Category Archives: Science/Technology

Why Would China and Huawei Commit Economic Self-Ruin?

Rune Fisker for the Washington Post

It could be construed as a badge of professional honor that a news broadcaster is open to presenting a wide range of views. This might especially be considered so when the corporate-state media is parochially aligned to portraying an unskeptical right-wing, warmongering bizzaro worldview where left-wing (defined as socialist, communist, anarchist… not Democrats or Liberals who frequently bang the drums of war and toe the neoliberal line), pro-peace types are absent or marginalized to the fringes.

A recent segment with RT America anchor Rick Sanchez led me to question again whether Sanchez is doing the news again or opining again? He opens by discussing the friendly, deepening relations between president Vladimir Putin’s Russia and chairman Xi Jinping’s China. He asks:

Here’s the question really, right? Is this a union of strength, convenience, of necessity, of revenge, or somehow all of the above?

Of convenience, of necessity, of revenge? Are these among the best speculations of Sanchez?

Rick Sanchez interviewed John Jordan, a frequent guest on RT America. Sanchez asked Jordan: “Can you, can you, can we, can anybody blame Russia for jumping into China’s … loving arms?” Really, where does a news anchor come up with such questions?

Jordan presented his bona fides. He stated he was an American patriot on air to present the American viewpoint. He said he has “studied Russian history and culture in excruciating detail” and that he speaks Russian. Such a background does, indeed, confer gravitas. But gravitas can be nullified by the bias of patriotism.

Jordan stated “that as a friend of Russia that Russia will rue the day it did this [more closely ally with China through accepting Huawei’s 5G].” Jordan provides as a rationale that the Chinese government, legally, has a right to access all made in China technology. Thus he fears that this will be “an enormous intelligence gathering tool for China.” He adds that this could have “a chilling effect of investment into Russia.”

Jordan points out that other countries need not be dependent on Huawei for 5G and neither on American 5G; there are companies in other countries besides the United States that sell 5G. This is a crucial point since, as revealed by ex-NSA official William Binney, ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, and by WikiLeaks, the US is deeply involved in intelligence gathering, as are American companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and social media such as Facebook.

Time to do news? What is the evidence — beyond mere conjecture — that Huawei would be an intelligence gathering instrument? Have US corporations ever offered a no-spying pact with foreign governments as Huawei has done?

It is too easy to tear apart any thread of rationality to what Jordan says. Jordan professes to be an American patriot. First, it reeks of a double standard to demonize China for what the US, as is well-known by Jordan, also does. Second, why is it even necessary to wave a flag of patriotism? My country right or wrong? Does love of a geo-political entity triumph love of humanity? Love of morality? Love of truth?

And why shouldn’t Russia and China be close partners? That often happens when countries, like Russia and China, are neighbors that share a long border where transportation and communication are easier. First, it makes good economic sense to trade with a neighbor who has goods you want and who also wants your goods. Second, being populous countries, economies of scale also come into advantageous play. Third, the China-Russia union connects both to Europe and Asia. Fourth, both these countries find themselves surrounded by American military bases, navy ships, and weaponry. As such, it also makes clear military sense to create strength through a union.

The overarching question that Sanchez and Jordan do not deal with is why Huawei would shoot itself in its economic foot? 5G technology is poised to be a financial windmill in the near future for Huawei and China, and it seems the US is far behind in this technology. As far as speculation goes, this would be a strong motive for a hyper-American patriot to jump to the defense of US interests by demonizing an economic competitor that is outpacing US economic growth.

Science Won’t Save the Planet, New Values Will

I don’t write much directly about climate collapse, even though by any measure it is by far the most important issue any of us will face in our lifetimes. And I can gauge from my social media accounts that, when I do write about environmental issues, my followers – most of whom I assume share my progressive positions – are least likely to read those blog posts or promote them.

I have to consider why that is.

As I explained in my last piece, the environment has been a concern to me since my teenage years, back in the early 1980s. It should now be a concern to everyone. And while polls in the UK show that most people are worried to some degree about climate change and the state of the planet, the majority are either still not concerned at all or concerned only a little.

