Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 20, 2016
Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner
What defines a cult, and what defines a cult leader?
These are questions which preoccupied Diners this week, with respect to John Michael Greer, author of the Archdruid Report blog, collapse writer and former Archdruid of the AODA, one of the Druid sects operating out there these days.
The main question which evolved in this discussion is whether Druidry is a cult, because given the fact he had the title of "Archdruid", it's hard to make the case he was not a leader.
Now, generally speaking people do not like being identified as either cult leaders or cult followers. So if you call something they subscribe to a "cult", they get upset. Reason for this is because a few cults have ended very badly at the hands of some less than sane people that ran them. Examples of this often given are Charles Manson, Jim Jones and David Koresh. So to people who focus on these cults, the word cult itself has taken on a very negative connotation. In and of themselves though, cults aren't either necessarily bad or good, and they are very common.
Here is the modern definition of cults, as defined in the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of cult
: formal religious veneration : worship
: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
cultic play \ˈkəl-tik\ adjective
cultish play \-tish\ adjective
cultishly play \-lē\ adverb
cultishness play \-nəs\ noun
cultism play \ˈkəl-ˌti-zəm\ noun
cultist play \ˈkəl-tist\ noun
cultlike play \-ˌlīk\ adjective
Now, insofar as Druidry is concerned, there is formal veneration and worship there, CHECK #1. They hold ceremonies, they built Stonehenge, etc. Now, today there isn't a whole lot known about what original Druids believed, but the modern incarnation has developed their own rituals, not to mention the costumes. So CHECK #2 also.
Is Druidry unorthodox or spurious? Well, not many people believe in this religion today, so it's definitely unorthodox. Whether it is spurious or not would be a matter of opinion. However, you still gotta check off this box as well because it's an OR logical connector, and Druidry satisfies one of the conditions. CHECK #3
Druidry does not appear to meet the 4th definition of cult, since as far as I know it doesn't cure diseases, although possibly some Druids believe in various kinds of Spiritual Healing. Still, I would not check off on this definition for Druids. NO CHECK #4
Definition 5 speaks to the individual or Cult Leader. There are many people with great devotion to Mr. Wizard, his ideas and his writings. They post up all the time in his commentariat. In fact they are about the only ones even allowed to post in his commentariat, since he axes the posts of anyone who disagrees with him all the time. lol. I know this to be factual, since most of my posting got axed from that commentariat before I quit trying to post up there. So you can CHECK #5 as well here for Mr. Wizard.
Now, what about some other religions or belief systems? Are they cults too? Well, IMHO most of them are, yes. They may not meet as many of the Merriam-Webster definitions as the Archdruid does, but they still meet some of them and are also cults. Roman Catholicism is a cult, and the cult leader is His Popeness, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, currently Pope Francis until he croaks and the White Smoke comes up from the Vatican anouncing a NEW Glorious Leader for all RC's to follow.
Capitalism is also a Cult. It's not usually regarded as a Religion, but in fact it is. People believe in this and have Faith in stuff like the Free Market and the Invisible Hand that supposedly controls it, with absolutely NO EVIDENCE either one of these things really exist. They are incredibly dogmatic in these beliefs as well. Far as Leaders go, they're all the Bizmen and Banksters that make a lot of MONEY. It's EZ to tell who the Tyler Durdens Worship on Zero Hedge. It's the big Hedge Fund managers like Crispin Odey, Bill Gross, Kyle Bass, etc, etc, etc.
The issue here is that due to their exposure to media and the very nasty end a few cults came to, the word "cult" has taken on a negative connatation to these people. So whenever they hear the word "cult", they immediately picture up all the DEAD PEOPLE in Jonestown or in Waco. They let their emotions run away with them and don't understand the meaning of the word because of that. The definition in the dictionary is quite clear however, and it's up-to-date also, Merriam-Webster provides a new edition every year at the very least in paper form, the online version is updated daily.
When I use the word "cult", it's a description of a group of people and their belief system. It's often explicitly religious as in the case of Druidry or Catholicism, but sometimes more secular like Capitalism. In fact you have cults around Rock bands too, like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Queen. There are even cult followers of people like Kim Kardashian! Cults are all around us, some good, some bad, some fairly innocuous, but they exist everywhere, and so do the leaders of these cults.
To be a real cult, there has to be a Uniformity of Belief to begin with, which means everyone in the cult accepts the given wisdom of that cult, whether it comes in a long diatribe off the keyboard of Mr. Wizard or in a Tweet from Kim Kardashian. Enforcement of the Group Think of a cult can come in many ways, some "soft" and some "hard", but whatever the case everyone in the cult has to buy into the core principles of the cult, usually espoused by the cult leader. Cults are not generally Democratic institutions.
Some cults like Catholicism and Capitalism have been WILDLY successful over time, others such as Druidry and Tribalism not so successful. Quid Pro Quo though, you can't say any NEW cult that pops up is either good or bad or will be successful or unsuccessful. There are MANY cults to pick from these days to join up with, but really until the Cult Leader asks you to drink the Kool Aid and go for a ride on Haley-Bopp, you cannot say a priori that one is good or one is bad, that depends strictly on your opinions and your beliefs.
Cults will be with us until Homo Sap and Sapience vanish from the Earth. My value judgements on Mr. Wizard's cult are my own, you are free to make your own value judgements there. It's still a cult though, and he is the Leader of that Cult.
Published on r/collapse on June 26, 2016
Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner
Liberalism is the social system that makes Capitalism possible. Markets and private property have been intrinsic to nearly every form of Civilization (see the Incas as an outlier), but it was the creation of Liberal institutions that allowed full-blown Capitalism to proceed. Without guarantees of personal liberty, actual barons would have continued to rob the puny Capitalists, or some sovereign social consciousness might have prohibited their rapacious extractions altogether. The mark of true Liberal society is that no person of wealth need ever fear injustice.
Democracy was the final element of the complex and its addition came reluctantly. A simple mind, such as that of Ayn Rand, fails to understand the vital function of Democracy – that it diffuses away political power. Personal liberty is in jeopardy from any great concentration of power – political, religious or ironically, even economic, so Capitalism needs Democracy. But Democracy also holds that terrible potential – they call it ‘the tyranny of the majority’ – and so, Capitalists must diminish and constrain it as (democracy).
Reading this again, I do think it reflects the actual history of social development. For example, throughout East Asia and Latin America, authoritarian regimes were the vehicles for nascent Capitalist development. Liberal rights were slowly extended to an expanding Ownership while the masses were kept in brutal suppression. But while pacified workers are a necessity, a much higher value is found for them as a herd of avid consumers. That is the function of (democracy).
I am not anti-Capitalist for any ethical reason. It does offer greater freedom and a higher standard of living. But all of that will be irrelevant if Earth is returned to a condition that supports little else than microbial life.
Some theorists claim this system is an emergent property of human nature
In that regard, I think foremost of the neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, who wrote a screed that was lengthened into a best-selling book. From Wiki:
…his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government.
It was triumphant shout for the Fall of Communism. It was also a tedious read for its reliance of Hegelian philosophy, though it was interesting that at his conclusion, he feared Nietzsche might be right, and that liberal democracy (and Capitalism) might breed nihilism. It has, but more than that is its physical properties, as it can only accelerate the destruction of the Biosphere. I now see the bitter irony in his pompous title: This can be the end of history and the last of humanity.
I feel someone should do something to stop that.
A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Nationalism.
Historians and pundits have touted the Fall of the Berlin Wall as the birth pang of a new Global Civilization, one organized as a supra-national system of Liberal (democratic) Capitalism. Some theorists claim this system is an emergent property of human nature and will be the inevitable culmination of history. This view ignores all of that aerial bombardment of great cities and Third World villages, and the threat of ever-greater bombs, that were the expedient means used to bring the opposition to Capitalism into submission. That aside, is it not wonderful that we all now enjoy the freedom to be Capitalists? Drive well for Uber and prosper.
However, there is a dilemma: This Global Civilization will quickly destroy Life on a Small Planet. A few entrepreneurs understand this and are planning a departure for Mars and the asteroid belt, but the rest of Our Ownership are in varying states of denial of this scientific certainty. Let us build summer camps for them atop the Arctic Sea Ice, where they might receive reeducation, with an emphasis on the laws of thermodynamics.
The only chance we have of slowing this ongoing Eco-Catastrophe is to disrupt this Global System, and while the farthest fringes of the Left understand this, the rest them have become worse than useless for that cause. As an example, Jill Stein, the current head of the Green Party of the USA, was a participant in a must-see documentary on the looming threat of human extinction, The Cross of the Moment. In the US elections of 2012, she and her Green Party received fewer than half a million votes, about a quarter of a percent of the electorate. I will be voting for her this November – nothing to gain, what else to lose.
If our democracies are useless, that is by design. To protect themselves against ‘the tyranny of the majority’, Our Ownership builds in safeguards against the popular will, an intricate complex of restraints and ruses. Sheldon Wolin has termed this as a ‘managed democracy’, even as ‘inverted totalitarianism’. This is a system to transform citizens with rights into consumers with needs.
In the Science of Civilizations, Brexit Is the European Union’s Reckoning
“One of the biggest problems is even though the EU seems democratic, the government is not democratically elected by the people of Europe, and therefore not directly responsive to the population,” says Turchin.
Recently, the Management of Democracy has suffered a series of notable failures, the latest coming when the (barely) United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union. The horror, the horror – live on television, as the vote totals mounted, most of the talking heads bore the expressions that they repress when reporting acts of mass terrorism. Was it a dread of financial turmoil? No, they must know that the Global Economy is already ‘struggling’, with investments so overvalued that most any shock could prompt a precipitous collapse, with derivatives tumbling like dominoes. No, what truly terrified them was the revolt of the English working class – those uneducated, xenophobic, economic losers that they have been able to manipulate or ignore for decades. Nationalism rears its head and Our Ownership screams.
Cue a notable Harvard and IMF economist:
Britain’s Democratic Failure
The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily “democratic” is a perversion of the term. Modern democracies have evolved systems of checks and balances to protect the interests of minorities and to avoid making uninformed decisions with catastrophic consequences. The greater and more lasting the decision, the higher the hurdles.
The other great failure in democratic management has been Donald Trump’s attainment of the Republican nomination for Presidency of the USA. As in the UK, the centrist conservative establishment greatly misjudged their ability to manage Democracy. The twin political pillar of American Capitalism, the Democratic Party, has better appraised the threat of revolt from the masses, and constructed a bulwark of unelected ‘super-delegates’ to block the nomination of any populist insurgent. Elsewhere in Europe, strange political collaborations in elections (the French Conservatives and Socialists against the National Front) or in parliamentary rule (the German Christian Democrats plus Social Democrats) are to allow no path for right-wing populists. Such movements have electoral success only in former Soviet Bloc nations where Liberal (democratic) Capitalism still has shallow roots.
All of this begs the question: Whatever happened to the former champions of the working class, the traditional Left?
In the USA, the Democratic Party made it a policy to ignore its largely white working class and created a new coalition of ‘enlightened professionals’ and assorted minorities. This chimera has enabled Clinton to prevail over Sanders and his following of ‘people-without-color’. How this coalition was built is recounted in Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People, the latest book by the bona fide progressive author Thomas Frank. Do listen to his CSPAN Book Television presentation and discussion of the book. This bit of transcription comes from his conclusion, starting around minute 37.
…by abandoning them [the white working class] the Democrats made inevitable the economic desolation we now see out in the countryside of this nation…
…that leaves us with a choice this November… intolerance [Trump] versus inequality forever [Clinton]. Look folks, there has got to be a different way.
This book caps Frank’s lengthy attempt to understand why his white working class has consistently voted against its own economic interests. He now understands they do so because their concerns are irrelevant to the American political center, where neoconservative Tweedledum and neoliberal Tweedledee link arms to defend the Global Empire of Liberal (and democratic) Capitalism.
The opposition to Brexit was a very similar coalition: educated professionals, Scotland and Ulster, and the descendants of Imperial immigrants. Versus them were English traditionalists and a nativist working class. It was the forces of Globalization against English Nationalism. In the absence of ‘high hurdles’, English Nationalism won the vote. The British bookmakers had offered eighty to one odds against them.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, the Truly Privileged and the Minorities are closing ranks to guarantee the election of the neoconservative, neoliberal Madame Secretary Clinton. Be then prepared for new military adventures and increasing inequality, if not forever, then for four to eight more years.
The American white working class now has a declining life expectancy, a historical privilege once suffered by the true Native Americans. Instead of sympathy, the pundits write sarcasm:
The incredible crushing despair of the white working class [OP user/triggerexpert]
If you're a working-class white American, in other words, it may seem as though you are stuck with a losing hand in a bleak zero-sum game: Minorities are getting richer. The rich are getting richer. They're all doing so at your expense, and it's difficult to imagine things being any different in the future.
That writer might have given some attribution to Mitt Romney, who said it first and better in this recent speech:
Demagogues on the right and the left draw upon our darker angels,” he said, “scapegoating immigrants and Muslims or bankers and business people.”
Yes, pity and protect the poor bankers. Finally, there comes this opinion piece, which was the provocation for me to write this essay. This crap comes from a ‘resident philosopher’ at the Brookings Institute, a Democratic ‘think tank’, who bravely sallies forth against the white working class and in favor of a more manageable democracy.
How voters’ personal suffering overtook reason — and brought us Donald Trump
The economic foundations of their way of life were destroyed by the unforgiving logic of globalization, and then by the recession and its scandalously uneven recovery. The blandishments of the digital economy passed them by. Their current rates of alcoholism, life expectancy and suicide are now notorious.
[Pause your reading while he snuffles back his crocodile tears.]
Republicans have been indifferent to them because Republicans revere winners and they are losers. Democrats have been indifferent to them because they are culturally embarrassing (and because many Democrats, too, have had little time for losers). Now they finally command the attention of the country — they have been discovered — which is itself a victory for fairness in America; but a large portion of them have gained this recognition by debasing American politics with a desperate preference for a strongman. It is one of the lowest ironies of this low time.
[But you are not ignoring them now, are you?]
All the way at the other end of the political spectrum from the black aggrieved are the white aggrieved, and they are the ones playing with a terrifying fire. The people who support the white working class have been voting for Bernie Sanders, but the white working class has been voting for Donald Trump. He would be nowhere, and we would not be facing a grave historical crisis, without the enthusiasm of these despairing and deluded millions. It was inevitable that we would not escape the political consequences of our economic dislocations, but those consequences now include the darkest forces of reaction. These downtrodden demand sympathy, and they deserve sympathy, but they do not give sympathy. They kindle, in the myopia of their pain, to racism and nativism and xenophobia and misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism.
The accidental candidacy of the clownish Donald Trump ranks as a grave historical crisis? Screw you Leon Wieseltier, you have seen nothing yet. Three cheers for Brexit! Hip-hip-hurrah! On with the Collapse of this cynical and corrupt system! Or as Peter Turchin noted in the lead article:
“All large scale societies go through complex cycles,” says Turchin. “These usually end up in civil war or outside conquest, but sometimes the ruling class can manage to get their act together using the reform route.”
Our Ownership is incapable of reform. The cupboard is fiscally bankrupt and depleted of resources, so there are no bones to toss to the snarling dogs. Listen Leftists! If you lament this outcome, then you must do as Thomas Frank suggests and find another way. Seek some means of reconciliation with that once dear proletariat. Human survival depends on that.
Published on Peak Surfer on May 8, 2016
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
In the May 2d New Yorker, Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an ode to his mother and aunt, identical twins, taking the opportunity to dig into the roles of nature and nurture in shaping our lives, Going a step farther, he brought in one of our favorite topics here, epigenetics, or the ability of the same DNA strand to issue different instructions depending on external stimuli.
Last year, in our discussion of quantum entanglement, we observed how little of what we call our own bodies is actually our own DNA. More than 95 percent belongs to our unique, personal, coevolving microbiome that not only helps us breathe, digest, and heal illness, but influences our patterns of thought and intentions.
Mukherjee chronicled the gross result of this conspiracy, describing how two brothers, separated by geographic and economic continents, might be brought to tears by the same Chopin nocturne, as if responding to some subtle, common chord struck by their genomes, or perhaps by their epigenomes, and how two sisters — separated long before the development of language — had invented the same word to describe the way they scrunched up their noses: “squidging.”
Mukherjee overlooked the closely entangled microbial web of alien presences, but we’d observe that although these twins may have placed distance and culture between themselves, they had been together long enough to have nearly identical microbiomes from gestation, birth and infancy.
Nucleosome crystal structure at 2.8 angstrom resolution showing a disk-like shape. DNA helices at edge, histones and free proteins in center. The worm-like structures are RNA messengers. reasonandscience.heavenforum.org
It is a testament to the unsettling beauty of the genome that it can make the real world stick. Hindu philosophers have long described the experience of “being” as a web—jaal. Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that adheres to it transforms every web into a singular being. An organism’s individuality, then, is suspended between genome and epigenome. We call the miracle of this suspension “fate.” We call our responses to it “choice.” We call one such unique variant of one such organism a “self.”
In his visits with various scientists Mukherjee probed the complex connections of the histones that occupy the empty spaces within the double helix and seem to possess a mysterious power to trigger or silence gene expressions. What he seems to overlook is the role of non-human microbiological agents in making these sorts of choices for their hosts. Indeed, his description of a histone begs comparison to other life forms:
In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. “We became interested in the process of histone modification,” he said. “What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes.” The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications—inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.
These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add “memories” to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny.
While we were pondering these things, bicycling through a Spring rainstorm one morning, we tuned our mobile cyberamphibian prosthesis to Michael Hudson’s interview on Extraenvironmentalist #91. Hudson described how debt deflation is imposing austerity on the U.S. and European economies, siphoning wealth and income to the financial center while impoverishing the periphery. Its the theme of his latest book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.
Crossing two hot wires in our rain soaked brain, the comparison between economic theory and genetics wafted a blue smoke that trailed out from under our bike helmet.
The system itself — the DNA code — is monetary policy, trade rules, labor, capital assets and other components of what we call “the economy.” The histones are the central banks and the FED that set the policies epigenetically by turning switches on or off. The wild cards are those alien protein agents that seem to bring about changes in the histones. A century ago those might have included J. D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan. Then came Henry Wallace and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today they would include Jaime Dimon (Morgan Chase), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Christine Lagarde (IMF), and Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
It is pretty clear from most indicators that since at least 2008, and likely much earlier, our economic DNA has been instructed to express a cancer. As Gail Tyerberg observes:
Both energy and debt have characteristics that are close to “magic” with respect to the growth of the economy. Economic growth can only take place when growing debt (or a very close substitute, such as company stock) is available to enable the use of energy products.
Back in the era of cheap energy less debt was required. In our era of expensive energy, gigantic and growing debt is required. But you can only build debt on itself up to the point where confidence in repayment by those who are owed the money falters. After that, watch out. No debt, no energy. No energy, no economy.
Greg Mannarino of Traders Choice says:
Let’s just look at the stock market… there’s no possible way at this time that these multiples can be justified with regard to what’s occurring here with the price action of the overall market… meanwhile, the market continues to rise. … Nothing is real. I can’t stress this enough… and we’re going to continue to see more fakery… and manipulation and twisting of this entire system… We now exist in an environment where the financial system as a whole has been flipped upside down just to make it function… and that’s very scary. … We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the world… The Federal Reserve has never been in a situation like this… we are completely in uncharted territory where the world’s central banks have gone negative interest rates… it’s all an illusion to keep the stock market booming.
… Every single asset now… I don’t care what asset… you want to look at currency, debt, housing, metals, the stock market… pick an asset… there’s no price discovery mechanism behind it whatsoever… it’s all fake… it’s all being distorted. … The system is built upon on one premise and that is confidence that it will work… if that confidence is rattled the whole thing will implode… our policy makers are well aware of this… there is collusion between central banks and their respective governments… and it will not stop until it implodes… and what I mean by implode is, correct to fair value.”
It’s created a population boom… a population boom has risen in tandem with the debt. It’s incredible. So, when the debt bubble bursts we’re going to get a correction in population. It’s a mathematical certainty. Millions upon millions of people are going to die on a world-wide scale when the debt bubble bursts. And I’m saying when not if… … When resources become more and more scarce we’re going to see countries at war with each other. People will be scrambling… in a worst case scenario… doing everything that they can to survive… to provide for their family and for themselves. There’s no way out of it.”
Jason Heppenstall, who lives in Cornwall, England, writes in the 22billionenergyslaves blog:
Aside from the police and the shops closing, public toilets are closed virtually all of the time, and the Post Office too is soon to close down, having been privatised and now asset stripped. The council is being forced to raise its taxation rates by 4% this year to cover the shortfall caused by spiraling costs and diminished funding from central government. Clinics and charities are being squeezed out of existence and the local council tried (and failed) to privatise the town’s midsummer festival.
My wife works in the care sector. The stories I get to hear will make you never want to be dependent on the state in your old age. If you can’t rely on your kids to look after you in your dotage it might be wise to keep a bottle of whisky and a revolver in your bottom drawer. Or maybe you'd rather die of thirst lying in your own mess because the 19-year-old unqualified carer who works for minimum wage is too busy checking Facebook on her phone to hear you pressing the emergency button by the bed.
Former US Budget Czar David Stockman wrote this week:
Owing to the recency bias that dominates mainstream news and commentary, the massive expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet depicted above goes unnoted and unremarked, as if it were always part of the financial landscape. In fact, however, it is something radically new under the sun; it’s the footprint of a monetary fraud breathtaking in its magnitude.
In essence, during the last 15 years the Fed has gifted the US economy with a $4 trillion free lunch. Uncle Sam bought $4 trillion worth of weapons, highways, government salaries and contractual services but did not pay for them by extracting an equal amount of financing from taxes or tapping the private savings pool, and thereby “crowding out” other investments.
This is not Al Gore. It is Elon Musk, a beneficiary of govt largess
Instead, Uncle Sam “bridge financed” these expenditures on real goods and services by issuing US treasury bonds on a interim basis to clear his checking account. But these expenses were then permanently funded by fiat credits conjured from thin air by the Fed when it did the “takeout” financing. Central bank purchase of government bonds in this manner is otherwise and cosmetically known as “quantitative easing” (QE), but it’s fraud all the same.
In essence, Uncle Sam has gotten $4 trillion of “something for nothing” during the last 16 years, while the Washington politicians and policy apparatchiks were happy to pretend that the “independent” Fed was doing god’s work of catalyzing, coaxing and stimulating more jobs and growth out of the US economy.
What the Fed was actually doing was falsifying and inflating the price of financial assets. As Michael Hudson points out, the prime error is placing the financial sector in the same column as honest labor or capital contributions. Finance is actually a drain on those things. It is a withdrawal from productivity, not a contributor to GDP.
But financial engineering does not add to GDP or increase primary spending; it results in the re-pricing of existing financial assets. That is, it gooses stock prices higher, makes executive stock options more valuable and confers endless windfalls on the fast money speculators who work the financial casinos.
Last month, Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, became the first central banker to take seriously the idea of helicopter money – the direct distribution of newly created money from the central bank to eurozone residents.
Germany’s leaders have reacted furiously and are now subjecting Draghi to nationalistic personal attacks. Less visibly, Italy has also led a quiet rebellion against the pre-Keynesian economics of the German government and the European commission. In EU councils and again at this month’s IMF meeting in Washington, DC, Pier Carlo Padoan, Italy’s finance minister, presented the case for fiscal stimulus more strongly and coherently than any other EU leader. More important, Padoan has started to implement fiscal stimulus by cutting taxes and maintaining public spending plans, in defiance of German and EU commission demands to tighten his budget. As a result, consumer and business confidence in Italy have rebounded to the highest level in 15 years, credit conditions have improved, and Italy is the only G7 country expected by the IMF to grow faster in 2016 than 2015 (albeit still at an inadequate 1% rate).
With England jumping ship and Germany saying nicht to every reform proposal, the EU is headed for a disaster but Italy seems to be able to still think outside the box. To us this suggests the potential for alien-led histone modification in the DNA of modern finance.
The irony of being called anti-European is that I am ardently pro-European. I’ve lived in four different EU countries, travelled all over and am married to an Italian Dane. Europe, to me, is the most diverse place in the world and has an amazing spread of history and culture. My ideal life would involve spending several months each year travelling around Europe in a camper van and getting to know it in an even more intimate manner. The EU is not Europe; it’s an abstract concept masking a faceless undemocratic organisation that funnels wealth from one place to another and keeps its modesty intact behind a fig leaf of supposed liberalism.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We could still have a Europe united around some core values other than money and power and capitalism. How about a Europe focused on an emerging eco-consciousness? Or what about remaking it as a loose cooperative of bioregions? Or perhaps, at the very least, we could all agree on a shared constitution founded on liberty, equality and fraternity. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has suggested something along those lines, setting up a pan-European umbrella group called DiEM25 that aims to shake things up ‘gently, compassionately but firmly.’ Perhaps there could be more debate about what kind of Europe would be better suited to weathering the coming financial, ecological and energy shocks without causing so much collateral damage to both itself and other nations.
Until that happens we’ll just have to stand back and watch the fireworks. Big institutions like the EU are like skyscrapers; they don’t come crashing down to the ground without taking out plenty of other nearby buildings and the EU is like the leaning tower of Pisa on steroids. Big things are an artifact of the age of oil – the future is necessarily smaller and more local. The best course of action is to stop arguing over whether it is best to be stood on top of the creaking tower it or beside it, and simply get the hell out of the way before it goes over.
Draghi’s Italy, it should be recalled, was the country whose Supreme Court last month ruled that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero, “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.” La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America.”
Hudson is another epigenetic secret agent. He advocates a debt jubilee similar to what Truman pushed on Europe after World War II, creating the “German Economic Miracle.” In Hudson’s view, the quickest route to reform would be shifting from taxing honest labor to taxing unearned income and capital gains; from burdening the shrinking middle class to shrinking the rentier class. Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free.
Ellen Brown, who has been beating the drum for public banks from her Web of Debt page and books, notes that the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, was more profitable last year than J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and that was after the fracked gas bubble burst. She urges local governments everywhere to bypass the Fed and the vulture banking system and create their own public banks.
