A reckoning is inevitable. It will come one of two ways. Soon, as an act of collective awakening, or too late.
It will involve a fundamental shift in our relationships, with each other and with the planet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupying my Attention

The OWS project gives every indication it’s here to stay. There could not be a more optimistic note, in this slice of an age with so many compound crises. The fact that it spawned in the U.S. and has spread internationally only raises its potential. It appears it was inspired in part by the “Arab Spring,” which has many difficult hurdles ahead. Surely OWS will hit its own snags. The revolution in thinking it triggers faces a staggering task, if it is ever to be implemented. Another optimistic note is the buy-in that came rather rapidly from the mid- to leftist media and many politicians across the spectrum. The various lists of demands being formulated within and around OWS are incredibly inspiring. Things I only fantasized about are clearly articulated, like a total global cancellation of all debt.

There are two questions that seem to be bubbling near the surface among the many issues and demands. To me they seem unavoidable, obvious and inevitable. They involve nothing less than connecting the last two dots. Let’s call them The Pathology of Greed (or “what’s the matter with those people?”) and Zero Sum (or “how did the wealth get distributed in the first place?”)

Never mind that “green” is already considered hackneyed and trite. There’s no better bite to reflect the Global Environmental Crisis. OWS has some green initiatives among its demands, but for me they need to be at the top of the list. And OWS has yet to clearly state the most fundamental, most damning and most predictive connection. There is a “Zero Sum” balance between: 1. the total accumulated wealth in the world, and 2. the total value extracted from and damage done to the planet and human rights. So anytime anyone is accused of wanting to “redistribute the wealth,” it begs the “distributed?” question above. Surely the market hype has some grain of truth. Efficiency, initiative, re-investment and the creative uses of capital created some of the wealth. And much of the wealth has been used creatively. But I argue that most of it - global wealth - is the product of cheap and stolen resources, inhumane labor conditions, the economic benefit of war, and the “externalization” of waste, from Plutonium to CO2. Somebody please do the math. If it’s possible to imagine all the debt in the world cancelled, there’s a dollar amount there that can be totaled. It’s equally possible to estimate the cost of reclaiming global environmental damage, and of building, from near scratch, a sustainable global economy. We know for example that 15% of the U.S. military budget for one year could build permanent fresh water infrastructure for the third of the world that needs it. (If the ongoing industrial waste of water, and global warming, don’t preclude it.)

The total accumulated wealth of the world, one large hunk of which represents global debt, is an equivalent of the dual sum: total eco-damage done, and the cost of reclamation / reparation.

And now finally maybe someone will ask that most taboo of questions, “What is the nature of the mental pathology that drives the 1% to skim the margin of sustainable life from the rest of the world?” It should be clear that there’s a completely distorted competition for egoistic superiority, an uncontrollable, unquestioned and unlimited lust to have a bigger stack of illusionistic power than those others guys, the Koch’s for example. It’s the current version of the Master Race. It’s somewhat murkier to try to understand greed as a mask for fear. Somewhere in us the need to hold and hoard resources is innate. It’s a survival impulse. It represents an accumulation of both real and symbolic power. A hedge against the future ... and fear.

Power and fear, I argue here and elsewhere, lie side by side at the base of the human unconscious. Fight or flee. The reptile brain - we all have one. The fight or balance between them is at the heart of every human conflict. And those conflicts get out of control when their true source impulses are denied. And boy are we experts at denial. When real power in any form - personal, physical, mechanical, monetary or weaponized - begins to take on that inflated unconscious NEED for symbolic power, all other values are open to distortion and corruption. When real fear in any form - of death, disease, pain, poverty or rejection - is amplified into artificial symbols of fear, then fear itself becomes a bogeyman mask that can sell any product or disguise any kind of propaganda. Think WMD.

