nothing said of the rights of any of the millions of other species to live on earth, or honoring wild-lands or mountain tops and corals, even geological formations, just for their sake alone.

Take a look at this article by Dr Phillip Williamson. He’s an honorary reader at the University of East Anglia and science coordinator of the UK Greenhouse Gas Removal from the Atmosphere research program, which is coordinated by the government-funded National Environment Research Council (NERC).

All the options, therefore, need to be on the table – not just the land-based approaches, such as planting new forests and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – which have dominated conversations to date.

This week, myself and colleagues attempt to address this gap by publishing an analysis of 13 ocean-based actions to address climate change and its impacts. The study considers the effectiveness and feasibility of both global-scale and local ocean-based solutions using information from more than 450 other publications.

Each potential action was assessed for a range of environmental, technological, social and economic criteria, with additional consideration given to each action’s impacts on important marine habitats and ecosystem services.

The study assesses seven ocean-based actions that have the potential to be deployed on a global scale. For the analysis, it was assumed that each technique was implemented at its maximum physical capacity.

Each technique was rated for its “mitigation effectiveness” – which was defined as how well the technique could help move the world from a high emissions scenario (“RCP8.5”) to a low emissions scenario where warming is limited to 2C (“RCP2.6”) – for a range of problems associated with climate change, including temperature rise, “ocean acidification” and sea level rise.

Here, sanity one and two:

  1.  protecting coastal areas from floods and nurseries for inshore fisheries
  2. planting new forests and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)

Here, the insanity of where we are at in global outlooks and how to cut carbon emissions while still having everything hunky-dory:

  1.  “solar geoengineering” techniques such as, “ocean surface albedo” (the reflectiveness of the ocean) and “marine cloud brightening”, which would work by using ships to spray saltwater into the clouds above the sea to make them more reflective.
  2. assisted evolution” – defined as attempts to harness the power of evolution to make species more tolerant to the impacts of climate change:
  • One example of this could be to make coral species more tolerant to heat stress.
  • The last technique is reef relocation and restoration. This can involve transplanting healthy coral into a degraded reef following a mass bleaching event, in order to aid its recovery.

Source

For Caren, submitting public comments is one action. More research is her mainstay, and as she stated, she is euphoric looking into a microscope at invertebrates. She states: “If we don’t understand what’s happening, we can’t change things.”

Of course, we have shifting baselines, so what Caren and her team work on, well, the predictions of acidification of oceans have been around for decades, with the predicted breakdown in shelled species losing their ability to deliver calcium to make shells. We know what is happening, and we don’t need more collapses and disease and “proofs” before acting.

The partnerships tied to OAH and HAB are impressive, but we are not in a climate where passivity should be dictating our actions —  more science, more studies to delineate the problem and more monitoring, this is lunacy. Then, the proposed lunacy of iron shavings in the ocean and sulfur dioxide spewed into the atmosphere to dim the sky. If this isn’t proof the scientists and industrialists and technologists haven’t lost their minds, then nothing is proof positive of their insanity.

The average citizen wants to stick his or her head out the window and say: “So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” Howard Bale, from the movie, Network.

Here on the Oregon Coast, hypoxia events during summer months are growing in size and duration, and seeing more and more of these biotoxic algal blooms (phytoplankton) making it to the smaller fish like sardines and anchovies, and into oysters and clams, well, the bio-accumulation and bio-toxicity carries up the food chain.  Many warnings will be coming in the very near future —  “don’t eat the clams/oyster/fish” admonitions will be sent out as we move into the next decade.

Caren Braby also talked about pyrosomes, sea pickles (each is technically a colony of other multi-celled animals called zooids), that are not normally seen on the coast but are a result of hypoxia. Warming seas. What have you.

See the source image

We are in some really bizarre times — people like Caren Braby have their laurels and positions with the state and other agencies, but in reality, they are making their incomes off of collapse, the sixth mass extinction, and local communities (both human and not) demises. They have skin in the game, but the truly vulnerable who are precarious at work and in their rental situations, who depend on virile economies tied to clean seas, we have more skin in that game.

How’s this headline for yet another nighttime Stephen King flick: Box jellyfish will destroy future oceans by gobbling up the food

The reality is many thousands and thousands of out-of-balance changes are occurring at the flora and fauna level, let alone at the chemistry level. So, the most abundant animal on earth, zeroing out because of ocean acidification? Not a fairy tale you want to repeat to your five-year-old for bedtime story telling.

As the oceans become more acidic, box jellyfish may start eating a lot more. Their greedy appetites could have a huge impact on marine ecosystems.

Some of the carbon dioxide we release is dissolving in the oceans, where it becomes carbonic acid – making the oceans less alkaline and more acidic. Scientists are scrambling to identify which species will be most impacted.

They are particularly concerned about organisms that play pivotal roles in marine food webs, because if they disappear, entire ecosystems may collapse.

What happens to copepods affects all that depend on them, “which is pretty much everything,” says Edd Hammill of Utah State University in Logan.

Previous studies have found copepods may be fairly resistant to ocean acidification. However, these have largely focused on single species, so community-level effects may have been missed.

Image result for box jellyfish image

So these powerful swimmers, halibut, take off when they end up near a hypoxic zone. Entire coastlines (WA and OR) then have had halibut fisheries completely shut down with no halibut to be found.

Maybe the oceans are an allusion to what we have already done to the soil and air and freshwater on land. Not one place on the planet can you take a handful of freshwater from steam, creek, river, lake and be safe from bio-toxins and deadly amoeba. Every person on the planet has mircoplastic in their feces and many compounds like flame retardant in their blood.

And then we are back in the church of the scientist with her proclamation: “Pteropods are the canary in the mine shaft,” Care Braby stated.

How many canaries in the coal mine comparisons are there now on planet earth in terms of specific species crashing and ecosystems degrading?

Even one of the businessmen as part of the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery said the hatchery’s chemistry manipulations were just “scratching the surface” in terms of how big and far-reaching ocean acidification will be. The shellfish hatchery game, over in 20 or 30 years?

It was here, from 2006 to 2008, that oyster larvae began dying dramatically, with hatchery owners Mark Wiegardt and his wife, Sue Cudd, experiencing larvae losses of 70 to 80 percent.

“Historically we’ve had larvae mortalities,” says Wiegardt, but those deaths were usually related to bacteria. After spending thousands of dollars to disinfect and filter out pathogens, the hatchery’s oyster larvae were still dying.

Finally, the couple enlisted the help of Burke Hales, a biogeochemist and ocean ecologist at Oregon State University. He soon homed in on the carbon chemistry of the water. “My wife sent a few samples in and Hales said someone had screwed up the samples because the [dissolved CO2 gas] level was so ridiculously high,” says Wiegardt, a fourth-generation oyster farmer. But the measurements were accurate. What the Whiskey Creek hatchery was experiencing was acidic seawater, caused by the ocean absorbing excessive amounts of CO2 from the air.

Source: YaleEnvironment36o.

Now is the time (30 years ago, really) to get communities to talk, to come up with collective solutions, to challenge business as usual, and science as usual.

And a flat-lined media, or so-called liberal press will not be benefiting anyone in terms of getting community conversations going and action started. If a rag or TV network is around just to sell junk, then, we have no hope.

