Empire

Abu Hajar

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Published on the Economic Undertow on September 20, 2016

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The United States military’s endless war against everything, everywhere, all the time … is spreading:

The experts agree; the war in in Syria and Iraq is a big one, it has many adversaries, etc. They neglect to mention the war showing up in Raleigh, North Carolina; Tulsa or a suburb of Minneapolis … or in your town. The wars are supposed to remain at a safe distance felt only as pangs of gratification before and during sporting events. Now the dogs are running wild, who will they bite next?

Maybe a better question is how much does it all cost and who’s paying?

Abu Hajaar and the Islamic State Myth

 

Islamic State had an amazing run, if only for its outrageous, mind-torquing audacity. Like a bad LSD trip amped with Jack Daniel’s and crystal meth, ISIS was so idiosyncratically, disgustingly, CRAZY … so embedded at the very center of Warholian pop- slash media culture … it made for Great TV. But, like all other fashions it had its fifteen milliseconds of fame … Poof! There it went!

As for hard evidence of Islamic State’s incapacity; this is all you will ever need:

There is other evidence: Turkey’s entry into northern Syria a few weeks ago was the equivalent to a surrender document: if Islamic State was able to defend its supply lines, it would have done so. Instead, the patron (Turkey) had to scramble to fill the vacuum left by its fleeing agent; an action that speaks for itself.

If you can’t see the connection between Syria, Middle East, Dallas and Baton Rouge you aren’t looking hard enough. War has become ‘business by other means’, one that kills off its clientele. A ‘thug’ in one place is the same as a ‘militant’ in another; what pays is the process of identifying threats then bumping them off. If the ‘threats’ are not inherently dangerous — hapless Negroes in the wrong place at the wrong time or bumbling agents of a Nato ally — so much the better!

What keeps ISIS alive and menacing in the Western mind is the marketing. When intelligence officers, generals, talking heads on your favorite news outlet report ‘the danger of Islamic State’ or an ‘Islamic State Offensive’, Abu Hajaar is who they are talking about, (March, 2016).

Keep in mind, it is in the interest of the Ponzi Pentagon and its partners to inflate the capabilities of ISIS to serve its own interests. Terrorists and threat of attacks are the sole justification for US military intervention in Syria and Iraq. Without Islamic State there is no bombing Islamic State; there is no need for Operation Inherent Resolve, no need for thousands of ‘operators’ (mercenaries) on the ground, no need for bases and their supply requirements and their fleets of contractors; no need to spend billions per day combating a group that for all practical purposes does not pose a threat. If the Islamic State was audacious, so is the fraud that has been erected around it!

Perhaps by way of his lonely and painful death Abu Hajaar offers us all something of value. The US government’s absurdities are revealed. Sadly, citizens are too entangled in the non-stop media crossfire to recognize the fraud for what it is, they can’t grasp it or they don’t want to; the marketing is too comforting.

The Islamic State is still dangerous … but only within the capacities of the individuals associated with the group. The ‘Monkey-Piano’ hypothesis suggests given enough time a roomful of monkeys with pianos will produce the complete works of Shostakovitch. Give the same monkeys much less time and a roomful of Kalashnikovs, they will kill everything downrange including themselves, yet the United States military is not going to go to war against monkeys!

Turkey’s Number One Plan

 

By the end of 2011, the Pentagon had been ‘invited out’ of Iraq, it was hunting for opportunities to expand its presence in the region. The great wave of social change set into motion by the US invasions eight years prior was breaking across the Arab world, taking the form of a generalized uprising against the status quo. The wave had already broken over Syria; demonstrations against the Bashar Assad government had morphed into vicious street fighting and a divide in the country. The government was able to control- or contest the heavily populated western half of the country from Latakia on the Turkish border to Jordan in the south, the lightly populated east was left to fend for itself.

Arrayed against Assad and his army was a grab-bag of revolutionary militias operating as the Free Syrian Army. Some groups were comprised of disaffected civilians able to arm themselves and organize. Others were recent defectors from the Syrian army. Assad had emptied his prisons of criminals so as to refill them with political enemies. Many of those released had military experience or were Islamic extremists, they signed up with the FSA. Assad would later point to these individuals as the terrorists he was fighting against … begging for aid while holding himself up as a defender of Western civilized values at the same time.

The distress in Syria offered possibilities for the US partnership that included Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Arabs were intent on using the disturbances elsewhere to deflect or short-circuit their own malcontents. Ankara’s dilemma revolved around the country’s lack of domestic petroleum resources. Turkish motorists were burning through two hundred fifty million barrels of imported oil per year, paid for with borrowed euros and dollars. The result was increasing pressure on the economy and the lira. Turkey could look toward Greece to see what happens when those funds had to be repaid; to Argentina to see what happens when they were not. Turkey had the region’s most powerful military, it could invade its neighbors easily, winning afterward was hard. Dictator-in-waiting Tayyip Recep Erdogan and his generals could look to the US mis-adventure in Iraq and see the difficulty in making off with another country’s resources.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors were looking for advantage vs. Iran over market access for their petroleum. This contest had evolved over time into a proxy war that occasionally boiled over. The US didn’t mind, instability is one of its top exports. Resources lurking underground might indeed be hard to steal but grabbing consumption was child’s play. Consumption was a complex, above-ground undertaking with many dependencies including the need for (expert) management, complex infrastructure and hard currency loans. A wrench in the right spot would strip the gears, a pin would pop the balloon. Whatever could not be consumed in a ‘Brand X’ country would be available to Americans; even if a producer like Libya or Iraq could not use its own oil it would still export. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game’s afoot”.

The game plan for Syria was simple, the Assad government was vulnerable, poke at it until it deflated, death by a thousand pins. ‘Why’ did not matter: Assad’s demise would be rationalized afterward. The Turks would provide a base from which anti-Assad rebels would operate. They would be armed, organized and given necessary training … Arms would come from the US by way of the Saudis or from Libyan arsenals captured after the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, Hillary Clinton’s war. Materiel would be shipped directly from Saudi stockpiles, Libyan supplies would reach the rebels by way of CIA ‘ratlines’ from Benghazi. Turkey would become the conduit for Islamic militants heeding the call for jihad that were flooding into Syria from around the world. The model was the brushfire intifada waged against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s by CIA- supported Islamic mujaheddin, Charlie Wilson’s war.

The US’ role was to provide funds and would coordinate between partners, it would offer training to militants where appropriate. The Special Operations trainers were the camel’s nose inside the tent, the rest of the camel would come later: aircraft and bases, advisors, the ground troops all at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Besides being a conduit for arms, Saudis would provide funding and ‘volunteers’; the Qataris would offer ‘public relations’ (propaganda services). The Turks would hold the bag; if anything went wrong they would get the blame.

Turkey’s aim was to create a de facto Turkish protectorate; a New Ottoman Empire that would reach into Iraq with its billions of barrels of proven oil reserves. Enough success and the Shia Muslim/ Iranian protectorate at the south of Iraq would be undone. Unlike the Americans, Turkey would not have to conquer anyone or steal anything, Ankara would heed the call to rescue the victims of its own subordinates’ aggression. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies would gain influence in a territory from which they had long since been excluded. All these advantages would be at the expense of Iran.

The strategy was simple to implement and began well but defects soon emerged. Assad was no fool, his father Hafez was an old-school Soviet-style tyrant who, when confronted, hammered his adversaries without mercy. Timid son Bashar clearly paid attention in class. He short-circuited the Syria succession regime leaving his Alawite- and moderate Shia constituents without palatable alternatives. It was to be Assad or nothing, there would be no Lady Macbeths or Colonel Gaddafis waiting in the wings for the leader to fail. Assad sanctioned genocide, giving his officers freedom to commit whatever atrocities and excesses they would. This bound the officers to Assad, each becoming complicit in the others’ crimes. If Assad failed or the army, both would fall. Atrocities provided Assad with leverage over civilians whose loyalty might waver: he could massacre his foes (stick) or he could call off his own dogs (carrot). He also bellied up to his Iranian allies who had a large investment in the Syrian project and much to lose from an Assad defeat. The Iranians offered supplies and funds.

The anti-Assad rebels also had a distressing tendency to fight among themselves rather than attack Assad. This made sense; even with training and logistical support the rebels were no match for the Syrian army. When the rebels attacked with rockets and machine guns, the army responded with artillery, aircraft and tanks. The inexperienced civilian-rebels were soon wiped out and their units disbanded. The ex-army defectors either died, fled the country or flipped to more competent organizations. Successful units tended to congeal around Islamic militants who had experience in urban combat; soon enough the jihadis became dominant among the rebels. Yet, jihadi success tended to work against the rebels’ aims. Instead of encouraging the Syrians to distance themselves from Assad, the jihadis drove the two together out of desperation. The more effective the militants were on the battlefield, the stronger Assad became. The jihadis could win battles but they scared the horses.

Encounters tended to be grinding affairs with both sides suffering heavy casualties; operational expenses were an increasing burden as manpower losses could not be easily made up. Assad would take a town or a neighborhood with armor but could not hold it because he lacked the ground forces. As the casualties mounted morale was slipping. The Syrians on the rebel side would fight until they felt compelled return to their families. If the families left the country — and millions ultimately would, the fighters left too. This left rebel forces made up increasingly of foreigners, which had the effect of driving more support to the government.

Eventually, Assad’s losses forced him to request reinforcements from Iran and Hezbollah. This resulted in loss of support for his side and more defections. There were splits within Assad’s army whose soldiers resented control by Iran. The nature of the fighting presented a problem with the foreign fighters on both sides; engagements were intense but confined to towns and neighborhoods. The foreigners did not know the ground, before they could learn they were killed. On the rebel side, success fell toward the groups with a mix of locals who knew the territory and veteran jihadis who were the best fighters. This offered a problem of its own: larger attacks by the rebel side were out of the question because the different groups and fighters couldn’t or wouldn’t work together. The Assad side felt the same problem in reverse: the targets the rebels presented to were too dispersed for his army to assault all at once, this left him to bomb residential areas with the hope of killing one or two fighters. This induced more Syrians to leave the country shrinking the manpower pool.

Ironically, the drain upon Assad’s ‘human resources’ dramatically increased with Russian assistance in September, 2015. The Russians brought airplanes and missiles but few ground troops. Russian air support began to dictate the tempo of offensives by the Syrian army and its allies … increasing Syrian army losses. The Syrian government and its supporters found themselves trapped by Assad’s expedients; his need to fight and to not-fight at the same time. In order to win he had to use up his army, he needed to hold back in order to save it. Assad’s dilemma was the same as the rebels’ earlier: the more effective the Russians were on the battlefield, the weaker Assad became because of the human toll.

Meanwhile, blowback was increasing in the West, the US was increasingly collaborating with unsavory actors, including militants affiliated with al-Qaeda. Questions were being raised in Washington. The US president was handed an opportunity to intervene directly in the Fall of 2013 after several hundred Syrian civilians were killed in a poison gas attack. The war-hawks in the administration were calling for a no-fly zone like the one that had undone Gaddafi. The US public reaction was strongly negative; after ten years of fruitless war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing debacle in Libya, the citizens were opposed to more military adventures; there were no vital US interests at stake in Syria. The only benefits of a US action would fall to groups the US had pledged to destroy.

There was another factor, something that became clear when Islamic State emerged into public consciousness in the Summer of 2014: A large, general war across the Middle East was unlikely because none of the nations including the US could afford to fight one. Marginal oil production would be cut and the resulting finance crisis would cripple everyone. This established an upper bound on the level of ‘investment’ the dictators and plutocrats could make in twerking their rivals. Within limits the wars could go on, they could morph and congeal, burn out in one place or flare up in others, but exceed those bounds … Poof! Everyone would be living in caves!

Allahu Akbar Motherf**ker!

Anyone with access to a TV knows what happened in June of 2014: the group that had been booted out of al-Qaeda for being too violent erupted like a chest-bursting alien from the scrublands of eastern Syria to overran Mosul and a dozen other cities and towns across northern Iraq. Over the course of a few days the entire Iraqi defense/security establishment, a $35 billion dollar Pentagon (mal)investment … bases, generals, tanks, helicopters, prisons, Humvees, golf courses and officers’ clubs; 300,000 so-called ‘soldiers’ … Poof! You know the rest!

Immediately there was a jarring disconnect: the gap between the mission and those who were tasked with carrying it out. The last time an Arab army mounted a successful large-scale offensive without outside leadership was during the Middle Ages. The needed talent and command infrastructure simply didn’t exist. Abysmal leadership on both sides has been- and still is a number-one reason for the stalemate in Syria. One had only to look to the wasteful sieges across the region to see how governments and militias planned- and carried out operations. Thousands of lives were wasted every month to wrestle control over a few blocks or neighborhoods, with entire cities such as Homs reduced to deserts of concrete rubble.

It isn’t just Islamic State ineptitude:

The Hezbollah commander sent his soldiers out to die. There was no objective they might reasonably capture, or even a way to return fire. By the end of the operation the Hezbollah unit lost its fighters, its vehicles and its base of operations, no doubt purchased with many more lives: Abu Hajaar all over again!

Every day dozens of similar pointless operations take place all across Syria, with the same depressing outcomes. The leaders don’t care and don’t know any better, repeating the same failed processes over and over hoping to wear down the other side(s) by attrition.

In single party states such as Syria and Iraq (Iran and Saudi Arabia), effective military commanders are seen as internal threats, they are rarely given opportunities to succeed. Officer ranks are filled with dull, self-serving careerists chasing comfortable sinecures. The ex-Saddam loyalists identified as Islamic State commanders leading the blitz across northern Iraq were pliant yes-men with highly developed survival instincts which was why they had their jobs in the first place. These individuals were never military geniuses, they were experts at running away. That was why they lasted long enough to become involved with ISIS. When given the opportunity, these commanders shoveled their best fighters into the furnace of Kobani, another futile siege. When the Kurds finally gained control over the city, ISIS was left with a disorganized mob of Abu Hajaars and some snuff video producers. The rest had been sacrificed.

Inept leadership is why Islamic State has been death’s door ever since (February, 2015). The fighters in every group including ISIS flip over from other groups; they don’t arrive from outer space. At the beginning, ISIS offered the possibility of a quick victory and large gains; fighters from across Syria and northern Iraq were eager to join. After the Kobani debacle, the group offered the certainty of being thrown away for nothing or a date with the hangman. Like the rest, the group cannot make up its losses.

The US has similar faults, its command is riddled with uninspiring ‘company men’; experts whose corrupt relationships with the defense industry leaves what (little) remains of the institution’s integrity compromised. None possess a longer term vision or sense of mission. The United States military hasn’t won a war since 1945 and it is certain nobody alive today remembers how …

The conclusions that can be drawn are much different from those of the experts: The war is a product of the United States and its unscrupulous, self-interested and largely incompetent partners. It is a proxy contest between petro-states Iran and Saudi Arabia, which the US encouraged. There was nothing resembling real plan, instead, the US relies on dangerously unstable proxies who are more of an enemy than Assad. A grievous error was underestimating the Syrian dictator and his capabilities. The assumption was he would be killed by his own like Gaddafi or would flee Damascus leaving the country to the Turks or pro-Western proxies. He instead chose to slug it out, something the 1,271 government intelligence offices, agencies, bureaus including the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as well as the 1,931 private contractors … never detected.

Assad was unlikable but not an adversary of the US or the West. For all of Assad’s faults, his regime is the legitimate government of Syria: it has never attacked the United States. The last Syrian war against a Western ally was vs. Israel in 1973. There is no justification for the West’s brutal mugging of the Syrian citizens.

PART ONE: It Only Gets Worse

PART TWO: Abu Hajaar

PART THREE: Sharia For Sale

The Empire of Lies

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016

The Trajan Column was built in order to celebrate the victories of the Roman Armies in the conquest of Dacia, during the 2nd century AD. It shows that the Romans knew and used propaganda, although in forms that for us look primitive. In those times, just as in ours, a dying empire could be kept together for a while by lies, but not forever.  

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At the beginning of the 5th century AD, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his "De Mendacio" ("On Lying"). Reading it today, we may be surprised at how rigid and strict Augustine was in his conclusions. A Christian, according to him, could not lie in any circumstances whatsoever; not even to save lives or to avoid suffering for someone. The suffering of the material body, said Augustine, is nothing; what's important is one's immortal soul. Later theologians substantially softened these requirements, but there was a logic in Augustine's stance if we consider his times: the last century of the Western Roman Empire.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privilege of the few. The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.

Auguistine was reacting to all this. He was trying to rebuild the "auctoritas", not in the form of mere authoritarianism of an oppressive government, but in the form of trust. So, he was appealing to the highest authority of all, God himself. He was also building his argument on the prestige that the Christians had gained at a very high price with their martyrs. And not just that. In his texts, and in particular in his "Confessions" Augustine was opening himself completely to his readers; telling them all of his thoughts and his sins in minute details. It was, again, a way to rebuild trust by showing that one had no hidden motives. And he had to be strict in his conclusions. He couldn't leave any openings that would permit the Empire of Lies to return.

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face." It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it? In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness. It was a spiritual and philosophical vision, but also a very down-to-earth one. Today, we would say that the Christians of late Roman times were engaged in "relocalization", abandoning the expensive and undefendable structures of the old Empire to rebuild a society based on local resources and local governance. The age that followed, the Middle Ages, can be seen as a time of decline but it was, rather, a necessary adaptation to the changed economic conditions of the late Empire. Eventually, all societies must come to terms with Truth. The Western Roman Empires as a political and military structure could not do that, It had to disappear, as it was unavoidable.

Now, let's move forward to our times and we have reached our empire of lies. On the current situation, I don't think I have to tell you anything that you don't already know. During the past few decades, the mountain of lies tossed at us by governments has been perfectly matched by the disastrous loss of trust in our leaders on the part of citizens. When the Soviets launched their first orbiting satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957, nobody doubted that it was for real and the reaction in the West was to launch their own satellites. Today, plenty of people even deny that the US sent men to the moon in the 1960s. They may be ridiculed, they may be branded as conspiracy theorists, sure, but they are there. Perhaps the watershed of this collapse of trust was with the story of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that we were told were hidden in Iraq. It was not their first, nor it will be their last, lie. But how can you ever trust an institution that lied to you so brazenly? (and that continue to do so?)

Today, every statement from a government, or from an even remotely "official" source, seems to generate a parallel and opposite statement of denial. Unfortunately, the opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth, and that has originated baroque castles of lies, counter-lies, and counter-counter lies. Think of the story of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Somewhere, hidden below the mass of legends and myths that have piled up on this story, there has to be the truth; some kind of truth. But how to find it when you can't trust anything you read on the Web? Or think of peak oil. At the simplest level of conspiratorial interpretation, peak oil can be seen as a reaction to the lies of oil companies that hide the depletion of their resources. But you may also see peak oil as a scam created by oil companies that try to hide the fact that their resources are actually abundant – even infinite in the diffuse legend of "abiotic oil". But, for others, the idea that peak oil is a scam created in order to hide abundance may be a higher order scam created in order to hide scarcity. Eve higher order conspiracy theories are possible. It is a fractal universe of lies, where you have no reference point to tell you where you are.

Eventually, it is a problem of epistemology. The same that goes back to Pontius Pilate's statement "what is truth?" Where are we supposed to find truth in our world? Perhaps in science? But science is rapidly becoming a marginal sect of people who mumble of catastrophes to come, People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars. Then, we tend to seek it in such things as "democracy" and to believe that a voting majority somehow defines "truth". But democracy has become a ghost of itself: how can citizens make an informed choice after that we discovered the concept that we call "perception management" (earlier on called "propaganda")?

Going along a trajectory parallel to that of the ancient Romans, we haven't yet arrived at having a semi-divine emperor residing in Washington D.C., considered by law to be the repository of divine truth. And we aren't seeing yet a new religion taking over and expelling the old ones. At present, the reaction against the official lies takes mostly the form of what we call "conspiratorial attitude." Although widely despised, conspirationism is not necessarily wrong; conspiracies do exist and much of the misinformation that spreads over the web must be created by someone who is conspiring against us. The problem is that conspirationism is not a form of epistemology. Once you have decided that everything you read is part of the great conspiracy, then you have locked yourself in an epistemological box and thrown away the key. And, like Pilate, you can only ask "what is truth?", but you will never find it.

Is it possible to think of an "epistemology 2.0" that would allow us to regain trust on the institutions and on our fellow human beings? Possibly, yes but, right now, we are seeing as in a mirror, darkly. Something is surely stirring, out there; but it has not yet taken a recognizable shape. Maybe it will be a new ideal, maybe a revisitation of an old religion, maybe a new religion, maybe a new way of seeing the world. We cannot say which form the new truth will take, but we can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something. And that all births are painful but necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

Tertullian was a conspiracy theorist

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 26, 2015

The Romans knew well the dark art that we call "propaganda" today. As an example, this image, from the Trajan column in Rome, shows Dacian women torturing naked Roman prisoners; it was part of the demonization of the enemy during the Dacian campaign of the early 2nd century AD. However, with the gradual decline of the Empire, its propaganda was becoming more and more shrill and unrealistic. Christian thinkers such as Tertullian were reacting against the absurdity of the official propaganda by contrasting it with ideas that at the time were regarded as even more absurd.

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Propaganda & Irrationalism in Roman times and Ours

Quintus Septimius Tertullianus (anglicized as "Tertullian", ca. 150 – ca. 230) was one of the early fathers of Christianity. Of his numerous works, we often remember a sentence that reads "Credo quia absurdum." (I believe it, because it is absurd). This exact phrase doesn't exist in Tertullian's works, but it describes well the essence of his way of thinking. He and the other Christians of that time were proposing something truly absurd: that a virgin had given birth to the son of God, that God was at the same time one and three, and that the son of a Jewish carpenter who had been executed as a common criminal was, actually, one of the three! 

 
Almost two thousand years of diffusion of these concepts made them familiar to us and we don't see them as absurd any more. But think of how they would be perceived in Roman times: they were the very essence of absurdity. Nevertheless, there is a logic even in absurdity and, in upholding these concepts, Tertullian was reacting to an even greater absurdity: the very existence of the Roman Empire.
 
The official truth of the Roman propaganda was that the prosperity of the empire was the result of the favor of the Gods, who rewarded the Romans for their moral virtues, their courage, and their performing the proper rituals. But all that was clearly becoming more and more in contrast with reality; at the time of Tertullian, the Roman Empire was not anymore the glorious war machine it had been in earlier times. Now, it was more like a zombie; a monstrous creature stumbling onward while desperately trying to hold itself in one piece against the attacks coming from the Barbarians outside and from rebellions inside. The official truth about the favor of the Gods had become a joke; a silly and cruel joke that nobody found funny any longer.

 

 

 

 

 

Tertullian died before the start of the third century crisis that saw the empire nearly disintegrating in a series of military defeats, civil wars, economic collapse, and currency devaluation. But, surely, the symptoms were all there much before and Tertullian could not miss that there was something rotten in the Roman Empire of his time. Indeed, he was possibly the first writer in history to identify what we call today "overpopulation," when he wrote in his "Apology" that 


our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.
 

It was not just Tertullian perceiving the problem and, as a result, the Empire was being swept by a wave of new religious creeds, all of them reacting against the official Pagan religion. Christianity was seen as an especially virulent sect, and it was the object of a strong repression on the part of the authorities. If Tertullian had been living today, he would be called a terrorist. But he, like many others, as just reacting to the increasing shrill and absurd official propaganda of his times. 

Now, let's fast forward to our times. What does our Imperial propaganda tell us about our prosperity? It is not any more attributed to the favor of the Pagan Gods, but to a deity we call "Science," often endowed with attributes termed "progress" and "innovation". Our Imperial armies don't give thanks any more to the Pagan Gods for their victories, but rather attribute them to semi-divine spirits that we call "smart weapons" and which are bestowed on us by the main deity, Science. And our prosperity is attributed to the ability of science to provide better and slicker tools for us. It is scientific progress that allows us to attain the eternal bliss of economic growth.

But all this is showing evident signs of fatigue, to say the least. The prosperity of the empire we call "Globalization" is rapidly disappearing and the dark menaces of climate change and resource depletion is upon us. Now, we are told that we did everything wrong and we are told that by those same people, the scientists, who have taken us to where we are.  We are told that our smart phones, our shiny cars, our wonder drones can't save us; that our economic growth can't last forever, that the years of prosperity are getting to an end. How can that be? What kind of cruel joke is being played on us?

The result is a rabid reaction that takes different forms, but that normally takes as its main target science, or what's sometimes called "official science". Science, some seem to conclude, must be betraying us and the scientists must be traitors. It can't be that crude oil is running out; it must really be abundant, being continuously recreated in the entrails of the earth by mysterious abiotic processes. And it can't be that we are destroying ourselves by burning fossil fuels; no, climate science can only be a hoax played on us by evil scientists seeking fat research grants for themselves. And how can it be that the same people who can make a smartphone can't make a fusion reactor work? No, that can't be: they are hiding from us the fact that nuclear fusion can easily be obtained inside a huffing and puffing desktop device that looks like a water boiler.