North Dakota has led the way in demonstrating how a state can jump-start a flagging economy by keeping its revenues in its own state-owned bank, using them to generate credit for the state and its citizens, bypassing the tourniquet on the free flow of credit imposed by private out-of-state banks. California and other states could do the same. They could create jobs, restore home ownership, rebuild infrastructure and generally stimulate their economies, while generating hefty dividends for the state, without increasing debt levels or risking public funds – and without costing taxpayers a dime.
The ability of these foreign antagonists to infect the global economy with a new narrative is a relatively recent phenomenon. The false narrative embedded by Bretton Woods and the Chicago School are not that thoroughly ensconced that they can’t be evicted. There is no reason why the inane policies of economic astrologers could not be quickly reversed by protein protagonists with simple but compelling histological reforms, such as basing the future on a bioeconomy that sequesters carbon and runs on sunlight.
Next week: Epiconomics 102: The Sunlight Economy
Published on Peak Surfer on April 3, 2016
Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner
While it is not likely that the heterodox economist E.F. "Fritz" Schumacher was the first to use the term “appropriate technology” — he preferred “intermediate technology” — he certainly had a big role in defining it. In Small is Beautiful he described it as the “middle way,” which dovetailed nicely with his elucidation of Buddhist economics, or what Mohandas Gandhi called "Economy of Permanence."
According to Schumacher, a technology is appropriate to preserve, adopt and adapt if it is truly village scale, lying in that mid-range between individualistic technology (toothbrush, smartphone, coffee cup) and industrial-scale (pharmaceutical laboratory, steel mill, railroad).
Examples of village scale are the old bakery, perhaps a large stone or brick oven where families bring their doughs to become breads; the bicycle repair shop; or a family-run tofu shop (as in the 10,000 or more in any large Japanese city) because handcrafted tofu is much to be preferred in taste, texture and nutrition over machine-produced.
|James Earl Jones as Locust-Man|
As early as the 1960s Schumacher, as president of the UK Soil Association, was correctly diagnosing what was wrong with the atom as an energy source. In 1977 he published A Guide for the Perplexed as a critique of materialist scientism. It was also a foray into the nature and organization of knowledge. He championed the style of Ivan Illich's conviviality: user-friendly and ecologically suitable; applicable to the scale of the human and natural community.
Born in the late 1940s, we were witness to Moore’s Law from its birth. We watched electric typewriters replace manual portables, then IBM Selectrics arrive with their changeable font-balls and auto-erase tape. We were there when punch cards and tape readers began to type form letters like a player piano. From the days of our youth, hand calculators kept getting smarter than we were.
In the late 70s we automated our Plenty Office and the Book Publishing Company with arrays of linked, part home-brew, part off-the-shelf, CPU-and-dumb-terminal minicomputers. Soon came inexpensive personal computers that put desktop publishing and spreadsheets into the hands of the masses and made small fortunes for Apple, Atari, Dell and Texas Instruments.
Office networks of linked hard-drives using first ethernet and then wireless LANs and WANs were middle scale appropriate technology as long as you could service the devices or maybe even build them yourselves within the village. All was well on this good earth. Desktop computers were like tractors or teams of oxen, shortening the time it took you to furrow your inbox or do your taxes.
Then came The Cloud upon the land. Cut to the scene in The Good Earth where the Chinese farmers look to the sky as their faces darken — the locusts are here! That was about 10 years ago, or 5 generations in factor-four Silicon Time.
Boston-based research outfit Forrester calls cloud computing—that’s public cloud computing—a “hyper-growth” market. In a recent report, it predicts the market for cloud services will grow to $191 billion by 2020, a 20 percent leap from what it predicted just a few years ago. “The adoption of cloud among enterprises, which is really where the money is, has really picked up steam,” Forrester analyst John Rymer recently told us. “It’s a big shift. The cloud has arrived. It’s inevitable.”
Getting back into our annual workshop schedule here at The Farm, we find ourselves stuck without a middle way, with no “village scale” with regard to either email or accounting. We have always suffered the digital divide by electing to live in a rural area in a country without Net Neutrality, but we take clean air and birdsong more seriously than ones and zeros.
What passes for broadband in rural Tennessee would be laughable in Romania or Thailand. We live beyond the profitable reach of the cable companies, or even DSL from the quasi-federal phone monopoly. Getting a dumbphone mobile connection here can be challenging, never mind G3 or G4. We pay far too much for far too little connectivity, but then, welcome to the unpaved precincts. Have you seen the stars at night?
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
We’re looking at The Cloud from both sides now. Many, if not all, of the email and accounting packages that have the capabilities we need have discontinued stand-alone functionality and hard drive data storage on your personal device in favor of wireless subscription plans. An unbeckoned choice is being thrust upon us. Either we late-migrate to the Cloud and trust in her all-knowing beneficence (and suffer indignities whenever there is no connection) or we put up with rapidly-shrinking features and capabilities.
For code-writers keeping legacy software working may be somewhat easier. But most code-writers are Cloud addicts, not old school.
We use Photoshop but seldom have need for the other Adobe apps packaged into their (formerly $3650) Master Suite. To us it was worth several hundred dollars plunked down every few years to have that one app. We’ve tried GIMP and other freeware but they are no substitute for Photoshop. Now a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud would cost us about $2,400 — assuming the price doesn’t go up. And that is just one subscription, from one cloud provider.
Microsoft rolled out Office 365 in 2011 but still plans to sell packaged software for a while, which makes sense given how much of the world has weak to nil internet connectivity. “Unlike Adobe, we think people’s shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time,” Microsoft told Wired.
The largest cloud storage provider, Amazon Web Services, reported $2.41 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter last year, or more than $9.6 billion in annualized sales—and that’s after the $10-billion-dollar company Dropbox ported off Amazon to build its own server farms in Q3.
Dropbox calls each of its storage machines a Diskotech. “The thing we care about the most is the disk,” its chief engineer told Wired. “That’s where all the bytes are.”
Measuring only one-and-half-feet by three-and-half-feet by six inches, each Diskotech box holds as much as a petabyte of data, or a million gigabytes. Fifty of these machines could store everything human beings have ever written. Maybe even all the cute kitten videos on YouTube (“Maru gets into a box” – “大きな箱とねこ” – 8.1 million views).
At one point in 2015, when it was moving from Amazon to its own 40 acres and a mule, Dropbox was installing forty to fifty racks of hardware a day, each rack holding about eight individual machines. That installation rate continued for nearly six months. They surpassed Peak Kitten in the first month.
We have had the trauma of a terabyte data fail. It is not pretty. It means we now have to have 2 or 3 terabyte safety redundancies. If you go to DVD you can become dependent on legacy hardware (DVD readers and burners), calling up recollections of floppies, cassettes, optical readers, etc. we may still have in the attic but prefer not to think about.
We want to be able to access 20-year-old data using only the power of a Biolite Stove and no cloud. We can do that right now with an iPad and a portable HD. Can we do it still in 2017?
There may come a time when we just have to go our own way and de-cloud. At the moment we are struggling to remain amphibian, with a webbed foot in each world. Thanks for all the fish, but for now we intend to keep our paper-based bookkeeping and a sharpenable pencil.
Many years ago Amory Lovins’ Brittle Power described how lack of prudence and foresight had allowed city and regional planners to erect a monumental infrastructure of energy supply that keeps the lights on at night across North America but can be taken down by a tree branch falling on wires in a blizzard, or a pipe bomb in a pipeline.
The same kind of blind spot infects the planners of the Cyberverse. Mighty as they be, they are not Gods. To get to be in their club, you have to take the blue pill — to believe the separate reality the Google-vets believe; the one with Space X missions to Mars and fusion-powered Teslas.
This represents an attitude that began with Google and has gradually spread across Silicon Valley. Google was so successful not just because it built a pretty good Internet search engine, but because it built the underlying technology needed to run that search engine—and so many other services—at an enormous scale. Facebook, which recruited countless ex-Googlers, did much the same. And so did Twitter and its ex-Googlers. And, now, so has Dropbox. To become a giant, you may have to stand on the shoulders of others. But once you become your own giant, you start to feel like you need to build a home that’s just right for you.
The problem, as we see it, is that the parallel reality field is eating away the brains of its wizards. Wormhole-brained, they keep edging farther out onto the limb of a system that is just one fallen-tree-branch or cyberattack away from ruin. Worse, they are forcing the rest of us to follow along and add our weight to that same weak limb.
Published on Pray for Calamity on March 24, 2016
Discuss this article at the Doomsteading Table inside the Diner
The vernal equinox has come and passed and with it the official start of spring is here in the northern hemisphere. Across the countryside Jane Magnolia trees have awoken. Their hundreds of fingers each cupping rose colored blooms like candles, as if they were so many tiny lavender hands offering up communion to the sun. Daffodils peer out of the hillside clearings like periscopes or perhaps yellow gramophones all playing a song of rebirth to call back the songbirds and honeybees. The energy sequestered in the root-balls and mycelium mats as the land went to sleep the last few months has begun surging upward, and it is hard to not feel it flowing through me as I walk my land taking stock of which fruit trees and berry bushes are producing buds. A good friend of mine, and mentor, once told me that I am doing well if I can establish two fruit trees per year. Looking at my spread of apple trees, it looks like I am on track to have done well in that regard. My partner does all of the work to care for our bee hive, and after donning her protective veil for a spring inspection, she reported to me that the hive is in great condition. I have heard it said that bees surviving the winter is what converts one from a bee-haver into a bee-keeper.
Our garden calls for much attention, and each week I spread a truck load of wood chips on the walking paths, which were first covered with flattened cardboard. Hopefully this effort will buy me a few years of relatively weed free walkways. Mint is returning with a vigor, and the strawberry leaves are vibrantly green. Kale, spinach, beets, and parsnips have been seeded, and I am keeping a keen eye for the first asparagus shoots. This year I have to grow significantly more food than I have in the past, as my partner is returning to work full time and I will be staying home during the week days with our daughter. In the short term we will have less money, but I will have more time to attend to tasks around the homestead. Walking through the garden brings me such a deep sense of calm as I talk to the plants and lose myself in my many tasks. Starting seeds is a great way to practice slowing oneself down, especially small seeds that tend to stick together like those of tomatoes and carrots.
I find myself happy as the sun tans my shoulders and a red tailed hawk cries from its nest somewhere high up in the trees behind me.
February was the warmest month in recorded history. The record it broke for such crowning glory had been set in December. February temperatures saw the Earth cross the two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial average barrier that has been established as a hard danger zone by climate scientists. It was an anomaly, for now, but one that is likely to rear itself again and again. The most dramatic warming has been in the Arctic, which bodes ill for jet stream patterns as well as summer sea ice coverage. Time will tell if we see our first ice free Arctic this summer. Somehow the magnitude of the crisis of climate change still seems to evade most general discourse despite the pomp and show of the electoral season now in bloom in the US. There are lots of grand promises being hurled at the public about bringing manufacturing jobs back stateside. If that is not the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance then I do not know what is. Industrialism long ago set us on a crash course with calamity, and now that the calamity has begun to rain down upon the world in the form of mega droughts, fires, famines, and super-storms, those angling for positions of power are promising more industrialism.
Of course, it is not even a job in a factory per se that most Americans dwelling in the rust belt actually want, it is a secure living situation. They want their basic needs met in a way that does not leave them uncertain and wrecked by stress month after month. It is a culture of production organized and operated through the machinations of capitalism that requires that people work a job in order to have these needs met in such a satisfactory way. When politicians say “Jobs!” it has become a Pavlovian response for the middle, and formerly middle, classes to come salivating like starving dogs to desperately pull a lever in their favor. They forget that first the food, and the land, and the ability to provide for oneself had to be taken away before they could be forced to work jobs for these things. A great deprivation preceded the creation of job economies whereby everyone was made to punch a clock and become the automaton of some civilized production scheme in order to have enough to eat and a place to sleep at night. This deprivation now long forgotten, people have no memory of themselves as anything but workers, and so they beg for work.
Neo-liberal capitalism may be the dominant platform by which this scheme is globally enacted, but it is merely the software that operates on the hardware of the civilized model of human organization. It is key to recall that ecological decimation was the order of the day long before the advent of capitalism. Forests had been clear cut from the Levant, through Greece and across Europe and the UK as civilization marched across the ancient world, slashing and burning its path to conquest and dominion over greater and greater expanses of the Earth. This pattern was repeated globally where ever civilizations formed. The Maya deforested the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula long before Europeans brought their particular version of civilization to the continent and eventually ran head first into the consequences of such short sighted actions. The Aztecs, who may have created one of the more arguably “sustainable” cities in Tenochtitlan, did so on the backbone of war, expansion, tribute, slavery, and human sacrifice. Sure, they recycled their human excrement for crop fertilizer in their Chinampas, but they also relied on the growth of the territory that they dominated through blood shed. Food, firewood, and other material goods flowed into the city from outlying tribute towns where common people had to work to not only provide for themselves, but to pay a quarterly tribute to the city center of the empire.
Such is the way with cities. Goods and raw materials flow in and waste flows out. Cities harvest the natural wealth of outlying areas, and this model is now global, with powerful nations harvesting the material wealth of poor nations. No matter how desperately people may want to believe in the idea of the “sustainable city,” it is a contradiction of terms. Austin, Texas proclaims itself “America’s most sustainable city,” yet every day truckloads of food make deliveries while truck loads of garbage and waste are removed. The city depends on dammed lakes off the lower Colorado river for water which will one day fail to support the city’s growing population, and which in the present deprive down stream communities. According to 2010 data, households in Austin spent the most money on gasoline relative to other American cities. And Austin continues to grow, to cover more of the land in concrete preventing the recharging of the Edward’s Aquifer and demanding more energy for cooling as the city can have over one-hundred days in a year that breach one-hundred degrees fahrenheit.
A recent study calculated how much food the city of Seattle could produce based on how much solar radiation falls on its potentially farmable locations, including parks, rooftops, and yards. Even selecting crops that grow well in Seattle’s climate conditions the study’s authors determined that the city could provide only one percent of its food needs. If the streets and sidewalks were ripped up, the number could rise to two or three percent, but the city would lose functionality. After all, even if day to day travel was carried out on foot or on bicycle, deliveries with diesel powered semi-trucks would still be necessary for everything the city’s inhabitants required, from clothes, to air conditioners, to building materials, and of course, the other ninety-eight percent of the food they could not produce for themselves.
Sustainable living and cities are not compatible. This is not a matter of ideology. This is a matter of hard material reality, and suggestions that somehow 3D printing or vertical farms or a population fed a steady diet of algae shakes will be just the miracle we need to upend hard material constraints are at best, petulant whimpers of those who have become accustomed the vast wealth of selection that living in a first-world city provides, or at worst, Kubler-Ross stage three bargaining, hoping that somehow, by some stretch of compromise we can sustain the unsustainable.
But we can’t. Not without expansion. Not without tribute. Not without an exploitative power dynamic and flows of violence that may or may not be visible from the comfortable confines.
Hot coffee is a miracle, or damn near one. Every morning millions of Americans have a cup or two of hot coffee, the beans of which were grown in Columbia, or Ethiopia, or Hawaii. Maybe those Americans have tea grown in India or a banana grown in Peru. They pull on shoes made in Vietnam and perhaps ride their bicycle made with bauxite mined in Australia on a road paved with bitumen from Alberta. Perhaps these Americans stop off at a local food co-op or farmer’s market where they purchase some locally grown kale. They take pictures of the fresh eggs at the market with their iPhone which has a slew of globally sourced components buried within it, and they post this photo online with the help of a network of satellites and tag it with some cute caption about sustainability.
When the average American city dweller thinks about urban living, they likely think of the comedy clubs, the used book stores, the fusion restaurants, or the bars. They fail to think about the global hegemony of the United States military and how a worldwide network of bases has laid the foundation for dollar dominance. Most of the American or European or Australian or Canadian city dwellers who stammer on about generating green, sustainable cities are not picturing the mega-cities of the world like Dakha or Rio de Janeiro. Millions of children living in the squalor of slums and favelas, tin roofed shacks and human waste littering the streets and waterways are not what the white first worlders are picturing in their minds when they declare the supremacy of urban existence. Even the relatively lucky people in Hong Kong or Manila live in crammed, small apartments set inside concrete towers that resemble prisons more than anything else.
The wealth extracted from around the planet by western powers over the course of centuries, a process which went into overdrive in the twentieth century, has absolutely skewed the perceptions of those average citizens who reside within these conquistador nations. Like Tenochtitlan, the US and its neo-liberal capitalist crony nations exact tribute from the global poor. We may not adorn ourselves in exotic feathers and obsidian jewelry, but our sneakers and our jeans and our lattes and our cellphones will never be sustainably sourced and manufactured within the footprint of our home city limits. It is just not possible. We can have civilization, or we can have a livable planet, but we cannot have both.
Phosphorous leaches from agricultural and manufacturing sources into water ways. Eventually it alters the chemistry of these waterways creating the conditions that support toxic algae blooms. Power plants are often built along waterways. Coal fired plants have been using rivers such as the Ohio as a waste dump for decades. Radioactive tritium has been leaching into the groundwater from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York, and the leak is getting worse. The Turkey Point nuclear power facility is leaking waste into Biscayne Bay just outside of Miami.
Often when I discuss the destruction wrought by civilized existence, the first critique hurled in my direction is that, “We cannot go back.” On this point, I agree. We cannot go back because civilization has greatly destroyed the ability of so many natural systems to harbor life. Industrial civilization will decay and fracture in the coming decades and centuries. I do not know how this process will play out or how long it will take to complete, but I feel that I could safely suggest that several generations from now the people who are making new ways of living will curse the stupidity and greed of those who poisoned the water. They will wonder what demons possessed our hearts with such a dark poison that we could so callously wipe out the other living beings who we rely on for survival.
In the dry wastes a young girl will dig for tubers amongst a backdrop of drought ravaged trees and the charcoal remains of those that burned in the previous season. Seeking a nourishing root she finds the bric a brac of our brain dead culture; a plastic fork, a beer can, rubber testicles that once swung from a pick-up truck’s trailer hitch. Yee haw.
Her family boils caught rainwater unaware that it contains heavy metals which will be responsible for some of their eventual deaths. They will laugh, as people do, and they will tell cautionary tales about a long ago world in which people set the sky on fire.
Whatever gods there may be forgive us. We were drunk on oil and pictures of ourselves. We really wanted good jobs.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 31, 2016
Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner
We all had expected that by now the Asian countries that have dumped their goods here and almost bankrupted our country by causing our trade deficit would have felt the bite of tough new rules, but the Trans Pacific Partnership tied Donald's hands on that one.
Mexico still won’t keep its illegals — the source for Americans’ drugs — on their side of the border. NAFTA prevented the border closing there. It wouldn't even take those Mexican tractor-trailers off our roads, and who knows how many of them are filled with illegals being dropped off in Ohio and Pennsylvania? Still, we are pouring concrete for a bigger wall all the time, whether Mexico pays for it or not. They should because they created this problem, but so far Donald has not gotten a single peso from the ingrates.
And, of course, the Muslims have always been fighting us when they are not too busy squirmishing between themselves. The Donald's executive order closed all our borders to refugees from Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan; countries populated by still more ingrates who are unwilling to pay for the wars that we started on their behalf. And wouldn't you know? That is now going to the Supreme Court, challenged by the Democrat Party as unconstitutional. As if the President of the United States, as Commander in Chief, doesn't have the power to keep all the riffraff out. That wishy washy Supreme Court is not conservative enough! The Donald will get his chance to change that, soon, with real right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution.
Solving our trade deficit wasn't as simple as ending the supply of cheap Chinese stuff. Donald got around Congress and the TPP by calling that retailer CEO summit at the White House. But it still comes in from places protected by those bad trade deals negotiated by idiot presidents who didn't know the first thing about the art of the deal. Now the Chinese stuff goes to Australia and gets rebranded before the container ships take it to WalMart. That is why the prices we pay didn't change much, so I guess we can be grateful. The Chinese and Koreans should be too, but are they? No way.
When the Donald sent the marines to grab Iraq’s oilfields last month there was a big uproar at the UN but what could they do, the toothless liberals? Donald just vetoed any Security Council resolution they passed. Now we control a significant supply of the world’s oil and can set prices where we like, and not just where the Saudis want them, in the basement. We all have to put up with higher prices at the pump now, but rising crude prices have stopped the slump in fracked gas futures and got us back on the path to the energy independence that made America strong.
If the Saudis gripe about that, Donald says he is ready to send a bunch of oil sheiks to his reopened Guantanamo just to let them know who's in charge. Sure, he hasn't gotten rid of ISIS yet, but give him time. He will get their oil too, and you can take that to the bank. The marines are just settling into Iraq now. Syria is a quick hop.
Donald's poll numbers are quite good, and it is long past the honeymoon stage. People are calling him the Second Great Communicator. Doubters have to eat crow. Our military is stronger than ever, and we are respected again, whether foreigners like it or not.
We will know soon whether that do-nothing Congress passes the President's energy plan and American builders can get started on those 100 new nuclear plants. That will be a real shot in the arm for the economy, as well as making energy cheap again. People say the President is a climate denier, but those new nukes will do more to stop climate change than anything Obama did in Paris. Put a trillion dollars into nuclear power, like we will, and your other countries can be energy independent too, you UN people.
People criticize the President for ordering the National Football League to move the Super Bowl to New Jersey, but now that more than a third of the teams have relocated to California, it seems only reasonable that the East Coast should get its share of the action. Some of the best football we've ever seen was played in snow.
When the Donald took office the economy was in shambles. Stocks were getting schlonged. Oil, coal, and car companies were talking bankruptcy and wanting bailouts. The Donald doesn't do bailouts. How about that?
The Donald met with all the banks and cut them checks. He refinanced the country. Remember: this is a guy who knows what it is to go bankrupt and still wind up with high-rise penthouses and golf courses. That's exactly what he did for America. Who cares what the dollar is now worth in Timbuktu? We will soon have legal casinos in every city and every state, and they won't be run by Indians, either.
We are still only a year into this presidency, but from here it sure looks like an unqualified success. We guess that's only to be expected when you buy the best.
“I’m Donald Trump and I endorse this message” — Trump for President 2016
La longue durée —the long run—was an expression made popular by the Annales School of French historians led by Fernand Braudel, who coined the phrase in 1958. The basic argument of this school is that the proper concern of historians should be the analysis of structures that lie at the base of contemporary events. Underneath short-term events such as individual cycles of economic boom and bust, said Braudel, we can discern the persistence of “old attitudes of thought and action, resistant frameworks dying hard, at times against all logic.” An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.
The “arc” of capitalism, according to this school, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in.
The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time the medieval world began to come apart and be replaced by the modern one. In his classic study of the period, The Waning of the Middle Ages, the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga depicted the time as one of depression and cultural exhaustion—like our own age, not much fun to live through. One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss. What lies ahead is largely unknown, and to have to hover over an abyss for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well, on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose.
I was musing on these issues some time ago when I happened to run across a remarkable essay by Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine. It was called “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” and was published last November in The Nation. In what appears to be something of a radical shift for her, she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British writer James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”
What Ms. Klein is saying to the Left, in effect, is: Why fight it? These nervous nellies on the Right are—right! Those of us on the Left can’t keep talking about compatibility of limits-to-growth and unrestrained greed, or claiming that climate change is “just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention,” or urging everyone to buy a Prius. Commentators like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore, who “assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution”—corporate green capitalism, in a word—are simply living in denial. “The real solutions to the climate crisis,” she writes, “are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.”
In one of the essays in my book A Question of Values (“conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History”), I lay out some of the “unconscious programs” buried in the American psyche from our earliest days, programs that account for most of America’s so-called conscious behavior. These include the notion of an endless frontier—a world without limits—and the ideal of extreme individualism—you do not need, and should not need, anyone’s help to “make it” in the world. Combined, the two of these provide a formula for enormous capitalist power and inevitable capitalist collapse (hence, the dialectical dimension of it all). Of this, Naomi Klein writes:
“The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits….These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.”
(This is exactly what I argued 31 years ago in The Reenchantment of the World; it’s nice to see it all coming around again.) “Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.” Hence, she concludes, the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, because what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology. And, I would add, the end of the arc of capitalism referred to earlier. It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters—if there are any left at this point; I’m not sure—need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means. It also has to be said that almost everyone in the United States, not just the upper 1%, buys into this. John Steinbeck pointed this out many years ago when he wrote that in the U.S., the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The Occupy movement, as far as I could make out, wanted to restore the American Dream, when in fact the Dream needs to be abolished once and for all.
Naomi then provides us with a list of six changes that must occur for this new paradigm to come into being, including Reining in Corporations, Ending the Cult of Shopping, and Taxing the Rich. I found myself writing “good luck” in the margins of much of this discussion. These things are not going to happen, and what we probably need instead is a series of major conferences on why they won’t happen. But note that part of the answer is already embedded in her essay: vested interests, in both the economic and psychological sense, have every reason to maintain the status quo. And as I said, so does the man or woman in the street. What would our lives be without shopping, without the latest technological toy? Pretty empty, at least in the U.S. How awful, that capitalism has reduced human beings to this.
In terms of recommendations, then, Klein’s essay is rather weak. But it offers something very important by way of analysis, and also by implication: Everything is related to everything else. Psychology, the economy, the environmental crisis, our daily mode of living, the dumbing down of America, the pathetic fetish over cell phones and electronic gadgets, the crushing debt of student loans, the farce of electoral politics, Mr. Obama’s rather rapid conversion from liberal hero to war criminal and shredder of the Bill of Rights, the huge popularity of violent movies, the attempt of the rich to impose austerity measures on the poor, the well-documented epidemics of mental illness and obesity—these are ultimately not separate spheres of human activity. They are interconnected, and this means that things will not get fixed piecemeal. “New civilizational paradigm” means it’s all or nothing; there really is no in-between, no diet cheesecake to be had. As Ms. Klein says, it’s not about single “issues” anymore.
