Scotland Made Me

“O I ha’e Silence left.” 

– Hugh MacDiarmid

Pity the wanderer, condemned by history to become a tourist. Pity the dead, condemned to eternal life on the Web. Pity the nation-state, appearing then fading away overnight. Pity the death and resurrection of the author – and authors, doubles living for the dead – wanderer, tourist, grouch, of Allan Cameron’s satyriconjob Cinico, rambling in the voices of a nation about to be almost again.

Cameron’s Vagabond Voices press has picked up orphan talent from Scotland, Italy and Estonia for several years now. Their recent Cinico is a dubious MS. which purports to be an Italian reporter’s roving eye-view of the recent Scottish Independence Referendum, found among the papers of the supposedly-deceased boozy translator Cameron. More on this mystery anon.

The scene: As the late David Cameron warned of the disintegration of an Iraq his public school heroes both created and destroyed, he remained oblivious to the unravelling of his own (barely) United Kingdom, especially in the insurgent Stuart sector. Frantically he rushed to Aberdeen to deliver a stern lecture in strict Etonian, a move so idiotic it alone almost clenched the vote for the independentistas (vide the photo of Dodgy Dave with his lips and nose smushed into his philtrum in a weird face-fist knot; above him, a banner pleads: ‘Let’s Stick Together’). Cameron (David) then fell into a bestiality scandal best summed up by the ad for Pasolini’s Porcile, until Theresa May bailed him out with an even more stunning act of cluelessness. Entra Cinico De Oblivii, philosopher and dog and partial Hogg.

The innocent abroad once met with centaurs, cutthroats and witches on the pilgrim’s road. Our modern man Cinico finds professors good and evil, city hard men and Estonian rakes, an Orthodox anchorite, Algerian and Polish emigres, fair nymphs and Tories. All of them give various opinions on the ideas of nationhood, independence, Europe and its discontents, neoliberalism and other faiths, while Cinico injects himself into the action long enough to get a girl, ruminate on his own shipwrecked status and the meaning of Scotland, and then lose the girl. On the national question, we know the dénouement: the Kingdom abides. And then it votes to leave Europe, which would be almost amusing if Westminster possessed any sense of the ironic.

Only at collapse does a nation see that it is temporal, hence the constant cry of eternity from the nervous patriot. Borders are spectral, argumentative, restless. Hungarians living today in the Székely land in Romania consider themselves far more Hungarian than Hungarians living in present-day Hungary, whom they consider to be sham Magyars. Romanians agree: a ‘Hungarian’ born in Transylvania is not a Romanian. The Durand Line makes you either Afghan or Pakistani, if you accept the foreign term ‘Afghan’ at all. You might even refuse to accept the Partition of India; if so, this Durand Line, imposed by the English (or British, many of whom were Scots), is twice as ridiculous. Palestine has gone in and out of existence (last time by decree of the ‘British’) and has never existed at all according to the Zionists, most of whom were Germans not long ago and Americans more recently. The Zionist state does not exist, according to the non-existent Palestinians it has managed to persecute, evict and murder. The Nazis excluded the Jews from their nation – fascist land is biology – but saw them everywhere; millions of Jews were genocided in parts of Germany that were not really Germany. The Kurds also exist, but have no nation yet; the nation of Luristan hasn’t been there since the 2nd Century BC, but is now at least a province. Khitan is totally absent, the Hyksos are no more and Atlantis, Lemuria and golden Cibola never were at all. I read that the existence of Mu is considered ‘questionable’ at best – by experts in Mayan archeology.

Many nations were made by outside powers, by powerful foreigners with new maps in mind. However, the historical end of nation-state concept seems to be a common prophecy these days, from Left and Right, from mourner and futurist. For the neoliberal ideologues, the nation is definite when wars are necessary, but invisible where trade walls are concerned (at least in one direction). In the United States, Nativists claim that the WASP is America’s true American; American Nativists are never native and usually mongrel Anglo-German (Amerika gibt es nicht). Today’s banks are the most egalitarian of judges: they accept the reality of all nations because they accept the possibility of all targets. Does an off-shore tax-haven constitute a ‘nation’? Will the Cayman Islands one day secede, and from whom?  One could be Confucian about the whole thing and say that nations are only a system of tensions, yet nevertheless, they are.

Which brings us by recirculation back to Scozia, or Caledonia if you prefer. Although no one denies that Scotland exists, an independent nation usually means an independent people. Who makes up this ‘people’? And what kind of ’independence’ is desired? Under occupation or empire, these questions are part of a future which must avoid nightmares for now. As an answer, the SNP’s Referendum platform was simple and ingenious: everyone living in Scotland would be declared a citizen after Independence, which sets them far apart from the race-obsessed nationalists and Orangemen. And isn’t it also true that an ‘indigenous’ Englishman has not sat on the throne since at least 1066? Where are ‘true’ Scots to be found? In Scotland, period. Whoever they are. Cinico reminds us that the Yes vote was at heart an act of liberation from Whitehall’s enforced austerity measures, against the City of London’s Mafioso grip on British finance, against the power of the Right to govern Scotland by quisling coalition, against the frigid medium of Thatcherite Cool Britannia.

Benedict Anderson called the nation an ‘imagined political community’ distinguished by style, full of members who will probably never meet each other, a ‘deep horizontal comradeship’ which has as its clearest expression the willingness to die. Genet said he was for all revolutions until they win; he only recognized nations that did not exist. The nation that declares itself is haunted and unforgiven, especially when noir. Haiti is the supreme example: the white man never forgave the Black Jacobins for daring to take the ideals of 1789 seriously.

Inside the nation are many nations, Russian dolls in fourth-dimensional time. Horizontal, vertical, crisscrossing and fading in and out, cross-cutting through land and custom in mobile and montage. Places in time where ideas and music, argot, crime, art and the labyrinth of the daily life of many peoples mix – these zones seem outside of the official time of ‘total’ nations, like accidents or chance meetings on the way to pure historical recognition. Such a passage of time may be extraordinary, like late Ottoman Salonica or Motor City USA. Or it may be the byproduct of ruthless geopolitics, like the refugee environs of Calais and Manus Island (in other words, it may be quarantine). City neighborhoods can also be seen as intervals, especially our port-towns and so-called blighted areas – gangs understand this very well when call themselves nations. Legends linger long here and countries reappear in the diminutive (Little Italy of Chicago, Little Syria of New York, El Paso in the Congo). They are doomed by capital’s modification of time in granite and the guns of Development, politely termed real estate, city planning and civil war. Yet the rentier class can never entirely wipe away the remnants of past nations in the sprawl. A remnant appears in a façade or in a puzzling sign even if the old inhabitants are unremembered, even if the streets have lost color out of space. Cinico’s Glasgow is such a place, which gets him thinking about time, locale and peoples. Can a nation be migratory? Is it only the reactionary pedagogue who says each man carries his country within him? To ask what a nation is, ask who’s asking. All this is mulled over in Cinico with dead-on timing and real depth, with humor and Nietzschean good cheer.