Part of the problem, I start to think, is that we are approaching climate change all wrong. And that addressing it correctly is just too difficult for most of us to contemplate because it demands something profound from us, something we fear we are incapable of giving.

When I share climate change material on social media, it is invariably graphs produced by climate scientists showing the alarming trends of a warming planet. Others, I see, do the same.

But really is that what all this is about? Most of us – at least the ones sharing this stuff – understand that the science is now conclusive. Even, I suspect, those who deny climate change do so not because they believe the data are wrong but because accepting the reality is too overwhelming, too terrifying.

And this gets to the heart of what we need to talk about. Those persuaded by the graphs and the data no longer need those materials, and those unpersuaded aren’t going to heed the science anyway.

So maybe we need to talk less about the science, the graphs and climate change, and much more about ideology, about the inconvertible fact that the planet is dying before our very eyes and about how we have conspired in that act of ecocide. What got us into this mess wasn’t science, what got us here was ideology.

Consumerism our god

In my last blog I noted that scientists kept a low profile when they most needed to speak out, back in the 1990s and 2000s – in part because they were denied a platform, but chiefly because they failed to push themselves forward. That was when the evidence of climate collapse was irrefutable and there was time to start changing our societies to avoid it.

The reason the scientists held back is significant, I think. It wasn’t because they had doubts, it was because the dominant paradigm of our societies – the paradigm shared by almost all of us, the scientists included – was so deeply in conflict with what was needed to bring about change.

For decades – until the financial collapse of 2008 raised the first doubts – we were driven exclusively by a paradigm of endless economic growth, of ever-increasing resource exploitation, of a spiralling personal accumulation of goods. Consumerism was our individual god, and the Stock Market our collective one.

They still are. It’s just that the real, physical world – not the one we constructed out of narrative and ideology – keeps slapping us in the face to try to wake us up from our slumber.

The oceans didn’t fill with plastics last year. Some 1 million species didn’t start facing extinction this month. And the atmosphere wasn’t suddenly polluted with the greenhouse gas CO2 this week. These are trends that have been observable for decades.

The question we have to ask is why did David Attenborough and the BBC suddenly start noticing that everywhere they filmed – from the high seas to the deepest ocean beds – was polluted with plastic? This wasn’t new. It’s that they only recently decided to start telling us about it, that it was important.

Again, scientists haven’t just worked out that there has been a massive loss of biodiversity even in the remotest jungles, that insect populations needed to maintain the health of our planet have been disappearing. The mass die-off of species has been going for decades, even before temperatures started rising significantly. So why have we only just started seeing articles about it in liberal media like the Guardian?

And, fuelled by greenhouse gases, temperatures have been steadily increasing for decades too. But only over the past year have all the record highs, the wildfires and anomalous weather conditions been reported – sometimes – in the context of climate breakdown.

Identifying with the enemy

The cause of these failures is ideology. The reality, the facts simply didn’t stack up with the way we had organised our societies, the way we had come to believe the world, our world, operated. We didn’t see ourselves – still don’t see ourselves – as in nature.

Rather, we have viewed ourselves as outside it, we have seen nature as something to entertain us, as parkland in which we can play or as an exotic place to observe through a screen as a reassuring David Attenborough narrates. Instead of considering ourselves part of nature, we have seen ourselves variously conquering, taming, exploiting, eradicating it.

Derrick Jensen, sometimes described as an eco-philosopher, offers a simple, but telling life lesson. He observes that when you get your food from a convenience store and your water from a tap, your very survival comes to depend on the system that provides you with these essentials of life. You inevitably identify completely with the system that feeds and shelters you, however corrupt, however corrupting that system is. Even if it is destroying the planet.

If you hunt and forage for food, if you collect water from streams, then you identify with the land and its water sources. Their health means everything to you.

We saw those two identification systems playing out as a terrible, tragic theatre of confrontation at the Standing Rock protests through 2016-17, between those trying to stop an oil pipeline that would destroy vital natural resources, risking the pollution of major rivers, and heavily armed police enforcing the system – our system – that puts corporate oil profits above the planet and our survival.

