Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Post Cold War

Thought for the day:

The victor of "The Cold War" between totalitarian communism and democratic capitalism has proved to be totalitarian capitalism.

During the cold war, each system fought within itself as well as against each other: totalitarianism versus communist ideals, democratic ideals versus capitalism. Each system defined itself to a great extent by the other. They attempted to reconcile the opposite pulls with their own systems: totalitarians justifying themselves as essential to communism, capitalists as essential to democracy. But still, because of the presence of the other system, the ideals, communism and democracy, had meaning.

After the collapse of both systems, the worst elements of both systems were free to discard those ideals, and totalitarian capitalism has become the dominant world system.

Broadly speaking, only in South America does there remain hope for something better: a democratic socialism.

anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Chris Hedges on Capitalism’s ‘Sacrifice Zones’ — Bill Moyers, July 20, 2012


[CHRIS HEDGES: All of the true correctives to American democracy came through movements that never achieved formal political power. ...]

BILL MOYERS: “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” [is] an account of poverty and desolation across contemporary America. It’s a collaboration between graphic artist and journalist Joe Sacco and Chris Hedges. This is a tough book. It’s not dispatches from Disneyworld. It paints a very stark portrait of poverty, despair, destructive behavior. What makes you think people want to read that sort of thing these days?

CHRIS HEDGES: That wasn’t a question that Joe Sacco and I ever asked. It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does, the violence of that system, which is portrayed in all of the places that we visited.

These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, there are no impediments left?

CHRIS HEDGES: There’s no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we’ve all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.

BILL MOYERS: You call them sacrifice zones.

CHRIS HEDGES: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Explain what you mean by that.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the individuals who live within those areas have no power. The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system services the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless. You see that in the coal fields of southern West Virginia.

Now here, in terms of national resources is one of the richest areas of the United States. And yet these harbor the poorest pockets of community, the poorest communities in the United States. Because those resources are extracted. And that money is not funneled back into the communities that are sitting on top of or next to those resources.

Not only that, but they’re extracted in such a way that the communities themselves are destroyed quite literally because you have not only terrible problems with erosion, as they cause when they do the mountaintop removal, they’ll use these gigantic bulldozers to push off all the trees and then burn them.

And when we flew over the Appalachians, and it’s a terrifying experience, because you realize only then do you realize how vast the devastation is. Just as when we were both in the war in Bosnia, you couldn’t grasp the destruction of ethnic cleansing until you actually flew over Bosnia, and village after village after village had been razed and destroyed.

And the same was true in the Appalachian Mountains. And these people are poisoned. The water is poisoned, it smells, the soil is poisoned. And the people who are making tremendous profits from this don’t even live in West Virginia—

BILL MOYERS: You said something like, “While the laws are West Virginia are written by the coal companies, 95 percent of those coal companies—”

CHRIS HEDGES: Right.

BILL MOYERS: “—are not in West Virginia.”

CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. They no longer want to dig down for the coal, and so they’re blowing the top 400 feet off of mountains poisoning the air, poisoning the soil, poisoning the water.

They use some of the largest machines on earth. These draglines, 25 stories tall, that are very efficient in terms of ripping out coal seams. But by the time they’ve left, there’s just a wasteland. Nothing grows. Some of the richest soil, some of the purest water, and these are the headwaters for much of the East Coast, you are rendering the area moonscape. It becomes uninhabitable. And you’re destroying, you know, these are the lungs of the Eastern seaboard. It’s all destroyed and it’s not coming back.

And that violence is visited on these communities. And you see it played out — I mean Camden, New Jersey, which is the poorest city per capita in the United States and always the one or two in terms of the most dangerous, it’s a dead city. There’s nothing left. There is no employment. Whole blocks are abandoned. The only thing functioning are open-air drug markets, of which there are about a hundred.

And you’re talking third or fourth generation of people trapped in these internal colonies. They can’t get out, they can’t get credit. And what that does to your dignity, your self-esteem, your sense of self-worth.

BILL MOYERS: I was struck by your saying Camden is “beset with the corruption and brutal police repression reminiscent of the despotic regimes that you covered as a correspondent for the New York Times in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.” You describe a city where the per capita income is $ll,967. Large swaths of the city, as Joe Sacco shows us, are abandoned, windowless brick factories, forlorn warehouses.

CHRIS HEDGES: At one point in the 50s, it was a huge shipyard that employed 36,000 people. Campbell’s Soup was made there, RCA used to be there. There were a variety of businesses, but it attracted in that great migration a lot of unskilled labor from the South, as well as immigrants from New York, because without an education, it was a place that you could find a job. It was unionized, of course, so people had adequate wages and some protection. And then it just — everything went down. With the flight of manufacturing overseas.

It’s all gone. Nothing remains. And that’s why it’s such a stark example of what we’ve done to ourselves, without realizing that the manufacturing base of any country is absolutely vital to its health. Not only in terms of its economic, but in terms of its, you know, the cohesion of a society because it gives employment.

BILL MOYERS: But give me a thumbnail sketch of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, Pine Ridge is where it began, Western exploitation. And it was the railroad companies that did it. They wanted the land, they took the land, the government gave them the land. It either gave it to them or sold it to them very cheaply. They slaughtered the buffalo herds, they broke these people. Forcing a people that had not been part of a wage economy to become part of a wage economy, upending the traditional values.

And it really is about the maximization of profit, it really is about the commodification of everything, including human beings. And this was certainly true in the western wars.

And it’s appalling. You know, the average life expectancy for a male in Pine Ridge is 48. That is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. At any one time, 60 percent of the dwellings do not have electricity or water.

BILL MOYERS: You write of one tiny village, a tiny village, with four liquor stores. And that dispense the equivalent of 13,500—

CHRIS HEDGES: Right.

BILL MOYERS: —cans of beer a day. And with devastating results.

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. And they start young and some estimates run that, you know, alcoholism is as high as 80 percent. This contributes, of course, to early death. That’s in Whiteclay, Nebraska. There is no liquor that is legally sold on the reservation, itself. But Whiteclay is about two miles from Pine Ridge. And that’s where people go. They call it “going south.” And that’s all they do, is sell liquor.

That’s true everywhere. You build a kind of dependency which destroys self-sufficiency. I mean, that’s what the old Indian agencies were set up to do. You take away the livelihood, you take away the buffalo herds, you make it impossible to sustain yourself, and then you have lines of people waiting for lard, flour, and you know, whisky.

And that has been true in West Virginia. That’s certainly true in Camden. And it is a form of disempowerment. It is a form of keeping people essentially at a subsistence level, and yet dependent on the very structures of power that are destroying them.

BILL MOYERS: One of the most forlorn portraits is in your description of Immokalee, Florida. You describe Immokalee as a town filled with desperately poor single men.

CHRIS HEDGES: Most of them have come across the border illegally. Come up from Central America and Mexico, especially after the passage of NAFTA. Because this destroyed subsistence farms in Mexico: the big agro businesses were able to flood the Mexican market with cheap corn. Estimates run as high as three million farmers were bankrupt, and where did they go? They crossed the border into the United States in desperate search for work. They were lured into the produce fields. And they send what money they can, usually about $100 a month, home to support their wives and children.

BILL MOYERS: And they make $11,000, $12,000—

CHRIS HEDGES: At best.

CHRIS HEDGES: It’s brutal work, physically.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah.

CHRIS HEDGES: But they’re also exposed to all sorts of chemicals and pesticides. And it’s very hard to show the effects because as these workers age — you know, they’re bent over eight, ten hours a day, so they have tremendous back problems. And by the time they’re in their thirties, the crew leaders — they’ll actually line up in these big parking lots at about 4:00 in the morning, the buses will come — they just won’t pick the older men. And so they become destitute. And they go back home physically broken. And it’s hard to tell, you know, how poisoned they’ve become, because they’re hard to trace. But clearly that is a big issue. They talk about rashes, respiratory, you know, not being able to breathe, coughing, it’s really a frightening window into the primacy of profit over human dignity and human life.

BILL MOYERS: Fit this all together for me. What does the suffering of the Native American on the Pine Ridge Reservation have to do with the unemployed coal miner in West Virginia have to do with the inner-city African American in Camden have to do with the single man working for minimum wage or less in Immokalee, Florida? What ties that all together?

CHRIS HEDGES: Greed. It’s greed over human life. And it’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings. That’s a common thread. We, in that biblical term, we forgot our neighbor. And because we forgot our neighbor in Pine Ridge, because we forgot our neighbor in Camden, in southern West Virginia, in the produce fields, these forces have now turned on us. They went first, and we’re next. ... We are rapidly replicating that totalitarian vision of George Orwell in “1984.” We have an inner sanctum, inner party of 2 percent or 3 percent, an outer party of corporate managers, of 12 percent, and the rest of us are proles. I mean—

BILL MOYERS: Proles being?