There is some very healthy melancholy in this Yes-man Cinico/Cameron. He remains a bit helpless, like the best wanderers. And he’s not entirely to be trusted, as his wife (part Magnani and part strega) proves at the end in a spurious letters appendix. My research has also uncovered the fact that the deed drunkard Allan Cameron, whose name appears on the cover and who apparently rendered de Oblivii into English, is still very much alive. The publisher gives us a final letter from Cinico, who is now supposedly in Greece and living with an aging Anarcho-Syndicalist collective. Beware, Mussolini started there too – but Cinico retains his socialism and minds his Gramsci. A second volume is threatened by these charming liars: Austerity under the Acropolis, maybe? No referendum for the Mediterraneans, though. Cinico will have to play Orpheus to the ghosts of Metaxas and millions of vanished pensions.

Nature as Nurture: Ancient Lessons in Sacred Sustenance

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.
— Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, Counterpoint Press, 2002.

We are a well-fed species.  In general.  I won’t gloss over the fact that there are too many of us who are undernourished, even starving, but overall we feed ourselves—particularly in the industrialized countries–quite lavishly.  So much so that a worldwide increase in excess weight and obesity are creating epidemics of associated disease, straining healthcare systems and shortening life spans for the first time in many generations.

There are numerous factors fueling this increase in our consumption, our size.  We know that many of the industries involved in food production have cynically and deliberately lied to and manipulated us in order to boost profits, to avoid the natural consequence of marketing poison, and to turn investigative spotlights in other directions.  Processed foods have become a seeming necessity for many, as the demands of everyday life cut into time that might have been spent purchasing and cooking from scratch.  Then there is the ubiquitous array of technological devices which have nudged many of us into more sedentary lifestyles. Adults tend to work less on their feet, and children are seen playing more often bent over with cramped fingers than they are with joyous and out-flung bodies.  The mindboggling variety and ready availability of food in 1st world countries, coupled with massive marketing campaigns, lead many to seek to meet all sorts of needs through food:  pleasure, comfort, company, entertainment, sedation, fortitude or happiness.  Food was never intended to make us happy nor to fill our hearts.  In vain we eat to find something we lost long ago.

I raise this issue neither to criticize nor condemn, but rather to acknowledge the emptiness and longing it speaks to with such urgency. We feel a deep and persistent hunger, many of us, but the food we lack is needed for our hearts and souls, not our bodies.

It has become fairly common in certain circles to look to the advent of agriculture, the Neolithic Revolution, as the point where homo sapiens lost our way, the moment in history when we took the road which inevitably led to this current moment, to runaway global warming, overpopulation and the likely imminent demise of our species. There is considerable merit in this postulate, and I want to examine the shift from foraging to agriculture through the lens of our apparently ever-expanding hunger.

Humans gained a great deal when we settled in communities organized around cultivating the food needed for survival. Important benefits accrued, like the security provided by crop surpluses against times of famine, and the development of creature comforts only achievable when stationed in a fixed location for extended periods.  There were, as there always are, unintended consequences of this seismic change in how we lived, not all of them welcome.  In addition to the glories of civilization — art, music, philosophy, written language, creative governance — which were cultivated alongside early grains, we found ourselves dealing as well with new diseases, tooth decay, the potential for unheard-of wealth creation and concomitant societal stratification, labor specialization and more highly defined gender roles, narrowing of nutritional variety, deadly famines in times of crop failure, and wars over resources unlike any that had occurred prior to the Neolithic.   Just the tip of the agricultural iceberg, but it hints at how powerful a move this one was. In other words, this is not a simple subject, and I will forego any attempt to canvas comprehensively the ways in which the Neolithic Revolution altered the trajectory of all life on this planet.

What specifically prompts me to look so far back in time is the catastrophic situation we face today. The Great Acceleration is underway and we see it everywhere: the Northern Sea Route was navigated without an icebreaker for the first time last month, the human population passed the 7.5 billion mark this year, extreme weather events are devastating lives around the globe, juvenile posturing in deadly nuclear playgrounds is holding hostage any residual hope for any kind of future.

There is a ‘new normal’ in relation to these realities which I have noticed of late. References to the end of the world, or the extinction of homo sapiens, have become threaded more frequently into the cloth of general discourse. What was heretically unsayable a few short years ago finds its way into the MSM, casual conversations with friends, and serious considerations of life choices.  For some there is an urgency to do something to halt or ameliorate this exponentially growing threat, but I often hear a kind of theoretical acceptance and resignation from many with whom I speak.

While it might be true that there is nothing we can do to change the course of events we have been so instrumental in setting in motion, it is never the case that we are helpless. The choice about how we live, as unique and potentially extraordinary beings, for as long and under whatever conditions may be granted us remains, regardless.  Who do you want to be, how do you wish to use your life force, your intelligence, your innate ability to love?  It is likely that as the next few years unfold, our concrete and quotidian options will diminish.  Look to the residents of Mumbai or Houston for a preview.

All the more reason, I say, to learn now, while there is still some time, how to be fully human.  It is, after all, the only shot we may have at it, so why not do our best to get it right as individuals, even if the final conclusion may be that we got it wrong as a species?

Which brings me back to our far-distant ancestors, those who lived before humans moved into domination of nature, those who were forced to live in balance with all of life in order to survive.  What did they understand that might help us to live with greater fulfillment, even at this far reach?

Probably a lot, but I want to focus on the relationship they had with their sources of sustenance.  I want to recollect what pre-Neolithic people knew about that relationship to see if there is wisdom for us, inspiration or guidance to serve us in these times.  Indigenous peoples all over the planet maintain some of their traditional foodways from that long ago time, and certainly nurture carefully the truths underlying them, so we can start there.

Foremost amongst those truths is the fact that all of life is connected.  This is said so often that is sounds trite, but how, really, do we actualize it?  Mostly, we don’t. We live as masters on this planet: raping, pillaging, taking what we want without permission, destroying that which doesn’t immediately appear to benefit us, tossing that which we have used up into the oceans where dwell some of the most singular and beautiful creatures we will ever know.  How could we possibly allow DAPL to be built or Gaza to be bombed back to the Middle Ages or plastic water bottles to be sold in national parks if we were living with even a superficial understanding of our interconnectedness?

