From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 5, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
Given the various vectors of Doom for which we at the diner keep track, and the relative noise made in each one of those vectors, it occured to me to stand up a semi-regular summary called “This Week In Doom,” in which we survey the big breaking issues in the Wide World of Doom. Think of it as “The Wide World of Sports” for doom; certainly not all inclusive, and invested with a particularly Surly point of view.
First on the docket is Fukushima, the gift that keeps on giving. Even Charlie Pierce, Esquire’s redoubtable political blogger, felt obliged to weigh in on the subject.
Remember Fukushima? That was our Environmental Tipping Point two years ago, when a tsunami caused a catastrophic event at a Japanese nuclear power plant, a triple meltdown that resulted in, among other things, all kinds of noxious debris continuing to wash up in Alaska, in Hawaii and, just the other day, in California, Perhaps to celebrate the arrival of this dubious flotsam to the continental 48, we discover that the Fukushima disaster is not yet done poisoning things.
Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools. But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant – a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.
Surely in the wake of such an accident, people the world over would clamor for a time out and a fundamental rethink of nuclear 60 year old reactor designs at the very least, let alone the viability of nuclear as a fuel source, yes? That Big Think that we were supposed to have either hasn’t occurred, or has been sotto voce:
WASHINGTON — All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.
The position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. But it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.
Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”
Perhaps that was after the checks quit clearing. Charlie Pierce brings the point home:
How anyone, even the most profit-hungry plutocrat on the planet, can look at what is still happening at Fukushima two years later and determine that financial concerns remain in any way relevant to the discussion of what has to be done about a steadily spiraling catastrophe — I mean, chopping down a forest to build more storage tanks is Plan A? Really? Where do they build the next hundred tanks? Downtown Osaka?
Deeply reassuring to know we have our best investigative minds on the subject.
Speaking of our best minds, and closer to home, those in charge of ferreting out answer to the Boston Bombing have extended their investigation to corral three more seriously judgment-impaired college students. Pierce again:
Three college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are under arrest, suspected of removing items from his dorm room after the April 15 attack, sources said Wednesday. Two of the pals were detained April 20 on immigration charges and a third has now been taken into custody, sources said. They are expected to face obstruction of justice charges, the sources said.
Even by the standards of college buddies, this is remarkably stupid behavior, and my opinion of it will remain that until I see some evidence as to why we should now not expand our list of shorthand references to the people involved in this awful crime from Murderous Dipshits 1 and 2, to Murderous Dipshits 1 and 2 Plus Accessorial Dipshit 3 through 5.
NPR did a pretty spirited report read by Corey Flintoff that purports to investigate the Boston Bombing… in Southern Russia.
The search for the motivations of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers stretches from New England to Central Asia, but a lot of attention has been focused on Dagestan.
The mostly Muslim republic is located in the southernmost part of Russia, and it’s been the battleground in a low-level insurgency that takes lives nearly every day.
One of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, traveled to Dagestan twice in recent years, and investigators want to know whether that experience led him toward a radical and violent form of Islam.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s parents and other relatives lived in the republic’s capital, Makhachkala, a city of nearly 600,000 that sprawls along the Caspian Sea. The city backs up against the North Caucasus, the blue-green mountains that have made places like Dagestan and neighboring Chechnya havens for bandits and rebels for centuries…
Which you are free to read at your leisure. My response when listening was that, like CNN, Howard Kurtz, et al, NPR will dutifully keep “catapulting the propaganda” that there is an Islamic connection, the better to help fuel the next neocon cry for the next useless neocon war, as always fought with the blood of the children of the working class. They are working overtime to affix an Islamist motivation to this crime; wherein you probably have Dylan Klebold in a ballcap and without the long coat.
Also rapidly disappearing down the Tsarniev memory hole is the allegation that Tamerlan became sour on the US after the Golden Gloves Changed elegibility rules on him.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, right, lost at the Golden Gloves championships in 2009. A year later, a new citizenship rule blocked him from competing again for a title.
The cocksure fighter, a flamboyant dresser partial to white fur and snakeskin, had been looking forward to redeeming the loss he suffered the previous year in the first round, when the judges awarded his opponent the decision, drawing boos from spectators who considered Mr. Tsarnaev dominant.
From one year to the next, though, the tournament rules had changed, disqualifying legal permanent residents — not only Mr. Tsarnaev, who was Soviet-born of Chechen and Dagestani heritage, but several other New England contenders, too. His aspirations frustrated, he dropped out of boxing competition entirely, and his life veered in a completely different direction.
Mr. Tsarnaev portrayed his quitting as a reflection of the sport’s incompatibility with his growing devotion to Islam. But as dozens of interviews with friends, acquaintances and relatives from Cambridge, Mass., to Dagestan showed, that devotion, and the suspected radicalization that accompanied it, was a path he followed most avidly only after his more secular dreams were dashed in 2010 and he was left adrift.
As it happened, Golden Gloves of America was just then changing its policy. It used to permit legal immigrants to compete in its national tournament three out of every four years, barring them only during Olympic qualifying years, James Beasley, the executive director, said. But it decided in 2010 that the policy was confusing and moved to end all participation by noncitizens in the Tournament of Champions.
So Mr. Tsarnaev, New England heavyweight champion for the second year in a row, was stymied. The immigrant champions in three other weight classes in New England were blocked from advancing, too, Mr. Russo said.
Mr. Tsarnaev was devastated. He was not getting any younger. And he was more than a year away from being even eligible to apply for American citizenship.
Neighbors and some close to the brothers doubt that they were “radicalized” in Dagestan. It could be that Tamerlan, at least, was radicalized by that most American of institutions: a change in the rules of the game.
And closer to home—much closer, for me, we have some archaeological “proof” that Jamestown settlers turned to cannibalism during the difficult “Starving Time” endured by the first wave of Jamestown colonists.
Newly discovered human bones prove the first permanent English settlers in North America turned to cannibalism over the cruel winter of 1609-10, US researchers have said.
Scientists found unusual cuts consistent with butchering for meat on human bones dumped in a rubbish pit.
The four-century-old skull and tibia of a teenage girl in James Fort, Virginia, were excavated from the dump last year.
James Fort, founded in 1607, was the earliest part of the Jamestown colony.
The Starving Time was one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The James Fort settlers were under siege from the indigenous Indian population and had insufficient food to last the winter.
First they ate their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some, to satisfy their cruel hunger, ate the leather of their shoes.
Which goes to show nothing so much as what human beings will resort to do when sheer survival is at stake. It is reasonable to assume that the cultural prohibition against consuming human flesh was as strong among 17th century British colonist as it is among us today. Another cautionary tale for those of us who have watched and read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and/or seen the film, when considering the near-term implications of what Full Doom might look like for those of us not ensconced in some Federally constructed and provisioned underground bunker.
In an article posted by JoeP in the forum and reposted on my news channel, biologist Paul Ehrlich
Believe(s) that we are on a straightforward course to a collapse of our civilization.” He cited signs, such as diminishing returns from natural resources, that he said were recognizable from studying the collapse of other civilizations throughout history.