CHRIS HEDGES: Being an underclass that is hanging on by their fingertips. And this is already very far advanced. I mean, numbers, I mean, 47 million Americans depending on food stamps, 6 million exclusively on food stamps, 1 million people a year filing for personal bankruptcy because they can’t pay their medical bills, 6 million people pushed out of their houses, long-term unemployment or underemployment probably being 17 to 20 percent. This is an estimate by “The L.A. Times” rather than the official nine percent. I mean, the average worker at Wal-Mart works 28 hours a week, but their wages put them below the poverty line. Which is why when you work at Wal-Mart, they’ll give you applications for food stamps, so we can help as a government subsidize the family fortune of the Walton family.

It’s, you know these corporations know only one word, and that’s “more.” And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating, essentially, a corporate oligarchic state.

BILL MOYERS: And you say, though, we are accomplices in our own demise. Explain that paradox. That corporations are causing this, but we are cooperating with them.

CHRIS HEDGES: This sort of notion that the corporate value of greed is good. I mean, these deformed values have sort of seeped down within the society at large. And they’re corporate values, they’re not American values.

I mean, American values were effectively destroyed by Madison Avenue when, after World War One, it began to instill consumption as a kind of inner compulsion. But old values of thrift, of self-effacement, or hard work were replaced with this cult of the “self,” this hedonism.

And in that sense, you know, we have become complicit, because we’ve accepted this as a kind of natural law. And the acceptance of this kind of behavior, and even the celebration of it is going to ultimately trigger our demise. Not only as a culture, not only as a country, but finally as a species that exists on planet Earth.

... The exploitation of human beings is always accompanied by the exploitation of natural resources, without any thought given to sustainability. I mean, the amount of chemicals and pesticides that are used on the produce in Florida is just terrifying.

And that, you know, migrates from those fields directly to the shelves of our supermarkets and we’re consuming it. And corporations have the kind of political clout that they can prevent any kind of investigation or control or regulation of this. And it’s, again, it’s all for short-term profit at long-term expense.

So the very forces that we document in this book are the same forces that are responsible for destroying the ecosystem itself. We are watching these corporate forces, which are supranational — they have no loyalty to the nation-state at all — reconfigure the global economy into a form of neo-feudalism. We are rapidly becoming an oligarchic state with an incredibly wealthy class of overlords.

Sheldon Wolin writes about this in “Democracy Incorporated” into what I would call, what he calls inverted totalitarianism, whereby it’s not classic totalitarianism, it doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state that purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the iconography and language of American patriotism, and yet internally has seized all of the levers of power. This is what it means when lobbyists write all of our legislation, or when they stack the Supreme Court with people who serve the interests of corporations. And it’s to render the citizen impotent.

... I think it began after World War One. Dwight McDonald writes about how after World War One, American society became enveloped in what he called the psychosis of permanent war, where in the name of anti-Communism, we could effectively banish anyone within the society who questioned power in a serious kind of way.

And of course, we destroyed populist and radical movements, which have always broadened democracy within American society, it’s something Howard Zinn wrote quite powerfully about in “A People’s History of the United States.” It has been a long struggle, whether it’s the abolitionist movement that fought slavery, whether it’s the suffragists for women’s rights, the labor movement, or the civil rights movement. And these forces have the ability to essentially destroy those movements, including labor unions, which made the middle class possible in this country. And have rendered us powerless.

... I look less on my ability to effect change and understand it more as a kind of moral responsibility to resist these forces. Which I think in theological terms are forces of death. And to fight to protect, preserve, and nurture life. ...

BILL MOYERS: So let’s talk about you. You’ve been showing up in the news as well as well as just reporting the news, you took part in that mock trial down at Goldman Sachs.

CHRIS HEDGES: Goldman Sachs is an institution that worships death, the forces of Thanatos, of greed, of exploitation, of destruction. ... Goldman Sachs runs one of the largest commodities index in the world. And I’ve spent 20 years in places like Africa, and I know what happens when wheat prices increase by 100 percent. Children starve. I covered the famine in Sudan and was in these huge U.N. tents and feeding stations. And you know, the people who die in famines were usually elderly and children. The place was, I mean, everyone had tuberculosis. I have scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, which I successfully fought off. And those are sort of the whispers of the dead. All those children and others who didn’t have the ability to go in front of a place like Goldman Sachs and condemn them.

BILL MOYERS: But surely those people, as you were arrested, there were people working for Goldman Sachs looking down from the windows ... taking pictures, laughing. Surely you don’t think they would wish that outcome in Africa or anywhere else, right?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it’s moral fragmentation. I mean, they blind themselves to what they do all day long, and they define themselves as good human beings by other criteria, because they’re a good father or a good husband or because they go to church. But it is that human trait to engage in what I would have to describe as a system of evil. And yet, look at it as just a job.

BILL MOYERS: But are we all then therefore, and I come back to this, aren’t we all part of this system that in some way produces Pine Ridge, Immokalee, the coal fields, the inner-cities, and the starving children in Africa? Aren’t we all who have jobs and participate in the culture and are in the economic game, aren’t we all, in a way, as complicit as those people looking down on you from those windows at Goldman Sachs?

CHRIS HEDGES: No. Because you know, the people who actually run the commodities index are a very tiny, elite, and extremely wealthy group. And they’re highly compensated. These people make hundreds of thousands, often millions of dollars a year. And most of us don’t make that. And that personal enrichment, I think, is a powerful inducement to ignore their complicity in what is clearly a crime against other human beings.

BILL MOYERS: But do you think what you did made any difference? Goldman Sachs hasn’t changed.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that doesn’t matter. I did what I had to do. I did what I believed I should’ve done. ...

BILL MOYERS: ... I talked to you when you wrote your first and remarkable book “War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning.” I haven’t seen anyone as affected in their life after their experience as a journalist as you had been. ... Somehow what you’re doing today goes back to what you saw and did and felt and experienced in all those years you were overseas and on the frontiers of trouble.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, because when you spend that long on the outer reaches of empire, you understand the cruelty of empire, what Conrad calls, “The horror, the horror.” And the lies that we tell ourselves about what is done in our name. Whether that’s in Gaza, whether that’s in Iraq, whether that’s in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, El Salvador, I mean, there’s a long list. ...

BILL MOYERS: But do you think taking sides marginalizes your journalism? ...

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I think that in life we always have to take sides.

BILL MOYERS: Do journalists always have to take sides?

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. Journalists always do take sides. You know, you’ve been a journalist a long time. The idea that there’s something objective and impartial is just a lie. We sell it. But I can take the same set of facts — I was a newspaper reporter for a long time, and I can spin that story one way or another. We manipulate facts. That’s what we do. And I think that the really great journalists—

BILL MOYERS: Not necessarily to deceive though. Some do, I know, but—

CHRIS HEDGES: Right, but we do.

BILL MOYERS: We choose the facts we want to organize—

CHRIS HEDGES: Of course, it’s selective. And it’s what facts we choose, how we place, where we put the quotes. And I think the really great journalists, like the great preachers, care fundamentally about truth. And truth and news are not the same thing.

And the really great reporters, and I’ve seen them, you know, in all sorts of news organizations, are management headaches because they care about truth at the expense of their own career.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean truth as opposed to news?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, let’s take the Israel occupation of Gaza. You know, if I had a dinner with any Middle East correspondent who covered Gaza, none of us would have any disagreements about the Israeli behavior in Gaza, which is a collective war crime. And yet to get up and write it and say it within American society is not a career enhancer. ...

Large institutions like “The New York Times” attract huge numbers of careerists like any other large institutions, the Church of course being no exception. And those are the people who are willing to take moral shortcuts to promote themselves within that institution.

And when somebody becomes a headache, even if they may agree with them, even if they may know that they are speaking a truth and putting their career in jeopardy — they will push them out or silence them. ...

BILL MOYERS: But there is a price, as you have said, to be paid for stepping outside of the system that enabled your name and reputation and becoming a critic of that system. I mean, what price do you think you’ve paid?

CHRIS HEDGES: I don’t think I paid a price, I think I would’ve paid a price for staying in. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. You know, I was pushed out of “The New York Times” because I was publicly denouncing the invasion of Iraq. And again, it comes down to that necessity to speak a truth, or at least the truth as far as you can discern it. ...

I think journalism is essential. I think it’s essential. And we’re watching its destruction. You know, journalism, the power of journalism is that it is rooted in verifiable fact. You go out as a reporter, you seek to find out what is factually correct. You crosscheck it with other sources. It’s sent to an editor. It’s fact-checked, you put it out. That’s all vanishing. ...

