Despite the oddly warm weather that blew in today, we are in the depth of autumn. The days have been full of regular chores. Splitting firewood and stacking it on pallets outside the front door is something I tend to every third day or so, and I try to split in excess so that come the raw cold days of winter, I need not swing the maul. The gardens are almost all covered in a layer of horse manure, and the chicken coop is surrounded with straw bales in the hope that the next round of polar vortecies will not claim the lives of any of our birds. The quiet days spent fleshing deer hides and hauling gravel into the drainage trench around our house arouse my mind to thinking. Furious thinking about the state of the planet, the state of human beings within this culture, and just what the hell any of us should do with our time, our will, and our strength as we collectively are drawn into a decidedly more difficult future.
The bulk of my days this summer past were dedicated to the construction of our house. We have several acres of beautiful land in one of the forested pockets of North America, and through the heat and the rain I swung a framing hammer until at long last I now have a small, mostly finished cabin. It was not once lost on me, that building my house in a rural place as part of an attempt to alleviate myself of the necessity of the industrial capitalist system, I quite often had to lean heavily on that very system. “Using the grid to go off the grid,” my friend said. Despite having no wires or pipes running to my cabin, I know the truth of the matter: there is no escaping civilization. One can scoot to the edges, hang out near the lifeboats if you will, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the moment reality dawns on the crew and they cry “Abandon ship!” But no matter how far one goes, no matter how many comforts they shuck, the chemicals of industry still course through their blood. Catastrophic climate change will wipe out ways of life even in the remote, uncontacted jungles of the world. People who never drove a car or owned a cell phone will be subject to famine and cancer. Ironically, it is the poor who will likely suffer greatest as climatic change spurs droughts, floods, and mega storms. Worse yet, it is the non-human species who are being eradicated daily, never to return, for the hubris of petroleum man.
I hate this civilization, this machine, this juggernaut, this sleepwalking hungry ghost, this pathological ideology, this imaginary cage that we cannot seem to imagine a key for no matter how deeply we come to resent our captivity. But I still wanted a steel roof so that I could collect rainwater. It was July when I screwed the roof down to the purlins, and on that day I asked myself, “What does a person do, when they simultaneously need a thing, and need to destroy it?” Such a double bind cannot possibly have a rational answer, because the rational is captured by society, trademarked and owned by the dominant culture. We can only know in our souls, in the still wild places of our being what must be done, but making the case with the words crafted in the forges of civilization will almost certainly always fail. Words and arguments are Trojan Horses, trap doors to counter arguments, to platitudes, to endless winding hallways of thought not designed to deliver you anywhere, but merely to sap you of your energy in the traveling.
We know what we must do, and we know that we will never be able to rationalize it to the denizens of civilization, because at its very core a rationalization is a request for permission. Those who benefit most from the demise of the natural world and from the agony of the global poor will never permit anyone to cut the lights on this cavalcade of compounding tragedies.
We know what we must do. We must burn down the house we have built, force ourselves back into the wild. And further, we must tell the story to all of our children explaining that the house made us weak, it made us sedentary, it turned us against our land and our kin who dwell on the land, it made us servile to its own needs even as it fell apart around us, off-gassing formaldehyde and leaching fire retardants into our blood. We must explain that the lure the comfort of the house provides is undeniable, and that a long many days from now, the children of our children’s children may forget the perils that the house presents. We must send strong words and songs far into the unseen future, so that those who come after us value the freedom of their life out of doors with only simple shelters, that they understand the impermanence of the tipi or the wigwam is not a failing, but a strength, as the nature of life on this Earth is that of impermanence. We must convey the futility of attempts to forever banish the cold, the rain, or the wind with immovable dwellings, and that such folly will forever chain those who build them to a lifetime of work while making enemies of their surroundings as they till more soil for crops, as they sink more mines for more metal, as they cut trees for more wood, and still lose their great battle against the ravages of weather and time.
It is a great house we have collectively built. Many will say there is no other way of being. They will say that despite the dangers the house presents to body, mind, and soul, that these dangers are nothing when weighed against the impossibility of life outside. There will be those who even acknowledge the limitations of this house, they will nod in agreement when you tell them that the roof is caving and the foundation buckling. They will say, “Yes, yes, I know” when you present the children afflicted with leukemia brought about by the toxicity of the house’s very construction, and they will fight you still when you suggest dismantling this place and creating something new.
The house is a prison, and the people within it have become institutionalized, domesticated. They have been subjugated in spirit and thought to think there is no life outside the walls. If it were possible merely to escape, to dig a mighty tunnel to the far reaches of the mortar and beyond, perhaps that would be the righteous choice. But there is no place left that the ravages cannot reach you. There are no lands across the sea where you will not be subject the dictates of the warden, where the poisons of industry will not claim your health and kill your landbase. The walls must go, by any means necessary, even if in the here and now, we rely upon them.
Sleet is falling now outside of my window. It has been a long season of work, and as my body finds itself resting more, my mind grows agitated. There have been uprisings against police authority across the United States in recent weeks. The petroleum markets are in turmoil as global powers seek domination over their competitors. Experts are advising that the temperature of the planet will necessarily rise to one and a half degrees Celsius above baseline, and still the owner class seeks to exploit tar sand, deep-water oil, and coal.
What is a person to do? It seems that simultaneously, everything and nothing is possible. Action and inaction both appear to be dead ends. There are those who silently hope for a massive solar flare or a great pandemic, assuming the only way to break from this Mobius strip of horrors is if it is severed by some cataclysm delivered from above. This is praying for calamity, it is begging a still listening God for absolution, as if we have done anything to earn such favors.
As the winter sets in, I will be writing about our responsibilities in such times.
“This, then, is the legacy we leave to future generations so that we can turn on our lights and computers or make nuclear weapons… Have we, the human species, the ability to mature psychologically in time to avert these catastrophes, or, is it in fact, too late?” ~ Dr. Helen Caldicott
Radical, wide-scale planning should have been executed decades ago in response to the Limits to Growth study. Instead, we carried on with business-as-usual as the natural world underwent cataclysmic, mass extinction level changes. Every day, the insanity of capitalist industrial civilization(CIC) is on full display as we entertain ourselves with the illusion of token political gestures towards “sustainability”. None of it changes our death march over the cliff of extinction. Nature died long ago with man’s discovery of fossil fuels which fed his terminal overshoot. Any isolated pockets of remaining wilderness are trampled underfoot, amounting to no more than a mere novelty destination commercialized by the tourist industry.
Enslaved to his own self-destructive technology, CIC continues to toxify and irradiate the planet, plasticize the oceans, and disrupt the chemical conditions that allow for life. A society that dehumanizes everything with the fetishization of technology and money will always see disaster as a money-making opportunity. Anthropogenic climate disruption is no exception. Competition amongst nations and corporations for economic/military supremacy, wealth, and power demands that the energy resources to be exploited first are those with the highest available ERoEI, i.e. fossil fuels. The charts bear out this cutthroat strategy and so do the actions of nation states who have made it a legal duty to maximize greenhouse gases. Giving up the competitive advantage of coal, oil, and gas ensures you will be eaten alive in the global economy. Thus nation states are locked into a capitalist race to the grave. The nasty greenhouse gas-emitting side effects of these fuels are simply another negative externality quietly pushed onto future generations. However, physical reality will eventually overtake a fake mass-media culture consumed by the idolatry of materialism and greed. The Earth doesn’t bail out a species that continuously spends more than it saves. Instead, the biospheric slate is wiped clean to make way for the next bout of evolutionary events.
Like radiation, GHG’s are seemingly invisible yet their effects are all too real. Because of the lag period involved in anthropogenic climate disruption, their devastating environmental costs will never be fully appreciated in time to avert disaster. Adding up the land, air, ice, and ocean warming data, a study from last year found that in recent decades the earth has been heating up at a rate of 250 trillion Joules per second. This is equivalent to:
Detonating four Hiroshima atomic bombs per second
Experiencing two Hurricane Sandys per second
Enduring four 6.0 Richter scale earthquakes per second
Being struck by 500,000 lightning bolts per second
Exploding more than eight Big Ben towers, with every inch packed full of dynamite, per second
For the Fox-news-befuddled masses, such analogies are meaningless because the threat is not in their face. In their conspiracy-addled minds, climate change is a socialist plot to ruin the American economy and undermine capitalism itself. To the genuflecting masses of capitalism, the mythical free market is seen as an all-powerful, self-regulating mechanism of the Earth, the Sun, and the Universe. Man-made constructs are inanimate and artificial, yet we cling to them as if they were immutable laws of nature.