Anyone watching footage of those protests should have understood that the police were not just there to carry out law enforcement. They were not just there on behalf of the state and federal authorities and the corporations. They were there for us. They were there to keep our way of life, our suicidal pattern of living, going to the bitter end. To the point of our extinction.

Like them, we are battle-ready, heavily armed enforcers of an ideology, an insane ideology needed to protect a self-harming, nihilistic system.

A virus killing its host

This is not a question of science. None of those charts and graphs and data are actually necessary to understand that the planet is dying, that we have become a virus gradually killing its host. That is obvious if we look inside ourselves, if we remember that we are not police officers, or civil servants, or arms makers, or oil executives, or tax collectors, or scientists. That the system is not us. That we do not have to identify with it. That we can cure ourselves by learning humility, by rediscovering our inner life, by being in nature, by reconnecting with others, with strangers, by protesting against the system and its values, by listening to those the system wants to denigrate and exclude.

In fact, most of the scientists are very much part of the problem. They, like the media, now tell us how bad things are only because the patient is on life support, because her condition is critical. But those scientists are not ecological doctors. They are not qualified to offer solutions for how to revive the patient, for how to get her back to health. Those scientists who worked their way up through the institutions that awarded their qualifications of expertise are as identified with this suicidal ideological system as the rest of us.

We need more ancient wisdoms, dying wisdoms, of the indigenous peoples who still try to live in nature, to live off the land and in harmony with it, even as we make the conditions to do so impossible for them. We urgently need to find ways to simplify our lives, to ween ourselves off our addictive consumption, to stop identifying with the system that is killing us, and to seek leaders who are ahead of us in that struggle for wisdom.

First buds of resistance

In my last blog post, I called for more populism – not the reactionary kind created by our current leaders to confuse us, to justify more repression, to strengthen their own hand – but a populism that seeks to take power away from those who rule over us in their own, narrow self-interest, to re-educate ourselves that the system is a menace, that we need new social, political and economic structures.

Some readers objected to my call for more Extinction Rebellions, more Greta Thunbergs, more school strikes, more Green New Deals, more climate emergencies. They believe these groups, these strategies are flawed, or even that they are colluding with our corporate rulers, coopted by the system itself.

Let us set aside for a moment the cynicism that assumes all protests to stop us killing the planet are pointless, not what they seem, or intended to derail real change.

Yes, of course, the corporations will seek to disrupt efforts to change the system they created. They will defend it – and their profits – with all their might and to the death. Yes, of course, they will seek to subvert, including from within, all protests of all kinds against that system. We cannot reach an accommodation with these structures of power. We must overthrow them. That is a given. There are no accolades for pointing out these obvious truths.

But protests are all we have. We learn from protest. From their response, their efforts to subvert, we identify more clearly who the real enemies of change are. We grow in wisdom. We find new allies. When we discover that the institutional and structural obstacles are even greater than we imagined, we learn to struggle harder, more wisely, both to change the reality outside ourselves and the reality inside. We find new values, new models, new paradigms through the struggle itself.

Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes aren’t the end of the process, our last shout. They are the very first buds of a rapid evolution in our thinking, in our understanding of where we stand in relation to the planet and the cosmos. These buds may be clipped off. But stronger, more vigorous shoots will surely replace them.

The Delusions of Me, Myself and AI

“Do I need to justify what most call philosophy? Aren’t all these social and political issues building into huge cumulonimbuses that demand a less solely reflective response? But look, a thunderstorm has its origins in the vibrations of individual atoms. And as an atom of this society, I need to examine myself, because whatever is driving me (and you) is driving that developing storm.”

“In other words, what is the role of individual perception in all these less abstract issues of immigration, governmental control, war, and the dangers of AI?”

“Well, I bristle at the word “abstract.” I’m saying that the storm has a concrete origin in the atom of my personality. There’s a dynamic there that translates into society. My personality is a twisted wreck of inauthenticity — defensive denials, and bald declarations of pig-headed belief in anything and everything. I leap from one conclusion to another, rarely questioning any of them. Rarely learning.”

“Yes, society is a cumulative stupidity.”