One restaurant and seafood market owner I talked with in Newport is aware that her five-star restaurant and local sourcing of seafood is small time in the scheme of things. Her story, again, will be in the Newport News Times.

“There are so many forces beyond our control. I am worried about long-term food security. I want us to be looking at food systems, and to teach that in academic settings,” said Laura Anderson of Local Ocean Dockside Grill and Fish Market.

US-Canada and Venezuela’s Bay of Pigs

The Canadian government under Justin Trudeau is undermining not just Canada’s (ok, undeserved) reputation as an honest, fair mediator, but he has chosen 2019 to make Canada the enabler of the worst of US imperial policies.

Yes, the Huawei debacle is an embarrassment that will be remembered more as a joke, though possibly as the Suez Crisis of the US empire.1 Whatever. Canada to the rescue! And of course, Canada reviles Islamic Iran, while shedding crocodile tears for the 50 Muslims murdered last week in New Zealand.

But the far more despicable, downright ‘war-crime’ territory is Canada’s role in undermining the Venezuelan socialist government. The US war on Venezuela has been ongoing ever since Hugo Chavez miraculously survived a US-backed coup in 2002. Canada has been a minor irritant to the socialists, but not the villain. Until now.

The scenario is a variation on Eisenhower in Iran 1953 and from Reagan on, JFK in Cuba 1961, Nixon in Chile 1973 … Same use of an angry old elitist fury that the common people were finally getting some justice. The current attempt at overthrowing the socialists is in full swing: total boycott, a lying media shrilly howling for President Maduro’s resignation, sabotage.

Canadian computer villains

Cyber warfare is use of computers, which can be hacked and infected with viruses. US-Israel developed the Stuxnet virus as a cyber weapon to sabotage Iran’s nuclear power program in 2010. Iran miraculously survived this — and 40 years of nonstop subversion, but it is exhausting. Iran is no longer so vulnerable, alhamdulillah.

What was meant to be the crowning achievement of imperial subterfuge in Venezuela was to use a similar computer breakdown of the electrical system of virtually the entire country. (Bad move to put all your electricity in one basket.)

In a Telesur interview (sorry, it’s banned under Canadian democracy), Professor Adriansa dealt with possible causes of the blackout at the Guri Dam Hydroelectric Project, which provides 70% of Venezuela’s electricity.

The dam was built in 1963 and expanded in 1976. Since 2000, there is an ongoing refurbishment project to extend the operation of Guri Power Plant by 30 years.

The Guri computer system which broke down was bought from ABB Canada, a subsidiary of ABB Switzerland and Sweden, in 2005, to interface with an existing centralized control system that was installed by SNC Lavalin. (yes, the SNC Lavalin)

Adriansa concluded the Guri computer system may already have had a backdoor built into it that would allow it to be hacked. Software or viruses could have been added gradually over a period of months. This would have required internal or ABB Canada complicity. As with the Stuxnet virus, software can be designed so that something would happen on a particular date.

The purpose — to paralyze Venezuela at the perfect moment, to create the psychological conditions the US has been seeking, where they wouldn’t have to bomb Venezuela. The Venezuelan people would give up their socialist project, the scenario goes, President Maduro would be driven from power, and the Venezuelan constitution would be repealed. Happy (imperial) ending.

Right on cue, as the hysterical demonstrations and containers of toothpaste and pasta were being burned on the Colombian border, with US troops on alert nearby, egged on by Quisling Juan Guaido, the entire electrical network of Venezuela was destroyed. For 12 days now, Venezuelans have been living on life support. So far, the people are not buying into the US plan to overthrow Maduro.

Can the Venezuelans hold firm through this latest colour revolution? Will they surrender to US diktat? I know if I were there, I would only be more committed to defeat the gringos and their lackeys.

CIA gift to Siberia

This cyber warfare really is old hat. It began as soon as computers became integral to industry back in the 1980s. The most spectacular example of this was the CIA plan to sabotage the economy of the Soviet Union, which resulted in “the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space”.

The CIA covertly transferred computer technology — again via a Canadian company — containing malfunctions, including software, that later triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian natural gas pipeline in mid-1982, former air force secretary Thomas Reed revealed in his memoirs At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War (2004).

The US was trying to stop western Europe from importing Soviet natural gas. (Hey, isn’t that what the US is still trying to do, even after it destroyed the Soviet Union?) A KGB insider gained access to Russian purchase orders and the CIA slipped in the flawed software.

I hope the Bolivarians have backbone. They have to crack down on the traitors. It’s Cuba post-Bay-of-Pigs time. The white elite vs the brown socialists. Fighting the empire is not for the weak at heart. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

  1. The decline of the British empire reached its end in the 1950s with the Suez crisis, Eisenhower stopped cold a UK-led invasion of Egypt by threatening to dump Washington’s huge holdings of pound-sterling bonds and cripple the British financial system. At the same time, Britain’s remaining colonies were achieving independence. The attempt by the U.S. to undo China’s Huawei communications giant in 2018 has been compared to this period in British decline. China could sell its hoard of US Treasurys, creating a dollar crisis.

Achieving Escape Velocity

I grew up with the idea that leaving Earth was inevitable. The Space Age had arrived and the sky was no limit. Per ardua ad astra was no longer a metaphor; it would happen, it was happening. Invisible radiation traveled through the air every afternoon to bring me indelible images of humans in space, benignly, bravely venturing out into the numinous beauty of the galaxy strung with stars, enticingly intercalated with exotic life. A chorus of ethereal voices accompanied their stalwart ship each time, as it boldly went where no man [sic] had gone before.

What it carried with it were clean, comfortably-appointed living spaces where slim, attractive people sported glittery, form-fitting synthetics and teased and pomaded hair that was preternaturally perfect. Mutual respect, affection and humor were their mainstays. There was racial harmony – for humans had united, at last! (Often against other species, but only if they threatened us first. Otherwise, we sought to befriend them.) Artificial intelligences informed, protected and consoled us, but knew their place, like good housemaids. If they overstepped, we pulled the plug. Our marvelous cultural diversity was still intact no matter how deracinated our existence had become, speeding along in a vacuum, light-years from home among the stretched-out stars.

Earth had figured it out. Humans had figured it out. We had solved all the challenges on our home planet, and now – on to the final frontier!

I was so happy in that promised land, as a child. I was happy being Lost in Space or going on a Star Trek, from the safety of the Danish modern sofa strewn with throws and pillows I made into a kind of cocoon. The living room always a comfortable 70 degrees, whatever was happening on the planet’s surface outside. I lived in a space craft, protected from the debilitating atmosphere of an alien world – my own.

My physical relationship to the biosphere surrounding my spaceship house, which silently and imperceptibly sustained it all, was limited; I spent most of my time indoors. And even out of doors, that relationship was always mediated. Not so much by technology or gear, as it is for bourgeois children (and adults) today, but a state of mind that was omnipresent, and which has facilitated the exponentially increasing reliance on complex technology that characterizes my personal timeline. I wasn’t staying inside because I was sickly or frail, but because I was afraid.

My family lived in pleasant college towns, not wilderness, human-made or otherwise. I was a member of the most protected class in the most protected country, judged by wealth and weaponry, in the history of the world. And yet that was not enough to be safe, ever.