Chances are, neither you nor I are going to stop ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo–or the interests that control them both, though there may be some space for altering the outcomes of particular projects.  We can, however, choose—in each moment and every day–how we live as individuals, how we actualize what we know to be true about life and our place in it.

Hunter-gatherers lived (and in a few isolated cases, continue to live) as part of a magnificent web.  A web requires parity and balance in order to maintain its integrity and strength. The food our ancestors needed to survive was obtained as part of an exchange. It was not something taken without reciprocation. On a very physical level, humans were prey as well as predator. The old, the young, the ill fell and fed other beings, giving their lives to prolong and empower others.  Human bodies returned to the earth to make it rich and fertile.

But more importantly, pre-agricultural humans understood that they were truly not alone, isolated, or separate from the rest of earth’s dwellers. They saw the vibrant and unique spirits possessed by plants. They knew that animals who gave their lives that they might eat deserved deepest gratitude. Respect for the multifaceted manifestations of consciousness kept humans in sacred balance with the rest of earth’s beings, giving just as they received, and reaping the profoundly satisfying rewards of interdependence.

Today, as a gnawing and insatiable hunger drives so many of us to eat more than our bodies need, we might find a means to greater fulfillment in nature.  In what still remains of it, awesome even in its most modest expressions, there is sustenance and satisfaction to be found in great measure.

Most of us know that a walk in the forest is renewing, that time spent near waves can alter a mood, and that interacting with pets improves physical well-being. All good, but we can choose to be more intentional; it is what this very singular time invites us to do.

Birch trees, goldenrod, redwing blackbirds, lizards, skunks, coyotes, ants and luna moths: they are no different to us in that they thrive when their contributions are seen and respected.  They do not exist merely as embellishments or challenges to our lives, but rather as beings having their own passage through this world.  There are tenets of exchange which govern that passage, ones we have forgotten to our great cost: call and response, give and receive, take and then reciprocate. If it is to hold, the web must be tended.

As I try to find ways to live right–dharmically–I am drawn to a more generous and mutual relationship with non-human forms of consciousness.  The fact that my existence is hopelessly urban may appear to be an obstacle to actually moving in that direction, but it is not insurmountable.  We know that everything is changing, and yet for most of us, business continues pretty much as usual.  So, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to buy peaches and heirloom tomatoes from the farmers who grow them.

But I will also take the time to cultivate connections with the trees, the birds, the waters, the stones.  Not because I ought, but because those relationships, which answered a deep appetite in earlier humans, literally fill me with joy and wonder and a sense of belonging that no amount or kind of food ever will.  If we look to the wisdom passed down to indigenous people today, ancient hunter-gatherers fed not solely on berries and roots and fish and fowl, but also upon the energetic of the exchange that ignites whenever mutuality and interdependence are experienced.

We are clearly not managing to eat ourselves to happiness, security or even satiety.  Always more and more, bigger and faster and better.  And still, the hunger persists, sending us off to seek something, anything to stop it, to fill the void.  Perhaps it is time to shift our focus from what we want and need, to what it is that we can offer in exchange for all that we receive.  To how we might try to affect that sacred balance which so sustained our forebears.

There are many ways to do this and perhaps you already have your own means.  If not, you can make small steps in this direction: feed the birds or water a tree, but take care to do it with full consciousness of your connection and your debt.  Offer some sustenance, not from the magnanimity of human dominance, but from the humility of shared destiny.   Or if you want to go a bit further, commune with a plant or a body of water or another form of consciousness. Just sit (or stand, or walk) and spend a few moments feeling all the way into the essence of another, non-human, being.  Allow yourself to be fully present with that other, experience the mutual thrill of connectedness that is always there, but which we so often overlook in our hubris and haste.

And then notice how your offering of time, energy and attention leaves you feeling.  Without fail, I feel more human when I do this: whole, relaxed, joyful and empowered. In some small way, I earn my place in the greater scheme of things by giving back, by making the effort to truly see and honor my companions on this journey of life.  All sense of separation dissolves, and the happiness that flows from knowing I am one with all else here on this amazing earth—even for short moments– totally sates any lingering cravings.  And unexpectedly, feeling more human, more full, allows me to continue to hold awareness of and respect for the non-human life that pulses everywhere around me.  I live as part of the web, and it is good.

As our world continues to turn, there will inevitably be increasing grief and loss, but I see that as all the more reason to hold ourselves upright, and in delight when possible, so long as we are here.  Few of us can (or would) voluntarily choose the nomadic life of a hunter-gatherer, but if we look back, before ‘the fall’ represented by the Neolithic Revolution, we may rediscover lost wisdom and ways to flourish, remember how to hold love in adversity and maintain balance in the face of an utterly upending era.

Fire and Rain

Run to the trees
Trees will be burning
Run to the sea
Sea will boiling
All on that day

So, summer, the frivolous season of our supposed repose, now brings dread, east and west, north and south. As summer peaks in the west, everything dries and dies, and as the suffocating heat grows inland and the dry grass whispers we start watching the skies fearfully for lightning, and we wait for the news that actually it wasn’t lightning; it was a tossed cigarette, a forgotten campfire, some guys shooting rifles, a firebug with a can of gasoline. And then the sight of the firestorm on the jagged horizon, moving faster than anything that doesn’t fly, the flames joining together in an impossible roaring up-rush that feeds on itself, that grows like a living thing, and the trees light up like great torches, the pain of whose immolation we cannot feel because thanks to the scientific worldview we know trees have no brains and no nerve endings and thus don’t feel pain anyway. They are just matter, burning.

Of course, coming from a species that has set alight its own members, with their highly developed nervous systems, when it seemed politically necessary, this suggests that even if we did think individual trees felt pain we wouldn’t necessarily care if we needed other things more than large numbers of trees, which we clearly do, because we, collectively, are watching them go up in flames on a grander scale every year without making much of a peep about it, and the trashed trophy homes and cars scattered back in there are all we can really mourn for, the only things that have a compelling reality for us. Forests grow back, right?

Except when they don’t, because some invisible calculus has determined that the underlying conditions which made their existence possible are gone. We may not be there yet for what’s left of the great boreal forests, but we won’t actually know when the threshold is crossed – invisible means just that. Chaos theory means just that. Biologists have identified a phenomenon in complex living systems called “critical slowing down” whereby those systems become gradually less resilient in the face of repeated onslaught until some non-trivial boundary is crossed and they collapse. Where is the line, exactly? Well, the scientists tell us with marvelous equanimity, that’s precisely the puzzle. Hard to say…

We of the bourgeoisie rise momentarily from our stupor when fascists begin to stir in the shallows of our societal swamp, ironically more like some monstrous presence out of an H.P. Lovecraft story than the miscegenated, racist fever-dream monsters Lovecraft actually gave us. We’ll even take the kids out for an afternoon to send those fascists back “where they came from,” which is the same place we come from, so good luck with that. But when the distant forests burn in their hundreds of millions of acres over the longer, hotter, drier summers, we barely so much as sigh – what good would marching in the streets do?