What then, can we expect, as the arc of capitalism comes to a close? This is where Naomi shifts from unlikely recommendations to hard-nosed reality. She writes:
“The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations. Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. ‘Free-market climate solutions,’ as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets. And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks….As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it’s everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate, and that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place indeed.”
To put it bluntly, the scale of change required cannot happen without a massive implosion of the current system. This was true at the end of the Roman Empire, it was true at the end of the Middle Ages, and it is true today. In the case of the Roman Empire, as I discuss in The Twilight of American Culture, there was the emergence of monastic orders that began to preserve the treasures of Graeco-Roman civilization. My question in that book was: Can something similar happen today? Naomi writes:
“The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” She believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement—remember, it was quite vigorous last November—embodies this; that they have taken “aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying…radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.”
Is this true? Four things to consider at this point:
1. I personally never visited Zuccotti Park, but most of what I saw on the Web, including very favorable reportage of the Occupy movement, seemed to suggest that the goal was a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream, as I indicated above. In other words, the basic demand was that the pie be cut up more fairly. I never had the impression that the protesters were saying that the pie, in toto, was rotten. This reminds me of an anecdote about Martin Luther King, who apparently said to Harry Belafonte, just before he (i.e., King) was assassinated, that he thought he might have been making a big mistake; that he sometimes felt like he was herding people into a burning church. This is a very different insight, quite obviously, than the notion that black people should be getting a larger share of the pie. After all, who wants a larger share of a rotten pie, or to live in a church that is burning down?
2. The Annales historians, along with the World Systems Analysis thinkers, have been accused of projecting an image of “history without people.” In other words, these schools tend to see individuals as somewhat irrelevant to the historical process, which they analyze in terms of “historical forces.” There is some truth to this, but “historical forces” can become a bit mystical. Just as it is forces that motivate people, so it is people that enact or manifest those forces. I mean,
someone has to do something for history to occur, and at least the Occupy crowd was trying to throw sand on the wheels of the machine, so to speak, as have their counterparts in Europe. But I confess that for a number of reasons, I was never very optimistic about the movement; at least, not as it existed in the United States. As many sociologists have pointed out, America has no real socialist tradition, and it is no surprise that the serious maldistribution of wealth that exists in the U.S. is no issue whatsoever in the forthcoming presidential election. In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trust revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it—which takes us back to the quote from John Steinbeck. My own prediction, several months ago, was that OWS would turn into a kind of permanent teach-in, where the disaffected could go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that would indeed be taught. This is basically the “new monastic option” I wrote about in the Twilight book. On one level, it’s probably innocuous; it hardly threatens the power elite. But that may not be the whole story, especially in the long run—la longue durée. After all, as the system collapses, alternatives are going to become increasingly attractive; and you can be sure that 2008 is not the last crash we are going to live through. The two sides go hand in hand, and ultimately—I’m talking thirty to forty years, but maybe less—the weight of the arc of capitalism will be too onerous to sustain itself. In la longue durée, one is far smarter betting on the alternative worldview than on capitalism. Thus the biologist David Ehrenfeld writes: “Our first task is to create a shadow economic, social, and even technological structure that will be ready to take over as the existing system fails.”
3. What, then, is that alternative worldview, that “new civilizational paradigm”? In Why America Failed I lay out, unsurprisingly enough, the reasons for why America failed, and I say that it was primarily because throughout our history we marginalized or ignored the voices that argued against the dominant culture, which is based on hustling, aggrandizement, and economic and technological expansion. This alternative tradition can be traced from John Smith in 1616 to Jimmy Carter in 1979, and included folks such as Emerson, Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Vance Packard, and John Kenneth Galbraith, among many others. In England it is particularly associated with John Ruskin and William Morris, who argued for the need for organic communities with a spiritual purpose, for work that was meaningful rather than mind-numbing, and who did manage to acquire a large number of American disciples. In a forthcoming book by a colleague of mine, Joel Magnuson, entitled The Approaching Great Transformation, the author states that we need concrete models of a post-carbon economy, ones that break with the profit model of capitalism—and not in cosmetic or rhetorical ways. He gives a number of examples of experiments in this vein, ones that I would term elements of a steady-state or homeostatic economy: no-growth, in other words. After all, writes Magnuson, “permanent growth means permanent crisis.” Or as I have put it elsewhere, our job is to dismantle capitalism before it dismantles us. Again, this does not mean taking on Wall Street, which I don’t believe can succeed. But it does mean leaving the field: for example, seceding. (Movements for secession do exist at this point, Vermont being a prominent example.) And if that’s not quite viable right now, there is at least the possibility of living in a different way, as David Ehrenfeld suggests. My guess is that “dual process”—the disintegration of capitalism and the concomitant emergence of an alternative socioeconomic formation—is going to be the central story of the rest of this century. And I suspect that austerity will be part of this, because as capitalism collapses and we run out of resources—petroleum in particular—what choice will we have?
4. This does not, it seems to me, necessarily mean a return to some type of feudalism; although that could well happen, for all I know. But we are finally talking about the passing not only of capitalism, but of modernity in general—the waning of the modern ages, in effect. In her interesting biography of the Hegelian scholar, Alexandre Kojève, Shadia Drury writes: “Every political order, no matter how grand, is doomed to decay and degenerate.” As for modernity in particular, she goes on:
“[M]odernity’s inception and its decline are like those of any other set of political and cultural ideals. In its early inception, modernity contained something good and beguiling. It was a revolution against the authority of the Church, its taboos, repressions, inquisitions, and witch burning. It was a new dawn of the human spirit—celebrating life, knowledge, individuality, freedom, and human rights. It bequeathed to man a sunny disposition on the world, and on himself….The new spirit fueled scientific discovery, inventiveness, trade, commerce, and an artistic explosion of great splendor. But as with every new spirit, modernity has gone foul….Modernity lost the freshness and innocence of its early promise because its goals became inflated, impossible, and even pernicious. Instead of being the symbol of freedom, independence, justice, and human rights, it has become the sign of conquest, colonialism, exploitation, and the destruction of the earth.”
In a word, its number is up, and it is our fortune or misfortune, as I said before, to be living during a time of very large, and very difficult, transition. An old way of life dies, a new one eventually comes into being. Of this, the poet Mark Strand remarks: “No need to rush; the end of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.” For some odd reason, I find that thought rather comforting.
©Morris Berman, 2012
Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 24, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Charlie said, "That's the trouble. You see it the way the banking industry sees it and they make money by manipulating money irrespective of effects in the real world. You've spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayers' money over the lifetime of the bank and there's nothing to show for it. You go into poor countries and force them to sell their assets to foreign investors and to switch from subsistence agriculture to cash crops. Then, when the prices of those crops collapse, you call this "nicely competitive" on the world market. The local populations starve and you then insist on austerity measures even though your actions have shattered their economy….
"You were intended to be the Marshall Plan, and instead you've been carpetbaggers."
— Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting: Science in the Capitol (2007).
“With fundamentals changing slowly and risk appetite falling rapidly, the stage is set for a longer period of risk asset underperformance,” Jabaz Mathai, a strategist at Citigroup Inc., said. “There is no quick fix to the headwinds facing global growth.”
"Similar periods of weakness have occurred in only five other instances since 1985: (1) the majority of 1988, (2) the first half of 1991, (3) several weeks in early 1996, (4) late 2000 and early 2001, and (5) late 2008 and the majority of 2009 … all either overlapped with a recession, or preceded a recession by a few quarters."
There has been a storm brewing since the last trifle with full-on collapse in 2008-2009. The extend-and-pretend debt balloon was reinflated and stretched to new enormities as Keynesian cash infusions fueled a Minsky Moment, if not a Korowicz Crunch.
The instability in finance is compounded by the instability in demographics. In Mexico City, Bogata and Rio they call them NINIs — the millions of youth between 15 and 24 who neither study nor work. They are now about a fifth of the population in the underdeveloping world, responsible for higher rates of homicide, gangs, and unwed pregnancy. Of those born to NINI mothers, there is a 22.3% greater likelihood of becoming a NINI, according to the World Bank. All this tinder simply builds, bides its time, wanders the streets, waits for a revolutionary spark.
As we said here last week, the trigger for the markets' sudden move may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. When it filtered out from the December summit that 195 countries had actually done the unimaginable and set a goal of carbon neutrality, meaning phasing out net fossil fuel emissions by 2050, the financial sector was at first caught dumbfounded. The World Bank guys flinched.
Now it has sunk in. The Guardian reports:
Former OMB Chief David Stockman's recap
Investors face a “cataclysmic year” where stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could slump to $16 (£11) a barrel, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland have warned. In a note to its clients the bank said: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point.
Government subsidies are about to undergo a titanic shift. Many governments spend more on fossil-fuel subsidies than they do on health and education, more than a trillion dollars. Consumer benefits such as subsidized fuels and cheap finance add $548 billion per year. Government support for companies to expand production add another $542 billion just in G20 overdeveloped countries, and a mere top 8 of those will spend $80 billion of this kind every year, four times the investments going to renewables globally.
Tomorrow those same Big-8, and 188 others, will begin spending several times those trillions subsidizing renewables. Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Aid and Solarcentury, calls it "trillionization." It won't begin to fill the energy gap that the switch will create, but the psychology of sunk investment will be in charge from thereon out.
Oil producing states and countries are aghast. The "clear signal" that Paris sent was not what they were expecting. In Alaska, the Permanent Fund has been running in the red and the legislature is talking about an income tax. Had the Paris Agreement not come together, they might hope for a rebound of fossil prices and investments in drilling the North Slope and Arctic Refuge.
Petroblas, the national oil company of Brazil and wellspring of the Brazilian Economic Miracle, is now cash negative. It will be forced to turn to the government for a bail-out, but to where will its government turn?
In Mexico, the deficit is running 100 billion and the peso has dropped from 12 in 2014 to soon-to-be 20 against the dollar. If you have dollars you can get a meal in a good restaurant or a room for the night for 5 or 10 of them. So far in January the price rise of food for the average Mexican is alarming. Onions are up 19%, poblanos 15%, bananas 10%, tomatoes 9%.
The national oil company, PEMEX, came out on Monday saying it is not true that its operating with losses, but below the $26 per barrel it would be. On Tuesday the price dropped to $24.74. It closed the week at $22.77 but as we write this you can buy a barrel in Mexico City for as little as $20.32. Mexico's federal budget is entirely dependent on oil money and don't look now but Mexico, when it was petrodollar flush, became a net importer of most staple foods and many other essential commodities, which helps explain the grocery dilemma. Mexico now buys onions, poblanos, bananas and tomatoes from California. Also beans, corn and rice.
Gotta love those World Bank guys.
Venezuela, which surprised everyone by signing the Paris Agreement at the final hour, declared an economic emergency on January 15. France, which foolishly drank too much atomic kool aid thinking it might spare itself from petrocollapse, has a budget shortfall of 2.2 billion dollars and declared national economic emergency on January 17. The jobless rate in France, the eurozone's 2d largest economy, is above 10%, compared with a 9.8% EU average.
Andrew Roberts, RBS’s credit chief, said:
European and US markets could fall by 10% to 20%, with the FTSE 100 particularly at risk due to the predominance of commodity companies in the UK index. London is vulnerable to a negative shock. All these people who are long [buyers of] oil and mining companies thinking that the dividends are safe are going to discover that they’re not at all safe.
We suspect 2016 will be characterized by more focus on how the exiting occurs of positions in the three main asset classes that benefited from quantitative easing: 1) emerging markets, 2) credit, 3) equities … Risks are high.
"For dry bulk, China has gone completely belly up,” said Erik Nikolai Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities ASA in Oslo, talking about ships that haul everything from coal to iron ore to grain. “Present Chinese demand is insufficient to service dry-bulk production, which is driving down rates and subsequently asset values as they follow each other.”
“China’s slowdown has come as a major shock to the system,” said Hartland Shipping’s Prentis. “We are now caught in the twilight zone between shifts in China’s economy, and it is uncomfortable as it’s causing unexpected slowing of demand.”
The continued collapse of The Baltic Dry Index remains ignored by most.
According to Zero Hedge:
Commerce between Europe and North America has literally come to a halt. For the first time in known history, not one cargo ship is in-transit in the North Atlantic between Europe and North America. All of them (hundreds) are either anchored offshore or in-port. NOTHING is moving.
This has never happened before. It is a horrific economic sign; proof that commerce is literally stopped.
The slow response to the Paris outcome has been a complete portfolio review by every actuary and bean-counter in the biggest banks and investment houses, pension funds and mutuals. Hedge fund managers are scratching and sniffing for places to park billions being lifted from soon-to-be-stranded fossil assets. The clean-tech market, signaled first by China, is reacting by recycling cash out of fossil holdings.
Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks.com reports:
The Energy Information Administration calculates in its 2015 analysis that the average U.S. levelized cost for new natural-gas advanced combined cycle plants is 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — the same as solar.
However, to compare accurately, we have to add about 10 percent to the cost of solar to firm up this variable resource. So we’re close to cost parity, but not quite there.
At $1 per watt, the levelized cost falls to just 5.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, well below cost parity with new natural-gas plants. With two-axis trackers and the best solar resources, which increase the capacity factor to 32 percent, that cost falls to just 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. We’re headed to $1 per watt as an all-in cost in the next five to 10 years.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported last summer that wind power was the cheapest source of power in the U.K. and Germany in 2015, even without subsidies. The article’s tagline reads: “It has never made less sense to build fossil fuel power plants.” The same article highlights the feedback loop that solar and wind power have in terms of reducing the cost-effectiveness of fossil fuel power plants due to the dispatch order of renewables versus fossil fuel plants.
The solar singularity is indeed near (here?) in the U.S. and increasingly around the world. I described previously that 1 percent of the market is halfway to solar ubiquity because 1 percent is halfway between nothing and 100 percent in terms of doublings (seven doublings from .01 percent to 1 percent and seven more from 1 percent to reach 100 percent). The U.S. will reach the 1 percent solar milestone in 2016. We’re halfway there. Buckle your seatbelts.
There are plenty of unemployed oil workers ready for retraining. James Howard Kunstler:
So, in 2015, the shale oil companies laid off thousands of workers, idled the drilling rigs, and kicked back to pray that the price would go back up. Which it didn’t…. The landscape of North Dakota is littered with unfinished garden apartment complexes that may never be completed, and the discharged construction carpenters and roofers drove back to Minnesota ahead of the re-po men coming for their Ford F-110s.
To see what does well in the new, post-Paris domain, watch stocks like First Solar (FSLR), Renewable Energy Group (REGI), SolarCity (SCTY) and Siemens (SIE) over the next quarter, and mutuals like Firsthand Alternative Energy (ALTEX), New Alternatives (NALFX) and Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy (GAAEX). Some of these know their audience and have vowed to screen for social justice. Gabelli SRI AAA says, for instance:
The fund will not invest in the top 50 defense/weapons contractors or in companies that derive more than 5% of their revenues from the following areas: tobacco, alcohol, gaming, defense/weapons production….
There is a psychology that sets in once the corner is turned on fossil investments that may make a big difference in the political debate about climate change. For more than half a century the GOP, the Fossil Lobby and Wall Street have blocked, cut or delayed investments in renewables and papered it over with greenwash. Forced by pledges made in Paris — and a legally-binding agreement with the word "shall" used 143 times — and the emergence of a huge new global competition to begin not only unchaining the clean-tech sector, but to actively promote it with subsidies, research grants and moonshot-scale deployments, the psychology of chasing after sunk investments will drive an apolitical energy conversion.
Moreover, 350.org and Greenpeace are ramping up campaigns to make sure the promises made in Paris are kept.
Clean energy will not deliver a 1:1 replacement for fossil fuels. Get over it. We will not suddenly convert steel mills, cement kilns and road surfacing machines to operate on sunbeams. But the investments we do make, and the worsening weather, will drive us to make even more and ever larger investments, in a forlorn search for a full replacement. While wasteful, it is not nearly as wasteful as the industrial and military investments of the past century or more.
Persian Gulf wars, going back to antiquity, have never been fought over sunlight. As David Stockman recently recalled:
[A] 45-year old error … holds the Persian Gulf is an American Lake and that the answer to high oil prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet.***
That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 42 years since then have proven in spades that its doesn’t matter who controls the oilfields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.
The switch to sunlight will make the lives we are living better for many, especially those on the front lines of the oil wars, even as we continue towards an Anthropocene Armageddon with little sign of being able to change that trajectory.
In a well-read article in Climate Change in November 2010, Garrett ran the simple arithmetic:
Specifically, the human system grows through a self-perpetuating feedback loop in which the consumption rate of primary energy resources stays tied to the historical accumulation of global economic production — or p×g — through a time-independent factor of 9.7±0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 US dollar.
If civilization is considered at a global level, it turns out there is no explicit need to consider people or their lifestyles in order to forecast future energy consumption. At civilization’s core there is a single constant factor, λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 mW per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar, that ties the global economy to simple physical principles. Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter.
Unsold cars sit on receiving docks all over the world
Because the current state of the system, by nature, is tied to its unchangeable past, it looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in CO2 emission rates. For predictions over the longer term, however, what is required is thermodynamically based models for how rates of carbonization and energy efficiency evolve. To this end, these rates are almost certainly constrained by the size and availability of environmental resource reservoirs. Previously, such factors have been shown to be primary constraints in the evolution of species
What this means is the same thing that Gail Tverberg, Richard Heinberg and many others have been saying for a very long time — modern economies are a product of cheap energy. Take that away and they crash and burn. That’s the good news. Garrett says there is no other climate remediation model that works. Civilization is a heat engine whether it is powered by nuclear fusion or photovoltaics. The global economy must crash for humanity to stand a chance. McPherson would take it a step farther and say it is already too late, enjoy what time you have.
The famous Fermi paradox raises the question: why haven’t we detected signs of alien life, despite high estimates of probability, such as observations of planets in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star by the Kepler telescope and calculations of hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy that might support life. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable. Early extinction, before interstellar communication, solves the Fermi Paradox. So does merely the extinction of civilization capable of interstellar communication without the same degree of trauma. No civilization, no heat.
But wait! Can that excess heat civilization is producing be turned into air conditioning for the planet? Is there a permacultural decroissance that could rescue our genome? Stay tuned, but first, next week, we play the Trump card.
Published on Peak Surfer on January 17, 2016
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
The World Bank Guys talked about rates of return and the burden on investors and the unacceptable cost of the doubling of the price of a kilowatt hour. Everyone there had said all of this before, with the same lack of communication and absence of concrete results.
Charlie saw that the meeting was useless. He thought of Joe, over at the daycare. He had never stayed there long enough even to see what they did all day long. Guilt stuck him like a sliver. In a crowd of strangers, 14 hours a day.
The bank guy was going on about differential costs. "And that's why its going to be oil for the next 20, 30 and maybe even 50 years," he concluded. "None of the alternatives are competitive." Charlie's pencil tip snapped.
"Competitive for what?" he demanded. He had not spoken until that point and now the edge in his voice stopped the discussion. Everyone was staring at him.
He stared back at the World Bank guys. "Damage from carbon dioxide emission costs about $35 per ton. But in your model, no-one pays it. The carbon that British Petroleum burns per year by sale and by operation runs up a damage bill of $50 billion dollars. BP reported a profit of $20 billion so actually its $30 billion in the red, every year.
"Shell reported a profit of $23 billion but if you added the damage cost it would be $8 billion in the red. These companies should be bankrupt. You support their exteriorizing of costs so your accounting is bullshit. You are helping to bring on the biggest catastrophe in human history.
"If the oil companies burn the 500 gigatons of carbon that you are describing as inevitable, because of your financial shell games, then two-thirds of the species on the planet will be endangered, including humans. But you keep talking about fiscal discipline and competitive edges and profit differentials. It's the stupidest head-in-the-sand response possible."
The World Bank guys flinched at this. "Well, we don't see it that way."
While the story coming out of the White House Press Room this week was phrased as a temporary moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal lands, the bigger story was in the details of the review that the President had ordered. Like Robinson's character in Sixty Days, the White House recognized that the real cost of coal is not currently accounted for in its price, so the new review will tally the environmental impacts, including destruction of public lands from air and water pollution from strip mining and failed mine reclamation, public health impacts from transporting and burning coal, damage from ash spills, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It will set a price on future leases based on this thoroughgoing review that brings the cost of coal in line with the reality of the actual costs.
If this had to be run through Congress, powerful coal-state Senators like Mitch McConnell would derail it before it got out of committee. As merely Bureau of Land Management regulatory policy, it falls under the Executive Branch, where the President's is the only opinion that counts.
Tomorrow senior politicians, digiratti activists and Hollywood stars ski into the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. The theme was to have been the 4th Industrial Revolution – robots, AI and the biotechno singularity — but the buzz is all about the latest crash of the world economy.
The trigger for all this change may have been what happened in Paris but could not stay in Paris. In December we reported from the United Nations climate meeting where many of these same characters — John Kerry, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel — were on stage. We described then how an amazing role reversal was in progress and how it had transformed COP-21, midway through the second week of deadlocked negotiations.
The roles that switched were between the dominants, like Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP, and the submissives — the entire renewables industry. Renewables are largely a digital world, enjoying advancements in crystal structure, solid state controllers, neodymium and other rare earth metallurgy that follow the proscribed arc of Moore's law, doubling in efficiency and halving in cost at close intervals, driving exponential adoption and dissemination.
Fossils, in contrast, are an analog industry, trying to wring the last drops of intoxicating elixir from the carpet of the pub after closing time. In 2015 those two curves crossed, and renewables are now cheaper (even free at some hours for select consumers in certain markets) while coal, oil and gas are queuing up outside bankruptcy court.
|Salvaging beer from the bar floor after last rounds|
The US Department of Energy reported this week:
The Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) released on January 12 forecasts that Brent crude oil prices will average $40 per barrel (b) in 2016 and $50/b in 2017. This is the first STEO to include forecasts for 2017. Forecast West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices average $2/b lower than Brent in 2016 and $3/b lower in 2017. However, the current values of futures and options contracts continue to suggest high uncertainty in the price outlook. For example, EIA's forecast for the average WTI price in April 2016 of $37/b should be considered in the context of recent contract values for April 2016 delivery, suggesting that the market expects WTI prices to range from $25/b to $56/b (at the 95% confidence interval).
The decline in oil price is too little, too late. It cannot keep pace with the price decline we are seeing in the clean tech revolution. Consequently, more people now work in the US solar industry than in oil and gas at the wellhead. In 2015, for the third straight year, the solar workforce grew 20 percent. Clean tech employs far more women than fossil, and 5 percent of the workforce is African American, 11 percent Latino, and 9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.
At the same time, rear-guard action by the Coal-Baron-selected legislatures in Arizona and Nevada — states that could be leading the nation in solar power production — have led to layoffs in the renewables sector. The pushback over solar and wind fees by grid owners, punitive taxes, and net metering promise to keep those states in the Dark Ages, as they did the United States for the past four decades.
In a famous L'il Abner cartoon, Pappy Yokum tells L'il Abner, "Any fool can knock down a barn, it takes a carpenter to build one." To which L'il Abner replies, "Any fool? Let me try!"
Listening to the Republican presidential candidates debate is like watching a Fox-den full of L'il Abners.
|US Solar Power 2010-2015|
So it is not surprising that at the stroke of a pen, three Republican appointees on the Nevada Power Utility Commission decided the fates of millions of ratepayers when they killed solar feed-in-tariffs in that state. It was not unlike Michigan governor Rick Snyder deciding to kill and maim thousands of Detroit residents by switching their water to a polluted source and then covering up the damage. You might say no-one gets killed or maimed from solar energy, and that's closer to true, but plenty more get poisoned every year from the fossil alternative.
The numbers being parsed in Davos will be puzzling to many attending that meeting. From a peak in January 2015 to last October, movements of crude by rail declined more than a fifth. The research group Genscape said rail deliveries to US Atlantic coast terminals continued to drop to the end of the year and the spot market for crude delivered by rail from North Dakota’s Bakken region “is at a near standstill.”
Just 5 years ago investors clamored for more tank cars to pick up the slack from overwhelmed pipeline capacity. Now those cars sit idle on sidings and no one is ordering more. Pipelines are idle too, as refineries on the coasts have found that it is cheaper to buy crude of higher quality than shale oil, shipped by ocean tanker from Canada, Nigeria and Azerbaijan.
Junk bond sales are all that supports
the fracked gas Ponzi scheme.
A Congress desperate to please its oil masters in an election year abolished four-decade-old restrictions on exporting domestic crude. While some tankers now take crude from the Gulf Coast to refineries in Venezuela, where the heavy sludges and half-formed keragens can be more economically processed because of fewer environmental restrictions, the US then imports back the finished products at a hefty mark-up.
The idling of rail, barge, ship and pipeline traffic is the biggest change of its kind in 30 years. And while the shift away from coal-powered energy, the long recession, and the petering out of the fracking and shale Ponzi real estate play would obviously lead to fewer tons, barrels and cubic feet being moved, it doesn't explain the full depth of the stoppage. The rail and barge slowdown is now spreading to more consumer-oriented segments. Intermodal carloads typically related to consumer goods fell 1.7 percent in the final quarter of last year.
"We believe rail data may be signaling a warning for the broader economy," the recent note from Bank of America says.
"Carloads have declined more than 5 percent in each of the past 11 weeks on a year-over-year basis. While one-off volume declines occur occasionally, they are generally followed by a recovery shortly thereafter. The current period of substantial and sustained weakness, including last week’s -10.1 percent decline, has not occurred since 2009."
“When people get hungry, governments fall” — Stuart Scott, Through A Dark Portal, Radio Ecoshock, January 13, 2016
If you can read the tea leaves, or even if you can't, we are now in the long slide. We will examine the financial road ahead, and the Paris Effect on that, in greater detail next week.
Published on the Peak Surfer on November 8, 2015
Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
The New York Times, which is quickly becoming to print media what Fox is to television news, has done what no first year news stringer should do. It buried the lead.
It buried the lead on what is likely to become one of the most important stories of all time.