Outside my spaceship were dangers, just like in the shows. They lay in wait everywhere, although within the hedge and fence-bound yard, I was still tethered, at least, to the life-support systems onboard. The woods beyond the fence (a disused orchard gone wild) were off-limits. We were told there was an abandoned well somewhere back there – we could fall in and drown. There might be snakes, foxes, feral dogs or rabid raccoons. In summer, enormous moths battered the spaceship’s plate glass windows in inexplicably suicidal, desperate, but somehow menacing swarms. June bugs flung themselves like stones against the screen doors. Burrowing creatures scratched at the concrete foundations. In winter, when I went out into the snow, I wore a puffy, full-body suit with attached boots and gloves, like an astronaut.

Other children, were, of course, the most dangerous element of all. We had lived in three different places before I was six; the neighborhood children were not just strangers, they were an alien race. When spring came, I climbed a willow tree in the yard, and from there I had a vantage point; I could perceive the approach of any threat. I have no sense of actually comprehending that tree as a living thing; it might have been a watchtower made of plank and steel. I would sit on the roof of the carport in the same way, watching for movement, wishing for a jetpack that could hoist me aloft, let me fly to safety if the aliens spotted me. I just wanted to escape. Wherever I lived as a child, I wanted to be somewhere else. I achieved escape velocity only through television.

My grandfather spoke proudly of having been born in the era of the horse and buggy and living to see the advent of the Space Age. For a settler-colonialist-descended people such as we, there was no finer description of progress: our mobility, our expansion could now go on forever. And yet somehow, when that triumphant July day rolled around, it was less real and compelling to me than the dullest Jetsons episode to hear the grainy epigram (“one small step for man…”) or see actual boot prints on the barren moon. And the erection of that flag, the same one that was then flying atop gunships plying Southeast Asian seas, overseeing an escalating slaughter in a burning jungle; just another story the television told us at night.

The moon, a living goddess, a smiling benefactress in so many tales, was only a lifeless rock covered in gray dust. Now we knew. Now it had been proven.

What was the dark energy that powered the Space Race anyway? And planted that flag to hang in listless isolation on that spiritless plain? What was its political engine? It was the Cold War, with its sharp foretaste of nuclear annihilation, the capability we had recently acquired to destroy not just ourselves but all life on earth – even, potentially, the earth itself. In our fear-filled quest for safety through domination of the material world, humans had with bottomless irony achieved a state in which we would never be safe again. Now we had a lot more to fear than fear itself.

One night when I was ten or eleven, not long before the moon landing, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove was on TV and we were allowed to watch it. “They’re too young,” my mother moaned. “They should know about this,” my father intoned. So, we watched, utterly baffled. At the end, a bunch of crazy things happened: Slim Pickens whooped as he rode that descending warhead, Peter Sellers marveled as he stood up from that wheelchair, and then suddenly there were bombs going off one after another, nuclear bombs, with a woman singing a sentimental song in the background. The End. WTFH? And yet at some level we children knew it was the end of the world. My brothers and I got fractious and started whining and fighting afterward. (When Dr. Strangelove had, much later, become one of my memorized films, I would remember “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!”) “You see,” said my mother to my father. “I told you.” I couldn’t fall asleep that night. There was no safety. Rockets didn’t carry you to new worlds in interstellar space; they fell to earth. And when they did, everything blew up.

I didn’t know I was white then; my milieu, the liberal intelligentsia, was open to many socially progressive thoughts and ideas and still as racially circumscribed as any reactionary’s. But while I breathed the rarefied air inside my spaceship, Gill Scott-Heron was singing bitter poetry about the moon landing; he told how the America that lives in the shadows of racialized poverty watched that feat with a jaundiced eye.

A rat done bit my sister Nell

Her face and arm began to swell

(but Whitey’s on the moon)

Was all that money I made last year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey’s on the moon)

The year before Apollo landed was the fateful fork: cities had burned when Dr. King was murdered, martyr to a dream that turned out to be a fantasy, the peaceful realization of equality not by shiny idealized people out in space someday, but on this earth now.

Our only great prowess was technological. In no other way had we triumphed. We hadn’t solved anything on earth before launching ourselves into space.

And yet, without even straying from the yard, I can also recall that my childhood held the smell of turned earth, damp leaf mold, lilacs, pine duff, incipient rain. The feel of an onrushing summer storm, of the air as it seems to undergo a phase change. The almost sub-conscious morning and evening soundtrack of bird and insect song, frogs in the ponds and creeks. The minnows darting at the edges of the lakes we ventured in to swim. The alien world was there, at the exurban fringe, wilder (even after 300 years of settler-colonialist unconcern for intact ecosystems), more varied and fantastical than the wildest fantasies of life on other planets, if you just raised or lowered your eyes to it. One cubic inch of earth’s soil, says E.O. Wilson, contains more living organisms than the rest of the solar system combined, so far as we can tell.

Why were we schooled, long before television or space travel came along, to pay so little attention to this? To be so indifferent? Why were we so afraid of this that we ran into the arms of an unending nightmare?

Remaking authentic communities into packaged forms of themselves, re-creating environments in one place that actually belong somewhere else, creating theme parks and lifestyle-segregated communities, and space travel and colonization—all are symptomatic of the same modern malaise: a disconnection from a place on Earth that we can call Home. With the natural world—our true home—removed from our lives, we have built on top of the pavement a new world, a new Eden, perhaps; a mental world of creative dreams. We then live within these fantasies of our own creation; we live within our own minds. Though we are still on the planet Earth, we are disconnected from it, afloat on pavement, in the same way astronauts float in space. – Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred

Almost fifty years since, while racialized inequality has skyrocketed, an incalculable diversity of the planet’s biome has been reduced to livestock, monocrops and humans, and the global climate is on the verge of chaos. Now another dark, annihilating vision drives the contemporary fantasy of space colonization: the uninhabitable earth. Pick your poison: quick (nuclear war) or slow(ish): diminished, sweltering, lifeless continents surrounded by acid seas. Before he died, Stephen Hawking warned: this is the most dangerous time in the history of humanity, because we have acquired the capability of destroying the planet without being able to escape it.

This from a man kept alive for decades by mechanical intervention, who studied the most abstract objects in the universe, where the laws of physics themselves break down. A man who had no reason to love the living earth that gave him the genetic makeup that caused his body to start destroying itself in early adulthood. The perfect example of the expert: one whose unsurpassed sophistication and mastery of complex thought in one area, theoretical physics, was combined with an almost childlike simplicity where biological systems or social relations are concerned. This was a man who loved Star Trek too.

His remedy was not that we retreat, respectfully, from the disaster we have caused, and humbly use millennially acquired knowledge to try to repair something of what we have broken before “biological annihilation” becomes terminal. It was that we redouble our efforts to achieve escape velocity as soon as possible.

Escape we must, then, somehow, if he said so. There Is No Alternative, just as we are told about neoliberal capitalism, artificial intelligence, bioengineering, industrial agriculture, drone warfare, and (up next) geoengineering. We must keep up the 10,000 year-long attempt to transcend the biosphere and its constraints, because otherwise we won’t be free.

Dreaming of the key, each confirms the lock, said T.S. Eliot.