Keeping industrial civilization chugging along in the face of planetary ecological collapse is eerily similar to the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence called M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction), as commenter James explained:
Our competitive growth is MAD and considered on a geological time scale is only slightly slower than a sudden launch of nuclear missiles which may also eventually occur. We kid ourselves when we think that we’ll be fine as long as we never have a nuclear exchange, that sustainability is a possibility if we prevent nuclear war…
…This planet has the Big C, civilization, and it will torture its denizens as they struggle to maintain normalcy while the onslaught of malnutrition, decay and chaos drive them mad.
Do you think Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney are going to ameliorate the conditions of your decline? Ever wonder what it’s like to be a human sacrifice?
Capitalist carbon man’s unwavering faith in the powers of technology ensures that Big C’s omnicidal, energy-slurping $46 trillion-dollar infrastructure(U.S.A. only) and its array of mechanized contraptions cranks onward, squeezing out the last drop of resources from a spent Earth. Human cannon fodder will continue to be shoveled into Iraq and the Middle East to keep the fossil fuel furnaces burning. America’s corporate-industrial-military-political-financial complex will protect its financial coffers at the expense of the destitute masses and a habitable planet. When it comes to money, there is no loyalty to anyone or anything in the land of the FEE and home of the bamboozled. Just like countless Wall Street predators who have passed through the revolving corporate/government door, former NSA chief Keith Alexander is now getting in on the action to exploit his national security credentials.
Collusion between big business, government and industry is hardly restricted to Japan. In every country, the health and safety of working people in their workplaces and their communities are routinely subordinated to the dictates of profit. Moreover, the past three decades of market restructuring have led to the systematic erosion of the limited regulations that previously existed. In many instances, regulatory bodies have been cut back or replaced by corporate “self-regulation”.
Fukushima is just one of the major disasters that have exposed the criminal character of capitalism. One year earlier, an explosion at the BP-run Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and created the worst environmental catastrophe in US history. The Bush and Obama administrations fast-tracked the project, which proceeded without an environmental impact study, despite public concern and opposition. In the wake of the oil spill, the Obama administration acted as a virtual attorney for BP, assisting the energy giant to minimise the economic and political fallout. From the outset, the White House made clear that the disaster would not impede further offshore oil projects—including by BP.
The Japanese government, first under Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and now Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, has performed a similar service for TEPCO—providing a huge bailout for the company and limiting the payouts to small businesses and individuals whose lives have been devastated…
…The real lesson that should be drawn from the report’s revelations is the incompatibility between capitalism and even the most elementary needs of humanity for a healthy and secure environment….
Structuring a society to reward the most sociopathic and ruthless amongst us, create grotesque levels of inequality and political disenfranchisement, deify material wealth as the primary metric of success, privatize and profitize war, and use the planet as a garbage dump for toxic waste is a recipe for disaster.
Humans have thrown into the geological evolutionary processes of Earth several long-lived and very disruptive monkey wrenches. There are three which are noteworthy and will outlive us all in the deep time of planetary history:
Anthopogenic climate disruption will essentially last forever, according to Professor David Archer of Chicago University and his associates. He says “the climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge, longer than time capsules, far longer than the age of human civilization so far. Ultimate recovery takes place on timescales of hundreds of thousands of years, a geologic longevity typically associated in public perceptions with nuclear waste.”
Nuclear Waste from the production of nuclear power and nuclear bombs lasts essentially until the end of time. Coal-fired electric plants produce their own witch’s brew of radioactive waste as well. In the U.S. alone, roughly 2,000 metric tons of nuclear waste are produced every year with 70,000 tons now sitting at some 100 temporary sites across the country. A permanent disposal site has yet to be established to store the fatal stuff. The recent egregious, Homer Simpson-esque mishaps and incompetence at America’s only radioactive waste repository located in New Mexico don’t inspire any confidence that we can store this stuff safely even for a brief period, let alone for the thousands of years required. We’re too busy fracking around that fragile site to worry about any long-term consequences. Humans have sufficiently booby-trapped the planet that in the dying days of the Anthropocene, your chance of survival is the same as winning the Lotto.
A few of the deadly radioisotopes that can be found in nuclear waste are the following:
– uranium 238 (half-life 4.468 billion years)
– uranium 235 (half-life 700 million years)
– plutonium 244 (half-life 80 million years)
– iodine-129 (half-life 15.7 million years)
– neptunium-237 (half-life two million years)
– plutonium 242 (half-life 373,300 years)
– technetium-99 (half-life 220,000 years)
– plutonium-239 (half-life 24,000 years)
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of processing mined uranium for fuel in nuclear energy plants and as a component for nuclear bombs. Depleted uranium contains U-234, U-235, U-236, and U-238. Only two countries have acknowledged using depleted uranium in their weaponry, the US and UK, for its armor-piercing advantages. Only one country, Belgium, has banned its use. A couple of years ago, New Zealand put forth a bill to ban DU munitions, but it failed by one vote. The Dutch peace group PAX recently confirmed that the U.S. fired DU munitions into Iraqi civilian populations.
Once a DU shell impacts a target, it aerosolizes into a fine gas or mist which can then travel in the air for miles. These radioactive particles can get kicked up again and again by the wind or other disturbances after they have settled on the ground or in the sand. Once inhaled by humans, DNA is damaged and the ensuing cell mutations lead to cancer. For an example of the havoc depleted uranium has wreaked on the health of returning soldiers, watch this video. Investigative reporter Dr Nafeez Ahmedrecently reported how the World Health Organization tried to cover up the horrific, lingering effects of depleted uranium contamination in Iraq. For those Middle East countries, the use of these radioactive DU munitions by Western forces constitutes an under-the-radar nuclear scourge with cancers, birth defects, and chronic ill-health affecting generations upon generations into the distant future.
I suppose one could add plastics to the list of unimaginably long-lasting pollutants to the list. Microscopic particles of the stuff can be found at any beach and even in mountaintop lakes. And of course the scars from massive strip mining operations will remain as an indelible reminder of industrial civilization’s insatiable appetite for energy. Scientists didn’t declare this the Anthropocene Epoch for nothing; we have certainly left our mark like no other species before or since, literally terraforming the Earth into a planet inhospitable to ourselves. Perhaps aliens will pay a visit after the dust has all settled. They’ll surely shake their heads in disgust at the poisonous wreckage left behind by our fossil-fueled madness before zooming off into the night skies in search of a planet that has intelligent life.
Although I agree with much of what J. H. Kunstler has to say, particularly on his analysis of energy and his critiques of American suburbia, when it comes to his views on the human-made system that is driving this entire train wreck, he gets it dead wrong. Here is a quote from his last blog post:
Now I am, going to reveal to you why it is so difficult to get a live human being on the telephone at these important places: because the more of a racketeering matrix medicine becomes, the more it seeks to evade responsibility for the consequences. That is, the more medicine becomes a criminal enterprise, the less it wants to hear from its client/victims. The same ethos is at work in just about every other realm of corporate enterprise in the USA. Our problem in the USA is not “capitalism,” it’s racketeering. Why we fail to comprehend it is one of the abiding mysteries of contemporary life.
…It ought to be self-evident that this could only happen in a profoundly corrupt, dishonest, and degenerate society, because it took the form of a social compact that accepted this sort of behavior as okay…
Kunstler is perpetuating a deep-seated myth about capitalism that many in American society repeat. Laying the blame on those victimized by an economic system, which by design exploits, disenfranchises, and discards its subjects, overlooks the fact that the problem is the system itself. Capitalism is not an ethical system, and its overriding force of motivation is always the bottom line. Inequality, conflict, and regulatory corruption are all part and parcel of capitalism. History has borne this out numerous times. Unless someone steps in to break them up, monopolies are the natural result of unbridled capitalism (Mindful Economics, Joel Magnuson):
Corporate money greases the wheels of the political system which then passes regulations discouraging competition and favoring large corporations. Regulatory capture is inevitably what happens when successful capitalists amass wealth and buy off the political class whose lifeblood is, after all, money. Under the present system, we will never see a candidate elected to office without a substantial war chest of funds stuffed with corporate ‘donations‘. Government does the bidding of capitalists, not vise versa. We saw this in spades with the election of Obama when all his campaign promises of “hope and change” evaporated into thin air as he filled his cabinet with Wall Street and Goldman Sachs cronies. Who wrote the legislation for Obama’s healthcare reform? — lobbyists for the healthcare industrial complex where, not surprisingly, “the big bucks are currently earned not through the delivery of care, but from overseeing the business of medicine.” The corruption that Kunstler decries is not an aberration of capitalism, but a natural feature of it:
…What chiefly drives this sort of political corruption today is capitalism’s structure. For many capitalist enterprises, competitive and other pressures exist to increase profits, growth rates, and/or market share. Their boards and top managers seek to find cheaper produced inputs and cheaper labor power, to extract more output from their workers, to sell their outputs at the highest possible prices and to find more profitable technologies. The structure provides them with every incentive of financial gain and/or career security and advancement to behave in those ways. Thus, boards and top managers seek the maximum obtainable assistance of government officials in all these areas and also try to pay the least possible portion of their net revenues as taxes. Boards of directors tap their corporations’ profits to corrupt mostly the top echelons of the government bureaucracy, those needed to make advantageous official decisions.