Hidden in the science section of its November 6th daily edition is this headline from a story by Clifford Kraus: More Oil Companies Could Join Exxon Mobil as Focus of Climate Investigations. Kraus's lead is:
HOUSTON — The opening of an investigation of Exxon Mobil by the New York attorney general’s office into the company’s record on climate change may well spur legal inquiries into other oil companies, according to legal and climate experts, although successful prosecutions are far from assured.
The story goes on to describe the fraudulent activities undertaken by Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other oil majors from 1990 to 2001, using astroturf fronts with names like Global Climate Coalition and the American Legislative Exchange Council. The writer, and presumably the Times editorial team, assumes the reason NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is investigating is because the companies spent millions or billions on a disinformation campaign, purchasing no fewer than four U.S. presidents and vast numbers of Congressmen and Senators. These disinformation campaigns cast doubt on climate science by parading shill pseudoscientists before legislative committees. The purchased politicians then went before the public and parroted the oil company line: "Climate Change? Nothing to see here, move along."
The Times seems to think the NYAG is after some kind of conviction for perjury or advertising fraud.
By now this spin on the story is so old and been told so many times, we are surprised that it is still considered news. Maybe that is why it got bumped to the science page. Everyone knew, despite the feigned shock of Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and others, that Exxon had extensively researched the subject in the 1970s, concluded by the mid-80s that climate change was a serious threat, and then killed its own research program and financed opposition.
The real news story is something else. It is not what the investigation is but where it is. The New York Attorney General's office peers from its eyrie in Albany down the Hudson River, across the white plains and palisades to lower Manhattan, but it is only one of two such offices that watches. The other is located closer to the action, in the Federal Courthouse just below Wall Street, where dwells the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a Mr. Preet Bharara. If you bike by there, however, you see that dog is chained by a very long chain that runs all the way to the back porch of a big white house in Washington. Lest we forget, the nation's last Attorney General came from and went back to Wall Street's Covington & Burling, after 6 years of hearing nothing, seeing nothing and saying nothing as the nation's top law enforcer.
Why should Exxon and Chevron be worried? That would be because what is of interest to a NYAG watchdog is not about buying politicians or suborning perjury. It's about stock manipulation. After a decade of pretty good in-house science, Exxon and the other majors knew by the 80s that the pace of global warming was accelerating and that very soon there would be a massive, increasingly desperate effort underway to shift from fossil fuels to carbon-free renewables in order to escape Cauldron Earth. The hotter it gets, the more frenzied this effort will become, and the less likely Exxon will be able to cash in its balance sheet of fossil assets.
Meadows, et al, 1971 Limits to Growth with overlay of
Bates 1990, Climate in Crisis
If you were a CEO of one of these companies, the math would trouble your mind. It would cloud your thinking as you set up for that long putt on the 8th green. It would creep into your internal dialog as you are eyeing that cocktail waitress at a swank restaurant. Your worth as a company, the basis for the company's share price, and your own compensation and stock option packages, all depend on the estimated and proven reserves of oil and gas still in the ground. If, for some reason, those reserves could never be withdrawn – never be burned – then you have a serious problem. Your company is overvalued, and likewise the share price, and your own personal net worth. This is what interests the NY Attorney General. It's the math. Its also the mens rea – your state of mind; what you knew and when you knew it.
It is one thing to have a company whose worth exceeds not only that of any company on Earth but also of any company in history. It is another entirely if that worth is overstated, perhaps by a factor of 100, 1000, or one million times. That becomes the biggest stock fraud in history. For a young or politically ambitious AG, it is a ticket to glory.
On Thursday the Times reported:
Attorneys general for other states could join in Mr. Schneiderman’s efforts, bringing far greater investigative and legal resources to bear on the issue. Some experts see the potential for a legal assault on fossil fuel companies similar to the lawsuits against tobacco companies in recent decades, which cost those companies tens of billions of dollars in penalties.
That whole shooting match in Syria, driving millions of refugees into Europe, is about whether Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran and a proponent of a gas pipeline from Iran across Kurdistan to the sea, will be deposed by ISIS terrorists trained by CIA in the Colonel Kurtz style of spectacular horror and funded by the Pentagon so that the US could instead build a pipeline to European markets through Syria from Iraq. The Russian Air Force, with a new generation of fighters that can fly circles around anything built by Lockheed Martin, is looking like it will decide that one. It is pulverizing ISIS.
You don't need 100,000 marines to secure windmills in North Dakota.
That is the story the Times is missing.
In the Thursday story, the Times had a link to a 29-page Exxon report for its shareholders. The company essentially ruled out the possibility that governments would adopt climate policies stringent enough to force it to leave its reserves in the ground, saying that rising population and global energy demand would prevent that. “Meeting these needs will require all economic energy sources, especially oil and natural gas,” it said. Here is an image from that report. We especially enjoyed the absurdity of their idea of what better farming looks like.
|World population is going to grow by 3 North Americas in 15 years.|
In their report, Exxon predicts that the world will add 2 billion more people in the next 15 years, or roughly four more North Americas if you include Mexico and Canada. This tracks similar assessments by the UN and the World Population Council. That increase is baked in the cake just from the number of adolescents reaching childbearing age in these coming years. Exxon believes GDP will grow at 3 times the rate of population if energy supply is adequate. "We see the world requiring 35 percent more energy in 2040 than it did in 2010."
"In analyzing the evolution of the world’s energy mix, we anticipate renewables growing at the fastest pace among all sources through the Outlook period. However, because they make a relatively small contribution compared to other energy sources, renewables will continue to comprise about 5 percent of the total energy mix by 2040."
While we don't buy the whole package, we find ourselves agreeing with Exxon about one thing. Business as usual is not possible with an all-renewables portfolio. We wonder where even the finance for such a build-out would come from? More debt? The world financial system came with in a hair's breadth of financial collapse in 2008. Since then the balloon has reinflated and stretched bigger. China just arrested its free-falling stock market by issuing even more debt. But sooner or later loans have to be repaid, with interest, and in a shrinking resource economy they cannot be. When the day of reckoning eventually arrives, our chances of avoiding collapse are very slim. Gail Tverberg says, "The change … is similar to losing the operating system on a computer, or unplugging a refrigerator from the wall."
Where we part company with Exxon is that Exxon thinks governments will choose to keep heating the planet and we think they will dispense with business as usual. Only time will tell, although the issue will be up for serious debate this December in Paris.
Business as usual will not be an easy thing to give up.
In terms of energy conservation, the leaps made in energy efficiency by the infrastructure and devices we use to access the internet have allowed many online activities to be viewed as more sustainable than offline.
On the internet, however, advances in energy efficiency have a reverse effect: as the network becomes more energy efficient, its total energy use increases. This trend can only be stopped when we limit the demand for digital communication.
In recent years, the focus has been mostly on the energy use of data centers, which host the computers (the “servers”) that store all information online. However, in comparison, more electricity is used by the combination of end-use devices (the “clients”, such as desktops, laptops and smartphones), the network infrastructure (which transmits digital information between servers and clients), and the manufacturing process of servers, end-use devices, and networking devices.
By 2017, the electricity use of the internet globally is expected to rise to between 2,547 teraWatt-hours (low case) and 3,422 tWh (high case). The high case is made more likely by underdeveloping nations bypassing wired communications to go directly to smart phones and other devices, which are increasingly dependent on cloud services. Under these circumstances electricity use for internet will likely double every 5 years, to 110000 tWh (110 petaWatt-hours) by 2040. This would add another USA in electricity consumers every 5 years three more USAs in 15 years. That, of course, assumes that cloud computing doesn't follow the exponential growth its proponents seek.
Can renewables meet this demand? Right now in the US, renewables account for 13.2 percent of domestically produced electricity. Wind turbine capacity is 65 GWe installed (0.07 tWe), but because of wind and load intermittency, the mills only turn about 32% of the time, producing about 180 million kWh last year (180 GWhr, or 0.2 TWh). That was one ten-thousandth of what was used globally by the internet. To build out renewables to power just the internet by 2040 would require 110 pWh, or more than a million times all the renewable electricity produced by the USA today.
How probable is that? Exxon is completely accurate in labeling it fantasy.
And speaking of fantasy, imagine for a moment that Mr. Schneiderman gets his teeth into Exxon's stock fraud and won't stop shaking until the company restates its book value, sans proven reserves. There has been a recent fall in oil price (owing less to fracking, as the popular narrative has it, than to China's deflationary spiral that has tanked world demand), but if you are a shareholder, this might be a good time to sell.
Or you could take your advice from the nation's paper of record and assume everything is hunky dory.
Off the keyboard of Albert Bates
Published on Peak Surfer on July 5, 2015
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A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
— Isaac Asimov, Runaround (1942)Barack Obama may be remembered for many things — becoming the first Hawaiian President of the United States, withdrawing allied forces from epic military disaster in the Muslim World, dismantling market moral hazard, and reopening Cuba to the mob — but his most lasting legacy may be still to come.
There is a revolution quietly taking shape in Air Force joystick cubicles near Las Vegas, in the Horn of Africa, the Tribal Territories of Pakistan, the DMZ of Korea, and in secret sites in Tel Aviv and Kiev. Autonomous Robot drones are evolving capability to select and execute targets of opportunity.
The word robot comes from the Czech word robota meaning forced labor, and is generally attributed to a 1924 play by Karel Capek. The idea that men will build machines that may all too easily destroy their creators runs back through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Greek mythology. We have a deeply engrained wariness of anything that might knock us out of our place as top-predator in the food chain. And yet, we ignore these death machines we are building, seeing nothing more threatening than a good movie script.
The median response from Artificial Intelligence programmers when asked when AI-droids will have better processing power than humans is 2030. Put another way, the coming generations of flying robots that kill their human prey from 10,000 feet up will be smarter than people in about 15 years, barring total collapse of petroleum civilization, or maybe even because of it.
Removing Asimov's three laws from the kernel of killer robot CPUs is a death wish. Actually, Asimov wrote four laws. The fourth or zeroth law that outranked the others:
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
In the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown, the open source protocol for a public asset ledger called the blockchain was put forward. The core of this invention was the idea of decentralized consensus on a large scale, an app version of Occupy, if you will.
From the blockchain emerged BitCoin. BitCoin was modeled on the gold standard for valuing transportable wealth – there was a finite supply but it could be "mined" to enlarge what was available for transactions by users. New gold went to miners who solved mathematical problems. The Cyberpunk community extolled its virtues:
"Psychopathic tendencies as the side effect of extreme individuality can be brought into balance within a new social contract, enforced by Satoshi’s perfect market with its equilibrium of supply and demand. Characteristics that are often considered negative in society such as risk taking, calculated selfish acts and profit motives can now be channeled to serve a larger shared vision of a more free society.
"Instead of arms races and financial wars, with bitcoin the competition for solving a mathematical problem helps to achieve a global level security infrastructure. This new flow of currency has the potential to end financial apartheid and begin serving the unbanked and underbanked that have been excluded from the current financial system. It can free those who are restrained by rent-seekers and subjugated to financial colonization. Out of the torrents emerging through the massive hashing power, the torus of a new heart grows and with every beat expands our collective goodwill to flow throughout the entire network."
— Nozomi Hayase, Taming the Beast
Anytime someone comes on to us like a Snake Oil salesman, we check to make sure we still have our wallet, even if that wallet is now an app on our wristwatch.
Actually, this exuberance is immediately suspect in the case of bitcoin because "free" coins will gravitate towards whomever has the most computing power, leaving a 99 percent of lesser power users to purchase from the 1 percent who get theirs for "free." This is not a paradigm shift, it merely shifts the elite class (temporarily) from banksters to any hackers with supercomputer access and an ability to pay the electric bill.
The top coin miners have a Red Queen problem. In the Queen’s race in Alice in Wonderland, everyone runs faster and faster and no-one gets ahead. In coin mining, more and more computing power is required to solve the mathematical problems. The software underpinning the network reacts to successful miners by elevating difficulty, so hackers add even more computing power, and so on.
As this cycle speeds, it takes more datacenter CPU heat, and more cooling electricity, to mine a bitcoin. The computational power of the bitcoin mining network surpassed the world's top 500 supercomputers in 2013. On average, for every megawatt of electricity spent mining bitcoins, 0.65 tons (1300lbs) of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Dave Carlson, founder of Megabigpower, a mining datacentre in Washington state, figures he spends 240 kWh and releases 312 lbs of CO2 for each coin he mines. Worldwide, bitcoin mining generates about 25 tons CO2 per hour, or 219,000 tons per year. This is not virtual CO2. This is real CO2.
Can the blockchain prevent HSBC’s illegal money laundering for Mexican drug cartels? No. It makes it easier. Nigeria is already becoming a blockchain haven for Citibank, with ambitions to colonize all of payments space. If it seems oddly ironic to speak of Nigeria as a colonial power, just remember how quick its entrepreneurs were to colonize and monetize spam.
Does Citibank have any compunction about employing the fastest available processing power to (a) game bitcoin mining; (b) replace devalued bitcoins with its own CitiCoin; and (c) unleash predatory trading algorithms from the blockchain that operate at warp speed or even employ quantum mechanics to execute trades before they are even imagined by the trading partners?
The Cyberpunk response is that blockchain transparency will flush the bandit algorithms. But one man's bandit is another's freedom fighter, layering, spoofing, and generating wash trades. The sheriff (SEC, FIRA, FBI, or a State or US Attorney) is outgunned and doesn't usually want to do anything that might jeopardize his/her pension, or the party in power.
In his White House War Room, The Commander-in-Chief is assured that if we don't do this first, our rivals will. And so we drift, towards unparalleled catastrophe.
Above, circling the heavens, are autonomous killer drones that keep getting smarter by the year. In a world where all things connected to the Internet are hackable, so too are they.
Off the keyboard of Albert Bates
Published on Peak Surfer on June 28, 2015
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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
|Does the Pope also Duckwalk?|
If we are honest and admit climate change threatens the survival of our species, right now and not next decade or next century, and don't just turn away or accept the numbing banality that comes with avoidance of the subject, we would have to, to not be hypocritical, actually choose to do something about what we know we know.
But do what, exactly? Our institutions are not working. Any real change has to come from our personal footprint, changing our choices. Change is our only way of being truthful with ourselves, and not neurotic or schizophrenic.
What is needed, says Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of Climate Change Mobilization, are achievable goals, a set of actions that anyone can take and appreciate that they are actually changing the situation for the better. Merely changing light bulbs or buying a Prius won't cut it. It has to involve not green consumerism but de-consumerism. We have to give up those fabulous perks that came with the Age of Oil; to discard zombie fashion. We have to stop having so many babies, eating so much meat, and cutting down so many trees. We have to go back to understanding our relationship with the land and our sources of sustenance, and showing greater care for the whole of the natural world that underpins our existence.
When people become agents for truth and vital change, they are elevated, enlarged, and lit up. The truth, and their role in advancing it, affects how they view themselves, what occupies their mind, and how they conduct their affairs. The power of truth allows them to transcend their limitations and what they once thought possible for themselves.
We cannot begin to say how refreshing it is to see Pope Francis face the urgency of the situation and awaken us to our need to be alive, and to swim upstream. To borrow a line from Jim Hightower, “Even a dead fish can swim downstream.” In his new encyclical, Laudato Si', Francis writes:
The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.***
[I]f we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.
The pope comes out against technological advances that will save us from our modern sins or magically improve productivity by replacing human work. He eschews market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, condemning, like the popes before him, the profit motive at its root.
The New York Times columnist David Brooks, defender of both profits and the fossil economy, responds:
Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Within a constitution, the desire for fame can lead to political greatness…. [G]as and oil resources extracted through fracking have already added more than $430 billion to annual gross domestic product and supported more than 2.7 million jobs that pay, on average, twice the median U.S. salary.
We won't quibble with either Brooks or the pope because they are speaking past each other. Brooks is right that lust and greed are powerful motivators, and part of our serpent brain. Francis is right that to live at peace with each other and the planet we have to set aside those childish things, open our hearts and begin to see the world as adults. Brooks is clinging to the past while Francis is salvaging the future.
Jeb Bush, shortly after announcing his candidacy for US President, told a reporter about the pope's statement, "I don't get my economic advice from my priest." His pollsters are telling him he is on the wrong side of the climate issue but his strategists tell him he doesn't want to see the Koch brothers' billions go to a rival. Perhaps he thinks he will pivot later in the race, before he has to debate Bernie.
What is new is that it is not even about pandering to voters anymore. Even half of Republicans now want this issue dealt with. Well, good luck, because the zombie lies aren't about the voters. They're for the donors, who make their living killing the planet. The question is not why today's politicians suck more than ever, it is who they are sucking more than ever.
— Bill Maher
Paradigms change. Jason Hickel, Martin Kirk, and Joe Brewer, co-authors of a London School of Economics comparison between the encyclical and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wrote in The Guardian:
He calls out the transnational corporations that profit by polluting poor countries. He criticizes the foreign debt system that has become a tool by which rich countries control poor countries. And he warns that the financial sector, grown too powerful, has eroded the sovereignty of nation states and “tends to prevail over the political.”
This is an important move, because without naming the forces that cause human suffering and environmental destruction, it is impossible to address them.
As Professor Ian Gough put it, "This revolutionary encyclical challenges both current ethics and economics."
The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.
Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.
It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed” (quoting the Pontifical Council For Justice And Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, at page 462).
Here Francis begins to sound more like the Dalai Lama. The Tibetian Book of Secret Doctrines says, "Cherish no notion of separated individuality." Subject and Object are one. Man and Nature are one. Form and Formlessness are one. Mind and Buddha are one. The encyclical says:
It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.
Speaking directly to his "cheerfully reckless" critics, Francis says:
It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all” (quoting Omano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, (The End of the Modern World, at 56).***
Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.
The study by Hickel, Kirk and Brewer contrasted Francis’s vision with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:
The SDGs are right to embrace a wide range of issues. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals, they recognize that the problems we face are multidimensional. But they have confused thoroughness with holism, lists with patterns. It’s a mistake born of outdated thinking.
The pope, by contrast, has struck at the systemic nature of the issue. “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is connected,” he says. “To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.”
This is what makes the encyclical far more than a document about climate change. It is a profound critique of the deep logic of our political economy. This is a vastly more sophisticated paradigm than the one that underpins the SDGs and a large part of why the encyclical feels cohesive, fresh and relevant, where the SDGs feel inconsistent, clunky and 20 years out of date.
Francis is not above legitimate criticism, less for what he puts into the encyclical than for what he leaves out. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says:
First off, he dismisses the need to address reproductive rights for women, and also the concomitant problem of population growth in poor countries as part of any proposed solution to world environmental problems. If one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale, then one needs to worry about population growth. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level that provides all humans with adequate food and access to medicine, water, and security. Moreover, the environmental problems induced by overpopulation are also disproportionately born by those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited. As I have argued elsewhere recently in this regard, ultimately empowering women to manage their own reproductive future gives them the surest road out of poverty.
Perhaps even more glaring is the double standard within which Francis, with Franciscan modesty, lives in a grand gilded palace, overseeing a legion of wealthy Cardinals, while calling for even the poorest among us to reduce consumption. To be sure, the encyclical was directed to believers within the church, including collegially off-key voices within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier and plenty of other senior Catholics are dredging up lame, discredited arguments against His Holiness's views. To them, Francis says:
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.
(The power of truth) does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth.
Salaman wrote, "Climate truth has the potential to be more powerful than any country’s independence; more powerful that overthrowing authoritarian states; and more powerful than civil rights or any group’s struggle for safety, recognition and equality. Climate truth contains such superordinate power because all of those causes depend on a safe climate."
Will the Papal Encyclical make any real difference in the battle against climate change? One need only recall what happened in 1979, when John Paul II traveled to Poland and preached thirty-two sermons in nine days. Timothy Garton Ash put it this way, "Without the pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of communism." Bogdan Szajkowski said it was, "A psychological earthquake, an opportunity for mass political catharsis…" The Poles who turned out by the millions looked around and saw they were not alone.
Off the keyboard of td0s
Published on Pray for Calamity on January 5, 2013
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Solving a problem relies first upon a trustworthy identification of the problem. This can be easy with simple problems, like a flat tire. It can be extremely difficult with complex problems such as climate change or the social ills of poverty and exploitation. It should be a no brainer that complex societies create complex problems with not one but various strands of the root establishing any particular issue. Most analysis that gets peddled by the architects and shills of the dominant culture is usually lacking in comprehensive diagnosis. This was summed up famously by H.L Menken when he said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
In our culture, it is not uncommon for positive outcomes of a system or arrangement to be credited widely to the culture as a whole. This is evident for me any time I try to have a discussion about the destruction wrought by a culture dependent upon industrialism and technology. Those who have never questioned the society in which they live immediately point out medical advances, knowledge of the cosmos, communications technology, etc. as these pinnacles of human development and existence, as if these inventions and discoveries are the new floor for human existence which we can never again sink beneath. These advances are attributed to democracy and capitalism, and the theme becomes, “Industrial capitalism may not be perfect, but it has given us a standard of living once unfathomable, and there is no conceivable reason to not only retain these developments, but to continually expand upon them.” This is bundled in a word; “progress.”
There is a very intentional paradox that comes into play if the problems created by industrial civilization’s “progress” are trotted out. Poverty for instance, is often blamed on the individual who struggles with it. Staunch defenders of capitalism will nit pick the minutiae of decisions and habits of each individual poor person who ever dares associate their condition with overall social or cultural architecture. The resounding lie is that anyone can rise on the economic ladder should only they work for it. This lie is successful because on it’s face, it appears true. Anyone could become rich. But not everyone could become rich. Not everyone could be middle class. Capitalism requires a struggling underclass that can be forced through social conditions and laws into taking low wage work. Low wage work is the majority of the work available within a capitalist paradigm, and thus it requires a majority of people to be trapped in a social condition which will leave them no option but to undertake this work.
Arthur Young, an English writer and pamphleteer of the mid and late eighteenth century wrote, “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.”
Poverty is a necessary condition of capitalism. How an individual navigates this poverty is in part up to them, but they do not create the condition, and they do not create the other social parameters which stem from it.
Social conditions from access to education, housing, and food, quality of medical care, level of policing in one’s neighborhood, race, perceived gender or sexual orientation, access to a clean environment, etc. will all play a role in the development of the individual from the time they are a newborn, or even in utero. Black children raised in a poor urban community with a high crime rate, lack of grocery stores, and lower quality education will clearly have a disadvantage economically relative to upper middle class white children who attend higher quality schools and eat a more balanced diet. This should be obvious. When the disadvantages manifest as individual inability to escape poverty, or as criminal behavior or drug addiction, the blame is always place squarely and solely on the individual.
In Dr. Bruce K. Alexander’s paper, “The Roots of Addiction in a Free Market Society” it is argued that the dislocation caused by capitalist society is a major factor causing addictive behavior. He writes:
“[D]islocation is the necessary precursor of addiction. … [F]ree markets inevitably produce widespread dislocation among the poor and the rich. As free market globalization speeds up, so does the spread of dislocation and addiction. In order for ‘free markets’ to be ‘free,’ the exchange of labour, land, currency, and consumer goods must not be encumbered by elements of psychosocial integration such as clan loyalties, village responsibilities, guild or union rights, charity, family obligations, social roles, or religious values. Cultural traditions ‘distort’ the free play of the laws of supply and demand, and thus must be suppressed. In free market economies, for example, people are expected to move to where jobs can be found, and to adjust their work lives and cultural tastes to the demands of a global market.”
Alexander goes on to reference specific native tribes in North America removed from their lands and stripped of their cultures and he directly links their high incidences of addiction to this dislocation. What his paper clearly lays out, is that social problems have social causes.
Whenever a person in the US snaps and goes on a rampage with a firearm, the society that created that individual is rarely implicated, and never implicated with any level of seriousness. Such implication would have serious ramifications for the ego and identities of those who support the dominant culture. It would also create a condition of responsibility society would then be compelled to address through altering it’s internal parameters. To ignore the culture that creates the psychosis, nihilism, and other mental and emotional disfunction prerequisite to waltzing into an elementary school with a rifle and murderous intent is to essentially declare that the occasional massacre of children or movie patrons is OK, a necessary evil of our otherwise high and glorious “way of life.” Instead of the culture taking responsibility for the monsters it creates, guns are blamed, whether an abundance or a lack.
The scope with which most social critique is attended is variable depending on the desired outcome. A macro view is applied to hide the blood in the cracks, a micro view zoomed in on the individual whenever the culmination of a sociopathic culture of death results in an individual acting out this cultural psychosis in a socially “unproductive” way. Should Adam Lanza or James Holmes had joined the Marines and manifested their violent sociopathy in an Afghan village or from behind the controls of a CIA drone attacking weddings in Pakistan or Yemen, we would likely never have known their names. People would clap for them as they walked through an airport in their fatigues.
No doubt, the prescription psychotropic drugs both Lanza and Holmes were taking affected their behavior. I do not think this is contrary to the thinking that the dominant culture generated their psychosis. In fact, I think it proves the point. More and more people in the US are taking prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. The numbers are one in five men, and one in four women are taking these mind altering drugs. If industrial civilization and capitalism provide such a wonderful “standard of living;” if this way of life is the pinnacle of human existence, why does almost a quarter of the population require a drug to make them feel better about it? Add in the number of people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, and it’s likely that a large majority of the population needs to achieve an altered state of consciousness on a regular basis merely to cope with the daily requirements leveled on their shoulders by this society.
But if we zoom out, we see happy shoppers and smiling twenty somethings taking “selfies” by the thousands.
If we cannot identify the cause of a problem, we will not likely solve the problem. If depression, addiction, and poverty, or even cancer, pollution, and climate change are viewed with the improper lens, these problems with social and cultural roots will always be attacked at the individual level. Individuals are blamed for their addictions. Individuals are blamed for their poverty. Individuals are even blamed for their cancer, and treatment is always about the individual, never prevention of the spread of toxins which cause it. This blame will not always sound like condemnation, harsh and critical as the blame attached to poverty, because cancer crosses class and race demographics. White grandmas get cancer, so we won’t be mean about it. But illness prevention is offered through individual diet, individual exercise, never through a social change that bans coal fired power plants, the creation and ultimate incineration of plastic, or the use of sodium nitrite in meat. Of course individuals can do their best to maintain their health and fitness. But we cannot not breathe in the dioxin or glyphosate in the air.