Whether we can see it or not, the inanimate (to us) forests have been set alight by the lineaments of our gratified desire: cars, roads, houses, electronic devices, cosmetic surgery, food from everywhere. Thanks, capital! Thanks, science! No more hands and backs into the hard labor of pulling sustenance from the soil or forging steel or tending gigantic machines – our livelihoods are gained now by our dancing fingertips alone! Who will be the first bourgeois to blow up that bargain? Who will be the first of the expendable classes not to seek it? And at least we are compensated by the quality of the sunsets – what beauty there is in annihilation really! It’s as if we told ourselves, well, all those tiki torches sure did make for a pretty procession!

Those who can’t turn their attention to other distant horrors or daily cares will then have to listen to the insane barking of politicians who blame tree-loving enviros for preventing responsible forest-destruction that would, according to those wise men of capital, make these fires of growing intensity, scale and frequency somewhat less damaging. Never mind the climatic elephant in the ideological room, that’s a non-starter with men whose fanatical devotion to the profit system can be diminished by no preponderance of evidence. Why bother to argue, even shoving the elephant aside for a second, that massive thinning and brush clearing further dries out the forests and impoverishes their soils, making them even more susceptible to catastrophic burning, or that “responsible logging” is an oxymoron when you throw in economies of scale? Why argue that the vast, safe, checkerboard tree plantations of the coastal Northwest are no more forests anyway than Nebraska’s wheat fields are prairies? Not even apples and oranges, it’s apples and ball bearings. There is no basis for a discussion because there is no shared conceptual framework. That living systems have any right to exist apart from our usage of them is inconceivable within capitalist (or the socialist, frankly) doxa.

I am reminded of the late, great Douglas Adams’ little parable about the first humans: how they decided they needed a currency in order to build civilization and chose to make leaves their currency because of how easy they were to collect and exchange and then in turn saw that the unending regeneration and proliferation of leaves made the currency almost worthless, and so set out to burn down the trees en masse to increase the value of the leaf…

Here in San Francisco under an unprecedented heatwave tamped down inside a pall of smoke from massive fires to the north and south, on Labor Day, what did we do? Go to the park and incinerate chunks of already burned trees to cook our meat with friends and loved ones. Can you hear those heads on Easter Island speaking to you yet?

I am also reminded of a poem I read in junior high school that sent shivers of timelessness down my spine, Robert W. Service’s “The Pines:”

We surge in a host from the sullen coast, and we sing in the ocean blast;
From empire of sea to empire of snow, we grip our empire fast…
To us was the Northland given, ours to stronghold and defend;
Ours till the world be riven in the crash of the utter end.

Not so a century on, all bets on eternity are off; those timeless legions could fall before the firestorm and the insect hordes in less than an eyeblink of geological time. They could be gone before we are…

Meanwhile in the east and south as summer culminates they are watching the shore, the gray line of hissing waves, the blank horizon. Somewhere beyond it, still invisible, that shape you can only understand from above, in the abstract realm of the weather map, a hundred-mile-wide cloud vortex rotating and growing like, yes, like a living thing as it speeds across the ocean, its course as unpredictable as child’s spinning herself faster and faster through a room, until – presto, change-o! – there it is on your town’s doorstep, everything turned in moments to whirling water, no more up or down, just the unified roaring of wind, surging waves, downpour, all one single moving mass the force of which turns houses to matchsticks, walls to rubble.

And then the rain. More water than you thought possible coming out of just one piece of sky, but not a biblical deluge by a long chalk, because after all they are still roasting in the bone-dry heat a few hundred miles to the west, so how can this be happening over your head? Fifty inches of rain burying your elevated off-ramps in water, not just the dirt tracks of all those impoverished millions Somewhere Else, whose similar and simultaneous plight barely raises your news channel’s equivalent of an eyebrow, but your freeways, your marvels of engineering and sheer amount of concrete coverage, your center of can-do, charge ahead, build-baby-build culture. All this in a floodplain, on the shores of a rising sea. Where would the water go?

Last summer the fires incinerated a northern oil city, this summer the rains inundated a southern oil city, but we don’t dig the symbolism, you know; it’s tacky and retrograde to mention it. Keep your fable-filled mouth shut and keep on admiring the non-existent drapery on that guy wearing the crown, much easier.

Yes, we humans may lurch onward through alternately drenched and smoke-filled landscapes, billions of the poor in constant forced migration from war or famine or genocide, the bourgeoisie melding themselves with machines, killing off any remnants of the mythological in their mechanized psyches because in that was contained what they would otherwise have to understand as self-fulfilling prophecy: the lost Golden Age, the lost Eden. Which we were once taught was a poetic reference to a mythical past, but was actually our civilization’s symbolic road map to its own future. Will their pseudo-intelligent implanted daemons save those future elites from realizing what some long-since exterminated peoples had conceived ages before: that what we experience as time is neither a one-dimensional line in a four-dimensional block, nor a closed loop of eternal return, but more like an infinite manifold of zero dimensions in which all times equally exist? And thus began their mythic stories with: “Once upon a time, in the future…”

Black People Ask: Can You Hear Us Now?

Normally, I do not chide political opponents with the derisive, “I told you so” charge –  even when they suffer harm after repeated warnings of predictable danger ahead.  Normally, that isBut in the following three cases…sorry, I simply cannot resist.   Schadenfreude, anyone?

The Nurse and the Cop

The viral video of a white, middle-class University of Utah Hospital Head Nurse, one Alex Wubbels, being manhandled and thrown into the back of a police car because she refused to comply with a Salt Lake City Utah cop’s unlawful order is only the latest confirmation of black peoples’ centuries-long complaints of police brutality.  This incident demonstrates that police misconduct is now an equal opportunity phenomenon; that police abuse applies to anyone who dares cross America’s Finest for even the slightest of reasons.  Legality be damned.  Civil or human rights be damned:  The lesson here is that when a police officer orders you to do something – anything and for any or no reason – do it or the full force of the state will instantly fall upon your head like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Nurse Wubbels was ordered by Detective Jeff Payne to draw blood from an unconscious victim of an automobile accident.  The unresponsive condition of the patient is the linchpin of this story because both hospital and police policy (as well as the US Constitution) forbade the taking of blood from such people.  That policy allowed the drawing of blood, if and only if, the patient was under arrest, a signed-by-a-judge warrant (electronic or paper) had been issued, or that the patient him- or herself had given explicit consent for the procedure.