“And on the “atomic” level it’s only me and you getting caught on what we think and usually staying that way the rest of our lives. It’s not just stupidity, but a stubbornly self-enforced stupidity, which is beguilingly odd. There’s a clarifying thrill in this, like being trapped in a small cell my whole life and suddenly discovering that there are doors everywhere in the cell that I’ve simply refused to open. Every resistance in myself is a door I refuse to open.”

“So you’re saying that your own dynamic of resistance, control and self-denial, is powering society’s storms? What good are social movements if this is the case?”

“This dynamic undermines every movement after a short while. That’s why I want to look at myself more closely. And this might set you off, because I know how much you love science. But I blame science for this dynamic.”

“You’re kidding? For your own personal stupidity? You should be thankful that science can help us distinguish real news from fake.”

“Maybe I’m thinking of the way science tries to pin the world down. There’s a Utopian streak in this attempt to be errorless; an overly ambitious search for the all-encompassing theory.”

“No, the genius of science is falsification, the recognition that there is no final answer, only increasingly more powerful theories that are subject to constant change. It tries to be errorless only in the way it handles and analyzes evidence.”

But the way it handles and analyzes evidence – this objectifying gaze – is never questioned. It approaches the world, the planet, as something inanimate. That materialistic ideology decimated cultures that looked at the world very differently. It hypocritically refuses to see its own limitations in all this. And the whole techno-utopian Zeitgeist is a product of science.”

“And I think the practice of science is freedom from wishful thinking. Sloppy thinking got us in this mess. Error got us here. What if we’re building rockets that carry people? That demands perfection. Don’t you want investigations of reality that are free from error?”

“Yes, you’re right. I’m conflicted. We do need to be as error-free in our thinking as possible. But how does this add up then? Because in another context, if I strive to be errorless, I’m trying to be something I’m not; then I’m fighting my own nature, which IS imperfection. And there’s a way to live with that. It’s called being humble, where errors aren’t a problem that need to be eliminated. And that’s very different from a desire to get rid of error. Because the desire for errorlessness is a delusion of grandeur.”

“When we sent people to the moon that wasn’t a delusion of grandeur. That was something truly grand that wouldn’t have been possible if people were content with error.”

“You’re right. But I think I’m also right. How is this possible? That’s the real question. Not which of us is wrong. There seems to be this need for control and errorlessness and a need to be tolerant of error. There’s the need to eliminate error and the need to live peacefully with error. How is this understood?”

“That’s a legitimate question, but science doesn’t deserve the blame. In other words, Can a person try to be errorless in some contexts without allowing this attitude to reign everywhere? Do we know when it’s necessary to switch attitudes? This could be considered a scientific question.”

“Yes, are we able to relate to error cordially so that we can learn?”

“And science codified a way to face error cordially, and is constantly learning. Why blame science?”

“I’m not sure you CAN codify honesty. Nevertheless, it seems like this codified, “cordial” relationship to error is often missing when science steps too far out of the lab and invades everyday life with its technological solutions, which amount to increased controls; a warlike approach, even to people’s health, with invasive drug therapies and chemical agriculture. It tries to stamp out error like a bug everywhere it’s found.”

“Is this the fault of science or of the way science has become an arm of capitalism?”

”Or maybe science made a mistake in aligning itself too closely with technological development, which is designed almost exclusively as a means of increasing the efficiency of production. Maybe science has forgotten that original inspiration you mentioned – that sense of itself as a natural philosophy, which loves error, because it hints at larger worlds.”

“Not entirely of course.”

No, but the funding is almost exclusively used to create technologies for business and military. And if we’re building technologies we naturally strive for error-free results. That drive replaces a more open-ended interest in pure research, where error is more of an inspiring clue than something to be eliminated. Would you say that control is essentially technology? I mean, there is no way to achieve control without technology, and technology itself depends on controls and the absence of error to work. So a kind of desire for errorlessness and control is “baked into” every technology. The technology infects the person with this same desire.”

“Could it have provided capitalism with a delusion of grandeur?”