Many people seem to be starting to see science not just as a hoax, but as something truly evil, as when the ancient Christians had turned the Pagan Gods into devils and evil spirits. And so we see the spreading of conspiracy theories: from the idea that the water vapor emitted from airplane engines is in reality a deadly cocktail of poisons designed to kill us, to the attempt to demonstrate that no human astronaut ever walked on the Moon. It is the rise of the "New Irrationalism,"  a movement of thought still officially ignored, but growing.

Perhaps, had Tertullian lived in our times, he, too, would maintain that the lunar landing had been a hoax and we would call him a conspiracy theorist. But his ideas gained ground within a dying empire. About one one century after Tertullian, Emperor Constantine ordered the Christian symbol, a cross, to be painted on the flags of his army that was preparing for battle. He was hoping that the new Christian God would play the role of the old Pagan Gods; a new daimon that would grant him victory. Constantine won his battle, but that changed little to the destiny of the Empire. When Rome fell to the Visigoths, in 410 A.D., it was left to another Christian thinker, Augustine of Hippo, to explain in his "De Civitate Dei" (The City of God) that the purpose of Christianity never was that of saving a rotten empire.

In the end, empires are just constructions of the human mind; structures that persist for times long enough that some people tend to endow them with the virtue of eternal life: Rome was said to be the "eternal city" and our empire seems to be based on the idea that economic growth can last forever. But empires come and go in cycles, they are as impermanent as the morning dew; they just last a little longer. So, we are going to follow the example of the Roman Empire in its descent toward disappearance. And it may well be that, up to the last moment, we'll hope that some scientific miracle will save us. Then, it will be the task of someone, in the future, to explain that the purpose of Science never was that of saving a rotten empire.

The Rise and Fall of the Swedish Empire

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Published on Peak Resources on October 13, 2015

The Swedish Empire in Early Modern Europe 
Credit: Memnon335bc (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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How forests and metals changed the country

 

From 1560 to 1720, Sweden was the most powerful country in Northern Europe, based mostly on its very productive metal mines (silver, copper, steel) but also on aggressive foreign policy backed up by high-quality steel weapons. The production of these mines and weapons required large amounts of energy for mining and smelting. Wood and charcoal were the primary energy carriers used in those days but required large tracts of forests. 
 
During this time (1650-1800), Sweden changed it's property laws and went from public to private ownership of forests since forests were mainly used for household consumption, without clear ownership rules, and didn't generate any economic value. This changed forestry incentives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moreover, the little Ice Age, at its worst period in 1500-1600s, resulted in failed harvests and starvation that made European countries more aggressive towards their neighbours in attempts to expand their land area, as to grow more food. But the cool period also helped the Swedes in terms of enabling them to be able to cross the frozen sea from Germany and defeat Denmark in 1658.
 

 

Credit: Saperaud~commonswiki (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
According to Sundberg (1992) a typical forester and his family were self-sufficient on 2 hectares of farmland, 8 hectares of pasture and 40 hectares of forest which in turn generated some 760 GJ (or 211 MWh) of charcoal per year for the mines. That gives an EROI of roughly 4:1, i.e. very low return on investment, according to Hall (2015). As with all finite resources, the Swedish mines reached a peak in production in 1632, according to Sverdrup & Ragnarsdóttir (2014). Fifty six years later, in 1688, the Swedish Empire reached it's wealth peak, after which costs got larger until they exceeded wealth in 1712. Observed collapse occurred between 1732 and 1750.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Empire
Discovery peak
Resource Peak
Wealth Peak
Cost > Wealth
Collapse
Swedish
1520
1632
1688
1712
1732-1750

 

 

 

 

 

 
The biomass-backed system was sustainable as long as the forests were not overharvested, which did not occur until the middle of the 19th century, a time when many Swedes (1.3 million) left for America. During this time (1800-1850) the population had increased at a time when property prices were sky high and people started overharvesting the forests.
 
Source: SIFI
Today many experts estimate that Sweden has regained a forest area similar to that of the early 19th century, before the massive deforestation took place. Some 27,528,000 hectares, or 67% of the country is forested. However, it is a completely different type of forest. Only a few percentages (17%) of the old forest has been preserved, the rest is planted forest with much lower diversity of species and ages. Our forests are thus less resilient to shocks and disturbances, for example to climatic changes, something people hadn’t really noticed until the massive forest fire that broke out in Västmanland in 2014.

Nasty

gc2smOff the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on September 17, 2015

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I was having a cup of tea with a friend in his polytunnel the other day and he was telling me about how hard it was to live a simple life minding his own business. He's about ten years younger than me, is married and has a kid on the way, and they live on a three acre plot of land which they bought with their own money and manage using permaculture. They work every day of the week, have practically no money and their ecological footprint is probably so small it might even not register, and yet they are suffering from endless harassment to get them evicted and complaints from nearby wealthy residents who feel that people shouldn't be allowed to live as they please. My friend had a simple explanation for all this, he said that as a nation and a culture, we are basically nasty and intolerant.

This got me thinking. Britain, after all, was the first industrialised nation. We had the enclosures acts from the 17th century onwards which kicked people off the land and turned it over to the pseudo industrial practice of sheep farming (the rearing of 'woolly maggots' as George Monbiot describes them). Wealth has been concentrated at the top for so long and the society has been stratified by class that imagining normal people living and working in the countryside is practically impossible for most.

Our culture is a dominator one. Due to a geological accident regarding coal, combined with a military nature and a lust for foreign goods, we ended up being the world's largest empire. When colonisers arrived in Australia and encountered Aboriginal people, instead of making friends with them they buried their children up to their necks in the sand and played a game where you had to kick off their heads with a single powerful kick. In India we caused mass famines and when people complained we machine-gunned them down. We did the same in plenty of other countries too. We divided up vast expanses of Africa, Asia and the Middle East and drew lines on maps which caused huge upheavals and sectarian violence. Nelson razed Copenhagen with naval bombardment, just for fun, and we devised the world's first concentration camps during the Boer War, and enthusiastically firebombed cities during the Second World War. And then, even when we stopped being an empire, we spawned Margaret Thatcher whose enthusiasm for the ideas of neoliberalism was enthusiastically passed onto Ronald Reagan and forced upon the world.

People don't like to talk about any of these aspects of Britishness. They prefer to talk about the engineering marvels we brought to India and how we taught the world to speak English. We brought football, cricket and tennis to the natives, and helped them become civilised. They might concede that there was the odd 'dark chapter' but that overall the empire building was all good and proper.

I was in London a couple of weeks ago and took the opportunity to visit the City (i.e. the financial district) to do a bit of background research for my online book Seat of Mars. Leaving Liverpool Street station one passes by a bronze statue of some refugee children. I looked at the inscription and it was a dedication to the selfless efforts of local people who took in 10,000 Jewish children from Germany prior to the Second World War. Valiant stuff, but this is the statue that many of the 35,000 City workers walk past every morning as they head for their high rises to unleash further financial mayhem on the world. How many millions of people has the City of London killed in the last few decades? It's a valid question, but don't hold your breath for an answer. Yet these City workers, for the most part, see themselves as good people. They run marathons to raise funds for cancer research, they donate money on Children in Need night, and they buy kittens for their kids. I have some friends who are City bankers and they are not evil people (though we don't have much to talk about these days). Hell, I was once almost a banker myself, luckily fluffing my interview at Citi.
 

 

 

So maybe it's just the system that is evil.

But then I see evil everywhere. I see the attack dogs set onto Jeremy Corby for daring to suggest scrapping nuclear weapons. I see evil in the pages of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph as they attempt to character assassinate anyone who wants to stop global warming, or as they incite violence against refugees. I see evil in the countryside where farmers and rich people collude to kill the wildlife in the most painful and inhumane ways possible. Fracking is evil. Bombing by drones is evil. Hosting arms fairs is evil.

 

 

Of course, if you say these things to people they will call you a traitor and a 'Brit hater'. They will point out that it's not their fault, all those wars of conquest, and that they have no need to feel guilty – even though our way of life is funded by one-sided trade deals, easy access to energy and a ponzi system of finance that allows us to continue to rack up astronomical levels of debt and consume huge bites of the world's resource pie. I'm not a Brit-hater – there are far too many positive aspects of life in these isles – but that doesn't mean I have to be an apologist for the less-than-wholesome aspects.

Perhaps my friend had a point.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it is a case that those in the top positions are psychopaths, willing to do anything and everything to consolidate their power and enslave the masses using mind control techniques. I know plenty of people who are not evil. As a matter of fact, I don't think I know anyone who is evil. Most people, it seems to me, are good at heart. They want to help. They want to love one another. They want to stop the destruction of the world. These are the people it is best to hang around with – they're better for for soul and your sanity.

So why do we collectively put up with all this evilness? Is it because badness has a natural advantage over goodness? Do evil plans always work out in the 'real' world and good ones are just 'idealistic dreaming'? Does the devil have all the best tunes?

I have a theory. Could it be that it is because Britain is an island that was once fabled for its gold and tin mines? That it has been invaded again and again since the end of the last ice age, and that the settler populations always selected for the most war-like? For me, you could forgive the Anglo Saxons and the Romans, but it was the Normans that did it. With their Scandinavian blood, their aristocratic French ways and their lust for conquering – the country changed dramatically after 1066. One of the first things they did was catalogue all the people, land and assets in the Domesday Book. Invasion, murder and cataloguing – the start of the dominator culture. It's been almost 1,000 years and still the top landowners in this country can trace their lineages back to the Normans. Or maybe there is some kind of supernatural explanation …

So, no, I don't think we are evil. Just some of us. The ones with the power. And the ability to project that power has been multiplied a thousand-fold since we discovered that you could burn coal and use it to power engines. So will we see a future where access to limited high-concentration energy also leads to a corresponding drop in the ability of bad men (yes, it's mostly men) to do bad things? One can only hope so.

Who knows, maybe in 500 years time it will be possible to live on a small piece of land and raise a family without having the collective wrath of a millennium of dominator culture threatening to fall down and crush you just for wanting not to be a part of that system.

The End of the Oil Age

Off the keyboard of Norman Pagett

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Published on Collapse of Civilization on July 2, 2015

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Author: Norman Pagett (The End of More)

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But how can we define an oil age? It has been about 150 years since the first deep oilwells were sunk, and just over 200 years since the viable steam engine was developed. The two are linked, because the steam engine made deep drilling of oilwells possible and gave us access to a hundred million years worth of fossilized sunlight. Perhaps we have not strictly had an oil age, but rather the first and only age where we enjoy vast amounts of surplus energy that we have extracted from hydrocarbon fuels, of which oil is the most energy dense. It has brought us material wealth, and the means to indulge in wholesale killing of each other and all other species. It gave excesses of food and a population that consumed that food and grew to five or six times the sustainable level of the planet. In the timespan of human existence, the ascendance of modern industrialised man has been a short flash of light and heat that has briefly lifted us out of the mire of the middle ages, but at a considerable cost to the environment.

Our mistake has been to think of that elevation as both divine and permanent. That certainty of permanence explains the mad scramble to come up with ‘alternatives’ and ‘renewables’ in the last decade or two. Something to keep current politicians in office and the masses pacified. It is important that we accept the seductive indoctrination that prayers will be answered and technology will continue to deliver all that can be imagined. The majority have come to believe in the economics of cornucopianism, where wishing for something will make it happen, while ignoring the reality that everything we have is derived from finite hydrocarbon fuels. If we spend enough money, alternatives will always be found to sustain our lifestyle. They won’t of course, and the conflicts that have been fought over oil are proof that they won’t. The pivot of world oil economy is Saudi Arabia, (the concept of ‘Saudi America’ is too ludicrous for discussion here), but that fantasy land of sand dunes and tall towers is being encircled by fanatics who know that when the jugular of global oil is cut, the industrial complexity of the developed west will die.

When (not if) that happens, we might be lucky to hold onto an existence akin to that of the 14th century, which is what the religious zealots want to inflict on all of us. If we’re unlucky, then we must expect something that will be much darker and as yet inadmissible to modern minds that do not have the scope to deal with its implications. That infers an unpleasant imagery of pre-history that we prefer to ignore. Understandably, most think the same way; this is why we cling to the comforting promise of ‘infinite growth’. The alternative is just too awful. Instead we have been encouraged to believe that we can do without oil and not only still run around on wheels, but have a purpose for doing so. And by some means yet to be invented, keep our wings as well.

Our oil age will not end through lack of it, but by fighting over what’s left. So choose your luck‐factor and take that thought where you will, you are on your own with it. Many reasons are given for starting wars, but ultimately there is only one: the pursuit of (energy) resources. Human greed drove improvements in weaponry, and the means of destruction and acquisition became more deadly over thousands of years even though there was more than enough for everyone. The input of oil was the game changer of warfare; history over the last century has shown that conflict was not diminished, but amplified, by the prosperity and technology created by oil. Since the 1860s when black gold gushed from the earth, the economic and political thinking of the pre‐oil era was seamlessly grafted onto the industrial potential of the 19th century, thereby enabling Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Vanderbilt and many others to accumulate fabulous wealth. Their business acumen was undeniable, but none of it could have been brought into existence without energy-rich oil. The use of fossil fuels in our military machines industrialised our methods of killing while at the same time becoming synonymous with progress and commerce. War became a business, the purpose of which was the acquisition of more energy in the pursuit of profit. Battlefield deaths on an industrial scale were an unlisted debit on balance sheets.

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WWI started with the muscle power of horses and ended with tanks, demonstrating the murderous scope of mechanized warfare. Recognizing the critical value of oil and its sources, leaders carved up the Middle East to ensure its supply. An exercise in map making in the 1920s by the English and French civil servants Sykes and Picot set the scene for carnage that has raged throughout the Middle East ever since. Arbitrary lines in the sand were drawn, artificial oil states in the Persian Gulf region were created without regard to tribal affiliations, and a quarrelsome orphan Israel was dumped into the lap of unwilling Bedouins. As the quantity of oil there became apparent, all the major nations were drawn into the race for it because those who controlled this key resource were certain to subjugate those who did not.

The critical nature of oil made WWII inevitable. To sustain their empires, the Germans and Japanese slaughtered their way across Europe and Asia in a grab for resources, primarily oil. They promised infinite prosperity and their peoples cheered them on while deaths elsewhere were being counted in millions. With most of the world’s known oil supplies in the hands of his enemies, Adolf Hitler knew he had to have the oilfields of southern Russia and the Middle East to sustain his war machine. He failed, and his dream of a ‘Greater Germany’ collapsed not because of inferior soldiers but because there was insufficient energy input to sustain his plan for world domination. Hitler’s perception of infinite growth in his ‘thousand year Reich’ mirrors our present-day view of ‘permanent affluence’: vast quantities of oil had to be burned to sustain his fantasy. In our desperate scramble for ever-diminishing energy resources, we are in the same mad race to perpetuate the delusion of infinite economic growth. The oil pendulum has swung the other way with roughly 85% of world oil now outside the borders of the USA and Canada in countries not always of a friendly disposition. And just like the Fuhrer, political leaders of today are promising that which is beyond their means to provide. To mask this reality, they have invaded oil-producing nations in the name of ‘freedom’, claiming ‘victories’ which have left only wreckage and simmering animosity behind. So too did Hitler spread a similar line of propaganda that he was liberating other nations from the threat of communism. The second world war that left Europe and Japan flattened in 1945 might be seen as history, but it was just the first of many oil wars, and the politics of it were a side issue. WWII serves as a grim reminder of how violent and destructive humans can be in their ruthless pursuit of energy resources. Hitler’s own ‘oil age’ lasted just twelve years, and it set the pattern for the world oil age that is now in terminal decline.

Hitler

Don’t be deceived by the democratic righteousness that defeated Hitler’s fascism. 150 years earlier the American empire was created with the same kind of energy grab. The European immigrant peoples who forced their way across America from the 1700s onwards needed resources on which to survive and to sustain the prosperity of an expanding nation just as the Germans and the Japanese did in 1940. The native inhabitants of the American continent were in the way of civilization and progress; their subjugation was a precursor to what happened later in Europe and Asia. Expansive prairies had to be cleared to convert the energy locked in grain and meat to feed the invaders and provide negotiable currency. This self-perpetuating process went into overdrive with the discovery of oil, and the ultimate conversion of that oil into more food resources and hardware added to the wealth of the growing nation. An expanding population needed employment, and the raw energy from oil, coal, and gas supplied it. America and the rest of the industrialised world had the means to build bigger, better, faster machines in endless succession, and created the most powerful country on earth. Everybody was going to be rich, forever. The universal law of consumption was relentless: more demanded more.

Meat and grain grew with relatively little human intervention, but other crops needed to be worked with human muscle. So the slave trade came into being. Slavery might be given many unpleasant names, but essentially it is the acquisition of one energy form to convert it into another for profit. Buy and feed the slave, use slave labour to do work, sell the product of that work. By the time the slave is worn out, several more will have been produced. This was simple economics by 18th century standards but the human consequences were again horrific, costing more millions of lives. It also brought on the American civil war where the slave‐muscled South was overwhelmed by the industrialised muscle that drove the armies of the North.

All the European empires forged out of so-called ‘empty lands’ across the world followed a similar pattern of resource acquisition and an absolute disregard for weaker peoples. It is an unpleasantness that we choose to ignore, but it confirms the killing force that drives us to acquire and convert energy to our own use. The seemingly limitless amount of oil and its energy density appeared to be the answer to all our labour problems. Oil became our ultimate slave. Or so we thought.

We now have maybe 20 years worth of usable oil left. There are certainly no more than 30, perhaps as little as 10. If one of the crazy sects running loose in the Middle East managed to get hold of a nuclear device, setting it off on the Gharwar oilfield of Saudi Arabia, it would be endgame overnight. That is perhaps too bleak a prospect, but we should not discount that notion entirely.

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Before our oil to food arrangement, the planet supported something over one billion people. We now have over seven billion, and the mothers of the next two billion are alive now and approaching the age of reproduction. Preachers, scientists and politicians will not stop the basic human function of eating and procreation, so if unchecked nine billion people will be here by 2040/50, and set to go on rising after that. Every new arrival expects to be fed, watered, clothed and housed, but by no stretch of the imagination will the global food system be able to feed that number let alone sustain them with what would be expected by way of the most basic material comfort. No one dares to stand up and make the rather obvious point that we are not going to reach 9 billion. Something has to give, and that giving is going to be very unpleasant.

In the first decade of the 21st century, numerous wars have been fought over oil, and are being fought now. Wars are fought over resources because on nature’s terms, gentle contentedness is not a good strategy for survival; we are collectively powerless against genetic forces that dictate our lives no matter how much we protest otherwise. Downsized to whatever level, nature will ultimately force the choice of survival or death, and the outcome will be of no consequence other than to you and yours. To expect humankind to change within a single generation is stretching credibility beyond breaking point. Those who look forward to a life of bucolic bliss in a downsized oil‐less world might do well to think about that. Whether killing and butchering an animal to eat it, or invading another nation to secure oil supplies, we must appropriate energy sources to facilitate survival. You may think there’s a choice about doing that, but there isn’t, other than in the matter of scale. Whether paying a butcher to cut and wrap your steak, or paying soldiers to invade Iraq, securing sufficient energy to live is what we have to do to survive.

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For the moment, nature keeps us supplied with oil, and we’ve pulled off the neat trick of converting it directly into food. Not knowing when our oil is finished and our food supply will run out is the little teaser for the early 21st century. Right now, most people think that food comes from supermarket shelves and freezers, which is just as well. The food trucks moving around the country are basically mobile warehouses, delivering food just in time for it to be consumed. When the realization dawns that the food trucks have stopped, the food held in stock by retailers will be stripped bare in hours. The oil age for everyone will have come to an end.

But oil carries man’s destiny in far more subtle ways than food supplies. It holds nations together. The USA is a vast territory of disparate peoples and ideas, held together by a common bond of prosperity and a basic consensus that government and law generally works for the good of all. And the inhabitants of empires are always convinced that theirs is permanent and protected by gods. That definition would apply to many large nations to a greater or lesser degree. But the bonds that hold it together, godly or otherwise, are entirely subject to availability of affordable oil. Empires (and the USA is an empire) remain whole so long as the means exists to maintain them. Oil has become that means.

Without oil, the nation will begin its decline into disparate regions. Without interconnecting transport, the United States of America cannot remain united. The force necessary to prevent a breakup will not be there, so within a decade (probably far less) of oil supply failure, the USA will cease to exist. The cracks are already there along linguistic, economic, racial, political and geographic lines. Even now it would be possible to take a pretty good guess at where those regions will split off.

This will be denied and resisted of course, but armies and police forces have power only as long as their fuel lasts. They will be unable to prevent secession in whatever form it takes. It might just be that Washington will come to govern not much more than the original colonies. Given a suitably deranged political leader and prayers to the right god, fully armed groups are ready to believe that the ‘American Dream’ can be restored. Such demagoguery sets the stage for years of regional violence over the basics of life, particularly food and water. The horror of it will be justified by warped views of right and wrong, clinging to a denial mentality magnified beyond any imagining by the privation that an oil-less society will bring.

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This scenario is not exclusive to the USA. The British Empire was built on coal. When the coal was gone the empire faded away. Then in the 80s and 90s the UK became awash with cheap oil from the North Sea, and everyone was reasonably prosperous, particularly Scotland. Now the oil surplus has gone, and the UK is in decline again as a net importer. The ‘oil prosperity’ is fading away. Scotland is losing its main source of income and wants to secede from the United Kingdom, convinced that independence will somehow restore their wealth. Things will get very unpleasant when they realize that an independent Scotland will eventually be reduced to the economic level of Greece. The link between oil and the ability to eat is clear. The UK has to import 40% of its food, and much of the rest depends on oil to produce it, which also has to be imported. It is the end of the UK’s oil age, but few admit to it being the end of a food age as well. The same problem is being revealed in the current fiasco of the European union, but a little more advanced than the USA and UK. Oil-fueled prosperity is falling dramatically in the poorer southern countries. Greece, Spain and Portugal and a swathe of smaller nations have to import all their oil which only worked when oil was cheap. Now it’s expensive, and they are facing bankruptcy. 50 years of ‘unity’ is dissolving like a mirage in the face of the difficulties that smaller states are suffering. Without cheap oil, their economies cannot function, and so are disintegrating. United Europe needs oil to stay united just as the USA does. Russia’s oil dependent economy is crumbling, and Putin is having to make threatening postures to divert attention from his problems. His oil age is ending in a different way and yet we cannot tell if his posturing is just that, but a shortage of resources in the past has invariably brought conflict.

Move to the Far East and the nations around the South China Sea are all threatening one another, again the focus of the argument being the oil and gas fields of the region. They all know that without oil they cannot survive, and are prepared to fight for every last drop of the stuff, no matter what the cost. As a measure of what the dispute is about, the volume of oil in question is 11 billion barrels. One billion barrels is less than a month of world consumption. They are preparing to fight over the last dregs in confirmation of man’s desperation over oil shortages. Eventually, this problem will hit every nation and individual on earth as our oil‐crutch is kicked away. And with the oil age fading into history for us all, there will be no shortage of violent resistance to this inconvenient truth.

Will technological innovation save us?…

There is No Such Thing as Civil War

Off the keyboard of Tom Lewis

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Published on The Daily Impact on June 16, 2015

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War used to be up close and personal. Then, with artillery, we achieved enough detachment that people started to like it. (Photo by walterpro/Flickr)

War used to be up close and personal. Then, with artillery, we achieved enough detachment that people started to like it. (Photo by walterpro/Flickr)

Neocons and candidates for president and others trying to establish their patriotic bona fides bray for war — with ISIS, or Iran, or China or Russia, virtually anyone will do. When those of us who have either experienced war, or read a book about it, object that to choose war is lunacy, they condescend to reassure us. It will be a surgical strike, they say; or we will just train and advise a surrogate country, and it will do the messy part; we’ll use air power, so neither you nor any of your children (Wait, none of them is a pilot, right? Good.) need worry about it.

Well, for the same reasons that you cannot do surgery with machine guns, bayonets and grenades, there is no such thing as a surgical strike by bomb, rocket or artillery shell. Unintended consequences abound, and rebound, creating new mortal enemies and assuring that what was meant to be quick and surgical becomes a long janitorial slog.

The mantra of American policy during the first few decades of the First Iraq War was, “When they stand up, we’ll stand down.” We were teaching their army to fight, you see, and as soon as they got the hang of it we would leave. Last summer, during the runup to the Second Iraq War, when units of the Iraqi army actually got into a fight with ISIS, tens of thousands of them left not only the battlefield, but their uniforms, behind. They had put on their civilian clothes under their uniforms, just in case. How long, do you think, will it take to train them not to do that?