Even in the case of climate change and ecosystem collapse, what are the solutions proffered by capitalists and purveyors of the dominant culture? Individual reduction in consumption. Individual bicycling. With this focus on the individual behavior, corporate profits are safe and anyone who raises the alarm about ecological destruction and climate change can be attacked for their lifestyle impurity while the message itself drowns under screams and howls decrying the use of a car or computer by she who raised the alarm. I suffer this madness regularly both as a writer who publishes my work online, and as a direct action activist who has used a pick up truck to transport the materials and people into forests where tree sit campaigns blockaded the construction of tar sands infrastructure. Never mind the basic equation that I’d be willing to burn one million barrels of oil if it were able to prevent the shipment and ultimate burning of several hundred thousand barrels of oil per day for the next decade or two. Never mind Jevon’s paradox and the fact that conservation of oil by one individual only results in extra consumption by another who takes advantage of increased supply. The idea that the solution to a problem with global reach and social, economic, and cultural underpinnings rests entirely on the individual is patently absurd and intellectually lazy.
Striking one’s gaze in an intentionally overly broad or overly minute direction is an obfuscation employed regularly by the media, politicians, and others who have a vested interest not in solving problems, but in perpetuating them and profiting off of false solutions. A recent study demonstrated that two thirds of the emissions responsible for climate change are generated by ninety companies globally. According to the author of the study:
“There are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers in the world, but the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”
The implications of the study are fascinating and grabbing headlines, but I fear there is a reductionism in the reactions to the study, as a complex and global problem which has not one taproot but many roots that stretch and meander in various directions, is being described as something that can be halted by focusing on a busload of individuals. To be sure, the power of these individuals is great, and I in no way want to diminish the negative impact of the decisions these people daily make. Financing climate change skepticism, altering media coverage through advertising and influence, and regularly seeking investment for new coal, oil, gas, bitumen, and kerogen projects is absolutely disdainful behavior with globally deleterious ramifications. These individuals and these companies should be pressured and punished respectively. But lacking a cultural and social shift away from capitalism and antiquated profit and domination based definitions of “progress,” such pressure and punishment will ultimately prove ineffective at solving our penultimate problem.
We look at our bodies and we see flesh. If we look at them under a microscope, we can see our tissues are comprised of cells. A little more zoom and we can see the organelles within the cell. Building those organelles are compounds comprised of molecules which are in turn built of atoms which consist of variously charged particles, themselves containing quarks and on and on possibly to infinity. If we turn the device around and look outward we see that our planet exists within a solar system, spiraling around a galaxy, itself but one small galaxy housed within a universe of billions of galaxies which itself may be housed within a larger super universe that might be nothing but a quark within God’s cat’s butt. This is all to demonstrate that scale and scope offer perspective, but the perspective is meaningless without context of where it resides within the whole.
Mechanistic thinking and reductionism was a product of the enlightenment period In this time, the conceptualization of the Earth as a living entity was diminished. It is commonly known that indigenous cultures looked to the Earth as a living entity with spirit and flesh and consciousness. Even the ancient Greeks and Renaissance Europeans held such views, surprising as this may seem. Of course, cultures varied in their interpretations of how this was to play into their behavior, but the predominant response was that as a living Mother, the Earth must be respected, and her resources must be harvested and utilized consciously and with care.
This view of a living universe, with even stars and planets as living and conscious entities was stripped away during the so called “enlightenment” period. Carolyn Merchant writes eloquently on this transformation in cultural concept and it’s disastrous results for ecology:
“Whereas the medieval economy had been based on organic and renewable energy sources–wood, water, wind, and animal muscle–the emerging capitalist economy was based on nonrenewable energy–coal–and the inorganic metals–iron, copper, silver, gold, tin, and mercury–the refining and processing of which ultimately depended on and further depleted the forests. Over the course of the sixteenth century, mining operations quadrupled as the trading of metals expanded, taking immense toll as forests were cut for charcoal and the cleared lands turned into sheep pastures for the textile industry. Shipbuilding, essential to capitalist trade and national supremacy, along with glass and soap making, also contributed to the denudation of the ancient forest cover. The new activities directly altered the earth. Not only were its forests cut down, but swamps were drained, and mine shafts were sunk.”
The rise of Francis Bacon’s scientific method came hand in hand with new cultural understanding. The Earth was dead, inert, without life or feeling. The Earth and nature were impediments to an increase in human “standard of living.” Belief systems which held the Earth to be a living and sacred mother to be tread upon delicately and with care were obstructions to progress and wealth accumulation.
“The removal of animistic, organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature–the most far-reaching effect of the scientific revolution. Because nature was now viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external rather than inherent forces, the mechanical framework itself could legitimate the manipulation of nature. Moreover, as a conceptual framework, the mechanical order had associated with it a framework of values based on power, fully compatible with the directions taken by commercial capitalism.”
“The emerging mechanical worldview was based on assumptions about nature consistent with the certainty of physical laws and the symbolic power of machines. Although many alternative philosophies were available (Aristotelian, Stoic, gnostic, Hermetic, magic, naturalist, and animist), the dominant European ideology came to be governed by the characteristics and experiential power of the machine. Social values and realities subtly guided the choices and paths to truth and certainty taken by European philosophers. Clocks and other early modern machines in the seventeenth century became underlying models for western philosophy and science.”
While civilizations based upon exploitation and expansion predate the thinking of Bacon, Decartes, and their contemporaries, these “enlightenment” thinkers founded a nihilism which became the cultural basis for an exponential increase in the rapacious destruction of the living Earth as well as the destruction of people’s and cultures which refused to adopt such methods of thinking and behaving.
This mechanistic view, this selective lensing of poverty, addiction, disease, and psychosis has the elites of money and privilege singing the praises of the dominant culture and maneuvering the levers of power for ever more of the behaviors and policies that are bringing about these maladies while never solving them. Viewed as merely cogs in a grand social machine, individuals suffering poverty and addiction are told to shape up or be removed into a cage where defective cogs are isolated.
Humans globally now stand on the precipice of catastrophe. Mechanistic approaches to food production have boosted short term yields at the expense of long term soil health and fertility. Despite water now tainted with glyphosate and phosphorous and soil stripped of the organic material which provides fertility, scientists are genetically modifying plants and trees to continue raising production yields despite common sense screaming that dominating nature is shortsighted and priming society for an agricultural collapse. Human attempts to manipulate nature under the mechanistic view that one part can be destroyed without affecting the whole continue to fuel climate change even as storms of record size and ferocity make landfall across the globe and as the jet stream is skewed bringing extremes of cold and hot into regions both south and north of their usual boundaries.
The ability to view the world holistically is not merely the ability of the grand scientist or mathematician who can compile and compute all of the variables in a system and spit out an accurate prognosis of a given issue or problem. As our ecological and social problems beg for holistic approaches, society instead seeks more and more compartmentalized “experts” who have spelunked into the deep caverns of their niche specialties. Hence the economists who don’t understand peak oil, the business people who don’t understand climate change, and the doctors who treat the symptoms, never once seeking the causes of various diseases and conditions.
The holistic ability this era craves is wisdom, itself the product of patient and caring people, listeners and observers who understand where the value of science and logic both begin and end. Wisdom is rare, it is quiet, it is humble, and thus is almost never even requested let alone respected by the dominant culture.
“Progress” is the grand value of the day. It is to be unquestioned. No endangered species or human culture is allowed to stand in the way of progress — not even if that endangered species is the human animal herself. It was a demented and flat thinking culture that wrote the definition of progress which is now vaunted, and if there is any hope for humanity I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that this hope at least partially resides in a redefining of “progress.” New widgets, wealth accumulation, and the bending of nature to the whims of the capitalist should not by default be considered progress. More often than not these contrivances do not advance the comfort or position of but a minority of the human population, and they do so on the backs of the poor majority. More often still, such “progress” is so destructive ecologically that were it not for mechanistic reduction hiding the costs from view, one would have to be a dedicated and shareholding huckster to call it “progress” at all.
If the survival of our species and the living web we depend on is a concern at all, we must begin to understand progress as peace, not production. Progress must mean equality, not subjugation. Progress must mean sustainable stewardship, not domination and control. Most of all, we must foster the wisdom that we are all linked with each other and with the living world, and that we cannot manipulate each other or the world for a benefit in one capacity without likely causing a deficiency in another. We need to praise the slow and thoughtful analysis which attempts to understand all parts of an issue. Where the living planet is concerned, we must understand that our meddling has consequences that multiply themselves in seen and unseen ways, thus meddling should be kept to a minimum and undertaken with grave attention.
The scale of human industrial activity is so large and it’s rate of process so fast, that such a revolution in consciousness seems unlikely absent some cataclysm which halts the furious pace of capital flow. To be sure, the cataclysm is waiting in the wings. Whether or not the challenges it brings are met with true progress of the mind and being is to be seen.
SURVEY SUBMISSIONS TO DATE: 277
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on May 17. 2015
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Early on when I began my journey into the World of Collapse, probably the biggest and most contentious issue that got kicked around on the Collapse forums and blogs was whether the monetary system would collapse in Hyperinflation or Deflation. In fact here on the Diner itself this remains one of the most popular threads, with more than 30 pages of posts at this point.
Lately however, the Doom community has become more Doomerish, and what is being kicked around now is whether Homo Saps are bound for Extinction, not in some long distant future but in the Near Term. In fact, some folks like Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last are predicting this Extinction Level Event will occur as early as 2030, only 15 years down the line from present day. Obviously, if you are in the process of going Extinct, the monetary issues pale before that one! LOL. For the purposes of this survey though, we will consider anything under a Century as "Near Term".
In an effort to get a better clue on what people think will occur here (and WHEN!?) as we move along the Collapse Highway, I worked up a little Survey utilizing yet another of the numerous Plugins I have installed lately to spruce up the Diner before I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM. 🙂
Before you take the Main Survey, if you haven't done so already here on the Diner, you may want to place yourself in on our Taxonomy of Doomer Types Survey. If you have already done this survey before, don't do it again, it will skew the results. I haven't got a way yet to stop Duplicates out by User. I don't want to require email addys or any identification for these polls, as I think that would discourage readers from responding to them.
I came up with this taxonomy back in my days Blogging on The Burning Platform with Jim Quinn. I had just 2 categories for it back then, now I am up to 4 with it. Here's the old table though for some descriptions. This goes back to 2011 BTW.
|Dollar & Monetary System||We can fix the monetary system and rehabilitate the Dollar if we STOP PRINTING, feed Helicopter Ben to the Lions, Slash Spending, allow TBTF Banks to FAIL, Incarcerate the Criminal Banksters and use Precious Metals to underpin the currency.||The monetary system cannot be rehabilitated by any means, there will be a complete collapse of ALL Fiat money and financial instruments and commerce will for quite some time be mainly Barter. PMs will only retain value in areas where there is a surplus of basic commodities.|
|Inflation, Hyper-Inflation, Deflation, Stagflation, DICK UP YOUR ASSFLATION||WTF CARES ANYMORE? WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES.||WTF CARES ANYMORE? WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES.|
|Energy||To resolve our Energy problems, we must IMMEDIATELY begin building more Nukes, Drill Baby Drill for more Local Oil and build more Hydro Plants and Wind Farms, and eventually pick up the slack from lost energy from Imported Oil sources.||Lost Energy from depleted Oil is Irreplaceable and it is far too late to stop an extensive Power Down throughout society which will halt most of our Transportation methods and bring down the Electrical Grid. Our only choice is to prepare for a Low Energy footprint in the future.|
|Goobermint||We can fix Da Goobermint if we Vote Out all the scumbag CONgress Critters and replace them with Honest Politicians who cannot be Bought who all demonstrate the Wisdom of the Founding Fathers and abide by the Constitution. Said new Goobermint will be made much smaller with fewer Regulations and less Taxation, allowing Commerce to revive as the Free Market takes over.||Da Goobermint is inherently unfixable and corrupt and cannot be rehabilitated via the Ballot Box. Only a Revolution can remove the current power structure, and the results of a Revolution will likely bring a new Goobermint as bad or WORSE than the current one. The failure of the monetary sytem and energy systems will eventually render all large scale Goobermints unable to function, with the power vacuum filled by local Warlords and Dictators in most places.|
|Jobs||We must stop the offshoring of Productive Jobs and rebuild our Manufacturing Base in order to build an export based Mercantilist economy with a Trade Surplus.||The Industrial Model is FINISHED, even if we could rebuild Factories here in the FSofA, we wouldn’t have the Oil to run them anyhow, and there won’t be anyone here or abroad who could afford the products we build with them anyhow, because of the upward spiraling cost of energy measured in EROEI.|
|Immigration||We must Seal the Borders and deport all Illegal Aliens and get FSofA Citizens to work at all the scut jobs at below Minimum Wage they currently fill to reduce Unemployment and reduce the liabilities of Aliens who are soaking up free Medical Care in the Emergency Rooms of our Hospitals.||We can TRY to seal the borders and deport the Illegal Aliens, but they will just be replaced by more home grown Citizens who are falling off the economic cliff and will be just as big a drain on the Medical System. Besides that, at least on the Border with Mejico, it will likely create an ever growing Shooting War with a Tsunami of Wetbacks seeking to escape an even worse situation in Mejico.|
|Imperialism & Foreign Wars||We must STOP trying to be the World’s Policeman, bring all our Boys & Girls HOME and reduce the outrageous COST of maintaining the Big Ass Military.||As soon as we STOP running all our Imperialist adventures, we will basically be CUT OFF from the Foreign Oil still making its way across the Sea Lanes to our Refineries. We also will crash just about the only type of “productive” thing we build here anymore, which are the Weapons of War and we will bring back a whole new crew of people to put on the Unemployment line.|
|Free Shit Army & 30 Blocks of Squalor||We must end all transfer payments, all Welfare, Social Security and Medicaire which are all unfunded Liabilities we cannot afford. Former Welfare recipients will be FORCED to go back to work and become Productive Citizens rather than Useless Eaters. Old Folks will rely on their Savings and their Extended Families to take care of them in their dotage.||The minute we knock down all these social support mechanisms is the minute we turn into Egypt or Libya or all the rest of the 3rd World countries where the people with Nothing Left to Lose go BERSERK. We don’t HAVE jobs these people could do, even if they were qualified to do any job, which they are not for the most part. Most Old Folks have no savings, and the Extended Family died back in the 1950s for the most part. The Medical Industry as a whole would COLLAPSE without Goobermint input, putting the Doctors, Nurses and Medical Records folks on the UE lines also.|
|China will succeed long term because they are net creditors, have most of the Industrial infrastructure and have more Science and Math geniuses studying at Elite Universities.||China is TOAST because of outrageous Population Overshoot, a depleted Water Supply, insufficient arable land and insufficient local supplies of remaining Fossil Fuel energy.|
||Boomers should be EXTERMINATED||Pigmen should be EXTERMINATED|
The latest Compact Description of each of the new categories is below, and you can go HERE to take that Survey if you have not done so already. However, don't navigate away from this page until you take the Survey below, which is much more comprehensive.
Tell Us How you Categorize Yourself
Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder
Published on The Economic Collapse on May 10, 2015
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Did you know that 89 percent of all minimum wage workers in the United States are not teens? At this point, the average age of a minimum wage worker in this country is 36, and 56 percent of them are women. Millions upon millions of Americans are working as hard as they can (often that means two or three jobs), and yet despite all of their hard work they still find themselves mired in poverty. One of the big reasons for this is that we have created two classes of workers in the United States. “Full-time workers” are entitled to an array of benefits and protections by law that “part-time workers” do not get. And thanks to perverse incentives contained in Obamacare and other ridiculous laws, we have motivated employers to move as many workers from the “full-time” category to the “part-time” category as possible. It may be hard to believe, but right now only 44 percent of all U.S. adults are employed for 30 or more hours each week. But to get any kind of a job at all is a real challenge in many parts of the country today. As you read this article, there are more than 100 million working age Americans that are not employed in any capacity. And according to John Williams of shadowstats.com, if the federal government was actually using honest numbers the unemployment rate would be sitting at 23 percent. That is not an “employment recovery” – that is a national crisis.
The following infographic comes from the Economic Policy Institute. I certainly do not agree with a lot of the things that the Economic Policy Institute stands for, but I think that these numbers do accurately reflect what “part-time America” looks like today…
So what is the solution to this problem?
Most Democrats believe that raising the minimum wage would fix this. But as Zero Hedge has pointed out, it isn’t quite that simple…
Last week, we noted that Democratic lawmakers in the US are pushing for what they call “$12 by ’20” which, as the name implies, is an effort to raise the minimum wage to $12/hour over the course of the next five years. Republicans argue that if Democrats got their wish and the pay floor were increased by nearly 70%, it would do more harm than good for low-income Americans as the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of employers cutting back in the face of dramatically higher labor costs would offset the benefit that accrues to the workers who are lucky enough to keep their jobs.
Yes, raising the minimum wage would make life better for many minimum wage workers in America. But a large number of them would also lose their jobs completely, and a lot of small businesses would deeply suffer financially.
Ideally, what we would love to see happen is for the U.S. economy to be producing so many good jobs that the only people that are looking for entry-level part-time jobs would be teens, people just starting out in the workforce, etc. Back when I was a teen, I remember walking into a McDonald’s and getting hired on the spot because they were in dire need of workers. Sadly, those days are long, long gone.
Over the past several decades, millions of good paying American jobs have been shipped overseas, and millions more have been lost to advancing technology. And as I wrote about the other day, Barack Obama is deeply betraying American workers by working on a global economic treaty that would destroy millions more good paying jobs.
Thanks to the foolishness of our politicians, there is now intense competition even for minimum wage jobs at this point.
We keep hearing about an “employment recovery”, but it is a giant lie. Posted below is a chart of the civilian employment to population ratio. As you can see, the percentage of the working age population that is actually employed is much, much lower than it used to be…
In recent months, we have seen the employment-population ratio move slightly higher. But can this be called “an employment recovery”? Of course not. We are still way, way below the level that we were at just prior to the last recession, and now the next recession is just about upon us.
Meanwhile, the quality of our jobs continues to decline as more Americans are being pushed into “part-time work” with each passing year.
Since February of 2008, the size of the U.S. population has grown by 16.8 million people. But during that same time frame, the number of full-time jobs in this country has actually decreased.
And at this point, the majority of American workers simply do not make enough money to support a middle class family. The following income numbers come directly from the Social Security Administration…
-39 percent of American workers make less than $20,000 a year.
-52 percent of American workers make less than $30,000 a year.
-63 percent of American workers make less than $40,000 a year.
-72 percent of American workers make less than $50,000 a year.
Are you starting to see why I am so fired up about all of this?
We have developed a business culture in this country which does not care about workers. In business schools all over America, future executives are taught that a corporation only has one goal – to maximize wealth for the shareholders. Taking care of those that are part of your team is treated as an afterthought at best.
As corporations have gotten bigger, they have shown less and less concern for those that work for them. These days, employees are generally regarded as “expensive liabilities” that are to be discarded the moment that their usefulness has come to an end. And news of layoffs is often rewarded by Wall Street by a surge in the stock prices of the companies making those layoffs.
In the old days, more businesses in America were family-owned, and employees were often regarded as almost “part of the family”. Unfortunately, those days have disappeared forever.
Now, employees are treated like scum by many big companies, and if they don’t like how they are being treated they are told that they can leave. For example, just consider what was going on at a security company down in Florida…
Jose Molero worked as a site inspector for the company, which provides security for neighborhoods and companies across the country, for more than a year.
Molero says when he went to the Kensington Golf and Country Club guardhouse, he found wooden paddles on a desk, some with staff names on them and one reading “for staff discipline.”
He says there was also what is called a “Wall of Shame,” where the supervisor points out and posts reports that contain grammatical errors.
When Molero complained about these things to his district manager, he was told that if anyone was offended “maybe they shouldn’t work here”…
Molero contacted his operations manager, who told him to speak with the district manager. He says the district manager sent him an email response that said, “if that hurts their feelings then maybe they shouldn’t work here.”
Do you have a similar horror story to share?
Most of us do.
The U.S. economy is absolutely dominated by cold, heartless corporations that have no interest in listening to the little guy. If they could find a way to do it, many of them would operate with no low-level employees at all. And as technology continues to advance, they will replace as many of us as they can with robots, drones, machines and computers.
I’ll be honest with you – the future for workers in America looks really bleak. The competition for any jobs that can’t be shipped overseas or replaced by technology is going to become even more heated. This means that the middle class is going to get even smaller, the number of Americans dependent on the government is going to continue to explode, and the disparity between the wealthy and the poor is going to become even greater.
Off the keyboard of td0s
Published on Pray for Calamity on January 24, 2014
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Rolling Stone recently published a piece titled, “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For,” which was apparently written by a “veteran” of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Jesse Myerson. The quality of the writing is low, in that the voice of the piece sounds like a character out of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” The author describes everything negative about society using the choice phrase that these things, “Blow.” Of course, Rolling Stone is probably trying to appeal to young people in the hackneyed way that media outlets usually do, assuming that everyone between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five are perpetually stoned and that they have never read a book voluntarily in their lives.
Despite the tone and vernacular of Myerson’s piece, there are concepts within it that are worth discussing. What Myerson does offer are these reforms:
1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody
2. Social Security for All
3. Take Back The Land
4. Make Everything Owned by Everybody
5. A Public Bank in Every State
I’d like to examine the first two of these concepts, but must start by noting that if these reforms are to be taken seriously, then we must start by accepting a handful of premises. The most obvious is that by implementing such notions as policy, we would be maintaining a large megalithic social organism, i.e. the nation state. With this nation state, we would also be preserving a hierarchical structure of rule, and a money economy complete with private property and banking. Deep green anarchists like myself are primarily concerned with industrial civilization’s strangling of the biosphere, so we don’t roll through life assuming that such institutions now and forever will be in place. However most people in our culture assume that institutions and social concepts like money, property, banking, and nation states are more immutable and more important to human life than the world of plants, fungi, insects, and animals despite humans relying upon these neighbors for the basic sustenance of life, but I digress.
Partly due to the horrid nature of Myerson’s writing, and partly due to the seeming influence of communism in his proposals, his editorial is garnering a bit of attention, primarily in conservative outlets that are looking for easy intellectual prey. It’s easy to debunk poorly articulated concepts, and it’s easy to then use this debunking as proof that your own concepts are thus well heeled and reasonable.
The rabbled response to Myerson’s five suggestions has drawn forth much defense of the status quo. Defenders of money economies usually speak of money from one angle, as a reward for work done. Their reasoning goes, that If a person doesn’t have enough money, it is their own fault for not having worked enough or for not having any particularly in-demand skills. Their reasoning also implies the inverse, that people who have plenty of money do so because they have done much work to achieve it, or that they are particularly skilled or ingenious in some capacity which society demands.
When money is viewed through this lens, it is presumed to be innocuous in and of itself. It’s merely a token, a chit for hours or labor put in. This view removes money from the context of the society in which it is used. It is ignoring the context of the social arrangements which make money a survival requirement, and also ignores the power dynamics that are born between individuals within money economies. When viewed with a wider lens which incorporates social context, it cannot be denied that money gives one the power to buy another’s labor. Money gives one the power to buy another’s time, power to buy their bodies, their minds and even, the power to buy their souls. Money is also the power to deprive others of land, of resources, and of autonomy. Point blank, money is power over other human beings.
There is a general attitude that capitalism is democratic, that it’s implementation was agreed upon by all as “for the best,” and even that we are all daily consenting to leave capitalism in place as our economic architecture. When describing the condition of a particular individual or set of individuals as either wealthy or poor, their life choices are often invoked to explain their financial standing. Consistently ignored is the fact that the overarching paradigm of the economy was not selected by the individual. We all don’t elect to “play the game” of capitalism. It’s thrust upon us from birth by those who have already entrenched their wealth and power. The language of capitalism’s defenders also creates a false equivalency between man made conditions and our natural state. To them, failing at capitalism is spoken of as if he who fails is a “loser,” and social Darwinism is invoked giving the impression that the poor, due to their own deficiencies, essentially don’t deserve to survive. The language used by capitalism’s defenders makes their position clear; they do not believe that poverty is a component of a system created and perpetuated by humans with conditions that make “success” extremely difficult for some and a guarantee for others. Capitalism’s defenders speak as if the economic system is as natural as the jet stream or the seasons.
This thinking is of course, ludicrous. It is insane to use the language of natural selection to describe economic failure or success despite the stark contrast between nature and the man made social paradigm in which individuals are forced to acquire money to survive. Such an inference is not only absurd, it’s an intentional obfuscation of what poverty and even wealth, are. If money is power over other human beings, wealth is access and domination while poverty is deprivation and powerlessness.
We cannot examine money, as defenders of the status-quo do, by merely looking at it as a reward for work done. We must also see the social reality by which people must acquire money to survive. Requiring money is not a natural condition. Requiring food or shelter are natural conditions, sure, but requiring the acquisition of a man made currency is a social construct. Money is a middle-man, if you will, between people and their needs. And here the picture starts to emerge; humans are made to need money by other humans in order to attain their needs, and the primary way of attaining money is as a reward for labor. Who benefits from this system? Who is the primary recipient of the labor of the masses? Who seems to be doing very little in the way of labor, yet are having not only their needs met, but surplus wealth with which to consume to excess?
If we are exploring what money is, we must investigate how it is that humans in modern societies require money. There is a quaint and conventional understanding that money is merely a tool that replaced barter, making trade more efficient. It is assumed then, that before money, humans met their needs via trade. This myth was shattered one hundred years ago in the work of Alred Mitchell-Innes which David Graeber invokes in his work, Debt: The First 5000 Years. In his book, Graeber states:
“We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around. What we now call virtual money came first. Coins came much later, and their use spread only unevenly, never completely replacing credit systems. Barter, in turn, appears to be largely a kind of accidental byproduct of the use of coinage or paper money: historically, it has mainly been what people who are used to cash transactions do when they for one reason or another have no access to currency.”