How free is anything to which there is no alternative?

Not long before he died, John Trudell, American Indian Movement activist and poet, came to San Francisco (on whose high-priced pavement I’ve been afloat for over two decades now, lucky me). He spoke prophetically, an ancient role, ignored then as now – or we wouldn’t be in this Groundhog Day-like predicament, facing the endemic prospect of civilization’s collapse, again. A defining characteristic of civilizations, right up there with walls, writing, agricultural surplus and standing armies, must be that they ignore their prophets. Trudell said something shocking to anyone steeped in Western liberalism: “I don’t trust that word, ‘freedom.’ To me, there is no such thing as freedom, there is only responsibility.”

This whole question of freedom and frontiers (which have nothing to do with borders, that’s another essay) is etched deeply into the settler-colonialist psyche. Television programming from my generation forward has been the equivalent of myths and tales told around the fire, and it’s easy to find examples from my youth of how this worked in practice. I think of the popularity of Westerns, waning as I grew. They were the final abstraction of the American frontier, transmuted into the dimensionless landscape of broadcasting when it no longer existed in the physical world. Those free lands that once must have seemed infinitely vast, by now ensnared in a stale gray net of concrete, another project made necessary by the Cold War: the completion of the interstate highway system. Once the frontier was officially “closed” in the 19th century, civilization had encircled the globe and there was nowhere else to go but up. The ensuing hot wars gave us the technology, the Cold War gave us the drive. And so, the space race and Star Trek, its consumer-friendly mythology, were born.

But what if you were forced to work the land, and freedom meant freedom from it? Leah Perriman of Soul Fire Farm describes the work of re-forging a link broken in this nation by chattel slavery. She says of Black Americans: “We have confused the subjugation our ancestors experienced on land with the land herself, naming her the oppressor and running toward paved streets without looking back. We do not stoop, sweat, harvest, or even get dirty because we imagine that would revert us to bondage.”

She goes on to describe a student first resisting, then allowing himself to experience for the first time the sensation of his bare feet on the earth, the almost electric charge that goes through him as another past is recovered, one that could be transformative if it were accessed collectively.

While billionaires like Musk and Bezos are literally shooting into space the surplus value extracted from workers and the earth, others are trying to sink their bare feet back into the ground. But the ground is shifting so fast now, and more of it is being covered by cement or blown off in dust storms or washed into the oceans every day. Is it too late to re-establish roots? To put aside a specious, emptied out “freedom,” and take not just individual but collective responsibility, once and for all? Will enough people relinquish their deadly privilege, will enough of the global bourgeoisie turn from the hamster-wheel of consumption and throw their lots in with repair and reparations? Before…what?

Too late isn’t the right way to frame the question; there’s no such thing till after the fact. Millions will try/are trying to make these changes, but only a generalized humility, not human exceptionalism, might guide them to success – by which I mean meaningful survival. Processes are in motion of which we are only barely becoming aware; they are larger than our global civilization, they are older than our species. We are not in charge. We only ever dreamed we were, anyway, just as we only ever dreamed we could be “free” of the earth or one another.

Dreaming of freedom without collective responsibility created the lock, built the progress trap, strengthened the feedback loop of capital, technology and consumption. And fear of the Other, human or not, fired the pursuit of safety that is killing the world. Even if we could achieve escape velocity as a species, we would be bringing all of that right along with us.

The Green Old Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further, the GND states that it supports:

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

It calls for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Hierarchies, Competition, and Anarchism

New Yorker

If dominance hierarchies are an outcome of natural selection, and if early Homo sapiens were naturally selected (they were), and if humans are genetically inclined to procreate thereby ensuring their genes continue in future generations, then, to the extent that status confers reproductive advantage, humans should be genetically predisposed to challenge for the highest placement within a hierarchy. Yet, modern humans have made substantive inroads in understanding and manipulating genetics, controlling the environment, and eliminating and curing disease. While there is evidence still pointing to natural selection having influence in shaping human evolution, human advances have curbed natural selection and artificial selection has become more prominent. Moreover, if dominance hierarchies genetically prevailed over humans, then anarchists must represent some kind of evolutionary dead end. Nonetheless, anarchists have made great contributions to societal and political-economic thought.1 Probably the greatest anarchist contribution has been to work toward a classless, anti-authoritarian, co-cooperatively based society in which there are no permanent hierarchies.

In particular, Petr Kropotkin’s well-researched landmark work, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, posits other than biological determinism; the ideal society is anti-hierarchical, anti-dominance, and anti-authoritarian.

I obviously do not deny the struggle for existence, but I maintain that the progressive development of the animal kingdom, and especially mankind, is favored much more by mutual support than by mutual struggle…2

Karl Polanyi’s seminal book, The Great Transformation, describes how early forms of human society were based on cooperation rather than competition. That the social order was transformed to a capitalist market economy was criticized by Polanyi: “[T]o separate labor from other activities of life and subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organization, an atomistic and individualistic one.”3

Polanyi’s thought is a logical reflection of Marx’s core theory of Value and the role of capitalism in eroding the value of labor.

Based on the historical and anthropological record, Polanyi held that the economy is bound up in the social relationships of humans.

The maintenance of social ties … is crucial. First, because by disregarding the accepted code of honor, or generosity, the individual cuts himself off from the community and becomes an outcast; second, because, in the long run, all social obligations are reciprocal, and their fulfillment serves also the individual’s give-and-take interests best. Such a situation must exert a continuous pressure on the individual to eliminate economic self-interest from his consciousness to the point of making him unable … even to comprehend the implications of his own actions in terms of such an interest.4

It is arguable that in disregarding immediate, long-term, or status-enhancing selfish gratifications, the individual is safeguarding her own future economic self-interest. In a society where individuals care for the needs of all members, that individual also belongs to the protective web of such a society. Since no one can be certain of avoiding future ill health or disaster, such a society acts as a safety net for all its members. Even some capitalist societies recognize this fact but all too often fail to adequately provide coverage and care to vulnerable sectors of society. And such welfare programs can fall victim to self-serving capitalistic procedures and tendencies based on immediate cost reductions because of a short-term focus on profit accumulation. While the provision of employment and health insurance is integral to those marginalized within capitalist society, such programs can be diverted to the profit-making interests of capitalists.

For Polanyi, the very fact that production was organized around buying and selling adduced the “extreme artificiality” of the market economy.5 Polanyi saw abandoning the natural way for the market system to be dangerous:

Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. The natural world would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.5

In his meta-analysis of the literature on competition versus cooperation, educator Alfie Kohn, echoing Petr Kropotkin,6 contended that “competition is an inherently undesirable arrangement.”7 Moreover, performance based on cooperation was found to be superior across fields of endeavor.8 Given the preponderance of the evidence, one would more reasonably conclude that at the societal level, cooperatively based groupings would be selected over competitive arrangements.

A Consensual Economic Model: Parecon

What kind of world is it that most people want? Dog-eat-dog capitalism or everybody looking out for each other? One economic model called participatory economics (parecon for short) was developed based on the core values of equity, solidarity, diversity,9 efficiency, and self-management. Parecon features balanced job complexes, remuneration based on effort and sacrifice, and decision-making empowered in all the workers. Grassroots planning that converges on a consensus outcome will replace the highly inefficient capitalist markets.10

Cooperatism also offers an interesting economic model wherein job complexes are run by workers for workers and not workers being dictated to by a board of directors for the profit of shareholders.11

Peterson argues that dominance hierarchies are based on competence, ability, and skill — not power. “This is obvious both anecdotally and factually,” writes Peterson.12 He gives the example of people wanting the best surgeon when stricken with brain cancer.