Individual capitalists act to corrupt government officials to serve their enterprise’s needs. Grouped into associations, they do likewise for their industries. When organized as a whole (in “chambers of commerce” or “manufacturers alliances,” etc.), they corrupt to secure their class interests. When such corruption is not secret, capitalists articulate their demands to corrupted officials as “good for the economy or society as a whole.” Such phrases constitute the “appropriate language” that enables officials publicly to disguise and hopefully to legitimate their corrupt acts.
Strict moral codes, regulations and laws have been imposed to prevent individual or grouped capitalists from corrupting government officials. Evidence suggests, however, that neither civic-minded ethics, nor regulations nor laws have come close to ending capitalists’ corruption. Countless government courts, commissions, etc., have hardly ended official complicities in that corruption. Mainstream economics mostly proceeds in its analyses and policy prescriptions as if rampant corruption did not exist. Mass media tend to treat capitalist corruption (at least in their home countries) as exceptional and government efforts to stop it as serious. These, too, are further examples of that “appropriate language” with which modern capitalist societies mask systemic corruption.
~ Richard D Wolff
Noam Chomsky uses the acronym RECD (Really Existing Capitalist Democracy, pronounced ‘wrecked‘) to describe the capitalism that exists in the real world, and he doesn’t hold out much hope for civilization surviving it. Any sort of idyllic form of capitalism only exists in people’s heads and is kept alive by the myth of laissez-faire capitalism (Mindful Economics, Joel Magnuson):
A democracy cannot exist without an informed and intelligent electorate, and when corporations and monied interests intentionally spin the news, the populous are reduced to conspiracy mongers and what Gore Vidal scoffingly called ‘consumer-depositors’ in thrall to the financial elite. Alas, the institution intended to educate the public, aka the Fourth Estate, on matters of vital importance has been thoroughly dismantled and perverted by capitalism. The internet, the last bastion of independent and alternative news, is soon to follow suite (Mindful Economics, Joel Magnuson):
If the masses are unable to see through the spin and distortion propagated by a class of greedy parasites, there is one entity that will not suffer the fate of the dispossessed, dying quietly in some dark corner. The Earth is not so forgiving to such continued capitalist assaults, and it’s not fooled by propaganda such as ‘sustainable development’, ‘green growth’, or ‘corporate social responsibility’. Since pre-industrial times, the global temperature has ‘only’ risen 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit), and we can already see the havoc to civilization’s infrastructure that climate chaos is wreaking. With forecasts of average global temperature to be many fold greater by mid century, it would seem that only a miracle will save us.
Systemic Disorder published an important essay yesterday on the systematic destruction of labor rights throughout the world. How long will these myths about capitalism persist until the exploited finally wake up and realize their blood, sweat, and sacrifice are what fills the coffers of the über rich? Many at the bottom of the economic hierarchy bend over backwards to apologize for our current system, calling it everything but capitalism. No matter how often capitalism fails, no matter how many people it kills, it is religiously touted as the only and the best economic system available despite its flaws. Will humans continue to amuse themselves to death, defending a systemically self-destructive system?
We watched the tragedy unfold
We did as we were told
We bought and sold
It was the greatest show on earth
But then it was over
We ohhed and aahed
We drove our racing cars
We ate our last few jars of caviar
And somewhere out there in the stars
A keen-eyed look-out
Spied a flickering light
Our last hurrah
And when they found our shadows Grouped ’round the TV sets They ran down every lead They repeated every test They checked out all the data on their lists And then the alien anthropologists Admitted they were still perplexed But on eliminating every other reason For our sad demise They logged the only explanation left This species has amused itself to death . . .
Do citizens of industrialized, consumerist nations have the moral authority to lecture the world about overpopulation, singling it out as the root of all the world’s problems? William Catton coined the term Homo colossus to describe those living in the industrialized world whose consumption of resources is disproportionately greater than those in the so-called undeveloped world:
In his book Endgame, Derrick Jensen points out that the argument of overpopulation becomes rather meaningless unless it is framed within the context of consumption levels:
If we take a look at who is actually pushing the environment to collapse according to their consumption levels, it becomes clear by the numbers that the real planet destroyers are not the teeming masses of the Third World, but industrial civilization’s energy gluttons driving their SUV’s, checking their stock portfolios on the internet, and wagging their finger at the huddled masses who have been corralled into megacities because globalization wiped out their indigenous means of subsistence:
…What is immediately apparent from Chart 1[above] is that the 10 percent of the world’s population with the highest income, some 700 million people, are responsible for the overwhelmingly majority of the problem. It should be kept in mind that this is not just an issue of the rich countries. Very wealthy people live in almost all countries of the world—the wealthiest person in the world is Mexican, and there are more Asians than North Americans with net worth over $100 million. When looked at from a global perspective, the poor become essentially irrelevant to the problem of resource use and pollution. The poorest 40 percent of people on Earth are estimated to consume less than 5 percent of natural resources. The poorest 20 percent, about 1.4 billion people, use less than 2 percent of natural resources. If somehow the poorest billion people disappeared tomorrow, it would have a barely noticeable effect on global natural resource use and pollution. (It is the poor countries, with high population growth, that have low per capita greenhouse gas emissions.22) However, resource use and pollution could be cut in half if the richest 700 million lived at an average global standard of living.
Thus, we are forced to conclude that when considering global resource use and environmental degradation there really is a “population problem.” But it is not too many people—and certainly not too many poor people—but rather too many rich people living too “high on the hog” and consuming too much. Thus birth control programs in poor countries or other means to lower the population in these regions will do nothing to help deal with the great problems of global resource use and environmental destruction… – link
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the carbon footprint of the top quintile is over three times that of the bottom. Even in relatively egalitarian Canada, the top income decile has a mobility footprint nine times that of the lowest, a consumer goods footprint four times greater, and an overall ecological footprint two-and-a-half times larger. Air travel is frequently pegged as one of the most rapidly growing sources of carbon emissions, but it’s not simply because budget airlines have “democratized the skies”–rather, flying has truly exploded among the hyper-mobile affluent. Thus in Western Europe, the transportation footprint of the top income earners is 250 percent of that of the poor. And global carbon emissions are particularly uneven: the top five hundred million people by income, comprising about 8 percent of global population, are responsible for 50 percent of all emissions. It’s a truly global elite, with high emitters present in all countries of the world.
In the postEarth to Humans: “Get Off Your Merry-Go-Round Ride to Extinction”, I quoted a well-reasoned article by Devon G. Peña who explained the self-serving and hypocritical stance taken by the capitalist industrialized nations regarding the issue of overpopulation. The root causes driving mankind to extinction are completely sidestepped:
…In climate change debates, overpopulation arguments serve to delay making structural changes in North and South away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels; to explain the failure of carbon markets to tackle the problem; to justify increased and multiple interventions in the countries deemed to hold the surplus people; and to excuse those interventions when they cause further environmental degradation, migration or conflict.
As such, population theory is far more than a theory or a principle. It is above all a political strategy that obscures the relationships of power between different groups in societies, whether these be local, national, global, while at the same time justifying those political relationships that allow certain groups to dominate others structurally, be they men over women, property owners over commoners, or ‘us’ over ‘them’. The “too many” are hardly ever the speakers, they are always the Other.
This partially explains why those considered to be surplus are not those who profit from continued fossil fuel extraction but those most harmed by it and by climate change…
As was shown in the post The Biophysics of Civilization, Money = Energy, and the Inevitability of Collapse, GDP and money are tied to energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity and our economic model and profligate way of life are on a collision course with catastrophe. Realistic solutions require dealing with the root of the problem, not the symptoms. Geoengineering, carbon trading schemes, and GMO’s are technocapitalist solutions to climate change. Focusing on overpopulaion ignores the socio-economic system behind all the exploitation and destruction.
…It is not surprising, however, that a worsening climate situation is often attributed not to continued fossil fuel extraction but to too many people. Whenever global environmental crises, Third World poverty or world hunger are at issue, whenever conflict, migration or economic growth are discussed, economists, demographers, planners, corporate financiers and political pundits (at least in the North) frequently invoke overpopulation.
Over 200 years ago, at a time of immense social, political and economic upheavals and deprivation in England triggered by the enclosure of common lands and forests on which peasant livelihoods depended, free market economist Thomas Malthus wrote a story about how nature and humans interact. The punch line was his mathematical analogy for the disparity between human and food increases. Harnessing politics to mathematics, he provided a spuriously neutral set of arguments for promoting a new political correctness – one that denied the shared rights of everyone to subsistence, sanctioning instead the rights of the “deserving” over the “undeserving”, with the market as arbiter of entitlements. The poor were poor because they lacked restraint and discipline, not because of privatisation. This is the essence of the overpopulation argument.