As Nurse Wubbels calmly, politely but determinedly, and most importantly, respectfully, explained to our intrepid Officer Payne, none of these conditions were obtained in the instant case.  Therefore, she told him, she could not and would not comply with his demand (order).  Following the orders of his boss, the Chief of Police,  Detective Payne refused to take Nurse Wubbels’ “no” for an answer, and promptly, violently, grabbed her, forced her arms behind her back, handcuffed her, and quite literally dragged her, kicking and screaming, to his patrol car.

Interestingly, as the video shows, two other police officers were on the scene but did little to intervene, beyond barely uttering weak words of concern:  “Payne…..Payne,” they implored.  This puts to the lie the defense of bad police behavior as the result of infection in their departments by only “a few bad apples.” Black people, the usual and default victims of police misconduct, are asking, therefore, that if the so-called good-apple cops don’t or won’t stop the bad-apple cops from their perfidy, then is it safe to assume that the whole  orchard is rotten to the core?

“We Only Kill Black People”

The Nurse Wubbels-cop imbroglio followed hard on the heels of the release of a now viral year-old dashcam video of yet another uniformed protector and server of the public, this time in Cobb County (Atlanta), Georgia, who quite openly, calmly, explained to the passenger of a car he had pulled over for a minor traffic violation that she had had nothing to fear from him because, well, police only kill black people.

There is some question as to whether the officer was merely making a bad joke, or perhaps he was making a crude attempt at sarcasm…or was he deadly serious in admitting out loud something that black people have not just suspected but have endured for untold generations?

Specifically, this particular white woman refused this particular cop’s suggestion (order? demand?) that she remove her cellphone from her lap.  She told him that in light of a then two-day old video of a Minnesota cop’s  cold-blooded murder of a clearly innocent motorist, she was not only reluctant but afraid to reach for anything with her hands in his presence.  Again, not to worry, the cop assured her:  “We only kill black people,” he repeated.  And, to make certain she understood what he was telling her, he added, “You’re not black.”  He was letting her know that her recognized whiteness,  her privilege as a universally and identifiable “white” person, immunized, shielded and fully protected her from his otherwise usual, unrestrained and state-sanctioned violent proclivities.

After being threatened with termination, Lt. Abbott,  a 28-year veteran of the force, has been allowed to retire – with full benefits, of course.

On its face, this case would appear to contradict the proposition that all citizens – people – are at risk of unwarranted police violence.  Lt. Abbott specifically, publicly, made a white privilege exception here.  But, as with everything else, it is the exception that proves the rule.  The exception is the reason for the rule in the first place.  That is, there would be no reason for the rule, the principle, the modus operandi, without setting up and recognizing the occasional exception (whiteness) to the rule (social control, even destruction of black people).

There is Real Danger in Asking Cops for Help

Finally, there is the matter of the pajama-clad, white, female, Australian ex-pat in Minnesota (again) who called police because she thought she heard an in-progress sexual assault outside her home.  The cops showed up quickly enough all right, and promptly shot her in the abdomen, killing her instantly as she approached their patrol car to explain the situation.  The killer-cop in this case was a relatively new officer of African descent (Somali), who has since employed the “fear for my life” defense to support, explain and, ultimately, excuse his deadly action.

The outrage at this “senseless” killing among white Minnesotans was immediate and universal.  Black people, there and nationwide, (again) see it slightly differently, though:  This police killing is simply an extension of police brutality to all citizens and, in this case, non-citizens – regardless of “race.”  It proves that the “race,” ethnicity and color of any particular killer-cop is only incidental to police officers true color – blue.

Whatever Happened to Officer Friendly?

I grew up in a small (36,000) midwestern town at the tip of Lake Michigan in Indiana (fifty miles east of Chicago) – Michigan City, Indiana.  MC was never officially racially segregated.  But its 2,000 black families were de facto relegated to two small areas on the city’s north and east sides.

Directly across the street from my family’s home lived MC’s only black policeman, Officer Clarence Kemp (now deceased).  Officer Kemp’s son, Clarence Kemp, Jr.,  and I were best buds throughout our formative years.  Officer Kemp and the entire (small) MC police department were always looked upon as our friends, even confidants.

My understanding now is that the MCPD has changed dramatically.  The police department, for example, has eagerly sought and embraced surplus war equipment from the feds, including everything from night vision goggles and automatic rifles to armored personnel carriers.  Why is this material needed to police my small hometown wherein everybody knows everybody else?

Because we all now live in a bona fide police state.

Ten Points on Korean History of Potential Current Relevance

(1) Historical factors have combined to produce a fiercely nationalistic population on both sides of the DMZ.

Multiple kingdoms existed on the Korean Peninsula from the first century. (So one might say Korea is five times as old as the United States.) From 936 to 1910, Korea constituted a single state, embracing the whole peninsula, populated by a relatively homogeneous people. The division of the last 82 years is anomalous. Koreans feel a deep sense of national historical victimization—especially by Japan and the U.S.—but have suffered many invasions in their long past.   The Jurchens (from 10th century), Mongols (1231), Japanese (1592-98), Manchus (1627), and Japanese again in the twentieth century, and then the Americans. Most Koreans of my acquaintance express themselves passionately about this legacy of abuse, and commitment to eventual reunification following the 1945 division they properly blame mostly on the U.S. You don’t want to provoke Koreans with schoolyard bully talk.

(2) Korean culture has derived much from Chinese culture for 2000 years, and China has influence. But China doesn’t control Korea.

While Korean culture is unique, it has (like Japanese and Vietnamese cultures) been deeply influenced by China and Confucianism in particular. For a thousand years, Korea was one of China’s tributaries, enjoying the right to trade in China in return for its kings’ formal acceptance of vassal status. Koreans have traditionally viewed China as a friend and protector. But not always. There have been periods of high tension, as during the Cultural Revolution when the Red Guards condemned Kim Il-song. China is unable to control North Korea or events on the whole peninsula.

(3) The relationship between Japan and Korea has been mostly bad for 800 years, and bad relations prevail now between Japan and both Koreas.

Relations between Korea and neighboring Japan have often been tense or hostile. From the 13th to 16th centuries, Japanese pirates raided the Korean coasts. An invasion of Korea by Japan between 1592 and 1598 killed around 200,000 and resulted in the enslavement of thousands. After the Russo-Japanese War, Japan colonized Korea, imposing an oppressive and humiliating regime that at one point obliged Koreans to adopt Japanese names. There have been times of mutual respect: during the Edo period (1603-1868) the only states with which Japan maintained diplomatic relations were Korea and the Ryukyu Kingdom (annexed by Japan in 1879). Korean envoys regularly visited Japan during a time of “national seclusion.” But much anti-Japanese sentiment lingers in Korea, on both sides of the DMZ, understandably.