Yes, of course, patients want a good surgeon. However, how many patients would ask for a ranking of their surgeon? Wouldn’t most patients assume that a person by virtue of being a surgeon had successfully completed the training to become a surgeon and would, therefore, be competent in her vocation? Others might refer to this as specialization rather than a hierarchy. Most people tend to excel in certain areas and not as much in others. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. If you are scuba diving for the first time in a challenging tidal channel with extreme current flows, do you want to dive with the experienced dive guide, a rookie dive guide, or with the brain surgeon? The brain surgeon does what she does well within her bailiwick, and the dive guide does what he does well within his field of expertise. And within the field of surgery some surgeons will have more expertise and competence in performing certain surgeries and less skill to perform different surgeries. This is normal in situations calling for specialization. The same goes for scuba diving. Some dive professionals will have greater knowledge of the dive sites and be better able to navigate and explore sites familiar to them. However, the competence and skills demanded do not necessitate the formation of a dominance hierarchy.

  • Read Part 1.
  • Part 3: analysis of Peterson’s views on religion versus science, Wikipedia as a trusted source, and his antithesis to revolution
  1. See, for example, the works of Leonid Tolstoy, Mikhail Bakunin, Noam Chomsky, Petr Kropotkin, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Emma Goldman, Murray Bookchin, Robin Hahnel, Michael Albert, and many, many others. It should be noted in the anarchist context that the contributions arise from the masses.
  2. Petr Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, A Public Domain Book, 1902: loc 221.
  3. Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957): 163.
  4. Polanyi, 46.
  5. Polanyi, 73.
  6. Kropotkin, “Better conditions are created by the elimination of competition by means of mutual aid and mutual Support.” loc 962.
  7. Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986): 9.
  8. Alfie Kohn, “Is Competition More Productive?: The Rewards of Working Together” in No Contest: 45-78.
  9. Since Jordan Peterson seems at odds with diversity, a definition is in order. Diversity is merely the state of being different, and such difference must not face discrimination. Diversity does not mean forcing others to like or agree with the differences. It means live and let live.
  10. See Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism (Verso, 2003).
  11. See Chris Wright, Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States (BookLooker.com, 2014).
  12. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018): loc 5370.

The Utility of Rules and Hierarchy

The overzealous politically correct-speech crowd has triggered a backlash. One person who took exception is Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who rocketed into the spotlight for his courageous dissent against compelled speech. I support that stance taken by Peterson. Peterson also has a youtube presence, and this year his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Crisis (Penguin Random House UK) was published.

Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life contains plenty of wisdom, but also plenty of bias, often ill-supported by facts or reason. Yet an anarchist physics professor finds, “Peterson is having an impact because his important words are true and because oppressive false words have gone too far.” Peterson, says the anarchist, is “fighting for reason and objectivity and against ideological madness.”

Indeed, rational people will agree that discovering what best captures or approximates truth is important, as is exposing false narratives. Who cannot help but support “fighting for reason and objectivity and against ideological madness.” Yet Peterson can also be accused of ideological bias. Since 12 Rules for Life is a best seller and since Peterson’s views are garnering widespread attention, Peterson’s viewpoints on truth, falsity, anti-communism, ideology, and so on, as expressed in his book, call for a critical analysis.

The Need for Rules

Peterson claims that “without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions—and there’s nothing freeing about that.” (location 50)

This is an assertion, and it seems that Peterson is imprecise, or taking liberty, with language since what he calls slavery is more correctly termed addiction. An addiction usually starts as a choice, a choice that turns out to be bad as the addict has lost self-control.

There are several other points when considering rules and whether to adhere to them. First, it has been compellingly argued that rules lead to a dreaded, bloated bureaucracy.1 Second, there are good rules, and there are bad rules. Third, who is it that decides what the rules are or should be and which rules are good or bad? Does the common man decide or the uncommon woman? Does the colonizer decide or the dispossessed Indigenous person? Cree lawyer Sharon Venne made the legal and moral argument that “colonial laws are ‘rules and regulations,’ but not laws in the true sense of the word. Colonial laws are made to be broken.”2

When rules are devised and imposed on the masses with little or no input from the masses, and without genuine acquiescence from the masses what does this signal about the validity and legitimacy of said rules?

Regarding rules, in general, I propose: don’t become a slavish follower to a bad rule, instead seek its abolition. Likewise, in cases where rules are a necessity and are legitimately enacted by moral actors among the masses and having garnered the acceptance of the masses (without unduly impinging on the rights of a minority), then apply common sense: don’t be selfish and break laws that are scripted for the good of the wider society. Bad rules, however, can, and probably should, stir up a passionate resistance.

The other side of the argument is specificity. For instance, suppose a rule is valid. Is it universal though? For instance, if an Israeli accepts a rule, would a Palestinian accept the same rule knowing that his condition does not allow him to be generous in accepting such a rule? In the Canadian context, should First Nations accept that their culture and laws are subject to and inferior to rule imposed by a colonial-settler structure?

Decency and social cohesion points to the preeminent rule being some form of the Golden Rule: treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Regarding Peterson’s 12 rules, they are very reasonable and something all persons interested in their betterment should consider embracing. Importantly, they are rules one should set for oneself and are not meant to be imposed from outside; hence individual autonomy is sanctified. Individuals are empowered and are challenged with responsibility for their actions. In this vein, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote,

The proud knowledge of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility, the consciousness of this rare freedom, of this power over himself and over fate, has sunk right down to his innermost depths, and has become an instinct—what name will we give to it, this dominating instinct, if he needs to have a word for it? But there is no doubt about it—the sovereign man calls it conscience.3

Dominance Hierarchies and Determinism

Petersen writes of the dominance hierarchy,

It’s permanent. It’s real. The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism. It’s not communism, either, for that matter. It’s not the military-industrial complex. It’s not the patriarchy—that disposable, malleable, arbitrary cultural artefact. It’s not even a human creation; not in the most profound sense. It is instead a near-eternal aspect of the environment, and much of what is blamed on these more ephemeral manifestations is a consequence of its unchanging existence. (loc 688)

Peterson writes that the dominance hierarchy is ancient, as is the part of brain that tracks position.

Nonetheless, many people take umbrage at the idea that one could seemingly extrapolate from lobster behavior “up” to humans and also that dominance hierarchies among humans are fuelled predominantly by biochemistry. Such a view points to biological determinism. It hearkens to sociobiological theory which, in a nutshell, is that humans are genetically driven to pass their genes into future generations. The entomologist Edward O. Wilson, author of Sociobiology, came to this theory based on observations of ant colony behavior which he compared to animal behavior along the branches of the evolutionary tree. Yet sociobiology has problems adequately explaining evidence contrary to theory, for example, couples who choose not to have children, homosexuality, or engaging in behaviors that would diminish chances at passing genes to the next generation — such as alcoholism.