BILL MOYERS: ... But do you think you can accomplish as much as a dissenter than as a journalist?

CHRIS HEDGES: It’s not a question that I’ve asked. Because the question is, “What do you have to do?” I certainly knew after 15 years at “The New York Times” that running around on national television shows denouncing the war in Iraq was, as a news reporter, tantamount to career suicide. I mean, I was aware of that.

And yet, you know, as Paul Tillich writes about, you know, “Institutions are always inherently demonic, including the Church.” And you cannot finally serve the interests of those institutions. That for those who seek the moral life, there will always come a time in which they have to defy even institutions they care about if they are able to retain that moral core. And in essence, what, you know, “The New York Times,” or other institutions were asking is that I muzzle myself.

BILL MOYERS: But all institutions do that, don’t they?

CHRIS HEDGES: All institutions do.

BILL MOYERS: Intuitively or explicitly.

CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. And I think for those of us who care about speaking, you know, the truth, or if you want to call it dissent, we are going to have to accept that at one day, that’s going to probably mean a clash with the very institutions that have nurtured and supported us. And I have been nurtured and supported by these institutions.

BILL MOYERS: But your columns, your essays, your recent book, this book, contained repeated calls for uprisings, for civil disobedience. You even say in here, quote, “Revolt is all we have. It is our only hope. It is our only hope.” Unpack that from our viewers who are sitting there thinking, “What is he asking me to do? What does he mean by revolt? What’s he talking about?”

CHRIS HEDGES: Nonviolent civil disobedience. And accepting the fact that engaging in that process will mean arrest. I’ve lived in societies that are rent and torn by violence, and I don’t want us to go there. And I think that we don’t have a lot of time left. And that for those of us who care about veering off into another course, a course that’s rational and sane and makes possible the perpetuation of not only the human species but the planet itself, we have to take this kind of radical action. And if we don’t, then as things disintegrate and as the paralysis within the centers of power become more and more apparent, then we will fuel very frightening extremes. ...

BILL MOYERS: ... You write in here, “Either you join the revolt or you stand on the wrong side of history. You either obstruct through civil disobedience, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil.” But in an early book, “Death of the Liberal Class,” which I think is one of your best, you wrote that, “The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that, a fantasy.”

CHRIS HEDGES: I wrote that before Occupy. And I was writing out of a kind of belief that this was what was absolutely necessary and yet I saw no signs within the wider society that it was happening. And then suddenly, on September 17th, Zuccotti Park appears. And mostly fueled by the young. I was writing out of a present reality, and I didn’t see Zuccotti coming. I was writing out of a kind of despair, for all of the reasons that I said.

BILL MOYERS: Why did you take hope from that? Because after you’d been down there? You subsequently write that “By the end, even the most dedicated of the Occupiers in Zuccotti Park burned out. They lost control of the park. The arrival in cold weather of individual tents, along with the numerous street people with mental impairment and addictions tore apart the community. Drug use as well as assaults and altercations became common.” So how does that square with what you said earlier that the Occupy Movement gave us a blueprint for how to fight back?

CHRIS HEDGES: Because this is the trajectory of all movements. You know, it’s not a linear progression upwards. And the civil rights movement is a perfect example of that. All sorts of failures, whether it’s in Albany, Mississippi or anywhere else. You know, there were all sorts of moments within the civil rights movement where King wasn’t even sure he was going to be able to hold it together. And what happened in Zuccotti is like what happened in 1765 when they rose up against the Stamp Act.

That became the kind of dress rehearsal for the rebellion of 1776. 1905: The uprising in Russia became again a kind of dress rehearsal. These movements, this process, it takes a very long time. I think that Occupy was a movement and I was there.

I mean, I certainly understand why it imploded and its many faults and how at that size, consensus doesn’t work, everything else. And yet it triggered something. It triggered a kind of understanding of systems of power. It, I think, gave people a sense of their own personal power. Once we step out into a group and articulate these injustices and these grievances to a wider public, and of course they resonated with a mainstream. I don’t think it’s over. I don’t know how it’s going to mutate and change, one never knows. But, I think that it’s imperative that we keep that narrative alive by being out there because things are not getting better.

The state is not responding in a rational way to what’s happening. If they really wanted to break the back of the opposition movement, rather than sort of eradicating the 18 encampments, they would’ve gone back and looked at Roosevelt. There would’ve been forgiveness of all student debt, $1 trillion, there would’ve been a massive jobs program targeted at those under the age of 25, and there would’ve been a moratorium on more closures and bank repossessions of homes.

That would’ve been a rational response. Instead, the state has decided to speak exclusively in the language of force and violence to try and crush this movement while people continue this dissent.

BILL MOYERS: In one of your earlier books, you wrote that, quote, “We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilization blink out, and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity.” Do you really think that’s ahead?

CHRIS HEDGES: If there’s not a radical change in the way we relate to the ecosystem that sustains life, yes. And I see, if you ask me to put my money down, I see nothing that indicates that we’re preparing to make that change. ...

We’ve deeply betrayed this next generation on so many levels. And I can’t argue finally, you know, given the empirical facts in front of us that hope is rational. And I retreat, like so many people in my book, into faith. And a belief that resistance and fighting for life is meaningful even if all of the outward signs around us deny that possibility.

BILL MOYERS: That faith in human beings?

CHRIS HEDGES: Faith that fighting for the sanctity of life is always worth it. Because you know, if we don’t fight, then we are finished. Then we’ve signed our own death sentence. Camus writes about this in “The Rebel,” that I think resistance becomes a kind of way of protecting our own worth as an individual, our own dignity, our own self-respect. And I think resistance does always leave open the possibility of change. And if we don’t resist, then we’ve essentially extinguished that hope.

BILL MOYERS: H. L. Mencken, the celebrated iconoclast of the early part of the last century once wrote, “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is more likely one who likes his country more than the rest of us and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime, he is a good citizen, driven to despair.” ...

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ridden by the Wind

The story of industrial-scale wind energy, that is, large wind turbines connected to supply the electric grid, is the same old tale of exploitative industry, of predatory capitalism, of consumerism run riot over the concerns of nature and humanity.

Wind energy does not represent change from a consumption-driven quest of continuing dividends for the investor class. It is a change of brand, nothing more. The same people behind digging up the tar sands of Alberta, drilling in the Arctic, blasting off mountaintops for coal, fracking the ground beneath our feet for methane, mowing down the rain forests, are industrializing rural and wild landscapes with the sprawling tax shelters called wind “farms”.

Like American politics, where choice is limited to which waiter you prefer to serve you from the same Wall Street kitchen (as Huey Long described it), energy policy around the world is “all-of-the-above” with politicians pretending to position themselves against one or another source to flatter different diners. Wind energy operates entirely within that game. As the realities of large-scale wind development — the decimation of habitat, birds, bats, health of human neighbors, and more — have made it harder to sell as “green”, the industry lobby group American Wind Energy Association has strategized: “We need to create a space for the wind energy industry without defining it as an alternative to fossil fuels and coal and that goes beyond being one of many ‘renewables’” (Leadership Council and Board of Directors Meeting, Carlsbad, Calif., Nov. 2, 2011). The reality is that a consumption-based economy dependent on continued “growth” doesn't need alternatives, only more choices: all of the above, whether it works or not. And that imperative excuses all.

As Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said on June 4, 2012, at the AWEA’s annual convention in Atlanta, “Anyone standing in the way of this industry, frankly, they’re un-American.”

Because there are “important” people making a lot of money in wind, and the opening up of previously undeveloped land will enrich them well beyond wind.

Enron invented the modern wind industry by buying the support of environmental groups for large-scale “alternative” energy and all that makes it profitable: tax avoidance schemes, public grants and loan guarantees, artificial markets for “green credits”, and laws requiring its purchase. Texas Governor George W. Bush was instrumental in getting the first of these implemented at the national level on behalf of his friend Ken Lay, Enron's CEO. Texas is the USA’s leader in wind energy development, not because of some environmentalist vision, but because of the opposite: Wind energy is just one more extractive industry, and with the collaboration of Enron's environmentalists it opens up land normally off limits to such development.

The twisted rationalizations of former environmentalists to excuse the obvious adverse impacts of industrial development in the form of wind “farms” are a study in madness, akin to the military “logic” of having to destroy a village to save it. The typical refrain from the likes of the Audubon Society or Sierra Club — when they acknowledge adverse impacts at all — is that wind energy, by its theoretical and never documented reduction of carbon emissions from other electricity sources, saves more birds etc than it kills. They cling to this even as only the latter is increasingly documented and the former is increasingly clearly not. They further flaunt their moral bankruptcy by dismissing the adverse effects as a drop in the bucket compared to all the other killers of birds etc. And they join the reactionary chorus of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in presenting their plea to shovel more public money to big energy investors as one for (“American”) jobs (at any [public] cost).