So we must once more unto the breach, dear friends, but fear not. We’ll use air power. Now, air power is just another form of artillery. Permit a story or two about artillery:

Historians say that the largest, loudest and most intense artillery barrage ever seen in North America — 164 cannons firing for 90 minutes — killed no one and had zero effect on the outcome of the battle at hand or the war in progress. It was intended, as artillery barrages usually are, to “soften up” the enemy position to ensure the success of the follow-on infantry attack. (Until recently, there was always a follow-on infantry attack.) But in this case, on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the follow-on was Pickett’s Charge. Which failed.

Not at all an unusual occurrence. I spent eight years researching, editing, writing and presenting Civil War material — twice as long as anybody had to fight in the damn thing — and never in that time did I find an example of a battle that was decided by artillery.

Nor am I convinced that flying cannons do much better. Every Pacific Island that was attacked by the Allies in WWII experienced a preliminary “softening up” by naval guns and bombers until the island seemed to consist of a heap of rubble, bouncing. Then the Marines went ashore — and were met by ferocious resistance from entrenched Japanese who it seemed has been merely annoyed by the bombardment. Even the effectiveness of the vaunted Eighth Air Force pounding Germany late in the war — among the bravest and most costly assaults of the conflict — is open to debate. The bombing and at least partial destruction of every major German city, according to Albert Speer, chief of the German war economy at the time, did not weaken morale, but “spurred us to do our utmost.” Through it all, German war production kept rising until the end.

It is self evident that neocons and war lovers do not read. You think I exaggerate? The entire Vietnam War was fought by presidents and secretaries and commanders who thought Vietnam was a client of Communist China. Any single book on the subject would have revealed to them that the two countries were and are thousand-year, bitter adversaries. BTW, those leaders of the free world also believed, fervently, that air power would carry the day. The B-52s bombed North Vietnam down to sea level and still lost the war.

So let’s do the same thing all over again and see if the results are different. Let’s just bomb ISIS until it quits. Failing that — and that is failing as we speak —  we’ll train more Iraqis to stand up so we can sit down, or however that saying goes. We’ll bomb the Houthi rebels in Yemen — along with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, oh, and ISIS in Yemen — until they all give up. It will be easy, and they’ll greet us as liberators.

Wars, like illicit affairs, are easier to start than to end. They can be started a thousand different ways, but they are always finished by the infantry. They always, without exception, last far longer and kill far more people and do far more damage to everyone involved than anyone imagined at the beginning. They always surprise people who never read books.

Before you assent to the clarion calls to war, whatever its beginning, however “surgical” its intent, however grave the threat to the “homeland” that is portrayed, make the trumpeters read a few books on the subject. Including the one in which a guy named Hemingway said, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.”

Senility of the Elites

http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/index.php/topic,4914.msg76739/topicseen.html#msg76739Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis & Chimeras on May 29, 2015

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The senility of elites: coal mining must continue, no matter what the human costs

 
The coal mine of Bihar, India. Photo by Nitin Kirloskar
 

This post was inspired by a recent article about coal mining in India by David Rose in the Guardian about coal mining. In India, people are dying in the streets because of excessive heat caused by global warming, but Rose reports that "across a broad range of Delhi politicians and policymakers there is near unanimity. There is, they say, simply no possibility that at this stage in its development India will agree to any form of emissions cap, let alone a cut." In other words, coal mining must continue in the name of economic growth, no matter what the human costs. 

I think it is hard to see a more evident example of the senility of the world's elites. It is, unfortunately, not something that pertains only to India. Elites all over the world seem to be nearly totally blind to the desperate situation in which we all are. 

On this matter, I have a post written on my "Chimeras" blog that describes how the blindness of the elites is not just typical of our times, but was the same at the time of the Roman Empire. It is a discussion of how one of the members of the Roman elite, Rutilius Namatianus, completely misunderstood the situation of the last years of the Empire. It is our plea of human being that we don't understand collapse, not even when we live it.

Of his return: a Roman patrician tells of how he lived the collapse of the empire.

 

 

The 5th century saw the last gasps of the Western Roman Empire. Of those troubled times, we have only a few documents and images. Above, you can see one of the few surviving portraits of someone who lived in those times; Emperor Honorius, ruler of what was left of the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 423. His expression seems to be one of surprise, as if startled at seeing the disasters taking place during his reign.

At some moment during the first decades of the 5th century C.E., probably in 416, Rutilius Namatianus, a Roman patrician, left Rome – by then a shadow of its former glory –  to take refuge in his possessions in Southern France. He left to us a report of his travel titled "De Reditu suo", meaning "of his return" that we can still read today, almost complete.

Fifteen centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, we have in this document a precious source of information about a world that was ceasing to exist and that left so little to us. It is a report that can only make us wonder at how could it be that Namatianus got everything so badly wrong about what was happening to him and to the Roman Empire. And that tells us a lot about how it is that our elites understand so little about what's happening to us.

To understand the "De Reditu" we need to understand the times when it was written. Most likely, Namatianus came of age in Rome during the last decades of the 4th century, during the reign of Theodosius 1st (347-395 C.E.) the last Emperor to rule both the Western and the Eastern halves of the Empire. When Theodosius died, in 395 C.E., there started the last convulsions of the Western Roman Empire, that would lead to its formal demise in 476 A.D. But, at the times of Namatianus, there still were Roman Emperors, there still was a Roman Senate, there still was the city of Rome, perhaps still the largest town in Western Europe. And there still were Roman armies charged to defend the Empire against invaders. All that was to disappear fast, much faster than anyone could have guessed at that time.

Namatianus must have been already an important patrician in Rome when Stilicho led what Gibbon calls "the last army of the Republic" to stop the Goths coming down toward Rome in a battle that took place in 406 C.E. Then there was the downfall of Stilicho, executed under for treason on orders of Emperor Honorius. Then, there came the invasion of the Goths under Alaric 1st and their taking of Rome in 410 C.E. All in all, Namatianus saw the fall of seven pretenders to the Western throne, several major battles, the sack of Rome and much more.

Those troubled times saw also a number of figures we still remember today. Of those who were contemporary to Namatianus, we have Galla Placidia, the last (and only) Empress of the Western Roman Empire and it is likely that Namatianus knew her personally as a young princess. Namatianus must also have known, at least by fame, Hypatia, the pagan philosopher murdered by Christians in Egypt in 415 CE. He also probably knew of Augustine (354-430), bishop of the Roman city of Hippo Regius, in Africa. There are more historical figures who were contemporaries of Namatianus, although it is unlikely that he ever heard of them. One was a young warrior roaming the Eastern plains of Europe, whose name was Attila. Another (perhaps) was a warlord of the region called Britannia, whom we remember as "Arthur." Finally, Namatianus probably never heard of a young Roman patrician born in Roman Britannia, someone named  "Patricious" (later known as "Patrick"), who would travel to the far away island called "Hybernia" (today known as Ireland) some twenty years after that Namatianus started his journey to Gallia.

But who was Namatianus, himself? Most of what we know about him comes from his own book, De Reditu, but that's enough for us to put together something about him and his career. So, we know that he came from a wealthy and powerful family based in Gallia, modern France. He attained prestigious posts in Rome: first he was "magister officiorum;" something like secretary of state, and then "praefectus urbi," the governor of Rome.

During those troubled times, the Emperors had left Rome for a safer refuge in the city of Ravenna on the Eastern Italian coast. So, for some time, Namatianus must have been the most powerful person in town. He was probably charged with defending Rome from the invading Goths; but he failed to prevent them from taking the city and sacking it in 410. Maybe, he also tried – unsuccessfully – to prevent the kidnapping by the Goths of the daughter of Emperor Theodosius 1st, Galla Placidia, who later became empress. He must also have been involved in some way in the dramatic events that saw the Roman Senate accusing Stilicho's widow, Serena, of treason and having her executed by strangling (these were eventful years, indeed).

We don't know if any or all these events can be seen as related to Namatianus' decision to  leave Rome (perhaps even to run away from Rome). Perhaps there were other reasons, perhaps he simply gave up with the idea of staying in a half destroyed and dangerous city. But, for what we are concerned with, here, we can say that if there was one person who could have a clear view of the situation of the Empire, that person was Namatianus. As prefect of Rome, he must have reports coming to him from all the regions still held by the Empire. He must have known of the movements of the Barbarian armies, of the turmoil in the Roman territories, of the revolts, of the bandits, of the usurpers, and of the Emperors. In addition, he was a man of culture, enough that later on he could write a long poem, his "De Reditu." Surely, he knew Roman history well, as he must have been well acquainted with the works of the Roman historians, Tacitus, Livy, and Sallust, and others.

But could Namatianus understand that the Western Roman Empire was collapsing? Perhaps surprisingly, he could not. That's clear from his report of his travel to Gallia by the sea. Just read this excerpt from "De Reditu":

"I have chosen the sea, since roads by land, if on the level, are flooded by rivers; if on higher ground, are beset with rocks. Since Tuscany and since the Aurelian highway, after suffering the outrages of Goths with fire or sword, can no longer control forest with homestead or river with bridge, it is better to entrust my sails to the wayward."

Can you believe that? If there was a thing that the Romans had always been proud of that was their roads. These roads had a military purpose, of course, but everybody could use them. A Roman Empire without roads is not the Roman Empire, it is something else altogether. Think of Los Angeles without highways. Namatianus tells us also of silted harbors, deserted cities, a landscape of ruins that he sees as he moves north along the Italian coast.

But Namatianus, really, understands nothing about what's going on. He can only interpret it on as a temporary setback. Rome has seen hard times before, he seems to think, but the Romans always triumphed over their enemies. It has always been like this and it will always be like this; Rome will become powerful and rich again. Namatianus is never direct in his accusations, but it is clear that he sees the situation as the result of the Romans having lost their ancient virtues. According to him, it is all a fault of those Christians, that pernicious sect. It will be enough to return to the old ways and to the old Gods, and everything will be fine again.

That's even more chilling than the report on the decaying cities and fortifications. How could Namatianus be so short-sighted? How can it be that he doesn't see that there is much more to the fall of Rome than the loss of patriarchal virtues of the ancient? And, yet, it is not just a problem with Namatianus. The Romans never really understood what was happening to their Empire, except in terms of military setbacks that they always saw as temporary. They always seemed to think that these setbacks could be redressed by increasing the size of the army and building more fortifications. And they got caught in a deadly spiral in which the more resources they spent in armies and fortifications, the poorer the Empire became. And the poorer the Empire became, the more difficult it was to keep it together. In the end, by the mid 5th century, there were still people in Ravenna whom pretended to be "Roman Emperors", but nobody was paying attention to them any longer.

So, Namatianus provides us with a precious glimpse of what it is like living a collapse "from the inside". Most people just don't see it happening – it is like being a fish: you don't see the water. And, then, think of our times. You see the problem?

The "De Reditu" arrived to us incomplete and we don't know what was the conclusion of Namatianus' sea journey. Surely, he must have arrived somewhere, because he could complete his report. Most likely he did reach his estates in Gallia and, perhaps, he lived there to old age. But we may also imagine a more difficult destiny for him if we refer to a contemporary document, the "Eucharisticos" written by Paulinus of Pella, another wealthy Roman patrician. Paulinus fought hard to maintain his large estates in France, despite barbarian invasions and societal collapse, but he found that land titles are of little value if there is no government that can enforce them. In old age, he was forced to retire in a small estate in Marseilles, reporting that, at least, he was happy to have survived. Perhaps something similar happened also to Namatianus. Even those who don't understand collapse are condemned to live it.

On Belief

Off the keyboards of Geoffrey Chia & Rebecca Willis

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 15, 2015

the thinker

Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner

ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF or:

Why do people believe what they believe (or claim to believe) ?

G. Chia & R. Willis April 2015

INTRODUCTION

In our previous essay, Thinking about thinking we described the characteristics of dysfunctional (or unhealthy) and eufunctional (or healthy) thinking. We dispensed with the notion of “normal” thinking, because this term is essentially meaningless and unhelpful. If normal thinking is defined as the mode of thought adopted by the majority of a population, it is possible, indeed common, for “normal” thinking to be utterly dysfunctional and destructive, as shown by the many examples of mass delusions leading to chaos and warfare not only in history, but in our present day. As such, it may actually be a very bad thing to be “normal”, to run with the herd. We previously described the techniques by which the media, corporations and governments systematically exploit the infantile and reptilian aspects of our brains to impose particular views and values on the masses who lack the faculties of critical thinking. It turns out you can actually fool most of the people all of the time. Such social manipulation leads to the perversion of democracy.

Seminal publications such as “Irrationality” by Stuart Sutherland and “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre have elucidated the mechanisms of flawed thinking and the tactics of pseudoscientific fraud in detail. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote the landmark book “The Merchants of Doubt” which described the origins of systematic global warming denialism, perpetrated by a few so-called “free” market ideologues funded by billionaire fossil fuel oligarchs. Notwithstanding her outstanding research and scholarship, Oreskes in this podcast interview

https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/43-naomi-oreskes-the-collapse-of-western-civilization/sets

could not fully explain why such blatantly fraudulent denial continues to be so readily accepted by large sections of society. She criticises the scientists for not being more forceful in opposition to such deceit.

The “new Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were active some years ago in debunking the nonsensical foundations for supernatural religious myths. They too did not provide a comprehensive explanation as to why many if not most members of society are unwilling or unable to shed the brain virus of religion (apart from stating that innate obedience to authority by children has historical survival value).

In this essay we assess the nature of human beliefs and try to explain the “stickiness” of nonsensical ideas which may have little or nothing to do with reality. The key question is this: what purposes do such false beliefs serve?

Belief refers to the acceptance of, or claimed acceptance of a particular paradigm. In theory, there might be some difference between sincere belief and proclaimed (but insincere) belief, however in practice there is little difference in real world outcomes (see next paragraph). Therefore we will not distinguish between the two for the purposes of this essay. Furthermore as behavioural psychologists assert, it can be difficult if not impossible to determine what is really going on in a person’s mind1. Hence empirical science focuses on measurable actions, deeds and outcomes.

Twenty years ago when most people may not have personally been experiencing the effects of anthropogenic global warming or AGW (apart from seeing photographs of melting glaciers retreating all around the world), it was conceivable that many global warming denialists, unable to comprehend the science, sincerely believed that AGW was not true. Nowadays with exponential changes and extreme weather events occurring all round the world far exceeding the IPCC projections, rendering the fact of AGW indisputable, global warming denialists face a rearguard action. Those who remain intransigent cannot truly believe their position unless they are insane or stupid. Yet they persist in their purported belief that AGW is a hoax. If they are not insane or stupid, we can only conclude that their proclaimed “belief” is insincere and is cynically being used to serve their personal agendas and short term vested interests. Whether a result of stupidity (inability to see the overwhelming evidence for AGW) or mendacity (realising the truth of AGW but refusing to admit it), the outcome is the same, ie opposition to the reduction of GHG emissions, opposition to the adoption of renewable energy initiatives and continuation of business as usual to the point of annihilation.2

A paradigm may be accepted at emotional and/or intellectual levels. Generally, emotion tends to have a much stronger grip over people than intellect. This is because the majority of homo sapiens are not, in fact, sapient, but are driven primarily by their reptile brains. This fact was comprehensively demonstrated by the remarkably effective propaganda campaigns perpetrated by Bernays in the US and Goebbels in Germany, which were described in our previous essay3.

PART 1: THE NINE MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF FALSE BELIEFS

We assert that beliefs should be based on truth. What is truth? It is that paradigm which provides the closest approximation to reality. We know a belief is most likely to be true when it is backed up by evidence and reason, stands up to empirical validation and resists falsifiability. The belief passes the tests of scientific scrutiny, offers the best explanation for the circumstances being investigated and has useful predictive value. We assert that such reality based thinking should be the only valid reason for holding any belief4. All else is speculation or delusion. Unfortunately it appears that reality based thinking may actually be the least common reason for holding beliefs.

Why then do so many supposedly mentally “normal” people subscribe to non-reality based (ie false) beliefs? We assert that many, (probably most) people tend to seek out world views which:

  1. justifiy the pursuit of their self interest
  2. represent the easy option, the path of least resistance, which requires minimal intellectual, social, physical or financial investment or effort on their part. Ideas requiring sacrifice or hard work tend to be rejected.5
  3. cast themselves in a positive light to impress others (especially to gain favourable treatment or special dispensation from others or advantage over others)
  4. cast themselves in a postive light to boost their own egos. They subscribe to self-flattering narratives which elevate their status, which portray themselves as “special” or “exceptional” or “superior to” the rest of humanity and to the rest of creation (ie views which verify their infantile predisposition to believe they are the centre of the universe).
  5. cast others in a negative light to justify the belittlement, ostracism, subjugation, oppression, exploitation and/or murder of “the other”.
  6. cement the bonds of belonging, solidarity and pride within their social group or tribe. This is of important survival value to the individual, because historically, membership to a group or tribe was essential for material sustenance. Expulsion from the group, being left to fend on your own, could lead to death. One useful tool to bond tribal members is that of camaradarie resulting from being part of the same sporting team or fan club. If we regard the Nation as an extended tribe, this can take the form of overt displays of fanatical support for National sports teams or sportsmen. Hence former PM John Howard, despite himself being physically inept and hopelessly uncoordinated, took every opportunity to promote to the public his image as a “cricket tragic”. He even insisted that prospective Australian citizens learned the history of Donald Bradman, no matter that such useless pablum did nothing to educate them about core Australian values such as the Rule of Law, separation of powers, liberal democratic principles and freedom of (responsible) speech.

Tribal solidarity, even if based on imaginary myths (such as the Jews being the “chosen” people of God), has historically been of critical survival value to the group, as the members had to stick together to compete against or defend themselves from other groups.

  1. offer psychological comfort, emotional solace and hope, particularly during difficult times. This is comforting function is exemplified in the famous passage from Psalm 23 of the Bible, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. Religion in particular can reassure the believer that “everything will be alright” no matter how dire and depressing their actual reality. This mindset can also confer survival value, because even if a situation poses a 99.99% likelhood of death, which a “rational” person may deem hopeless and therefore give up hope and perish, the “irrational” optimist, comforted by their ideology, will seize that 0.01% likelihood of survival. Hence in a mass die-off of a million people with a 99.99% death rate, the 100 or so people who do manage to survive against all the odds may mostly be those with “optimism bias”, who eventually propagate this trait to future generations. This may explain why “optimism bias” may be hard wired into human populations, as our distant ancestors have in fact faced mass die-offs more than once.
  2. confer upon the believer a sense of schadenfreude smugness, a sense of satisfaction that somehow in the long run, their enemies will inevitably face horrible violent retribution in this life or the next.
  3. offer simplistic pseudoexplanations which are easy to grasp (but are wrong). Most people are unable to comprehend complex ideas and therefore gravitate towards infantile scenarios or myths which superficially or intuitively “make sense” to them, but have no evidential or rational basis. For example, their “explanation” for human existence is that a supernatural father figure called God created everything just for us. Beyond this myth, the thoughts of the faithful congregation are then censored, they are not allowed to ask the next logical question, which is “who or what then created God?” because that would be blasphemy.

There is of course a tenth possible reason for holding a false belief, which is organic brain disease. We mentioned unusual conditions such as Capgras syndrome in our previous essay. Schizophrenia is characterised by “thought disorder” and deluded beliefs such as aliens broadcasting messages into one’s brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy can create hallucinations of an intensely religious nature. This essay on belief however focuses on the factors affecting belief in people without organic brain disease, hence here we will only apply the nine major factors described above and ancillary factors mentioned in parts 2 & 3, when analysing the nature of false beliefs.

Unfortunately the inevitable conclusion we must reach if the nine factors are indeed true, is that most human beings are self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simple minded. The profusion of brutal human conflicts and Machiavellian behaviour in history can indeed be best explained by these traits. Some pundits such as Steven Pinker have argued that there has been a trajectory of increasing peace, diminishing violence and greater social enlightenment in human societies over the past couple of hundred years (which they expect will continue into the indefinite future). Such pundits invariably write from the perspective of (and within the cocoon of) rich industrial societies, which over the past two hundred years have accumulated immense material wealth derived from our ability to harness fossil fuels. However we would argue that such diminished violence is not due to greater enlightenment nor wisdom in the population, but due to the hugely abundant resources available per capita in rich societies in contemporary times. Unrest, dissatisfaction and violence are quelled when an abundance of resources are available. When per capita resources become scarce (due to increasing populations, climate devastation and diminishing supply of high net energy sources ie Peak Oil) as is happening now in more vulnerable countries, revolution erupts among the deprived who are unable to obtain sufficient food or clean water. Deprivation was the root cause of the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011 (extending into 2012, when Syria thoroughly disintegrated), not the pursuit of greater freedom nor human rights nor democracy among those populations. As the rest of the world experiences worsening deprivation, we will see many more such revolutions erupt around the world, with the inevitable imposition of martial law. We witnessed this unfold in Egypt. After Mubarak was deposed, the subsequent democratically elected government was also unable to provide the resources demanded by the population, resulting in ongoing unrest. The only way order could be restored was by a military takeover. The military government will of course be no better at delivering resources to the people than any other government. They merely serve to maintain order by brutally suppressing dissent6.

Using the criteria above we can immediately understand why certain religious and political myths have such a strong hold over the human psyche, despite having no basis in reality. Let us examine the mindset of right wing Christian “patriotic” Americans, such as US Republican Tea Party members or the Republican Neoconservatives, with regard to the nine points above. Their typical beliefs, which are held to a greater or lesser degree among the faithful are:

  1. The “exceptionalism” of the USA, that they are entitled to do anything, anywhere, to anyone in the world (eg invade Iraq), using any fabricated excuses. They make up the rules and everyone else has to comply (or face trade sanctions, a CIA backed coup or invasion). American exceptionalism means that International Law does not apply to the USA or its citizens eg they can kidnap anyone arbitrarily and render them to prisons without trial and subject them to torture. Habeus corpus does not apply to “alien” nationals.
  2. The renewable energy option is just too much hard work and involves too much sacrifice. Much better to deny that global warming or Peak Oil exist, so they can blissfully continue their easy, comfortable fossil fuel based American way of life forever, a lifestyle which is “non-negotiable” (as famously declared by George HW Bush). Hence their favourite catchphrase “drill baby, drill”.
  3. The USA is the “last best hope” for the world, a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy for a glorious future, which everyone else, everywhere else, will do well to emulate. They conveniently ignore the fact that the USA since World War II has a track record of actually undermining freedom, liberty and democracy around the world. They have a prolific history of corrupting governments to enslave their people to the service of American profits, or of overthrowing democratically elected governments, from Guatemala to Iran to Chile to name a few, then installing murderous despotic puppet leaders who offer sweetheart deals to predatory US corporations.
  4. They (the good Christian Neocons) were created in the image of God who has given them dominion over all creation to do with as they please.
  5. The “other” represent the forces of evil, whether it was Reagan’s view of “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union or Bush’s “crusade” against Saddam Hussein the “terrorist”, (even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and actually opposed Al Qaeda and it was in fact the US destruction of a functioning Iraq which turned it into a hotbed of terrorism and a breeding ground for ISIS). In preparation for the US invasion of Iraq, grunts in boot camp training were encouraged to denigrate Iraqis as “towel heads” or “sand niggers” to facilitate the indiscriminate oppression or murder of innocent people.
  6. The common views and values of the GOP faithful reinforce their prejudices and serve as social glue between them. “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” are regarded as lofty virtues, just as the Nazis promoted such unquestioning mindless conformity. (We see a similar mindset with Tony Abbott’s “team Australia”). Those who exposed or undermined illegitimate or murderous US government practices, such as Aaron Swartz or Edward Snowden, were labelled as traitors. The vicous pursuit of Swartz and Snowden by the US government illustrates that the Obama administration is, in this respect, no different in practice to the rabid, foaming at the mouth Republicans.
  7. God is on their side and as “good” Christians in the “end times”, they will be magically levitated to paradise in the Rapture and enjoy heavenly bliss forever.
  8. Everyone else in the “end times” will die and suffer excruciatingly in the fires of hell. Unbelievers and non-Christians will get their just desserts in the form of relentless torture for all eternity. Furthermore these good Christians hold the view that Jihadi suicide bombers, who believe they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in Muslim heaven, are utterly deluded.
  9. Global warming is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be a greenie conspiracy. Evolution is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be an atheist conspiracy. They cannot imagine a world 4.5 billion years old nor the gradual movement of continents across the face of the planet, however a 6000 year old world with fixed continents is easier to grasp by the simpleminded and therefore must be true.