Peterson’s view of an “unchanging existence” runs contrary to the several qualities/changes that distance humans from animals, for example, the human conception of morality.4 The moral principle popularized by Star Trek that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one would argue against sociobiology, and also indirectly against a dominance hierarchy.5

Peterson’s amoral view (he does not state that dominance hierarchies are good or bad, just that they are), however, appears more nuanced; he does not appear to adhere strictly to a deterministic outcome. Ideally based on intrinsic human values, people must (or should) have by inalienable right free choice. If this happens, then clinical psychologists can help distressed people through therapy to bring about changes in their life.

As for the animal kingdom, there are salient studies that call into question the pervasiveness of a dominance hierarchy. The great apes called bonobos are known for positive emotional attributes, a lack of aggression, and a relatively deemphasized hierarchy.6

Another study suggests the importance of the environment, pointing to the lack of a dominance hierarchy among chimpanzees in captivity.7

Besides, sometimes being an alpha is not all it’s cracked up to be, as the underlings will knock off their despised alphas.8 Humans, by and large, also do not appreciate bullies (a type of personality who covets a top-dog position obtained through violence or threat of violence).

Quite revelatory was a longitudinal study of a baboon troop by Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share. They chanced upon a surprising result following the die-off of alpha males after eating tuberculosis-tainted food at a garbage dump. Subsequently, the stress levels of the remaining troop diminished, and the troop behaved much more amicably toward one another.9

The neuroscientist Sapolsky also appears in a documentary where he speaks to the recultured baboon troop and what it implies for human society:

Another one of the things that baboons teach us is if they are able to, in one generation, transform what are supposed to be textbook social systems, sort of engraved in stone, we don’t have an excuse when we say there are certain inevitabilities about human social systems.10

In conclusion, the documentary’s narrator pointedly asks: “And so, the haunting question that endures from Robert [Sapolsky]’s life work: Are we brave enough to learn from a baboon?”10

Plenty of evidence exists for the non-expression of a dominance hierarchy in the animal kingdom. This does not, however, preclude the manifestation of dominance hierarchies among humans. And, indeed, dominance hierarchies do exist in human societies. But are they wrought by evolution? Or are they shaped by features of the environment? Or perhaps a combination? Are they pervasive across the spectrum of behaviors and networks? Are they an inevitability?

The chicken-and-egg conundrum speaks to determinism. Does physiology precede topping a hierarchy or does top ranking bring about changes in physiology? What about environmental factors? What about socioeconomic factors?11 Sapolsky writes, “When humans invented material inequality, they came up with a way of subjugating the low ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”12

Sapolsky notes there are similarities in human and animal hierarchies,13 but humans are “totally different.”14

Dominance hierarchies do exist, and there are multiple hierarchical scenarios that humans can take part/compete in. Therefore, most people are likely to rank higher and lower across myriad fields of endeavor. Many humans can also choose their pond; being a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in a big pond.

Moreover, there are the drawbacks of clawing one’s way to an hierarchical apex. What is the actual utility of hierarchical supremacy if reaching the pinnacle requires one to become a despised asshole? If one has to spend inordinate hours working (being a slave to one’s job or addicted to work?) instead of spending leisure time with family and friends? And what if one cannot determine whether those who surround you are sycophants or genuinely care about you as a person?

Sapolosky wrote, with easily perceived sarcasm: “Hurrah for clawing your way to the top, for zero-sum, muscular capitalism.”13

It seems eminently preferable to be an anarchist, work and play with others at one’s leisure, and refrain from undue concern about chasing rankings because in your mind all are equally human beings.

  • Part 2 examines further the nature of hierarchies among humans and whether competition is preferable.
  1. See David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015): loc 2166.
  2. Sharon Venne, Our Elders Understand Our Rights: Evolving International Law Regarding Indigenous Rights (Theytus Books, 1998) cited in Tamara Starblanket, Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018): 24.
  3. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic (Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis, 1913): location 661.
  4. There is evidence for behavior guided by morality among animals. However, the reasoning behind such moral behaviors is qualitatively different from among humans. See Robert M. Sapolsky, “Morality and Doing the Right Thing, Once You’ve Figured out What That Is” in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin Books, 2016): 478-520.
  5. Individual differences and situational cues influence how human subjects indicate they would respond in such scenarios. See Robert M. Sapolsky, “Morality and Doing the Right Thing, Once You’ve Figured out What That Is” in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin Books, 2016): 478-520.
  6. See Paoli, T, Palagi, E, and Tarli, SB (2006), “Reevaluation of dominance hierarchy in bonobos (Pan paniscus),” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 130: 116-122. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20345
  7. Funkhouser, JA, Mayhew, JA, and Mulcahy JB (2018) “Social network and dominance hierarchy analyses at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest,” PLoS ONE, 13(2): e0191898.
  8. See Rowan Hooper, “Gang of chimpanzees kills their alpha male,” New Scientist, 6 March 2013.
  9. Robert M. Sapolsky and Lisa Share (2004) “A Pacific Culture among Wild Baboons: Its Emergence and Transmission,” PLoS Biol, 2(4): e106.
  10. Stress, Portrait of a Killer,” National Geographic, 24 September 2008.
  11. Sapolsky: 443.
  12. Sapolsky: 442.
  13. Sapolsky: 429.
  14. Sapolsky: 429. Sapolsky expounds on factors affecting hierarchies: choice of leaders, political orientation, intelligence, affect, conformity, and obedience: 442-470.

Biting into Apple: The Giant’s Revenues Fall

The worm has gotten into Apple, and is feasting with some consistency.  Revenue has fallen. Chief executive Tim Cook is cranky.  The celebrated front of Apple’s wealth – the iPhone with its range of glittering models – has not done as well as he would have hoped.  Dreams of conquering Cathay (or, in modern terms, the Chinese market) have not quite materialised.

In a letter to Apple’s investors, Cook explained that “our revenue will be lower than our original guidance for the quarter, with other items remaining broadly in line with our guidance.”  This somewhat optimistic assessment came with the heavily stressed caveat: “While it will be a number of weeks before we complete and report our final results, we wanted to get some preliminary information to you now.  Our final results may differ somewhat from these preliminary estimates.”

The reasons outlined were various, but Cook, in language designed to obfuscate with concealing woods for self-evident trees, suggested that the launches of various iPhone types would “affect our year-to-year compares.” That said, it “played out broadly in line with our expectations.”  While Cook gives the impression of omniscience, he is far from convincing.  Why go for the “unprecedented number of new products to ramp”, resulting in “supply constraints” which led to limiting “our sales of certain products during Q1 [the first quarter]”?  Such is the nature of the credo.

Where matters were not so smooth to predict were those “macroeconomic” matters that do tend to drive CEOs potty with concern.  While there was an expectation that the company would struggle for sales in “emerging markets”, the impact was “significantly greater… than we had projected.”  China, in fact, remained the hair-tearing problem, singled out as the single biggest factor in revenue fall.

“In fact,” goes Cook’s letter of breezy blame, “most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac and iPhone.”  The slowing of China’s economy in the second half of 2018, with a slump in the September quarter being the second lowest in the last 25 years, deemed a significant factor.

