Industrial Civilization

Let’s Get Critical

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Published on Pray for Calamity on April 2, 2014

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“Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.”

HL Menken


To criticize the status quo is to invite volley after volley of personal criticism back in your own direction. I am sure this has likely been the case for a very long time, and I believe this may be partly due to the way in which humans learn through pattern recognition, as well as how the architecture of the human brain physically lays neural pathways to build understanding. Thus when an idea too astray from the usual is presented to the human mind, there is a high chance of a negative reaction because the new pattern is far too asymmetric for the current set of neural pathways to incorporate. That, or the derogator is a bored and obtuse malcontent with nothing better to do than shit all over other people on the internet.

I often write about the exploitation inherent in the model of civilization itself, and how this organizing framework which is dominant on the planet now is entirely unsustainable and will necessarily collapse catastrophically. This is some level nine stuff. By this I mean that if you have not been initiated, if you haven’t read about this topic or all of the feeder topics that lead to this conclusion, it would likely seem extreme. Thorough understanding of an issue requires prerequisite knowledge. We get to where we are by having been where we were, even philosophically and intellectually. Because my topics of critique often surround the civilization paradigm, its parts, and alternatives, I often receive flak from people which either demonstrates that they do not fully understand the gravity of the issues, or which merely indicts me as complicit in civilization’s crimes. The former generally comes in the form of people arguing that technology will remedy all of the converging crises faced and created by civilization. The latter is far more frustrating, as it is usually some pathetic attempt at a “got’chya!” moment where someone tries to defeat my greater thesis by pointing out my use of a computer or some other trapping of civilization. “Hypocrite!” they cry.

The hypocrisy claim is everywhere you find people critiquing any facet of the status quo. Antiwar activists who protested the Iraq war were called hypocrites for using gasoline. Occupy Wall Street participants were called hypocrites for using Apple products. My friends in forest defense have been called hypocrites for using paper. As an anti-civ anarchist I have been called a hypocrite for everything from having moved into a house during the winter, to having gone to the hospital when after forty hours of labor at home with a midwife, my partner was physically exhausted and wanted access to drugs so she could sleep. Every time these criticisms are leveled, it becomes a major energy suck to explain exactly how nonsensical they are. I would like to here dedicate this essay to shredding the “hypocrisy” argument once and for all, so it can forever be linked to by activists and social critics of all platforms and stripes, who neither have the time nor energy to swat at the many zombie hordes who become agitated when new ideas are presented to them which run counter to the comfortable patterns that they are used to, and who then proceed to scream “hypocrite!” in place of an actual counter argument.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people.” Despite my anti-civ analysis, I am no misanthrope. Civilization is a system of organization, a power arrangement in which a small few control the many. Using their power, these few exploit the lands and beings around them so they can grow their power and comfort at the expense of others. Industrial civilization takes this paradigm full tilt and is wiping out habitat and species at a mortifying rate. Understanding this does not cause me to hate my species, but rather to be eager to help them understand why we must pursue new organizational methods. Still, the uphill battle of convincing fellow humans, especially those who are net beneficiaries of this destructive and exploitative set of arrangements, can be at times an infuriating engagement. Of course, this is not because I need people to immediately agree with me, but if they don’t, I do prefer they focus on challenging the content of my statements as opposed to nit picking the content of my life.

In “The Fall,” Albert Camus wrote, “Everyone insists on his innocence, at all costs, even if it means accusing the rest of the human race and heaven itself.” I believe that it may be this personal insistence on one’s innocence which leads people to quickly cry “hypocrite!” at those who critique the status quo. Because we are all mired in this paradigm, when it is critiqued, some individuals feel that the critique is of them individually, likely due to a personal identification with the system. Thus critiques become personal attacks against which they must defend themselves. “If the system is guilty, then I am guilty, and I’m not guilty!

The need for personal innocence runs deeper. If a critique against an overarching paradigm such as a government, capitalism, or civilization itself seems irrefutable, this can invoke in some a certain need to then utilize this new information as part of their own personal ethos. The problem here, is that this will mean that person will feel compelled to act accordingly with this information, and the actions required may seem difficult, uncomfortable, or frightening. For instance, if you’re told that capitalism is exploitative because employers retain the surplus labor value generated by their employees, and you happen to be a business owner, this new understanding will mean one of two things: either you rearrange the operating model of your business to fairly compensate your employees for their labor, effectively making them cooperative partners, or you change nothing but must go through life recognizing that you profit off of the exploitation of others. Here, your internal need to perceive yourself as innocent, or at least to believe yourself a good person, will run counter with your open acknowledgement that you exploit people for a living. What to do then to keep the ego intact?

If the action required to fall in line with the new ethos created by accepting new information is too hard, too uncomfortable, or you just don’t want to do it, you must justify inaction. Justifying inaction will be achieved possibly by denying the veracity of the new information. Like most capitalists in this scenario, you could convince yourself that your entrepreneurial and risk taking spirit give you the right to take the surplus labor value generated by the people you employ indefinitely. Of course, the justifications are endless.

In some cases though, if the new information received cannot be deflected through argument or justification, and the need to preserve one’s picture of their innocence is too great, then calling into question the character or behavior of the information’s purveyor can also suffice. For instance, if an activist is working to halt fossil fuel extraction for the myriad reasons that such a halting would be beneficial, it can be difficult to disagree with this activist on a purely argumentative level. How could you? Deny climate change? Deny ozone killing trees? Deny the death and destruction from Alberta, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Niger Delta? On an argumentative level, you’d be wrong every time. However, you could call into question the activist’s use of fossil fuels, thereby deflecting the conversation, and basically insinuating that, as Camus also wrote in The Fall, “We are all in the soup together.” Because hey, if we’re all guilty, then none of us are guilty, am I right?