At the same time, neighbors of giant wind turbines who suffer adverse health effects are derided as hysterical or mendacious. The unsurprising acoustic effects of jumbo-jet-size turbine blades cutting through vertical air spaces of almost 2 acres are simply denied. Wind's apologists reverse cause and effect and blame the victims for publicizing noise problems even as ever larger blades are increasingly documented to generate intrusive throbbing and low-frequency noise, both of which not only disturb sleep and raise stress but are increasingly tied to direct adverse physiological and psychological effects. Yet the industry fights all efforts to set even inadequate minimum distances between turbines and homes or noise limits. The CEO of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, Ditlev Engel, wrote to the Danish Environment Minister on June 29, 2011, against such limits: “At this point you may have asked yourself why it is that Vestas does not just make changes to the wind turbines so that they produce less noise? The simple answer is that at the moment it is not technically possible to do so.” Especially because, as he goes on to note, they are planning even larger machines.

And if human neighbors are treated with such naked contempt in the mad logic of corporate profit growth, pity the wildlife whose last refuges are invaded, divided, and destroyed by big wind (and now big solar as well) — all with the blessing of many environmental groups.

Invaded, divided, and destroyed — nineteenth-century colonialism and twentieth-century globalism are now openly revived against our own communities. Just as the Spanish company Iberdrola steals farmland from the Zapotecas of Oaxaca, and the Indian company Suzlon steals forest from the Adivasis, wind developers in more “developed” countries — in Europe, North America, Australia — prey on their rural populations, pitting paid-off landowners against their neighbors, leaving bitterness and discord, a blighted landscape, shattered peace and quiet, an industrial waste land from which the limited liability companies extract what profit they can and then move on to the next marks.

Industrial wind development may not be the worst scourge on the planet, but that does not excuse it. Big wind is not separate from the rest of exploitative and extractive industry. It is not separate from the persistent efforts of the investor class to hoard for themselves more of the public wealth. It is, however, particularly evil because it presents itself as the opposite of what it is. It is not even an alternative evil: To add insult to injury, wind is not even a good way to generate electricity for the grid: Since it does not blow according to customer demand, it still has to be 100% backed up by other sources.

Break the spell! End the charade!

See the swindle for what it is. Big wind is an enemy of the planet, its animal and plant life, its people. It is a new brand in an old game whose rules were written to ensure one winner only, and it isn't you.

—Eric Rosenbloom

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Write In Annette Smith for Vt. Governor

WRITE IN ANNETTE SMITH FOR GOVERNOR IN THE AUGUST 28 PRIMARY

STOP SHUMLIN’S CORPORATE TAKE-OVER OF VERMONT

Vermont is being overrun by corporate interests. Rather than trying to prevent this takeover, Governor Shumlin is encouraging it through his cozy relationships with the big corporations and their lobbyists. None of the other candidates are campaigning on these crucial issues!

GMP/CVPS merger: The Shumlin Administration pushed for the takeover of Vermont’s largest electric utility, CVPS, by Gaz Metro, a Canadian corporation that owns Green Mountain Power, giving Canadian energy corporations control of 70% of Vermont’s electric power distribution. Thanks to a behind-the-scenes deal worked out by Shumlin’s Department of Public Service, Shumlin also cheated CVPS customers out of $21 million they were owed.

Destructive wind development: With Shumlin’s encouragement, national and multi-national corporations are turning our pristine ridgelines into industrial zones, in the process destroying fragile mountain ecology and critical wildlife habitat. Shumlin refuses to pay any attention to the huge amount of credible data that shows that wind turbines in Vermont would reduce carbon emissions by only a miniscule amount, if at all, and that the detriments far outweigh any benefit.

F-35s: Shumlin is in favor of the F-35 basing in Burlington because he sees this further militarization of our major airport as a jobs creator. Meanwhile in exchange for a few new war industry jobs, thousands of modest homes are either being vacated or will be made virtually unlivable by this extremely loud new warplane.

Smart Meters: With Shumlin’s encouragement, GMP is trying to profit from yet another violation of our right to privacy.

We are encouraging Vermonters – independents, Democrats, Republicans, and Progressives alike – to vote in the August 28 primary election and draft Annette Smith of Danby as Progressive candidate for Governor by writing in her name on the Progressive primary ballot. Annette Smith has been an articulate voice for Vermont citizens for more than a decade as the head of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an effective and independent environmental organization. She consistently stands up for ordinary Vermonters, helping them take on the big corporations and their lawyers and lobbyists. She is deeply knowledgeable about the corporate take-over of Vermont in all its many forms, and she is an excellent and passionate debater. (If you are voting Dem or Rep but oppose Shumlin, please write in Annette Smith there.)

WRITE IN ANNETTE SMITH OF DANBY FOR GOVERNOR ON THE PROGRESSIVE PRIMARY BALLOT

For more information, go to: annettesmithforvermontgov.blogspot.com

Vermont

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What Is.

It’s extremely dangerous to stop growing because at that point you begin to die. It’s extremely dangerous to commit yourself to one idea. Be careful you’re not caught in your own net.

We live from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, and at each point we are a little different. we are not the same twice on any two occasions. When you realize that, it becomes extremely important that the next minute be better than the last one. If you’re going to change, change for the better, not the worse. No question you will change, the only question is the direction. If there is no change, this is the open door to death. Life is a progression. It is not a standing still. It is either a plus or a minus.

  — Scott Nearing (1883–1983), obituary interview with Jean Hay, May 1981 (from Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life, Jean Hay Bright, Brightberry Press, Dixmont, Maine, 2003)

Q: I would like to know whether you believe in God.

What is God? If you can tell us what you mean by the term, we can discuss the matter. If not, there's no way to get down to specifics.

If you think of God as a heavenly Father who can be nudged or cajoled into granting benefits and excusing delinquencies . . . no, we do not believe.

If you think of God as an arbitrary, autocratic ruler of the universe to be propitiated and worshiped . . . our answer, again, would be no.

If “your” God is a tribal chief, a God of battle, and a leader of a chosen people . . . we do not believe in Him (or Her).

However, if you see God as the unity of all things, including rocks, grass, beasts, clouds, stars, and humans . . . if your God incorporates the above and the below, the plus and the minus, the killer and the killed, the sinner and the saint, the creator and the destroyer . . . yes, we believe.

  — Helen and Scott Nearing, ‘Homesteading Tools, Dividing Household Chores, and other Wisdom from Helen and Scott Nearing’, Mother Earth News, March/April 1981

All religions have truth in them, and all can be accepted in part. But there is no religion higher than truth, and Truth is the whole magnificent universe. What is. We believe in that — and strive to lend a hand.

  — Helen and Scott Nearing, letter, 10 May 1981, in reply to response to above (from Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life)

Satyan nasti paro dharmah

Friday, August 10, 2012

A problem with solar power

Like wind, direct solar energy is diffuse, requiring a rather large apparatus to collect a useful amount. On a rooftop — a large area that is already collecting/reflecting the sun — solar panels may make a useful contribution to a single home or office. To expect more, however, means taking more solar energy, i.e., taking more from nature.

Vermont mandates a high payment for electricity from approved solar facilities up to 2.2 MW in capacity. A couple of solar projects under this program are a 1.0-MW facility in Ferrisburgh and a 2.2-MW facility in South Burlington.

The latter takes up a 25-acre field. That acreage is now an industrial site, without life. The field has essentially been paved with solar panels. Over the past 12 months its output has averaged 17.5% of its capacity, an average rate of 385 kW. The Ferrisburgh site averaged 15.9%, or 159 kW. In January, their average outputs were 5.4% and 7.3%, respectively, or 120 and 73 kW. Of course, that output followed the curve of daylight, decreasing every evening to 0, so they require complete duplication with some other source of power. Such duplication in the form of battery storage, as an off-grid home system uses, is impractical at the grid scale.

These facilities are clearly not making any meaningful contribution to Vermont’s electricity supply, which must meet an average load of about 650 MW. If the cost to taxpayers to subsidize these projects (i.e., provide generous profits for their owners, such as the governor’s friend David Blittersdorf) is judged to be worth it to learn about grid-level or industrial-scale solar, then what have we learned so far?