The irritating tangle of world politics also features; as ever, Apple can hardly be responsible for errors or misjudgments, and prefers, when convenient, to point the finger to the appropriate catalyst.  The United States has not made matters easy for the Apple bottom line in its trade war spat with Beijing.  “We believe that the economic environment in China has been further impacted by rising trade tensions with the United States.”

While it is never wise to consult the view of economists without caution (their oracular skills leave much to be desired), the feeling among the analysts is that a further contraction is nigh.  “We expect a much worse slowdown in the first half, followed by a more serious and aggressive government easing/stimulus centred on regulating the property market in big cities,” claims chief China economist at Nomura, Ting Lu.  But chin up – a rebound is bound to happen in the latter part of 2019.

The Apple vision is, however, dogmatically optimistic, an indispensable quality to any cult.  China remains customary dream and object, a frontier to conquer.  It is stacked with Apple friendly innovators (“The iOS developer community in China is among the most innovative, creative, and vibrant in the world.”) and loyal customers who have “a very high level of engagement and satisfaction.”

Product fetishism only carries you so far.  The iPhone models are not exactly blazing a trail of enthusiasm in other countries either.  Users in Brazil, India, Russia and Turkey can count themselves as being more reluctant.

Some of this dampening is due, in no small part, to a certain cheek on the part of the tech giant, one nurtured by years of enthusiastic, entitled arrogance.  In late 2017, for instance, the company revealed that it was slowing down iPhones with old batteries in an attempt to prevent undesired shutdowns.  But the company did not feel any great desire to inform users of this fiddling, and it took the published findings of an iPhone user to replace his iPhone 6’s battery, thereby restoring performance to accepted levels, to kick the hornets’ nest.

As Chris Smith explains, “The fix was implemented via an update last January [2017], but Apple didn’t accurately inform users of what was going to happen to chemically aged batteries.”  Class action suits followed in the United States; Brazilian authorities insisted that the company inform iPhone users on how to have their batteries replaced within 10 days.

The bite on Apple has had its predictable shudder on the markets.  Investors ran off some $75 billion on the company’s stocks.  The Nasdaq fell by 3 percent; the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.8 percent.  An environment of chaos has greeted us in 2019, and fittingly, Apple remains at the centre of it, a company as responsible for modern technological worship as any.  As with any central dogma, disappointments are bound to happen, an irrepressible function of misplaced belief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running in Circles

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

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

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

Brecht’s Stance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-striving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time

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

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

On the Horizon

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

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

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

Chaos Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

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

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

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

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

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

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

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

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

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

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

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

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

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

Quantum Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaia Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is a New Era, But China’s Balancing Act Will Fail in the Middle East

Although ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are stronger than ever, Israeli leaders are aware of a vastly changing political landscape. The US’ own political turmoil and the global power realignment – which is on full display in the Middle East – indicate that a new era is, indeed, in the making.

Unsurprisingly, this new era involves China.

China’s Vice President, Wang Qishan, arrived in Israel on October 22 on a four-day visit to head the fourth China-Israel Innovation Committee. He is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Israel in nearly two decades.

In April 2000, the former president of China, Jiang Zemin, was the first Chinese leader to ever visit Israel, touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and paying diplomatic dues to his Israeli counterparts. At the time, he spoke of China’s intentions to cement the bond between the two countries.

Wang Qishan’s visit, however, is different. The “bond” between Beijing and Tel Aviv is much stronger now than it was then, as expressed in sheer numbers. Soon after the two countries exchanged diplomatic missions in 1992, trade figures soared. The size of Chinese investments in Israel also grew exponentially, from $50m in the early 1990s to a whopping $16.5bn according to 2016 estimates.

China’s growing investments and strategic ties to Israel are predicated on both countries’ keen interest in technological innovation, as well as on the so-called “Red-Med” Railway, a regional network of sea and rail infrastructure aimed at connecting China with Europe via Asia and the Middle East. Additionally, the railway would also link the two Israeli ports of Eilat and Ashdod.

News of China’s plan to manage the Israeli port of Haifa has already raised the ire of the US and its European allies.

Times have changed, indeed. Whereas in the past, Washington ordered Tel Aviv to immediately cease exchanging American military technology with China, forcing it to cancel the sale of the Phalcon airborne early-warning system, it is now watching as Israeli and Chinese leaders are managing the dawn of a new political era that – for the first time – does not include Washington.

For China, the newfound love for Israel is part of a larger global strategy that can be considered the jewel of China’s revitalized foreign policy.

Qishan’s visit to Israel comes on the heels of accelerated efforts by Beijing to promote its mammoth trillion-dollar economic project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China hopes that its grand plan will help it open massive new opportunities across the world and eventually guarantee its dominance in various regions that rotated, since World War II, within an American sphere of influence. BRI aims to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe through a “belt” of overland routes and a maritime “road” of sea lanes.

The China-US competition is heating up. Washington wants to hold on to its global dominance for as long as possible while Beijing is eagerly working to supplant the US’ superpower status, first in Asia, then in Africa and the Middle East. The Chinese strategy in achieving its objectives is quite clear: unlike the US’ disproportionate investments in military power, China is keen on winning its coveted status, at least for the time being, using soft power only.

The Middle East, however, is richer and, thus, more strategic and contested than any other region in the world. Rife with conflicts and distinct political camps, it is likely to derail China’s soft power strategy sooner rather than later. While Chinese foreign policy managed to survive the polarizing war in Syria through engaging all sides and playing second to Russia’s leading role at the UN Security Council, the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is a whole different political challenge.

For years, China has maintained a consistent position in support of the Palestinian people, calling for an end to the Israeli Occupation and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. However, Beijing’s firm position regarding the rights of Palestinians, seems of little consequence to its relationship with Israel, as joint technological ventures, trade and investments continue to grow unhindered.

China’s foreign policymakers operate with the mistaken assumption that their country can be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel at once, criticizing the Occupation, yet sustaining it; calling on Israel to respect international law while at the same time empowering Israel, however unwittingly, in its ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

Israeli hasbara has perfected the art of political acrobats, and finding the balance between US-western discourse and a Chinese one should not be too arduous a task.

Indeed, it seems that the oft-repeated cliché of Israel being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, is being slightly adjusted to meet the expectations of a fledgling superpower, which is merely interested in technology, trade and investments. Israeli leaders want China and its investors to think of Israel as the only stable economy in the Middle East.

Expectedly, Palestinian priorities are wholly different.

With the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights capturing international attention through the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, more and more countries are under pressure to articulate a clear stance on the Israeli Occupation and apartheid.

For China to enter the fray with an indecisive and self-serving strategy is not just morally objectionable, but strategically unsustainable as well. The Palestinian and Arab peoples are hardly interested in swapping American military dominance with Chinese economic hegemony that does little to change or, at least challenge, the prevailing status quo.

Sadly, while Beijing and Tel Aviv labor to strike the needed balance between foreign policies and economic interests, China finds itself under no particular obligation to side with a well-defined Arab position on Palestine, simply because the latter does not exist. The political division of Arab countries, the wars in Syria and elsewhere have pushed Palestine down from being a top Arab priority into some strange bargain involving “regional peace” as part of Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century”.

This painful reality has weakened Palestine’s position in China, which, at least for now, values its relationship with Israel at a higher level than its historical bond with Palestine and the Arab people.