In the fall of 2012, I was in Texas working with the Tar Sands Blockade using direct action tactics to shut down construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. On the side of a highway north of Nacogdoches, I sat with some friends as our comrades were perched on platforms fifty feet in the air with their support lines tied to heavy machinery, effectively making the machines unusable lest their operators not mind killing these young people. There were a surprising amount of supporters for rural east Texas, but of course, there were plenty of people who made sure we we aware of their disdain for us. One such person passed by, slowed down, and said “I bet you used a pick up truck to get that stuff out here.” In his mind, this was a real zinger. I replied, “Of course we did. Why wouldn’t we?

There are a slew of reasons why this man’s comment contained zero validity as a critique of our action. For one, the gasoline we used did not come from that as of yet unfinished pipeline. Also, though I wouldn’t, I could claim to be against tar sands bitumen, but not conventional crude. But really the truth is that anti-extraction activists are making what economists would even defend as an intelligent bargain; using X amount of fossil fuels to prevent the extraction of a million times X. Of course I would use a tank of gasoline to prevent the daily extraction and transportation of hundreds of thousands of barrels of bitumen. Not only am I seeking a massive net gain for the ecology of the planet, I am also not using any more fossil fuels than I would have used had I gone to work that day anyway.

In the same vein, it is not hypocrisy to write a book about the ills of deforestation. Though it may be printed on paper, it has the potential to affect policy which will then lessen the total amount of deforestation. Not to mention, the loggers are going to log and the publishing company is going to publish. Using those resources to ultimately dismantle that destructive activity is actually the best use for them. So no, the person who posts on the internet about the ravages of mountain top removal coal mining or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas isn’t a hypocrite. They are cleverly utilizing the paradigm’s resources to expose its flaws to the light of scrutiny, in the hope that the consciences of people will be stirred to ultimately upend the paradigm itself. This is, in fact, the most ethical use of the resources generated by destructive industrial activity.

Using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house is to be encouraged.

It feels ridiculous to even have to lay this out, but the “hypocrisy” barb is flung far too often and dismantled far too little. What’s worse, is that hypocrisy in this regard isn’t even being understood correctly. According to wikipedia:

Hypocrisy is the state of falsely claiming to possess virtuous characteristics that one lacks. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

Thus, an alcoholic’s advocating temperance, for example, would not be considered an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic made no pretense of sobriety.”

This being understood, we can unequivocally state that a forest defense activist who prints pamphlets about saving tracts of woodland is not a hypocrite, unless they also claim to never use any forest products. Sure, there is a reasonable expectation that people who see a social ill will do their best to avoid adding to that ill, but sometimes the requirements of society horseshoe people into activity even they do not appreciate because the alternative options are worse or non-existent. Of course, this is where detractors will still claim that if an activist wants to save the forests, that they should cease using anything made from trees because consumer demand is behind all economic activity. Ignoring the obvious benefits of the trade off between printing five hundred pamphlets to save five hundred acres of woodlands, I think further disemboweling of this notion about consumer choice activism is also necessary.

Derrick Jensen writes about how he got in an argument with a man who accused him of being just as responsible for deforestation as Weyerhaeuser because he used toilet paper:

Here, once again, is the real story. Our self-assessed culpability for participating in the deathly system called civilization masks (and is a toxic mimic of) our infinitely greater sin. Sure, I use toilet paper. So what? That doesn’t make me as culpable as the CEO of Weyerhaeuser, and to think it does grants a great gift to those in power by getting the focus off them and onto us.

For what, then, are we culpable? Well, for something far greater than one person’s work as a technical writer and another’s as a busboy. Something far greater than my work writing books to be made of the pulped flesh of trees. Something far greater than using toilet paper or driving cars or living in homes made of formaldehyde-laden plywood. For all of those things we can be forgiven, because we did not create the system, and because our choices have been systematically eliminated (those in power kill the great runs of salmon, and then we feel guilty when we buy food at the grocery store? How dumb is that?). But we cannot and will not be forgiven for not breaking down the system that creates these problems, for not driving deforesters out of forests, for not driving polluters away from land and water and air, for not driving moneylenders from the temple that is our only home. We are culpable because we allow those in power to continue to destroy the planet. Yes, I know we are more or less constantly enjoined to use only inclusive rhetoric, but when will we all realize that war has already been declared upon the natural world, and upon all of us, and that this war has been declared by those in power? We must stop them with any means necessary. For not doing that we are infinitely more culpable than most of us—myself definitely included— will ever be able to comprehend.

He continues:

To be clear: I am not culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper. I am culpable for deforestation because I use toilet paper and I do not keep up my end of the predator-prey bargain. If I consume the flesh of another I am responsible for the continuation of its community. If I use toilet paper, or any other wood or paper products, it is my responsibility to use any means necessary to ensure the continued health of natural forest communities. It is my responsibility to use any means necessary to stop industrial forestry.

I believe it is dangerous to convince people that their only power is in their purchasing decisions, because this relegates people to being mere consumers, not active citizens, let alone autonomous beings who define their own struggles, explore a diversity of tactics, and experiment to find new and effective measures for countering power. It also reduces all of society to nothing but customer transactions. Doing so ignores the power people have to protest, blockade, persuade, legislate, and sometimes, to overthrow. Would advocates of consumer choice activism stand by the idea that American revolutionaries should merely have boycotted tea, stamps and British products? Would they advocate that these revolutionaries should have instead of smashing windows, burning buildings, and fighting back against the crown have instead started their own competing tea trading companies? How about American slavery? Was the real solution that abolitionists and free blacks should have started competing fiber plantations in the north, hoping to push slave produced cotton out of business? Should we brand Captain John Brown a hypocrite for not wearing fair trade worker owned flax linen pants when he raided Harper’s Ferry seeking weapons with which to start a slave revolt? Preposterous!