Using a capacity factor of 15% for sun-tracking solar and the ratio of 2.2 MW capacity per 25 acres, we would need almost 50,000 acres, over 75 square miles, to provide Vermont’s average load. That’s more than all of the land area of Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, Colchester, and Essex Junction combined.

(For comparison, the McNeil generating plant (wood and natural gas) in Burlington takes up about 16 acres and produces at a rate of 50 MW. Thirteen such plants, requiring 210 acres, would provide the state's entire average load. Using the McNeil plant to provide heat [instead of letting it escape up the chimney] as well as power has been explored in recent years and would essentially double its usefulness.)

If we based it on a January capacity factor of 5%, add the land areas of Shelburne, Williston, Essex, Milton, and most of Jericho.

Of course, the capacity factor represents output only during daylight hours, so less land might be required to meet demand during the day. On the other hand, demand is higher during daylight hours as well, so there would actually not be much leeway there.

And still, other sources would be needed as night falls — a complete duplicate system. In other words, solar would not replace any other sources. It would pave over more than half of Chittenden County to at best reduce the use of those other sources.

There’s a better way to reduce the use of existing energy sources — without taking from the earth yet more by building sprawling “renewable” energy facilities that require 100% backup. It is to reduce the use of energy.

But of course, no backers of politicians get rich by people consuming less.

Large-scale solar, like large-scale wind, is a consumption-based solution. It is a change of brand, nothing more.

Question, 11 July, 2014:  Has anyone compared the (minuscule) carbon effect of covering a field with solar panels versus letting it return to carbon-capturing forest, or even versus just leaving it as a green field?

solar power, solar energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, Vermont

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

You have only yourself to blame

A friend writes:

Friedman is at it again: Average is Over, Part 2. Jesus, this guy is dumb. And scary. Who wants to live in the world he envisions; a fascist hell on earth — in fact this hell is already here in the US, with corporations pulling all the strings and calling all the shots, and shipping jobs overseas to slaves, or importing PhDs in from India, etc.... People are told again and again that they need so much "education" to survive well now, and then get stuck with an obscene amount of debt that in many cases forever stunts their lives, often can't even find work, it's just a horrible scam. Education should be free.

Education is important, but not the kind Friedman and most Americans think of. Friedman, and a lot of dumb Americans, think it's perfectly okay to tailor our lives to what the corporations want, they don't even question the whole notion of hyper-competitiveness and cut-throat workaholic get-ahead-ism. No, when corporations say "jump" it's our duty as foot-soldiers in the brave new world of fascist America to ask "how high."

A truly good education would give us the power and courage to say "fuck off" to these corporate monsters, not how can I deform myself enough to get you to hire me. Also a truly good education would move Americans to say goodbye to the government we have — a revolution is desperately needed, a real one and a revolution in thinking, but people seem so willing to go along with these fascist fantasies of the Friedmans of the world.

There are some good comments to the essay, but not many and out of the hundreds of comments thus far, most are lame and insipid, merely pointing fingers at parents for not being good enough re education, or kids being lazy, blah blah blah. No real questioning of the system, of it being driven by malevolent forces, and what is life for anyway, just to work like hell for a corporate master until you drop??!! Here is the ONLY unique and thoughtful comment out of hundreds (actually there was one other really good one but this one really gets it — it didn't get many recommends, no surprise):
The future will hopefully hold out for something other than science and technology. The concerns of this article arouse feelings that seem very very "old hat." What has been forgotten is the rape of planet Earth, mostly committed by the hyper-competitive hedonistic cohort that Friedman is championing here. It is hoped that the future will be won by those wise enough and courageous enough to see that business as usual must end, that the future demands an enlightened citizen, one who cares about the Earth and about universal sustainability. Someone who cares deeply about the many other species who share the planet, who cares about the unique cultural contributions of peoples everywhere, a citizen who doesn't measure worth in money, power, prestige — one who doesn't insist upon having more of everything than the next guy. If we're going to survive on this planet, have any future at all, we must stop this race to nowhere, come together across all continents to save the world from hyper-competitiveness, exploitation, greed and the wrong-headedness that has brought us to this frightful impasse. —Susan R., Honolulu
environment, environmentalism, human rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Western Civilization Is Obsolete

Providing sufficient relief to end physical hardship and formulating a program aimed to achieve social justice is outside the scope of western civilization. Its institutions were not designed to share abundance. On the contrary, they reached their present proportions of planetwide diffusion under an economy of scarcity so organized that only a propertied and privileged minority of mankind, with their middle class retinues, could enjoy e necessaries and comforts, leaving the vast majority in the outer darkness of hunger, malnutrition, periodic famine, inadequate housing, ill health, ignorance, superstition and despair. A social pattern which has served for a thousand years as a means of benefiting the few at the expense of the many must be redesigned and rebuilt before it can serve as an instrument of shared abundance. Until that rebuilding is completed the obsolete social pattern must continue to be one of the chief obstacles blocking the path to social improvement.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that western civilization has had a thousand years to demonstrate its capacity to assimilate and utilize the abundance which science and technology make possible and, barring accidents, inevitable. By any standard of judgment the results of this millenium of testing permit only one interpretation: the outlooks, activities and institutions of western civilization are inadequate to share abundance or to achieve social justice.

First, it has been operated for generations by an aristocratic-business minority to defend and promote minority interests. This minority has concerned itself with the general welfare only in so far as advancing the general welfare furthered minority interests. Consequently, in the chief centers of western civilization (the capitals and the commercial and industrial cities) poverty and riches have existed side by side as two parts of the establishment. The oligarchs drew their necessary cheap exploitable labor and their cannon fodder from among the poor.

The countryside of civilized nations was run by and for the landlords who used unpaid forced labor or wretchedly paid seasonal farm hands to do the necessary work. Poverty was so widespread and exploitation was so savage in the countryside, especially in the more fertile areas, that workers hoping to better their lot fled to city slums as an escape from countryside under-employment, degradation and wretchedness.

Second, throughout their history the civilized oligarchies which decided the policies of European nations, devoted their energies to the concentration and monopoly of wealth and power in their own hands. Their chief source of wealth was the ownership of land in the countryside and of land and capital in the cities. Property ownership, one of the pillars of western civilization, enabled the owners to live without labor and accumulate rent and profit by exploiting the labor power of poverty-ridden peoples.

Third, during the last four centuries of western civilization, oligarchies of the wealthiest and most powerful European nations organized colonial empires in the Americas, Asia and Africa by invading, occupying, and sometimes colonizing the conquered territory, plundering its wealth and using slave labor, forced labor and grossly exploited wage labor to provide the European imperialists with cheap food and raw materials, captive markets and investment opportunities in which they made super profits. Living standards among the colonials were even lower than the poverty levels among workers in the European homelands. Such shocking conditions persisted until colonial independence movements and revolts put an end to the imperial-colonial relationship.

Fourth, the major political preoccupation of West European oligarchs was preparation for war and the waging of wars, organized by the oligarchs and fought by the healthiest and sturdiest sons of the people. The oligarchs planned and officered military operations. During the later centuries businessmen made fortunes providing money, supplies and weapons. It was into these wicked and wasteful enterprises that the West poured its wealth and manpower during five centuries of competitive free enterprise empire building.

Fifth, the economic, political and social institutions of the West were developed during an era of economic scarcity, intensified by the wastes of war and conspicuous consumption. Ideas, practices and institutions generated under conditions of scarcity cannot be adapted easily to conditions resulting from the abundance developed by mechanized and automated assembly lines.

Sixth, during the half century following 1910, western civilization suffered a catastrophic breakdown, including two general, devastating wars; economic inflation, insolvency and depression; planetwide colonial independence movements, and the rise, after 1917, of a socialist sector which presently includes about one-third of the planet.

The accumulation of this mass of damaging evidence led up to the anti-imperialist and essentially anti-western movement which has played so conspicuous a part in the international relations of the 1960s. On the face of the evidence, western civilization stands condemned as inadequate, anti-social and obsolete.

Leaders of western civilization do not aim at adapting their outmoded social apparatus to mechanized productivity with its consequent abundance, shared among the planet’s inhabitants on the basis of need. On the contrary, since 1946 they have utilized the surpluses of their vast mechanical, automated productivity to plan, construct and stockpile weapons of mass destructivity which threaten the existence on the planet of the entire human race.

Advocates of the new capitalism or “people’s capitalism” (symbolized by states like Britain and France, with large public sectors in their economies and an extended welfare program; or most important, the United States — the home of assembly-line production and widely distributed stock ownership in giant trusts and cartels) argue that western civilization has made a come-back and is adapting itself to the mandates of mechanization and abundance. The facts do not support this contention. Not only has widespread poverty continued among members of the Atlantic Alliance, but the Cold War, waged since 1946 against socialism-communism, is directed against the principle that income should be distributed according to need.

