THE UNITED STATES OF DENIAL

12 11 2017

I want to explore the geography of the United States of Denial just a little. No, “The United States of Denial” is not a new name for Egypt. I’m talking about the good ol’ USA, where we are all united in being in various states of denial. Some of those states are adjacent to each other, some are pretty far apart, and some of the ones that are adjacent to each other are simultaneously quite distant from their neighbors. That’s one of the ways we’re united–in denying our denial. Those other people–they’re in denial Not me!

There’s Republican states of denial, Democratic states of denial, and then there are various liberal-left-socialist-Green states of denial, as well. I think it’s wonderful that, even though the United States of America has effectively closed its political process to all but two basically similar parties, in the United States of Denial there’s room for lots of political flavors.

Republican states of denial have been on the front burner a lot lately. Climate change denial has been front and center, along with science denial in general, as well as denial of racism, sexism, and compassion.  And then, of course, there’s denial of reality in general. Speaking of generals, there’s denial of the danger that a war anywhere in the world would pose to life everywhere in the world.

That particular state of denial, the denial of the danger of war, borders one of the most prominent Democratic states of denial, which also denies the dangers of war. While the Republican state of denial of war danger borders North Korea and Iran, its Democratic counterpart bumps up against Russia. The two states of denial also share a common border with Afghanistan.

Republican climate denialism is so well-known that I’m going to skip over it and give some attention to its neighbor, Democratic climate denialism. Democratic climate denialism is more subtle than the rugged Republican version, which simply denies that the problem exists. Hey, mass extinction is the capitalist way to solve overpopulation!

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A HOCKEY STICK STORY

12 11 2017

Maybe I’m sentimental, but I still subscribe to Mother Jones Magazine. I first connected with it back in the 70’s, when, like the labor organizer it’s named for, it was a radical voice that both took a clear-eyed look at what is, and laid out a promising, hopeful view of, and path toward, the better future that could be. In the forty years since, the magazine has increasingly become a cheerleader for the mainstream of the Democratic Party, to the point that I think that  if Mother Jones were she still alive, she would be taking legal action against the magazine for sullying her good name. So far, though, every time I’ve felt just about fed up enough to cancel my subscription, they’ve come through with some kind of a must-read-and-share article that has renewed my faith in them.

I’m curious to see what they’ll make of Donna Brazile’s recent tell-all memoir, in which she reveals that the DP really did rig the primaries in exchange for certain financial considerations from the Clinton campaign. Perhaps the lawsuit on those grounds against the DP will be revived. But that’s not what I”m going to focus on tonight. I want to focus, instead, on what I think is the first science fiction story Mother Jones has ever printed. That story is called “You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot.”   It features a hockey stick graph of the rate at which computing power, and thus, automation, is expected to increase.aihockeystick,

The science fiction aspect of this story is not so much the potential advances in computer technology as it is its casual, offhand treatment of climate change, regarding it as a minor inconvenience that will, of course, be managed and dealt with without any serious impact on our Sacred American Way of Life. That’s kind of like confusing spinal meningitis with the flu. Climate change, like spinal meningitis, has its own exponential growth curve. hockeyprojection

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PSYCHOPATHY

8 10 2017

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible is available for free at this link, but I urge you to buy the book and show your support for the author.

Note: This another amazingly relevant chapter from a book written four years ago. Because of its length, I am reading half of it this month, and half next month.

If something bites you, it is inside of your clothes.

—Swahili proverb

I have argued that change will come not from overcoming the powers-that-be, but through their transformation. I have stated that we are fundamentally the same being looking out at the world through many sets of eyes. I have described how our perception of evil comes from a lack of understanding of what it is like to be another person. I have asserted that what we do unto the other, we do unto ourselves, and that this is something we can feel. And I have invoked the principle of the gift, that we are all here to contribute our gifts toward something greater than ourselves, and will never be content unless we are. In answer to all of these, sometimes people bring up the counterexample of the psychopath, a distinct subset of humanity that supposedly possesses no compassion, no ability to feel love, and no shame.