Australia has its own share of lunatics who hold similar Imperialistic and religious views to varying degrees, from the Rinehart funded racist hack Andrew Bolt, to politicians such as the execrable Cory Bernardi and the anti-science Prime Monster Tony Abbott. It is fair to describe them as self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simpleminded. Our most powerful tool to oppose such corrosive, indeed downright evil characters, is the weapon of ridicule. For any talented satirists out there, here is a suggested title for a series of political cartoons: The Madventures of Phoney Rabbit AKA Malice in Plunderland. Abbott is portrayed as a long eared, rodent-like creature (akin to his “conservative” predecessor, the lying rodent war criminal) whose only ideas about national policy are to abuse refugees (including children7) and to seek out money by digging holes in the ground.

We can now understand why such people reject (and are downright hostile toward) world views which:

  1. Reveal that their agendas are self serving with utter disregard for any people outside their circle of insular tribalism.
  2. Require they adopt a difficult path of hard work and sacrifice.
  3. Reveal that they are actually morally deficient or morally bankrupt.
  4. Reveal that they are not particularly special and are in fact inextricably related to that which they have regarded as inferior or repugnant or “separate”. For example, they regard the environment as “separate” from human beings and “separate” from economics, they believe the environment is an infinite resource and a limitless toilet that they can use and abuse forever. Hence they reject the views that we originate from, are part of and are dependent on the environment for our survival, labeling such views as “leftie/greenie” propaganda8.
  5. Reveal that the groups they have previously reviled, “the other”, are in fact just ordinary human beings not too different from themselves. Indeed “the other” may well be morally superior to them in many respects and certainly do not deserve to be exploited and killed.
  6. Require them, for ethical or other honourable reasons, to break away from their traditional social support group or tribe or nation, an emotionally gutwrenching act which they cannot contemplate.
  7. Reveal the reality of the situation is far worse than they ever imagined, with little or no hope for the future. This can lead to disruptive psychological and emotional distress and even despair (eg awareness of the guaranteed self-destruction of industrial civilisation and the possibility of human extinction as a result of climate devastation)
  8. Reveal that not only will there be no future paradise for them but their enemies will not get any particular “comeuppance”. Everyone is in the same boat.
  9. Are too complex for them to understand9

We can now also see why it is difficult if not impossible to pry people away from their religious and political beliefs and why logical argument using irrefutable evidence is generally ineffective. Nothing short of a monumentally traumatic upheaval (eg the arbitrary death of their own child, perhaps from an extreme weather event) which forces them to try to make sense of the situation and to confront their false beliefs, may possibly have any effect. Even despite such an event, many will still go to their graves persisting in their denial of reality, as their mindset is too firmly entrenched. They simply cannot give up the phoney edifice, the false image, that they have constructed of themselves, for themselves.

PART 2: OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING BELIEFS (or proclaimed beliefs):

  1. The blame game: avoiding or laying blame:

a. Avoiding blame: You will recall the trial of Oscar Pistorius (the bilateral amputee athlete nicknamed “the blade runner”) in 2014 for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. According to neighbours the couple had a loud argument lasting more than an hour late at night, just prior to the shooting. Pistorius pleaded not guilty, his defence in court being that he believed her to be a burglar in the washroom, a burglar who had decided to linger about and partake in bodily ablutions (as desperate criminals are wont to do) before sauntering off with any booty. Quite rightly, the judges dismissed Pistorius’ absurd proclaimed “belief” for the contrived nonsense it was.

b. Laying blame:

To blame others in order to “make sense” of a devastating event (“something bad happened, it must be someone’s fault”) or assuage their own sense of guilt (eg their child being afflicted with autism), or to extort financial compensation. Two examples here:

      1. Blaming the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine for autism:

This scare was manufactured by the fraudster Andrew Wakefield in an anecdotal compilation of twelve cases published by the respected medical journal the Lancet in 199810. The concerns raised were taken seriously by the Medical community. In subsequent years, at least 120 studies were conducted in different countries involving huge numbers of children – the Danish cohort study alone, by Madsen et al, followed up more than half a million children. Multiple meta-analyses of the numerous independent studies were performed by different bodies (eg. the US CDC, UK MRC, NHS and Cochrane collaboration to name a few) and no convincing statistical association between MMR and autism could ever be demonstrated. It was conclusively found that the benefits of the MMR vaccine overwhelmingly exceeded any risks. Yes, the vaccine could have side effects, but catching the infections was many magnitudes worse (particularly in malnourished children in poor countries). Wakefield was investigated and was discovered to have committed scientific fraud for pecuniary gain and was deregistered by the General Medical Council of the UK in 2010. The Lancet itself eventually retracted Wakefield’s paper, denouncing it as a fraudulent submission. The mainstream media on the other hand had no interest in hard data. Sensationalism is what sells the tabloids. They chose scientifically illiterate journalists to continue perpetrating Wakefield’s fraud according to the time honoured tactic of Goebbels (if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it). As a result, there remains no shortage of people who still “believe” this fabricated lie and think that the medical establishment are involved in a conspiracy to cover up any MMR/autism link (if so, why did the Lancet publish it in the first place?). This has resulted in many children not being vaccinated over the years, loss of herd immunity and the eruption of various viral epidemics. Wakefield, the scurrilous mainstream media and their gullible readers have been responsible for the death and disability of many unvaccinated children. This is an ongoing issue, the most recent measles epidemic occurring among visitors to Disneyland in December 2014. This is but one example of the deceit perpetrated by antivaccination zealots who have mounted scare campaigns against other vaccines such as whooping cough. In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough and 20 deaths were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control, the greatest number since 1955. Even though many of these antivaccination nutcases may be wealthy middle class Americans or Australians, their mentality is the same as that of the Islamic fundamentalists or the Taliban who killed polio vaccinators working in Nigeria or Pakistan 11. Hence the one great chance humanity had to eradicate another viral blight (other than smallpox) from the face of the Earth has now been lost due to stubborn and vicious human ignorance. Unfortunately it is the children who suffer the most, at the hands of those who claim to act in their best interests.

      1. Blaming silicone breast implants for rheumatological or autoimmune diseases:

The assertion, over many years, that silicone breast implants caused rheumatological or autoimmune diseases, was conclusively disproven by several studies including those by the Mayo Clinic (NEJM 1994) and a Harvard Nurses study (NEJM 1995). No significant association could be found. Even though many lawsuits against implant manufacturers were subsequently dismissed, courts still sporadically found in favour of litigants despite the absence of scientific evidence eg in late 1998 the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a compensatory damage award of $41 million against Dow Chemical to Charlotte Mahlum for her multiple-sclerosis-like symptoms. In January 1999 a jury in a Washington Federal court awarded $10 million in compensatory damages against Bristol-Myers-Squibb to an attorney who claimed her implants caused scleroderma. Such verdicts show that the Law can indeed be an ass.

It is not our intention to defend any corporations or establishment organisations. It is our intention to promote the use of evidence, reason and fairness as the bases for belief and action, no matter what individuals or groups are in question. This should be equally applicable to our dealings with the “evil” corporations.

  1. The 6 P: The proposition of predisposition to a paradigm based on politics, personality or profession:

This is idea that people seek belief systems which happen to align with their political prejudices (eg right wing conservatives vs left wing, small “l” liberals), their innate personality (eg pessimist vs optimist) or their professional background (reflecting the ingrained mindset and experiences of the profession they were trained in). It is a highly prevalent idea popularised by the mainstream media, but has weak explanatory power and can be misused. It is such a large topic that it requires considerable elaboration in appendix 1 to this article.

PART 3: FACTORS WHICH GENERATE AND PROPAGATE BOGUS PARADIGMS

  1. Childhood indoctrination is probably the most powerful factor. Richard Dawkins himself alluded to the fact that children will uncritically accept the edicts of authority figures, which certainly has survival value when there is legitimate transfer of worthwhile practical knowledge from old to young. However, like many human traits, this process is open to abuse by those in power. Childhood indoctrination with nonsensical ideas can be particularly difficult to shake off and may require many decades of critical re-evaluation by the thinking individual before being shed, if at all. As the Jesuits famously claimed “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” 12. They had certainly figured out how to brainwash children.
  2. The “might equals right” paradigm, which is generally framed in this way: God is on my side. I have triumphed over my enemies. That proves God is on my side. Consider groups A to E, which each believe in “different” gods, however thay all adopt the exact same paradigm mentioned above. In battles between the groups, group A eventually triumphs and dominates groups B to E (one group or another is bound to win, eventually). Group A then claims in retrospect they have “proven” god A is the only true god and the other groups also end up subscribing to this view, seeing as how their own gods have abandoned them to defeat (never mind the fact that none of these gods ever existed in the first place). In reality any other group, eg group B, could well have triumphed (depending on all sorts of factors including military intelligence, superior technology, better organisation and most important, sheer luck eg weather which favoured them on the day of battle). Triumphant group B would then claim their god B is the only true one and the others would buy into it. Such a retrospective claim does not however prove the validity of any god nor the existence of any god. It is a post hoc pseudoproof with no basis in reality, however it is a powerful propaganda tool which can be used to persuade the unthinking masses.
  3. Extreme conviction. Strongly held beliefs may sometimes be defended to the death. However just because an individual is willing to die for their belief (eg Christian martyrs in pagan Rome) does not mean that their belief is true. It merely reflects an intractable delusion (which in some cases may be the result of temporal lobe dysfunction or schizophrenia, organic brain abnormalities which are completely impervious to logical persuasion). Matyrdom however tends to be a rather convincing act of commitment, which may therefore serve to recruit naive onlookers as new followers.

PART 4: DENIALISM VS SKEPTICISM, ANALYSING THE ANALYSTS

Global warming denialists insist they should be called skeptics and resent being called denialists. The fact is they are not skeptics and are unworthy of such a title. The only proper, correct and accurate term for them is denialists.

A skeptic is one who debunks nonsensical beliefs (ie. ideas not based on evidence and reason). A true skeptic will therefore debunk the idea that global warming is a hoax rather than promote it.

Even though the skeptic habitually debunks silly ideas, this does not mean the skeptic does not believe in anything. In fact, a true skeptic is also a rationalist, who accepts paradigms based on evidence and reason, while simultaneously allowing for the possibility that such science based paradigms may be need to be modified or even abandoned if better evidence and reason subsequently come to light.

The astounding effectiveness of the Scientific Method which has transformed our modern lives is undeniable proof that Objective Truth exists. All of our modern inventions, innovations and complex systems (eg computer software) originating from scientific discoveries, logic and rationality are predicated on the fact that Objective Truth exists, that outside our tiny little minds there is an external reality which operates on hard mathematical principles and a logical framework. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Only ivory tower philosophers13 and humanities graduates educated to the highest level of stupidity will attempt to deny the fact of Objective Truth14, even as they type out their drivel on their electronic computers.

Absolute Truth however is something we can never achieve. Even in the “hard” science of Physics, truth is highly contextual. For example, Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, strictly speaking, are not absolutely “true” but are merely extremely accurate in the context of the medium scale (the magnitudes of mass, speed, acceleration etc familiar to our human scale). However Newtonian physics needs to be modified or abandoned in favour of Einstein’s theories of relativity in the situations of extreme mass, relative speeds or acceleration eg when making satellite GPS calculations or in the vicinity of a black hole. Furthermore Newtonian and gravitational considerations vanish at the level of subatomic particles where Quantum mechanics must be adopted. Each of these Physics paradigms, applied in the appropriate context, is objectively true (often to a mindbogglingly high level of mathematical precision), but in a different context the paradigm may have to be modified or even disregarded. None of those Physics paradigms represents Absolute Truth. Indeed, in Quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle provides mathematical proof that Absolute Truth is absolutely unattainable.

All statements about truth are actually statements about probability, about what we deem to be correct beyond any reasonable doubt. This applies to the context of a rocket scientist who calculates the trajectory of a spacecraft and makes judgements about where it is and where it is headed, which, although highly accurate, are always prone to margins of error. It applies to the context of the climate scientists who collate data from multiple sources and make judgements about the current state of global warming and where we are headed, which are also prone to margins of error, but represent the most reliable information we can possibly achieve. The denialists who demand absolute precision about the present, absolute certainty about the future and “absolute truth” about everything are merely demonstrating that they are utterly ignorant as to how Science and reality work.

Skeptical thinking requires both intellectual flexibility and humility. Humility to admit error when the evidence indicates one is wrong and humility to be able to examine one’s own beliefs. Even the famous quip by Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, itself requires examination. What was the basis of Socrates’ belief ? Was it founded on some sort of empirical observation, population survey or cohort study? Or did it merely stem from intellectual arrogance: “I am a grey haired philosopher therefore my life is more worthwhile than yours” (reflecting belief functions 4 and 5)?

Using the Socratic method itself, we ourselves should ask Socrates: What is an unexamined life and what is an examined life? Is there a hard boundary between the two categories or a gradual fuzzy transition? At what level of fuzzy transition does a life suddenly become worthwhile? Is navel gazing the only criterion by which we should measure the value of a life?

Consider children with Down’s syndrome, who tend to be good natured, gentle, generous and loving. They have a great capacity to derive joy from simple everyday life and can also generate great joy for others, especially their parents. However they lack the ability to indulge in complicated philosphical musings. Does that mean their lives are not worth living?

Consider philosophers such as Otto Weininger or intellectuals such as Sylvia Plath, who deeply examined their own lives, wallowed in existential angst and eventually committed suicide, the ultimate declaration that their examined lives were not worth living.

We agree that those who can attain a deeper understanding of life, the universe and everything can also gain a higher level of appreciation regarding our existence. The intermittent “eureka” moments enjoyed from achieving profound comprehension of various aspects of Reality while muddling through this journey of life, certainly add greatly to the richness of our life.

Is it however better to be a contented cow, blissfully ignorant as you are being led along the ramp to the slaughterhouse; or a sentient being, fully aware and utterly terrified of your impending demise as you trundle towards the abbatoir? Perhaps it is best to strive to be a sentient being who can sieze control of your own destiny and escape from the abbatoir. This is what we advocate to our readers: get off this fatal path now, before it is too late. It is no longer possible to “save humanity” but you may be able to save yourselves, to survive at least a few decades beyond the general die-off, by establishing an offgrid permaculture community in a high latitude remote location.

PART 5: REASSESSING “CHICKEN AND EGG” ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BELIEF

Neurophysiological studies have discovered this bizarre, counterintuitive finding: that the electrical trigger in the motor cortex to perform an action precedes the electrical activity in the frontal cortex indicative of our conscious awareness to perform that act. The neurological impulse to, say, pick up an object activates a split second before the awareness we have made such a decision surfaces. Our brain triggers the action first, then we make up reasons as to why we acted later.

Using that as an analogy, let us also consider this possibility: that we instinctively understand what behaviours are required to advance our self interests (at least in the short term), such as seizing the resources of other people. Only after we have commited ourselves to behave in a particular way do we then make up “beliefs” to justify our heinous actions, eg the Neoconartists proclaimed “belief” that Saddam had WMDs in Iraq, evidence be damned. Here is another example: I know my luxurious lifestyle depends on my profligate combustion of fossil fuels, which I therefore choose to continue unabated. Only after I have made that choice, do I then profess my belief that AGW must be a hoax, evidence be damned.

Hence rather than belief giving rise to behaviour (as is generally assumed), we assert that in many cases the decision to pursue a course of self serving behaviour is made first and only subsequently is a purported “belief” then fabricated. This would explain why so many purported beliefs are patently absurd and are unrelated to any real world evidence. Contrived “beliefs” tend to lack any logical consistency, apart from the finding that they benefit the “believer” and are used to justify their despicable behaviour.

CONCLUSION

Before attempting to analyse others, it is important we analyse ourselves. Are our beliefs based on reality and truth (as they should be), or are they contrived and based on or influenced by the self serving elements outlined in our essay?

We contend that our exposition regarding the nature of human belief provides the best explanation as to why supposedly sane people without any known brain damage, such as members of the US Republican Tea Party or Australian “conservative” politicians (and those who voted them in), can subscribe to beliefs which are demonstrably false, irrational and ludicrous.

Never has the phrase “knowledge is power” been so starkly relevant, as when applied to the understanding of the psychological mechanisms which underpin human behaviour. Freud was the first to describe how the reptilian and infantile aspects of our brains tend to dominate over the rational and restrained “superego”. His nephew Edward Bernays applied this knowledge to devastating effect, with astoundingly successful US government and commercial propaganda campaigns which reaped vast wealth for himself.

If you are among the tiny fraction of the human population who are interested in these matters and have managed to read and understand this article up to this point, you will now also have acquired the knowledge by which you can gain power over others. You will now know how to manufacture an ideology which panders to the nine factors which promote adherence to false beliefs. You will grasp the means by which you can indoctrinate gormless people, who constitute the majority of the population, into your ideology. With a little charisma and marketing, you too can be the next L. Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon, reaping vast wealth for yourself.

Or you can try to do some good in the world instead, by teaching others how to think critically, avoid false beliefs and resist bullshit.

Proximate Planetary Problems Caused by: Caused by: UNDERLYING CAUSES of Planetary Problems
– Mass extinctions due to– Ecosystem destruction due to– Global warming and – Pollution – Overharvesting of Nature’s Capital and – Fossil Fuel extraction and combustion – Overconsumption & excessive waste production by– Excessive numbers of homo stupidus – Bad human behaviour due to Dysfunctional thinking (eg delusional “infinite” economic growth on a finite planet) and Bogus beliefs (eg a God given sense of entitlement)

Medical principles specify that true cures for diseases can be only achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those diseases. True cures for our planetary problems can only be achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those problems, ie human beings who behave badly. By necessity, this will take the form of either complete human extinction, or the massive dieoff of humanity leaving only a tiny handful of survivors who are able to behave properly, who can exert a light ecofootprint without destroying the very life support systems which sustain us. Such remaining sapient humans can then pass on the qualities of eufunctional thinking and reality based beliefs to future generations. Failure to achieve sapience among surviving humans will inevitably lead to complete human extinction. The Planet will rid itself of parasitic human activities one way or another.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: quality control.

Footnotes:

  1. Functional MRI may change this, however such research is beyond the scope of this essay.
  2. Who tends to benefit from such a position? The fossil fuel industry. Who has funded the multibillion dollar disinformation campaign denying AGW? The fossil fuel industry.
  3. For a society to descend into madness, two elements must coexist together: a self-serving, deceitful ruling class and a gullible, compliant population. If one exists but not the other, then sanity may yet prevail. If lying psychopaths somehow seize power but a sensible population are wise to the absurdity of their propaganda, the psychopaths will be ejected in short order. If the population are naive and gullible but are governed by wise and benevolent leaders, then sane policy promoting social justice and peace can prevail, but may be tenuous. The naive population is always vulnerable to the false promises and charisma of duplicitous psychopaths, who may eventually sieze power. The best scenario is of course that of a sapient population who vote into power wise and benevolent leaders to govern them, but this population must not hesitate to depose and prosecute any leaders who engage in egregious acts of betrayal such as railroading the country into war on the basis of lies. The key to social stability therefore has to be the intensive education of the general population in critical thinking, to encourage them to be active politically and to hold their leaders to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. Unfortunately the so-called modern education system is only geared towards churning out clever idiots, useful cogs in the machinery of industrial society who lack the sense or the motivation to question or oppose obscenities such as the invasion of Iraq or the omnicidal agenda of the fossil fuel corporations. Among the clever idiots, I (GC) must include my own Medical Specialist colleagues, in whom I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

It is abundantly clear that the USA of today has tumbled well down into the abyss of insanity, with not much further to go till it implodes catastrophically. It appears that Australia will inevitably follow suit.

  1. http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMSeekingTruth-by-Chia-for-NBL.pdf
  2. It has been quipped that the favourite response by a bureaucrat to any request is “NO”, because such a negative answer fulfils two functions: it gives him/her a sense of power over others and enables him/her to avoid doing any actual work.
  3. The Pentagon, in collaboration with major US universities, is in the process of militarising the social sciences, to formulate a systematic action plan which they will ruthlessly implement when civil society inevitably breaks down in the USA. They have titled this “The Minerva Initiative”. Their goal is to maintain, through force, the supply chains of fossil fuels and other critical resources as they become scarce, to preserve the creature comforts and security of the controlling establishment, at the expense of everyone else. Dr Nafeez Ahmed, erstwhile Guardian writer, calls it “a defence manifesto for the one percent”.
  4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-14/malcolm-fraser-attacks-abbott-treatment-human-rights-commission/6098920
  5. Abbott’s latest manifestation of foot-in-mouth disease was seen in his condescending St. Patrick’s day speech to the Irish on 13/3/15 when he declared it was “the one day of the year when it’s good to be green” before waving his green tie at the camera.

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/03/13/12/45/pm-abbotts-patronising-st-patricks-day-message-slammed-by-irish-business-leaders The way this fossil fuel flunky parades his ignorant environmental vandalism as badge of pride continues to be truly nauseating and represents an ongoing malevolent threat to humanity.

  1. Incomprehensible complexity by itself is not a reason to reject a paradigm. It all depends on whether the complex paradigm is based on evidence, reason and proof. I (GC) will be the first to admit I am too stupid to understand Einsteinian or Quantum Physics. I find them incomprehensibly complex. Nevertheless I trust and accept their conclusions, not because they have been advocated by professorial authority figures in white coats, but because they have been amply validated in the real world. Functioning electronics, laser devices and GPS systems to name just a few, are irrefutable proof of the truth of those paradigms. There is a vast difference between trust in Science, which is based on real world validation, and faith in Religion, which is based on gullilbility. On the other hand, many of the financial machinations of bankers and their cronies have deliberately been made incomprehensibly complex and opaque, not because they are based on real mathematical laws of the universe, but because they wish to obfuscate and hide the convoluted pathways by which they funnel vast amounts of money into their pockets. They are parasites on the productive endeavours of society. This explains why poor and middle class people, particularly in the USA, have been going backwards economically over the past few decades despite working longer and harder, but the top 0.1% have seen their bank balances skyrocket despite little or no effort on their part (unless one defines “effort” as creating new “financial innovations” such as subprime mortgage schemes camouflaged by collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps).
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy#cite_note
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_eradication#Opposition_and_aid_worker_killings
  4. https://breakingspells.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/give-me-a-child-until-he-is-seven-and-i-will-give-you-the-man/
  5. I (GC) define an ivory tower philosopher as a scientifically illiterate pundit who attempts to explain life, the universe and everything by navel-gazing within the vacuum of ignorance. Advice to philosophers: unless you can achieve some level of scientific knowledge and literacy, your pontifications are utterly worthless and any similarity of your ideas to objective reality are purely coincidental. On the other hand, scientifically literate philosophers such as Clive Hamilton are of immense value to humanity. We sorely need their thoughts and advice, as is true for scientifically literate investigative journalists.
  6. The misrepresentation of “cogito er sum” by philosophers and the faulty logic of Pascal’s Wager compared with the good sense of the Precautionary Principle are outlined in appendix 2

Appendices 1 and 2 will be published in another post

How to Destroy a Great Empire

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 6, 2014

The Pythoness of the Oracle of Delphi told to King Croesus that if he were to attack Persia “a great empire will be destroyed.” Croesus did just that, but the great empire which fell was not the Persian one, but his own.

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Unleashing the oil weapon against Russia: how to destroy a great empire

Do you remember the old Soviet Union? Dubbed as “The Evil Empire” by Ronald Reagan in 1983, it disappeared in a puff of smoke in 1991, crushed under a mountain of debts. The origins of the financial collapse of the Soviet Union are rather well known: it was related to the fall of the oil prices which, in 1985, went down from the equivalent of more than 100 (today’s) dollars per barrel in 1980 to about 30 (today’s) dollars and stayed low for more than a decade. The Soviet Union was relying on oil exports for its economy and, in addition, it was burdened with huge military expenses. It just couldn’t take a drop of more than a factor of three in its oil revenues.
There exists a persistent legend that says that the downfall of the Soviet Union was engineered by a secret agreement of the Western Powers with the Saudi government who agreed to open the spigots of their oil fields in order to bring down oil prices. This is, indeed, nothing more than a legend. Not only we have no proof that such a secret agreement ever existed, but it is not even true that the Saudis played the role attributed to them. In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia, actually, tried hard to avoid the downfall in oil prices by reducing (rather than increasing) its oil output; without much success. (Image on the right from Wikipedia)It is true, however, that after the first great oil crisis of the 1970s, the world’s oil production restarted its growth around 1985.  The reasons for the recovery can’t be attributed to the work of a group of conspirators sitting in a smoke filled room. Rather, it was the result of a number of new oil fields starting their production phase, mainly in Alaska and in the North Sea. This was the origin of the drop in oil prices and, indirectly, of the fall of the Soviet Union. (Image on the left from Wikipedia)
Today, Russia’s oil production has recovered from the downfall of Soviet times and the Russian economy is highly dependent on oil exports, much like the old USSR was. So, a drop in oil prices could do a lot of damage to Russia. Given the political situation with the Ukraine crisis, there are speculations that the West is trying to bring down Russia by repeating the same trick that seemed to be so successful in bringing down the old “Evil Empire”. Indeed, we are seeing oil prices dropping below $90 per barrel after years of stability around $100. Is it a fluctuation or a trend? Hard to say, but it is being interpreted as the unleashing of the “oil weapon” against Russia on the part of Saudi Arabia.
However, the world of today is not the world of the 1980s. One problem is that Saudi Arabia has shown several times to be able to throttle production down, but never to raise it significantly higher than the present levels; one could even question whether they will be able to maintain them in the future. Then, there is nothing today which could play the role that Alaska and the North Sea fields played in the 1980s. It had been said many times that we would need a “new Saudi Arabia” (or more than one) to offset the decline of the world’s oil fields, but we never found it.