So the situation we face, the one that OWS has so brilliantly and courageously confronted, involves nothing less than this ultimate paradox. A few powerful people - unwilling and unable to examine their own motivations, incapable of empathy, categorically unquestioning of their assumptions - define and delimit the destiny of the human experiment and the future of life on the planet. If we believe ultimately in democracy, the ability of an educated and informed public to choose a path to the common good, it is insane to allow this power structure - the pathologically corrupt over the rest of the world - to continue.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Lib / Cons brain difference

Posted by Agence France Presse at AlterNet, a study that shows another difference between brain structure in liberals and conservatives: liberals have greater brain size in the areas that deal with complexity, ambiguity, and tolerance for uncertainty (and change perhaps?). And that conservatives have larger brain regions for fear in general. My response, posted there:

I've been arguing this difference for years. One great study showed that Liberals had much greater understanding and usage of irony than conservatives and that this difference coincides with an ability to empathize (stronger in liberals). This dual coherence suggests an ability to move between "levels of thinking" (think Einstein's warning), mental flexibility and an aptitude for complexity. There's also a coherent tendency toward a sense of humor or lack of it (positive for liberals, negative for conservatives). BUT NOW, seeing this post comes from Agence FRANCE Presse, I have to revise or reject all my previous assumptions. The Frenchies simply CAN'T be right. I have no empathy for them. I see no irony in my comments. They do nothing to relieve my deep seated fear of difference, contradiction, self-questioning, change, or complexity. Merde!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Spade is a Spade is a Spade.

Executives at NPR are forced out of their jobs for telling the truth. Obama dodges responsibility to lead at every turn. The spineless, corrupt Democrats pass for a ‘centrist’ position, when they clearly represent the Republicans’ bitch. Voices of the progressive left are shouted down and out of the public conversation, while the neo-fascist shills at Fox continue to pass for sane. Truth tellers like Chris Hedges are crowded off the edge of the platform and “liberals” continue to back away from their core beliefs. Discouraging? Just slightly.

Let’s not mince words or dice the truth. The Tea Parties are dominated by uneducated, scared racists. The few who don’t fit that profile have simply (and justifiably) lost faith in the ability of government to function in their behalf, or for anyone other than the moneyed elite. Did one of those NPR execs make some reference to their “stupidity”? Oh dear. We are watching what will likely be seen as the final battle between human intelligence and human ignorance, willful ignorance, fear and denial. It’s the top of the 8th, and stupidity is up by ten.

There are peer-reviewed studies, documented and reproduced, that demonstrate significant patterns of difference between those who hold the conservative mindset and those who identify as liberal / progressive. Those on the left are better educated, less materialistic, less nationalistic, more in favor of human rights and humanistic values, and more open-minded, more flexible in their thinking, more creative and appreciative of culture. Sadly they are more inclined to play by the rules, even when their opponents are cheating at every opportunity. Conservatives are motivated, in general, across their experience, more by fear than confidence in the future or hope. They are more resistant to change AS change, regardless of the reasons for change. They are less willing to question their assumptions or prejudices. DUH. Liberals are conversely all too willing, continually, to question their assumptions, values, goals, strategies, clothing choices, religious beliefs and diet. To a fault. To THE fault that pushes human civilization and humanity toward the brink: the tipping point of global eco-disaster. Every statement here is already established fact, or provable tendency.

Chris Hedges, in a “book talk,” links the global financial fraud with the global eco-crisis. He sees that they are two sides of the same issue. He acknowledges that we can’t address one without addressing both. He points out that at the root of both problems - the environment at risk and the economy sucked dry - are the same corrupting influence of money on “democratic” politics, protected by corporate controlled information.

My words, not his: There is a zero-sum equation between the dollar value of total global ecological (and human rights) damage, and the total of accumulated, stolen, exploited and hoarded global wealth. Clues are emerging everywhere, to the only trend that can save us. The middle east rebellions demand punishment for political criminals and the return of the wealth the dictators stole from their own people. Progressives here continue to speak of the shameful refusal to tax the rich or to force corporations to obey tax law. No mention of the eco-damage as yet. One can only hope, that additional link will be established and that rebellions for basic rights will continue to spread.