The weight of evidence today makes it probable that the coalition of empires and former empires, led by Washington, will fight another general war rather than permit the socialization of the social means of production, the ending of exploitation and unearned income, and the distribution of abundance according to need.

Recent developments, particularly the direction and scope of the Cold War, lead to only one conclusion: western civilization is out of line with presentday trends toward social justice, symbolized by shared abundance, and is the victim of internal contradictions and conflicts which must eventuate in its self-destruction.

(from Chapter VI, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)

Buy a copy of the book directly from The Good Life Center, Harborside, Maine.

[Click here for all more excerpts.]

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Good Life for Fellow Creatures

While our fellow creatures are put behind bars or held captive in the camouflaged cages of modern zoos, where they are stared at and poked by the young, the curious and the idle, our consciences should continue to disturb us. So long as animal hunting and fishing licenses are issued by the million, permitting the holders to trap or shoot our fellow creatures for sport or as a business, we cannot rest content. While our fellow creatures are bred and raised by tens of millions to be butchered in cold blood, their bodies hung up or laid out for sale in public markets and finally cooked and eaten, cannibal fashion, those of us who are radicals in our interpretation of the precept “thou shalt not kill” must continue to agitate and organize on behalf of these myriad victims of artificially stimulated and jaded human appetites.

Restraint does not cease to be imprisonment when it is applied to our fellow creatures. Nor is a form of sport tolerable which maims its victims or deprives them of their lives. Deliberate killing is murder whether the object of the attack is a human being or a fellow creature.

Violations of fellow creature rights take many forms: trapping and shooting wild life for food or sport; saturation spraying and dusting of poisons which destroy birds, mammals and insects; raising and slaughtering creatures for food; torturing and killing fellow creatures for educational, diversional or experimental purposes; the use of fellow creatures as “work animals”; shearing the wool from sheep, goats, camels, rabbits; using the fur of wild or domestic animals; the incarceration of fellow creatures in circus and zoo cages; the maintenance, in permanent servitude, of domestic pets who would not know how to care for themselves if released, who “enjoy their servitude,” “love their masters,” and who, if released, would return voluntarily to live parasitical lives.

There was a time, not too long ago, in the United States or elsewhere, when human beings were hunted and eaten, bred, bought and sold as chattels. For the most part, this form of slavery is a thing of the past. The enslavement, torturing, imprisonment and killing of animal, bird and insect fellow creatures to satisfy human fancy. whim, habit or assumed need is still practiced, on a larger scale than elsewhere, in highly industrialized and civilized communities, where mass slaughter, mass chemical poisoning, mass experimentation with fellow creatures, and mass incarceration behind barbed wire and other restraining means are matters of every day occurrence.

Restraints, incarceration, exploitation, torture and murder of fellow creatures attracts no more attention and arouses no more comment in the leading civilized countries of today than the like treatment of human slaves aroused in the leading civilized countries of previous centuries. Humanity has passed through periods of cannibalism and of chattel slavery. In the course of its evolution, it will surely reach a point at which the greatest good to the greatest number of living creatures will be accepted and applied with equal rigor to humanity’s fellows and neighbors.

If there is a “right” to the demand for security, for dignity and for life itself, that right must apply with equal force to all living things. We humans, as trustees for the planet and its inhabitants are duty bound to recognize and uphold such rights and to protest against their denial, no matter who or what the victims of the denial may be.

(from Chapter VI, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)

Buy a copy of the book directly from The Good Life Center, Harborside, Maine.

[Click here for all more excerpts.]

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, ecoanarchism

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Liberals: the stalking horse of reaction

In the context of our discussion [good is that which benefits or advantages the most; evil disadvantages, harms the most], radicals choose the good and try to live it. Liberals choose the lesser evil and dress it up to look good. Conservatives accept the evil and make no bones about it. Reactionaries want to force the evil on everyone. ...

Private enterprise, laissez-faire capitalists, nation and empire builders have found the good-better-best [evolutionary] formula profitable when applied to natural science, engineering and business, but they have balked proposals to apply the same developmental formula to social practices and social institutions.

Conservatives support this static position. Liberals believe, theoretically, in improvement but they want to protect their property and preserve their privileges. Therefore in a crisis, they use their influence to perpetuate the exploitative institutions of capitalism and imperialism.

Radicals demand the application of the improvement principle: “How can we do a better job?” to the entire realm of social relations and social institutions. It is nearly 200 years since the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 opened the way for an application of the improvement formula to politics. It is half a century since the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 opened the way for the application of the improvement formula to economics.

... These efforts to plan and construct an economy and a society on scientific principles (socialist construction) are welcomed and applauded by radicals, questioned and sabotaged by liberals and fought tooth and nail by conservatives and reactionaries.

—Scott Nearing, The Conscience of a Radical (Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965), Chapter V

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Seven Roadblocks to the Good Life: (7) The International Imperialist Conspiracy

Revolution breaks up existing social relations, benefiting some individuals, groups and classes while depriving others of property, privilege and power held under the pre-revolutionary social order. The dispossessed, outraged by the deprivation of “rights” which they had taken for granted in the old society, protest, organize and endeavor to take back or “restore” their former privileges and authority. Such efforts are labeled counterrevolution.

Revolution on a planet-wide scale, during the past half century, stimulated and generated counter-revolution. Revolution in each country leads to counter-revolution, as the dispossessed attempt to seize the seats of unstable power. Generally such efforts at restoration depend upon aid from the propertied and privileged in neighboring countries. Where ferment is widespread, ruling elements in threatened countries invade the area in which a revolution is taking place in an effort to reverse the revolutionary process and restore the privileges of the dispossessed ruling classes.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 all led to counter-revolutions which included military invasion by the armed forces of imperialist powers.

After war’s end in 1945, as colonial and dependent peoples rose against their imperial masters, counter-revolution was hurriedly organized on an international scale. The same imperialist elements that had sent arms and armies into Russia after the Revolution of 1917 prepared to use the United Nations as the spearhead of their counter-revolutionary drives. When that plan failed, they built up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO was an exclusive clique into which representatives of all of the 19th century empires were welcomed. Its declared purpose was to contain, combat and finally to overthrow the revolutionary regimes that were being established in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

John Foster Dulles, one of the chief architects of NATO, declared that the aim of the organization was to destroy “the international communist conspiracy.” A century earlier, similar efforts were made by the Holy Alliance of monarchists and imperialists, whose purpose was to destroy “the international republican conspiracy.”

If a conspiracy is a joint effort to carry out an unlawful or harmful purpose, NATO, like the Holy Alliance of 1815, is a conspiracy. Both organizations represented the propertied and privileged of a passing social order. Both proposed, by the use of armed force, to turn back the clock of history, restore deposed masters to their former positions of prestige and power, and keep subject peoples in bondage.

Overthrow in April, 1964, of the duly elected progressive government of Brazil, is a first-class example of the work done by the International Imperialist Conspiracy. Brazilian progressives under the leadership of one of the large landholders of Brazil, João Goulart, were attempting, by constitutional and legal means, to clear out feudal survivals and modernize their country. The task was difficult and complicated but it might have been carried to a successful conclusion, had it not been for the illegal and unconstitutional action of Goulart’s Brazilian opponents, backed by the International Imperialist Conspiracy operating in Brazil. First among these forces was the Brazilian opposition to Goulart, led by the landlords, the church, the dominant factions in the Army and certain Brazilian business interests working closely with foreign investors. Important foreign interests worked against the Goulart Government: (1) foreign investors in Brazilian enterprises: oil, automobiles, mining; (2) representatives of U.S.A. and other foreign military establishments; (3) U.S.A. and other embassies, consulates, military missions; (4) foreign projects in Brazil such as the Alliance for Progress; (5) the C.I.A. and other foreign under-cover agencies. These agencies, operating with their Brazilian opposite numbers, and using the Brazilian military organization, overthrew the duly elected government of Brazil in 1964, imposed a military dictatorship on the country, acting for Brazilian property and privilege, while serving as the handymen of foreign imperialist interests.

Spokesmen for the “free world” presently are proclaiming their crusade to preserve freedom in Vietnam, Laos, the Congo, Cuba and China, using arms where necessary to uphold unpopular regimes. The proposed “freedom” would prevent local populations in Southeast Asia and elsewhere from choosing a communist way of life and force on them the “free enterprise” way under which the planetwide 19th century empires held more than a billion colonials in bondage.

Imperialists have suffered a shattering defeat during the past half century: first at their own hands, in two general suicidal wars fought by rival imperialist gangs; second, by a planetwide revolt of their erstwhile colonials and dependents, and third, through a series of social revolutions that turned a third of the planet from imperialist bondage to socialist construction.