Yet, there are good reasons to think that we could see a drop in oil prices in the near future. One factor is the downturn of several of the world’s major economies (e.g. Italy). That could lead to a fall of the demand for oil and, consequently, to lower prices (something similar took place with the financial crisis of 2008). Another factor could be the rapidly growing production unconventional oil (largely in the form of “shale oil”) is the U.S. This oil is not being exported in large amounts, but it has reduced the US demand of oil in the world’s market. Coupling these two factors, we might well see a considerable drop in oil prices in the near future, although hardly a sustained one. So, would that be the “oil weapon” that will bring Russia to its knees? Maybe, but, as with all weapons, there are side effects to consider.
As we said, unconventional oil is playing a major role in maintaining the world’s production. The problem is that unconventional oil is often an expensive resource. Then, in the case of shale oil, the decline rate of wells is very fast: the lifetime of a well is of just a few years. So, the shale oil industry needs a continuous influx of new investments to keep producing and it is very sensitive to oil prices. Its recent rise was the result of high prices; low prices might cause its demise. In contrast, conventional oil fields have a lifetime of decades and are relatively immune to short term variations of oil prices. If we see the situation in these terms, we might legitimately ask against whom the oil weapon is aimed. The US unconventional oil industry might well be its first victim.
History, as we all know, never repeats itself, but it does rhyme. King Croesus, at his times, believed the Delphic Oracle when he was told that he could bring down a great empire if he would attack Persia. He didn’t realize that he was going to destroy his own empire. Something similar may be in store for us in the coming years: a drop in oil prices might well bring down a great empire. Which one, however, is all to be seen.

Fashion vs Will to Power III

Off the keyboards of Steve from Virginia and RE

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Published originally in the Commentariat on Economic Undertow

Rockyfight

Discuss this Debate at the Economics Table inside the Diner

Steve from Virginia who publishes the Blog Economic Undertow and myself are old Internet Compadres who have been debating the root causes of Collapse for quite a long time now with each other.    It first began before we set up the Diner on his blog, I think my first posts on EU go back to around 2009, maybe 2010.

For the most part, Steve and I agree on most concepts Economic in nature WRT Industrial Civilization Collapse.  From Debt to Fukushima and beyond we are entirely on the same page.  However, Steve and I also have a FUNDAMENTAL DISAGREEMENT on the etiology or root causes of the disease human society is faced with in the waning years of the Waste Based Economy, which crops up anytime he advances his theory that the Progress Meme followed over the years here is based on what he refers to as “Fashion”, whereas I contend that this results from what I refer to as the “Will to Power”.

The most recent installment of this long running debate came in the Commentariat on EU, in Steve’s latest addition to his Debtonomics Theory, which has numerous installments itself over on EU.  We got into a similar debate which I published here on the Diner a while back as Underpinnings of  Industrialization II: Fashion or the Will to Power?

So, without further introduction, here is the latest keyboard Boxing Match between myself and Steve as to what REALLY drove the development of Homo Erectus to Homo Industrialis over the millenia the genus has been walking the earth.

Further thoughts on this topic welcome from all.

RE

Reverse Engineer

  1. I think what is missed here is that it is not really “Economics” per se that we are talking about, but a Monetary System designed to control Economics.In a monetary system, he who controls the issuance of Money controls the downhill flow of energy and all the resources that the money buys. In the words of Mayer Rothschild:“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws”It is a lot of nonsense that the creation of the Industrial Economy is simply a matter of “Fashion”, as Steve often argues. There is a control paradigm in place that manifests itself through the monetary system. This is the Will to Power , manifest through control of a monetary system, Mayer Rothschild made this clear, and so have many others including Henry Ford.“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”The evolution of the Industrial Economy is an engineered thing, from the top down, it is not a result of “fashion”. It has been imposed on the population against its will in most cases, see the Luddites for this, not to mention about every 3rd World Nation that has had either Death From Above or Tanks rolling over their territory to coopt them into the paradigm and fork over their resources.Steve has a lot of marvelous insights into the nature of debt and the way the economic system works, but his concepts of “Fashion” as being a driving force in this are completely wrong, or misplaced, however you want to phrase it.The industrial economy evolved because it enabled more power to be accessed, and it has been controlled by a relatively small number of people since its inception going back to around the beginning of the Enlightenment in Europe, but really taking off with the invention of the Steam Engine.Bigger and better weapons enabled more of the world resources to be accessed by a small number of people who controlled these weapons of war, beginning with the Cannon, evolving today to Phantom Jets and Apache Helicopter Gunships.This is not “Fashion”. It is the WILL TO POWER.

    RE

    1. steve from virginia Post author
      RE sez: “All your base are belong to us!” Steve sez, “Turn that game off and go to sleep!”In a world where everything is ‘made up’ the will to power — even the power itself — is a fashion: an organized set of appearances. ‘Will to power’ is an indeterminate (macht) fancy that was expressed in mid-19th century philosophy (Schopenhauer). Other thinkers offered will to pleasure (Freud) or will toward greater understanding or meaning. All of this orbits around shared assumptions that reflect (fashionable) determinism and rapid industrialization (leverage).Within determinism, puny man becomes a God without any idea of what a God is or how to go about it. God and man are synthesized versions of each other, that is, looks like a God (image and likeness) while God cannot be anything but ‘like’ a man. Presume for a minute that God can only prove its own godliness by exercising power: God can only prove itself by destroying all humans because the last survivor might in the end defeat God … thereby disproving God’s reality. God here really has no power, it is are either an impostor or a monster with no sense of anything. Without God there is no such thing as power: ironically, when Nietzsche killed off God he killed off his own philosophy at the same time.Instead of power we have ‘real’ video games.The issue is whether determinism is a component of nature/biological evolution (Darwin). It is only for teenagers: there would be no life on Earth: the dominant form would end up destroying everything else (outcome of power). Since life has been on Earth for +400 million years, some other dynamic has determined life-outcomes besides power or will associated with it. If it is sexual selection (Darwin, Freud) then appearances matter (ability to choose partners). Most likely there is a ‘Will to belong’ or will to collaborate intimately.Put another way, even predatory animals operate within (power) constraints by necessity. A lion is always more powerful than a gazelle, the lion will eat a gazelle, never the other way around. A lion won’t invent a machine that gobbles up all the gazelles. After finishing off gazelles the lion won’t turn his machine on the zebras, nor will the lion burn the zebras up for fun. The lion has a built-in (genetic/behavioral) regimes that spares the bulk of gazelles and zebras so that there are lion-lunches into the foreseeable future. The same inhibitions prevent one group of lions from killing all the other lions. There are subtle and varying levels of interchange between prey and prey, predators and other predators so that each sustains the others … within ‘brutish’ nature there is a high level of collaboration and interchange. None of them have to have meetings …Don’t misunderstand, because determinism doesn’t function well with others does not mean the idea is without currency. Our Wile E. Coyote world, quivering in the air over a chasm, is a monument to determinism, ours is a big world with a lot in it to slay:There was a little girl,
      Who had a little curl,
      Right in the middle of her forehead.
      When she was good,
      She was very good indeed,
      But when she was bad she was horrid.There are few- if any balances in the human-American version. Winner-take-all or ‘will to power’; whatever term you please exists in the mind as an unhappy and unworkable abstraction … as a fashion. Nietzsche is right up to the point of how individuals respond to power’s appearances. We invented ‘will to power’ to explore the possibilities of machines, there is no other purpose but entertainment and perhaps seduction. What makes us ‘powerful’ are the forms that ‘power’ takes rather than the exercise of it: ‘helicopters, tanks and aircraft carriers’ appear more powerful than they really are (they are unaffordable liabilities).To exercise power is invariably self-destructive and counterproductive because power requires resources that are eroded by way of power’s exercise (US in Iraq and Afghanistan) or because no contestant has a monopoly on it.

  2. Tagio
    RE:It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If you read Pereleman’s “The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation,” you see a lot of support for your thesis that, at the beginning of the industrial era, people had to be forcibly divested of their historical rights in common property, forced out of the countryside and driven to the cities to become wage slaves. Though life was not easy, they preferred their subsistence + level of farming, hunting, gathering, and home economy (income from weaving and other skills), with its more natural rhythms, more leisure time and “togetherness,” to the “opportunity” to go to the industrial hubs and enjoy “the finer things” of life. Contrary to classical economists’ rosy picture that people voluntarily chose, as a reaction to the invisible hands of Mr. Market, to become workers for capitalists, Pereleman shows that people had to be forced into it. The “capitlists” of the time, who were busy divesting people of their historical rights in a common property (“primitive accumulation” aka theft) railed against the common people’s “laziness” and uncouthness, and their lack of desire for luxury and the finer things of life. However, the people at that time living through it clearly preferred remaining in the home-bound economy to becoming a machine themselves.Fast forward 200 years, however, and people are today basically completely mind-fu***d, can’t even see their slavery, and pursue, as fashion, the next great thing and the next after that. Yes, they are manipulated by the ad agencies, television, and the rest, but they are very easily manipulated. Whose fault is that? Whether you say it is the fault of those with the will to power who pull their strings for their own climb up the ladder in the system, and so are also completely captive by it, or the fault of the nudnicks too stupid to see that they simply are fashion-driven automatons with no will of their own, I’m not sure in the end it matters all that much. Steve is right that what is needed is a major, widespread cultural shift in perception.
  3. Reverse Engineer
    ” the dominant form would end up destroying everything else (outcome of power)”Take a look around, that is precisely what is in process.It took quite a bit of evolution to finally develop an organism which could so efficiently dissipate energy, to the point it threatens its own survival.Anyhow, the bottom line is that at no point could this “fashion trend” be resisted, because if you did resist you get bombed back to the stone age. Or mowed down by Muskets if you were an Aztec. etc.RE
      1. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, the honey always comes first, the rat poison, later. Very rarely is the order reversed and it invariably fails longer-term. See, ‘Vietnam’.
      2. Reverse Engineer
        Nonsense.The Rat Poison came first when the Conquistadores wiped out the Aztecs, and it came first when the FSoA Cavalry knocked down the Plains Indians.It also came first when the Brits took over India, and it came first when Gen. Smedley Butler made Venezuela safe for Standard Oil.In all those cases the paradigm was extraordinarily successful in taking what once were neighborhoods inhabited by either H-Gs or subsistence farmers and coopting them into the Industrial Economy.The folks with the superior weapons of War won the day. That’s not fashion, that’s Will to Power.The paradigm started breaking down around WWI, when just about everybody was similarly equipped with rifles and artillery. Then they ran into the problem that mechanized tanks and APCs don’t function well in the Jungle.In MENA though where mechanized war machines function fabulously well, NATO set up an armed camp and Puppet Regimes in the various nations around there, and for 50 years since WWII this served well to keep the populations under control and the Oil flowing outward for Happy Motoring here. Of course the whole neighborhood has been in a constant state of conflict through the whole time period, but there was enough Oil flowing outward to generally pacify the populations with enough food to eat, and yes Televisions too. However, even there, the Rat Poison came before the Honey, and Rommel, Patton and Montgomery were all quite successful rolling over the local populations, they only ran into trouble when they ran into each other.Large Military machines are the defining feature of all Empires, from the British Empire right back to the Roman Empire. If you want to screw around with the definition of “Fashion” and say they did this because it was “fashionable”, feel free to do so, but the fact of the matter is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with fashion, it has to do with the guy with the best weapons and biggest army runs the show, for so long as there are resources for that army to keep growing.When the resources run thin, the army collapses, and so does the State that runs it. See the Roman Empire, see the FSoA Empire.RE

      3. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, you are enamored of the forms that force takes rather than outcomes.The world is filled with humans because we like sex and the great theater that surrounds it, more than we like killing each other or its particular theater. There has to be a theater, because we are animals, our nature is not to kill but to simply live. Our theater contains the meanings that our activities do not possess on their own.We’ve turned our attention from killing humans to killing the greater world because we learned the hard way that there are few advantages to be gained from killing each other, that the attempt is counterproductive. If there is one consequence that unites every expression of force since the beginning of history it is futility.Humans appreciate the theater that force offers, but force itself produces mostly temporary gains that often immediately reversed. With force, function rarely follows form; it has its own self-contained dynamic. Obviously, there are exceptions; Spanish buccaneers did capture parts of the New World … but they did so on their own, without any direction from the Spanish government. A better outcome would have been gained had the Spanish set up trade with natives rather than stealing from them. As it turned out, Spain’s initial successes in the New World were more-than cancelled out by its failures in the Old: in fewer than a hundred years, Spain was reduced to impoverishment and irrelevance, it ceded much of its European territory and prestige, its government was bankrupted many times over. Across Europe, a quarter of human population was wiped out in pointless and useless wars funded with New World gold and Dutch paper. European wealth flowed east to China in exchange for junk, there was a hundred years of (hyper)inflation … the application of force was a European calamity on the scale of the great plagues of the fourteenth century No single political entity was powerful enough to have its way and bring order. The enterprise as a whole ended up a complete failure.It always does: as military empires grow their power is stretched thin, it becomes decadent. Empires collapse under the costs of their own power. Geographic empires are often just lines on a map, they are little but empty space. When this space is ‘conquered’ power is diluted. The North American plains Indians’ empire was feeble. It could not fill the empty spaces of its own domain with Indians as could the Americans with European immigrants. America could draw upon all of Europe; the natives had nothing but their own rate of reproduction. American West was won with railroads, plows and barbed wire, by farmers not by soldiers as there were too few natives to put up any sort of a large-scale fight.Empire cans rarely be gained by conquest, then only be held for the briefest time, and only then by answering wants rather than by fear of the conqueror. Answering wants is costly, it appears weak, but everything else is much more so. Conquest succeeds only if the conquered are afraid; if they refuse to fear, then what?You can say otherwise, but exercise of force is always a net loss. What matters is whether the various protagonists are able to bear them; generally they cannot. If the ‘function side of military purpose is non-functional or mal-functional (or delusional), what remains? The theater. There is nothing else.America has a massive military advantage over the rest of the world together … on paper. Its advantage takes forms that are pleasing to mechanical engineers and marketing managers, politicians and the media sphere. The theater of American military supremacy plays out on television sets and movie screens, during elections and patriotic holidays, in sports stadiums across the country … every single day. In reality, the US military is hollow and incompetent, like the Nazi- and Red Communist versions … and all the others since Alexander of Macedon. For all of its toys the Pentagon cannot beat dope-peddlers and Quran-thumping street criminals with sandals and pickup trucks. It cannot do its job because the job cannot be done.Absent function there is nothing but the form. There is no ‘third thing’. Form = appearances or fashion.http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/how-social-movements-can-win-more-victories-like-same-sex-marriage

    1. ellenanderson
      @Tagio “you see a lot of support for your thesis that, at the beginning of the industrial era, people had to be forcibly divested of their historical rights in common property, forced out of the countryside and driven to the cities to become wage slaves.”
      I think most people don’t understand that or accept it because of the anti-peasant narratives whose ultimate expression is found in commercials written by Madmen.
      Steve is quite correct that it could be otherwise without violating the so called “laws of human nature” so cherished by crackpots and evolutionary biologists. My grandparents were horrified by their grand children’s failure to turn off lights and all sorts of other wasteful habits. In the early days of department stores I have heard that the owners had to pay gawkers to look into display windows because it was considered unfashionable to stare – or to wish for things that you could not afford, for that matter.
      Plenty of people are revolted by what is going on in the world. Right now it is inchoate. Their revulsion has to get focused on what is responsible for this mess – not human nature but human choices that could have been made differently. There is a reason why usury was traditionally considered a sin, you know.
    2. Reverse Engineer
      Steve, you’re rewriting history to match up with your philosophical outlook.Whether the Spaniards would have done better to trade with the Aztec than mow them down is a moot point, they chose to mow them down. Regardless of what became of all the Gold they raided and their control over their colonial empire, in the end the South Americans came to live like Spaniards, Spaniards did not come to live like Indios.The next bit is complete fabrication:“The North American plains Indians’ empire was feeble. It could not fill the empty spaces of its own domain with Indians as could the Americans could the Americans fill the space with immigrants. America had all of Europe to draw upon, the natives had nothing but their own rate of reproduction.”-SteveIn fact, in pre-Columbian Amerika estimates are that there were 200M people living here. What killed them off was not a low reproduction rate, it was disease brought over by the first Europeans, smallpox, typhus etc. The Calvary did cleanup on the last few survivors of the epidemics.Once again, in the end Europeans did not come to live like Plains Indians, rather the few left came to live like Europeans, or else trapped in poverty on reservations by the Europeans. Did farmers forsce those folks onto reservations? No, the cavalry did that. That’s how come the farmers had land to farm on, the cavalry marched all the remaining prior residents off the land!Your claims completely contradict history, and merely reflect a philosophical outlook you have that military action is never productive, just destructive. Which in aggregate is true, but for the winners in a war its productive if they capture more resources at the expense of the losers.The FSoA military looks powerful because it sports a lot of big hardware, the problem is the ability to bomb a country back to the stone age is not the same as being able to hold and control it. This requires a lot of surplus energy, and complicity of local elites. The military itself will collapse because if its dependence on so much energy to run it. However, on the way up the hill, it was a very successful paradigm for the winners. That’s why the whole world is industrialized, not because it was a fashion choice.RE
      1. steve from virginia Post author
        Your thesis is unsupportable: “but for the winners in a war its productive if they capture more resources at the expense of the losers.” How can they do that? The costs don’t vanish, they are shifted toward those who can bear them, which in this case would mean the winners. USA bore the costs of destroying Japan and Europe, USA bore the costs of reconstructing Japan and Europe afterward. The US could bear these costs because it was industrialized and could turn American oil into money, it possessed (the balance of the world’s) organic credit. It could also (falsely) depreciate the rest of the world’s losses. If any of the countries had bothered to calculate the costs in advance there would not have been the war in the first place.Wars = consequence of egotism of mad men who cloak their psychopathy with ‘policy’.The problem w/ European colonies was (and is) that they cost more than they returned even without any fighting. Add fighting the the costs/losses were greater. England had a great empire because it was industrialized and could turn domestic coal into money; it could do so because had organic credit and could afford to subsidize the costs of both coal- and colonies. UK did not have industry because of its dominions, neither did the Soviet Union. Gains were fleeting, empires unraveled as credit ran out (USSR) or fell short of meeting costs (British Empire). Ditto the Spanish enterprise in the West, as it became a backwater after Western gold and silver ran low.As for the rest, I simply don’t agree.:)
      2. Reverse Engineer
        Au contraire mon ami, it is your thesis which makes no CFS.After the French & Indian Wars, Did Britain have more or less resources? They pushed the French out, and got rid of most of the Indians. Formerly stuck on a few rocky islands off the coast of the Eurasian land mass, the Brits now had all the juicy land east of the Mississippi and the French got stuck with the Frozen North in Quebec.After WWI & WWII, did NATO have more or less Oil at it’s disposal? They won the wars, they got to milk Elsie the Cow there in Saudi Arbia for 70 years since.Now, the losers of course were worse off here, the Indians were dispossessed of their land, the French had all their war debts and a few pieces of marginal land for their trouble. Over in MENA after the big mechanized wars, with the exception of a few Sheiks and Puppet Dictators, the rest of the population was worse off.In both cases, the land and resources were worse off, as once under control of the Industrial Machine began to be overutilized and gradually sucked dry to depletion.However, the winners did good for themselves, the Brits got to leave the little islands they were stuck on and expand across the Frontier, and NATO got hold of MENA to keep another 70 years worth of Happy Motoring going here in the FSoA.Wars have become non-productive in the years since because there aren’t any good resources left to win/steal here. Theft however is very good Bizness as long as the person you steal from has lots of good stuff, and was very good to the people running the War Biz all the way up the hill here. Just read Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket.”” 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. …”

        Now, on balance here, this cost the Taxpayers a lot more than this, but the Taxpayers aren’t the ones running the show. War used to be a very profitable Bizness for the people running the show. Less so now as resources are depleted, but you still do have taxpayers footing the bill while the Industrialists take home the profits.

        As should be obvious, this is a Top Down run enterprise, and has been so for a long time, likely to the dawn of Agiculture. It’s not Fashion. It’s Will to Power.

        RE

      3. steve from virginia Post author
        Will to Power is a slogan, it is clearly fashionable even as it fails.Resources simply are, they are generally depleted, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Whoever manages a resources tends to deplete it. The wise do not deplete their resources but husband them instead. The wise understand that someone coming along later might ‘discover’ some important use for a resource other than to eat- burn- or simply shoot the resource and let it rot.North America had less resources after the English arrived not more (not considering what was wasted prior to of their arrival). After a century or more of pointless wars both the French and English were bankrupted. Your supposition is that one group possesses a monopoly on waste, which is incorrect. What determines outcomes within modernity is access to credit; at the same time, whatever credit is diverted toward war-making is lost. Marching up and down the road or blowing something up is not remunerative. It is simply waste. Winners in war cannot create resources they can only change custody from one waster to another. The gains of a ‘winner’ are always counterbalanced by the losses of the ‘loser’. In addition there are the direct costs of the war itself.It’s one thing for a blogger to carry on about how wonderful determinism is as well as its inherence, but sadly, too many actual policy makers fall into the power trap and embrace the same illogic … Bush and now Putin. Pursuit of power is why the world is bankrupt, why it’s poised at the edge of ecological ruin. Will to Power is a myth; it has to be otherwise ‘power’ would succeed; after 500+ years of modernity there would be some evidence of success somewhere, instead the record is accelerating failures and exhaustion.I am doing a terrible job of explaining my own fundamental premise.
      4. Reverse Engineer
        Note: Actually the French government lost Quebec to the English Crown also, but mostly French speakers populated Quebec, and still do. The English Crown also held onto Canada substantially longer than they held onto the colonies in the now Lower 48. As we all know, the American Revolution occurred shortly after the French & Indian Wars, and put the USA squarely in the pocket of the International Banking Cartel, courtesy of Alexander Hamilton.RE
      5. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, you are arguing against yourself. If the UK/USA ‘won’ than how does that square with an ‘international banking cartel’?You aren’t going Alex Jones on me are you?
      6. Reverse Engineer
        Fashion is a Slogan too Steve.I already stipulated that the NA continent was worse off after the Brits arrived, so also worse off were the French and the Mohicans. The Brits however were better off, they got more space to expand into.SOMEBODY makes a profit off War, otherwise it wouldn’t be engaged in. Smedley Butler made crystal clear who made a profit off his career as a Racketeer for Wall Street.These are the folks who run the show, not puppet politicians like Obama-sama and certainly not you the Voter. These are the people who are most grossly infected with the Will to Power, and it profits them immensely to pursue the Bizness of War. They determine what is fashionable, and then they sell it to you. You have no choice in the matter. If you won’t buy it, they’ll bomb you back to the stone age or blow you off the face of the earth.RE
      7. steve from virginia Post author
        Britain did not ‘expand’ into anything. Britain is an island, it did not get any larger by way of any war.North America’s population increased due to immigration … from France, Italy, eastern Europe, Ireland, Africa, China, Japan, India; there are also natives and descendants from natives. What made it happen was three-masted sailing ships, not war. Regular steamship service accelerated the flow. Today there is more immigration from Latin America. Mexico has not invaded the US nor are they conquering it.As it is, there are more Mexicans in the US than ever; with no fighting, no battles, no idiotic ‘will to power’; only a willingness of millions to labor as near-slaves at the fringes of the US society. The prize is the slim chance … at better lives.Many if not most of the 17 – 20th century immigrants were escapees from the wars; exiles not victors. Immigrants did not win anything but their lives. What happened afterward had nothing to do with Britain’s or any other country’s ‘conquest’, certainly the British did not fight its wars in the West to gain better lives for those whom it considered as ‘trash’. Irish did not conquer Boston any more than Italians conquered Brooklyn or Polish Jews conquered Chicago. African-Americans certainly did not conquer anything and nobody conquered America in their name.British citizens have never been better off after any war, the costs of managing Britain’s silly empire were extracted from the citizens themselves … not immediately but as the debts became due-and-payable, from children and grand-children. Empire was an attempt to find 3d parties upon whom the costs of British borrowing could be shifted. How can a British citizen shoulder costs in a faraway place better than his- or her home? The citizen is the same regardless of place … or else they aren’t citizens at all! The non-British have slender means to carry any burdens, much less the debt burdens of industrial countries. How can a peasant farmer or porter retire or even service the debts incurred by a country such as England? The idea is absurd.I’ve been writing about this sort of thing for five years! Don’t you read any of it?Britain would have done better to trade (at lower cost) with natives rather than engage in wars with its European neighbors overseas. Britain’s massive navy was not cost-free. Nor was its (much smaller) army. Costs don’t disappear regardless of who edits them. They can be put off (by way of borrowing) but the act of putting them off adds to them: credit has its own very large costs.A warring nation cannot gain a free lunch. The ‘counterparty’ loses the lunch and that loss is registered against the winner’s gains. As such, there cannot possibly be a winner. It is physically impossible. There is only one planet, this is it, there are no other places against which the losses can be tallied.Fashion = appearance. You can call it a slogan but this is simply not true. We act on appearances as a component of natural selection, our desires and prejudices are geared toward them.Yes, there is war, yes there is determinism but as a fashion that has certainly outlived its usefulness.