My last letter to Obama

This is my last message to you, and my last comment on your behalf. I gave money and volunteered for your campaign. I cried with joy when you were elected. I am a life long Democrat and environmental activist. And right now you are my worst nightmare: someone who promised hope and change and has allied with the corrupt corporate state. Someone who is in a position to shift the direction of the global economy from inevitable eco-disaster to a sustainable model, yet who ignores that essential role. You will, as I feared, go down in history ONLY as the first black president and "better than Bush." You are abdicating the most important responsibility any president in history has seen. I'm back to where I was in '68: consider voting for the Conservative in the hope it will bring down the system, rather than continue to be fooled by fake progressives. I did not do that then, but I will in 2012. The apparent fact that you will win re-election is further evidence of the opportunity you are, with your inaction and cowardice, killing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Irrational Man redux

If I ever read "Irrational Man" (Wm. Barrett's study on Existentialism) the first time around, I've forgotten it. Either way I absorbed much more than I imagined, maybe from the reality that provoked it. He makes the point that EXSTNLSM was not a philosophic invention or some kind of French literary fad. It was a genuine, pervasive and widespread human reaction to the torquing of the whole of western civilization around the turn of the century (1890-1910). He even suggests that it was much less of a phenomenon in the East because eastern philosophies already had incorporated some of its principles.

It is both a product of the modern (or modernist) age and a mirror to it. It was a reaction to capitalist materialism and its hidden discontents. It was a deep questioning of the nature of religious experience and belief. And it was perhaps a scattershot reaction to science, both its nuclear power, and its new relativist core. It questioned rationality and its ability to describe or explain existential experience. (References to Bergson much appreciated.) And it was certainly more.

Written in the 50s, Barrett is aware of the difficulty importing any ideology from Europe, France in particular, into the U.S. And the great irony, not only of EXSTNLSM but of the U.S. dilemma in 2011, is that Europe seems to have understood and absorbed its meaning, at least in part. While the U.S. rejected it, more out of fear than anything else. It occurs to me this is a clue to when, and even how, America started to lose its bearings, maybe even its marbles.

In the film "The Battle of Algiers" the French general (leading the attempt to crush the Algerian uprising) comments to reporters about the blistering criticism coming from Jean Paul Sartre in the French press. "Why are all the intellectuals always on the other side?" he ponders, with a piercing and intelligent gaze and with no hint of the irony.

Most of all, to oversimplify, Barrett’s EXSTNLSM represents the willingness of any individual to ask him- or herself the most difficult questions that came ... to mostly everyone ... at the dawn of the 20th century. What is the core nature of existence? What are man and woman to do with their sense of alienation and isolation? What is the nature of meaning and, as the old forms fail us or go missing, must each of us construct our own? Are there rational limits to technology and state power? Doesn’t Art have a coherent cultural core? Or must we all figure each work out on our own? Can we no longer rely on society to tell us who we are? Must we reconstruct our identities from thin air?

Can’t resist quoting the man in this context. “How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown ... ?”

OK, OK. The point being American denial is at the core of our dilemma and it goes back to our rejection of those questions. It’s a signal of how far the conservative mindset has come to dominate the assumptions of our public discourse. Most specifically, once a set of beliefs are established (no matter from when or by whom) and once those beliefs seem to support policies that defend a chosen world view (imperialism, exceptionalism) we must never question them. Never question ourselves, our assumptions, our fears, our myopic obsessions and desires, our anger or our belligerent nationalism. Our power and position, technology and money, give us no option but to use them, to take what we want or destroy what we fear, whether rational or not, just or unjust. Without question.

Come on in Willful Ignorance, sit down. We’ll abide by the window and watch the children play, reflections of ourselves waiting for the deluge or the drought.

"Get in the game."?