Reasons for that are baked into our DNA, says Ehrlich:
“We’re a small-group animal, both genetically and culturally. We have evolved to relate to groups of somewhere between 50 and 150 people,” he said. “And now suddenly we’re trying to live in a group not of 150 or 100 people, but of seven billion people, somewhat over seven billion people at the moment, and that is presenting us with a whole array of problems.”
Those problems include an inability to recognize gradual, large-scale changes in our environment as dangerous.
“Another thing that’s related to that, that’s presenting us with a whole array of problems, is that most of our evolution going on now is cultural evolution,” Ehrlich went on. “And the problem is cultural evolution has not gone on at the same rate in every area of human endeavor. Where has it gone on most rapidly? It’s gone on most rapidly in the area of technology.”
He cited signs, such as diminishing returns from natural resources, that he said were recognizable from studying the collapse of other civilizations throughout history.
It will come as no surprise to readers of the Diner Blog and forum that technology has outstripped our capacity for judgment and our moral dimension. As discussed elsewhere in the Forum, the nominal group size of a viable community is about 150. Something to consider as we track the various vectors of doom.
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on Reverse Engineering on January 22, 2011
Discuss this article at the Frosbite Falls Insider Table inside the Diner
Note from RE: Another series of articles from the archives of Reverse Engineering. In this series I look at DEATH as it has played out historically, and how it might play itself out again in a Neo-Tribal post-collapse paradignm. I take an unexpurgated look at taboo subjects like Infanticide, Suicide and Postal Mass Murders. IOW, not an article for the Squeamish. Part II will be posted on the Blog as well, the rest will appear in the Frostbite Falls Insider members Only board inside the Diner, along with all discussion of this series.
Tonight’s subject is DEATH. I am not talking nice Peaceful Death quietly in your own bed at night from Old Age, nor even more wilful forms of hastening your own death through Suicide or just bad habits like Smoking, Drinking or doing Drugs. Nor even death that comes from the vicissitudes of Nature, such as an Earthquake bringing the roof of your hut down on your head or naturally occurring diseases that run around the environment and periodically take out large numbers of the population. No, the type of DEATH that I am going to address here is the WILLFULLY CAUSED DEATH of OTHERS. This includes Death caused by War directly, Death caused by Abortion directly, and Death caused indirectly by controlling and making scarce the resources other people need to live. All these subjects have been topics of heated debate here lately, so I thought I would bring them all together and put in my usual 3000 word opinion on the disk. It is sure to be a highly popular opinion. NOT! Actually, this one may make the Top 10 of All Time Most HATED RE Posts, which is saying a lot for me Or it could be one of the Top 10 All Time Most LOVED RE Posts among some readers. Either way I am pretty sure the reactions will be extreme to one side or the other.
For all these forms of Death creation mentioned above, they get nearly universal opprobrium. The Moral Group Think tends to be that War is Evil, Abortion is Evil and Starving People is Evil. In the situation where there really is enough resource to go round, all these Death Creation mechanisms ARE Evil, but once resources are thin for the Population as a whole, any one of them can be less Evil than the alternative.
The simple example would be the case of the Small Tribe barely ekeing out an existence. There is only enough resource for say 10 people to live. A woman in the tribe gets pregnant. What are your REAL choices? One choice would be to Abort the child. Then you will not have another mouth to feed. Another choice would be to allow the child to be born, and ask or have “volunteer” an Elderly person in the tribe to Walk into the Great Beyond. Take that last Kayak trip out to Sea, give himself up to the Bear, climb to the top of Denali and Freeze to Death, whatever the choice. Given a Healthy Infant, the better choice is probably for the elderly person to Die, but of course until Born and demonstrating healthy and robust traits, you just don’t know if that life is more worthwhile for the survival of the Tribe than the Elderly person, who might still have a few good years left to pass on some knowledge. In this kind of scenario, you have to consider Exposure as another alternative instead of Abortion. Allow the child to be born, see how robust that child is, and if not sufficiently robust expose it on a mountaintop and leave it for the wolves. These ARE the kinds of choices that had to be made in the past, and all of you come from people who made those choices. As I see it, these choices are coming again to Homo Sapiens. They won’t be taken on willingly or easily, but they WILL happen.
Moral questions which are paramount in times of Surplus do not have the same meaning as they do in times of Deprivation. When the PURE SURVIVAL of the Tribe is in question, life or death of the individual is subsidiary to the survival of the TRIBE, which is the smallest economic unit possible for Homo Sapiens. We are Pack Animals basically, like Wolves that run in small groups. The transition to Agriculture socially changed most of us more to Herd animals like Sheep, though Packs of Wolves still move about among the Sheeple in our society. It’s the juxtaposition of these two basic forms of living among mammals in one species that is at the root of our social dilemma.
As we move forward through the Collapse of our society these two basic forms of mammalian social behavior will assert themselves, and for the most part the Sheeple will be slaughtered by the Wolves. Difference from the rest of Nature is that at any point Sheeple can BECOME Wolves, we aren’t specifically determined by nature to be one or the other as REAL Sheep and Wolves are, it is socially inculcated behavior in our case. Homo Sapiens “sheeple” DO become “wolves” when the society devolves. Gangs form up of former Sheeple, and the deep nature of Homo Sapiens as a Pack Animal reasserts itself. A Failed State like Somalia turns into a bunch of Pack Animal Pirates; a Failed State like Mexico turns into a bunch of Pack Animal Drug Cartels, a bunch of Towel Head farmers in Afghanistan turn into Al-Quaeda Terrorists, etc. In none of these cases do these folks hold onto the same kinds of Moral Restrictions that Sheeple do. Nor of course do the top of the food chain Wolves of Banksters hold onto the same set of moral restrictions or laws that their prey among the Sheeple do.
As a Sheeple, at any point you can become a Wolf. Some are already becoming Lone Wolves. Joe Stack was a Lone Wolf, so was Jared. Lone Wolves don’t last long, but Pack Wolves do, as long as there are Sheeple around to prey on. You have 3 basic choices, which are to be one of the Sheeple, to be a Lone Wolf, or to be a part of a Pack of Wolves. Only one of those 3 choices will allow your survival.
Once you revert to Tribes of Pack Animals, the same type of moral dilemmas that are faced by Sheeple in War are not relevant. It no longer is a question of Wolves slaughtering Sheep, but of Wolves fighting with Wolves. This is the stage we are moving into here now. For a long time it has been Sheep being slaughtered, but now the Sheep are starting to Pack Up and become Wolves, at least in places like Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mexico.
Once you understand that your only REAL choice is whether to get slaughtered as Sheeple or become a Wolf yourself, if you want to LIVE then you become a Wolf. I am reminded here of that scene in Terminator II where Arnold reaches out his hand and says to Linda Hamilton “Come with me if you want to LIVE!”. You are in a fight for survival, and you have to Pack Up with some other wolves to have any chance at all. Once you do, you TAKE NO PRISONERS.