Fighting against a behemoth industry that is interwoven into the state apparatus and has insulated itself as a central pillar of day to day operations is not something easily done. For one to claim they know exactly how to win such a fight is audacious. When it comes to the extraction industries, there is a large buffer where no matter how much the public cuts their consumption, the state will offset their financial losses through subsidies and purchases. The US government will happily buy discount oil for the fifth armored division after a civilian boycott lowers the price. Because of this, all forms of resistance are welcome and necessary, and it should be understood that attacking such a monolithic industry requires people hammering away, figuratively and literally, on every possible front. If it takes two million barrels of oil to power the cars and trucks necessary to organize the ten thousand strong blockade that cripples the refinery complex at the Port of Houston, well hell, oil well spent.

Those who demand lifestyle purity of anyone who ever raises a critique of any facet of the status quo are creating a double bind paradigm of hypocrites and extremists so to establish two camps into which they can then package critics in order to isolate and ignore them. The hypocrite camp is obvious. By misdiagnosing via a false definition someone who is against civilization as a hypocrite because they use electricity to write their thoughts online, these detractors can in their own minds, suggest there is no reason to take the critique seriously. But suppose the anti-civ critic did achieve lifestyle purity. Suppose that they lived in a wigwam in the woods that they constructed themselves from branches and deer hides. Imagine that this person walked to the center of town every weekend in haggard clothing they had pulled from thrift store dumpsters and then this person stood on a bench to shout about the ills of industry and hierarchy. Is it likely that this person would be taken seriously? Of course not! They would be labeled an extremist. Passersby would write this person off as insane before listening to argument one. There is no middle ground in this double bind, and that is the point. Those who would cry from the wilderness about the death and the misery that civilization brings will forever be stripping more and more from their lives in a futile effort to gain recognition, to be valid in the eyes of those who called them hypocrites, until one day they are branded as lunatics, if they are not unheard and unseen, exactly as their detractors want them to be.

On this, we should remember too, that there are people who have achieved this lifestyle purity. They are the tribal peoples around the world who never have been drawn into the net of civilization. They are the global poor who do not benefit from the burning of coal or the sinking of copper mines. And their voices consistently go unheard. In fact, their voices are almost ubiquitously silenced. What do the defenders of the status quo say to the Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã peoples who are fighting the construction of the Belo Monte dam which threatens their survival? What do the defenders of the status quo say to the animals and plants who have been nothing but victims in the story of human progress? There is no inconsistency in their lives. No iPhone to scoff at, no power tool, no window fan. What is the excuse for denying their right to live? What is the excuse for exterminating them and pretending it isn’t happening? Why is it OK to deny their pleas?

Analysis and critique precede action. Without first understanding a system and describing its flaws, it will never be repaired or replaced. To assert that one must excise themselves from a system prior to criticizing it is asinine, especially so when the system being criticized is a global power structure with tentacles in almost every geographical region. Such assertions if considered legitimate would render critique impossible. They are also so implausible as to essentially be nothing more than a dismissal of critique, a backhanded way of saying “Shut up!” To be sure, the horrors of the dominant culture always have required a silencing of those it would make victims, so such behaviors amongst the denizens of civilization should come as no surprise, but they have never been and will never be intellectually or academically valid.

If you are in a prison, eating the food from the cafeteria does not mean you accept being a prisoner. Likewise, if you are a prisoner and you detest the prison and the system that put you there with every fiber of your being, you are not a hypocrite for allowing the prison doctor to treat you. Navigating life in a system of dominance, violence, and control is difficult and miserable, and if you have any designs to resist, whether to organize others on the inside with you to demand improvement of conditions, or to dig a tunnel and to escape, staying well fed and healthy in the mean time will be necessary for your success. While you fight, while you resist, use what you must to survive, especially in light of the fact that not doing so will not bring down the walls around you.

With the ever worsening issue of climate change, on top of the issues of political rot, net energy decline, and economic sclerosis, there will be more and more critique and analysis of exactly how societies are breaking down and what people should do in response. With this will come wave after wave of nonsense rebuttal to muddy the waters. At least when the defense of the status quo defers to indicting the behavior of the critics themselves, we can likely presume that their critiques are probably accurate, or at least that the status quo defender has no legitimate argument. For if the detractor had a legitimate counter analysis, they would present it. Attacking the messenger is behavior of the beaten. If I say “we need to abolish fossil fuels because they cause too much ecological damage” and someone responds “but you use gas in your chainsaw,” they have not displayed that my statement is untrue. In fact, there is a tacit admission that what I am saying is true, they just want to drag me down into the muck as if I’m not already standing in it.

Yes, I am knee deep in the shit of global industrial capitalist civilization. Yes, circumstances have me dancing from rock to rock, doing my best to avoid participating in the destructive protocols of the dominant culture and obliging to where it makes strategic sense to do so. Most people understand this. Most people understand the nuance between having and living an ethic in a complex world which leaves little to our individual control. Those who would deny this reality in order to deny your point are a nuisance at most. Hell is not other people, just other people in the comments section on the internet.

Pray for Calamity

Off the keyboard of td0s

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Published on Pray for Calamity on November 6, 2013

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With this  article, the Diner welcomes td0s from the Pray for Calamity blog to the pantheon of Diner cross posting Bloggers.  This article is the first which appeared on his blog in November of 2013, and we will catch up with a few of the other ones he has posted since then over time.
TD has a unique style and a unique viewpoint different from most other Collapse Bloggers you will read.  His conclusions though are not much different than the conclusions we on the Diner have also reached though, so he fits in quite well.We also hope to have TD on for a Podcast when we can get one scheduled up. -RE

If there is anything left to hope for, hope for calamity.  Absolute and total industrial collapse is the only hope left for life on Earth should extinction of most, if not all life forms, not already be a certainty.