Crazy egocentric fantasies that my predictions will come true. We might imagine that Obama's speech to the Chamber of Commerce, asking them to "get in the game," just might be prescient. I'm predicting that this "radical insight" will occur to a significant global minority and trigger a new global environmental movement, couched in a global, peaceful rebellion demanding TGR, Total Global Reparation. When it sinks in that the damage to the biosphere is directly mirrored, or accounted for, in the held total of global wealth, it will become merely obvious that it's time for mandatory global reinvestment in a new green / sustainable economy, bottom up and top down. By regulation, by taxation, by a moral awakening among the super-rich, by pulpit bullying or whatever. So 2011's ("come on boys") "get in the game" will evolve into "OK you myopic greedy pigs it's time to payback what you stole, exploited, slave-labored, skimmed, gutted, took as subsidies and bailouts, exported and externalized." by investing it in a global economy with a new set of organizing principles. It will become blatantly obvious that so much value has been extracted from the labor force and the planet's resources, and so much toxic waste has been dumped, that the profits from those misdeeds cannot be held as cash reserves, or yachts, or mansions, or furs, or yet more resources bought up as a hedge. Those gigantic profits, resulting in the widest, most obscene gap between rich and poor, and in the disgusting gap between the high rise and the slum, must be reinvested. And when that becomes obvious, the means to get there, i.e. to get the money back, will be trivial, also obvious, wrenching but fair, and will be the path away from global eco disaster.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weather becomes Climate

One clear difference between the conservative mindset and the liberal attitude: Conservatives are chronically unwilling or unable to question their ossified premises and beliefs. Liberals continually questions themselves, their beliefs and their objectives. Another, a consequence of the first: Conservatives are so adamant in the "rightness" of their beliefs that they justify any means to achieve their ends. Liberals play by the rules, so not to sink to that level of (unconscious?) hypocrisy.

Scientists who have been warning us about climate change since 1958 (that's right) have been all too quick to point out that weather anomalies are in no way evidence of the possibility or the actual emergence of a climatic trend. Even a decade of unusual temperature averages cannot predict global warming or the speed of its approach.

But at some moment, this decade or the next, the evidence will "tip." There will be enough level 5 hurricanes and cyclones, enough floods and droughts, enough cities paralyzed by snow, that the truth, long denied or postponed, will become accepted fact. We passed a half-million year maximum for carbon in the atmosphere in 1900 and the max sustainable in 1950.

In the year we decide we have to radically cut carbon, ten years worth of carbon will still be headed for the upper atmosphere. And it will be way too late for even the most extreme limits to have an effect.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I debate World Trends Research

A good friend posted a link to an essay by Van Wishard, host of the site World Trends Research, on “understanding our moment in history.” I gravitate to anyone’s attempt to present a ‘big picture’ analysis of this unprecedented time and our understanding or lack of it. And Mr. Wishard certainly strikes some major chords, addresses some powerful issues insightfully, and point us to some very wise interpretations, if not solutions. It’s a somewhat long piece, but it’s worth your time. I hope it’s equally worth it to read my areas of agreement and my rebuttal.

What boggles me about so many of such analyses, even the ones that ally with my political, social, spiritual or economic rants, is their inability to recognize or break through the massive environmental blind spot that, I argue, is the REAL threat to civilization.

So I’ll try to be brief. I’ll highlight the many very smart observations and hope you’ll read them in their entirety. I’ll point out what I see as gaps, and try to fill some of them in.

Yes, we are at the crossroads between two ages. Who do we (Mr. Wishard and I) mean by “we”? The whole of the human race and the myriad variations of civilizations and cultures we’ve built, but we in the U.S. and the industrialized West in particular, because it is WE who have turned us all toward this crossroads and stepped on the gas. He defines this threshold in terms of a set of technological, social and spiritual shifts. And he seems to suggest, rather subtly, that the solution, or the proper navigation will depend upon a new “globalized” kind of understanding, a widespread change in “world view,” including a readjustment toward spiritual values. I couldn’t agree more.

He cites three aspects of this changing trend: 1. a shift in our view of the earth, and / or of human civilization as having a unified identity and destiny; 2. technology as the driving force behind “globalization” and as the fundamental factor creating this new age; 3. it is not a war between civilizations, but a struggle within an emerging global civilization. While he thinks the view of the earth from the moon changed fundamentally our view of our lives on this planet, I have my doubts; we certainly have not changed our behavior as a result of a more ‘global’ view. Technology, clearly, YES, is the driving force in the shift from the age we are leaving to the one we are entering.