Today, a range of industries use the same argument to colonise the future for their particular interests and to privatise commonally-held goods. In agriculture, for instance, the talk is of extra mouths in the South causing global famine — unless biotechnology companies have the right to patent and genetically-engineer seeds. With respect to water, growing numbers of thirsty slum dwellers are held to threaten water wars — unless water resources are handed over to private sector water companies. And in climate, the talk is of teeming Chinese and Indians causing whole cities to be lost to flooding through their greenhouse gas emissions — unless polluting companies are granted property rights in the atmosphere through carbon-trading schemes and carbon offsets. These are the tools of the main official approach to the climate crisis that aims to build a global carbon market worth trillions of dollars.
Two centuries ago, Malthus was compelled to admit that his mathematical and geometric series of increases in food and humans were not observable in any society. He acknowledged that his “power of number” was just an image — an admission demographers have since confirmed. And for over 200 years, his theory and arguments — that it is the number of people that cause resource scarcity — have been refuted endlessly by demonstrations that any problem attributed to human numbers can more convincingly be explained by social inequality, or that the statistical correlation is ambiguous. Malthus’s greatest achievement was in fact to obscure the roots of poverty, inequality and environmental deterioration. The “war-room” mentality generated by predictions of scarcity-driven apocalypse has always diverted attention away from the awkward social and environmental history of discredited policies and projects – a more important focus of study.
Frequently left out of discussions about tackling malnutrition, hunger, starvation and famine, for instance, are the maldistribution of the world’s food supplies, skewed access to land, trade policies, the hazards of devoting land to agrofuel or carbon offset production, unequal access to money to buy food, and commodity speculation.
If over one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, it is because water, like food, flows to those with the most bargaining power: industry and bigger farmers first, richer consumers second, and the poor last, whose water is polluted by industrial effluent, exported in foodstuffs or poured down the drain through others’ wasteful consumption… – link
And of course we can always wash our hands of everything by saying humans, driven by base biological urges, are inherently aggressive, selfish, and hierarchical by nature. We can blame our fossil fuel consumption on the optimal foraging theory and the lethal mutation of higher intelligence. We can excuse our self-destructive behavior on account of evolutionary blind spots such as faulty human brain circuitry with its numerous cognitive biases and inability to perceive long-term threats like climate change. We can say that “complex global human systems” are beyond anyone’s control and therefore cannot be altered or stopped. In other words, we can rationalize inaction and put forth many reasons for why we are helpless as our manmade economic system speeds toward the cliff, but as the masses see the system for what it really is, the facade becomes harder and harder to maintain. The mantra of business-as-usual is becoming a curse for most, and if continued on for much longer will most certainly be a death sentence for all.
While the false debate continues in mostly right-wing circles that today’s Capitalism is some aberrant form of “true” Capitalism, the end game and final victory of Capital continues to play out with multinational corporations becoming the ‘winner take all’ in their complete takeover of the world’s economies and governments. As discussed before, the TTIP and TPP are the latest maneuvers in this corporate grab for power, wealth, and resources. Any last vestiges of environmental protection, worker rights, and sovereignty will be shredded. No illusions of democracy should be maintained in a world of corporate feudalism where gross social inequality will have become irreversible and the will of common people smothered by the abuses of great wealth:
“[The TTIP] proposes to establish a Regulatory Co-operation Council combining US and EU regulatory agencies with the purpose of working towards deeper ‘regulatory co-operation and increased compatibility for future and existing regulatory measures’. For example, health and safety regulations and food standards between the US and the EU will be made ‘compatible’, or more simply put, downgraded or removed.
The TTIP and TPP are intended to include investor-state dispute settlement clauses. When a corporation considers its expected future profits are being harmed by a government it can lodge a case before these tribunals consisting of three lawyers who represent corporate interests. These lawyers have no conflict of interest restrictions on their operations. There are no limits on the awards that can be claimed against governments and very limited rights of appeal for governments. Even if a government wins a case it must pay the tribunal’s costs and legal fees – averaging $9m a case. UNCTAD reports a tenfold increase in such cases since 2000. Any health or environmental policy that conflicted with corporate interests would be subjected to these extra-judicial tribunals. Tribunals are currently organised under World Bank and United Nations rules. The compensation is taken from the taxpayers.
Of the world’s ten biggest law firms, ranked by revenue, four are British and six are US. A golden age for corporate lawyers beckons! ConDem Coalition government Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke explained, ‘Investor protection is a standard part of free-trade agreements – it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least.’
The following are just a few of the cases that corporations have brought to the investor-state dispute settlement tribunals: …” – link
The PR machine continues to churn out lies even under the glaring reality of today’s obscene wealth disparity. One particular study, entitled Your Fate? Thank Your Ancestors, was discussed in the New York Times recently, proclaiming that an individual’s path to success or failure in any society is foreordained in their genetic make-up and family lineage. Of course genes do play a part in the intelligence, talents, and behavior of every individual, but this particular meme is based on the myth that people in present day capitalist economies live and operate within “modern meritocracy societies” wherein everyone has the freedom and opportunity to develop and utilize the full potential of their talents. As one commenter at the New York Times rightly stated:
“This [study] appears to be one of a growing number arguing for the inherent superiority of some people over others while strenuously avoiding terms like superiority. The claim that some are born to lead and rule and others to be ruled over is as old as human civilization.”
Such propaganda serves the purpose of those at the top of the capitalist social hierarchy, allowing them to justify capitalism’s grotesque social inequality while at the same time preaching to the masses that their poor standing in society is a result of their genetic heritage and not the result of a structurally unjust and undemocratic system. In other words, those at the top deserve to be there and so do those at the bottom.
Many people remain under the spell of the American Dream which promises they can rise to the top of this corrupt system or at least receive the trickle down benefits it claims to offer, but the stark reality of shrinking wages and pensions, persistent unemployment, and rising costs of bare necessities prove otherwise. It’s known as “the meritocracy myth” and one book with that title, written by two professors, explains that a person’s social status is based more on factors such as class structure, politics, and race rather than on individual merit and initiative. Their major arguments are summarized below:
“Factors associated with Individual “Merit”
1.) Money makes money.
Sources of revenue that are unrelated to jobs, such as income from capital gains, dividends, interest payments, government subsidies as well as appreciating assets of wealth such as businesses, real estate, and stocks are predominantly owned by a small fraction of society’s upper echelon. This maldistribution of wealth illustrates that America is not a “middle class society”, but one of the haves and have-nots where wealth is concentrated at the very top of the system.
“…the shape of the distribution of merit resembles a “bell curve” with small numbers of incompetent people at the lower end, most people of average abilities in the middle and small numbers of talented people at the upper end. The highly skewed distribution of economic outcomes, however, appears quite in excess of any reasonable distribution of merit. Something that is distributed “normally” cannot be the direct and proportional cause of something with such skewed distributions…”
“Most experts point out, for instance, that ‘intelligence,’ as measured by IQ tests, is partially a reflection of inherent intellectual capacity and partially a reflection of environmental influences. It is the combination of capacity and experience that determines ‘intelligence.’ Even allowing for this ‘environmental’ caveat, IQ scores only account for about 10% of the variance in income differences among individuals (Fisher et al. 1996). Since wealth is less tied to achievement than income, the amount of influence of intelligence on wealth is much less. Other purportedly innate ‘talents’ cannot be separated from experience, since any ‘talent’ must be displayed to be recognized and labeled as such (Chambliss 1989). There is no way to determine for certain, for instance, how many potential world-class violinists there are in the general population but who have never once picked up a violin. Such ‘talents’ do not spontaneously erupt but must be identified and cultivated.”
3.) Hard work does not necessarily equate to economic success.
“Applying talents is also necessary. Working hard is often seen in this context as part of the merit formula. Heads nod in acknowledgment whenever hard work is mentioned in conjunction with economic success. Rarely is this assumption questioned. But what exactly do we mean by hard work? Does it mean the number of hours expended in the effort to achieve a goal? Does it mean the amount of energy or sheer physical exertion expended in the completion of tasks? Neither of these measures of “hard” work is directly associated with economic success. In fact, those who work the most hours and expend the most effort (at least physically) are often the most poorly paid in society. By contrast, the really big money in America comes not from working at all but from owning, which requires no expenditure of effort, either physical or mental. In short, working hard is not in and of itself directly related to the amount of income and wealth that individuals have.”
4.) Mental Attitude
“According to the culture of poverty argument, people are poor because of deviant or pathological values that are then passed on from one generation to the next, creating a “vicious cycle of poverty.” According to this perspective, poor people are viewed as anti-work, anti-family, anti-school, and anti-success. Recent evidence reported in this journal (Wynn, 2003) and elsewhere (Barnes, Gould ;1999, Wilson, 1996), however, indicates that poor people appear to value work, family, school, and achievement as much as other Americans. Instead of having “deviant” or “pathological” values, the evidence suggests that poor people adjust their ambitions and outlooks according to realistic assessments of their more limited life chances.