They say a writer should know their audience, so I feel that the above statement needs little background evidence to support it.  For the uninitiated, who may have stumbled across this piece unwittingly, I will state that I am coming from a place where I acknowledge that climate change induced by human industrial activity is rapidly entering runaway territory, where even a complete shut down of global industrial activity may not be enough to undo the damage that has already been levied upon the planet and it’s life giving systems.  Further, I am coming from a place where I acknowledge that political and economic architectures are not built with the capacity to undo themselves.  Further still, I am coming from a place where I have come to accept that even the cultural programming prerequisite to civilizing the human animal is a psychosis.

Of course, the initiated may remind me of the danger posed by hundreds of nuclear power reactors world wide being left stranded of human maintenance should industry catastrophically shut down.

That’s why I said “If there is anything left to hope for…”

I have been active in so-called, “radical circles,” for years now.  I have participated in many acts of civil disobedience, most of which went far beyond the tame and near pointless office sit-ins and political theater that is commonly mistaken for “direct action.”  However, I also realize that most western people are suffering a combination of insulation and disempowerment which has rendered them doubtful of their autonomy and their right to act, as well as rendering them timid beyond any ability to do so.  In realizing this, I have supported those who have slowly tip-toed out of their comfort zones into sheepish acts of sign waving and politician haranguing.  Of course, I realize the futility of most of these acts, at least in achieving what the participants overtly intend to achieve.  The personal empowerment and growth in self confidence that results from marching down the middle of street is valuable in itself, so I have and do encourage those who decide to do so.

However, a paradigm shift that has gone mostly unnoticed invalidates even small successes by those who have risen to action.  The infinite growth model of civilization and the financial models that serve it, has ended.  There has already been a peak in global petroleum production, and the world is quickly moving into a time of ever more expensive energy, both in financial and environmental costs.  Without taking this into account, social movements will fail consistently.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of social movements in the modern west are stunted by this lack of understanding fundamentals, as well as by their insistence on modeling themselves and their movements on past movements they perceive as having been successful which occurred in times of growth.  Too often for instance, modern western social movements, be they fighting for environmental or social justice, claim the American civil rights struggles as their founding conceptual model.

This flaw was well analyzed by Henia Belalia who rightly suggests that if anything, those fighting to preserve the Earth’s ability to harbor life should look to the abolitionists movement to end slavery.  Belalia writes:

We are not fighting for access to an existing status quo. We are demanding a fundamental restructuring of society in order to have the possibility of a livable future. So let’s look at social movement history that might be more analogous.

This is absolutely right on.  Belalia goes on to note:

Wide-spread direct action campaigns, organizing boycotts of sugar and cotton and other slave produced goods. Free people of African descent who fought slavery and the slave trade by any means necessary. African captives who led revolts on slave ships—men and women who refused to be cargo. Recent studies show slave revolts on one in ten voyages, and this caused a sharp increase in the carrying costs of the trade, helping to undermine its economic viability. And Africans on the coast that attacked slave ships before they sailed, cutting them off and freeing captives.

What Belalia successfully demonstrates is that business models which are destructive to life must be actively attacked, via whatever methods necessary. The predominant view of the so-called “climate justice movement” however, is that industrial civilization can continue in a fashion that allows modern western people to live essentially as they do now, with only a handful of tweaks.  (They even suggest that this life style can be extended to the global population.)  Coal fired power plants replaced with windmills and solar arrays, gasoline powered vehicles replaced with electric vehicles (which I guess are powered by these windmills?) etc.  This future of a fair trade, “green” capitalism powered by sunshine where we all still live in suburbs and drink mocha lattes before heading to work is a liberal fantasy.  The industrial economy consumes vast amounts of energy, and the energy return ratios of technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels will never be favorable enough to fuel the global economy as it exists now, let alone as it grows to support higher consumption levels of a larger and larger human population.  It’s not as if conservatives have a more intelligent analysis of this issue, but those of us who live in rural areas and who witness the massive diesel powered equipment used by modern farmers see very clearly that if the population is going to continue to eat, it will be because fossil fuels continue to be exploited. Seeing the necessity of the energy density of hydrocarbons, the right understands the weakness of so called “alternative energies” and instead, pretends that there are no consequences to the processes of acquiring and burning fossil fuels.

Hence the need for social movements that are fighting drivers of climate change to accept a view of a low energy future.  Low energy future means low consumption future.  It means not just a no growth future, but a future of decline.  It means going beyond local to tribal.  It means ending modernity as we know it, and breaking apart the homogeneity of globalization and massive state systems in favor of the small, and the many.  In plain English, it means embracing the idea that your kids won’t go to college, but will instead grow turnips  As I said above, no existing political or financial structure could achieve this, let alone advance the suggestion.

Some smaller more radical movements such as Earth First! and Deep Green Resistance get this point, and further, they celebrate it.  However, these movements are small yet, and their philosophies don’t garner the attention that more “pragmatic” thinkers attract.

As for the pragmatic “fringe,” Chris Hedges recently wrote a piece titled, “Our Invisible Revolution” in which he argues that the decent into total and overt corruption on the part of business and government leaders is not going unnoticed, and that beneath the visible surface, an as of yet nameless fire grows in public consciousness.  Perhaps he is correct in believing this, but his insulated western view comes to the fore in his writing in two glaring ways.

First, Hedges writes of ideas as being a keystone in revolution; dislodging old ideas first and presenting new workable alternatives ends regimes is his claim.   Hedges:

Once ideas shift for a large portion of a population, once the vision of a new society grips the popular imagination, the old regime is finished….An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites. Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself. This, at its core, is why I disagree with some elements of the Black Bloc anarchists. I believe in strategy.”