The Wars we are pursuing in Afghanistan and Iraq are a manifestation of this phenomenon on the aggregate level of the Nation State. As a Culture, it is Kill or Be Killed between our society and the one controlling the resource of Oil that we need as a culture to survive. Morality isn’t a question in this war, as long as it is perceived that we MUST have OIL to survive. ANYTHING goes. Killing civilian children is nothing more really than exposing them on a mountain top because your society needs the resources those children would use, just it is done on a mass scale as is the nature of war in the industrial era. From this point of view, its not morally wrong, and that would be the Bryzhinski/Kissinger/Cheney model of morality. It’s just a Geopolitical Chess Game.
Where the Moral Flaw really exists is in the inequity of power distribution between the Packs of Wolves. In fact it’s not so much a moral flaw or problem as it is one of homoeostasis. When there is relatively equal power distribution between packs of wolves, they tend to kill each other off in equal numbers when fighting over a given territory. When one group of wolves comes up with Industrialization, the whole power distribution setup goes out of whack and the Wars are not even in casualties. I remember those Numbers from Vietnam that used to be published each night on the Network TV Newz programs. 2000 Vietcong DEAD, 20 US Marines Dead. No Balance there, and so the whole shebang goes out of Homoeostasis.
This is why the pictures JimQ puts up of Dead and Mutilated Children are so disturbing, because people sense the inherent inequity here in the battle. A Big High Tech War Machine going in and Dropping Death from Above on a bunch of simple Villagers in Afghanistan is not a very fair fight. Same bizness in Vietnam. Who was not disturbed by the image in Platoon of the grunts torching the little Vietnamese Village, which of course was the cinematic version of the Me Lai Massacre? No matter how you feel about Commies or Towel Heads, your basic sense of fairness makes such slaughter seem quite immoral, which of course it is in this situation.
Its not the same moral dilemma when a couple of relatively evenly matched Tribes decide to Duke it Out over a Watering Hole. In this case one of them might sneak up in the middle of the night on the other one, and kill off everyone from the opposing tribe, women and children included, although more often just the men are killed and the women and children are taken as slaves. While this is a rather gruesome process, its not inherently unfair and doesn’t have the same kind of moral stink about it.
Abortion has similar inequities in the modern world, because it is inequitably distributed among the poor. Like Military Power, Economic power is inequitably distributed here, so MOST of the growing organisms being vacuumed up from mommy’s tummy are of course the potential progeny of poor people, likely to be poor themselves and in a social welfare state members of the dependent class, respectfully referred to on the pages of TBP as the Free Shit Army. LOL.
All sorts of Eugenics arguments have been put forth to justify this type of inequitable distribution of abortion, which basically comes from the faulty assumption that because people are poor, they also are Feeble Minded. This is much more likely to be the EFFECT of being poor rather than the CAUSE of it. Poor diet, poor educational opportunities and a poor nurturing environment is a more likely culprit than genetic differences for creating feeble minded people in this demographic. In any event, George Bush is living PROOF that rich people can be just as Feeble Minded as any Poor Person. LOL.
In our current Global society, in truth there is still quite a bit of surplus, and if a means could be found for equitable distribution of the remaining resources, neither Abortion nor War would be necessary. Unfortunately for a whole host of reasons setting up an economic system which can do such a job of equitable distribution is an exceedingly difficult problem, one which has never been solved for large societies at the Nation State level. It probably is an insoluble problem at this level, which means that both War and Abortion are inevitable, along with the slower form of death distribution of the powerful over the less powerful, which is resource starvation.
The main mitigating factor here is that due to the deterioration of complex systems, which I call the Conduits, power distribution is going to be levelled as these Conduits fail. As that happens, more of the Sheeple all over the world will morph into Wolves. Its going to become a fight of Pack Animals against each other with more or less the same tools for making that fight once the Oil resource drops below a critical mass. We are still a ways away from that though, so in the initial stages here of this spin down there will be a lot of very unfair fights and asymmetric types of warfare engaged in. Techno War simply breeds more Terrorists, because you cannot fight a Drone Aircraft with Guided Missiles with Homemade Bombs. So you have to carry the homemade bombs to hotels and buses and marketplaces where the people who are supporting the Techno Army are engaged in their daily toils, bringing the War to their shores and their lives. This type of asymmetric battle is in full flower in the Middle East already, and of course, its Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You also. It already has in small scale with events like Joe Stack and Jared, along with numerous College Campus Postals over the last couple of years.
In the great Moral Question here of whether any of this Death is necessary, the fault mainly lies in the fact that there is inequitable power and wealth distribution, and so those who support continuation of such inequity are most at fault, and so most morally corrupt. However, people immersed in a society dependent on the automobile and industrialization don’t see that as corruption, and they aren’t willing to give it up either. It “enhances” their lives. It will only be given up when it is no longer possible to run the War Machine which makes such an asymmetry possible. No individual can fight this, it’s a pointless and unwinnable battle. This is why the Back to the Land Hippy movement of the 1960s and 1970s failed to gain traction. Only when the Conduits truly FAIL will it be possible to fight and WIN this battle, and that day is coming, if not in this generation then almost certainly in the next one.
So, for the foreseeable future, for the rest of your natural life walking the earth, what you can expect to see are many more revoltingly immoral applications of Death by the Powerful on the Less Powerful, punctuated by instances of equally revolting Terrorist bombings of Malls, Train Stations and of course inevitably Elementary Schools or Day Care Centers by the Less Powerful on the Powerful. Besides the gruesome Abortion Mills, there will be more instances of newborns left in garbage bags in dumpsters. Neil Young wrote about this back as far as 1980 in “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”
For myself, I see what is coming down the pipe here, and I report what I see. I don’t like the immoral wars of the powerful on the less powerful when in truth there is still plenty to go round. I don’t like the many dead babies that poverty creates in a world where there is still plenty. To be sure, real deprivation is coming when the Oil resource can no longer keep the Industrial Ag model producing copious amounts of food, but that day is not here YET. Right NOW, the reason people are Starving in Tunisia is because of poor wealth distribution and financial speculation in the Commodities market by people seeking to make a Profit on the misery of others. This is immoral and unjust, but it is an effect of Capitalism, where resources are privatized and artificial scarcity is induced to sieve wealth from one group of people to another. This is why I am so vehemently anti-Capitalist and find the whole system to be unjust and immoral. As someone who believes in Justice, I support the idea of Punishment and Retribution, and I understand why Marie Antoinette’s head went rolling like a Bowling Ball out in front of the Bastille. She was GUILTY, and she deserved what she got, as all people do who live in luxury while others starve.