An example of such an adjustment is the supposed “present-orientation” of the poor. According to the culture of poverty theory, poor people are “present-oriented” and are unable to “defer gratification.” Present orientation may encourage young adults to drop out of school to take low wage jobs instead staying in school to increase future earning potential. However, the present orientation of the poor can be an “effect” of poverty rather than a “cause.” That is, if you are desperately poor, you may be forced to be present oriented. If you do not know where your next meal is coming from, you essentially have no choice but to be focused on immediate needs first and foremost. By contrast, the rich and middle class can “afford” to be more future oriented since their immediate needs are secure. Similarly, the poor may report more modest ambitions than the affluent, not because they are unmotivated, but because of a realistic assessment of limited life chances. In this sense, observed differences in outlooks between the poor and the more affluent are more likely a reflection of fundamentally different life circumstances than fundamentally different attitudes or values.”
5.) Moral character and integrity
“Although ‘honesty may be the best policy’ in terms of how one should conduct oneself in relations with others, there is little evidence that the economically successful are more honest than the less successful. The recent spate of alleged corporate ethics scandals at such corporations as Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Duke Energy, Global Crossing, Xerox as well as recent allegations of misconduct in the vast mutual funds industry reveal how corporate executives often enrich themselves through less than honest means. White-collar crime in the form of insider trading, embezzlement, tax fraud, insurance fraud and the like is hardly evidence of honesty and virtue in practice. And neither is the extensive and sometimes highly lucrative so-called ‘irregular’ or ‘under the table’ economy—much of it related to vice in the form of drug trafficking, gambling, pornography, loan sharking, or smuggling. Clearly, wealth alone is not a reflection of moral superiority. To get ahead in America, it no doubt helps to be bright, shrewd, to work hard, and to have the right combination of attitudes that maximize success within given fields of endeavor. Playing by the rules, however, probably works to suppress prospects for economic success since those who play by the rules are more restricted in their opportunities to attain wealth and income than those who choose to ignore the rules.”
Nonmerit Barriers to Mobility
1.) The effects of initial class placement at birth on future life chances.
“…those born into great wealth start far ahead of those born to poor parents, who have a huge deficit to overcome if they are to catch up. Indeed, of all the factors that we might consider, where we start out in life has the greatest effect on where we end up. In the race to get ahead, the effects of inheritance come first and merit second, not the other way around.
Inheritance provides numerous cumulative nonmerit advantages that are available in varying degrees to all those born into at least some relative advantage, excluding only those at the very bottom of the system. Included among these nonmerit advantages are high standards of living from birth, inter vivos gifts (gifts between the living) such as infusions of cash and property bestowed by parents on their children at critical junctures in the life course (going to college, getting married, buying a home, having children, starting a business, etc.), insulation from downward mobility (family safety nets which prevent children from skidding in times of personal crises, setbacks, or as the result of personal failures), access to educational opportunities as well as other opportunities to acquire personal merit or to have merit identified and cultivated, better health care and consequently longer and healthier lives (which increases earning power and the ability to accumulate assets during the life course).
Another advantage of inheritance is access to high-powered forms of social and cultural capital. Social capital is one’s ‘social resources’ and refers to essentially to the value of whom you know. Cultural capital is one’s cultural resources and refers essentially to the social value of what you know. Everyone has friends, but those born into privilege have friends in high places with resources and power. Everyone possesses culture—bodies of knowledge and information needed to navigate through social space. Full acceptance into the highest social circles, however, requires knowledge of the ways of life of a particular group…”
2.) Bad Luck
“Bad luck can take many forms but two very common forms of bad luck are to be laid off from a job that you are good at or to spend many years preparing for a job for which demand either never materializes or declines. In looking at jobs and job opportunities, Americans tend to focus on the ‘supply’ side of markets for labor; that is, the pool of available people in the labor force. Much less attention is paid to the ‘demand’ side, or the number and types of jobs available. In the race to get ahead, it is possible and all too common for meritorious individuals to be ‘all dressed up with no place to go.’ For the past twenty years, the ‘growth’ jobs in America have disproportionately been in the low wage service sector of the economy. At the same time, more Americans are getting more education, especially higher education. Simply put, these trends are running in opposite directions: the economy is not producing as many high-powered jobs as the society is producing highly qualified people to fill them (Collins 1979, Livingstone 1998).
In addition to the number and types of jobs available, the locations of jobs both geographically and within different sectors of the economy also represent non-merit factors in the prospects for employment. For instance, a janitor who works for a large corporation New York City may get paid much more for doing essentially the same job as a janitor who works for a small family business in a small town in Mississippi. These effects are independent of the demands of the jobs or the qualifications or merit of the individuals holding them. Differences in benefits and wages between such jobs are often substantial and may mean the difference between a secure existence and poverty… rates of poverty in the United States continue to vary by region and locations within regions suggesting that geography is still a major factor in the distribution of economic opportunity.”
“…those with more education, on average, have higher income and wealth. Education is thus often seen as the primary means of upward social mobility. In this context, education is widely perceived as a gatekeeper institution which sifts and sorts individuals according to individual merit. Grades, credits, diplomas, degrees, and certificates are clearly “earned,” not purchased or appropriated. But, as much research has demonstrated, educational opportunity is not equally distributed in the population (Bowles and Gintis 1976, 2002, Bourdieu and Passeron 1990, Aschaffenburg and Maas 1997, Kozol, 1991, Sacks, 2003, Ballantine 2001). Upper class children tend to get upper class educations (e.g. at elite private prep schools and ivy league colleges), middle class children tend to get middle class educations (e.g. at public schools and public universities), and working class people tend to get working class educations (e.g. public schools and technical or community colleges), and poor people tend to get poor educations (e.g. inner city schools that have high drop out rates and usually no higher education). Educational attainment clearly depends on family economic standing and is not simply a major independent cause of it. The quality of schools and the quality of educational opportunity vary according to where one lives, and where one lives depend on familial economic resources and race. Most public schools, for instance, are supported by local property taxes. The tax base is higher in wealthy communities and proportionally lower in poorer areas. These discrepancies give rise to the perpetual parental scramble to locate in communities and neighborhoods that have reputations for “good schools,” since parents want to provide every possible advantage to their children that they can afford. To the extent that parents are actually successful in passing on such advantages, educational attainment is primarily a reflection of family income. In sum, it is important to recognize that individual achievement occurs within a context of unequal educational opportunity.”
4.) Loss of Self-Employment Opportunities and the Offshoring of Jobs
“…self-employment is popularly perceived as a major route to upward mobility. Opportunities to get ahead on the basis of being self-employed or striking out on one’s own to start a new business, however, have sharply declined. In colonial times, about three-fourths of the non-slave American population was self- employed most as small family farmers. Today, only seven percent of the labor force is self-employed (U.S. Census Bureau 2002). The “family farm,” in particular, is on the brink of statistical extinction. As self-employment has declined, the size and dominance of corporations has increased. This leaves many fewer opportunities for “self-made” individuals to enter existing markets or to establish new ones. America has witnessed the sharp decline of “mom and pop” stores, restaurants, and retail shops and the concomitant rise of Wal-Marts, Holiday Inns, and McDonalds. As more Americans work for someone else in increasingly bureaucratized settings, the prospects of rapid “rags to riches” mobility decline.
In addition to the decline of self-employment, manufacturing has also experienced drastic workforce reduction as production facilities have increasingly moved to foreign countries in efforts to reduce costs of production. This is a significant trend since the United States became a world power based on its industrial strength, which supported a large and relatively prosperous working and middle class. Some service jobs, such as customer service and computer programming, are also being moved to foreign countries in increasing numbers. All of these trends are occurring quite independent of the merit of individuals but nevertheless profoundly impact the opportunities of individuals to get ahead…”
“Discrimination not only suppresses merit; it is the antithesis of merit. Race and sex discrimination have been the most pervasive forms of discrimination in America, [but others include] sexual orientation, religion, age, physical disability (unrelated to job performance), physical appearance…”
In addition to the worsening inequality endemic to the system, the social fabric of society will be torn apart by a world now in the throes of multiple ecological crises. The availability and affordability of food and water will be magnified by anthropogenic climate change as the agricultural regions of an overpopulated world are ravaged by drought, flood, and fire. Infrastructure will begin to fail more frequently as extreme weather begins to rack up damage. The aloof elite, who ensconce themselves behind gated walls and the luxury that their wealth buys, will fan the flames of resentment and civil unrest in a desperate population scrambling just for the necessities of life. The cultural myths of capitalism are fraying and the collapse of industrial civilization, unable to change its omnicidal course for sundry reasons, is seemingly written in stone.