These people are, it is said, totally out for themselves, suffering no compunctions in ruthlessly pursuing short-term self-interest. Unfeeling, charming, charismatic, daring, and ruthless, they tend to rise to the top in business and government. To a large extent, they are the powers-that-be, and it would be naive to think that anything but raw force would stop them. Without pity, without conscience, without even the capacity to feel anything but a few basic proto-emotions, they are the epitome of evil. According to many researchers, they can never be cured. They don’t want to be cured. They are happy the way they are…..

….

Many classic psychopathic behaviors make sense within the context of a general shutdown in feeling. Inured to feeling, the psychopath nonetheless has, like all of us, a strong physiological need to feel. Therefore he is given to impulsiveness, drama, pointlessly risky behavior that doesn’t contribute to his self-interest at all. Anything powerful enough to breach the walls he has constructed will attract him. For some, it could be the intensity of infatuation, for others, murder, for others closing the big deal. It could be the big risk, the big purchase, the big gamble. Many psychopaths are addicted to such things that, they sometimes say, make them feel alive. Most academic researchers believe psychopathy is a conjunction of two independent axes of variation: lack of empathy, and impulsivity. In my hypothesis, the two are closely linked. The risky behavior is an attempt to breach the lack of feeling.

I must acknowledge that there is very little research supporting this hypothesis. I base it on my own experience—first and foremost with myself. I was an extremely sensitive child and, due to traumatic bullying in my early teens, learned to shut off most of my feelings. Though the shutoff wasn’t nearly as profound as that of a psychopath, still it enabled me to do some pretty callous, manipulative things. I also exhibited other psychopathic traits, such as impulsivity and a penchant for drama. I was trapped in numbness and wanted desperately to feel. Tori Amos’s lyric spoke to me: “Give me life, give me pain, give me my self again.”

music: Tori Amos “Little Earthquakes” (Note: the video for this song contains a lot of shockingly graphic images, as befits a song that seems to be about domestic violence.)

Second half, which concludes the November broadcast:

In addition, I have also had extensive interactions with several psychopathic individuals, at least one of whom was profoundly so: a man whose ruthlessness knew no bounds. I’ll call him C. He also had other classically psychopathic traits: glib self-justification, total lack of shame, extreme impulsiveness, extraordinary charisma, and great physical courage that often crossed the line into foolhardiness. But there were a few times when I caught a fleeting glimpse of something else, a tenderness or a purity that came out in very convoluted ways, for example as spontaneous, secret, and sometimes magnanimous acts of generosity or caregiving. These were distinct from the cynical devices he routinely enacted to seem a swell guy. There was something else, a real human being. As far as I know, that real human being is still deeply buried, but it is in there and somehow, someday, might awaken……

…..Imagine what this world could be, if we could channel that tremendous pent-up life-force toward something worth caring about. To be sure, most people do have access to things worth caring about on a personal level. There are babies to hold, shoulders to cry on, gardens to plant. Our Story of the World and its systems often squeeze these simple avenues of service to the hurried margins of life. Besides, we also need more than just these, at least in certain stages of life. That is why we, and especially young people, hunger for a cause. Like F., we want to care. We want to find a way to open the floodgates of the heart. Such things as “ending polio in Africa” or “internet freedom” might serve for a time, but eventually they cease to excite us. The gates shut again, maybe via burnout or compassion fatigue. For some of us, none of these causes, taken in isolation, can pierce the ennui, the uncaring, the cool. We need to see what bigger thing we are serving. We need a story of the world we really care about.

Music: Bjork, “It’s In Our Hands





HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM…..

8 10 2017

music: The Band, “Look Out, Cleveland

This is a story about Harvey, Irma, and Maria. What an awesome threesome! A lot of ink, pixels, and hot air has gone into telling their stories, but not much of that has taken a “deep green perspective.” They’re part of a much bigger picture–really, part of a couple of “much bigger pictures,” one nested within the other, like a small shark intent on snapping up a fish, not realizing that he’s about to be snapped up by the jaws of a much larger shark. To explore this hierarchy of hungry sharks, but let’s start with Tropical Storm Harvey.

Twelve years to the day after Katrina flooded New Orleans, America’s forty-sixth largest city, Harvey, a much bigger storm, inundated America’s fourth largest city.