Nobody should be forced to give away EVERYTHING they ever worked for, but there is a limit to what any individual really needs to keep for himself for some safety and security In any society, having a couple of years worth of food is a prudent measure and not unreasonable for an individual. In our economics here in Amerika, I wouldn’t even begrudge someone who had $100K worth of Gold Coins in his basement safe that measure of security. More than this though here in Amerika? To me sequestering that much wealth is socially destabilizing, and besides that you are likely to lose most if not all of it anyhow when the fiat goes south and most paper assets like stocks and bonds lose their monetary value. Better to give it away and help some friends and family who are hurting while the money is still good for something. That is what I have done. Nobody, not even Bill Gates can Save them ALL. You are also free to choose exactly WHO you would like to Save here, and most of us will choose Friends and Family rather than Strangers. Only AFTER you have helped all your friends and family and your own life is reasonably secured if you STILL have surplus does Noblesse Oblige come into play. It behooves you then to help Strangers also, because doing so will stabilize the society as a whole. If all people lived by these principles, then the Wars and the Abortions could be postponed, and the necessary die off could be spread out over a generation or more. Not gonna happen of course, but because it IS in theory possible, it makes the other choice of hoarding the wealth to be immoral.
To be truly Just, a Society must be based on GIVING rather than TAKING. This is possible, though only demonstrated in much smaller societies than those we have developed at the Nation State level over the last 5000 years. This is why some folks will maintain “It has ALWAYS been like this, and it ALWAYS will be like this.” Not true. Potlatch WAS a viable system, and it will be again, though likely not at population levels and with social structures we currently have extant. That is a failure of the complex system model more than anything else, not a failure of inherent human corruption. It will take the utter and complete destruction of this complex system for the inherent traits of Generosity of Spirit and Giving and Cooperation to once again reassert themselves as the governing behaviors in human society. That this destruction will involve pain beyond all measure is without question. Those who do survive this though must remember what CAUSED it, and never permit this Evil to spread again amongst the race of Homo Sapiens. The Greedy must be Exterminated with Extreme Predjudice. Bring in the Orkin Man, Exterminate the Cockroaches. With a Clean Kitchen, we can cook up a Better Tomorrow.
From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published in Doomstead Diner
February 20, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner forum.
Contrary and I were proud to part of a large contingent of people form our area of Virginia to travel to the National Mall in DC for the Forward on Climate rally on Sunday. It was a long and extraordinary day.
The Forward on Climate rally, as it was billed by environmental groups Sierra Club and 350.org, called for President Obama to take immediate action on climate change, including blocking further construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Dozens of buses discharged rallyers from all across the country. The assembly massed on the National Mall, where speakers and musicians addressed the crowd. As they gathered for the march, participants listed to a variety of talks from luminaries, including 350.org President Bill McKibben, who tweeted, “Today was one of the best days of my life, because I saw the movement come together finally, big and diverse and gorgeous.”
“I waited a quarter century since I wrote the first book about all this stuff to see if we were going to fight,” McKibben told the crowd. “And today, I know we are going to fight. The most fateful battle in human history is finally joined, and we will fight it together.”
Van Jones was also on the dais. He urged the crowd to put pressure on the President: “This President has the power to achieve the single biggest carbon reduction ever, by holding our biggest carbon polluters – dirty power plants – accountable for what they dump into the air, Cleaning up this pollution and using more clean energy will provide jobs to thousands of Americans, save families real money when it comes to electricity bills and, most important, will make a real difference in our health and the health of our children.”
Other speakers included:
- The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO
- Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director
- Van Jones, NRDC Trustee and President Rebuild the Dream
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic Senator from Rhode Island
- Rosario Dawson
- Chief Jacqueline Thomas, native peoples chief and co-founder Yinka Dene Alliance
A chill and biting win gusted on the participants, who stood in the frozen mud of the Mall to brave the elements. Even huddling together like penguins didn’t make it any more bearable. Those in attendance later marched through the streets bearing placards, signs and musical instruments.
In an interesting turn, earlier that week Michael Bruce, President of the Sierra Club, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and others handcuffed themselves to the White House gates in an act of civil disobedience to bring attention to these interrelated issues. This marks the first time in the Sierra Club’s history that it has engaged in acts of civil disobedience.
During his turn at the microphone, Brune addressed the crowd: “Twenty years from now on President’s Day, people will want to know what the president did in the face of rising sea levels, record droughts and furious storms brought on by climate disruption . . .” “President Obama holds in his hand a pen and the power to deliver on his promise of hope for our children. Today, we are asking him to use that pen to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and ensure that this dirty, dangerous, export pipeline will never be built.”
Many in the crowd expressed by voice and sign that the pipeline would be stopped “by any means necessary.”
There was also much opposition to fracking, and much support for clean, alternative fuels. Neither Charles nor David Koch was spotted in the crowd. It was also a pleasure to meet Captain Ray Lewis, a true Occupy hero. I was able to thank him for his work.
It remains to be seen what will come of this effort. Stay tuned.
All images Surlyfoto.
Off the keyboard of RE
Published originally on The Burning Platform on Novemeber 17, 2010
Discuss this article at the Frostbite Falls Daily Rant inside the Diner
My father rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flys a jet plane, his son will
ride a camel. -Old Saudi Saying
A recent thread here brought up Richard Duncan’s Olduvai Theory, which basically states that with decreasing per capita energy availability, we are eventually destined to return to the Stone Age in terms of our technology, with a fairly precipitous decline which began sometime in the late 1970s, and should put us back in the 1930s era by 2030 or so. Whenever I bring up this possibility, I get the same Kneejerk Rections, that the possibility that Homo Sapiens is destined to be using Stone Knives and dressed in Bearskins is Science Fiction on a par with ET landing in Elliot’s Garage and Phoning Home. I’d like to try to examine the ideas for how valid they might or might not be, along with what the actual timeline might be for a technological retracement
First off, as far as my own knowledge of this theory, I only found out about it quite some time after I joined the Peak Oil message board writing my own take on how our civilization would be affected by the disappearance of easily accessible fossil fuels. My general conclusion was (and for the most part still remains) that we will eventually drop back down to about a 1750s era level of technology, utilizing Sail Power for shipping and animal and human labor for over land transportation and food production. However, I can see some justification for the hypothesis that over a really long term of a millennia or more that we could end up going all the way back to a Neolithic paradigm. This assuming of course we don’t end up going completely extinct either through natural causes like a Supervolcano, or through a Man Made self-extinction through Nuclear War and/or poisoning the planet through further ecological disasters like the Deepwater Horizon in the GOM.
What would the justification be for this? Well, if you assume steadily increasing population here for as long as there is some sort of fossil fuels to access, more people will continue to use up more resources ever faster, even while per capita usage drops. This is reflected in the idea that China with 1.3B people will put as many cars out on the road as we did for the last 50 years, so even if we conserved the fuel would get burned up anyhow. Then we go through the Coal and NG reserves, until in the end the only fuel left to burn is that which grows each year fed by Solar Energy. A Pay as you Go paradigm from that point forward.
Duncan is assuming a few things here which may or may not be true. First one would be that we don’t at least partially replace the lost fossil fuel energy source with Nuke and Renewables. Second and even more important is that he is assuming a pretty steady population increase to keep the fossil fuels consumption up, and thus drop us off the fairly steep curve he draws downward to 2030 or so.