      8. Reverse Engineer
        I read it Steve, I just don’t buy your reasoning on this stuff.We speak English in the US, Steve, not German, not French and certainly not Lakota, Navajo or Tlingit. As a result of WAR, not “Fashion”, the Industrial Culture was disseminated across the Earth.Similarly, Agriculture overran hunter-gatherer by virtue of War, not because hunter-gatherer thought agricultural living was more Fashionable.That this is overall destructive is quite obvious, however as mentioned by Smedley Butler who you completely ignore here, a few people who run this show profit enormously from it. Accessing the stored thermodynamic energy of fossil fuels enabled this bunch of folks to gain hegemony over the entire earth, and transform it into a waste producing industrial machine, via the War process.Such are the outcomes of the Will to Power.RE
      9. steve from virginia Post author
        RE:“I just don’t buy your reasoning on this stuff.”You don’t have to buy anything. I can’t make you understand, I can’t teach you anything. You can learn or not learn, that’s all there is to it.It is clear that if people don’t abandon the deterministic ‘will to power’ myth there will be unendurable consequences.
      10. Reverse Engineer
        You don’t have to buy anything. I can’t make you understand, I can’t teach you anything. You can learn or not learn, it is all the same to me.“Buy” is idiomatic in this usage, the idea is your ideas don’t make CFS to me so they don’t sell. Some folks have CFS, others do not. No argument I make, no speech from Smedley Butler will change your opinion, so we remain on opposite sides of the fence on this.It is clear that if people don’t abandon the deterministic ‘will to power’ myth there will be unendurable consequences.On that we most certainly agree.RE
      11. steve from virginia Post author
        RE, ‘buy’ is your idiom, not mine. Look at your preceding comment.If you adhere to a bankrupt ideology then anything outside of it will not make any sense, it will be incongruent. That is a failure indicator right there.As far as Butler goes, he earned the right to his own opinion but it is only one among many.I have seen the world’s most powerful military lose war after war at stupendous cost … lost to farmers, taxi drivers and plumbers’ helpers. And yet I have not lived long enough to see the United States win a war, that last, almost forgotten ‘victory’ ultimately being Pyrrhic. I’ve seen the other great military powers endure the same outcomes (USSR, Israel, China), the great empires collapsed (UK, USSR); the wannabe- or false empires ruined (France, South Africa, UAR, Russia now); the impulse to empire is exposed as nonsense as is the impulse to industrialize (Argentina).War is an activity like golf. Like golf, some people enjoy it but humans are not genetically predisposed to play golf. There is nothing innate in nature that compels one form or life to wantonly kill or wipe out other forms; to eat some of them, yes. Nature has learned over millions of years that eating all of one’s food supply ends badly for the killer. This is also true of humans. We are not genetically predisposed to be exterminators, or even predators; we aren’t strong enough, fast enough, we lack the ‘basic equipment’; not just teeth and claws but also the fundamental absence of fear that is possessed by other ‘real’ predators. Long ago we trained ourselves to be lions, but we did so imperfectly. We invented myths to keep us from running away when the large animals we wanted to eat turned to defend themselves.Humans don’t hunt and kill animals to survive any more, we grow animals on farms, they are killed by Mexicans working in factories owned by Chinese. Neither the Mexicans nor the Chinese have conquered anyone, they’ve made business deals. The closest most people come to our food-animals is safely within plastic wrap @ the supermarket. Nature takes the form of immaculate green lawns and our pets, ‘wild’ gathers at the bird-feeder or as cockroaches on the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, we recycle the obsolete myths that have long-since outgrown their usefulness, the myths that instruct us that we have an innate, biological urge to dominate everything else. We don’t. There is no economic necessity to it either. If you have been reading over here for more than fifteen minutes the major thesis is that the primary activity of our economy is to thoughtlessly consume resources and borrow to do so, this is another learned process, not innate. It is safe to say that no animal other than human acts to dominate everything; it is limits — not ambition — that is a genetic predisposition. Within this context, we aren’t heroes, we’re failures.Observable reality would bear this out. The fact that there is life on this planet at all is evidence that there is no such thing as ‘will to power’. It is a crazy idea by a minor German philosopher then plastic wrapped by another insane German philosopher. There is no evidence it exists anywhere but in the minds of these two as well as impressionable teenagers.Your argument tends to suggest a one-way dynamic: conquerors and victims. This false. There are would-be conquerors and those who successfully resist them. There is so little difference between the groups that the outcomes are a matter of random chance. Most attempts at conquest fail outright at stupendous cost, the small remainder succeed only until the conqueror is buried under accumulated costs associated with his victories … this leading to either defeat- or ruin over time. What leads to ‘success’ are non-military endeavors: improved agriculture and water management, less-costly distribution of information; emigration and the moderating impulse of religion.The efforts of the the great military powers of the past have experienced the same frustrations as current powers: partial, costly victories at best … more costly defeats that are rationalized away with slogans, ‘We’ll get ‘em next time’.The ‘next time’ always starts with a lie. Whatever you are trying to build on the lie RE, you are building on sand.

        Reverse Engineer
        OK, I can’t leave it alone. LOL.“Observable reality would bear this out. The fact that there is life on this planet at all is evidence that there is no such thing as ‘will to power’. It is a crazy idea by a minor German philosopher then plastic wrapped by another insane German philosopher. There is no evidence it exists anywhere but in the minds of these two as well as impressionable teenagers. ”“Observable Reality” is that there are ongoing Wars all over the world, and SOMEBODY is supplying them with Weaponry. For the people who do that supplying, this Bizness turns a terrific profit for them. Do any Nation-States profit from this? No, they all get to foot the bills for these Wars, while a small number of people collect immense profits from them.To the Robber Barons of the 19th Century, it made economic sense for THEM to have the land cleared of Natives and string Railroad tracks and Telegraph Wires all over the country, not to mention electrify it. You yourself have noted how well John D. Rockefeller did by finding ways to waste the oil he got control of through Standard Oil.For the rest of us, we got stuck with the bills come due on Rockefeller’s Will to Power. Not to mention Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and numerous others so infected.Japan was forcibly openned to trade by Matthew Perry’s Gunboats. The resources of MENA were accessed by virtue of force applied since WWII just about non-stop. Populations generally have not willingly accepted the destruction and rape of their environment, but by application of military force and coopting the Elite of all these neighborhoods into the game, Industrialization managed to overrun the entire world.

        If you want to, you can look at the expansion of Militarism over the Millenia as a growing Cancer, but it is very effective in doing what it is designed to do, which is dispense death and consume resources. It has also made a few people richer than God, and these folks run the political show through control of the monetary system. They issue the War Bonds. They buy the Politicians. You pay the bills.

        RE

 

So which is it Diners?  What has been the driving force sending Homo Sapiens down the Road to Ruin?  Is it FASHION, or a WILL TO POWER?

RE

Ukrainian Crisis Was Always About Containing Russia

Off the keyboard of Anthony Cartalucci

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Published on Land Destroyer on May 1, 2014

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Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

A secret no more, NATO’s continued existence is hegemonic in nature – its meddling in Ukraine an act of war against Russia.

Image: NATO expands. Who is the aggressor? 

May 1, 2014 (Tony Cartalucci – LD) – To careful and honest observers of the events unfolding in Ukraine, it was clear from the beginning that the US and EU through NATO were creating unrest in an attempt to foster regime change in Kiev. They had done so already, admittedly according to the Guardian which would admit in its 2004 article, “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” that:

…while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes. 
Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

The Western media has attempted to sidestep this inconvenient chapter in history and paper over what is an overt repeat of the so-called “Orange Revolution” but with the addition of snipers and mystery gunmen sowing violence alongside battalions of literal Neo-Nazi militants, armed and clamoring to back Ukraine’s integration into the EU and eventually NATO.

The constitution of the opposition that has since seized power and is occupying the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev, is a mixture of bigots, racists, Neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites – all bent in eager capitulation to Western interests including the IMF’s desire to impose crippling austerity upon the population. It was no surprise then that the majority of Ukraine’s diverse population, which includes Russian-speakers, Jews, and other minorities, quickly rose up against the unelected regime. Despite the West’s best attempts to bolster the legitimacy of the regime, including visits from both the US Vice President himself and the CIA director, the uprisings have spread and intensified.

Image: Armored vehicles deployed by the regime occupying Kiev are part of an ongoing campaign to put down multiplying uprising across the south and east of Ukraine. Almost immediately much of Ukraine’s Russian speaking communities turned on the unelected regime in Kiev, with more likely to join them as mismanagement, incompetence, and foreign influence further mire the country in socioeconomic turmoil. 

Attempts by the Western media to parade out in front of the global public, token “Jews,” claiming they wholly support the Neo-Nazi regime illegally occupying their nation’s capital is undermined by reports from Ukraine’s last round of actual elections in 2010. The Jewish Week reported then in an article titled, “Change For Ukraine, But Likely Not For Jews,” that:

In a country where anxieties about anti-Semitism are never far from the surface, Viktor Yanukovich’s victory in Ukraine’s presidential election is being welcomed with caution by Ukrainian Jews. 

Yanukovich, who has close ties to the Kremlin, replaces Viktor Yushchenko, his West-leaning rival who won five years ago in a second runoff election between the candidates. Widespread protests claiming fraud in favor of Yanukovich in the original runoff spurred the rematch. The pro-democracy protests became known as the Orange Revolution.

As mentioned, the “Orange Revolution” was admittedly US-orchestrated, and yielded what Ukrainian Jews called “a rise in nationalism” which they claim is always “accompanied with the rise of anti-Semitism.”

Of course, President Yanukovich has been run out of power by literal Neo-Nazis. One must wonder what has changed across Ukraine’s Jewish communities that now make such a violent and abrupt transition suddenly “ok.” The answer of course is that Ukraine’s Jews are terrified, their voice simply drowned out by Western propaganda like the Guardian’s “Russia’s propaganda war is a danger for Ukraine’s Jews.” In it, Timothy Snyder claims:

The current Ukrainian government, we were told, was composed of antisemites, fascists, and Nazis. Russian intervention was required, went the argument, to rescue the Jews of Ukraine. 

This version was peddled to the west, where it had some effect, but interestingly it failed entirely in Ukraine itself. Putin seems to have believed that Jewish people in Ukraine would identify with Russia, especially in times of threat. This was one of his many mistakes. 

Ukrainian Jews, especially those from the major communities of Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, made clear to me that they had no desire to be protected by Russia. Jews in Ukraine understand Russia far better than anyone in the west Jewish or otherwise.

“Made it clear to me…” Of course Snyder cites no organizations or leaders who told him anything, made no direct quotes nor linked to any official statement from any representative body among Ukraine’s Jews. We are to believe Snyder’s claims, apparently, because he says so.

This pattern is repeated across the Western media, except curiously enough, in the BBC which actually interviewed the Nazis Snyder claims are the creations of Russian propaganda. Not only did the BBC prove the existence of Neo-Nazis running rampant across Kiev, but proved that they were very much armed and had run their political opposition out of the capital quite literally. One interview takes place in Ukraine’s Communist Party headquarters now defaced with Nazi slogans and symbolism and occupied by the armed Neo-Nazi militants themselves.

Thus, despite the best efforts of the West’s media and politicians to claim the Nazi militants they used to overrun Kiev are creations of Russian propaganda, the truth exists in plain sight. The inability of the West to check Russia’s counterstrokes in Crimea and eastern Ukraine is precisely due to the fact that neither the people of the East nor the West believe what Washington, London, or Brussels are saying.

NATO, Nazis, and the “Expansion of Europe” 

Image: Atlantic Council’s corporate members. 

So what is NATO doing with Nazi militants in Ukraine? The same thing Adolf Hitler was doing – establishing “breathing room.” While the West attempts publicly to portray the crisis in Ukraine as Europe reacting to Russian aggression, behind semi-closed doors they are very open about their agenda in Ukraine and elsewhere along Russia’s peripheries – it is and always was about the expansion of Europe and the containment of Russia.

Recently the corporate-funded NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council, celebrated what it called, “anniversaries of crucial importance to the transatlantic community, including the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 15th anniversary of NATO’s first post-Cold War enlargement, and the 10th anniversary of the “big bang” enlargements of both the European Union and NATO.” These “enlargements” all took place after the fall of the Cold War – in other words, after NATO’s mandate for existing expired. Yet the alliance continued to grow, and not only did it grow, in tandem with the European Union, it did so directly toward Moscow’s doorstep with every intention of eventually absorbing Russia as well.

In fact, many of the same organizations standing behind the unelected regime in Kiev, have been directing unrest within Russia as well. And in turn, Russian opposition leaders backed by Western-cash and diplomatic support have vocally supported the regime in Kiev.

In reality, what we have witnessed over the past several months is not “Russian aggression,” but the premeditated destabilization and overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine, and a resulting, and continuously escalating confrontation with Russia as Moscow reacts to the reappearance of Nazis along its borders, backed by NATO and the EU.

Debunking the Gutting of the Military Storyline

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on March 29, 2014

129-0117084051-GeneralSmedleyButler

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“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.” – General Smedley Butler – War is a Racket

I peruse a number of websites everyday as I look for interesting articles to post or reference in one of my articles. I agree with many conservative leaning websites when it comes to economic issues, but when it comes to war mongering and flag waving, I go my own way. Any site that supports our empire building and excessive spending on war is not a conservative website. You can’t act in a fiscally responsible sustainable manner without dismantling our war machine and taking on the military industrial complex. You’re a faux fiscal conservative if you think we can continue to spend $800 billion per year on war with no financial implications. The entire Federal budget was $800 billion in 1983.

The latest storyline being propagandized by Mad Dog McCain and his band of merry neo-cons is that Obama’s latest defense budget will gut our military and make us susceptible to attack from all of our enemies. The mainstream media mouthpieces like Fox News repeat these boldfaced lies without seeking facts or real data. The power of the military industrial complex is dangerous to our citizens. They have bought off Republicans and Democrats in Congress and they control journalists who get paid to write scary articles about the horrific budget cuts and danger to our nation. It’s all lies. Spineless corrupt politicians like Bush and Obama do and say whatever is necessary to win the most votes. Statesmen like Dwight D. Eisenhower stood up to the military industrial complex and their bought off lackeys in Congress.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Statesmen are like bald eagles around here – almost extinct.

The United States spends more per year on war than the next thirteen countries combined. That imminent attack by the Iranian navy may be overblown. Our generals blather about the threat from China, that spends 18% of our budget, and threat from Russia, that spends 7% of our budget. The mainstream media articles and fear mongering drivel from our corrupt bought off politicians are nothing but propaganda designed to keep the billions flowing to the arms peddlers like Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, and the rest of the dealers of death. Politicians who have been bribed with decades of “political contributions” won’t even vote to get rid of weapons programs the military no longer wants.

It’s interesting how politicians are able to tell citizens they are only spending $520 billion per year on war when the true figure is $820 billion. Obama’s FY15 budget says we are going to spend $520 billion. He conveniently leaves out the cost of ongoing wars and the cost of past wars. We are still spending over $100 billion per year on our ongoing wars in Afghanistan, occupation in Iraq, and provocations in Libya and Syria. We are also providing military support of $50 billion to Egypt, Israel and dozens of other countries around the globe. Lastly, we spend over $150 billion per year on veterans of past wars. Our beloved leaders move that expense to another line item in the budget and pretend it is not a cost of war. The American people have short attention spans and once our wars of choice aren’t on the nightly news anymore they think it’s over. Tell that to the families of the 7,100 dead soldiers killed in our Middle East invasions, along with the 50,000 badly wounded servicemen, and the thousands more mentally damaged by the ordeal.  The cost of war goes on forever. Government obfuscation does not fool anyone with critical thinking skills.

The dogs of war – McCain and Graham,  along with hundreds of other war mongering pricks in Congress claim Obama is some pacifist attempting to dismantle our beloved military. These traitors of truth evidently can’t understand math or charts. Bush’s last war budget was $731 billion. The Iraq war has ceased and Obama is still spending $820 billion per year on war. Does it sound like the military is being gutted? Are we more in danger of being attacked by another country today than we were in 1999? That is the question that should be asked. They call it the DEFENSE budget because it is supposed to be used to defend us from attack, not to bully countries throughout the world and attack sovereign countries who are no threat to our security. Isn’t it convenient that the U.S. provoked overthrow of the democratically elected government of the Ukraine has initiated a new media created “Cold War”?

The country was sufficiently defended with a war budget of $333 billion in 1999. No one invaded us or threatened to invade. The Cold War was long over. The military industrial complex needed a 9/11 to revitalize their profits. The neo-con/military industrial complex created War on Terror has opened the door to never ending wars of choice around the world with no consent or approval from the people. War spending grew to $879 billion by 2011, a 164% increase in 13 years. Over this same time frame GDP grew by 74%. Does this sound like the military has been short changed? The fear mongering neo-cons and conservative websites are nothing but nattering nabobs of nonsense. Even the hint of slowing in spending on our empire building creates an urgency for a new evil enemy. Is it a coincidence that Vlad Putin has now emerged as an existential threat to our freedom and liberty according to the den of vipers in Congress, the military industrial complex, and the corporate media mouthpieces?

Even the dreaded sequester would have done nothing but slowed the rate of growth in war spending. You have to understand that a Federal government spending “cut” isn’t really a cut. It means the increase in spending you anticipated will be slightly lower. Of course, the one party system in Washington DC compromised and eliminated the sequester “cuts”. Those politicians need those “political contributions” to get re-elected in 2014. Defense spending will be far higher over the next decade, not including the inevitable wars of choice we are led into by our noble leaders. Putin must be stopped. Assad must be stopped. Iran must be stopped. China must be stopped. The world policeman must do his job and bankrupt the empire. War is highly profitable for peddlers of debt, corporate dealers of death, and the politicians getting bribed by Wall Street and the military industrial complex. The peasants who are sent off to die are nothing but cannon fodder for the power brokers of death, destruction and debt.

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The war mongers will continue to use propaganda and misinformation to convince you we are in danger if the war budget is cut by 2%. The truth is that we need to cut the military by 50%, stop trying to operate a world empire, and withdrawal our troops from Germany, Japan, and the dozens of other countries around the globe. We need to stop handing billions of dollars we don’t have to Israel, Egypt and dozens of other countries so they can buy arms from our arms dealers. We are the cause of all the war and violence in this world. The job of our military is to protect our borders, not to police the world. Hubris, arrogance, and overreach, financed by central bank created debt, is how empires die.

“As many frustrated Americans who have joined the Tea Party realize, we cannot stand against big government at home while supporting it abroad. We cannot talk about fiscal responsibility while spending trillions on occupying and bullying the rest of the world. We cannot talk about the budget deficit and spiraling domestic spending without looking at the costs of maintaining an American empire of more than 700 military bases in more than 120 foreign countries. We cannot pat ourselves on the back for cutting a few thousand dollars from a nature preserve or an inner-city swimming pool at home while turning a blind eye to a Pentagon budget that nearly equals those of the rest of the world combined.”Ron Paul

Understand where they are spending your money:

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_20XXUSbn_XXbs2n_3031_051

How to Lose an Empire

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Extracted on March 23, 2014

Image from an advertising campaign for Pirelli in the 1990s.

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Power is nothing without control

Empires seem to be a typical human structure that reappears over and over in history. The problem is that empires are often so efficient that they tend to overexploit and destroy even theoretically renewable resources. The final result is a destructive cascade of feedbacks: not only the empire gradually runs out of resources, but it also runs out of the capability of controlling them; with the two effects reinforcing each other. Power is nothing without control. And, usually, control seems to run out before power.

In practice, empires in trouble tend to fragment into independent blocks or statelets before actually disappearing as economic systems. It is the result of the increasing costs of control, which are not matched any more by the diminishing flux of natural resources. We have seen this phenomenon in recent times with the fragmentation and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. We may be seeing it today with the modern worldwide empire we call “Globalization.” The recent events in Ukraine seem to show that the system, indeed, has troubles in controlling its periphery and may soon fragment into independent blocks.

Of course, it is still too early to say whether what we are seeing today in Ukraine is just a bump in the road or a symptom of impending systemic collapse. As usual, however, history may be a guide to understand what lies ahead. In the following post, I examine the collapse of the Roman empire in light of considerations based on control and resources. It turns out that, even for the ancient Romans, power was nothing without control.

Peak gold: how the Romans lost their Empire

by Ugo Bardi

 

A Roman “Aureus” minted by Emperor Septimius Severus in 193 CE. At nearly 8 grams, the Aureus was truly an imperial coin – the embodiment of Rome’s wealth and power. (image from Wikipedia).
In this post, I argue that precious metal currency was a fundamental factor that kept together the Roman empire and gave to the Romans their military power. But the Roman mines producing gold and silver peaked in the first century CE and the Romans gradually lost the capability of controlling their resources. In a way, they were doomed by “peak gold.”

When I heard for the first time that the Roman Empire fell because of the depletion of its silver and gold mines, I was skeptical. Compared to our situation, where we are facing the depletion of fossil fuels, the Roman case seemed to me to be completely different. Gold and silver don’t produce energy, they don’t produce anything useful. So, why should the Roman Empire have fallen because of something we might call “peak gold”?

And yet, as I delved into the matter, I noticed how evident was the correlation of declining gold and silver availability with the decline of the Roman Empire. We have scant data on the production of Roman mines, mainly located in Spain, but it is commonly believed that production peaked at some moment during the first century CE (or perhaps early 2nd century CE). Afterwards, it rapidly dwindled to nearly nothing, even though gold mining never completely stopped (1).

As you can see in the figure, the loss of precious metal production was reflected in the silver content of the Roman currency. The Romans didn’t have the technology needed to print paper bills, so they just debased their silver currency, the “denarius,” by increasing its copper content. By mid 3rd century, the denarius was nearly  pure copper: “fiat money” if there ever was one. During that  period, gold coins were not debased, but they basically disappeared from circulation. (graph above from Joseph Tainter (2)).

As I argued in a previous post, the progressively dearth of precious metals  correlates well with the various events that took place during the declining phase of the empire and with its eventual disappearance. Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation but, here, the correlation is so strong that you can’t think it is just a question of chance. With time, it appeared clear to me that there were also clear links between several factors in the collapse of the Empire.

In general, complex systems tend to fall in a complex manner and the Roman Empire did not simply fall because of the lack of its primary energy source which, at that time, was agriculture. Energy (and power) is useless without control and for the Romans controlling the energy generated by agriculture requires capital investments for troops and bureaucracy. Both were affected by the decline of the production of precious metals. In time, the reduced military effectiveness of the empire disrupted the ability of controlling the agricultural system. That condemned the Empire to collapse.

This is a hugely complex story that can’t possibly be exhausted with a mere blog post. Nevertheless, the problem is very general and it can be condensed in a single sentence: “power is nothing without control” So, I believe it is possible to lay down in a relatively short space the main elements of the interplay between gold, military power, and food in Roman times. Let me try.

– The Romans and gold

Ultimately, what creates and keeps together empires is military force. The Roman Empire was so large and so successful because it was, possibly, the mightiest military force of ancient times. The Romans had been so successful at that not because of special military innovations. The recipe for their success was simple: they paid their fighters with precious metal currency. The combined technology of gold mining and coin minting had allowed the Romans to create one of the first standing armies in history. Still today, we call our enlisted men “soldiers”, a term that comes from the Roman word “Solidus;” the name of the late empire gold coin.