Currently, in Iran, in Malaysia, in the Congo and in Southeast Asia attempts are being made by the International Imperialist Conspiracy to check the trend toward socialism-communism; return the imperialists to their former privileged positions in the colonies; re-establish white supremacy over the colored peoples, and restore the property and class relationships, the exploitation and military ascendancy associated with private enterprise and national (imperial) sovereignty.

(from Chapter III, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)

Buy a copy of the book directly from The Good Life Center, Harborside, Maine.

[Click here for all seven roadblocks.]

Friday, August 03, 2012

Seven Roadblocks to the Good Life: (6) The Counter Revolution

I began this discussion of the roadblocks which prevent human advance to higher levels of social awareness and well-being by listing ignorance, greed and a number of corrosive and devitalizing forces and practices which blunt the cutting edge of the crusade to end social backwardness and promote the full use of nature, of human genius, of science, technology, and the social apparatus as means for opening wide the doors of opportunity for the entire human race. Ignorance, poverty, unemployment, dissipation, war and other forms of waste are barriers which must be surmounted and liquidated by the concerted demand of humanity as it struggles for enlightenment, and the fuller use of natural resources and technical equipment to enlarge opportunity, increase knowledge and thus broaden and deepen the stream of human culture.

There are other roadblocks which are deliberately built and maintained, to preserve obsolete features of Western civilization, to limit and restrict human advance and to make such minor reforms in the social apparatus as are necessary to blunt the worldwide movement for social betterment, and to preserve the wealth-poverty balance: wealth for the owners and masters; poverty for those who do much of the world’s work. I shall call these planned, tailor-made roadblocks to social advance “the counter-revolution” because they are the answer of property, privilege and the status quo to the planet-wide revolution of the past half century.

There is nothing casual or customary about the counter-revolution. It has been planned, organized, financed, armed and led by the richest and most powerful big businesses and the richest and most powerful governments of the “free world.” For years after 1917 the big business-military oligarchies which were running the Western empires considered the Russian Revolution and the Chinese, Cuban, Philippine, Turkish and other revolutions which clustered around the Russian Revolution as “impermanent rather than permanent.” When at long last they awoke to the fact that revolution at various levels was sweeping over the planet like a prairie fire, they took the matter seriously and began planning and organizing the counter-revolution.

Needless to say, the counter-revolution had as its purpose the preservation and strengthening of the status quo. It was stimulated and activated in all areas where revolution succeeded or threatened to succeed.

Counter-revolution was directed against revolutionary movements and revolutionary governments in Mexico, Russia, Central Europe, the Near and Middle East, South East Asia, Latin America, Africa. It was so successful in the United States that it all but eliminated the Left as an effective political factor.

Behind the counter-revolution were the prestige, wealth and political authority of western civilization. Immediately after the Russian Revolution it took organized form in the drive to overthrow the Bolsheviks and the parallel revolutions in Germany and Central Europe. Then it appeared as Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. Later, as the threat of planet-wide revolution mounted after war’s end in 1945, it became the Cold War, waged by the remnants of the chief 19th century empires against syndicalism, socialism, communism or any other ideology which questioned the theory and practice of private enterprise and empire building as the logical end and aim of human life. Led aggressively by the business-military complex of the United States after 1946, the Cold War took the center of the western stage and has occupied it ever since, fighting the collectivist “enemy” in the Soviet Union, People’s China, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, the Congo, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, and wherever private enterprise profiteers were threatened by popular uprisings.

The counter-revolutionary drive has six chief aspects: the circus aspect; the convenience, comfort, conformity aspect; the petty reform aspect; the corruption aspect; the espionage aspect; and the violence and terror aspect.

The circus aspect of counter-revolution is aimed to amuse, entertain and divert attention from some of the chief issues that concern mankind. Mass conditioning is a very old story. It is being repeated in the present-day West with camera, printing press, movies, radio, television and the other means of communication which modern technology has provided so generally and so generously. Thanks to these discoveries and inventions it is possible for those in authority to reach people in their homes, in their work places, in their schools and recreation centers and on the street, twenty-four hours of each day, with blandishments, scandal, horror stories, doctored “news,” admonitions, warning, threats. Since the means of present-day communication in the West are under the control of the same oligarchies that own the economy, operate the political apparatus and administer the social services, the people can be fed half-truths and lies, or, through silence, kept in virtual ignorance of t~le course of events. At the same time they are told, repeatedly, through the same channels that they are the most enlightened public anywhere on earth.

The convenience, comfort, conformity aspect of the counter-revolution was designed to buy off the popular masses by flooding the mass market with a dazzling, bewildering, engrossing supply of goods and services.

Counter-revolutionaries are in control of production apparatus capable of converting natural resources and human energy into a huge volume and an infinite variety of gadgets and appliances in addition to the assembly-line output of food, clothing, shelter and the social services. These goods and services were poured into the mass market and were matched by wage and salary payrolls which enabled their recipients to buy back two-thirds of the national product.

Trusts, cartels and other forms of economic concentration reduced the number of self-employed enterprisers and professionals. At the same time they increased the number of wage earners and salaried employes, so that those who wished to buy in the mass market were increasingly dependent on blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Holding a job owned by somebody else thus became the key to affluence and the economic basis for status, prestige, promotion.

Jobs were owned by the business-military-political oligarchies which controlled every essential aspect of the more highly industrialized communities. The oligarchs held the key to convenience, comfort, status, preferment.

Did job-holders and their families wish to share in the goods and services heaped on mass market shelves? Did they want to revel in processed food, drive their own cars, own their own homes, enjoy status and get promotions? There was one simple, universal credit card that gave the holder a job with its regular pay check admitting to the mass market. Conformity credit cards (jobs) were issued to those who followed the approved way of life. Approval came from the oligarchy. Acceptance was the oath of fealty sworn by the prospective job-holder. Those who differed and opposed were refused jobs and thus reduced to second-class economic status. They were subversive unemployables, screw balls, misfits, troublemakers.

The Way of Life was outlined in school, in church, in the press, over radio and television. The Way of Life became a religious obligation and a patriotic duty. Those who accepted and followed it had all of the rights and privileges provided for first-class citizens and job holders. Non-conformers received second-class treatment.

Petty reforms are part and parcel of the arsenal with which counter-revolution fights its battles. Revolutionary demands go to the roots and are far-reaching, involving changes in property, class relations and the status of those engaged in the revolutionary struggle. Petty reforms are crumbs, thrown to those who demand bread.

Petty reforms satisfy immediate demands, leaving property and class relations as they were before the reforms were offered. They may include limited hours of labor, better working conditions, broadened education, political representation, an extended suffrage, elections within a specified period, extension of civil rights and social services. Reform preserves the essential structure of society so that those presently in power continue to exercise authority.

Promises of petty reforms are the IOU’s with which the counter-revolution seeks to dull the edge of revolutionary demands and decrease revolutionary enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, each reform (conceded however grudgingly by the masters) involves some limitation of arbitrary authority and adds to the rights and privileges which the ruled are able to exercise and enjoy. Experience in Scandinavia and Great Britain is significant in this respect. In these countries manifold reforms have been made over recent years, in the working and living conditions of the populace. Social services have been improved. Housing has been bettered. Unemployment has been reduced. As a result, the revolutionary movements in these countries have been correspondingly weakened.

“Corrupt” means to debase, deprave, worsen. Corruption undermines integrity and purpose, impairs vitality, decreases effectiveness. It is therefore an important instrument of the counter-revolution. Corruption is particularly effective where the counter-revolutionaries own and control an efficient productive apparatus which is able to provide an abundant supply of goods, services, gadgets and (most important, in a society build around a money economy) to provide quantities of money.

The present-day counter-revolution can offer not only immense quantities and varieties of goods and services but, through its elaborate apparatus of credits and securities, can offer permanent parasitism to those who will follow its line and do its bidding.

Supplied with an abundance of goods, services, money, credit and securities, the counter-revolution can satisfy human hungers to the point of satiety, gratifying the appetites of drug addicts and gamblers, providing amusement and diversion on a grandiose scale, and guaranteeing the supply of such desiderata so long as the existing order endures.

Counter-revolutionaries aim their corrupting activities especially at the younger and less experienced leaders of the revolution, offering them secure, well-paid jobs, regular promotions, status and social recognition, and whatever money will buy.

Espionage is an important aspect of counter-revolution. Early in the present century spies and spying were generally regarded with disfavor in the United States. In Europe, with its semi-popular monarchies, its intense national rivalries and its militant revolutionary minorities, espionage was expected and even taken for granted. In a democratic republic it was considered an intruder.