While its not a very pleasant scenario to contemplate, if through War, Pestilence or Famine sometime between now and 2030 we cut World Population in Half, per Capita we could roughly double energy usage with the remaining resource, or raise it 50% while halving the decline rate. If at the same time we make a concerted effort at developing alternative energy resource, we could extend it out further than that. Over a fairly long period of time, the population might shrink down to 1/10th what it is now, or even 1/100th. As long as that shrinkage is not also accompanied by ever increasing energy usage by the smaller population, in theory you REALLY could extend out the timeline of a such a technological society, although no matter how long and with how small a population you work with, eventually you would reach the point where fossil fuels were completely unavailable to use. However, with such a long timeline and such a reduced population, you might be able to Pay as You Go turning Sedge Grass into liquid fuel using enzymatic processes, or some variant of this with Algae or some other rapidly growing organism. Making these assumptions, which are not all that unrealistic, Duncan’s Olduvai Theory doesn’t play out that well.
GIFSoupHowever, that decline of Population commensurate with maintaining current infrastructure and production levels falls apart when you consider the real results of what the competition for the remaining resource will be, which is ever increasing War. For as long as it is possible to get enough Oil to run a Mechanized Army, societies will build such a War Machine, with the specific purpose of taking control of the Oil fields necessary to run that machine. The FIGHT for the remaining Oil is what will use it up faster, along with destroying the infrastructure used to pump up what oil remains and then refine it. This brings about a crash in population and technology that is FASTER than our possible ability to replace it with alternative energy resource. Under this scenario, Duncan’s Olduvai Theory is more justifiable.
Fossil Fuels aren’t the ONLY thing necessary to stay above the Stone Age though, long before we accessed the thermodynamic energy of Oil to run the civilization of Homo Industrialis, we jumped up from Stone Tools to using Metal ones. To smelt and refine those metals though, entire Forests were burned down, along with also Coal being used, but in this projected future there wouldn’t be any Coal left to burn, so in terms of burning stuff to create the heat necessary to create all those metal tools, you would need another heat source. This of course could be provided by Nuke Energy, but again you have to remember that the Fight for the Oil resource probably would ALSO end up destroying any Nuke Reactors. Even if they all were not destroyed, just maintaining them and keeping them operational takes Oil, and they only have around a 50 year lifespan anyhow before they need to be decommissioned or all their internal parts replaced due to constant exposure to high energy radiation.
Taking all this into consideration, Duncan’s Olduvai Theory seems to me to be possible over a pretty long timeline, but its NOT a return to the Stone Age in a Century. In under a Century, at the very least you still have plenty of already mined up and refined metals to work with to create tools and build or rebuild with. In under that timeline, you still have a good deal of Coal left to run Forges with and reuse all that metal. Metal by itself forgetting the advantages we get from more complex machines was a HUGE step up the ladder from the Stone Age. Metal Knives, Farm Implements, Tools like Crosscut Saws hell just NAILS to bang together a housing structure or boat made of wood is a big advantage over just using a Stone Hand Axe to roughly hew out some wood and put it together with mortice and tenet joints and lashings. As big a Doomer as I am, I don’t see any scenario likely in even half a millennia where we wouldn’t have NAILS to use. If you backtrack in time 500 years to 1500 or so, they certainly were not living in the Stone Age. So if Duncan’s Olduvai Theory is correct, its going to take a pretty long time to Reverse Engineer our way back there, probably pretty close to the 5000 years or so it took to work our way OUT of the Neolithic lifestyle to begin with.
Most people aren’t too concerned about what the long term fate of Homo Sapiens is here, really they are about 60% concerned with how things are going to play out in their own lifetime, and the other 40% in what will happen to their Kids. If they have Grandkids already born, they have somewhat less concern over their own lives (mostly over already), and transfer that concern to the Grandkids, for something like maybe 30% your own life, 30% your kids lives and 40% your grandkids or something like that. So the max timeline anyone really cares to consider here usually is the next 50-100 years. What might that look like here under the most plausible scenario I can conjure up?
Well first off like MANY other Doomers on the net, I see a major War for Resources (Oil, Water and arable Land mainly) coming down the pipe here. It probably will have both a Civil (local) component as well as a Global component. Whenever the Global portion of this does really take off, I doubt it would take more than 5 years for all the good Military Hardware to be at the bottom of Davey Jones Locker and most of the Oil production infrastructure to be irretrievably destroyed. I don’t forsee Global Thermonuclear War of the Wargames Scenario with the WOPRs pitching out 100s of MIRVs and sending us into a Nuclear Winter. Rather I see Tactical Nukes being used on the battlefield, Dirty Bombs being used in some cases for Terrorism purposes, and certainly from all sides involved the effort to diminish the war making capability of the other side by destroying their Oil infrastructure of Refineries. The outcome of this is so Devastating and Incalculable that by itself its usually the point at which most folks stop considering how it will all play out. The Big Shitties all starved of Oil to run the water pumping stations and sewage treatment plants turns ALL of them into a virtual Mirror Image of what is going on in Port Au Prince in Haiti right now. No fancy Flu Virus concocted in an Illuminati Lab necessary, good old fashioned CHOLERA will bloom in all these Cesspools waiting to happen.
Once the Conduits begin to fail in earnest resulting from Global destruction of the Conduits, Local Populations everywhere will be left on their own to first off try to Protect and Defend their locales from an OCEAN of Refugees (aka Zombies), which has these areas mostly become Feudalized mini-states run by Warlords. Next, they will have to make themselves Sustainable in just what they produce within their borders. This will be a major challenge for most of these neighborhoods. Without any Oil Product to run any of the machines, without the ability to pump water up from aquifers to irrigate the land, without high energy fertilizers to increase yields, without pesticides to keep crop losses minimal, and at least at the beginning without a whole lotta Draft Animals to help do the physical work necessary, they will be producing a whole heck of a lot less off their local landscape than they do now, even if it IS good land for growing. Cross your fingers for each of these areas they have a local Permaculture Expert who will instruct them on how to get fabulous yields organically with Heirloom Seeds which will Breed True and conserve and save the seeds to grow another generation of crops the following season.
In effect here, due to extreme dislocation which results from WAR causing a very rapid removal of the Oil resource from the current population dependent on it, I just do not think it will take very long at ALL for a ST Matthews Island Deer depopulation to take place in many places. It’s a cascade failure of systems. 5-10 years from the time the Technological War of Mechanized Armies really gets going in the Resource War before it consumes the Resources necessary to feed such an army, 10-50 years after that for the remaining local populations to decrease in size themselves to a level sustainable on their local resources. In 50-100 years, you will have a MUCH reduced population size, but you STILL will not be Stone Age. There will still be TONS of copper wire to Scavenge, tons of Steel and even still mega Tons of coal available to mine up and use in your forges. The resultant Technological level at this time is nowhere near so low as Stone Age. Its 1750 all over again, the main difference being that what went down before did a seriously good job with depleting many good Ag areas of nutrients now washed out to sea and a fairly well poisoned Fisherie in most of the good fishing grounds along with much coral reef destruction that will prevent the fisherie from rapidly returning to its former levels of fecundity. All these factors will make scraping a living out of the ground a lot harder than it was on the way up the ladder, which leads to a still further undershoot of the Homo Sapiens population possible on the planet even on a pay as you go paradigm.