(4) The partition of Korea into north and south is a product of the Cold War and U.S. policy.

In the final weeks of World War II, the U.S. and its wartime ally, the USSR, simultaneously occupied the Korean peninsula and accepted the Japanese surrender. The Russians arrived first, through Manchuria, advancing as far as the 38th parallel where they stopped by agreement with the U.S.  U.S. forces arrived soon thereafter and occupied the south. The division was meant to be temporary; Stalin wanted immediate independence for Korea. But the U.S., which initially ordered Japanese administrators to remain at their posts, and viewed Korea as occupied enemy territory, did not want to risk the prospect of a Korea united under communist rule. There was much leftist opposition to the occupation of the south; the U.S. suppressed the “People’s Republic of Korea” that had been pronounced in Seoul in the last days of the war and the popular committees wherever they had been established. In 1948 the U.S. unilaterally proclaimed the formation of the Republic of Korea, sealing the division of the peninsula; the DPRK was proclaimed in the north only afterwards. Soviet troops withdrew; U.S. troops stayed.

(5) The war caused by the partition and the expression of Korean anti-imperialist nationalism was horrible.

In 1950 the North invaded the South to achieve reunification under the North’s terms. It almost succeeded. There was widespread support for the northern troops; southern resistance quickly buckled and held out only around Pusan in the southeast. The U.S. organized a counterattack, using the Soviet ambassador’s absence from the UN Security Council (to protest the failure of the Council to confer China’s seat on the newly-established People’s Republic of China and leave it with the Republic of China on Taiwan) to push through a resolution authorizing war to repulse the invasion. The U.S. war objective was to reunify the country under U.S. hegemony; Gen. Douglas MacArthur was eager to use nuclear weapons to do this, although he was prevented from doing so by President Truman. China naturally aided its ally in Pyongyang, repulsing the U.S.-led forces’ advance and driving them down to the 38th parallel. The war that killed three million (and perhaps 30% of the northern population) ended in an armistice that has held since 1953. (Japan, Korea’s old foe, profited mightily from the war; indeed its economy returned to its 1938 level by 1953 due to U.S. “special procurements” in connection to the war.)

(6) The U.S. has abetted oppression in South Korea ever since.

After the war, the U.S. maintained, as it continues to maintain, military bases supporting tens of thousands of troops. It has deployed tactical military weapons on the peninsula. It supported a succession of dictators in Seoul to 1988. These included the notorious Park Chung-hee, father of the recently ousted president, assassinated by his intelligence chief.  Park had a political opponent kidnapped from a Tokyo hotel and planned to execute him before the U.S. intervened. The stagnant economy grew under his rule, but so did dissent and oppression. The Gwangju Uprising of 1980, when Park’s successor Chun Doo-hwan was in power, over 600 students were killed by government forces, including military troops redeployed with U.S. concurrence. The NBC coverage of the 1988 Seoul Olympics showed Koreans booing the American athletes at the opening ceremony. One should not suppose that in the event of a U.S. attack on the north they would favor the U.S. over their compatriots.

(7) North Korea has been able to endure great hardship and rebound. It has been growing in recent years.

The North Korean economy quickly rebounded after the war, and its GDP kept pace with that of the South to the 1980s, when stagnation followed by steep decline set in. But in the eighties, per capita energy consumption in the North exceeded that of the South. (Think of that when you see those satellite images of a south illuminated at night while the shape of North Korea appears a black hole.) The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the flooding and famines from 1994 to 1998 produced calamitous decline, and caused the DPRK to lag further and further behind the south. But there has been steady recent growth; 70% of Pyongyang’s residents have cell phones and there is a building boom. One should not assume that more sanctions will close the country down or stymie whatever nuclear plan is in place.

(8) South Korea as well as North Korea has sought nuclear weapons.

Park Chung-hee openly announced South Korea’s interest in nuclear weapons in 1975. In 2004 Seoul admitted to the IAEA details of a secret nuclear program. Its scientists had enriched uranium to near-weapons grade using laser enrichment and conducted an experiment extracting plutonium in the 1980s and continued doing so until at least 2004. One should not forget that many countries have had secret nuclear weapons programs, including many U.S. allies such as Brazil and the Shah’s Iran, and that their development, however terrible, is not necessarily a specific threat to the U.S.

(9) The North Korean nuclear weapons program could have been suspended from 1989 through a U.S.-DPRK agreement.

The North’s nuclear program dates back to the 1950s but Pyongyang signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985. U.S. intelligence by 1989 concluded that the DPRK was in the early stages of building a nuclear bomb. But following protracted negotiations the U.S. and DPRK signed the “Agreed Framework” in which North Korea agreed to freeze its plutonium production program in exchange for fuel oil, economic cooperation, and the construction of two modern light-water nuclear power plants. According to the pact, the existing nuclear facilities were to be dismantled, and spent reactor fuel taken out of the country. But this agreement was virtually sabotaged by Congress and the Bush/Cheney administration, causing Pyongyang to withdraw from the NPT in 2003 and resume work for purposes of self-defense.

(10) If you make war on Korea, you make war on China.

Chinese forces drove the Japanese invaders from Korea in the 1590s, and the Americans from the DPRK in the Korean War. A 1961 treaty between China and North Korea requires both sides to take all necessary actions to oppose any attack by a third party or coalition. It has been renewed to 2021. But CNN, MSNBC and Fox have already told you that.

Class and Denial in Grassroots America

Let’s get something straight…the Deep State (aka: the capitalist class) is global and multiracial. It’s not “white,” or even just American.

U.S. businesses cannot survive without Saudi oil; the Saudi elite cannot maintain their wealth, wars and authoritarian state without U.S. weapons and military assistance; the Israeli elite cannot keep up their Occupation and thriving arms exporting business without U.S. tax dollars; Japanese billionaires depend on the U.S. as a major trade and investment partner; Latin American right-wing authoritarian regimes need U.S. investors as much as those investors need an outlet for their billions; African business and political elite are begging for more U.S. trade and investment. And on and on.

The “diversity” among the global capitalist elite is vast, but there is one thing they all have in common: They need raw materials and a cheap work force to assure profits. That means they depend on war and exploitation for their very survival.

Capitalist elites may not all like one another or agree on every issue, but they know how to close ranks to protect their common interests when threatened. They don’t take their eyes off the prize, they think long-term, and they don’t get distracted by wedge issues. That’s how they’ve survived and thrived.