Though money is seen in ancient Sumer as a method of accounting for the rations available in the great temples, it was not used for exchange. Money as coinage is a product of hierarchical social arrangements in which the leaders of a society pay soldiers with to protect their rule and expand their empires. Graeber:
“Say a king wishes to support a standing army of 50,000 men. Under ancient or medieval conditions, feeding such a force was an enormous problem… On the other hand, if one simply hands out coins to soldiers and then demands that every family in the kingdom was obliged to pay one of those coins back to you [to pay taxes], one would, in one blow, turn one’s entire national economy into a vast machine for the provisioning of soldiers, since now every family, in order to get their hands on the coins, must find some way to contribute to the general effort to provide soldiers with the things they want.”
This is all to say, money wasn’t an invention created to make survival easier for the masses, but to make hierarchical and state structures more secure and immutable.
In this culture, we have no common space where we can live without paying a sum of money. We also must pay for food, which is a situation caused by the fact that land is all privately owned or state held. This paradigm of restrictions, of deprivations by owners of non-owners creates a dependency of non-owners upon owners. I covered this in my essay, Privare. Non-owners cannot grow or wild harvest food, they cannot just build a small shelter to live in. As long as this paradigm is in place, every new human born (to a non-owner) in this culture is necessarily immediately in debt. This condition is not natural or accidental. It was intentionally created by elites via primitive accumulation and enclosure of the commons. In essence, those with power and wealth took control of all lands where free peasants lived, exploited the land for materials for industry, passed laws to prevent survival by gathering from the wild, and created social conditions in which the only manner in which it was legal for one to gain sustenance was by first working for wages which could then be used to buy food and other goods.
Those who refused were often cast as criminal beggars by legal edicts. Howard Zinn writes of this in his seminal work, “A People’s History of the United States.” Zinn writes:
“In England, the development of commerce and capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s, the enclosing of land for the production of wool, filled the cities with vagrant poor, and from the reign of Elizabeth on, laws were passed to punish them, imprison them in workhouses, or exile them. The Elizabethan definition of “rogues and vagabonds” included:
… All persons calling themselves Schollers going about begging, all Seafaring men pretending losses of their Shippes or goods on the sea going about the Country begging, all idle persons going about in any Country either begging or using any subtile crafte or unlawful Games … comon Players of Interludes and Minstrells wandring abroade … all wandering persons and comon Labourers being persons able in bodye using loytering and refusing to worke for such reasonable wages as is taxed or commonly given….
Such persons found begging could be stripped to the waist and whipped bloody, could be sent out of the city, sent to workhouses, or transported out of the country.”
This set of conditions allowing for only one legal means of attaining survival is still in place today. The wild has been devastated by ownership and economic “progress”. The closest one can come to “opting out” of participation in the money economy is either to buy enough land on which to attempt self sufficiency, or to live a houseless life dependent upon the excesses and waste of capitalism, e.g. dumspter diving. The former option still requires participation in the money economy in order to acquire the money with which to buy land, and at some level requires continued participation in order to pay property taxes. This option is also primarily individualistic while sustenance living is more practical as a communal activity. It is also unrealistic as an option for the majority of the poor. The second option is only quasi legal, as there still exist laws concerning loitering, vagrancy, trespassing, curfew, etc. By and large, the architecture of society forces participation in the money economy. The controllers of money, the wealthy, those who work in high finance, and politicians know this all too well. They understand there is a subjugation of the poor to the wealthy, and they very much intend to maintain this subjugation because they benefit so greatly from it. By depriving the majority of humans of access to the basic needs of survival, the wealthy “owner” class can make demands of the non-owners and confiscate the surpluses created by their labor.
To be sure, this arrangement was not invented with capitalism, merely refined and perfected. Humans can create a surplus of food using agricultural techniques, and the history of civilization is essentially the history of one set of humans finding ways to manipulate other sets into laboring. This first set can strip the second set of the surpluses they generate, and thus live toil free themselves. This is our society in nutshell, but it is packaged in flowery language, titles, laws, and many other forms of pomp used to legitimize the acquisition of these surpluses by non-laboring owners. Money is just some of this pomp. Money is a magicians trick used to convince the masses that their perpetual labor is owed to the perpetually non-laboring wealthy. With a wave of their wand and some academic babble, exploitation becomes merely, “the economy.”
When understood from this angle, a society based on the deprivation of the masses and inequity of the relations between the owner and the non-owner classes can never be truly equal or free.
Returning to Myerson’s piece, I would like to meditate on his second suggestion, “Social Security for All,” and his mention of a universal basic income for all citizens. This is a concept that has been making its rounds in various online discussions lately. I do think there is a kernel of merit contained within this suggestion. If the hierarchy of wealth begins between the owners of land (as well as the means of production) then some sort of distribution of sustenance income could begin to even the playing field. Land being the source of both home and food, and most people being deprived of free access to land, a basic income with which to afford a reasonable home and diet removes the immediate debt non-owners are born holding to owners. This is to say, that if a person is not even given the opportunity to build a home or raise their own food as any human would be devoid of the current set of social arrangements, then at least giving them the money to acquire these things could be said to mitigate this deprivation.
Defenders of the status-quo will of course, find this idea foolish because they see money only as a reward for work done. Their reasoning will be that people who have done no work should receive no reward. These defenders are failing to acknowledge the totality of what money represents, as well as where both money and wealth originate.
I wouldn’t say this basic income idea is one that I necessarily support, because I do not support the overall set of social arrangements which the basic income concept seeks to make more equitable. However I do think it’s an idea worth exploring conceptually as it reinforces the folly of money economies. If everyone is given a sum of money with which they can afford modest housing and a healthy diet, one of the first consequences of such a distribution would be for a large portion of people to quit their jobs. As it stands now, people must go to a person with capital and fall into their employment in order to attain money. This means that at some level, those with the most capital control the majority of society and what it produces and in which sectors the most work is done. Capitalist “investors” disproportionately control the momentum and direction of society. For instance, if an investor owns shares in petroleum extraction companies, they have little incentive to invest in any competing energy source until they have maximized profits from their petroleum investment. They will also dedicate a mathematically reasonable amount of money into preventing others from destroying the value of their in-the-ground petroleum assets, be this through political manipulation, corporate buy outs, etc. By holding the majority of the available money, the wealthy have the ability to steer both industry and the government. The sheer weight of their wealth outflanks even the combined wealth of so many poor, that even a union of the poor is unlikely to be able to shift society in a direction which benefits them.
It is kind of difficult to examine money without investigating where money comes from in the modern sense. Money in modern economies is loaned into existence, either by the central bank or smaller banks. The numbers in accounts, whether digital or annotated in paper ledgers, spring forth in the form of loans. That’s it. Reserve requirements exist to limit the amount of loans lower banks can make, but even these rules are easily circumnavigated. Central banks are limited in money creation by policy only, which boils down to their own fears of ruining the good thing they have going by opening the spigot too much or too little. The flip side of this is that loans need to be paid back with money acquired through labor. This is truly a con game, in that those closest to the control mechanism of money creation are in a position where for themselves, the social requirement to buy one’s life through money acquisition is essentially negated. A quote from Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild comes to mind.
“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws.”
Many of the wealthy have learned how to game the capitalist system through participation in the machinations of finance. By manipulating numbers and laws, they have generated for themselves in some cases more money than can be spent. Combined with the corruption of usury (interest) the wealthy literally get paid just for having money, whereas the poor are told they owe the rich for not having enough. For the wealthy, this is essentially ultimate power. They can buy the time, labor, influence, and lives of virtually anyone. They can buy absurd land holdings so large they could not conceivably walk them. Despite the obvious system rigging evident in how the wealthy become and stay rich, defenders of money systems still convince themselves that the wealthy have earned their money through reward for work done.
The last conflict presented by money that I would like to address is that money as it currently functions, can be used as universal value conversion unit. Combine this fact with the fact that modern people must acquire money in order to exist, and the result is that they will destroy anything of perceived value in order to stay alive. Examples are tragically bountiful. In West Virginia, mountains are strip mined layer by layer for the coal they contain. The land base is irrevocably altered and the human communities surrounding this ecocide suffer many maladies including high incidence of brain cancer. It would seem strange to us then, that so many residents of these mining regions in West Virginia defend the mining industry and the corporations that are destroying the region, killing the wildlife, and immiserating the people. The defense always boils down to a word; Jobs. We hear it again and again in any environmental struggle. Jobs are prioritized over everyone and everything. This is of course because of the money requirement placed on non-owners by the owner class. Without money, these people will be thrown out of their homes and starved. They must work for money and the only option given to them is to destroy their landbase and their bodies mining coal. The more they mine for coal, the more the health of their ecosystem is diminished, making it more and more impossible to survive off of the land instead of the economy.
It is this cycle which has placed a price tag around the neck of every living being on Earth. People need forests, but people think they need money more, so out with the chainsaws and feller-bunchers. People need oceans, but they think they need money more, so out with the fishing trawlers which drag nets so large a 747 could fly into one. People need bees and other pollinators, but they think they need money more, so out with the neonicotinoid insecticides. It could be a rhino’s horn or a child sex slave, everything is convertible into money, and thus we are all at risk of being thrown into the hopper so someone else can squeeze out the dime they have been made to need by a completely imaginary set of social conditions.
As long as we exist within the confines of the capitalist paradigm, we will owe our lives to the controllers of capital. We will buy our survival day by day via the bending of our backs. Capital will accumulate, poverty will grow, and the natural world will be converted into an arid waste dump as we watch powerless to help. Mike Ruppert has presciently said, “We will change nothing until we change how money works.” When we understand that money came into being as a direct accounting of social debts community members had to one and other and to the whole, and has now morphed into the relation itself between people, it becomes clear that money is power over others, and that the accumulation of money establishes non-negotiable power dynamics in which those with large sums of wealth can subjugate those without. If we seek to interact with one and other horizontally and to destabilize the current pyramid of power, we must take the power out of money. There are likely several theories on how this can be done, and reforms such as those presented by Myerson are too little too late. We need to abolish money altogether, and we need to abolish monoculture and industrialism along with it.
The question is can we achieve this actively, or must cataclysm do the heavy lifting for us?
Off the keyboard of td0s
Podcast off the microphones of td0s, RE & Monsta
Published on Pray for Calamity on December 10, 2013
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Human civilization is making a desert of the planet. As the population grows and the western “standard of living” itself balloons while also spreading to more people around the world, the ecology of the planet is being devastated. From mountain top removal coal mining, to deforestation, tar sands extraction, mega dam projects all the way down to suburban sprawl, lawn after lawn of Kentucky Blue Grass, and your local strip of parking lots and big box stores, the natural world is being killed. It is being ripped up, burned, and paved over. Scientists are declaring that right now, life on Earth is undergoing a period of mass extinction unlike anything seen since the Permian-Triassic mass extinction which killed upwards of ninety-five percent of all life.
Any sane, rational culture, would upon coming to a realization such as this – that their mode of being is self destructive – decide that their activities should be halted and rethought immediately. Of course, the dominant culture under which we are subjugated is neither sane nor rational. The dominant culture barely acknowledges the horrors it is leveling on the living beings of this world, and when it does acknowledge them, it both minimizes them and declares the solution to be more of its methodologies applied, not less. Examples of this are claims that “green capitalism” or technology or geo-engineering will save us. Somehow, more extraction, more consumption, and more domination are supposed to undo the damage done by extraction, consumption, and domination.
I agree with the thinkers who have laid the blame for this rapacious omnicide beyond the feet of capitalism, calling out the organizing structure of civilization itself which begat capitalism. I agree also with those who indict the modes of thinking and views of the human self that begat civilization. While these modes of thinking, which become cultures, and ultimately became the dominant culture have led to much to be woeful about, including patriarchy and racism, they also have manifested as a social, economic, and legal framework that is institutionalizing the desertification of the planet.
One of the manifestations of this flawed way of thinking and flawed understanding of ourselves, is the concept of private property. Private property is the idea that one human can deprive all other humans of access to a particular tract of the Earth, that this human can enforce this deprivation with lethal force — whether self applied or called down from the hierarchy in the form of police and courts — and that this particular human not only has sole access to this tract of land and what it contains, but that the land and all that lives upon it can be destroyed at the whim of this person.
There are no limits to private property accumulation under the dominant culture. The logic behind private property is merely that land can be purchased from a previous title holder with currency. Thus, a person’s “holdings” are limited only by their accumulated wealth, and desire to own. According to this logic, should one person accumulate enough currency to purchase all of the land everywhere, they would not be forbidden from doing so. While this seems unlikely due to the cost in currency involved in this example, it is still within the logical framework of private property, acceptable. Perhaps we’ll never see one person owning all of the land everywhere, but with a population of seven billion people on the Earth, would it be acceptable to have even one million people, or one billion people owning “everywhere?” Do we find it ethically acceptable that a minority of the human population should have a protected right to deprive the majority of access to land, as well as a protected right to destroy living ecosystems? Is it ethical — or sane — to allow the minority of the population this protected right because they have been skilled at playing the game of capitalism (or are the offspring of people who were?)
Land is often dubbed by those utilizing academic language as “natural capital,” as opposed to manufactured or physical capital (e.g. a factory or a tool.) Land is obviously the most important form of “capital,” as it is the source of all raw materials, and is the source of all things necessary for life. By allowing land to be owned, the culture allows owners to have controlling access to the resources all people and non-humans need to survive. This subjugates all non-owners into a state of dependence upon the owners. This dependence is then channeled into wage labor, rent, and other methods by which owners exploit non-owners, siphoning away any meager wealth the non-owner class ever comes to possess. Of course, this only further enriches the owner class, who then can acquire further land holdings, and escalate the rate at which they can exploit non-owners to create for themselves a comfortable life devoid of labor.
Again, land is the source of all the necessities of life, so further and further accumulation of land is in reality, an increasing rate at which the culture says one person has a right to deprive others of life. An “owner” holding claim to hundreds or thousands of acres of land while multitudes of people live in crowded slums who must labor for pittance, only to turn this pittance over to landlords and those who control the food supply, is a form of violence. It’s a hostage situation. Work for us, or starve. Work for us, or take your chances on the streets with the police. For surely, without the violence of the police or the owner, these huddled masses living in the mega slums of the world would span outwards. More accurately, many of these people wouldn’t be living in slums to begin with, as large portions of the global poor were subsistence farmers before their traditional lands were seized by transnational corporations and state governments.
Essentially, this all boils down to the rarely uttered truth that the rich are allowed to make a claim the poor or not. This makes the rich richer, and the poor poorer.
Of course, like any discussion of the need to radically adjust our social organizations, discussions about the exploitative nature of private property often cause “first world” people who have — or are working towards — meager holdings of property themselves to seize up. Cries — often contradictory — of fascism and communism quickly ring forth. People are so terrified that what’s being referenced is their property. They fear that what little they have worked hard for while “playing by the rules” will be sliced and diced and handed to five different families comprised of lazy people who want a handout. This generally renders the petty-owner rarely willing to explore the notion of private property and it’s global ramifications.
Part of the wall that gets thrown up by petty-owners and other defenders of private property is the false claim that private property leads to stewardship, where commonly held land leads to overuse and degradation. Of course, examples of both could be bandied about. Someone will scream, “tragedy of the commons,” despite that old myth having not only been thoroughly debunked, and even despite it being a complete fabrication. Then we’ll hear about starving pilgrims who didn’t put any effort into farming until they had their own land, or about the lot down the street that is full of trash and old tires. What is lost in the fray is the total calculation of what is lost and what is gained by society as a whole with either private land ownership, or communal access. Rarely acknowledged is the entire enforcement arm of the state that is necessary to make a system of private property even possible to being with, or the poverty generated by depriving people of access to land, or economic advantages gained by those to elect to strip mine their land as opposed to preserving it.
Let’s here acknowledge a basic truth; property is a convention. It’s an imagined status subject to the humans perceiving it. Property is a social agreement, and social agreements are tools, nothing more. They are designed to make life easier for humans within the society in which they live. Stop signs are a social agreement. Lines painted on parking lots, or the maze of nylon straps herding people like mice at airport security screening stations are social agreements, likewise. All of these are tools to make existing in large groups flow with a bit of organization, to prevent quarrels and gridlock. However, all of these are discarded at will when the situation calls for it. In the middle of the night, when there is no traffic and you can clearly see in all directions that you are the only person at an intersection, rolling through a stop sign — while still making you a target of the asinine police — has no social consequence. Parking in the middle of two spaces in an empty Post Office parking lot on Sunday when you quickly run in to drop a letter in the box has no social consequence. Neither does ducking beneath the nylon straps at the near vacant airport. The point, is that social arrangements are tools to be picked up and put down again as the situation dictates. Thoreau once wrote, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” I think it’s apt to meditate on this sentiment in this regard.
Private property is an agreement with your community, at least, on the surface. Ideally, private property demarcates which land is lived upon by which family, and who can decide how best to maintain that property or attain sustenance from it’s resources. This can work out for a small community, allowing various families a bit of privacy, and the ability to undertake labor efforts that produce results in the long term. People who plant fruit trees as seedlings, of course want to eat the fruit years down the line.
When does this tool, this social arrangement, lose efficacy? If a tool is designed to improve the lives of the people within a society, should it not be abandoned if it is no longer meeting those ends? If a tool is being used to exploit one group of people for the benefit of another group, what good reason does the exploited group have to respect the tool or its implications? Why should the poor respect the property of the rich?
We should also consider what role consent plays in the application of any social agreement. After all, if consent is not the binding factor in a social arrangement, then only force remains. If your society is bound by force, then your society is not only unethical, it is also doomed. The more people who come to find themselves on the losing end of a social arrangement, the more force it will take to keep them from overwhelming the social order through disobedience to its tenets. The more people a social arrangement impoverishes and starves, the more police it will take to keep these people from seizing private property and from stealing the necessities of life from the owner class. Is this not evident now even in the “wealthy” west? The police are more militarized more violent, and petty “crime” is on the rise. The Occupy Wall Street movement demonstrated this perfectly when participants were assaulted by law enforcers for acts which included attempts to exist in public space, attempts to occupy abandoned “private” space, attempts to prevent evictions of renters from homes, attempts to grow food in both public and private space, etc. Why should anyone respect their society if that society values property more than it does people? With twenty four empty houses for every homeless person in the United States, it is undeniable the rulers of this society are far more concerned with the sanctity of private property than the health and dignity of human beings.
This scenario takes us far beyond a family and their half acre lot in the suburbs, or their ten acre homestead in the country. As land is the source of all wealth and survival, the massive application of force to maintain private property as it is currently understood and distributed, is tantamount an attempt to either snuff out or enslave the poor and the middle class by the wealthy. They hold privileged access to the source of all wealth and life, they claim the right to destroy what they hold at will for short sighted gains, and they claim the right to destroy the life giving ecological systems of the planet. This is a mode of thinking that needs vast reworking now.
Fears of redistribution often find the petty bourgeoise allying themselves with the owner class. The holder of a small farm, fearing for their years of labor, sides with the corporation that claims ownership and control over hundreds of thousands if not millions of acres, and that predominantly uses that claim to destroy the land for profit. This odd pairing — the small scale permaculture farmer siding ideologically with the mountain top removing coal extraction corporation — needs severing. To accomplish this, I think we need to examine two prongs of the property concept; the chain of ownership and the responsibility of ownership.
How does one come to “own” land? They buy it. As their labor afforded them the currency to do so, owners cling to their private property claim as a direct result of that toil. This is not unreasonable. But as to the logic of purchasing land, it must be asked, where does the seller get the right to sell it? Of course, usually the seller bought the land themselves from a previous seller, but extend this as far backwards as the chain of ownership goes. Who was the first owner? If ownership is valid today because current owners purchased from previous owners, then their ownership is an extension of the first claim to ownership, and is thus, only as valid. This takes us to primitive accumulation, on which Marx states:
“The whole purpose of primitive accumulation is to privatize the means of production, so that the exploiting owners can make money from the surplus labour of those who, lacking other means, must work for them.”
Essentially, primitive accumulation is the first taking of land from common accessibility and enclosing it in private hands. The application of this process in England from the mid seventeenth century up through the nineteenth is referred to as the “enclosure movement.” On this, George Orwell wrote:
“If giving the land of England back to the people of England is theft, I am quite happy to call it theft. In his zeal to defend private property, my correspondent does not stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the landgrabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.”
On the notion of private property, Orwell also once wrote that:
“In the stage of industrial development which we have now reached, the right to private property means the right to exploit and torture millions of one’s fellow creatures. The Socialist would argue, therefore, that one can only defend property if one is more or less indifferent to economic justice.”
Of course, we know all of this. We know that in the western hemisphere, claims to own the land go back only a few hundred years at most, and that this claim as a legal construct backed by the force of the state is founded upon the genocide of the natives of this continent. We know that the people who lived here were cheated, raped, and killed so that the value of the resources here could be appropriated by a handful of private individuals, whether monarchs or mercantilists. This process has not been limited to Europe or North America, but has fully spawned itself across the globe (and is in fact, still unfolding.) The titles the middle class hold in their hands are an extension of that ongoing genocide against the indigenous, as well as a founding plank in the genocide of the global poor and the web of non-human species who are driven to extinction daily.
Our titles and deeds are in reality, a bit of magic; they are pomp and circumstance designed to make the abominable respectable. They are, we can clearly elucidate, an invented justification of a historic and ongoing atrocity and also a contemporaneous deprivation of the masses of their birthright to survive on what the planet willingly gives. To be sure, inventing a social arrangement for the purpose of improving the quality of life for those who consensually enter into the arrangement, is acceptable. To uphold the arrangement with force and violence as a method of exploiting other humans for their labor as well as the natural world for it’s bounty, is disgraceful.
It is also stupid. It cannot last. The non-owners who are exploited by this social arrangement will grow in number, as not only is the population growing while available land is not, the price of land is increasing due to this supply versus demand equation while the value of an individual’s labor is shrinking for the same reason. This in effect, prices out more and more people from becoming even a petty part of the owning class. Inversely, it enriches the owning class, whose wealthiest members can acquire more and more private property. This self reinforcing loop portends the greater and greater impoverishment of the masses. The non-owner class will only grow as the owner class entrenches itself and hides behind an ever more militant and violent police force. The only apt description for such a scenario is a “powder keg.” The only outcomes before us are either a violent social upheaval, or massive repression of the poor the likes of which hasn’t been witnessed in the “first world” west in a century.
Within the dominant culture, the common understanding of ownership is that an owner has a right to dispense with whatever it is they own in whatever manner they see fit. This view clearly creates a hierarchy of owner over owned. When slavery was legal (NOTE: Slavery is technically still legal, as far as prisoners are concerned) slave owners were seen as having the right to dispense with their slaves as they desired, whether this meant raping them, beating them, killing them, or merely working them to the bone. Slaves ceased to be people with a sentience and will all their own, but instead were reduced to being “property.” Of course, many people saw this arrangement as repugnant, and worked tirelessly to see it done away with. But always there were “owners” claiming their “rights” to the “property” they had “purchased.”
This reasoning is applied to land and all that lives upon land as well. Owners believe they have a right to dispense with their land as they so desire, whether that involves something positive like clearing invasive plants and seeding native flora, or something negative like clear cutting all of the trees present and bulldozing the top soil in an effort to strip mine for bitumen. When the right of the benevolent owner is defended, so is the right of the malevolent owner.
To be granted a claim over a parcel of land meaning that one has a right to destroy it, is an absurd social construct. If land is the source of all that we need to live, does it not make more sense for societies to not grant “rights” of disposal, but rather responsibilities of upkeep? Would this not be a great leap towards achieving a social arrangement that is acceptable to the benevolent owner (now more of a steward) while preventing the malevolent owner from destroying what all of us needs, and what all future generations will rely upon?
If the people who comprise a clan, tribe, commune, what-have-you, decide that they would like to subdivide their landbase amongst themselves for the betterment of all their members, would it not make the most sense for these people — whom we assume have come to a consensus on this particular proposal — to enter into an agreement concerning responsibility for the tract on which they live so that the quality of the landbase isn’t degraded? Assuming that agreements such as these are not permanently fixed, and that as conditions change, be they due to increasing or decreasing population, alteration in climate patterns, etc, how these people utilize their land and live together upon it has the potential to vastly change over the years. Why then would anyone in such a community want to grant people a “right” to destroy a parcel that may not be stewarded by that same person years on?
One of the great tragedies of civilization’s forceful domination of the North American continent (among others) is that many of the peoples already inhabiting what is now the U.S. and Canada had very wise and astute philosophies and practices concerning respect for the land, and how to live with each other and nature harmoniously. The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations contained this language:
“In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”
We commonly understand this thinking today as “seventh generation sustainability,” which is a reference to the insistence that many indigenous peoples had that their ways and deeds must not negatively affect their children to come seven generations out. It’s no wonder then, that the natives of North America did not believe in land ownership. Of course, they had homes, they had tribal territories, but they did not believe that the land that gave them life was owed by them, or even, ownable. It takes a particular cultural way of thinking to believe that owning land is an objective reality. The dominant culture is striving to allow the private ownership of more and more, from public space, to public utilities, to ideas, to computer data, to DNA, to genes, and now even sunlight and rainfall. All of this is part of a cultural drive to dominate. The more that can be “owned” the more that the population can be controlled, as they will be dependent upon the owners for not only a place to sleep at night or food to eat, but water to drink and air to breath.
Defenders of private property who admit that yes, private ownership can go too far in cases like the state claiming to own the rain or the sunshine, will still defend (their) ownership of land by claiming that the best way to encourage stewardship, is to allot parcels to private individuals. Their thinking is that a person will have no interest in bettering a place if they will not be able to claim the spoils of that betterment at some future time. While this is a reasonable perspective, it is presumptuous to assume that the only incentive to improve land is to own it. Plenty of people clean and improve their public parks because it’s a space they enjoy spending time. Others clean the sides of highways of litter merely because it’s unsightly on their commute. More significantly, is it not ownership of land that drives stewardship, but dependence upon land? This is key.