If you ran this one Logarithmically, factor down 10 fold in the initial loss resulting from Conduit Failure in the Big Shitties from the Techno War; factor down another 10 fold resulting from the inability of the surviving population to produce as much food from their local area as before TSHTF; and factor down another 10 fold from overall depletion and destruction of environmental resources that produce food, you get a 1000:1 population reduction over a timespan of about a Century. So an Initial Population prior to the Die Off of Homo Industrialis starts out TODAY at around 6.3B, in about a Century it drops down to 6.3M. This is MASSIVE Undershoot, because even in around 1500 there were 500M people living on Earth. So this might be an overestimate either in how fast the die off takes place or what percentage loss there is in any phase. Still, barring a miracle here, I can’t see how we will not drop down to a max of 1B people over the next century, so for most of your current progeny, best case scenario is they got a 50-50 shot at making it through the next 50 years. You can console yourself though with the knowledge that if they do in fact survive, they most probably will not be living in Duncan’s Neo-Stone Age, but rather on a Techno level something closer to 1750’s era technology.
We still have a few questions to answer though. Even if you assume all the above as plausible, does even a destruction of the current population on the planet down to 6M Human Souls, or even a FURTHER destruction below that down to just 10, 000 Human Souls as happened after the Toba Bottleneck mean that Homo Sapiens will NEVER be so technologically advanced as he is today? Hell no, in 75,000 years Homo Sapiens might well develop sustainable Pay as you Go methods of harvesting energy, just it is wholly unlikely we would ever again have such an enormous footprint on the planet in terms of numbers. I also do not think that even had we been the most careful stewards possible of our Energy Resources that we would ever get off the Planet to go populating the Stars in Interstellar Spacecraft. Sending some Rockets around the Solar System was about as much as we could manage, and the other planets aren’t suited for life as we know it. Creating and building spacecraft that could negotiate interstellar distances and having the energy resource necessary for such travel is about as far beyond our abilities as it is for an Ant to build and fly a Drone Aircraft to bomb Afghani Ants. We aren’t destined to populate the Stars, our corporeal existence is fixed to this Planet, and always will be for as long as Homo Sapiens avoids an Extinction event on the planet. If you accept that to be true, then why AT ALL is it necessary to aspire to ever higher levels of technological advancement in the first place?
This is REALLY where I diverge from Richard Duncan. The subtext of his argument is that our foolishness with wasting the one time gift we got of the Fossil Fuel resource “condemns” Humanity to a “primitive” life with Stone Age technology. As I perceive it, life was a whole lot BETTER when people lived with Stone Age technology than they do now. Yes I realize how parochial such a viewpoint is, since I don’t live that way and likely never would be able to the way I was brought up in the Age of Oil. Still, knowing what we know NOW, did acquiring Agriculture and then Metal Working and then Industrialization REALLY make life BETTER? Its OUTCOME was a thoroughly Polluted Ecosystem, huge unsustainable Big Shitties, endless Wars for Resources and Control, a horiffically stratified society of Haves and Have Nots which in the end can only succeed in consuming itself with its own GREED. How can anyone see this as a good result?
You do not need I-phones or Computers or Plasma TVs to lead an introspective life examining existence. Galileo and Copernicus and Newton were at least as good mathematicians as any Hedge Fund Manager today sitting at his Bloomberg Terminal. You do not need Space Ships to Explore the Universe. 1000 years ago with Stone Age Technology, Polynesian Navigators without a GPS and without even a magnetic compass used their observations of the Heavens and the rhythm of the Sea to successfully Navigate between Hawaii and the Society Islands. Thousands of years ago, great writers observed the Human Condition and told the Stories later written down to be collective Human Wisdom in the Bible. All of their lives were RICH in thought and exploration. There are NO LIMITS to the Human Mind, and in fact it is the dependence on the crutch of technology that most limits us today, and which looks to be the Achilles Heel of our Civilization. We have been CONSUMED by an obsession with the physical world, money over spirit. True GROWTH of the Human Mind is LIMITLESS in the world of the Spirit. Perhaps when all this is said and done with, whomsoever is left standing will grasp this, and a greater and better form of Homo Sapiens will emerge in the long distant future. Hopefully BEFORE Yellowstone throws 5000 cu km of Ejecta into the atmosphere and wipes the spark of sentience we have off the face of the Earth forever more.
Of course getting from here to there is going to be a BITCH, and it’s the short term stuff most folks are concerned with not the eventual fate of sentience on Earth. So we ground ourselves mostly in the day to day spin down of our economic system. Will it end in a new Stone Age? Unlikely in the near term. Will it result in a whole lot of Dead People. Quite a bit more likely. Meantime I will just try to avoid being one of those dead people too soon.
See You on the Other Side.
HOW TWO GOOGLE CACHE RECORDS WITH PUBLISHED DATES PREDATING THE EVENTS AT SANDY HOOK SCHOOL CAME INTO BEING.
I will refer to 3 images in this document that show the anomalies in the Google cache records of The Arlington School’s News Items.
Document 1 is an image of a google cache record showing a published Date of Dec 10, 2012 which states Google recorded it on Dec 18, 2012.
The url below used to access the page imaged below – it now returns a 404 page error. Anyone that has copies of the image please keep it safe.
it could also be accessed from
by selecting to view the page.
It now returns….
Your search – inurl:http://www.arlingtonlocalschools.com/news/2012/12/10/talking-with-your-child-about … – did not match any documents. Reset search tools
DOCUMENT 2 below is an image of a google cache record showing a published Date of Dec 13, 2012 which states Google recorded it on Jan 12, 2013.
As of this writing, January 25, 6:21pm PT it is still available at the url below.
DOCUMENT 3 is an image of a google search return to a document Published Date of December 13, 2013 the same as in Document 2.
The link to this page has been disappeared by google as of today.
I am going to explain to you in this article how those document came to appear on the internet on the Published Dates shown, December 10, 2012 and December 13, 2012. I will also explain how the search return came into being.
In order to do this I am going to ask you to suspend disbelief so you can follow the timeline explaining the documents.
Events like 9/11 have demonstrated that news items about them appear almost instantly after such events. Many are complex documents that would be impossible to create in that short a period of time. If someone is preparing a false flag the most effective period to introduce your desired interpretation of the event is immediately after the event while people are still in shock. In order to meet a tight deadline there are many trusted people working in the background preparing documents and then sitting and waiting to pull the trigger and make them public the moment the event is planned to occur. These people are scattered all over and working off their own script with a time to make their information public.
CMI (Crisis Management Inc) which had author permissions on The Arlington School Website as a contractor to upload Their material to the website as needed. They could upload, create links to their material, and publish news announcements all from their own offices without anyone from the School being involved.
The School shootings that took place in sandy Hook on December 14, 2012, were originally planned to happen on December 10, 2012.
If you check on a calendar you will see Dec 10 was a Monday and a school day so the event could have been planned for that date.