He cites brilliant minds historic and contemporary who have predicted and defined, and tried to warn and redirect us; minds who saw some of the emerging patterns well before the rest of us. It’s worth it to notice his experts and their observations. He raises issues about whether human technologies are part of “natural evolution,” and suggests, as I would, that they redefine “nature” and skew all the arguments we would otherwise make about nature or technology. To our peril, to the degree we misunderstand. He challenges us to imagine that unfettered technological advancements may obfuscate, some would say obviate, a clear moral order in individual cultures and in the civilization at large.

It’s great to see comments that directly parallel some of the experts I cite. He says, ”In other words, we may be fooling around with phenomena that are, in fact, beyond human awareness; possibly even beyond the ability of humans to grasp.” The International Futures Foundation, which I quote several other places, says, “We (the same “we”) are in a Conceptual Emergency. The world we have constructed expands and accelerates beyond our ability to understand or control it.”

And he makes some wonderful references to the “eternal mystery” and the “sense of wonder” it induces. While I lament our loss of a sense of wonder, so deeply have we come to take the many mysteries for granted.

And he also makes the courageous leap to say that the roots of the problem, the nature of the change of age, and the understanding of it, all lie, in whole or in part, in the unconscious mind, and/or the collective unconscious. Though I disagree with his characterization of the unconscious and the nature of its influence.

But, to my dismay, in a 6000 word essay that covers the issues described here and more, there are only two sentences that refer, rather obliquely at that, to the environment, the global environmental crisis, its expansion, severity and acceleration, and its rapidly increasing risk, not only to human civilization, but to the lives of hundreds of millions, if not billions of our fellow inhabitants.

Every argument he cites, every analysis he offers, every piece of history, every note of technological hubris: they all go by without a mention of the historic impact of the industrial revolution, setting up global warming. With only a side note to Bill Joy, he decries the possibility of more destructive new technologies, without enumerating the unintended consequences of the technologies we have let loose in our myopic drive toward materialist excess. He does come down on materialist values and he does point to some kind of a spiritual re-understanding of our situation, as parts of a proper preparation for these millennial changes we face.

My argument is that YES we are at a threshold between Ages, and YES the age we are leaving is represented on the ground by industrialization, technology and myopic materialism. I’d add, with emphasis, we are also in the middle of the Information Age (“Ages” can and do overlap and intersect) without having much of a clue how information and the lack of it perpetuate the problems by leaving us uniformed.

The nature of a Blind Spot, whether optical, vehicular, mental or cultural, is that it does not merely hide information, it conceals the fact that information is missing.

But the age we are entering is yet to be defined and it will be defined by many more factors than economic and cultural “globalization.” And it will not be defined so much by the dangers of new micro technologies. Nor will the environmental catastrophe be ameliorated or reversed by “geo engineering” (my argument only, not his). We are either entering into the Age of Ecology or we are entering a new Dark Age that will likely last, like the last one, for a millennium.

If we assume that this radical shift in global “world view” will be only about technology, or spirituality, or about reasserting some collection of social values, we’ll be navigating that new age without a compass, fresh water, or a predictable next meal. When we forget the NATURE of the world we stand on, and when we ignore the web of life that has allowed us to evolve, and when we take for granted the stability of our “civilized” systems, we risk launching ourselves, and more critically our children and theirs, into a world of chaos and decline.

My final argument, predicted or echoed in no way by Mr. Wishard: there is a critical and deep-seated equation in the global crisis we face. There is a balance between the total value of the accumulated wealth in the world, concentrated in the industrialized West, and the total damage to the planet and to human rights over the last five hundred years. I think that “Zero Sum” equivalency is all three: the explanation for how we got into this predicament, the reasons we are unable to become informed or make democratic decisions about it, and the key to the remedy. Thanks for your attention.