And the masses? There is one thing the masses in this global system have in common: They are all exploited either in war or business. Yet, unlike their rulers, they can’t seem to get beyond wedge issues. They rarely focus on the elite as a class – preferring instead to wallow in the cult of personality and obsess on the figurehead. They rarely think long-term, instead rushing hysterically from one election to the next, hoping for “change” without even defining what “change” means under capitalism. And they rarely move beyond wedge issues (which the ruling class seems to have a never-ending supply of). Whether it’s racism, sexism, transphobia, marriage equality, abortion, bathrooms or genders in the military, the masses always seem to be missing by a mile the class nature of their exploitation.

It’s not as though the elites’ divide-and-conquer tactics are new, but each generation forgets how the previous generation was duped and played.

In fact, not only do the masses ignore class exploitation, preferring instead to talk about the unique “oppression” of their own specific groups, but they have singled out the working class on which to project all the sins of capitalism. So, when Margaret Kimberley, for example, says that, in 2016 white Americans “put whiteness first” when they voted for Trump, she is ignoring the centuries of killings and beatings workers endured under their bosses; she is ignoring the decades of betrayal by the Democrats; and she is ignoring the fact that the working class, like the liberals who delusionally voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, voted for Trump with the hope that he would deliver jobs and stop the regime change wars.

How convenient to shift the blame for exploitation onto the victims. Too many liberals are ignorant of the economic and anti-war basis for much of Trump’s victory within the working class. It’s cheap, lazy and dirty to simply tar the entire working class with the “racism” word. It takes a lot more guts to actually analyze their plight.

The BBC’s Climate Denialism: Coverage Of Hurricane and the South Asian Floods

In J.G. Ballard’s classic novel, The Drowned World, people are struggling for survival on a post-apocalyptic, overheating planet. A ‘sudden instability in the Sun’ has unleashed increased solar radiation, melting the polar ice caps and causing global temperatures to rise by a few degrees each year. Once-temperate areas, such as Europe and North America, have become flooded tropical lands, ‘sweltering under continuous heat waves’. Life has become tolerable only within the former Arctic and Antarctic Circles.

The frailty of ‘civilisation’ and the attempts to cope with psychological changes in the human condition as a result of the catastrophe are laid bare. It is a frightening surreal vision of the human predicament by a master novelist. At one point, one of the characters is asked about his life before the apocalypse. He answers, ‘I’m afraid I remember nothing. The immediate past is of no interest to me.’

Hurricane Harvey has provided a genuinely terrifying glimpse of a global Ballardian dystopia that may actually be humanity’s fate. And yet, even now, corporate media are suppressing the truth.

On August 25, the category 4 Hurricane Harvey, with 130 mph winds, made landfall near Corpus Christi on the southern coast of Texas. Harvey’s progress then stalled over Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, dumping enormous ‘unprecedented’ quantities of water, creating ‘a 1-in-1,000-year flood event’. To date, 50 people have been killed, around one million residents have been displaced and 200,000 homes have been damaged in a ‘path of destruction’ stretching for over 300 miles. The Washington Post reported that:

the intensity and scope of the disaster were so enormous that weather forecasters, first responders, the victims, everyone really, couldn’t believe their eyes.

The total financial cost of Harvey is yet to be determined. But, according to the governor of Texas, damages will likely be in the range of $150 billion to $180 billion, exceeding the $118 billion cost of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005. Around 80 per cent of Hurricane Harvey victims do not even have flood insurance; many had skipped buying insurance believing it to have been a ‘low-risk gamble’.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus surveyed the deaths and devastation caused by Harvey and said bluntly: ‘this is what climate change looks like’. He added:

The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America’s oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.

BBC News reported that Harvey had actually shut down almost a quarter of the US capacity for oil refining.

Other societal factors have played their part in worsening the crisis. Dr Andrew King, a climate extremes research fellow at the University of Melbourne, observes that Houston is the second-fastest growing city in the US, adding:

As the region’s population grows, more and more of southern Texas is being paved with impermeable surfaces. This means that when there is extreme rainfall the water takes longer to drain away, prolonging and intensifying the floods.

As Robert McSweeney and Simon Evans note in a piece for Carbon Brief:

The rising population also changes flood risk in some unexpected ways. Parts of Houston are subsiding rapidly as a result of people extracting too much groundwater’.

Moreover:

The US government was warned 20 years ago, in a National Wildlife Federation report, that its flood insurance programme was encouraging homes to be built, and rebuilt, in flood-prone areas of the country. […] Two decades on, the author of the report says a flood event like Hurricane Harvey “was inevitable”.

Meanwhile, halfway around the planet in South Asia, an even greater climate-related catastrophe was taking place. Reuters observed that ‘the worst monsoon floods in a decade’ have killed over 1,400 people across India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Around 41 million people have been displaced. That number is simply staggering. And in areas with little infrastructure and financial resources, the consequences are almost unthinkable. The Times of India reported that rains had brought Mumbai, a city of 18 million people, ‘to its knees’.

E.A. Crunden wrote in a piece for ThinkProgress that the crisis:

is alarming aid officials, who say the issue is spiraling into an unprecedented disaster.

Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told the New York Times of his concern that the disaster in South Asia might not get the attention it needs:

We hope people won’t overlook the desperate needs of the people here because of the disasters closer [to] home.

Although coverage of the monsoon flooding in South Asia was not entirely absent in British media by any means, it was swamped by the coverage devoted to Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. We conducted a ProQuest newspaper database search on September 4 for the period since August 25 (the day Hurricane Harvey hit Texas). Our search yielded just 26 stories in the UK national press on the South Asian flooding, while there were 695 articles on Harvey. Thus, coverage from the US dominated South Asia by a factor of almost 30 to 1, even though the scale of deaths and flooding was far greater in the latter. There was some good coverage of both, notably in the Guardian. But the general trend was glaring. Somehow, people in South Asia just don’t matter as much as Americans; or Westerners in general.

Similarly, Ben Parker, a senior editor at IRIN, a non-profit group specialising in humanitarian news, consulted databases of online news stories and noted that ‘US media last week [August 24-31] mentioned Hurricane Harvey at least 100 times more than India’. As for the rest of the world, the gap was smaller: non-US media gave 3-4 times as much attention to Harvey as to the monsoons.

‘Grossly Irresponsible To Leave Climate Out Of The Picture’

An excellent Facebook post by climate scientist Michael Mann, republished by the Guardian, began with a simple question that was routinely missing from ‘mainstream’ coverage, especially on BBC News:

What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane Harvey?

Mann noted that the rise in sea level and moisture in the atmosphere, both the result of global warming, had created a ‘combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall [that] is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.’ Moreover, rising global temperatures had created a pool of deep warm water in the Gulf of Mexico that had helped to feed the power of Hurricane Harvey. Other potential factors of human-induced climate change involve changes in atmospheric pressure systems that stalled the progress of Harvey and kept it ‘locked in place’ over Houston to devastating effect.