DECEMBER 10, 2012
Everyone involved with media media material had the material prepared referring to the Date Dec 10, 2012.
On December 10, 2012 someone at CMI was waiting to pull the trigger and publish the news item (Document 1) and related documents such as the pdf the news item announces.
For some reason the event was called off at the last moment.
Everyone planned to submit material was frantically called to NOT submit their material.
The message for some reason didn’t get through to CMI in time and they submitted the pdf, created the link to it, and published the news item shown in Document 1 .
The other anomalous documents predating Dec 14, 2012 that appeared all over the internet originated the same way.
Because of a technicality (RSS Feed) that is explained by the developer of the program that manages the Arlington Schools site a record of the document immediately left the site and was submitted to people hooked up to the feed as well as to google which published the item for availability in their search engine. (see document 3)
Google took the opportunity while going to the site to capture the thumbnail of the page seen on the right of document 2 to also put it into their cache database.
In the Technical Discuss Thread at http://fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/sandy-hook-phony-documents-open-thread/#comment-164225
Jeremy the developer of the software SpireCMS which the School uses to manage their website stated
“JEREMY… When a news item is created in our system, it is pushed out via an RSS feed and, Google has it indexed usually under 24 hours.”
The above means the article could be found on the google search engine on that date and also in their cache shown in Document 1.
The search record was scrubbed by google for this Dec 10, 2012 item, but events that took place on Dec 13, 2012 caused an identical entry to be made only with a published date of December 13th. I’m not sure why it wasn’t scrubbed by Google before today. It is shown in (document 3)
DECEMBER 13, 2012
The Sandy Hook Shooting event was rescheduled to this date and was again scrubbed. It Was a Thursday, also a viable date.
It was again scrubbed for some reason.
CMI again did not get the word to not publish in time.
They published the news item again but this time with a published Date of Dec 13, 2012 causing another RSS submission creating (document 3) and also a second cache record (document 2)
Jeremy stated above “Google has it indexed usually under 24 hours” which means (document 1) would originally have shown either “as it appeared on 10 Dec 2012 or possibly 11 Dec 2012.”
The December 13, 2012 (document 2) would originally have shown either “as it appeared on 13 Dec 2012 or possibly 14 Dec 2012.”
No one in the loop realized there was an RSS feed on the news items at Arlington School and that the 2 pages (document 1 &2) where recorded in the google cache.
AFTER DECEMBER 14
Some bright internet users discovered the cache records predating the actual events and all hell broke loose.
The people behind the false flag frantically tried to cover up these incriminating cache records and the search return.
For technical reasons too complex to explain here it was impossible to erase the records.
Publicly removing the cache document after they were found would also be suspicious.
As a temporary fix someone authorized by google edited the records as below.
(Document 1) which first read “as it appeared on 10 Dec 2012 or possibly 11 Dec 2012 was changed to read 18 Dec 2012.”, a date after the events of December 14th. This document was still suspicious but at least is showed it was recorded after the event it announced.
(Document 2) which first read “as it appeared on 13 Dec 2012 was changed to read “as it appeared on 12 Jan 2013.”, a date after the events of December 14th. This document was still suspicious but at least is showed it was recorded after the event it announced.
To make these changes at google would take no more than about two minutes. All that needed to be done is to select the records in the database and edit the field that holds the date google recorded the record.
JANUARY 25 2013
Today google decided that the evidence implicating them in these events very getting to dangerous to leave available and removed them from public view even though that looks very suspicious.
This happened because I stated publicly that it is impossible for a document published with an RSS feed request to google could take 30 days as shown in (Document 2) and 8 days as shown in (Document 1) after the developer publicly stated at http://fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/sandy-hook-phony-documents-open-thread/#comment-164225
“JEREMY… When a news item is created in our system, it is pushed out via an RSS feed and, Google has it indexed usually under 24 hours.”
There is an enormous amount of corroborating evidence that I described before at Fellowship of the Minds.
If you find the information above compelling enough to look further, and if I survive to tell about it, this discussion will be continued.
That google is currently scrubbing the evidence does not bode well for those publicly explaining it. Although google can hide the incriminating evidence from the public, they cannot remove the internal traces from their servers. We who made screencaptures and didn’t clear our browser histories have evidence they existed to the last date we accessed it. Guard that information well.
I am going to stop here to let you consider what I said.
Off the keyboard of Toby Hemenway
Published originally on Pattern Literacy
Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner
Jared Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.”(1) Bill Mollison says that it can “destroy whole landscapes.”(2) Are they describing nuclear energy? Suburbia? Coal mining? No. They are talking about agriculture. The problem is not simply that farming in its current industrial manifestation is destroying topsoil and biodiversity. Agriculture in any form is inherently unsustainable. At its doorstep can also be laid the basis of our culture’s split between humans and nature, much disease and poor health, and the origins of dominator hierarchies and the police state. Those are big claims, so let’s explore them.
Permaculture, although it encompasses many disciplines, orbits most fundamentally around food. Anthropologists, too, agree that food defines culture more than our two other physical needs of shelter and reproduction. A single home-building stint provides a place to live for decades. A brief sexual encounter can result in children. But food must be gotten every day, usually several times a day. Until very recently, all human beings spent much of their time obtaining food, and the different ways of doing that drove cultures down very divergent paths.
Anthropologist Yehudi Cohen (3) and many subsequent scholars break human cultures into five categories based on how they get food. These five are foragers (or hunter-gatherers), horticulturists, agriculturists, pastoralists, and industrial cultures. Knowing which category a people falls into allows you to predict many attributes of that group. For example, foragers tend to be animist/pantheist, living in a world rich with spirit and in which all beings and many objects are ascribed a status equal to their own in value and meaning. Foragers live in small bands and tribes. Some foragers may be better than others at certain skills, like tool making or medicine, but almost none have exclusive specialties and everyone helps gather food. Though there may be chiefs and shamans, hierarchies are nearly flat and all members have access to the leaders. A skirmish causing two or three deaths is a major war. Most of a forager’s calories come from meat or fish, supplemented with fruit, nuts, and some wild grain and tubers.(4) It’s rare that a forager will overexploit his environment, as the linkage is so tight that destruction of a resource one season means starvation the next. Populations tend to peak at low numbers and stabilize.
The First Growth Economy
Agriculturists, in contrast, worship gods whose message usually is that humans are chosen beings holding dominion, or at least stewardship, over creation. This human/nature divide makes ecological degradation not only inevitable but a sign of progress.
While the forager mainstays of meat and wild food rot quickly, domesticated grain, a hallmark innovation of agriculture, allows storage, hoarding, and surplus. Food growing also evens out the seasonal shortages that keep forager populations low.