The . . . metamessage of our time is that the commodity form is natural and inescapable. Our lives can only be well lived (or lived at all) through the purchase of particular commodities. Thus our major existential interest consists of maneuvering for eligibility to buy such commodities in the market. Further, we have been taught that it is right and just—ordained by history, human nature, and God—that the means of life in all its forms be available only as commodities. . . . Americans live in an overcommodified world, with needs that are generated in the interests of the market and that can be met only through the market.
~ Stephen Fjellman, Vinyl Leaves:Walt Disney World and America
From the Amazonian tribe driven off its land by fossil fuel companies to the wage-enslaved city dweller dependent on mass-produced food and other commodities, no place on Earth has escaped the planet-wide reach of capitalist industrial civilization’s profit-extracting mechanisms. The oligarch’s of industry and banking shape public thought through an all-pervasive mass media monopoly, control legislation and regulation by pulling political purse-strings and commanding an army of lobbyists, sew death and mayhem with the global arms trade, sacrifice the next generation in resource wars, decimate ecosystems for short-term gain, manipulate and devalue currencies, create economic bubbles, and sell this entire vile process back to the masses as “progress” and “development” with measurements of inflated stock prices and skewed GDP figures. The untold human and environmental costs are now bursting at the seams with societal disintegration, epidemic mental illness, wide-scale resource depletion, industrial pollution and contamination, and the on-going collapse of the Earth’s biosphere.
If you’re wondering why there can never seem to be any significant action taken on climate change, don’t look for honest answers from those whose livelihood is tied to capitalism. If the true costs of the global industrial economy were calculated in terms of environmental damage, the ill-health effects on workers and the public, as well as the fraying of the Earth’s web of life, industries would find the costs too great to bear. The honest truth is that this ecocidal economic system would have to be dismantled for there to be any hope of humanity preserving a living planet and averting extinction.
“…big-time corporate capitalism is an omnicidal momentum. I mean, it just has one thing in mind, and it will destroy or weaken or co-opt anything in its way that is civic, that is democratic….corporations have been very clever A) in distracting people, especially young generation, with entertainment, with professional sports, turning them into spectators. Now you’ve got, you know, 24/7 entertainment. There’s no end to it. And they’ve also been very good in making people internalize a sense of powerlessness.” ~ Ralph Nader
Perhaps the three biggest crises facing civilization are unrestrained financialization of commerce and society, climate change, and peak oil (or peak net energy). Let’s take a quick look at how America is handling each of these crises:
Employing paid shills for the financial industry is now simply standard operating procedure in the U.$.A.:
…Consumer advocates and independent analysts do their best to weigh in as well, but they are outgunned. Meanwhile, consulting firms dedicated to playing matchmaker between corporations and hired experts have flourished in the new regulatory environment. Director Charles Ferguson, whose film Inside Job highlighted the role of sponsored professors in supporting the deregulatory policies that led to the financial meltdown in 2008, says the business of economic consulting firms that work to “source” academics for expert testimony and regulatory filings “has been going on for quite a while, and it’s now quite a large industry.”…
Of course anthropogenic climate change, the existential threat of modern times, would seem to be a catastrophe deserving of mankind’s attention, would it not? Well, as you can see, the capitalist only views it as a public relations war:
An extensive study into the financial networks that support groups denying the science behind climate change and opposing political action has found a vast, secretive web of think tanks and industry associations, bankrolled by conservative billionaires.
“I call it the climate-change counter movement,” study author Robert Brulle, who published his results in the journal Climatic Change, told the Guardian. “It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this. This is a large-scale political effort.”
His work, which is focused on the United States, shows how a network of 91 think tanks and industry groups are primarily responsible for conservative opposition to climate policy. Almost 80 percent of these groups are registered as charitable organisations for tax purposes, and collectively received more than seven billion dollars between 2003 and 2010.
How about peak oil? Again, the energy industry has its PR machine in full swing touting America’s imminent energy independence along with many other myths, but commenter James of this blog cuts to the chase:
Now, which ponzi is most despicable, a religious or financial one? Both are based upon deceit and both serve primarily the enrichment of the scheme officialdom. One promises a payoff in eternal life while the other promises financial success. One examines your credit score while the other applies tick marks in you behavioral ledger of good and evil. Both systems of fleecing are based upon human fear and herd mentality. Society shuns the heretic of either ponzi and damnation awaits those that do not participate fully. Ponzis collapse when increasing numbers of fools, resources and energy can no longer be sucked into their cancerous growth schemes. The religious structures will be more enduring as they can always find plenty of poor dolts to give their last penny to gain a chance at the big after-life payoff. The financial schemers, faced now with meeting the absolutely unbelievable limits of growth will have to leave all those little nest eggs of promises, unhatched. The key is to convince the ponzi participants that the U.S. is the new Saudi Arabia, that fracking oil and natural gas is the future and we can get enough oil from shale to last a million years. “Just relax folks, you’re all gonna get your money back”. Not. What a miraculous world we live in.
As you can see, America is handling all three crises like a sleazy car salesman unloading a lot full of lemons.
And if anyone was spooked by the Snowden revelations of government spying, the implications of corporate espionage on social-change organizations that threaten to impede unfettered access to profits is truly terrifying.
…The fruits of such idolatry are clear: the injustice and unemployment and waste of human talents; the corruption of our political leadership and their collusion with immoral financial practices; the depredation and degradation of our natural environments and the exhaustion of our natural resources; the inevitable wars and other crises that arise from the systematic fostering of base human appetites and the refusal to compromise our ways of life, and pursue a more equitable sharing of the gifts bequeathed to us…
I would not blame anyone for wanting to seek comfort in a bottle or some other form of self-medication, but perhaps doing something more dramatic to escape this nightmarish reality of a thoroughly corrupted, money-worshipping society is in the cards. When your back is against the wall and you’ve lost faith in everything, then revolution is the antidote for the “pseudo-realities” that plague us.
“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.” ~ Philip K. Dick
The specter of death, near-term extinction, haunts us as we silently endure the evil and decay all around us, going along just to get along in the belly of the American empire. One day pent-up anger and hunger will burst forth, pushing us into the streets. Blood and emotions will flow freely. Inept and crooked governments will fall. We’ll have nothing left to lose.
In an era of end-stage capitalism where life has become a sordid grab for dollars while the world lives on the edge of financial and ecological collapse, it comes as no surprise that America would be captivated by the story of a struggling school teacher going for the ‘American dream’ by crook or by hook. A tourist mystique has even been created in this show’s filming location of Albuquerque. The premise for this darkly comic tale is an all too familiar one for the average American family – the threat of bankrupting medical bills. Recently diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer and now at the end of his financial rope, Walter descends into the seedy world of illicit drugs in an attempt to save his family from economic ruin. Walter’s predicament represents the dilemma of most Americans who live quiet lives of desperation, just one paycheck away from hunger and homelessness. Ironically, the drug that Walter and his reluctant partner Jesse Pinkman wind up producing is also the drug of choice for many chained to the hamster wheel of capitalism:
“…the rise of meth coincided with the rise of low-paying low-skilled service work, where people had to work multiple menial jobs to earn the same amount they used to earn in one manufacturing job, or other good-paying low-skilled position.
The CDC notes that some meth users rely on it to get “increased energy to work multiple jobs.” Researchers at Indiana University and at the Universities of Colorado and Kentucky have found that, “The long hours and tedious work in oil fields, agriculture, construction, ancillary health care and fast food restaurants may be more tolerable on methamphetamine. Users report using meth to provide the energy to work multiple jobs or be a good mother.”
Guides to identifying and treating meth addiction, like Herbert Covey’s “The Methamphetamine Crisis,” tell readers to look out for, “workaholics or low-income adults who use it to stay awake and perform in multiple jobs. Working low-income individuals find meth attractive because they must work several jobs or long hours to support themselves or their families. They find that higher energy and alertness (ability to stay awake for prolonged periods) helps them cope with the demands of multiple jobs.”
This holds up if you look at places where meth use is highest. Hawaii’s heavy rate of meth use has been attributed to its high cost of living and service-based economy. “If you’re doing mind-numbing, repetitive work, this enables you to overcome both the painful tedium of the boredom as well as increase concentration and safety,” Dr. William Haning, a psychiatry professor at the University of Hawaii, once told the Maui News…“
From his former business partners at Grey Matter Technologies who stole his ideas and became incredibly wealthy to the demeaning work he endures at his car wash moonlighting job, the elusive ‘American dream’ has haunted Walter White. At first his scheme is to generate just enough cash to cover his medical expenses and secure a modicum of financial security for his family, but in a society whose primary metric of self-worth is the number of dollars one can accumulate, Walter quickly transforms into a cutthroat businessman bent on building an empire. His metamorphosis from a meek, mild-mannered family man to a Machiavellian drug kingpin is quite astonishing. Walter rationalizes and euphemizes his manufacture of the insidious drug meth by referring to it as his “product”, following strict steps to create “the highest quality product to perform as advertised.” “The chemistry must be respected,” proclaims Walter.