Not only money could create a standing army, it could also swell it to large sizes. Enlisting in the legions – the backbone of the army – was reserved to Roman citizens, but anyone could enlist in the “auxilia“, “auxiliary” troops. In the figure, you see Roman auxilia (recognizable by their round shields) presenting the severed heads of Dacians to Emperor Trajan during the Dacian campaign of the 2nd century CE. Normally, Romans were not supposed to cut off enemies’ heads, it was seen as uncivilized, but the auxilia were notoriously a little unruly (note how the Emperor, on the left, looks perplexed). But, by the time of the Dacian wars, the auxilia had become a fundamental part of the Roman army and they were to remain so for the remaining lifetime of the Empire.

Gold and silver were essential elements in the hiring of troops for the Romans and that was especially true for foreign ones. Put yourself in the caligae (sandals) of a German fighter. Why should you put your framea (lance) in the service of Rome if not because you were paid? And you wanted to be paid in serious money; copper coins would not do. You wanted gold and silver currency that you knew could be redeemed anywhere in Europe and especially in that gigantic emporium of all sorts of luxury goods that was the city of Rome, the largest of the ancient world. And, by the way, where did these luxury items come from? Mostly, were imported. Silk, ivory, pearls, spices, incense, and much more came from India and China. Importing these items was not just an extravagant hobby for the Roman elite, it was a tangible manifestation of the power and of the wealth of the empire; something that was an important factor in convincing people to enlist in the auxilia. But the Chinese wouldn’t send silk to Rome in exchange for worthless copper coins – they wanted gold and they obtained it. Then, that gold was lost forever for the Empire which, basically, could produce only two things: grain and troops, neither of which could be exported at long distances.

This situation explains the gradual military decline of the Roman empire. With the decline of the precious metal mines, it became more and more difficult for emperors to recruit troops. The lack of a strong central power caused the empire to become engulfed in civil wars; with the army mainly engaged in fighting chunks of itself and the empire splitting in two parts: the Eastern and the Western. During this phase, the number of troops was not reduced, but their quality strongly declined. After the military reform by Emperor Diocletian during the third century CE, the Roman army was formed mainly of limitanei; not really an army but a border police unable to stop any serious attempt on the part of foreigners to puncture the borders. To keep the empire together, Emperors relied on the “comitatenses” (also with other names) mobile crack troops which would plug (or try to plug) the holes in the border as soon as they formed.

The combination of limitanei and comitatenses worked in keeping the barbarian out of the Empire for a while. But the hemorrhage of gold and silver continued. So, during the last decades the empire, the paradigmatic Roman troops were the “bucellarii” a term that means “biscuit eaters”. The name can be taken as implying that these troops fought for food. Of course that may not have been always true, but it is a clear indication of the dearth of money of the time. There are also reports of troops paid in pottery and in some cases with land – the latter use may have been a factor in creating the feudal system that replaced the Roman empire in Europe.

In a way, as we see, the Romans were doomed by their “peak gold” (and also “peak silver). By the loss of their precious metal supply, the Romans lost their ability of controlling their troops and as a result of their resources. And power is nothing without control.

But the Roman empire did not fall just because it was invaded by foreigners or because it split in multiple sectors. It experienced a systemic collapse that wasn’t just a military one: it involved the whole economy and the social and political systems as well. To understand the reasons of the collapse, we need to go more in depth in the way the Roman economic system worked.

– The Romans and energy

The energy of the Roman Empire came from agriculture; mainly in the form of grain. At the beginning of their history and for several centuries onward, it seems that the Romans had little or no problems in producing enough food for their population. That makes sense considering that in Roman times the population of Europe was less than one tenth of what it is today and hence there was plenty of free space for cultivations. Reports of food problems in the Empire appear only with the 1st century CE and truly disastrous famines appear only with the 5th century CE – when the Western Roman Empire was already in its terminal phase. “Peak food”, apparently, came much later, about 3-4 centuries later than “peak gold”.

The very existence of a “peak food” for the Roman empire is somewhat puzzling: agriculture is, in principle, a renewable technology that had been able to feed the Roman population for several centuries. During the last period of the empire, there is no evidence of a population increase; on the contrary, it is clear that it declined. So, why couldn’t agriculture produce enough food?

The problem is that producing food doesn’t just involve plowing some land and sowing crops. Agricultural yields depend on the vagaries of the weather and, more importantly, agriculture has the tendency of depleting the land of fertile soil as a result of erosion. To avoid this problem, the ancient had a number of strategies: one was nomadism. From Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico” we learn that, as late as in the 1st century BCE, European populations still practiced a nomadic life style. They would do that in order to find new, pristine land and planting crops in the rich soil that they could produce by slashing and burning trees. That was possible because continental Europe, at that time, was nearly empty of people and entire populations could move unimpeded.

The Romans, instead, were a sedentary population and they had the problem of soil depletion. As population grew, it became a larger and larger problem, especially in a mountainous region such as Italy (3). In addition, some urban centers – such as Rome – became so big that they were impossible to supply using just local resources. With the 1st century BCE, the situation led to the development of a sophisticated logistic system based on ships that carried grain to Rome from the African provinces, mainly Libya and Egypt. It was a major task for the technology of the time to ensure that the inhabitants of Rome would receive enough grain and just when they needed it. It required large ships, storage facilities and, more than all, a centralized bureaucracy that went under the name of “annona” (from the Latin world “annum“, year). So important it was this system, that Annona was turned into a full fledged Goddess by imperial propaganda (you can see her in the image above, on the back of a coin minted at the time of Emperor Nero – from Wikipedia). For us, turning bureaucracy into a divine entity may appear a bit farfetched but, perhaps, we are not so far away from that.

Despite its complexity, the Roman logistic grain system was successful in replacing the insufficient Italian production and it permitted to feed a city as large as Rome, whose population approached (and perhaps exceeded) one million inhabitants during the heydays of the empire. But it was not Rome alone which benefited from the annona and the system could create a relatively high population density concentrated along the shores of the Mediterranean sea. It was this higher population density that gave to the Romans a military edge over their Northern neighbors, the “barbarians”, whose population was limited by a lack of a similar logistic system.

But what actually moved grain from the shores of Africa to Rome? In part, it was the result of trade. For instance, grain shipping companies were in private hands and they were paid for their work. But grain itself didn’t move because of trade: the provinces shipped grain to Rome because they were forced to. They had to pay taxes to the central government and they could do so either in currency or in kind. It seems that grain producers paid usually in kind and Rome didn’t ship anything in return (except in terms of troops and bureaucrats). So, the whole operation was a bad deal for provinces but, as usual in empires, opting out was not allowed. When, in 66 CE, the Jews of Palestine decided that they didn’t want to pay taxes to Rome any more, their rebellion was crushed in blood and Jerusalem was sacked. In the end, it was military power that kept the system under control.

The Roman annona system may not have been fair, but it worked fine and for a long time: at least a few centuries. It seems that the African agricultural system was managed by the Romans with reasonable care and that it was possible to avoid soil erosion almost until the very end of the Western Empire. Note also that the annona system doesn’t seem to have been affected – in itself – by the debasing of the silver denarius. This is reasonable: grain producers had no choice; they couldn’t export their products at long distances and they had only one market: Rome and the other major cities of the empire.

But the system that fed the city of Rome appears to have rapidly declined and finally collapsed during the 5th century CE. We have some evidence (3) that it was in this period that erosion turned the North African shores from the Roman “grain belt” into the desert we see nowadays. Possibly, the disaster was unavoidable, but it is also true that warfare does a lot of damage to agriculture and this is surely true for the North African region, object of extensive warfare during the last period of the Roman Empire. More in general, the strain to the economic system generated by continuous warfare may have led producers to overexploit their resources, privileging short term gains to long term stability. Were it not for these events, it is likely that the agricultural productivity of the land could have been maintained for a much longer time. But that was not the case.

With the North African land rapidly turning into a desert, King Genseric of the Vandals (see his face on a “siliqua” coin in the figure), ruling the region, halted the shipping of grain to Rome in 455 CE, then proceeding to sack the city in the same year. That was the true end of Rome, whose population shrunk from at least a few hundred thousands to about 50,000. It was the end of an age and never again would the North African shores be exporters of food.

– The fall of the Roman empire

Complex systems tend to fall in a complex manner and several interlocked factors played a role together first in creating the Roman empire, then in destroying it. At the beginning, it was a technological innovation, coinage of precious metals, that led the Romans to develop a military might that allowed them to access a resource which would have been impossible to exploit otherwise: the North African agricultural land. But, as it is often the case, the exploitation mechanism was so efficient that eventually it destroyed itself. Lower productivity of the precious metal mines reduced the efficiency of the Roman military system and this, in turn, led to fragmentation and extensive warfare. The increasing needs of resources for war were an important factor in destroying the agricultural system whose collapse, in turn, put an end to the empire.

The dynamic interplay of the various elements involved in the growth and the fall of the empire can be seen in the figure below, from a previous essay of mine.  In the diagram, the source of energy is agriculture, but it is just an element of a complex system where various entities reinforce or dampen each other.

The diagram is patterned after the one originally created by Magne Myrtveit for our society described in the 1972 “Limits to Growth” study. This, as other studies of the same kind, provide a nice, aggregated view of the trajectory of an economic system which tends to overexploit the resources it used. As models, however, they are not completely satisfactory in the sense that they don’t include the question of control. It is a cost which needs to be paid and the gradually declining flow of resources makes it difficult. As a result, empires rarely collapse smoothly and as a whole, but rather tend to fragment and engage in internecine wars before actually disappearing. That was the destiny of the Roman Empire which experienced the general rule that power is nothing without control.

The Romans and us

It has always been fashionable to see the Roman Empire as a distant mirror of our civilization. And, indeed, we see that the points of contact are many. Just think of the sophisticated Roman logistic system: the navis oneraria which transported grain from Africa to Rome are the equivalent of our super-tankers transporting crude oil from the Middle East to Western countries. And think how China and India are playing today exactly the same role they were playing in the remote Roman times: they are manufacturing centers which are gradually soaking the wealth of the empire that we call, today, “globalization”.

This said, there is also an obvious difference. The Roman energy system was based on agriculture and hence it was theoretically renewable, at least until the Romans didn’t overexploit it. Our system is based on fossil fuels, which are obviously non renewable resources. Hence, we tend to be more worried about the depletion of our energy resources rather than that of gold and silver which – it seems – we could safely remove from our financial system without evident problems.

Still, there remains the fundamental problem that power is useless without control. The control system of the globalization empire works on similar principles as the older Roman one. It is based on a sophisticated financial system which, eventually, works because it is integrated with the military system. In the globalized army, soldiers, just like the Roman ones, want to be paid. And they want to be paid with a currency that they can redeem with goods and services somewhere. The dollar has, so far, played this role, but can it play it forever?

Eventually, everything that humans do is based on on some form of belief of what has value in this world. The Romans saw gold and silver as stores of value. For us, there is a belief that bits generated inside computers are stores of value – but we may be sorely disappointed – not that there will ever be a “peak bits” as long as there are computers around, but surely a major financial collapse would not just impoverish us, but most of all it would disrupt our capability of controlling the energy resources we need so desperately.

So, when oil pundits line up oil reserves as if each barrel were a soldier ready for battle, they tacitly assume that these reserves will available for use of the global empire. That’s not necessarily true. It depends on the degree of control that the empire will be able to exert on producers. That depends on the financial system which may well turn out to be the weak link of the chain. Without control, power is useless.

The Roman empire was lost when the financial system ceased to be able to control the military system. When the Romans lost their gold, everything was lost. In our case, it may well be that we will lose our ability to control the military system before we actually lose our ability to produce energy from fossil fuels. If the dollar loses its predominance in the world’s financial system, then producers may be tempted to keep their oil for themselves or, at least, not so enthusiastic any more in allowing the Empire to access it. What’s happening today in Ukraine may be a first symptom of the impending loss of global control.

1. “Mining in the Later Roman Empire”, J.C Edmondson, The Journal of Roman Studies, 79, 1989, 84, http://www.jstor.org/stable/301182
2. Tainter, Joseph A (2003. First published 1988), The Collapse of Complex Societies, New York & Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-38673-X,
3. “The Roman Empire: Fall of the West; Survival of the East”, James F Morgan, Bloomington 2012

The Anti-Empire Report #126

Off the Keyboard of William Blum

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KRAINE-CRISIS_505

Published originally in The Anti-Empire Report March 6, 2014

Ukraine

When it gets complicated and confusing, when you’re overwhelmed with too much information, changing daily; too many explanations, some contradictory … try putting it into some kind of context by stepping back and looking at the larger, long-term picture.

The United States strives for world domination, hegemony wherever possible, their main occupation for over a century, it’s what they do for a living. The United States, NATO and the European Union form The Holy Triumvirate. The Holy Triumvirate has subsidiaries, chiefly The International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, International Criminal Court … all help to keep in line those governments lacking the Holy Triumvirate Seal Of Approval: the IMF, WB, and WTO impose market fundamentalism, while foreign leaders who act too independent are threatened with being handed over to the ICC for heavy punishment, as the United States imposes sanctions on governments and their leaders as only the King of Sanctions can, lacking any sense of hypocrisy or irony.

And who threatens United States domination? Who can challenge The Holy Triumvirate’s hegemony? Only Russia and China, if they were as imperialistic as the Western powers. (No, the Soviet Union wasn’t imperialistic; that was self-defense; Eastern Europe was a highway twice used by the West to invade; tens of millions of Russians killed or wounded.)

Since the end of the Cold War the United States has been surrounding Russia, building one base after another, ceaselessly looking for new ones, including in Ukraine; one missile site after another, with Moscow in range; NATO has grabbed one former Soviet Republic after another. The White House, and the unquestioning American mainstream media, have assured us that such operations have nothing to do with Russia. And Russia has been told the same, much to Moscow’s continuous skepticism. “Look,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin about NATO some years ago, “is this is a military organization? Yes, it’s military. … Is it moving towards our border? It’s moving towards our border. Why?”

The Holy Triumvirate would love to rip Ukraine from the Moscow bosom, evict the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and establish a US military and/or NATO presence on Russia’s border. (In case you were wondering what prompted the Russian military action.) Kiev’s membership in the EU would then not be far off; after which the country could embrace the joys of neo-conservatism, receiving the benefits of the standard privatization-deregulation-austerity package and join Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain as an impoverished orphan of the family; but no price is too great to pay to for being part of glorious Europe and the West!

The Ukrainian insurgents and their Western-power supporters didn’t care who their Ukrainian allies were in carrying out their coup against President Viktor Yanukovych last month … thugs who set policemen on fire head to toe … all manner of extreme right-wingers, including Chechnyan Islamic militants  … a deputy of the ultra-right Svoboda Party, part of the new government, who threatens to rebuild Ukraine’s nukes in three to six months.  … the snipers firing on the protestors who apparently were not what they appeared to be – A bugged phone conversation between Urmas Paet, the Estonian foreign minister, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, reveals Paet saying: “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.”  … neo-Nazi protestors in Kiev who have openly denounced Jews, hoisting a banner honoring Stepan Bandera, the infamous Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on February 24 that Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman advised “Kiev’s Jews to leave the city and even the country.” Edward Dolinsky, head of an umbrella organization of Ukrainian Jews, described the situation for Ukrainian Jews as “dire” and requested Israel’s help.

All in all a questionable gang of allies for a dubious cause; reminiscent of the Kosovo Liberation Army thugs Washington put into power for an earlier regime change, and has kept in power since 1999.

The now-famous recorded phone conversation between top US State Department official Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to the Ukraine, wherein they discuss which Ukrainians would be to Washington’s liking in a new government, and which not, is an example of this regime-change mentality. Nuland’s choice, Arseniy Yatseniuk, emerged as interim prime minister.

The National Endowment for Democracy, an agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against states not in love with US foreign policy, is Washington’s foremost non-military tool for effecting regime change. The NED website lists 65 projects that it has supported financially in recent years in Ukraine.  The descriptions NED gives to the projects don’t reveal the fact that generally their programs impart the basic philosophy that working people and other citizens are best served under a system of free enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal government intervention in the economy, and opposition to socialism in any shape or form. A free-market economy is equated with democracy, reform, and growth; and the merits of foreign investment in their economy are emphasized.

The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, declared in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

NED, receives virtually all its financing from the US government ($5 billion in total since 1991  ), but it likes to refer to itself as an NGO (Non-governmental organization) because this helps to maintain a certain credibility abroad that an official US government agency might not have. But NGO is the wrong category. NED is a GO. Its long-time intervention in Ukraine is as supra-legal as the Russian military deployment there. Journalist Robert Parry has observed:

For NED and American neocons, Yanukovych’s electoral legitimacy lasted only as long as he accepted European demands for new “trade agreements” and stern economic “reforms” required by the International Monetary Fund. When Yanukovych was negotiating those pacts, he won praise, but when he judged the price too high for Ukraine and opted for a more generous deal from Russia, he immediately became a target for “regime change.”

Thus, we have to ask, as Mr. Putin asked – “Why?” Why has NED been funding 65 projects in one foreign country? Why were Washington officials grooming a replacement for President Yanukovych, legally and democratically elected in 2010, who, in the face of protests, moved elections up so he could have been voted out of office – not thrown out by a mob? Yanukovych made repeated important concessions, including amnesty for those arrested and offering, on January 25, to make two of his adversaries prime minister and deputy prime minister; all to no avail; key elements of the protestors, and those behind them, wanted their putsch.

Carl Gershman, president of NED, wrote last September that “Ukraine is the biggest prize”.  The man knows whereof he speaks. He has presided over NED since its beginning, overseeing the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004), the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon (2005), the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005), the Green Revolution in Iran (2009), and now Ukraine once again. It’s as if the Cold War never ended.

The current unbridled animosity of the American media toward Putin also reflects an old practice. The United States is so accustomed to world leaders holding their tongue and not voicing criticism of Washington’s policies appropriate to the criminality of those policies, that when a Vladimir Putin comes along and expresses even a relatively mild condemnation he is labeled Public Enemy Number One and his words are accordingly ridiculed or ignored.

On March 2 US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s “incredible act of aggression” in Ukraine (Crimea) and threatened economic sanctions. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.”

Iraq was in the 21st century. Senator John Kerry voted for it. Hypocrisy of this magnitude has to be respected.

POSTSCRIPT: Ukraine’s interim prime minister announced March 7 that he has invited the NATO Council to hold a meeting in Kiev over the recent developments in the country. “I invited the North Atlantic Council to visit Kiev and hold a meeting there,” Arseny Yatsenyuk said during a visit to Brussels, where he met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and EU officials. “We believe that it will strengthen our cooperation.”

Love among nations

by Viktor Dedaj, Paris, France

Washington’s response, or lack of it, has confirmed the authenticity of a YouTube clip of a leaked telephone conversation between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt that emerged February 6. In the call, posted by an anonymous Russian source, Nuland and Pyatt discuss installing a new, pro-US government that will incorporate the fascistic opposition which had been leading street protests against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Even though Washington’s campaign for regime-change had been coordinated with the European Union, in the phone conversation with Pyatt, Nuland attacks the EU for being insufficiently aggressive, saying at one point, “Fuck the EU.” The same source has provided us with the text of a subsequent conversation between the EU and the US.


EU:
 But you said you loved me!

US: (sigh) There you go again.

EU: I left everything behind for you. Democracy, market regulations, state-owned companies, social welfare, an independent foreign policy.

US: (lighting a cigarette): pffff… Nobody forced you.

EU: I could have been an international star, you know?

US: Yeah, yeah, blah, blah …

EU: The whole world had hope in me! Now it’s that slut, Latin America, who’s showing off with her crummy progressive policies.

US: Oh that one … She was a hotty. I must admit it was fun at the time. But it’s over (for the time being). Now, you’re my bitch.

EU: (sniffing): Seriously? You’re not joking?

US: You are, you’re my little bitch. Come here.

EU: Are you going to hit me?

US: What? Of course not! What’s wrong with you?

EU: Latin America … She says you’re arrogant, and violent. She says that you have no friends, only interests.

US: She’s crazy. Forget her. C’mon, come here my little bitch.

EU: Oh Sam … Sam …

A Question re: Syria

There have been numerous news stories about Syrian government bombing of its civilian areas, with reports of many dead, and photos and videos of heavily damaged buildings. The source of the stories I’ve come across, when it’s mentioned at all, is almost always some element of the “rebels”; i.e., those opposing the Syrian government.

In all these stories – Have you ever seen a photo or a video of a plane dropping bombs? Or of the bombs in the air? I’m not saying that the bombings have not taken place. I’m just wondering why there is no graphic evidence of them.

Dialogue with readers

Last month’s report evoked an unusually large number of critical responses, concerning two basic issues:

1) My questioning the widely-held belief that if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated he would have ended US military involvement in Vietnam. Those who wrote to me are convinced that in a second term as president, without the need to worry about re-election, the genuine liberal and man of peace residing inside JFK would have been free to blossom, and he would quickly have put an end to a war that he supposedly abhorred.

I had written in the report: “It appears that we’ll never know with any kind of certainty what would have happened if JFK had not been assassinated, but I still go by his Cold War record in concluding that US foreign policy would have continued along its imperial, anti-communist path.”

As I read letter after letter challenging this assertion, the thought occurred to me: This is just what we heard for four years concerning Barack Obama – In his second term the genuine liberal and man of peace would emerge; the Nobel Peace Laureate would show why he deserved the prize. Well, do I need to go into the awful details of the man’s second term, from drone assassinations to relentless persecution of whistleblowers who question his foreign policy?

2) I suggested a possible solution to the international problem of suicide bombers: Go to the very source. Flood selected Islamic societies with this message: “There is no heavenly reward for dying a martyr. There are no 72 beautiful virgins waiting to reward you for giving your life for jihad. No virgins at all. No sex at all.”

I was informed by reader after reader that the whole thing about virgins is a myth. That may very well be the case, but as I pointed out to them, I was using the story metaphorically, to describe killing and dying for a religious cause, then counterposing US military men killing and dying for a “religious” cause called patriotism, nationalism or American exceptionalism. Both “causes”, Islamic and American, need to be unlearned. That was my point. There’s no excuse for setting off a powerful bomb in a crowded restaurant nor for dropping a powerful bomb in a residential area.

In the land where happiness is guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence

President Obama and many other political and media figures have once again made discussion about the minimum wage a heated subject. Time for me to repeat something I wrote in 2007:

“Think raising the minimum wage is a good idea?”

“Think again.”

That was the message of a full-page advertisement that appeared in major newspapers in January. It was accompanied by statements of approval from the usual eminent suspects:

“The reason I object to the minimum wage is I think it destroys jobs, and I think the evidence on that, in my judgment, is overwhelming.” Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman

“The high rate of unemployment among teenagers, and especially black teenagers, is both a scandal and a serious source of social unrest. Yet it is largely a result of minimum wage laws.” Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist

Well, if raising the minimum wage can produce such negative consequences, then surely it is clear what we as an enlightened and humane people must do. We must lower the minimum wage. And thus enjoy less unemployment, less social unrest. Indeed, if we lower the minimum wage to zero, particularly for poor blacks … think of it! … No unemployment at all! Hardly any social unrest! In fact – dare I say it? – What if we did away with wages altogether?

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

Notes

  1. Guardian Weekly (London), June 27, 2001
  2. RT television (RT.com, Moscow/Washington, DC), March 1, 2014
  3. Deputy Mikhail Golovko, RT, March 1, 2014
  4. RT, March 5, 2014, “The EU’s Ukraine policy and moral bankruptcy”; the phone conversation is believed to have taken place February 26.
  5. NED 2012 Annual Report
  6. Washington Post, September 22, 1991
  7. Victoria Nuland, speaking at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, December 13, 2013
  8. Washington Post, September 26, 2013
  9. “Face the Nation”, CBS, March 2, 2014

 

 

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

 

 

Savagery for All

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  February 24, 2014
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     A glance through the annals of history tells us that the Golden Age of Ukraine occurred just as western Europe was emerging from its long, dark, post-Roman coma around the 10th and 11thcenturies, A.D. After that, it was a kind of polo field for sundry sweeping hordes of mounted hell-bringers: Tatars, Turks, Cossacks, Bulgars, Napoleon’s grand army. In modern times, its population was divided between allegiance to Russia or to the Germanic states of the west. The Russian soviet regime treated it very badly. As many Ukrainians starved to death under Stalin’s “terror famine” of 1932-1933 as Jews and others were killed later in Hitler’s death camps. Stalin went on to try and totally erase Ukraine’s ethnic identity.

     The Nazis wanted to go even further: to erase the Slavic population altogether so that the great fertile “breadbasket” of Ukraine could provide lebensraum for German colonizers. Stalin foolishly signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939 — had he not read Mein Kampf?  Less than two years later, Germany turned around and invaded Russia, using Ukraine as doormat and mud-room for a horrific struggle that left Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, a virtual ashtray, and 28,000 villages destroyed.