It should be noted that throughout his essay, Hedges seems to be trying to regain credibility he lost with anarchists after being hotly critical of Occupy activists utilizing black bloc tactics.  I assume he is trying to regain this credibility primarily because he is aware of the energy amongst anarchists which drives them to actually be active, and to take to the physical realm beyond Facebook, you know – the real world – and to put their ideas into practice.  But I digress.

Hedges’ emphasis on ideas is a very “civilized” approach to the topic of revolution.  It is “logical” and “rational,” in all of the ways civil society demands.  This is why Hedges doesn’t understand anarchist support for black bloc tactics, or at its heart, why he misunderstands revolution.  It is because he negates feeling.

Feelings are just as if not more important than ideas when it comes to not only social upheaval, but also when it comes to decolonizing our minds of the inculcation of civilization, and shedding the culture that has been branded upon our very synapses.  The hierarchy of ideas (which let’s be clear, are white, male, educated, upper class, “practical” ideas) over feelings (which are considered female, primitive, and weak by the dominant culture) is a large factor in how divisions amongst the masses are created.  On this, I will turn to twenty-one year old blogger, Jacklyn Gil, who writes :

I’d say white supremacy is a type of fundamentalism that is deeply, deeply, rooted and manifests in harmful ways, which the benefactors are mostly blind to. Fundamentalists are those most afraid of change. I would argue that many White, middle class people, however unknowingly, were raised with an (implicit) fundamental understanding of the world in which colonial characteristics, such as suppression of intense expression and/or an authoritarian/obedient reaction to the world in front of you, was seen as ‘successful’, or ‘respectable’.

Hedges falls into this trap precisely because he negates his own cultural and personal baggage.  It may seem ridiculous to the “rational” and to the “civil” but when you are not an academic, and you cannot articulate exactly how the society in which you are trapped exploits you, what you then have to guide you is your clear inner feelings of being exploited and of being oppressed.  Feelings which are absolutely valid, and which form the impetus of articulation to begin with.  Further, when you take to the streets and see others throwing bricks through the windows of banks, for many, it feels good.  The justice is clear, if not pragmatic or rational. It is obvious to those who haven’t shut out their feelings.  This is how riots happen.  And riots are not necessarily ignorant, pointless violence.  Riotous activity is the last vestige of power held by the underclasses, they are the primal howl from that wild place that still burns if ever so dimly within the human soul.  Do they necessarily achieve strategic goals?  Not always.  But do they empower?  Do they instill in the participants a personally granted permission to ignore the imaginary lines drawn up by the rich and defended by the police?  Absolutely.  How people get drawn into such behavior through the seduction of action is a topic well analyzed in a CrimeThinc Pamphlet, which opens with the question:

“We who fight to create a freer world face a fundamental contradiction. On one hand, we don’t want to become a vanguard, “leading” or imposing our will on others, as that would run counter to our anti-authoritarian values. On the other hand, we believe with good justification that our political goals—including the destruction of capitalism, the state, and hierarchy—can’t be accomplished without strategies that are currently unpalatable to most of our fellow citizens. The impoverishment of millions and the destruction of our ecosystems demand that we act decisively. What criteria will equip us to challenge these systems without resorting to the authoritarian means we condemn?”

Too often, fighting back against the forces that destroy the globe while shackling the masses into meaningless existences is dubbed, “Bad for the movement,” by pragmatic liberals.  Their view is that people will be driven away from a social movement that does not condemn smashing windows or setting bulldozers on fire.  Of course, they mean is will turn away people like them; other middle or upper class, predominantly white “pragmatists.”  Large swaths of the population take no part in activism or social struggles for the same reason they don’t vote in elections; they see it as pointless.  Lining up to demand incremental reform only after receiving permission to do so, behind a line of police in the free speech zone seems not only pointless, but pathetic.  It’s admitting your defeated, puny, position before even stepping into the ring.  And this is what Hedges and other “rational” thinkers are hoping to see.

It should also be noted that strategy and mass movements are two extremely hard partners to marry.  Mass movements by definition contain massive numbers of people, that is massive numbers of egos, and massive numbers of education levels, goals, experience levels, etc.  Finding consensus on what exactly lies at the root of society’s ills, let alone cataloging and prioritizing these ills, let alone coming to an agreement on how to strategically go about achieving a solution that leaves all participants happy, would be an effort beyond Sisyphean.  Even if such unity of thought and action were possible, the powerful remain in a permanent state of counter-insurgency.  I personally have encountered infiltrators across several movements, some of who have been successful at bringing felony charges against the most benign of activists.  Looking at the green scare, which continues to this day, as well as the grand jury investigations into anarchists in the United States, definitively makes clear that organizing masses to behave strategically will face insurmountable hurdles, as organizers have their phones tapped, their emails read, their meetings infiltrated, etc.

It’s easy to demand “strategy,” and to decry movements that seem to lack it, but strategy is akin to handling on a vehicle.  If you want maneuverability, you don’t jump in a city bus and start hugging turns.    Mass movements are lumbering city buses, which are frankly more useful for smashing through barricades than gluing to the twists and turns of a formula one race.

Hedges continues:

I do not say this because I am a supporter of revolution. I am not. I prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy. I prefer a system in which our social institutions permit the citizenry to nonviolently dismiss those in authority. I prefer a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power. But we do not live in such a system. Revolt is the only option left. Ruling elites, once the ideas that justify their existence are dead, resort to force. It is their final clutch at power. If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants and police—to get them, in essence, to defect—nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state can organize effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it spawns reactive revolutionary violence, or what the state calls terrorism. Violent revolutions usually give rise to revolutionaries as ruthless as their adversaries. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”  Violent revolutions are always tragic.