How many homeowners in the US have a deed or title to a parcel of land in a suburb, small town, or city? How many of these people actually derive their sustenance from this land? What does their stewardship look like? I think it is fair to say that in the overwhelming majority of these cases, people preserve the look of the property, especially of the dwelling that sits upon it, so they can preserve its economic value. This means that people plant non-native lawn grass, they coat it in chemicals to keep it green, they kill weeds with glyphosate, they destroy the insect and bird population through the elimination of wild local plants, they cut down trees for sunlight, they build constructions out of non-natural and often toxic materials, etc, ad nauseam. Even negating corporate holdings, ownership is not bringing us mass stewardship, it is bringing us a desert of lawns.
The current paradigm has the necessities of life coming from vast private land holdings globally which are then then shipped into population centers. Meanwhile the majority of petty-land owners are actually rendering their land sterile, which in turn keeps them dependent upon those who comprise the wealthy owner class. What we should strive for is a paradigm in which people depend upon their land, and come up with consensual social arrangements within their small societies as to how they feel best suited to live upon it..
This may only be possible with a cultural shift that first, or possibly simultaneously, reawakens people to the notion that humans cannot own the Earth because they are of the Earth. Humans are born of the Earth and sustained by the Earth’s systems. We owe the Earth deference and respect. How we perceive the land under our feet, the beings who coexist here with us, the water that is the essence of life, will affect our actions. Modes of thinking that lead to destruction, exploitation, domination, and ecocide are flawed at the core. If your ideas and constructs have the potential to bring about mass extinction and desertification, then what possible sane explanation could you give for clinging to those ideas?
Whether we believe we can buy and sell and dispose of land as we please, or believe that we are a part of a living and sentient world with which we can enter into mutually beneficial relationships, these beliefs are not objective realities. What is objective, are the results of the actions we take. If our beliefs are rapidly disposing of other life forms into the dust bin of extinction, while bringing us ever closer to our own apocalypse, then our beliefs are psychopathic and suicidal. If our beliefs have us concerned for the least among us, concerned for the unborn and the non-human, and ultimately result in our being able to live on this planet for generation upon generation to come, then there is no reason to abandon them for modernity, productivity, visions of accumulation, or myths of progress.
The cascading collapse of both civilization and the ecology of the planet are not likely to be stopped. As conditions worsen and become more stressful, there will be no shortage of false answers, again, usually claiming that we haven’t dominated enough, or controlled enough. What survival looks like will depend on our ability to adapt, and our ability to adapt will depend on our ability to shed vestigial ideas and modes of organization that have long grown malignant in our minds. I don’t expect this process to be anything other than horrifying, but if there is any hope it starts with us realizing which tools we need to put down.
Off the keyboard of George Mobus
Published on Question Everything on January 24, 2015
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
What Can be Saved?
I am on record as saying I doubted that humanity as a global population could be saved from certain destruction. I have also stated that the species, Homo sapiens is probably not salvageable in its current form. However, I have also suggested that the salvation of the genus, Homo is both feasible and desirable. Let me briefly recount.
There is at this point, in my opinion, nothing that can be done to save the vast majority of humans alive today from a catastrophic demise. I am sorry. And below I will summarize my findings. The simple truth, as I see it, is that humanity has set itself on an irreversible course of destruction that is equivalent to the impact on the Ecos that the meteor or comet that crashed into the Yucatan peninsula had on the dinosaurian Ecos 65 million years ago. That is, by our activities we have brought about a geologically recognizable age called the Anthropocene in which we are the agents of the extinction of vast numbers of species, including, possibly, our own. Whenever such die-off events have happened in the past the Ecos shifted its characteristics and dynamics such that the extant species either went extinct or gave rise to new species of the same genus that were better adapted to the new Ecos. I fully expect the same kind of thing to happen in the future.
In any case the populations of critters and plants were decimated or severely reduced in number and that is what I suspect will happen to our populations. Homo sapiens must, of necessity, go extinct simply because the future environment will be extraordinarily hostile to human life. The real question is whether the genus might give rise to a new species that is better fit for the new Ecos before the very last member of the tribe extinguishes.
Proscription of Business as Usual
We are in the process of killing ourselves by engaging in an economic model based on ideas that just about everybody accepts as valid and good. What irony. The model that has been held responsible for producing abundant wealth for humankind is also responsible for destroying the life support systems upon which we depend. The problem is one of scale. When there were relatively few humans on the planet their economic activities were not as damaging. They could harvest slowly renewing resources like trees without threatening the forests. They could dump their sewage into rivers that would quickly dilute the toxins to low enough levels that they would not threaten other living things. It was a good model to establish a level of comfort in living that would not do more harm as long as the population numbers did not get out of hand. The problem is that those numbers did get out of hand. The improvements in living standards due to technological innovation made it seem feasible that more and more people could live on the land, but in truth, the extraction rates and pollution rates were accelerating beyond the capacity of the land to sustain us. So now, what was once the source of human success has become the cause of human demise. And very many people do not want to believe that because they have enjoyed benefits from BAU and want to continue to do so. See what I mean by irony?
What I want to do here is summarize the systemic relations that I see as causal factors relevant to the near future dynamics of human existence. I present a series of arguments, somewhat in the form of mathematical or logical propositions that provide “proofs” of the veracity of the arguments, that provide a chain of reasoning leading to this conclusion. These are presented in a way that suggests what might actually be done to maximize the salvation of our kind. But I have no illusions at this point that any of the actions suggested here will be undertaken. As I have written repeatedly (and will be presenting more definitively in an upcoming book) my firm belief is that humanity is not sufficiently sapient (that is the average of sapience is not sufficient) to change its behavior and set of beliefs such that it would actually adopt any of these prescriptions. Yet in the spirit of undaunted hope it can’t hurt to at least state the possibilities even if they are unlikely to be regarded. One never knows. I certainly would not claim to know. Maybe something like a miracle will happen!
Propositions Regarding the Salvaging of the Genus
1. The vast majority of people will have to stop having children. The population cannot grow when the wealth production rate goes to zero and must decline when the rate goes negative, as it must.
The operative variable is a measure of wealth per capita. There exists some lower bound value of wealth per capita that can be defined as necessary for every human being to live at some level of comfort above subsistence (let’s call that the “adequate” level). I base this level on the needs for food, shelter, clothing, companionship, and other factors that allow individuals to achieve a modest level of ‘self-actualization’, a condition I believe was part of the Paleolithic condition of humans when sapiens became a dominant species. Assuming a fair distribution such that each person possesses exactly their per capita share of wealth, then the number of people on the planet is limited to the amount of wealth that can be produced.
Claim: Wealth is produced by physical work and requires energy flow (free energy) to accomplish. The amount of wealth produced is proportional to the amount of energy available to do useful work and the amount of raw resources available for extraction.
The total wealth of the world is based on the accumulated wealth produced over the history of the work done less the drain on wealth due to consumption (active degradation of physical objects) and entropic decay (passive degradation) over the same time frame. Growth in wealth is defined as the positive increase in wealth or net wealth of production less degradation per unit of time. In order to maintain a steady state condition the amount of wealth growth must be exactly what is needed to accommodate the population growth over the same time frame.
Wealth derives from work done on natural resources, converting them to usable objects, including food. Among the mix of natural resources used there are those that are finite in availability. Among those most are extracted with greater effort as the supply is depleted (extraction is always per the “best first” principle). Fossil fuels are special cases of energy resources. They are finite in quantity and obey the same diminishing return laws such that the net energy available for work declines as the resource is depleted. That is, it takes more energy per unit of energy extracted and the net energy return declines over time.
Thus the growth of wealth is limited by the marginal cost of extracting resources and the marginal net energy available for extraction and conversion to human use. For example the extraction of iron ore and its conversion to steel is limited by both the depletion of ore and of fossil fuels (usually coal).
There is an upper bound on the total wealth that can ever be produced but no bound on the degradation of wealth. Since the production of wealth will ultimately decline (growth will go to zero) due to the depletion limits a point will be reached when no new wealth can be produced and only degradation will take place.
If the population continues to grow then it is clear that the wealth per capita must decline and do so precipitously when wealth production rates fall below degradation rates.
The current evidence strongly supports the claim that wealth production is now in decline, yet population growth continues. The global economic situation today is a symptom of this decline. It is true that the decline is unevenly distributed throughout the world, giving rise to the illusion that, for example, isolated pockets such as the US economy, are on the mend from the longest and deepest global recession in history. Aside from the fact that most of this illusion is produced by erroneous economic models and government statistics that are biased, the US economy is temporarily seeming to be regaining strength (that is starting to grow!) but the ground truth for millions of households is quite different from the reports trumpeted by the media.
ERGO: The wealth per capita is also in decline and that needed to sustain the adequate level of life support for every individual is already below its lower bound.
This dynamic explains the vast numbers of poor people in the world. There simply isn’t enough wealth to go around. Even if we were to redistribute the existing wealth of the world (a Robin Hood action) there would not be enough to support the adequate level of living (or we could redefine adequate to be closer to and approaching subsistence rather than providing some level of comfort and joy). If the population were to continue to grow as projected, say, by the UN demographers, leading to some nine billion individuals by the end of this century, and no energy miracle emerged to compensate for the reduction in fossil fuel availability, then the per capita wealth would likely fall below subsistence. Since distribution is unequal this translates into billions of people starving to death or dying of rampant diseases (not even considering natural disasters).
2. Neoliberal, free-market, profit-driven capitalism (NL-FM-PD-C) can no longer be the operating model of economic life.
Claim: This model requires continual growth of wealth production over time. Even if it were to support the objective of providing a fair distribution of wealth (which it doesn’t) it is physically impossible by proposition 1 to sustain this model. The attempt to try to maintain the model under current conditions of depleted resources will cause a cataclysmic collapse of global civilization. Moreover, however, it can be shown that each of the main components of the NL-FM-PD-C model is fundamentally flawed. It is possible that if only one or two were so flawed that the others might contribute to a new economic model that would work. But all of them are flawed and demonstration of this supports proposition 2.
Neoliberal ideology. Humans are supposed to conquer nature and convert the “abundance” of the planet to their uses. Only human satisfaction counts on this planet and that should be maximized. However, not all humans are created equal. Only the worthy elite are entitled to aggregate larger proportions of wealth as long as the working masses have adequate wealth to sustain their lesser lives. Worthiness is based on attributes such as cleverness, ambition, and drive, which are ingredients in producing wealth. Those that are responsible for wealth production are entitled to a larger share of the rewards.
These sentiments favor individualism and ignore contributions from groups or collectivism (the sentiment that the group is the unit of interest). Science, particularly evolutionary psychology and sociology now tell us this is not correct at all. Group selection played a major role in making humans what we are and group efforts and collective decisions are known to be superior to individual efforts and judgments. We humans evolved to be eusocial creatures who are able through interpersonal communications and visibility into one another’s minds (our ability to model other’s intentions known as ‘Theory of Mind’) is the very thing that make our species fit and produced our superior (biologically speaking) capacity to adapt. We do so in groups not as individuals.
The objectives of neoliberalism based on these sentiments are just plain wrong. However, we should note that humans are not yet evolved to perfect eusociality. Each individual, remaining a biological agent, retains remnants of individualism when pressed and under stress. Capacities for selfishness and even narcissistic tendencies are still part of the human psyche. Amplified by the culture of greed that neoliberal objectives entail, it is possible for observers of human behavior (in economic matters) to wrongly conclude that these qualities are dominant. Indeed some have argued from a misreading of evolution theory that these qualities are what made us successful (e.g. Social Darwinism’s reliance on competition and survival of the fittest). Since greed and selfishness play into the neoliberal agenda and became a self-fulfilling prophesy of success in wealth production the narrative of NL-FM-PD-C has become generally accepted and is all too believable for naive minds. Yet it is counter to what science shows us is true for human evolution and the success of human enterprise. It is a myth that is self-reinforcing because it suggests to those who believe it that they have the right (and by implication the prospects) to become rich by virtue of their cleverness and efforts.
Free-market assumptions. Core to the idea of market-based economies is the dictum of laissez faire economic activities, or non-intervention by a higher authority (governments) in economic affairs. It is related to Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ metaphor in that individuals guided by self-interests will, nevertheless, cooperate in trade so that everyone is better off. Thus there is no need for governments to regulate those activities. The neoliberal extension holds that if governments do intervene it will distort market information and create biases that will interfere with maximizing wealth.
It should be granted that in historical and contemporary cases where governments have interfered with market mechanisms they have a mixed record of success at best, and too often abject failures. The failures of the communist planned economies are cited by nearly everyone as examples of government ineptitude in meddling in economic activities. And the criticisms are valid up to a point. Those particular experiments in collectivism were based on ignorance and bad judgement. What you cannot conclude from their failures, however, is that markets are totally capable of self-regulation. It simply does not follow from the failures that the NL-FM-PD-C model is therefore the best (and as some claim the only) one for the economy.
In fact I have already delved into the question of whether free markets are really that efficacious in solving all economic problems as is touted by neoclassical economics and neoliberal fundamentalists. Taking the systems perspective and analyzing market mechanisms I concluded in Could Free Markets Solve All Economic Problems that they really can’t. There are too many flaws in the conception of free markets to cover here (please read the above post), but basically it comes down to a few basic principles. First exchange markets depend on veridical information in order to balance true costs with prices. Nothing like that exists in the neoliberal version of markets. Their version depends on competition and, therefore, proprietary knowledge that obfuscates true costs. Prices do not necessarily reflect costs (see my comments below re: profits) and therefore the equations of wealth are never balanced realistically.
In neoclassical economics trading decisions are made by rational self-interested agents. Once again science has demonstrated that this assumption is simply not met in the real world. The models of markets foisted by neoclassical economists (and that includes the so-called liberal economists like Paul Krugman) are invalid even before other assumptions are included.
Finally, and as I covered in my blog post linked to above, markets deteriorate with scales of distance and time. They degrade with complexity. Simple network models of market message flows through unreliable (human decision making) nodes clearly demonstrate that the supposed information needed for markets to “clear” declines non-linearly as the number of ‘hops’ through the network increase linearly. Information is supposedly conveyed through prices established by the decisions of buyers and sellers. When these agents are non-rational, non-privileged regarding true cost information, and are at great distances from nodes that are relevant to the value of the good being bought or sold, there is no way that the market can perform magic and get everything right.
These theoretical considerations should be sufficient to put neoliberal, neoclassical thoughts about free markets to rest once and for all. Of course we now know that science will never trump religious beliefs among low sapient individuals, which is what these ideologies are. But what about the actual experience, the evidence from daily life? Shouldn’t that count for something? Consider all of the various “bubbles” and scams that have been experienced in virtually every market framework. How could such things happen if markets were truly capable of solving economic problems? Think of Alan Greespan’s infamous admission that what he believed about the market place turned out to be wrong. Even with these humble pie crumbs still on his lips, he still persists in asserting that the free market is the solution to all problems. Religious beliefs are very hard to nullify even with clear evidence of contrary reality.
Profit-driven Capitalism assumptions.
Possibly the single biggest fallacy perpetrated by all economic theories (neoclassical or heterodoxical) is that of “profit”. Not that profits don’t actually exist, of course, but that profits need to be made continually over the long run. Profits, in natural systems, are the episodic accumulation of product in excess of production costs that occur because of unusually favorable conditions that do not represent the norm. For example when a wheat farmer has a bumper crop he can readily store the excess (over his use) against a time when crop production is sub-par. Profits can be used in this manner to smooth out the rough spots in the long run in what is otherwise a steady-state dynamic. Up until recently the primary drive for continual profit increases came from business expansion due to the growth of populations and increasing market sizes. More recently that growth has been replaced by the so-called globalization phenomenon that replaces expansion within a region with expansion to other continents; made possible by the use of transportation and fossil fuels. But the real source of profit has always been the increase in energy availability.
Human cultural evolution included the discovery of various energy flow enhancing means, either new sources of more powerful fuels or new tool technologies that increased the efficiency of both energy extraction (e.g. the water wheel) and production (e.g. the belt-driven loom). With these advantages the production of profits seemed to be perpetual. We humans seemed to have transcended the laws of nature and could generally count of making more wealth than we used up or fell apart. Thus we came to believe that profits are always feasible and became a normal part of economic theory. Unfortunately this was a misconception about how nature works. It depended entirely on the growth of energy flow, most recently from fossil fuel sources, to sustain. And energy flows, up until now, were generally always increasing. We humans came to believe deeply that profit making was the normal mode of living and something to be pursued. After all, this is how one gets rich!
But now those pesky laws of nature, in particular the first and second laws of thermodynamics, are demonstrating to us that in the very long run, it all balances out. Profit making is always temporary even if the time scale runs over many generations. We have plenty of historical evidence that is now being more correctly interpreted regarding the collapse of past societies. Namely civilizations, particularly empires, collapsed because they ran out of energy. They could no longer make profits but the momentum of continued expansion (and population growth) required that they did so. All such societies eventually turned to debt-based financing, that is borrowing against future profits when none were going to be made. Essentially they consumed their previously accumulated wealth and the people in the working classes in a desperate attempt to keep the society going. It was always a futile attempt.
Capitalism started out innocently enough. Suppose an enterprising individual (say in the Bronze age) saw a way to possibly make a profit from some new endeavor. He (historically they were generally he’s) had to gather together enough resource wealth (capital) to pay for the construction of whatever production facility was needed, and to initially pay the labor. There are any number of ways to get others who have saved some of their prior profits to invest (or loan) the resources needed with the promise that there will be a profit return. They will make more wealth from such a venture than they could have done with any other use of that wealth. In other words, in order to attract capital the entrepreneur had to promise superior profits. Sometimes this didn’t work out and people lost their investments. But during the rise of increasing energy flow (which meant the energy input was really cheap and almost not worth considering) and opportunities to freely dump waste products into nature’s lap, more often than not, they succeeded.
But as our energy resources now begin to shrink and the pollution of our dumping is overwhelming us it should be clear that the idea of capitalism based on making superior profits was just plain ignorant. It was literally too good to be true.
Technology Salvation Assumptions
There is one more assumption that is often closely associated with the whole model and that is that technology will always come to our rescue. Fundamentally this seems true on the face of it. We have always managed to invent our way out of binds in the past, so naturally we assume that we shall be able to do so in the future. Nowhere is this more the case than with energy supply, and in particular, replacing dirty carbon-based fuels with “clean” alternative energy sources such as solar PV and wind power.
The impetus to believe that these technologies are ramping up and are capable of providing sufficient power to society such that it might get along as before (as promulgated in the popular media) is generated by several factors. One is that, as I stated, throughout history we have witnessed inventions transforming our world so have come to expect that will continue to be the case. In particular we witnessed the incredible phenomenon of microelectronics revolutionizing the field of computing and communications, with costs plummeting down as the scales of components shrank (Moore’s Law). There is a natural tendency to transfer the ideas of what we’ve seen in computing to the production of energy. That is, we imagine a technology that will allow us to generate abundant low-cost energy (high power) that will lead to a brighter future. Right now the focus is on solar and wind. Another factor driving our belief is that most of us simply cannot imagine the contrapositive. We cannot believe that all of this magic is going to come to an end. Many of us (actually most of us) are polyannish optimists and absolutely NEED to believe a solution will be found.
But the ability to hold onto such beliefs stems from a basic lack of knowledge regarding, mostly, thermodynamics (the physics of energy) and a deeper understanding of the history of technology and invention. Space doesn’t permit a full explanation of why these alternative energy sources are not likely to provide what we are looking for. They may provide a small fraction of power to buy us a bit of time. But eventually when the carbon-sources are no longer viable these technologies will have to be self-sustaining, that is they will have to provide all of the power to rebuild and repair themselves. Not all the data is in, but to date that likelihood is slim. Even if they could, they would still have to produce an excess of power that would be used by the economy for other work. The current belief that efficiencies (for example) will be improving to a point where one day these technologies will provide the power fail to notice the trends in technological innovations, particularly with respect to energy. Most of our past successes have been with increasing efficiencies because the starting points for our machines were so low. Over the past few decades many technologies have been experiencing decreasing rates of improvement. We are approaching the limits of efficiency increases and even where such increases are happening it is with the inclusion of materials that are rare or expensive to make. And that is because it takes significant energy to make or extract them.
Profit desires drove us to increase efficiencies or productivity (the human equivalent) and now profit desire persists even when the possibility of increasing these is declining. Part of the economic system’s shift to debt financing is because we still believe that efficiencies must increase and therefore we need to continue to invest in pursuing that agenda. But the reality is that they will not. There will be no great increase in the flow of high-power energy in the future due to technological innovation. There will be no magical increases in efficiencies that defy the laws of physics. Wishes do not make reality. Only nature does that.
ERGO: Profit making will have to go, and with it the notion of free-market capitalism. This is especially the case for rentier profits and investment profits, i.e. making money on money. But all enterprise must convert to non-profit operations. Companies that make useful things or provide necessary services will need to be taken over by employee collectives. The revenues obtained should be just enough to cover costs, including, of course, employees’ salaries. Management of such companies would be in the hands of employees and no manager would make a salary much greater than the average worker’s.
Such an economy is inconceivable to most people but in truth that is because they have never known any other way and the myth of profit-motivated self-interest has been the societal norm for so long it is hard for anyone to imagine that it could be different. But a non-profit based society is the evolutionary norm for Homo sapiens and under declining energy flows it will be absolutely essential. There is no profit possible other than under conditions of short-term energy surpluses. With those a thing of the past, only non-profit activities can be sustained. And then only if the activity produces something that contributes to productive lives.
3. Replace Globalized NL-FM-PD-C with Localized Collectivist Economies based on Sharing.
Claim: There is a more viable alternative to the current model of socio-economics based on selfishness and self-interest-based decisions. The new model is actually the old model for humans. It is based on cooperation, empathy, and sharing resources and wealth. It is the kind of economy that existed for many millennia before the advent of agriculture. We might call it the “Tribal” model. The model depends on tribes that are fairly local and limited in spatial scope, and therefore manageable. That is they are localized and essentially self-sufficient within their locales. This will be a necessary model.
Scale Considerations. Transportation will be limited in both rate and distance due to the declining availability of long-range fossil fuel vehicles. Machinery power will also be limited. Local production of power (most likely from hydroelectric or alternative energies if they can be shown to be self-sustaining) and limited storage capacities will necessarily limit transportation of goods. Therefore economies localized to regions, defined by the limits of transportation, will need to be crafted. The basics of life, food, shelter, water, etc. will be the main focus of the economy. Clothing, furniture, and other such personal belongings will need to be constructed from locally grown plants and trees. In most respects the only kind of lifestyle that can be supported in a low energy world will resemble small village/town assemblies of the late 1700’s and into the 1800’s.
Manufacturing and service providing companies will have to be employee-owned and run collectives (as above). All markets will be local. With more people having greater insight into what it takes to build something or provide a service, the value/price setting will be based on costs, including personal labor, rather than merely a market-set one based on whatever that market will bear.
Value Assessment Considerations. A new kind of accounting (or actually a very old kind) that measures value added based on energy used plus a factor for skill would be the basis for setting prices. Markets for goods and services in a localized economy would resemble the old farmer’s markets and their scale would be manageable. In such a market buyers and sellers will have adequate knowledge and be able to agree prices more readily.
Cooperativity Considerations. Human beings, when not stressed by over population (density stresses) are more open and empathetic than when they feel they must compete to make ends meet. Cooperation and agreements are much more viable under a localized economic system. However, that economy must be capable of meeting all of the needs of the members. This means settlements, villages, or other living arrangements will need to be situated in habitable locations. Food production must be possible and climate cannot be too severe. It is very likely that there will be very limited choices of locations in the near future. In keeping with the idea that population size will start to shrink, and rapidly, it may be possible to find enough of these locations to satisfy supporting a breeding population in a steady-state condition. That will take permaculture engineering to work out the requirements and design the systems.
Ecos Damage Considerations. The NL-FM-PD-C model is destroying our Ecos. Coupled with the drive to consume, desire for convenience, and power/speed pursuits, we dump CO2 into the atmosphere and oceans causing global warming and ocean acidification that is disrupting the very basis of our ecosystems. The quest for profits drive all manner of chemical pollution and soil deterioration. This alone should condemn the model. Unfortunately there are stubborn minds who’s livelihood depends on the extractive and polluting industries for their wealth and who, buying into the model’s justification, that it produces wealth, refuse to believe the evidence. Those same minds have gained influence over the governance system so as to prevent any rational response to this situation. But the degree and rate of degradation of our Ecos is directly due to the expansion of the NL-FM-PD-C model over the globe. Moreover, the evidence that we have reached and possibly already exceeded the limits beyond which permanent damage is done has mounted. By some reckoning we have at best a few years to completely reverse our course or drive our planet into another regime, one completely hostile to our existence.
Ergo: There is a better way to live than the global NL-FM-PD-C model. That better way restores the more ancient human traits that emerged when we became sapiens and allows us to live in a cooperative, small scale community. Living in small local communities does not necessarily mean we have to live like cave dwellers with only stone axes and animal skins. It does mean that we will abandon much of the current high-tech material wealth that many consider essential, like iPhonesTM. Our societies may be able to retain some forms of technology that are essential to supporting life, such as water-driven generators for limited electricity. But I suspect when the choice between TV and food is to be made most of us will choose correctly. Wise choices about what technology to maintain and what to give up will need to be made.
4. Reduce Consumption and Production of Non-Essential Goods and Services.
Claim: The only way a new (old) socio-economic system can work is to walk away from the current NL-FM-PD-C one that depends on constant and increasing consumption. What is produced and used should contribute to sustaining the steady-state tribal economy.
By all the arguments given above it should be clear that there is no physical way to sustain a NL-FM-PD-C system. And if you can’t you can’t. The alternative is to radically reduce our consumption (for those who are consuming) as well as stop growing our population. We will have to give up producing worthless goods or providing worthless services. My guess is that something like 80% of the population will need to be engaged in food growing, processing, and transportation since food is the number one stuff that will be needed. With a declining population there will be no need for new building construction. More work will be put to repairing existing housing or converting some formerly commercial properties into housing for workers.