Today, with the spread of revolutionary activities, the extension of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States government as the patron, financier, armorer and organizer of counter-revolution across the planet, spies and spying have become an integral part of the American Way of Life. In continental United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation fills its dossiers on millions of individuals with fact, fiction and gossip. Abroad the Central Intelligence Agency snoops, prys, plots, and organizes counter-revolution.

These two are the chief spy agencies under the immediate direction of the Federal Government. In addition, the diplomatic and consular services are spying agencies. Each of the armed services has its intelligence department. The treasury has its secret service. Both House and Senate have investigative committees patterned on the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Post Office, like the Internal Revenue and the Custom Service, have their under-cover men. The Post Office, Customs and the F.B.I. check printed matter coming into the country and exclude undesirable publications. The Post Office may check the personal mail of non-conformists. Individual states and cities have their spies, legislative committees and police departments.

United States big business is honey-combed with spies. Large corporations have their intelligence services which plant spies and spying apparatus in factory departments, in offices, in toilet and social rooms, in the room of the Board of Directors. For smaller enterprises there are national and international detective agencies which specialize in spying and place spies for business enterprises on the premises of their rivals.* Espionage is justified by the one word: security, but as the spy network proliferates and penetrates every corner of society, privacy disappears and insecurity becomes universal.

[*For details, see Vance Packard’s The Naked Society, N. Y.: David McKay 1964]

Most alarming to radicals, among activities of the counter-revolution, has been its use of violence and terror. During the opening years of the present century two assumptions were widespread among western intellectuals: first, western man was too civilized to permit another general war; second, the West had left behind terror tactics such as physical manhandling and physical torture. Both assumptions were blown to bits in the events that accompanied the wars after 1914.

It is difficult for anyone born since 1914 to realize the totality of the revolution in social techniques which took place during this period. In the Victorian Age, which ended in 1914, British, Germans, Frenchmen, and other peoples in the West took it for granted that mankind had advanced to a level far above that of the Middle Ages, with a consequent humanitarianism, a respect for human dignity and a whole-hearted rejection of practices associated with the words “savagery” and “barbarism.” The word “civilization,” as then used, automatically repudiated such savage and barbaric approaches to life. War, revolution and counter-revolution re-opened the flood gates to violence and terror on a scale far exceeding anything known to have existed among the pre-civilized peoples.

Revolution and counter-revolution in the same political area are, in effect, cold or hot civil war, with relative against relative and neighbor against neighbor. Such struggles are traditionally fierce and bloody. Experience during the present period of social revolution and counter-revolution runs true to civil war form.

Since the closing years of the 19th century there have been five parallel and inter-related movements: (1) the technological revolution; (2) the revolts of suppressed and oppressed peoples demanding self-determination and setting up republics dedicated by their constitutions to representative or democratic governments; (3) advances in military preparations and in the weaponry used in two general wars and scores of civil and local wars: (4) the growth of the economic and political labor movement, reaching its climax in the building of planned, socialist societies; and (5) the general and stubborn refusal of the bourgeois to accept and bow to the verdict of social evolution and history. It is the refusal of the business class, led by that of the U.S.A., which has involved humanity in the cold war with its accompanying violence and terror directed not only against socialism, but against the extension or use of the democratic process.

Violence and terror during the past half-century have included the formal denial of human rights as specified in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. These rights include movement, communication, persuasion, organization and joint acts up to the point of disturbing public order and endangering the continuance of existing governments. By common consent during grave emergencies civil rights are subordinated to the need of defending and promoting the common welfare. However, the denials and violations of human rights, especially among the colonial and other dependent peoples has been and still is a matter of course. These denials extend beyond colonial areas into the homelands of the great empires.

Vigilantism and mob violence are permitted, encouraged and often participated in by the police. Vigilante mobs, with no pretense of authority, violate human rights, destroy the property, maim and often take the lives of opponents and victims.

Political opponents are persecuted and prosecuted. They are arrested and detained for long periods without formal charges and without trial; they are tried in secret with public and press excluded. Long prison sentences are imposed and served, under sub-human conditions. Often political opponents are shot out of hand. Physical and psychological torture designed to force admissions of guilt or information concerning associates of the torture victims are carried out by public authorities.

Assassination by public authorities or by private agencies with the connivance of public authority is utilized as a political instrument.

There are mass killing and maiming by troops and police, firing on demonstrations of unarmed people, including women and children. Petrograd, at the Winter Palace in 1905, the Amritzar massacre in 1916 by the British authorities, and the official beating of unarmed Negroes and whites demonstrating in the Deep South of the United States during 1964-65 are outstanding examples.

Genocide is practiced. Mass extermination of political opponents or racial minorities; undernourishment in concentration camps; gas chambers are employed. These methods reached the highest level of scientific efficiency in Germany under the Nazis, when Jews, Poles, Russians, Yugoslavs and other opponents were destroyed by millions. The victims included men, women and children.

Police and military persecution and suppression of minority political organizations and religious faiths are carried on inside political frontiers. Examples are the anti-socialist drive in Central and East Europe after the Russian Revolution and the Cold War against communism after 1945.

Mob violence and public participation in drives against racial and religious minorities have occurred In South Africa, India, and the United States since the Civil War.

Mass deportations for political reasons have accompanied war and have been carried out for political purposes.

The entire half-century beginning with 1910 has been marred and scarred by unofficial and official violence and terror: by “man’s inhumanity to man.” A radical must describe human conduct during this entire period as disgusting, revolting, appalling, indefensible, degrading and unworthy of reasoning, ethically motivated human beings.*

[*The ghastly array of evidence supporting the charge that during the past half-century humanity had used violence and terror at levels ordinarily associated with one or another form of primitivism must be qualified by reference to another aspect of human behavior during the same period of war and revolution: the movement for non-violent action in opposition to violence.
    Within the vast military machines built up by governments to destroy life and property across the frontiers, individual conscientious objectors have taken their stand against war and violence. Some of them were shot out of hand, but the movement of conscientious objection reached minority proportions in the war-ready and warring countries.
    There were mass refusals of duty in the face of the enemy. The most massive was the disintegration of the Russian armies before the October Revolution of 1917. Armed men on the front lines during the War of 1914-18, fraternized with their opponents, abandoning discipline and threatening the entire war-waging system. Armed men, waging civil war, turned to agriculture and industry, producing instead of destroying. This was notably true in the People’s Liberation Armies of China. Outstanding examples of non-violent action in the face of overwhelming military power were the campaigns organized by Mohandas Gandhi among Indians in South Africa and later in his native India.
    Latest among examples of non-violent action are the campaigns of mass civil disobedience aimed to obstruct the activities of the military. Such demonstrations have been organized in Japan against United States armed forces there; in Britain against the installation of Polaris Missiles; in the United States against biological and chemical warfare. Most notable are the non-violent protests against racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa and in the Deep South of the United States. Mention should be made also of the impressive student demonstrations which frequently have .had profound political effects during the past half century. These have occurred in Japan, South Korea, South Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt, and now are occurring in the Western Hemisphere.
]

(from Chapter III, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Seven Roadblocks to the Good Life: (5) Combativeness and the Cult of Violence

Competition for existence, expression, recognition and supremacy in a complex, interdependent highly organized society generates a survival struggle in which man’s combativeness, courage, determination and tenacity are severely tested. Such rivalry sifts out weaklings, while it grades and regrades the strong, the shrewd, the masterful.

Survival struggle goes on locally in family and neighborhood. It goes on regionally and nationally. Survival struggle is central and basic in the life process. In its most elaborate form it is called war. Acts of war are exercises in the application of violence.

War is a form of human association in which one party to the combat seeks not only to impose his will upon his rival, but seeks to exterminate the rival by the use of a maximum of violence, directed against the person, the associates and the property of his opponents.

Preparations for war require training in the efficacious use of violence. Violence is therefore taught as an art. A cult of violence is developed and every effort is made to dignify and even deify violence. This process has been an essential phase of the military preparedness that has played so large a role in the life of Western civilization.

Since every tool is a potential weapon, as technology has advanced, the possibilities of violence have been multiplied and magnified until with the advent of atomic and nuclear weapons used in waging total war, it becomes possible, in an instant, to vaporize property and exterminate life wholesale.

Linking combativeness, the cult of violence and nuclear technology has created a situation so decisive that in one supreme combat the existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons could destroy the totality of man’s culture and exterminate man himself, bringing an end to the period of human habitation on the planet earth.

Among the roadblocks to further human progress, the destructive potential of nuclear war seems to impose the most emphatic finality on the future of the human race.

(from Chapter III, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)

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