     Culture, as we know, is resilient. But given that history, one wonders what the current disposition of all these historical tides portends. The few thousand Americans not completely distracted by tweeting the content of their breakfasts or shooting naked selfies or texting behind the wheel — yea, even the gallant minority not mentally colonized by the slave-masters of Silicon Valley — must wonder what the heck happened in the streets of Kiev last week. Or, as Sir Mick Jagger famously said at the deadly Altamont Speedway festival, “Who’s fighting, and what for?” By the way, don’t count the editors of The New York Times among the aforementioned gallant minority of digital idiocy resisters. Today’s front page contained this rich nugget:

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s acting interior minister issued a warrant on Monday for the arrest of former President Viktor F. Yanukovych, accusing him of mass killing of civilian protesters in demonstrations last week…. Arsen Avakov, the acting official, made the announcement on his official Facebook page Monday.

     Perhaps there’s a trend in this: all government information around the world will henceforth be transmitted by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg will come to lead a New World Order of universal friendship. Remind me to send a friend request to Arsen Avakov and de-friend Victor F. Yanukovych.

     I suppose the geopolitical bottom-line in all this is that the Ukrainians must feel more comfortable tilting toward a de-Nazified Germany than submitting to the attentions of a de-sovietized Russia. Both would-be patrons are dangling money before a rather cash-strapped Ukraine, which is faced by bond interest payouts that it can’t possibly come up with, not to mention some scratch to just keep the streetcars running. (Forgive me for pointing out that Ukraine at least has streetcars, unlike the USA, which just has cars on streets.)

     Given the International Monetary Fund’s record as the West’s official loan shark, would a Ukraine government be wise to turn there for a handout? Meanwhile, is everybody pretending that the Ukraine is not crisscrossed by a great web of natural gas pipelines? And is it not obvious that the gas flows in one direction: from Russia to Europe. So, how exactly would it benefit western Europe if Ukraine got more cuddly with them? Russia could still shut down the gas valve at the source? If the Europeans had any common sense, you’d think they would just butt out of this struggle and quit dangling money and offers of friendship to a nation whose greatest potential is to be a perpetual battleground in yet another unnecessary dreadful conflict.

     Let’s hope the American government is just grandstanding in the background because we have less business in this feud than in the doings of Middle Earth. National Security Advisor Susan Rice was flogging ultimatums around on “Meet the Press” yesterday — some blather about right of the Ukrainian people “to fulfill their aspirations and be democratic and be part of Europe, which they choose to be.”

     If anything, the uprising in Kiev last week should remind us that Europe’s history is long and deep in bloodshed and that one particular Ukrainian politician who employs snipers to shoot through the hearts of his adversaries is not the only person or party across that broad region capable of reawakening the hell-bringers. There are quite a few other countries over there that could disintegrate politically in the months ahead, nations faced with insurmountable financial and economic troubles. The USA has enough problems of its own. Maybe it should tweet a message to itself.

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Can an Empire Fall Without Either an External or Internal Threat?

Off the keyboard of Sig Silber

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Published on Global Economic Intersection on November 30, 2013

fall-of-rome

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Random Thoughts from the High Desert

There have been many alarmist predictions recently. Some of those I have paid close attention to are by Scott Brown, Leap/Europe 2020 and John Hussman. These articles suggest that the U.S. and the World in general may be heading for really hard times.

Follow up:

The Raymond James piece by Scott Brown is pretty much the standard fare that the economy has not been performing very well and we may have become increasingly dependent on bubbles for what growth we have been achieving. This is pretty much a call for a War on Bubbles.

I am not very familiar with LEAP but their article is far more upsetting. They show a particularly interesting set of data:


Number of prisoners, engineers, nurses, secondary school teachers, etc., in the US.
Source : Huffington Post.

More prisoners than engineers! That is a dynamic economy – NOT. Much of the paper deals with the threats to the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. Along these lines and separate from the LEAP article we see that Russia has intimidated the Ukraine to be allied with Russia rather than the EU. We see surveys showing the citizens of Turkey are not very interested in joining the EU and some nations in the EU are not that interested in having Turkey join. We see Israel and Saudi Arabia potentially becoming more neutral rather than aligned with the U.S. Egypt has already taken steps to detach from the U.S. Empire. Clearly, U.S. foreign policy is in disarray.

And what about the economic condition of the U.S. Empire? Here one pays careful attention to what John Hussman has to say. Although his funds may have been a bit too timid about joining in on BubbleMania, he remains one of the most thoughtful financial analysts. I am hoping I have not gone too far in relying so heavily on one of his exhibits and other information in his article but since it is called an Open Letter to the FOMC (Federal Reserve Open Market Committee) I have to assume that John Hussman wants his position publicized.

Lets start with:

This shows the ratio of corporate profits to GDP. One might interpret this as a sign of business vitality. But then we take a look at the National Accounting relationships (works for international accounting also) which Hussman reminds us of.

Investment = Savings

Corporate Profits = (Investment – Foreign Savings) – Household Savings – Government Savings + Dividends

Investment = Household Savings + Government Savings + Corporate Savings + Foreign Savings (the inverse of the current account)

I will take exception to the first relationship as it is clearly true for the World but not necessarily true for an individual nation. Certainly investment can only come from production (including services) not consumed but instead “saved”.

But that which is “saved” may remain “saved” (for example gold bullion) or invested in another country or vice versa rather than “put to use”. And savings from a prior period can be consumed or invested in the current period. So it gets a bit complicated but, in the long run, investment can not exceed savings. So the savings rate of a nation becomes quite important. I do not believe we are seeing strong investment in the U.S. or sustainable household saving.

The next relationship is perhaps the more critical one. Not only is it stated here but Hussman provides empirical data to show that this relationship reduces to Corporate Profits being basically the inverse of the change in Household Savings and Government Savings. Thus, for all practical purposes, the extraordinary increase in Corporate Profits represents government spending and transfers from households to corporations.

Hussman does not actually come out and say it but corporate profits are way up because household income is down and people are depleting their savings or going into debt to jack up Corporate Profits. That is not sustainable.

One aspect of this is the revival of the trend of increasing home equity loans. One source suggests that $29 billion of home equity loans will need to begin paying off principal next year. This need to start paying off principal will rise to $73 billion in 2017.

On top of all that, we all know about the large increase in student loans with few jobs available to graduates.

So basically we have impoverished the Middle Class and turned the Lower Class into kept persons.

In Switzerland, voters voted a week ago on a proposal to cap executive salaries at twelve times the compensation of the average worker. It did not pass but the fact that it even got on a ballot indicates an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with Capitalism as it currently operates.

In essentially all the developed nations, demographics are putting a strain on the ability to fund social programs. And what are we to make of Larry Summers, the once presumed new Fed Chair, suggesting that the natural rate of interest may be as low as -3%? Can you spell “deflation”?

Bubbles and deflation do not go together. One can imagine that negative nominal interest rates, if that fantasy somehow became reality, might provide one more boost to asset bubbles since it is better to own a questionable asset than suffer a guaranteed loss by keeping money in your bank and being charged a stiff penalty for doing so. But deflation means declining wages and labor strife. There is a limit to how much household income can be transferred into corporate profits. Thus there is a limit to the strategy of creating asset bubbles. The discounted future earnings stream will not support inflated asset prices.

In some ways this appears to fit with Classical Marxist Theory as to what will eventually lead to the overthrow of Capitalism. But do we indeed have true Capitalism? To the extent businesses survive and prosper to a large extent based on their relationship with the government in power, this relationship seems to have evolved significantly. In my career which has involved working for the Bell System, IBM, and Kennecott Copper and being a consultant to a large number of businesses, the relationship to the Federal Government was far less symbiotic than what I see today. In many cases it is now essentially impossible to identify where government ends and big business begins.

It is difficult to lay these problems at the feet of any particular political party as this process has been going on for some time. But the recent acceleration of the extraction of the wealth of the middle class and essentially turning the lower class into wards of the State, has accelerated recently, especially in the U.S. Only seniors (due to social security) have bucked the trend. But you can be sure that one way or another, Corporate America or Government will find a way to gain access to their savings as well.

This looks to me like a negative feedback loop that creates a distinct risk of leading to a Worldwide Depression or a World War or both.

It is not a process that necessarily will come to a head over the next weeks or months and most likely will involve a series of mini-crises with actions taken that are claimed to be solutions but which will trigger either a worsening of the problems intended to be mitigated, or the creation of new problems, or both. Thus it is difficult to see how the situation can fundamentally improve. Think of it as a whirlpool which is sucking the world economy into depression.

To expand on the empirical relationships that Hussman has assessed in the scatter diagrams in his article, he detects a weak relationship between the inflation of stock prices and the employment rate. He calculates this as being at most a 1% decrease in unemployment for a 40 percent increase in the S&P 500. But however weak the wealth effect, it works in reverse as well. So pricking the stock market and other asset bubbles is likely to increase unemployment. Hussman sees the same sort of relationship between the Fed balance sheet and interest rates. Although he again sees only a weak relationship between increases and decreases in the Fed balance sheet and interest rates, we know that increases in interest rates negatively impact housing prices.

So, in this Federal Government / Big Business alignment, the only real planning function is the Fed and they are caught between a rock and a hard spot. This dilemma is not unique to the U.S. It is pretty much the situation worldwide but it is especially problematical for an Empire such as the U.S., since reserve currency status has value and is difficult to maintain if a nation is perceived to be in serious decline.

The worst case scenarios for how this situation will play out may indeed make the economic and geopolitical impacts of Climate Change seem like a secondary issue over the next twenty years and could definitely dramatically impact political and strategic relationships worldwide.

The Absurdity of Authenticity

Off the keyboard of Guy McPherson

Published on Nature Bats Last on September 14, 2013

happiness

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I’m often accused — or credited, depending on one’s perspective — of leading an authentic life. As nearly as I can tell, the accusation or accolade refers to the following definition from Merriam and Webster: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

Fundamentally, aren’t we all true to our personality, spirit, and character? How could we act otherwise, in the absence of multiple personalities? I have concluded that we’ve been captured by the culture in which we’re immersed. We are unable to escape without killing ourselves, yet the culture is killing us.

We’re six millennia into the culture of Abrahamic religions. We’re more than two millennia into western civilization and the six questions of Socrates: (1) What is good? (2) What is piety? (3) What is virtue? (4) What is courage? (5) What is moderation? (6) What is justice? Furthermore, every person reading these words is a product of an industrial civilization that depends upon expansive use of fossil fuels.
Is this the only way to live? Is this the best way to live? Do our hyper-connected, high-tech lives lead us along paths of excellence, in the spirit of Socrates?

This culture is steeped in patriarchy and depends upon violence for its continuation. Is it safe to assume this culture is the ultimate expression of our humanity? Is it safe to assume that this culture is the best we can do simply because this culture is the only one we have known? Is it safe to assume there is no other way beyond the hierarchical omnicide we’ve come to depend upon for money, water, food, and personal identity?

Questioning this culture and its underlying assumptions follows the model promoted and popularized by Socrates. Answering these questions requires one to step outside the normalcy bias and profound enculturation of the way we live. Asking challenging questions, much less answering them, requires enormous courage when the questions themselves refuse to validate, much less approve, this irredeemably corrupt system.

I do not claim to know the answers to these questions. I’m not certain they have answers independent of the person pondering them and his or her personal experiences. I nonetheless believe it is important to ask the questions and develop personal responses to them. As a result, I will tackle these and related questions in this chapter. For the most part, culture discourages us from asking, much less answering, most of these questions.

Questions, questions, and more questions

Throughout our lives, we spend considerable time seeking feedback from people and institutions, but the feedback we seek generally falls within a small subset of important issues. Furthermore, I question the wisdom of seeking validation, much less approval, within the realm of an irredeemably corrupt system.

Some of us seek to conduct meaningful lives. However, the universe imposes upon us a meaningless existence. There is no meaning beyond the meaning(s) we create. In attempting to create meaning, which often involves attempts to outrun our mortality, we generate distractions. We occasionally call them objectives, goals, or acts of service to others. And the result is our legacy.

Yet it’s too late to leave a better world for future generations of humans. The concept of leaving a legacy becomes moot when staring into the abyss of near-term human extinction. What, then, is the point? Are we, in the words of English poet Frances Cornford, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”?

As we seek feedback about the conduct of our lives, we simultaneously seek distractions. The distractions include the movies we watch, the books we read, the trips we take, the discussions in which we engage. The line blurs between distractions and authentic work until we are defined by the combination. The totality becomes who we are. The nature of our distractions is what makes us human, in the sense of differentiating us from other primates. Non-human primates don’t read books, much less discuss them. Such distractions do not enable our survival and in that sense are not “necessities” (cf. food, water, shelter). However, they are not necessarily “luxuries,” either. Apparently there are shades of existential gray.

Shades of gray

Shades of existential gray are evident in our pursuit of meaningful lives. How do we differentiate between necessity and luxury? How do we distinguish what we want from what we need? And are these distinctions important?

When I began the ongoing process of walking away from the omnicide of industrial civilization, I felt I had no choice. My inner voice overrode outer culture. I have subsequently come to realize that most people born into this set of living arrangements are literally and figuratively incapable of making a similar choice. Distinguishing between needs and wants, between necessity and luxury, is hardly clear.

Occasionally we turn to wise elders in our attempts infuse our lives with meaning. Kurt Vonnegut often wrote, in response to the question about meaning, that we’re here to fart around. His son Mark, between the loony bin and Harvard Medical School, responded to the question, “Why are we here?” with the following comment: “We are here to help each other through this, whatever this is.”

I love Mark Vonnegut’s response, but it fails to acknowledge that service to others is important and it’s a trap. Service to others is no longer virtuous when the entrapment includes self-inflicted harm (including emotional or psychological suffering).

As the Buddha pointed out more than two millennia ago, life is suffering. Do we have an obligation to minimize suffering? Does that obligation extend to our individual selves, as well as to other humans? Does it extend to non-human species?

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously defined happiness as the alleviation of suffering, implying a temporary condition. The pursuit of happiness — from Schopenhauer’s perspective, the alleviation of suffering — is a right guaranteed by the founding document of the United States, but I’ve no idea why it’s guaranteed or if it stops at the alleviation of suffering. If the alleviation of suffering qualifies as happiness, then it seems wearing shoes that are two sizes too small is a great strategy for producing happiness, if only at the end of the day when the shoes are removed from one’s feet.

If happiness goes beyond the alleviation of suffering, perhaps it includes joy. But the notion of such an idea drags into the discussion the notion of documentation, hence measurement. How do we measure joy? Is it the same as the bliss produced by ignorance? How do we know when we’ve stumbled upon it? And if joy is meritorious, even at the expense of suffering by another, how to we balance the existential books?

Consider, for example, a single example for the Abrahamic religions (aka patriarchy): marriage. Do we have an obligation to minimize the pain when a monogamous relationship become personally painful, or even a matter of indifference (i.e., lacking daily joy)? Contemporary culture suggests we muddle through, in sickness and health, until death. And then, the ultimate personal endpoint solves the problem of suffering.

The cost of happiness

If happiness is a goal, and if that happiness extends beyond the mere alleviation of suffering, how to we evaluate happiness? If our own happiness comes at the expense of another, how do we justify our gain? Equally importantly, but rarely considered, is the converse question: If our suffering brings happiness to another, how do we justify the personal pain? Is our own suffering less important than that of another?

How do we minimize suffering? Is such a quest restricted to humans, or are other organisms included? What is the temporal frame of the quest? Does it extend beyond the moment, perhaps to months or years? Does it extend beyond the personal to include other individuals?

We could minimize suffering to humans and other animals by playing solitaire in the woods. But even that seemingly humble act takes life. Tacking on the seemingly simple acquisition of water, food, clothing, and shelter for a single human being in the industrialized world brings horrific suffering to humans and other animals. Attending to the needs of the 7.1 billion humans currently inhabiting Earth comes at tremendous cost to the water, soils, and non-human species on the planet. Contemplating the desires of an increasing number of people on an overpopulated globe is enough to drive a thinking person to despair.

There is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, yet the Greek word for “pleasure” forms the root of the English word “hedonism.” According to my pals Merriam and Webster, hedonism propounds that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. When stated in this manner, pleasure seems to have taken a step too far. But drawing the line between personal pleasure and hedonism is no mean feat. Less often considered is the line we draw between personal suffering and the attendant happiness of others.

But, lest we take that step too far, we should remember that the idea of hedonism some 2,500 years ago when Socrates was haunting the Mediterranean region was a bit different than the idea today. Back then, humans comprised a tiny drop in the large bucket known as Earth. The quest for personal pleasure and happiness at that time would have essentially zero impact on the natural world relative to the impact of today’s quest for gratification by 7.1 billion people on an this ever-shrinking and -depleted orb.

When my happiness requires the suffering of another, is my happiness warranted? When the pleasure of another requires my suffering, is the suffering warranted? Does failing to contemplate questions about our needs and desires commit us to nihilism? Does living within the Age of Industry, hence participating in untold horrors to humans and other organisms, violate the Socratic notion of good?

What about empire?

American Empire is merely the most lethal manifestation of industrial civilization, hence any civilization. Because this culture is inextricably interconnected with this civilization, I have concluded that contemporary culture is worthy of our individual and collective condemnation. Walking away from empire is necessary but insufficient to terminate this horrific culture.

As nearly as I can determine, maintaining American Empire — or any empire, for that matter — requires three fundamental elements: obedience at home, oppression abroad, and destruction of the living planet. Unpacking these three attributes seems a worthy exercise, even acknowledging Voltaire’s observation: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

Obedience at home means capitulating to culture and the government. It means abandoning a culture of resistance in favor of the nanny state. It means allowing the government to control the people instead of the other way around. It means giving up responsibility for oneself and one’s neighbors and expecting the government to deal with all issues. Considering the excellent record of the government in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich while promoting an economy rooted in war, I’ve no idea why the people with whom I interact are fans of this government.

Oppression abroad is obvious to anybody paying attention to American foreign policy during the last hundred years. The government of the United States of Absurdity extracts taxes from the citizenry to build the most lethal killing force in the history of the world. This military, supported by cultural messages and therefore most of the consumer-oriented citizenry, is then used to extract materials such as fossil fuels from other countries. The resulting “riches” enjoyed by Americans serve to pacify the masses, embolden the government, and enrich the corporations that exert strong influence over both the media and the government.

Destruction of the living planet is imperative if we are to support seven billion people on the planet, many of whom want “their” baubles. Are we not entitled to transport ourselves around the world, dine at fancy restaurants for a few hours’ work at minimum wage, entertain ourselves with music and movies, and all the rest on an essentially limitless list? Where do the materials originate for each of these endeavors? Are we so filled with hubris that we believe driving dozens of species to extinction every day is our right? Do we lack the humility — and even the conscience — to treat non-human species with respect?

Each of these three broad elements serves a subset of humans at the expense of others. Although obedience to culture prevents us from being viewed as “odd” to our straitjacketed acquaintances, it also serves the oppressors. Giving up on radicalism — i.e., getting to the root — fails to serve our needs while lessening our humanity. But it nicely serves those who pull the levers of industry.

Perhaps it is time we heed the words of deceased American social critic Christopher Hitchens: “To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.”

Imperialism has consequences

The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are bobbing along the same waves as social justice and environmental protection, sold down the river by a nation addicted to growth for the sake of growth (the ideology of a cancer cell). Indeed, it seems very little matters to the typical American beyond economic growth. And for that, most importantly, we need an uninterrupted supply of crude oil. We need the Carter Doctrine — the world’s oil belongs to us — and an unhealthy dose of faux patriotism.

Our lives are imbued with faux patriotism. We are manipulated by the war-loving corporate media and the war-loving politicians that, unsurprisingly, are enriched by war. We support the troops that bring us the baubles we’re convinced we deserve, and we rarely question the real, underlying costs of the baubles.

Support the troops. It’s the rallying cry of an entire nation. It’s the slogan pasted on many of the bumpers in the United States.

Supporting the troops is pledging your support for the empire. Supporting the troops supports the occupation of sovereign nations because might makes right. Supporting the troops supports wanton murder of women and children throughout the world. And men, too. Supporting the troops supports obedience at home and oppression abroad. Supporting the troops throws away every ideal on which this country allegedly is founded. Supporting the troops supports the ongoing destruction of the living planet in the name of economic growth. Supporting the troops therefore hastens our extinction in exchange for a few dollars. Supporting the troops means caving in to Woodrow Wilson’s neo-liberal agenda, albeit cloaked as contemporary neo-conservatism (cf. hope and change). Supporting the troops trumpets power as freedom and fascism as democracy.

I’m not suggesting the young people recruited into the military are at fault. Victims of civilization and a lifetime of cultural programming — like me, and perhaps you – they’re looking for job security during a period of economic contraction. The entire process is working great for the oppressors pulling the levers of industry.

Perhaps most importantly, supporting the troops means giving up on resistance. Resistance is all we have, and all we’ve ever had. We say we’re mad as hell and we claim we’re not going to take it anymore. But, sadly, we gave up on resistance of any kind years ago.

We act as if America’s cultural revolution never happened. We act as if we never questioned the dominant paradigm in an empire run amok, as if we never experienced Woodstock and the Summer of Love, bra-burning hippies and war-torn teenagers, Rosa Parks and the Cuyahoga River. We’re right back in the 1950s, swimming in culture’s main stream instead of questioning, resisting, and protesting.

We’ve moved from the unquestioning automatons of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell to the firebrands of a radical counter-cultural worldview and back again. A generational sea change swept us from post-war “liberators” drunk on early 1950s propaganda to revolutionaries willing to take risks in defense of late 1960s ideals. The revolution gained steam through the 1970s, but lost its way when the U.S. industrial economy hit the speed bump of domestic peak oil. The Carter Doctrine coupled with Ronald Reagan’s soothing pack of lies was the perfect match to our middle-aged comfort, so we abandoned the noble ideals of earlier days for another dose of palliative propaganda. Three decades later, we’ve swallowed so much Soma we couldn’t find a hint of revolution in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

In short, the pillars of social justice and environmental protection rose from the cesspool of ignorance to become shining lights for an entire generation. And then we let them fall back into the swamp. The very notion that others matter — much less that those others are worth fighting for — has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

A line from Eugene Debs, five-time candidate of the Socialist party for U.S. president, comes to mind: “While there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I don’t harbor any illusions about my freedom. I live in Police State America.

Imperial illusions

Ultimately, I wonder why any of us bothers trying to be a good person As Ernest Hemingway indicated: “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

Vulnerability isn’t so bad. But few knowingly bring on their own destruction. Instead, I suspect most humans — even those who consider themselves good — actually benefit from and even promote contemporary culture, the problems with which are legion.

Do good people promote patriarchy? Do they pursue and promote the notions of marriage and monogamy even when knowing these ideas are steeped in the patriarchy of a culture gone seriously awry? Marriage and monogamy are obligations of empire rather than outcomes of natural law. Instead of abiding and supporting imperialism, shall good people attempt to reduce or eliminate patriarchy, hence civilization, one act at a time?

When we recognize patriarchy and its impacts, where does that leave those of us pursuing authenticity? Indeed, attempting to conduct an authentic life in a culture dominated by patriarchy and engendering destruction is analogous to pursuing meaning in an uncaring universe. Does authenticity have meaning in such a universe? Is authenticity a desirable goal, if goals are merely cogs in the machine of a culture run amok? Is authenticity another stumbling block on the road to happiness? Is authenticity yet another piece of propaganda promoted by the thieves and liars pulling the levers of civilization to trap decent people into lives of service? Do we ultimately and perhaps unwittingly serve civilization, hence omnicide, when attempting to serve humanity?

If a life of service is a trap, why step into the trap? In avoiding the trap are we embracing nihilism, “a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless”? And, if so, does the embrace constitute a pact with the proverbial devil?

As individuals and a society, have we become so broken we cannot pursue the truth about ourselves and our culture? Have we become so marginalized, demoralized, and humiliated by this insane culture that we are no longer able to rise up against cultural insanity?

______________

This essay is (barely) modified from a series of essays for the Good Men Project. The original essays are listed and hyperlinked below.

Questioning Culture: A Series

Questioning Culture: The Long Littleness of Life

Questioning Culture: Shades of Existential Gray

Questioning Culture: When Personal Happiness Brings Suffering to Others

Questioning Culture: American Empire

Questioning Culture: Our Addiction to Growth

Questioning Culture: The Absurdity of Authenticity

The Last Letter

Off the keyboard of Tomas Young

Published on Truthdig on March 18, 2013

Dicuss this article at the Geopolitics Table Inside  the Diner

The Last Letter

A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

To read Chris Hedges’ recent interview with Tomas Young, click here.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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