In this world of hyper-exploitive capitalism, ‘staying in the game’ involves making choices that seldom include moral concerns. As the dead bodies continue to pile up around Walter’s drug operation, the more callous and psychopathic he becomes. Warren Buffet, the poster child for Capitalism, has praised the business acumen of the show’s main character while even tweeting a picture of himself as Walter White. Replace Walt’s blue crystal with iPhones or any other mass-produced product and the basic business model is eerily the same. The Economist even published an essay illustrating how ‘Breaking Bad’ was a “first-rate primer on business“:
“…Mr White’s biggest failing is also a common one in business: hubris. The more successful he becomes, the more invulnerable he feels. The more rules he breaks, the more righteous he feels. And the more wealth he accumulates, the more he wants. An impressive volume of social-science studies suggests that leaders are more willing to break the rules than followers. There is no shortage of corporate examples, from Enron to Olympus, to illustrate this. Walter White is a thoroughly odd character: Mr Chips turned Scarface, as the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, puts it. But he also holds a worrying mirror to the business world….“
Walter seals his own fate when he proclaims “there’s no stopping this train.” The accumulation of money becomes the “be-all and the end-all” for Walt’s existence, but for all the mountains of cash piling up in duffel bags, crawl spaces, storage units, and 55-gallon barrels, Walter and his family are unable to make much use of it and in fact are plagued by it. In the end, the money becomes a curse, destroying the very thing it was supposed to save… Walt and his family.
Another irony among many is that the bruised and battered psyche of Jesse Pinkman, the drug addict ostracized by his well-to-do suburbanite parents, serves as the moral compass in a world of lies, deceit, and betrayal. Despite the fact that Walter and Jesse are producing one of the most destructive drugs in history, outright murder was never in their plans. Walter becomes inured to the killings, but Jesse is unable to cope. He sees their ill-gotten gains as “blood money” and gets rid of his share by tossing it all over a neighborhood. It’s quite fitting then that in the final conclusion Jesse ends up as the sole survivor of this trip through hell.
Interestingly, those who are masters at getting away with their crimes are the ones hiding in plain sight who have ingratiated themselves with law enforcement and other institutions of society. Behind the clean-cut and bespectacled mask of Gustavo “Gus” Fring lurks a cold-blooded drug lord whose meth superlab sits beneath the façade of an industrial laundry business. The distribution network of the drug is integrated into Fring’s fast food chicken chain. Gus Fring is a perfect representative for the psychopathic elite in our society who hide behind the phony rhetoric of PR firms, lobbyists, and dark money politics. I see an analogy with the toxicity of meth and the climate change wrought by fossil fuels. Industrial civilization’s addiction to fossil fuels is similar to the feeling of unlimited energy that a meth addict gets, but the downside is that both kill. For the psychopaths at the helm of industrial civilization, business-as-usual must be protected even as we race toward extinction. To quote a reader of this blog:
“…steady or rising coal and gas consumption in advanced countries (all countries, really), in the face of all this ecocide (not that so many actually consider it to be in their face) illustrates the inability of either producer or consumer to dial back within the confines of our system–a polygamy of empire and finance and thermodynamics. …we can’t get off the train…not in one piece anyhow.”
Walter White’s self-destructive end seems to be as tragic and foolish as the one capitalist industrial civilization is hurtling towards, or perhaps it’s simply the inevitable course of events governing all of life:
“As many of you know, I have a background as a chemistry teacher. I’ve come to realize that much of what I teach my students applies not only to what goes on in the classroom, but in life also. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It’s fascinating really. It’s a shame so many of us never take time to consider its implications.” ~ Walter White
Capitalism has, throughout its history, built itself off the backs of the weak through dispossession, slavery, colonialism, technology and military power. Protecting the capitalist system into the 21st century, U.S. military served as the all-powerful proxy force of the global corporate elite. In the waning days of modern-day civilization, transnational corporations found even more ways to amass power and squeeze out every last penny from the Earth to the gods of capital. In the name of ‘free trade’, secretive agreements with alphabet soup-acronyms like TTP and TPIP were concocted to protect and expand profits as well as investor returns at the expense of all else, including the sovereignty of nations and the very habitability of the planet. Corporations became the new kings and queens, tsars and tsaritsas, bishops and popes. The last grab for what was left could now be done more swiftly while circumventing the laws of nations.
“…Capitalism has an inbuilt wondrous capacity of resurrection and regeneration; though this is capacity of a kind shared with parasites – organisms that feed on other organisms, belonging to other species. After a complete or near-complete exhaustion of one host organism, a parasite tends and manages to find another, that would supply it with life juices for a successive, albeit also limited, stretch of time.
A hundred years ago Rosa Luxemburg grasped that secret of the eerie, phoenix-like ability of capitalism to rise, repeatedly, from the ashes; an ability that leaves behind a track of devastation – the history of capitalism is marked by the graves of living organisms sucked of their life juices to exhaustion…” ~ Zygmunt Bauman
In a world of finite resources controlled by a tiny capitalist class, there would eventually only be two classes remaining – the über-wealthy or global elite and the vast underclass of disposable workers who eked out a subsistence existence. The wealth of society continued to be funneled upwards to the corporate overlords by way of deregulation, privatization, low or nonexistent tax rates, control of the legal system, and the cutting away of any last scraps of a social safety net.
Preoccupied by their digital screen devices and satiated on mass-produced junk food, the plebs never really noticed they were living in an open-air prison. In the meantime, the walls of a police state rose up to protect the sociopathic elite. As long as the ‘consumers’ were kept in a continual state of ‘amusement madness’ and on the treadmill of work exhaustion, there would be no time for contemplating the reality of climate change, the ever-widening wealth gap, the rise of a corporate fascist state, or the disappearance of the natural world.
“Living in an age of advertisement, we are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch.”
~ J. B. Priestley
This Ponzi scheme economy was so entrenched in the psyche of the general populace that essentially none questioned its validity, even in the face of increasingly chaotic weather and rising seas, mountains of toxic waste, lifeless oceans, epidemic industrial disease, and grotesque wealth maldistribution. The right to seek profit trumped the health and safety of humans, the stability of the environment, and the legal recourse of governments on behalf of their citizens. National borders were effectively erased and a global corporatocracy now ruled the planet. Ironically, the one world government feared by so many right-wing conspiracists had become reality without any protest from them.
Acid rain and erratic weather, the unintended consequences of half-baked geoengineering fixes, forced most food production into industrial greenhouses. Due to the chemical pollution levels in the environment, all water had to be treated before it was used for anything, and gas masks became ‘everyday outdoor wear’ like hats and umbrellas. Most stayed indoors to escape such hazards, immersing themselves in the artificial environments of virtual reality software. Zoos became the only sanctuaries for wildlife, their sperm safely kept frozen for the day humans might want to de-extinctify them. National parks were privatized and plastered with corporate logos. The ranks of the homeless and destitute swelled, but most soon found themselves living inside the cell of a private, for-profit prison where they toiled away as cheap labor contracted by the corporations. Such crises were always looked upon as business opportunities, a niche to fill in the profit-seeking mind of homo economicus. Commodification and commercialization of everything became completely normalized.
Taken to the extreme and turned into a rigid belief system, all ideologies can become dangerous. When the ethics of a society bow to laissez-faire capitalism, life in the U$A becomes a cruel joke:
If you are a person who gets their news solely from mainstream media and forms a worldview from that information, then this website would perhaps strike you as radical, off-base, and conspiratorial. But what if nearly everything you listen to and read has been filtered through the monied interests of the most powerful entities on the planet? And what if those entities quite literally control the government by way of a revolving door, campaign contributions, and lobbyists who unduly influence the crafting of legislation in favor of big business while ignoring the needs of the common citizenry? What if you are merely a pawn in the machinations of such a system — a consumer for the all-important world market and a disposable human resource in its labor pool? What if the wealth created by such an economy is amassing at the very tip of this pyramid scheme while leaving those below to fend for themselves in a world depleted of its resources and poisoned by industrial waste. Would such a grim reality be considered a conspiracy theory? In other words, would the previously described outcome of such a socio-economic system necessarily have to be the plan of a secret cabal of powerful people? If corporations must compete to survive and are legally bound to look after the financial interests of their shareholders, then protecting and growing profits must in the end override all other concerns — environmental and social. The gross wealth disparity, environmental destruction, and political disenfranchisement created by capitalism is not the byproduct of a conspiracy; it’s simply the end-result of a system operating as intended. Concentration of wealth, a characteristic result of capitalism, inevitably leads to a near total corruption of journalism and democracy. Of course the corporate elite may collude to price-fix, bribe regulators or heads of state, and cover up environmental damage and dangers to public health, amongst many other devious activities, but it is invariably done in the interest of gaining dominance in the market place and protecting profits. Capitalism and democracy are not compatible. In fact, life on Earth is ultimately not compatible with capitalism.