“We could also say that capitalism infected science with a delusion of technological perfection. But at some point there was a marriage of capitalism and science. Maybe capitalism was the abusive partner. And their offspring was technology, AI in particular, which is a child raised to believe it knows everything and can never be wrong.”

“But AI learns from its errors.”

“Yes. But does it learn only in a certain direction? I mean, a computer program can’t unwrite itself completely. It can’t question its own program. Doing so would still be part of its program! A computer essentially converts error into new certainties, more control. So it wouldn’t be able to recognize an error in this programmatic search for more and more control.”

“Well, it can’t question the intention of the program writers, which is always some form of control. It can’t have an existential crisis that transforms it into something different.”

“Yes, only we have this underused capacity to be stopped in our tracks, to have our ideological programs shut off at the root, and be transported by joy and wonder, with no ulterior purpose, no program.”

“But couldn’t you say that the desire to live and procreate, for instance, are programs that also can’t be turned off?”

“No, because these are biological conditions that don’t necessitate a particular kind of response or ideology. We live without ideologies, if we dare; without a program or mission to change reality. It’s a kind of programmatic death that computers simply can’t go through.”

“You mean, our orientation to the world can change not just superficially, from one certainty to another, but fundamentally shut down that system of certainty-seeking?”

“Yes, that can wholly end. And in its place a different relationship to error emerges. I wouldn’t even call it error then, but liveliness, that which can’t be pinned down or reduced to a utilitarian known. This suggests a wholly different kind of person. One who is not driven by a programmatic mission, not seeking anything, but absorbed by the majesty of this unknowable reality. See, a computer can’t do something for no reason, for the sheer joy of discovery. “

“It has no aesthetic sense?”

“No, I mean something far more meaningful. We disparage purposelessness, an unprogrammed mentality. But this is a mentality that is always learning, but in a different way.”

“Purposeless people are without ambition or enthusiasm for anything.”

“But that same dynamic of perpetual escape from pain has become their overwhelming purpose; the constant attempt to distract themselves from the guilt of being “wrong” in some way, and the miseries of lovelessness. That’s what keeps them uninterested and feckless. They are even more driven in that sense. Nothing interesting can reach a person watching porn all day, or taking drugs, because they are even more caught up then we are in their own programmatic purpose of resistance.”

“OK, so you’re using “purpose” here a little differently.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. The point is, we think of learning as gaining knowledge, gaining control. This programmed response can shut off in the face of a charged beauty. It overwhelms the program. And this death, which is inaccessible to a computer, initiates the birth of learning as self-discovery, self-transformation. And this has no ulterior purpose.”

“OK, ulterior purpose is more understandable.”

“So, would you say that a computer is an expert in a certain kind of purpose, which also dominates us? You might even say a certain kind of imagination, the kind that can only posit potential solutions — ideas, assertions, images – all of which are controlled worlds, models of reality? In short, knowledge. Like a computer, we leap from this known thing to that, with only the briefest possible suspension of the program in uncertainty.”

“We shut the door on the unknown as fast as possible, and remain trapped in small cells.”

“And we think we’re progressing because we gain more knowledge and control.”

“Yes, the limited space becomes crammed with more and different certainties and rules. Is it a larger and larger space?”

“Not really. Not if you measure it against the reality of an infinite world. No knowledge, no matter how large, ever gets closer to that infinity. Everything we will ever know will remain infinitely short of reality. This is why a computer is doomed to remain stupid.”

“And that’s how we operate also.”

“Almost always, but not quite. In fact, we designed the computer as a reflection of our positive orientation.”

“Is it wrong to seek positive knowledge about the world?”

“No, but if these positive assertions are taken too literally, or if they don’t stir questions to life, then we settle too positively on an answer.”

“But frankly, that’s what I do. I’m no different than a computer!”

“Yes, but living things have access to something else – a non-posited orientation, an orientation friendly to our positive errors.”

“Friendly to positive errors?”

“I mean, if we don’t berate ourselves for being too certain and pig-headed, then that empathy for ourselves and humility immediately opens the door to change, to learning in a new way. And it doesn’t matter if we mostly act like computers – positing answers, constantly busy like a computer, fearing every absence of an idea. We can turn to face this without resistance. And when there’s no resistance, we begin to change. And we begin to relate directly to these shifting currents of meaning and perspective, which can never be pinned down.”