The Importance of Alternative Media

Social critic Neil Postman contrasted the futures predicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business (1985). He wrote:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Neil Postman’s book had its origins at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he was invited to join a panel discussing George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Postman said that our present situation was better predicted by Huxley’s Brave New World. Today, he maintained it is not fear that bars us from truth. Instead, truth is drowned in distractions and the pursuit of pleasure, by the public’s addiction to amusement.

Postman sees television as the modern equivalent of Huxley’s pleasure-inducing drug, Soma, and he maintains that television, as a medium, is intrinsically superficial and unable to discuss serious issues. Looking at television as it is today, one must agree with him.

The wealth and power of the establishment

The media are a battleground where reformers struggle for attention, but are defeated with great regularity by the wealth and power of the establishment. This is a tragedy because today there is an urgent need to make public opinion aware of the serious problems facing civilization, and the steps that are needed to solve these problems. The mass media could potentially be a great force for public education, but in general their role is not only unhelpful – it is often negative. War and conflict are blatantly advertised by television and newspapers.

Newspapers and war

There is a true story about the powerful newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst that illustrates the relationship between the mass media and the institution of war: When an explosion sank the American warship USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, Hearst anticipated (and desired) that the incident would lead to war between the United States and Spain. He therefore sent his best illustrator, Fredrick Remington, to Havana to produce drawings of the scene. After a few days in Havana, Remington cabled to Hearst, “All’s quiet here. There will be no war.” Hearst cabled back, “You supply the pictures. I’ll supply the war.” Hearst was true to his words. His newspapers inflamed American public opinion to such an extent that the Spanish-American War became inevitable. During the course of the war, Hearst sold many newspapers, and Remington many drawings. From this story one might almost conclude that newspapers thrive on war, while war thrives on newspapers.

Before the advent of widely-read newspapers, European wars tended to be fought by mercenary soldiers, recruited from the lowest ranks of society, and motivated by financial considerations. The emotions of the population were not aroused by such limited and decorous wars. However, the French Revolution and the power of newspapers changed this situation, and war became a total phenomenon that involved emotions. The media were able to mobilize on a huge scale the communal defense mechanism that Konrad Lorenz called “militant enthusiasm” – self-sacrifice for the defense of the tribe. It did not escape the notice of politicians that control of the media is the key to political power in the modern world. For example, Hitler was extremely conscious of the force of propaganda, and it became one of his favorite instruments for exerting power.

With the advent of radio and television, the influence of the mass media became still greater. Today, state-controlled or money-controlled newspapers, radio and television are widely used by the power elite to manipulate public opinion. This is true in most countries of the world, even in those that pride themselves on allowing freedom of speech. For example, during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the official version of events was broadcast by CNN, and criticism of the invasion was almost absent from their transmissions

The mass media and our present crisis

Today we are faced with the task of creating a new global ethic in which loyalty to family, religion and nation will be supplemented by a higher loyalty to humanity as a whole. In case of conflicts, loyalty to humanity as a whole must take precedence. In addition, our present culture of violence must be replaced by a culture of peace. To achieve these essential goals, we urgently need the cooperation of the mass media.

The predicament of humanity today has been called “a race between education and catastrophe”. Human emotions have not changed much during the last 40,000 years. Human nature still contains an element of tribalism to which nationalistic politicians successfully appeal. The completely sovereign nation-state is still the basis of our global political system. The danger in this situation is due to the fact that modern science has given the human race incredibly destructive weapons. Because of these weapons, the tribal tendencies in human nature and the politically fragmented structure of our world have both become dangerous anachronisms.

We have to learn to think in a new way. Will we learn this in time to prevent disaster? When we consider the almost miraculous power of our modern electronic media, we can be optimistic. Cannot our marvelous global communication network be used to change anachronistic ways of thought and anachronistic social and political institutions in time, so that the system will not self-destruct as science and technology revolutionize our world? If they were properly used, our instantaneous global communications could give us hope.

The success of our species is built on cultural evolution, the central element of which is cooperation. Thus human nature has two sides, tribal emotions are present, but they are balanced by the human genius for cooperation. The case of Scandinavia – once war-torn, now cooperative – shows that education is able to bring out either the kind and cooperative side of human nature, or the xenophobic and violent side. Which of these shall it be? It is up to our educational systems to decide, and the mass media are an extremely important part of education. Hence the great responsibility that is now in the hands of the media.

How do the mass media fulfill this life-or-death responsibility? Do they give us insight? No, they give us pop music. Do they give us an understanding of the sweep of evolution and history? No, they give us sport. Do they give us an understanding of need for strengthening the United Nations, and the ways that it could be strengthened? No, they give us sit-coms and soap operas. Do they give us unbiased news? No, they give us news that has been edited to conform with the interests of the military-industrial complex and other powerful lobbies. Do they present us with the need for a just system of international law that acts on individuals? On the whole, the subject is neglected. Do they tell of the essentially genocidal nature of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need for their complete abolition? No, they give us programs about gardening and making food.

A consumer who subscribes to the “package” of broadcasts sold by a cable company can often search through all 100 or so channels without finding a single program that offers insight into the various problems that are facing the world today. What the viewer finds instead is a mixture of pro-establishment propaganda and entertainment. Meanwhile the neglected global problems are becoming progressively more severe. In general, the mass media behave as though their role is to prevent the peoples of the world from joining hands and working to change the world and to save it from thermonuclear and environmental catastrophes. The television viewer sits slumped in a chair, passive, isolated, disempowered and stupefied. The future of the world hangs in the balance, the fate of children and grandchildren hang in the balance, but the television viewer feels no impulse to work actively to change the world or to save it. The Roman emperors gave their people bread and circuses to numb them into political inactivity. The modern mass media seem to be playing a similar role.

Our duty to future generations

The future of human civilization is endangered both by the threat of thermonuclear war and by the threat of catastrophic climate change. It is not only humans that are threatened, but also the other organisms with which we share the gift of life. We must also consider the threat of a global famine of extremely large proportions, when the end of the fossil fuel era, combined with the effects of climate change, reduce our ability to support a growing global population.

We live at a critical moment of history. Our duty to future generations is clear: We must achieve a steady-state economic system. We must restore democracy in our own countries when it has been replaced by oligarchy. We must decrease economic inequality both between nations and within nations. We must break the power of corporate greed. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground. We must stabilize and ultimately reduce the global population. We must eliminate the institution of war; and we must develop new ethics to match our advanced technology, ethics in which narrow selfishness, short-sightedness and nationalism will be replaced by loyalty to humanity as a whole, combined with respect for nature.

Inaction is not an option. We have to act with courage and dedication, even if the odds are against success, because the stakes are so high.

The mass media could mobilize us to action, but they have failed in their duty.

Our educational systems could also wake us up and make us act, but they too have failed us. The battle to save the earth from human greed and folly has to be fought in the alternative media.

The alternative media, and all who work with them, deserve both our gratitude and our financial support. They alone can correct the distorted and incomplete picture of the world that we obtain from the mass media. They alone can show us the path to a future in which our children, grandchildren, and all future generations can survive.

Author’s Note:

• A book discussing the importance of alternative media can be freely downloaded and circulated from this address:

• More freely downloadable books and articles on other global problems can be found here.