Hedges is essentially betraying the liberal utopian inside himself, first exposing his belief that democratic systems have ever or could ever “work,” and then following that with a suggestion that a non-violent movement could even hope to have politicians, let alone the police, defect.  I know Hedges has a history of reporting on revolutions in many countries, and he would claim to have seen such defections elsewhere, but could he really say that a real revolution has followed?  Or has what’s come after such defections been merely a transfer of power to the neo-liberal system of global capitalism?  Has he ever seen politicians and police defect, to not be replaced by different (or even the same) politicians and police afterwards?

He then goes on like almost all white, upper or middle class people do and decries violence as unnecessary (The exception being the gun nuts on the right, whose sense of patriarchal and race superiority make them believe order comes from force, not consent.) This is because Hedges and pretty much all modern western middle and upper class white people live lives completely insulated from violence.  Violence for them is conceptual.  It is something on TV after nine p.m.  Most people of this milieu have never even killed an animal for food, as the machinations of capitalism have always done it for them, far away behind closed doors, so appetites don’t get spoiled.  This leaves violence mysterious, dangerous, and best handled by professionals, in slaughterhouses and in the streets.

Not meaning to pick on Hedges, as I do like much of what he writes, I just have to point out that he seemingly wants to have his cake and to eat it to.  Fair trade cake though.  Cruelty free.  It’s as Frederick Douglass famously said:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

When violence is a reality from which you are not shielded by corporate and state entities, it is easy to believe that violence is a thing of the past with no place in modern living, even during revolution.  Violence s very real and very present in the modern world however.  In fact, the very foundations of modern industrial civilization are violence.  Again, I don’t want to have to descend into a long list of examples, as I expect the reader to be initiated, but as this point is one that requires understanding, I feel compelled.

The modern “first” world extracts the majority of the resources it uses for production of goods from the “third” world, leaving destroyed ecosystems, destroyed ways of life, corrupt and bought off governments, and massive pollution in its wake.  Resistors in these nations are often killed, as has been the case with peoples from South America to Africa to Asia — and yes, even North America, as locals and indigenous populations have fought invaders who seek their lands for everything from coffee and banana farming to the production and bottling of Coca-Cola to gold mining and fossil fuel extraction.  Pushed off their lands, people — including children — across the globe have been forced into the slums of mega cities to work in dangerous factories for low wages, if not worse.  Though white middle class westerners don’t see it, there is blood in their latte, in their sneakers, in their gas tank, and in their bank accounts.

Even within the confines of western society, the autonomy of the individual is robbed by the state who claims all acts of self and community defense, when possible, should be outsourced to police departments.  Under the guise of eliminating social violence, disagreements, confrontations of abusive people, fights — all are to be avoided and instead proper authorities (people higher than you on the social hierarchy) are to be notified, who will come strapped with an arsenal of weaponry, from electrocution devices to chemical agents and firearms, and they will dole out the proper level of violence.  Even the maintenance of the financial order is achieved through violence, as police (with weapons on their hips) evict families too poor to pay rent, lock up people who possess “outlawed” chemical substances, fine or jail people who opt to take food from trash dumpsters, and even line up in riot gear to separate passively protesting crowds from bank facilities and staff.

Living under such circumstances, it becomes easy for writers like Hedge’s to believe that violence is for people lesser than ourselves who have not yet out-evolved its use like we have.  This leaves violence as a tool that only the state and capitalists will use, and they will, and do use it.

The real tragedy of the doctrine of pacifism is that so many people will fall so easily before the very real and very heavy handed violence that the arc of time has in store for them.  Leaving behind the pointy-headed critique of western social movements, let’s go back to the beginning, and recall that apocalyptic climate change may very well already be baked into the cake.  Forgetting to hash out the details of just how bad it will be in the end, let’s acknowledge for a moment what this looks like for average people on the ground as it comes to pass.  In time, it will mean crop failures as droughts, floods, wildfires, early blizzards, etc. wreak havoc on the food supply.  These are already current conditions, which are unfolding to occur more and more frequently.  Spikes in temperature can cause grid failure in the southwestern US, leaving millions without air condition and potentially without water.  Freak superstorms like Sandy and those that caused this year’s flooding in Colorado will continually destroy infrastructure while also creating classes of refugees.

All of this is coming at a time when the financial system undergoing collapse due primarily to its growth requirement becoming anemic in light of ongoing fossil fuel supply stagnation, meaning the money to repair damage done by climate catastrophes will go untended more and more frequently.  It also means there is less and less money available to upkeep existing infrastructure like bridges, power substations, roads, water pipelines, etc.  On top of that, there is less and less money available for the growing underclass, who are kept passive in large part by state subsidies.

As this cascading collapse becomes reality, social action is inevitable, from the very messy to the tightly organized.  What to demand in times of decline will likely escape most, as they continually ask for access to more, or at least, for access to what they once had.  My two cents is that the sensible demand in times of decline should be for autonomy, for the state to get the hell out of the way as people dismantle corrupt and broken systems, while simultaneously building hundreds of thousands of autonomous zones and collectives. To be sure, many of these newly created regions and groups will fail, as the climate fails, and as modern people realize how helpless they are in the face of creating dignified survival out of raw nature.  But even failure in this regard is more dignified than further subjugation to a bloated, dysfunctional, and violent hierarchy.

To see this from a macro perspective, industrial civilization has outgrown its ability to be an efficient organism.  Dimitri Orlov has written about this phenomenon very well, basically stating that societies, like living organisms, can pass a point of diminishing returns, where they more they grow to take care of themselves, the more there is to upkeep, rendering the growth meaningless.  We face this, as civilization has gone global and has destroyed the planet in its wake, leaving itself a double bind.  Continue unabated and quickly smother itself in catastrophe via climate change and resource scarcity, likely leading to war, or push the big red button and shut it all down, near immediately killing the majority of humans who are now dependent upon industrial systems in one way or another.