Mann concluded:

While we cannot say climate change “caused” Hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say that it exacerbated several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life. Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

James Hansen, the former senior NASA climate scientist who first warned the public of the dangers of global warming back in 1988, told Democracy Now! that ‘there is a clear link between climate change and stronger hurricanes’. He warned:

You know, we have not yet felt the full impact of the gases that are already in the atmosphere, just because of the delays in the system. It takes decades for the ocean to warm up and for ice sheets to melt. So there’s consequences for young people that are already built into the system.

However, these consequences are routinely ignored. Closely monitoring British newspaper coverage of Harvey, Carbon Brief observed:

The UK print media has been relatively silent on the relation between climate change and Hurricane Harvey.

David Roberts noted in a piece for Vox that ‘it’s grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the picture’. That, however, is overwhelmingly what the BBC did in its coverage. With our limited resources, there is simply no way for us to monitor the entirety of BBC News output across television, radio and the internet. But it is significant that when the flagship BBC News at Ten programme on BBC1 had extensive coverage of Harvey on three successive nights (August 28-30), there was not a single mention of global warming. This is simply appalling. Likewise, when BBC2’s Newsnight devoted fully 14 minutes on August 29, climate change was glaringly absent.

BBC television coverage seemed to be shaped almost entirely by a ratings-driven desire to provide dramatic footage: flooded residential neighbourhoods and highways, interviews with rescuers and those rescued, residents trying to go about their normal business, such as going to the supermarket, on kayaks. BBC North American correspondent James Cook was even filmed on a helicopter guiding a rescue boat towards two residents waiting to be picked up from the water.

BBC coverage was also devoted to Trump’s visit, how presidential it made him look, and how he had, so far, skillfully managed to avoid a ‘Hurricane Katrina’ moment of glib indifference that had fatally damaged the presidency of George W. Bush.

At one point on BBC News at Ten, for a few nanoseconds, it sounded like BBC North America editor Jon Sopel was going to mention the unmentionable when he uttered the words:

And the biggest question of them all…

Was he about to raise the issue of a possible connection with global warming? And, if so, what the world needed to do about it? No.

And the biggest question of them all: as Louisiana stands next in the path, has Tropical Storm Harvey done his worst, or is there more devastation to come?

Certainly, that was a significant question. But the biggest question of all was whether abrupt and dangerous climate change means there is far worse devastation to come for all of us? Again, to emphasise, night after night, BBC News simply avoided any mention of climate change.

To its credit, the BBC did publish an article on its website, ‘Hurricane Harvey: The link to climate change’; and it is possible they made reference to it somewhere in their television or radio coverage. But this hardly compensated for the seeming reluctance to utter the words ‘climate change’ in its extensive coverage over several days.

Killing Debate; Killing the Planet

It is not merely that this climate silence is an abhorrent dereliction of the BBC’s supposed responsibility to the public which pays for it. In not addressing climate change – indeed, not giving it the very prominent coverage it deserves – the BBC is obstructing the public debate that is vital to prevent climate catastrophe. In effect, the BBC is firmly on the side of the state and corporate forces that have been fighting a decades-long, heavily-funded campaign to prevent the radical measures needed to avoid climate chaos.

Given that the BBC isn’t even mentioning climate change in any meaningful sustained way, they are also avoiding any rational discussion of root causes and what needs to be done to tackle the terrifying threat of climate instability and societal breakdown. One day, historians may look back at archive footage of BBC News in 2017 and marvel at the inane, blind, ignorant reporting and commentary.

Could it be that BBC News editors took a decision not to ‘politicise’ Hurricane Harvey by discussing climate change? (The BBC did not respond when we challenged them about it on Twitter; see here and here). Naomi Klein hit that argument on the head with a cogent article in which she argued that:

Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices — from racial profiling to economic austerity — that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes.

Klein continued:

The records being broken year after year — whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat — are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began. Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context. It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).

Klein called for an ‘informed public debate about the policy implications of the crisis’ we have all just witnessed. Crucially, that needs to address the urgent need to switch to renewable energy: an issue ‘with jarring implications for the dominant industry in the region being hit hardest: oil and gas.’

The Guardian‘s George Monbiot noted that ‘most reports on Hurricane Harvey have made no mention of the human contribution to it.’ Like Klein, Monbiot rejected the argument that it is wrong to ‘politicise’ Harvey right now:

I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were an entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.

As usual, however, Monbiot kept quiet about his own paper’s role in pushing a consumerist, high-energy, aspirational lifestyle in conformity with the planet-devouring capitalism that, the Guardian‘s editors tell readers, only needs to be made a little bit kinder; a classic liberal delusion.

Imagine if, day after day, BBC News and other major corporate media featured stories about children dying in a hospital with unexplained breathing difficulties. There would be interviews with anguished parents and teachers, with the doctors and nurses who were desperately treating the children, with political leaders keen to be seen responding in a decisive and compassionate manner. Imagine that the cause of the childrens’ breathing difficulties was simply ignored in media reports: a leak from a nearby chemical factory releasing toxic gases into the air, with the prevailing winds dumping the gases in the vicinity of a local school. Would we not be justifiably appalled that news coverage was covering up the facts? And that the media was letting the factory owners and politicians off the hook?

To put everything in perspective, Earth is entering its sixth mass extinction event in geological history, posing a ‘frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization’, according to a new study co-authored by Professor Gerardo Ceballos at the University of Mexico. All five previous mass extinction events were natural. This is the first one caused by human activity, not least a dangerous increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases that may well cause runaway heating. The authors warn that:

The window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most. […] All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on bio diversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life including human life.

The truth is, on a national and global scale, corporate media are effectively covering up the root causes of this mass extinction event: rampant capitalism that mostly benefits a tiny elite of bankers, financiers, big business and the politicians that shape state policy on their behalf. Corporate media are an intrinsic component of these same state-corporate interests: they are the PR wing of a vast world-encircling system that is burning the planet. And it’s all sold with a smile as ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘open markets’, ‘aspiration’ and other ‘Western values’.

In his book, Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, Canadian philosopher John McMurtry noted that ‘the regime’ of state-corporate power:

depends throughout on keeping knowledge silenced and repressed. This is its Achilles’ heel. As soon as people see through it and flag it to the surrounding community, the collective trance on which it depends begins to lose its power.1

A principal function of the corporate media is to keep uncomfortable truths about elite power, not least its role in driving humanity towards climate chaos and mass extinctions, ‘silenced and repressed’. We must resist this with every fibre of our being.

  1. Pluto Press, London, 2002, p. 84; italics in original.

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