Consider the Houston recipe: Establish a sprawling, extremely toxic chemical industry pretty much at sea level on a low-lying, hurricane-prone shore. Run lots of pipelines full of oil, gas, and other toxic substances from all across the country to this area, making it one of the essential nodes that supports our whole way of life. Allow a large city to grow mixed in with all these chemical plants and pipelines, so that virtually the entire residential area of the city is within smelling distance of a chemical facility. Don’t do zoning. In fact, take an “anything goes” ethic when it comes to environmental safety standards, including a good strong dose of climate science denial.

Put this mixture on a shelf for a few decades and pay attention to other things, while carbon emissions due to that chemical industry raise the temperature of the planet, causing sea level and the intensity of storms to rise.

What could possibly go wrong?

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THE LARGEST AND LEAST POWERFUL GREEN PARTY IN THE WORLD, AND HOW TO EMPOWER IT

24 09 2017

The United States has the largest Green Party in the world, with around a quarter million registered voters, plus thousands more supporters in states like Tennessee that don’t have party registration. In survey after survey, and as demonstrated by Bernie Sanders’ galvanizing effect on the American public, substantial majorities of Americans support Green positions, from universal single-payer health care greenyetto a greater emphasis on alternative energy and a cleaner environment, to local economies and greater community and economic democracy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at election results, where the Green Party rarely even gets into double digits, let alone is a contender, in any election higher than the local level.

As I researched this piece, I discovered that it was easy to find links backing up my statements about public support for health care, alternative energy, a cleaner environment, and stronger local economies, but it seems as if nobody has thought to ask about the radical notion of having more “everyday people” involved in their own governance, let alone the ownership and governance of their workplaces. Both of these have been taken up enthusiastically in places where they have been tried, such as Burlington, Vermont when, and ever since, Bernie was mayor, Jackson, Mississippi today, and the increasing number of worker owned and managed companies around the country. The Democrats will attempt to co-opt Green Party positions on the environment, alternate energy, and the minimum wage, but you can bet they won’t touch economic, workplace, and community democracy. The change from hierarchical ownership and direction by the few to governance by the network of people actually involved in a workplace or community  threatens the corporatist, oligarchic monopoly of the few that currently calls the shots in this country, and thus consideration of such ideas is not welcome in polite society. As Noam Chomsky said,

chomskynarrow

I think that’s a very apt description of what’s going on the US these days: there’s tremendous passion and polarization around scores of issues, while the root cause of all of them is never touched, and keeps throwing up new shoots that we activists hack at until we grow weary. If we are going to put an end to all the many levels of oppression that saturate our society, we need to uproot the oligarchy that is the source of our oppression. It’s not just an oligarchy that’s outside us. All of us have internalized it to some extent, and we each need to win our own our personal psycho-spiritual revolution if the external revolution is going to succeed.

Meanwhile, around the globe, Green Parties are achieving a satisfying level of electoral success in a great many countries, and changing those countries’ priorities for the better in the process. Let’s examine some of those countries, and then look into why it hasn’t happened here, which leads directly to what it will take in order for it to happen here. Read the rest of this entry »





A SMOKING GUN AT LAST, OR JUST MORE SMOKE AND MIRRORS?

13 08 2017

The latest round of accusations in the ongoing controversy over Russian interference in last year’s US election has produced what many in the media are calling “a smoking gun”: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with a woman described by the English national who set up the meeting as a “Russian government lawyer” who claimed to have “potentially compromising material on Ms. Clinton.”

There it is in plain black and white, we are told: the Trump campaign’s core members met with a Russian national and received “material aid” for the Trump campaign from her and her country. Ka-ching! Violations of US campaign finance laws!

Trial for Impeachment!

Trial for Treason!

Let’s step out of the roar of the crowd at this thrilling turn of events and consider what really happened, and what it means.