This is why only absolute and total catastrophe is all that remains to hope for.  It takes the choice out of clumsy and cowardly human hands.  If the defining characteristic of civilization is control, catastrophe is letting go.  The chips will fall where they may, and nature’s law — which is and has always been the only real law — will return to the fore, wiping out humanity’s egotistic view of themselves.   So let’s not fear calamity, let’s welcome it, let’s assist in ushering it in where possible. Understanding that it won’t be fun but at least it will be honest, making all things equal once again, we can know that it alone provides salvation from the meaninglessness of state-capitalism’s full spectrum dominance, while offering a glimmer of a possibility that life may just be able to pass through the bottleneck, and thrive again in a time after time.

Brace for Impact: Interview with Thomas Lewis Part 1

logopodcastOff the microphones of Tom Lewis, Surly, Monsta & RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on January 3, 2015

“Save As Many As You Can”

Discuss this Interview at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

Part 1 of our first Podcast with Tom Lewis discusses Tom’s history in the Journalism and how he came to pretty much the same conclusions we here on the Diner have arrived at, which of course is why we regularly cross post his blogs from The Daily Impact.

For those of you unfamiliar with Tom’s work, here is his Sayonara Post to 2014, including a Bonus Podcast on his website, which you can download there.

RE

Holiday Repost: Farewell to 2014

For what we are about to lose, Dear Lord, we thank You. (Photo by Terren in Virginia/Flickr)

 

[The Daily Impact is on hiatus for the holiday season. For your consideration, I leave you with a repost of a meditation on “The Last Good Year,” and a reminder that in 2015 it would be well to Brace for Impact.]

Thanksgiving is coming, and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and New Year’s, and we should make the best of them. These are the good old days, and we should celebrate them well, because we are probably not going to see their like again. Gas is cheaper than it was, and we should go to see the relatives this year, because next year will be different. Food is a little more expensive than it was, yet we should eat hearty nevertheless, because next year will be different. We still have plenty of water (if we don’t live in California, or Brazil, or North Africa, or any of a multitude of other places being seared by implacable drought) but, because of changing climate and advancing pollution, next year could be different. The lights are still on, but the aging grid is creaking and groaning with the effort of meeting our burgeoning demand, and next year could well be different. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet.

Predictions are dicey things, and are more often than not fatal to the credibility of the predictor. Premature declarations of the end of this, or the beginning of that, are legion — and legendary. From the Age of Aquarius to the light at the end of the tunnel, from the Rapture to Armageddon, history is lettered with the remains of discredited prophets. Why would anybody willingly step into their ranks?

First because many prophets are not really discredited. The fact that the big San Andreas earthquakes predicted to decimate Los Angeles and San Francisco have not yet happened, does not mean that the forecasters were wrong or that the quakes are now less likely to occur. To the contrary, they become more likely with each passing day of accumulating strain on the fault, and the prophets will be redeemed in the most unfortunate way. Similarly, those who have predicted that increasing population will exceed the carrying capacity of the planet, or that oil demand would exceed supply, are not wrong because they thought it would have happened by now. It is not the date on which a thing does or does not happen that matters; it is the thing itself, and its causes.

Secondly, there is a moral imperative. As I postulated in Brace for Impact, if you see a child playing on a railroad track in the path of an approaching train, you have no choice but to make a choice — between trying to save him and ignoring him. Basic human morality reduces that choice to one acceptable course of action. Unseeing him is not an option. Nor can you avoid the fact that your choice will affect the rest of your life. (Now, our world is full of people who, when they hear you shout, “That child is in danger!” will say in response “Why must you be so negative? Try to be more cheerful about things.” Ignore them. Though it be obscured by clouds of ignorance, the moral imperative is still there, hard as granite.)

So, because I must, here is a short list of the things that are bearing down on us like runaway trains.

  • Financial collapse. There are so many bubbles reaching maturity in the near term — the subprime auto-loan bubble, the overvalued stock bubble, the China real-estate bubble,  the fracking bubble, to name the biggest — that it is likely that this time, more than one of them will burst at once, with far worse effects that when the housing bubble went up all by itself, or the dot-com bubble, alone.
  • Oil Depletion. The biggest con, and the one with the worst side effects, is the proposition that America is at the beginning of an oil renaissance, when it is in fact at the end of the oil age. When the giddy optimism among investors and the general public is blown up, by events likely to occur next year, this will be the unkindest cut of all, and will likely start, or contribute to, a cascade of crashes. When it happens, everything made from oil will return to its former high prices and keep on going up.
  • The Water Problem. 2015 is probably going to see the first climate refugees in significant numbers leaving California’s Central Valley, and possibly parts of Arizona, Texas and Nevada, as well as Sao Paulo, Brazil and parts of China and India. For America, the loss of confidence in technology and a beneficent God implied by the loss of California agriculture to drought will be crushing.
  • The Rotting Infrastructure. Every physical system in America, from highways and bridges to the electric grid to water and sewer systems to dams, ports and airports — even the credit-card system — has seriously exceeded its design life and its design capacity with no provision having been made for its replacement. Like the big earthquake, it is impossible to predict when any one of them will fail, yet impossible to believe that they will not.

What this prophet sees for next year is not yet The End of the World as We Know It, as in the ultimate crash of the industrial age, but another nasty shock as our economic tectonic plates sink jarringly to a lower level from which they will not rise again, as happened in 2007. That may make the final fall, whenever it comes, shorter, but no more pleasant.

So raise a glass, and hold a feast, in honor of 2014. May we always think fondly of the last good year.

The Tide Goes Out…

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on November 30, 2014

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

There are numerous morons out in the MSM rejoicing at the falling price of gas at the pump, comparing it to a “stimulus” package which will free up gobs of money for consumers to spend on other stuff.  Still more imbeciles claim this is a Price War gimmick by the House of Saud to put frackers in the FSoA outta biz and spank Vlad the Impaler for being a bad guy.