Clearly this is a bleak picture compared with the ordinary vision we have of a bright tomorrow where we have even more stuff. Basically it probably exceeds your worst dystopian nightmares. Governance will need to be autocratic and organized along the hierarchical control theoretic lines. One would hope that those taking decision-making roles would be wise, but given the likelihood of finding such people is very low, it is more likely they will be despotic. At least one might hope they would have the objective of saving the genus in mind. That would mean they would recognize the need to reduce the population and consumption with emphasis on the use of energy to produce useful goods (food, clothing, tools, etc.)
Bear in mind, however, we are talking not about some monolithic state or government. The only practical way that humans will live in the future is in those localized and limited scale tribes. My speculation is that resources will become so scarce and energy to extract any that might still exist so unavailable that no one group will be able to gain any particular advantage over others. They simply would not be able to manage in the old fashion of expanding empires, and it wouldn’t matter how ruthless their leaders might be. No basic (seed) resources, no capacity to wage war and take over others who are, themselves, living in subsistence conditions. This leads to a further speculation that there will be a few of these tribes that are fortunate enough to be led by truly wise individuals. Those few may enjoy higher than average cooperativity internally and thus be more fit as a group to survive the changes that will be in store.
Perhaps for the next several hundred thousand years these tribal humans will be tested by a whole new Ecos. They will live low tech, though not necessarily stone-age, lives. We have learned a lot of science and with the right combination of cleverness and wisdom should be able to live comfortably within nature’s limits. As long as we pay careful attention to how the Ecos is changing.
5. Focus on Adaptation to Climate Variations.
Claim: Dramatic, possibly catastrophic, climate change is now baked into the cake and will impact every region to one degree or another. Some areas, like the higher latitudes, will be affected more than others in terms of extreme conditions. But all will suffer climate shifts that lead to more severe storms and changes in rainfall patterns. Humans are going to need every bit of adaptive capability to live under these conditions.
Above all else future humans will need to continually adapt to changing and possibly violent climates. Not unlike the impact of the glaciation periods followed by receding glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere, climate changes are going to significantly stress the biosphere. More so than the Ice Ages, the climate changes our progeny will experience will come more rapidly and be more extreme than our ancestors experienced. Surviving and thriving under these conditions will take every ounce of wisdom that tribes can muster. They are likely to have to be semi-nomadic as growing conditions in an area change. They will have to be super observant of plant characteristics that enable them to grow under otherwise stressful conditions and select those that can be relied upon for food for planting.
Most paleoanthropologists now believe that climate changes due to the Ice Ages were responsible for driving the evolution of hominins in Africa, by changing the local conditions over thousands of years. What now appears to be a large speciation of a number of hominins, especially those events that led to the emergence of our genus, Homo was, to a large degree, driven by these climate impacts. It is conceivable that future climate changes will once again drive the evolution of the genus.
No one can predict evolution’s results. However, I think it is possible to observe the major transition patterns that have occurred in prior evolutionary trajectories and make reasonable suppositions about what might come about in the future. Those transitions demonstrate that biology has always found ways for cooperation to emerge and trump mere competition. Our very bodies, as multicellular organisms, are the result of such a transition. Group selection is now favored as an explanation for the evolution of human sociality and I also add to that the evolution of sapience (the two phenomenon are tightly linked, in my view). Tribes were evolving toward stronger eusociality (hyper-sociality) prior to the advent of agriculture and the requisite need for more top-down command and control style management systems with emphasis on logistical and tactical management (and less on strategic management which is the basis of sapient cooperativity). We traded off selection for greater wisdom capacity for food security. It was a reasonable trade off given the state of scientific ignorance we lived in. But it did dampen our potential increase in sapience over the last ten millennia or so.
If it was climate adaptation that drove hominin evolution to the point of producing this emergent new psyche based on sapience, then it might be reasonable to expect that selection based on climate change could once again drive that in the direction of a new transition — human societies based on hyper-social individuals cooperating in an economic system that is not based on profit, competition, etc.
Of course none of us will ever know what will play out. We will all be dead by the time the trends are more evident. My reason for considering these issues is that part of wisdom is using our knowledge, both tacit and explicit, to shape our world as best we can given the circumstances. That is what we have always done with our quest for more energy and our inventiveness. But what we did before we did in ignorance of the consequences. Now we see what those consequences of unfettered growth and profit-taking are. If a few surviving tribes are wise enough they might use that knowledge to reshape our social structures so as to avoid the mistakes we have made along the pathway to our current condition. It is still possible that the changes in climate will be so severe that no humans will survive and our species and genus, the whole Hominini experiment will fail. We will suffer extinction as a whole tribe. Indeed the likelihood of survival of any of the still extant hominin, the great apes, is negligible, so that the planet may end up with no very smart primates at all. But I hope that is not going to be the case.
The solution to Fermi’s Paradox may be very simple. The reason that no sentient beings are flitting about Earth in flying saucers is that all such beings reach a point in technological development where their wisdom is insufficient to squelch the advent of the NL-FM-PD-C economic paradigm! The latter takes hold of the minds (like memes) and dooms the species to extinction. They can then never get outside their own star systems to explore their galaxies. If we had to extrapolate from our own experience that certainly looks to be a likely scenario.
A more likely scenario is that all such beings simply exploit their energy reserves before they achieve interstellar propulsion capabilities (assuming such is even possible). It might be because of the NL-FM-PD-C meme taking over or it could be that it simply takes almost all energy just to get to the technological point of getting off the planet and further technological advancement becomes too expensive.
Regardless, I think it is extremely likely that our genus, if it manages to survive the next ten thousand years, will be a long time getting back to a technological level close to what we have today. We won’t be exploring the galaxy any time soon. We will be taking a giant leap backwards, resetting our evolutionary progression. And it will be quite a while before a wiser, perhaps smarter, species derived from Homo sapiens will be looking into leaving Earth again.
 Actually the relevant measure is not body counts but biomass increase per unit time. The resource consumption rate is dependent on this factor which takes into account things like demographic distribution of ages.
 The term is being used here in its ideological sense. The new “liberals” believe in the supremacy of the free-market and capitalism as the very best economic model insofar as it produces enormous wealth. See the Wikipedia article for more details and read Naomi Kline’s The Shock Doctrine.
 Interestingly luck is never mentioned in this narrative. Yet if you read the biographies of so-called self-made people (mostly white males) you cannot help but note the significance of being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people had on so many stories. Granted being prepared to take advantage of luck was important, but the luck itself was far more significant than the neoliberal narrative lets on.
 The work of psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (see: Heuristics and biases) and many experimental economists have decidedly demonstrated that humans, even corporate captains, are far from rational decision makers when it comes to economics.
 From the Wikipedia article on Greespan:
In Congressional testimony on October 23, 2008, Greenspan finally conceded error on regulation. The New York Times wrote, “a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending. … Mr. Greenspan refused to accept blame for the crisis but acknowledged that his belief in deregulation had been shaken.”
 By steady-state I mean a system that is in the very long run receiving an average influx of energy that is used to produce exactly the amount of wealth that is needed to balance that degraded by consumption and entropy. This would have been the case for the earliest human tribes whether hunter-gatherers or early farmers.
 An unskilled worker will tend to use more energy for the same output delivered so the final price has to be adjusted accordingly. The energy being used for measurement purposes is net ‘free’, in the thermodynamic sense, which takes this into account.
 I recently became aware of another “flavor” of systems based agriculture called agro-ecology. Though I have only just started investigating this concept it appears to be mostly about food production whereas permaculture addresses more holistic community living.
 If you only read one book on any of the issues related to Ecos damage and its relation to the NL-FM-PD-C model I strongly recommend This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. She has done her homework. I disagree with some of her characterizations of alternative energy being ready to take over from fossil fuels; she has cited a few engineers who produced a grand scheme several years back, reported in Scientific American, that I have already critiqued and has been criticised by a number of other energy researchers. Nevertheless, her ability to connect the dots of finance, ideologies, politics, governance failures, and geophysical realities is in the best tradition of systems thinking.
 See: Maynard Smith, John & Szathmáry, Eörs (1995). The Major Transitions in Evolution, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Several other books on this topic have been written in the past few years. The field of group-based evolutionary selection is now fairly well established even if there remain some significant questions about the implications.
 My own preferred explanation is that they simply don’t want to be detected. If they had at all monitored activity on Earth they would more or less likely not want to get involved with such primitive beings as ourselves.
Aired on the Doomstead Diner on December 21, 2014
Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner
…A long time ago, Capo di Tutti Capis Alfonse Capone delivered his opinion upon being convicted on Racketeering charges that “Capitalism is the Legitimate Racket of the Ruling Class”. Far as Alfonse was concerned, he was no different than the folks running Da Goobermint and Da Federal Reserve Bank, and he was basically correct, except for the fact he wasn’t near so big or near so violent in trying to control his small market of the Chicago Liquor and Gambling Biz as TPTB were or still are in controlling the Oil and Banking biz.
If you don’t believe Alfonse, one of the main Enforcers for this Biz, General Smedley Butler said exactly the same thing at around the same time Alfonse said it, when he published his War is a Racket treatise. Smedley Butler was one of the most highly decorated Soldiers of the early 20th Century, he won the CMH not once, but TWICE! His words were as follows in his “On War” speech…
For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!
Note: Transcript for non-native speakers of English and people who prefer to read rather than listen will be available HERE in a couple of days.
WAR IS A RACKET
A speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.
WAR is a racket. It always has been
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?
Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few – the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.
And what is this bill?
This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.
For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.
Again they are choosing sides. France and Russia met and agreed to stand side by side. Italy and Austria hurried to make a similar agreement. Poland and Germany cast sheep’s eyes at each other, forgetting for the nonce [one unique occasion], their dispute over the Polish Corridor.
The assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] complicated matters. Jugoslavia and Hungary, long bitter enemies, were almost at each other’s throats. Italy was ready to jump in. But France was waiting. So was Czechoslovakia. All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people – not those who fight and pay and die – only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.
There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.
Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?
Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:
“And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace… War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”
Undoubtedly Mussolini means exactly what he says. His well-trained army, his great fleet of planes, and even his navy are ready for war – anxious for it, apparently. His recent stand at the side of Hungary in the latter’s dispute with Jugoslavia showed that. And the hurried mobilization of his troops on the Austrian border after the assassination of Dollfuss showed it too. There are others in Europe too whose sabre rattling presages war, sooner or later.
Herr Hitler, with his rearming Germany and his constant demands for more and more arms, is an equal if not greater menace to peace. France only recently increased the term of military service for its youth from a year to eighteen months.
Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.
Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war – a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.
Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit – fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.
Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.
But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?
What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?
Yes, and what does it profit the nation?
Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000. Our total favorable trade balance during the twenty-five-year period was about $24,000,000,000. Therefore, on a purely bookkeeping basis, we ran a little behind year for year, and that foreign trade might well have been ours without the wars.
It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people – who do not profit.
WHO MAKES THE PROFITS?
The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the United States some $52,000,000,000. Figure it out. That means $400 to every American man, woman, and child. And we haven’t paid the debt yet. We are paying it, our children will pay it, and our children’s children probably still will be paying the cost of that war.
The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits – ah! that is another matter – twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent – the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.
Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket – and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:
Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people – didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.
Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump – or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!
Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.
There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.
Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.
Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.
Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.
A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.
Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather.
For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central Leather Company were $3,500,000. That was approximately $1,167,000 a year. Well, in 1916 Central Leather returned a profit of $15,000,000, a small increase of 1,100 per cent. That’s all. The General Chemical Company averaged a profit for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came the war, and the profits jumped to $12,000,000. a leap of 1,400 per cent.
International Nickel Company – and you can’t have a war without nickel – showed an increase in profits from a mere average of $4,000,000 a year to $73,000,000 yearly. Not bad? An increase of more than 1,700 per cent.
American Sugar Refining Company averaged $2,000,000 a year for the three years before the war. In 1916 a profit of $6,000,000 was recorded.
Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The Sixty-Fifth Congress, reporting on corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122 meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago packers doubled and tripled their earnings.
And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public – even before a Senate investigatory body.
But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiseled their way into war profits.
Take the shoe people. They like war. It brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought – and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.
There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it – so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.
Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches – one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!
Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.
There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.
Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1,000,000,000 – count them if you live long enough – was spent by Uncle Sam in building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30, 100, or perhaps 300 per cent.
Undershirts for soldiers cost 14¢ [cents] to make and uncle Sam paid 30¢ to 40¢ each for them – a nice little profit for the undershirt manufacturer. And the stocking manufacturer and the uniform manufacturers and the cap manufacturers and the steel helmet manufacturers – all got theirs.
Why, when the war was over some 4,000,000 sets of equipment – knapsacks and the things that go to fill them – crammed warehouses on this side. Now they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents. But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them – and they will do it all over again the next time.
There were lots of brilliant ideas for profit making during the war.
One very versatile patriot sold Uncle Sam twelve dozen 48-inch wrenches. Oh, they were very nice wrenches. The only trouble was that there was only one nut ever made that was large enough for these wrenches. That is the one that holds the turbines at Niagara Falls. Well, after Uncle Sam had bought them and the manufacturer had pocketed the profit, the wrenches were put on freight cars and shunted all around the United States in an effort to find a use for them. When the Armistice was signed it was indeed a sad blow to the wrench manufacturer. He was just about to make some nuts to fit the wrenches. Then he planned to sell these, too, to your Uncle Sam.
Still another had the brilliant idea that colonels shouldn’t ride in automobiles, nor should they even ride on horseback. One has probably seen a picture of Andy Jackson riding in a buckboard. Well, some 6,000 buckboards were sold to Uncle Sam for the use of colonels! Not one of them was used. But the buckboard manufacturer got his war profit.
The shipbuilders felt they should come in on some of it, too. They built a lot of ships that made a lot of profit. More than $3,000,000,000 worth. Some of the ships were all right. But $635,000,000 worth of them were made of wood and wouldn’t float! The seams opened up – and they sank. We paid for them, though. And somebody pocketed the profits.
It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.
The Senate (Nye) committee probe of the munitions industry and its wartime profits, despite its sensational disclosures, hardly has scratched the surface.
Even so, it has had some effect. The State Department has been studying “for some time” methods of keeping out of war. The War Department suddenly decides it has a wonderful plan to spring. The Administration names a committee – with the War and Navy Departments ably represented under the chairmanship of a Wall Street speculator – to limit profits in war time. To what extent isn’t suggested. Hmmm. Possibly the profits of 300 and 600 and 1,600 per cent of those who turned blood into gold in the World War would be limited to some smaller figure.
Apparently, however, the plan does not call for any limitation of losses – that is, the losses of those who fight the war. As far as I have been able to ascertain there is nothing in the scheme to limit a soldier to the loss of but one eye, or one arm, or to limit his wounds to one or two or three. Or to limit the loss of life.
There is nothing in this scheme, apparently, that says not more than 12 per cent of a regiment shall be wounded in battle, or that not more than 7 per cent in a division shall be killed.
Of course, the committee cannot be bothered with such trifling matters.
WHO PAYS THE BILLS?
Who provides the profits – these nice little profits of 20, 100, 300, 1,500 and 1,800 per cent? We all pay them – in taxation. We paid the bankers their profits when we bought Liberty Bonds at $100.00 and sold them back at $84 or $86 to the bankers. These bankers collected $100 plus. It was a simple manipulation. The bankers control the security marts. It was easy for them to depress the price of these bonds. Then all of us – the people – got frightened and sold the bonds at $84 or $86. The bankers bought them. Then these same bankers stimulated a boom and government bonds went to par – and above. Then the bankers collected their profits.
But the soldier pays the biggest part of the bill.
If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran’s hospitals in the United States. On a tour of the country, in the midst of which I am at the time of this writing, I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men – men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed at home.
Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.
Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face” ! This time they had to do their own readjustment, sans [without] mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them any more. So we scattered them about without any “three-minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final “about face” alone.
In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone.
There are thousands and thousands of these cases, and more and more are coming in all the time. The tremendous excitement of the war, the sudden cutting off of that excitement – the young boys couldn’t stand it.
That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead – they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded – they are paying now their share of the war profits. But the others paid, too – they paid with heartbreaks when they tore themselves away from their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam – on which a profit had been made. They paid another part in the training camps where they were regimented and drilled while others took their jobs and their places in the lives of their communities. The paid for it in the trenches where they shot and were shot; where they were hungry for days at a time; where they slept in the mud and the cold and in the rain – with the moans and shrieks of the dying for a horrible lullaby.
But don’t forget – the soldier paid part of the dollars and cents bill too.
Up to and including the Spanish-American War, we had a prize system, and soldiers and sailors fought for money. During the Civil War they were paid bonuses, in many instances, before they went into service. The government, or states, paid as high as $1,200 for an enlistment. In the Spanish-American War they gave prize money. When we captured any vessels, the soldiers all got their share – at least, they were supposed to. Then it was found that we could reduce the cost of wars by taking all the prize money and keeping it, but conscripting [drafting] the soldier anyway. Then soldiers couldn’t bargain for their labor, Everyone else could bargain, but the soldier couldn’t.
Napoleon once said,
“All men are enamored of decorations…they positively hunger for them.”
So by developing the Napoleonic system – the medal business – the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated. Until the Civil War there were no medals. Then the Congressional Medal of Honor was handed out. It made enlistments easier. After the Civil War no new medals were issued until the Spanish-American War.
In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn’t join the army.
So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side…it is His will that the Germans be killed.
And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill the allies…to please the same God. That was a part of the general propaganda, built up to make people war conscious and murder conscious.
Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the “war to end all wars.” This was the “war to make the world safe for democracy.” No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents. They were just told it was to be a “glorious adventure.”
Thus, having stuffed patriotism down their throats, it was decided to make them help pay for the war, too. So, we gave them the large salary of $30 a month.
All they had to do for this munificent sum was to leave their dear ones behind, give up their jobs, lie in swampy trenches, eat canned willy (when they could get it) and kill and kill and kill…and be killed.
Half of that wage (just a little more than a riveter in a shipyard or a laborer in a munitions factory safe at home made in a day) was promptly taken from him to support his dependents, so that they would not become a charge upon his community. Then we made him pay what amounted to accident insurance – something the employer pays for in an enlightened state – and that cost him $6 a month. He had less than $9 a month left.
Then, the most crowning insolence of all – he was virtually blackjacked into paying for his own ammunition, clothing, and food by being made to buy Liberty Bonds. Most soldiers got no money at all on pay days.
We made them buy Liberty Bonds at $100 and then we bought them back – when they came back from the war and couldn’t find work – at $84 and $86. And the soldiers bought about $2,000,000,000 worth of these bonds!
Yes, the soldier pays the greater part of the bill. His family pays too. They pay it in the same heart-break that he does. As he suffers, they suffer. At nights, as he lay in the trenches and watched shrapnel burst about him, they lay home in their beds and tossed sleeplessly – his father, his mother, his wife, his sisters, his brothers, his sons, and his daughters.
When he returned home minus an eye, or minus a leg or with his mind broken, they suffered too – as much as and even sometimes more than he. Yes, and they, too, contributed their dollars to the profits of the munitions makers and bankers and shipbuilders and the manufacturers and the speculators made. They, too, bought Liberty Bonds and contributed to the profit of the bankers after the Armistice in the hocus-pocus of manipulated Liberty Bond prices.
And even now the families of the wounded men and of the mentally broken and those who never were able to readjust themselves are still suffering and still paying.
HOW TO SMASH THIS RACKET!
WELL, it’s a racket, all right.
A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.
The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation – it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted – to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.
Let the workers in these plants get the same wages – all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers –
yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders – everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!
Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.
Why shouldn’t they?
They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!
Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket – that and nothing else.
Maybe I am a little too optimistic. Capital still has some say. So capital won’t permit the taking of the profit out of war until the people – those who do the suffering and still pay the price – make up their minds that those they elect to office shall do their bidding, and not that of the profiteers.
Another step necessary in this fight to smash the war racket is the limited plebiscite to determine whether a war should be declared. A plebiscite not of all the voters but merely of those who would be called upon to do the fighting and dying. There wouldn’t be very much sense in having a 76-year-old president of a munitions factory or the flat-footed head of an international banking firm or the cross-eyed manager of a uniform manufacturing plant – all of whom see visions of tremendous profits in the event of war – voting on whether the nation should go to war or not. They never would be called upon to shoulder arms – to sleep in a trench and to be shot. Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.
There is ample precedent for restricting the voting to those affected. Many of our states have restrictions on those permitted to vote. In most, it is necessary to be able to read and write before you may vote. In some, you must own property. It would be a simple matter each year for the men coming of military age to register in their communities as they did in the draft during the World War and be examined physically. Those who could pass and who would therefore be called upon to bear arms in the event of war would be eligible to vote in a limited plebiscite. They should be the ones to have the power to decide – and not a Congress few of whose members are within the age limit and fewer still of whom are in physical condition to bear arms. Only those who must suffer should have the right to vote.
A third step in this business of smashing the war racket is to make certain that our military forces are truly forces for defense only.
At each session of Congress the question of further naval appropriations comes up. The swivel-chair admirals of Washington (and there are always a lot of them) are very adroit lobbyists. And they are smart. They don’t shout that “We need a lot of battleships to war on this nation or that nation.” Oh no. First of all, they let it be known that America is menaced by a great naval power. Almost any day, these admirals will tell you, the great fleet of this supposed enemy will strike suddenly and annihilate 125,000,000 people. Just like that. Then they begin to cry for a larger navy. For what? To fight the enemy? Oh my, no. Oh, no. For defense purposes only.
Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific. For defense. Uh, huh.
The Pacific is a great big ocean. We have a tremendous coastline on the Pacific. Will the maneuvers be off the coast, two or three hundred miles? Oh, no. The maneuvers will be two thousand, yes, perhaps even thirty-five hundred miles, off the coast.
The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the united States fleet so close to Nippon’s shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.
The ships of our navy, it can be seen, should be specifically limited, by law, to within 200 miles of our coastline. Had that been the law in 1898 the Maine would never have gone to Havana Harbor. She never would have been blown up. There would have been no war with Spain with its attendant loss of life. Two hundred miles is ample, in the opinion of experts, for defense purposes. Our nation cannot start an offensive war if its ships can’t go further than 200 miles from the coastline. Planes might be permitted to go as far as 500 miles from the coast for purposes of reconnaissance. And the army should never leave the territorial limits of our nation.
To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket.
We must take the profit out of war.
We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.
We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.
TO HELL WITH WAR!
I am not a fool as to believe that war is a thing of the past. I know the people do not want war, but there is no use in saying we cannot be pushed into another war.
Looking back, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had “kept us out of war” and on the implied promise that he would “keep us out of war.” Yet, five months later he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.
In that five-month interval the people had not been asked whether they had changed their minds. The 4,000,000 young men who put on uniforms and marched or sailed away were not asked whether they wanted to go forth to suffer and die.
Then what caused our government to change its mind so suddenly?
An allied commission, it may be recalled, came over shortly before the war declaration and called on the President. The President summoned a group of advisers. The head of the commission spoke. Stripped of its diplomatic language, this is what he told the President and his group:
“There is no use kidding ourselves any longer. The cause of the allies is lost. We now owe you (American bankers, American munitions makers, American manufacturers, American speculators, American exporters) five or six billion dollars.
If we lose (and without the help of the United States we must lose) we, England, France and Italy, cannot pay back this money…and Germany won’t.
Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations were concerned, and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, or had radio been available to broadcast the proceedings, America never would have entered the World War. But this conference, like all war discussions, was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a “war to make the world safe for democracy” and a “war to end all wars.”
Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of democracy than it had then. Besides, what business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are Fascists or Communists? Our problem is to preserve our own democracy.
And very little, if anything, has been accomplished to assure us that the World War was really the war to end all wars.
Yes, we have had disarmament conferences and limitations of arms conferences. They don’t mean a thing. One has just failed; the results of another have been nullified. We send our professional soldiers and our sailors and our politicians and our diplomats to these conferences. And what happens?
The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms. And at all these conferences, lurking in the background but all-powerful, just the same, are the sinister agents of those who profit by war. They see to it that these conferences do not disarm or seriously limit armaments.
The chief aim of any power at any of these conferences has not been to achieve disarmament to prevent war but rather to get more armament for itself and less for any potential foe.
There is only one way to disarm with any semblance of practicability. That is for all nations to get together and scrap every ship, every gun, every rifle, every tank, every war plane. Even this, if it were possible, would not be enough.
The next war, according to experts, will be fought not with battleships, not by artillery, not with rifles and not with machine guns. It will be fought with deadly chemicals and gases.
Secretly each nation is studying and perfecting newer and ghastlier means of annihilating its foes wholesale. Yes, ships will continue to be built, for the shipbuilders must make their profits. And guns still will be manufactured and powder and rifles will be made, for the munitions makers must make their huge profits. And the soldiers, of course, must wear uniforms, for the manufacturer must make their war profits too.
But victory or defeat will be determined by the skill and ingenuity of our scientists.
If we put them to work making poison gas and more and more fiendish mechanical and explosive instruments of destruction, they will have no time for the constructive job of building greater prosperity for all peoples. By putting them to this useful job, we can all make more money out of peace than we can out of war – even the munitions makers.
So…I say, TO HELL WITH WAR.
Smedley Darlington Butler
Major General – United States Marine Corps [Retired]
Born West Chester, Pa., July 30, 1881
Educated Haverford School
Married Ethel C. Peters, of Philadelphia, June 30, 1905
Awarded two congressional medals of honor, for capture of Vera Cruz, Mexico, 1914,
and for capture of Ft. Riviere, Haiti, 1917
Distinguished service medal, 1919
Retired Oct. 1, 1931
On leave of absence to act as director of Department of Safety, Philadelphia, 1932
Lecturer – 1930’s
Republican Candidate for Senate, 1932
Died at Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, June 21, 1940