First of all, I think former US ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock has the most concise commentary on whether it is proper for representatives of a political campaign to speak with the diplomatic representatives of other countries:

Our press seems to be in a feeding frenzy regarding contacts that President Trump’s supporters had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and with other Russian diplomats. The assumption seems to be that there was something sinister about these contacts, just because they were with Russian diplomats. As one who spent a 35-year diplomatic career working to open up the Soviet Union and to make communication between our diplomats and ordinary citizens a normal practice, I find the attitude of much of our political establishment and of some of our once respected media outlets quite incomprehensible. What in the world is wrong with consulting a foreign embassy about ways to improve relations? Anyone who aspires to advise an American president should do just that.

In other words, the Democrats are attempting to sensationalize and criminalize just the kind of openness and communication, i.e., freedom, that the United States supposedly champions in the world, and that this country has pushed long and hard to establish in both the old Soviet Union and in the Russian Federation it has since become. What has turned the Democrats into such a bunch of soreheads? “Why do they hate us for our freedom?”

I think that the driving force behind that anger, and”Russiagate,” is  the Democratic National Committee’s frustration at having lost control of the narrative about Hillary Clinton, as not only Republican but left-wing non-mainstream news sources presented facts about her that disagreed sharply with the DNC’s presentation of her. “If only the Russians, and their allies and useful idiots in the American left, hadn’t publicized all that nasty stuff about her, some of which was totally made up, she would be President now instead of him. ” Read the rest of this entry »





RIGHTEOUSNESS

9 07 2017

Once again, my occasional reading of a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2012 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,” seems totally appropriate to our current situation. You can read the whole chapter here, and buy it and other works by Eisenstein at that same link.

The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.

—Goethe

Underneath the common agreement that the problem with the world is evil and the solution to conquer it is an unmet psychological need for self-approval. Two-thirds of our political discourse goes toward meeting our need to be right, to align ourselves with Good. If the man who disagrees with me does so because he is stupid, naive, bamboozled, or wicked, then I must be smart, canny, independent-minded, and good. Positive and negative judgments alike hold oneself as a tacit reference point (lazy means “lazier than I” and responsible means “responsible like me”).

Why do you really visit those websites that get you stirred up and indignant? Whatever reason you give yourself (e.g., to “stay informed”), maybe the real reason is the emotional gratification, the reminder that you are right, smart, in a word, good. You are part of the in-group. If you want even more reassurance you might start an online discussion group or a face-to-face group where you and a bunch of other people get together and talk about how right you are and how awful, incomprehensible, evil, and sick those other people are. Unfortunately, because this gratification is addictive, no amount will be enough. (The real need here is for self-acceptance, and the proxy offered does not and cannot meet the real need.) Soon everyone will want to be even more right—more right than certain others in the group, which will degenerate into infighting and flame wars…….

……Look at the plot of so many Hollywood movies where the resolution of the drama comes with the total defeat of an irredeemable bad guy. From high-concept movies like Avatar to children’s movies like The Lion King or Wreck-It Ralph, the solution to the problem is the same: conquer evil. Significantly, the type of movie that most often has this plotline, besides children’s movies, is “action” movies. No wonder defeating the bad guy so often becomes the unquestioned programmatic assumption behind all kinds of political action. I need not mention that it is also the defining mentality of war. And since the label “evil” is a means of creating an “other,” one might also say it is the defining mentality of our relationship to everything else we have made other: nature, the body, racial minorities, and so on.

More subtly, Western notions of story and plot have a kind of war built in to them as part of the standard three-act or five-act narrative structure, in which a conflict arises and is resolved. Is any other structure possible that isn’t dull, that still qualifies as a plot? Yes. As the blogger “Still Eating Oranges” observes, the East Asian story structure called Kishōtenketsu in Japanese is not based on conflict. But we in the West almost universally experience a story as something in which someone or something must be overcome. This surely colors our worldview, making “evil”—the essence of that which must be overcome—seem quite natural a basis for the stories we construct to understand the world and its problems.

Our political discourse, our media, our scientific paradigms, even our very language predispose us to seeing change as the result of struggle, conflict, and force. To act from a new story, and to build a society upon it, requires a wholesale transformation. Dare we do it? What if I am wrong? Let’s look more deeply into the nature of evil.

music: Jackson Browne, “Black and White

Lisa Gerrard, “Space Weaver

        Susan Shann, “The Final Word

 








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