“…Although conspiracy theories have been around for centuries, some gained in popularity during the 1960s and 70s as ‘post-modern disillusionment’ set in and people began to question the very notion of ‘progress’. Modernity had not lived up to expectations. Living under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, environmental degradation, poverty and the inability of science or politics to address such concerns, people began moving towards ‘new age’ beliefs and concepts or embracing unconventional theories that seemed to explain humanity’s plight.
This all occurred against a backdrop of (failed) proposals to collectively address worldwide problems that went beyond the capacity of individual nation states acting alone. The UN had been set up along with various other international institutions in order to address global issues but also to cement US global hegemony…”
“…The advocates of populist conspiracy theories seek to explain everything in terms of secret societies and codes, Zionism, ‘communism’ or the hand of ‘Rothschild’. Of course, families like the Rothschilds and Rockefellers and groups like Bilderberg exist and do hold great power. That much is not in dispute. However, the nature of the dynamics of power is. Groups or think tanks like Bilderberg, Brookings Institute, Trilateral Commission, Chatham House, Council on Foreign Relations, RAND Corporation and so on are where capitalism’s state-corporate hegemons, including the rich families mentioned above, meet to discuss, devise policies and manage capitalism.
Radical critiques of society have often focused on the underlying logic and processes of capital accumulation and capitalist economic crises as well as capitalism’s inherent contradictions. An analysis of the historical antecedents of modernity according to scholarly analysis has also been prevalent. Today, it is popular to assert that the members of some shadowy group have been in charge all this time – the Illuminati, often used as a metaphor for ‘the Jews’.
The rise of such explanations are understandable in a complex world, where the ordinary person feels utterly powerless, confused and craves easy answers. Little surprise then that events and crises are said to be the work of some sinister ‘Illuminati’, an explanation which tends to steer clear of any genuine analysis of capitalism.
In the West, jobs are being outsourced, wages are falling and unemployment rising. As the market becomes saturated with goods and demand is unable to mop up supply, firms go bust. There is a shift towards powerful monopoly capitalism, while citizens and workers experience increasing powerlessness and immiseration. And to seek out new profits, imperialist ventures abroad become the norm. State-corporate monopoly capitalism and imperialist intent are not part of a ‘New World Order’ but are part of a world in which the few benefit at the expense of the many and that has been in the making ever since Britain became the first industrial nation and capitalism emerged.
But what we now have isn’t free market capitalism, some might say. The notion of the free market has always been a myth. It’s always been controlled and manipulated. It’s never been ‘free’. And we are now witnessing advanced capitalism in all its gore.
Capitalism has inherent contradictions. All was never intended to be fine. Remember the slogan to end poverty by 2020 (or whatever the date was)? Capitalism thrives on poverty. It’s integral to the system. That’s why it is rampant in the West and much more so in the cheap labour economies of the ‘developing world’. The increasing concentration of power, ownership and wealth and the rising impoverishment of the masses is one of capitalism’s greatest contradictions. It’s not some kind of conspiracy to keep the masses in poverty or in fear of falling into it. It’s built in to capitalism.
But many do not refer Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky to gain an understanding of the processes of dialectic materialism and capitalism. They and their theories are regarded as being part of the Zionist conspiracy. If socialism and communism are the creation of Zionism, which supposedly exerts so much control over the US and Britain, strange then that the secret services of both the US and Britain spent so much time and energy on infiltrating, deradicalising and subverting the left (3).
While the late Antony C Sutton (sometimes regarded as the father of modern conspiracy theories) provides food for thought in his writings and research (4), conspiracy theories tend to provide limited insight into the dynamics of power and oppression in the 21st century.
However imperfect the work of people like Robert Brenner (5) and Barrington Moore (6) may have been, their research was based on broad comparative sociological analysis of the cultural, historical, agrarian and economic factors that led to the rise of capitalism, fascism and communism in various societies. In the absence of this, however, prominent proponents of conspiracy theories in the US and Britain make crude assumptions about such phenomena comprising part of an Illuminati plot, which play on the prejudices and fears of ordinary people, who in turn latch on to the explanation offered as a proxy for the underlying causes of their powerlessness and frustrations.
Why bother having an informed understanding of the dynamics of the modern world based on rigorous research? Much easier to watch a few YouTube clips about some secret, manipulative elite or even amphibians from outer space with an agenda to control the world.
Many conspiracy theorists have indeed actually been quite informative on how the banking system works and how bankers conspire to control policies by keeping governments in permanent debt. They have also highlighted glaring flaws in official accounts of 9/11. They have rightly pinpointed what the mainstream misses out of its narratives and have raised issues that many on the left had tended to ignore or gave scant attention to. But such useful insights then become wrapped up in theories that too often appear to be based on flights of fancy.
There is no doubting that people can and do conspire to shape events. Not everything can be explained by structures where individual motive is eradicated. For example, corporations conspire to produce price cartels, media barons conspire to dominate and state-corporate interests embark on military jaunts to control markets and resources. And yes, bankers conspire to restrict credit for various reasons. But this has to be placed within the wider context of Empire and capitalism.
In capitalism, the compulsion to compete, dominate and pursue profit casts long shadows over virtually every social and cultural institution, from government and politics to education, law, agriculture and entertainment.
Conspiracy theorists and their followers may well appreciate aspects of this, but merely speculate about the intentions of and actions of groups of people without addressing how capitalism shapes any of it…”
How many commercials and advertisements are bombarded at the average person every waking day of their life. It’s in the thousands – everything from TV commercials to billboards to junk mail to radio adverts. Don’t you think this would have some sort of effect on a person’s psychological well-being? Is it any wonder that the one country in which conspiracy theories thrive most also happens to be the epicenter of unbridled capitalism? British author Roger Cohen said, “Captive minds… resort to conspiracy theory because it is the ultimate refuge of the disempowered.” In an environment where everyone is expected to sell themselves everyday in order to eat and ‘the truth’ is manufactured so as to protect the vested interests of those who bring you the ‘news’, desperate souls grasp at any explanation for why the system is so dysfunctional, corrupt, and unfair. According to Dr Patrick Leman, a psychologist at the Royal Holloway University of London, the weak and marginalized of society gravitate towards conspiracy theories because they have no voice in society:
…People are also more likely to believe in conspiracy theories if they feel powerless in the face of large social authorities or institutions, and not part of the mainstream of society.
This is supported by the observation in the USA that beliefs in conspiracy theories tend to be stronger amongst members of ethnic minority groups.
Sociologists suggest that these minority groups feel politically disenfranchised or discriminated against and this gives rise to higher levels of belief in conspiracy theories…
Development of hi-tech communication technology coupled with the rapid expansion of the World Wide Web and social networking has fueled the growth of conspiracy theories around the world. With little money, the rantings of anyone can be voiced to the world. Below is a picture of a twenty-dollar bill folded in such a way as to resemble the twin towers on 9-11. It quickly spread across the internet and was picked up by Glenn Beck, a monger of conspiracy theories, and featured on his blog:
“What are the odds that a simple geometric folding of the $20 bill would accidentally contain a representation of both terror attacks?”
“The radical analysis sees such things as ecological crises, military interventions, the national security state, homelessness, poverty, an inequitable tax system, and undemocratic social institutions such as the corporate owned media, etc… It sees these things not as the aberrant outcome of a basically rational system, but as rational outcomes of a system whose central goal is the accumulation of wealth and power for a privileged class…” ~ Michael Parenti
It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. I plan on doing an essay on conspiracy theories and the dangers they impose when large numbers of people subscribe to them. I decided on this idea the other day after trying to have a discussion with a coworker about the state of the world. I quickly discovered that his head was filled with UFO’s, lizard illuminati, climate change denialism, chip implants for all under Obamacare, and a one-world totalitarian government. The only place in his fantastical worldview I could find any connection with reality was in the idea that governments are becoming more authoritarian. Perhaps this is where so many conspiracy theories spring forth. With only the interests of a small elite being served and nearly everyone else disenfranchised from the institutions of government, people are desperate to find meaning in such an exploitative and fraudulent system that they grasp at any story, no matter how outlandish and otherworldly it may be. And with a faux democratic government fictitiously “serving the people” and becoming increasingly dictatorial as the economy craters, the wealth gap continues to skyrocket, the environment melts down, peak net energy bites, and climate change worsens, such conspiracy theories will only continue to supplant the real world in the minds of the unwashed masses.
The Future: Delusional Hope vs. Stark Reality
The Corporate State (aka the military–industrial–congressional complex) : It’s own worst enemy…