“Is that your faith?”

“Well, it’s not my belief, if that’s what you mean. It does no good to believe in this, because that’s another program aiming for a positive conclusion, another small cell cut off from reality. See, the limits of the positive orientation have to be met head on before the other even opens. It’s no good striving for it, because that’s just more positive orientation. But that’s our reality at present, that’s the closed door we need to open. Turn away from who we desire to become, and notice what’s actually happening.”

“But don’t we still need to build these little islands of positive knowledge in which to live? That seems necessary, right? But if I understand what you’re implying, then it might be this: within a lab or a village at the edge of a wilderness, positive knowledge, controls, might take precedence. In a kitchen, cleanliness might be very important. But any real belief in the possibility of absolute sterility or errorlessness makes us delusional. It’s too literal. Our sense of identity, too, can’t become so literal that it excludes the so-called other. This weakens us, just as a sterile, lifeless environment weakens our immune system. We need to be in relationship to everything that errs from our cell walls. They have to be very permeable to remain strong…”

“…They are permeable, they have doors, but we ignore them…”

“… OK. But the point is, we can’t try to become utterly positive about anything. We need that slack of not knowing anything for sure. We can’t go around pretending that the village can be walled off from infinite chaos, without denying ourselves fundamentally.”

“Yes, and we think that the whole society should be sealed off in a hyper-controlled state. This desire for sterility has escaped the lab on the back of technologies like AI. Techno-logical thinking now dominates daily life, and we begin to desire what the technology desires – a world perfectly cut off from all the poisons we project beyond our borders. It’s a false Self, national or personal, a cell where we keep ourselves jailed.”

“I can’t help thinking of Castenada’s “inorganic beings” or “the predator.”

“Yes, precisely. This predatory thinking embedded in technology lures us into increasingly dictatorial systems of control, which use us like batteries. And it destroys our empathy, because machines have no empathy. It violently resists seeing the error in its own program, which might be the political system running everyone like parts in a big machine.”

“Yes, and the more “lifelike” our systems of control become, the more unreal the individual within this system becomes.”

“So even though we are gifted technologists, we can’t go where the technology itself compulsively wants to take us. Otherwise it controls us.”

“Yes, as control and technology rise in importance, we lose the humility and sense of humor that comes with an easy relationship to imperfection. And a life that struggles to be without error, without pain, without mutations, isn’t really alive, or able to learn.”

“So AI isn’t really intelligent.”

“Yes, there’s an error in the heart of AI that AI will never recognize.”1

“And as long as we are limited to a positive orientation we won’t either. Techno-logical thinking is incapable of allowing itself to die. Only living things die. And that is what learning is. We learn new ways of being, because old ways of being die. Technology will never be intelligent in that sense.”

“So is technology to blame for my stupidity?”

“Well, first I blamed science, then capitalism or its union with technology for my own dynamic of resistance.”

“But each was only a lens.”

“A lens without sufficient magnification to discover what lies behind the doors I refuse to open.”

“Then what have we learned?”

“Maybe we are learning to lose our certainties and ask bigger questions.”

“So we don’t learn here by gaining knowledge, but by losing knowledge?”

“Yes, by not finding an answer, questions grow larger and more interesting. Then we don’t fight the current of error.”

“And when we resist our errors, we’re refusing to open ourselves…”

“… our Cells…”

“… to bigger mysteries, and then complaining that the world is meaningless. Is this an answer?”

“No, we’re only beginning to notice the origins of the storm. Now we have to leave this page, leave words behind for now, the inherent certainties of words, and notice all the traps of positivity that keep the things we fear from opening into larger questions. We have to move via the negation of cold, virtual certainties into the real world of pain and trauma, courageously, without resistance.”

“Yes, we either make our lives real, or we get blown away in a storm of delusion.”

  1. I need to credit a conversation between J. Krishnamurti and a computer scientist for inspiring this criticism.

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.