None of this of course is true, as I covered in yesterday’s Rant, Oil Price Crash!!!  The folks who write this stuff are either complete imbeciles (true in many cases) or they are paid to spin the newz the way the oligarchs who own the media want it spun (true in all cases).  There also is the problem of completely FALSE and wrong headed economic theories that Ph.D. Economistas pitch out, themselves also pawns of the oligarchy in charge.

http://www.spearswms.com/Uploads/article_images/articledir_70/35317/1_fullsize.jpgYou have two sides to this part of the action battling it out daily on the pages of Blogs like Zero Hedge, the ever reviled there, “Keynesians” who favor blowing money out of Bazookas and “Austrians” who favor stacking Gold Bars in the basement safe.  Neither side has a clue here, because money isn’t the problem, resource depletion is the problem.

http://resources0.news.com.au/images/2011/04/19/1226041/269440-gold-prices.jpgIn their constructs, “Capital” is Money.  So if you need more Capital far as the Keynesians are concerned, you just issue more Money, which turns up as Debt on somebody’s balance sheet, generally you the Taxpayer.  Far as the Austrians are concerned, if you just back all your money with Gold, it will provide all the Capital you need to have a smooth running economy.

Neither of these viewpoints is correct, because Money of ANY sort is not Capital, resources and most specifically Energy resource in our energy intensive society is the Capital here.  The money just serves as a proxy for this, a numerical accounting system through which people buy and sell things and distribute out the surplus of your society.  When your society runs out of surplus, the money starts losing its value.  Even Gold loses its value, as evidenced by the also now dropping like a stone price of Gold.

Which brings us to the fairly hilarious Repatriation schemes for Gold various countries are undertaking here, notably the Swiss who are holding a referendum this week, but numerous other countries are also trying to stack Gold Bars in the basement safe of their respective Central Banks.

In the case of the Swiss, they want to make it a law that the bank can’t sell the gold, which of course makes it meaningless as an asset.  A corollary to this would be nobody could redeem the money the bank issues for any of the Gold, because if they did that everyone would want to trade their notes for the Gold and then there would be no Gold left in the safe to back the currency with!

 photo robber_barons_500.jpg

The underlying problem here is that all the money that has been issued out since the beginning of the Age of Oil is debt notes on Oil.  No coincidence here that the same folks like the Rockefellers and Rothschilds run the banking system AND own all the energy and mineral resources on earth.  They are just a very big Company Store, they issue out the Scrip with which you can then buy the Oil.  They don’t give it away of course, they Loan it to somebody, Oligarchs in some cases, directly to your Goobermint in others but it still is a loan, and the way you get access to that money is by getting a job of some type working for the Oligarchy or working for Da Goobermint.  Numerous self-employed people also glom onto this economy of course, your Dentist gets hold of the money by drilling your teeth, you got hold of the money from your job as a Teacher or working as an IT designer, but originally the money was borrowed into existence either by Da Goobermint or an Oligarch.

Anyhow you now have all this money in existence supposedly representing assets, but the assets aren’t assets anymore or in the case of Oil simply is not there to extract up at a price most folks can afford to buy.  So little by little at first the economy starts collapsing, and for a while it stays disguised and most of the problems occur in the peripheral nations to the credit system, so as an Amerikan or Brit you might not notice it, unless of course your job has already gone south too.

At a certain point however, all the accumulating problems add up, and finally something breaks, and what broke was the price of Oil.  Much like the Tsunami at the top of the page here, the receding price of Oil is like the receeding Tide before the Tsunami rolls in.  The Tsunami here will be a wave of Defaults and Bankruptcies that eventually will engulf even the largest Nation-States like Russia, but will of course start smaller than that with Independent Drillers heavily leveraged who will face margin calls.

cover_Drilling-Deeper_300w (2)How much further the price will drop before we start to see major shutins remains to be seen, however this is now not in the “Most Likely Case” that David Hughes projected in his report “Drilling Deeper“, but rather a WORST CASE scenario.  Tomorrow here on the Diner we will have an Interview with David we did back a few weeks ago when Oil was at $80, down then from $90.  Now down to around $69/barrel and looking like it will drop into the $50s.

Now, these folks can continue issuing out Credit theoretically in perpetuity, but they can’t make that credit redeemable in anything they still have left, namely enough Oil to power an industrial civilization with 7B people wandering around it.  They also don’t recognize that most all of the Assets that the loans were made on themselves are going worthless.  The Gold Mine that Rio Tinto (a Rothschild owned company) owns is not an asset when it costs more in energy to extract the Gold than anyone will pay for the Gold.  The Car Factory is not an Asset when people can’t afford to buy the carz that come off the production line of that factory.  Securitized bundles of McMansion Mortgages are not an asset when people can’t afford to buy carz to zip back and forth from them every day.  And so on here.

No monetary games, no change of money over to gold changes the already done deal fact of life that the investments made through the Age of Oil are all MALINVESTMENTS which cannot be sustained without gobs of cheap energy flowing out of the ground every day, and those days are gone FOREVER.

What takes time is the recognition of the losses, along with the Geopolitical and Economic shifting around of the pain, generally shifting the worst problems onto the weakest nations first here.  However, it is not as many pundits believe a question of who will come out of this as a “Winner”, with China and Russia Bulls rejoicing at the end of Anglo-Amerikan Empire and forseeeing a new Ascendancy in the East, but rather just a question of who will be the LAST LOSER in the game and circle down the toilet the last.

In a few decades at the most, the last planes will have stopped flying and the last cars will have stopped driving, and Industrial living will begin to fade out of the memories of whoever is left walking the earth at that time.  For now though, we can only sit and wonder at the foolishness of it all and wait for the Tsunami to roll in.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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According to the Mexico City Emissions Inventory, mobile sources are responsible for approximately 8 [...]