Having fields to tend and surpluses to store encouraged early farming peoples to stay in one place. Grain also needs processing, and as equipment for threshing and winnowing grew complex and large, the trend toward sedentism accelerated.(5)
Grains provide more calories, or energy, per weight than lean meat. Meat protein is easily transformed into body structure—one reason why foragers tend to be taller than farmers—but turning protein into energy exacts a high metabolic cost and is inefficient.(6) Starches and sugars, the main components of plants, are much more easily converted into calories than protein, and calories are the main limiting factor in reproduction. A shift from meat-based to carbohydrate-based calories means that given equal amounts of protein, a group getting its calories mostly from plants will reproduce much faster than one getting its calories from meat. It’s one reason farming cultures have higher birth rates than foragers.
Also, farming loosens the linkage between ecological damage and food supply. If foragers decimate the local antelope herd, it means starvation and a low birth rate for the hunters. If the hunters move or die off, the antelope herd will rebound quickly. But when a forest is cleared for crops, the loss of biodiversity translates into more food for people. Soil begins to deplete immediately but that won’t be noticed for many years. When the soil is finally ruined, which is the fate of nearly all agricultural soils, it will stunt ecological recovery for decades. But while the soil is steadily eroding, crops will support a growing village.
All these factors—storable food, surplus, calories from carbohydrates, and slow feedback from degrading ecosystems—lead inevitably to rising populations in farming cultures. It’s no coincidence, then, that farmers are also conquerors. A growing population needs more land. Depleted farmland forces a population to take over virgin soil. In comparison, forager cultures are usually very site specific: they know the habits of particular species and have a culture built around a certain place. They rarely conquer new lands, as new terrain and its different species would alter the culture’s knowledge, stories, and traditions. But expansion is built into agricultural societies. Wheat and other grains can grow almost anywhere, so farming, compared to foraging, requires less of a sense of place.
Even if we note these structural problems with agriculture, the shift from foraging at first glance seems worth it because—so we are taught—agriculture allows us the leisure to develop art, scholarship, and all the other luxuries of a sophisticated culture. This myth still persists even though for 40 years anthropologists have compiled clear evidence to the contrary. A skilled gatherer can amass enough wild maize in three and a half hours to feed herself for ten days. One hour of labor can yield a kilogram of wild einkorn wheat.(7) Foragers have plenty of leisure for non-survival pleasures. The art in the caves at Altamira and Lascaux, and other early examples are proof that agriculture is not necessary for a complex culture to develop. In fact, forager cultures are far more diverse in their arts, religions, and technologies than agrarian cultures, which tend to be fairly similar.(3) And as we know, industrial society allows the least diversity of all, not tolerating any but a single global culture.
A Life of Leisure
We’re also taught that foragers’ lives are “nasty, brutish, and short,” in Hobbes’s famous characterization. But burial sites at Dickson Mounds, an archaeological site in Illinois that spans a shift from foraging to maize farming, show that farmers there had 50% more tooth problems typical of malnutrition, four times the anemia, and an increase in spine degeneration indicative of a life of hard labor, compared to their forager forebears at the site.(8) Lifespan decreased from an average of 26 years at birth for foragers to 19 for farmers. In prehistoric Turkey and Greece, heights of foragers averaged 5′-9″ in men and 5′-5″ in women, and plummeted five inches after the shift to agriculture (1). The Turkish foragers’ stature is not yet equaled by their descendants. In virtually all known examples, foragers had better teeth and less disease than subsequent farming cultures at the same site. Thus the easy calories of agriculture were gained at the cost of good nutrition and health.
We think of hunter-gatherers as grimly weathering frequent famine, but agriculturists fare worse there, too. Foragers, with lower population densities, a much more diverse food supply, and greater mobility, can find some food in nearly any conditions. But even affluent farmers regularly experience famine. The great historian Fernand Braudel (9) shows that even comparatively wealthy and cultured France suffered country-wide famines 10 times in the tenth century, 26 in the eleventh, 2 in the twelfth, 4 in the fourteenth, 7 in the fifteenth, 13 in the sixteenth, 11 in the seventeenth, and 16 in the eighteenth century. This does not include the countless local famines that occurred in addition to the widespread ones. Agriculture did not become a reliable source of food until fossil fuels gave us the massive energy subsidies needed to avoid shortfalls. When farming can no longer be subsidized by petrochemicals, famine will once again be a regular visitor.
Agriculture needs more and more fuel to supply the population growth it causes. Foragers can reap as many as 40 calories of food energy for every calorie they expend in gathering. They don’t need to collect and spread fertilizer, irrigate, terrace, or drain fields, all of which count against the energy gotten from food. But ever since crops were domesticated, the amount of energy needed to grow food has steadily increased. A simple iron plow requires that millions of calories be burned for digging, moving, and smelting ore. Before oil, one plow’s forging meant that a dozen trees or more were cut, hauled, and converted to charcoal for the smithy. Though the leverage that a plow yields over its life may earn back those calories as human food, all that energy is robbed from the ecosystem and spent by humans.
Farming before oil also depended on animal labor, demanding additional acreage for feed and pasture and compounding the conversion of ecosystem into people. Agriculture’s caloric yield dipped into the negative centuries ago, and the return on energy has continued to degrade until we now use an average of 4 to 10 calories for each calorie of food energy.
So agriculture doesn’t just require cropland. It needs inputs from vast additional acreages for fertilizer, animal feed, fuel and ore for smelting tools, and so on. Farming must always drain energy and diversity from the land surrounding cultivation, degrading more and more wilderness.
Wilderness is a nuisance for agriculturists, a source of pest animals and insects, as well as land that’s just “going to waste.” It will constantly be destroyed. Combine this with farming’s surplus of calories and its need for large families for labor, and the birth rate will rise geometrically. Under this brutal calculus of population growth and land hunger, Earth’s ecosystems will increasingly and inexorably be converted into human food and food-producing tools.
Forager cultures have a built-in check on population, since the plants and animals they depend on cannot be over-harvested without immediate harm. But agriculture has no similar structural constraint on over-exploitation of resources. Quite the opposite is true. If one farmer leaves land fallow, the first neighbor to farm it gains an advantage. Agriculture leads to both a food race and population explosion. (I cannot help but wonder if eating high on the food chain via meat, since it will reduce population, is ultimately a more responsible act than eating low on the food chain with grains, which will promote larger populations. At some point humans need to get the message to slow their breeding.)
We can pass laws to stop some of the harm agriculture does, but these rules will reduce harvests. As soon as food gets tight, the laws will be repealed. There are no structural constraints on agriculture’s ecologically damaging tendencies.
All this means that agriculture is fundamentally unsustainable.
The damage done by agriculture is social and political as well. A surplus, rare and ephemeral for foragers, is a principal goal of agriculture. A surplus must be stored, which requires technology and materials to build storage, people to guard it, and a hierarchical organization to centralize the storage and decide how it will be distributed. It also offers a target for local power struggles and theft by neighboring groups, increasing the scale of wars. With agriculture, power thus begins its concentration into fewer and fewer hands. He who controls the surplus controls the group. Personal freedom erodes naturally under agriculture.
The endpoint of Cohen’s cultural continuum is industrial society. Industrialism is really a gloss on agriculture, since industry is dependent on farming to provide low-cost raw materials that can be “value-added,” a place to externalize pollution and other costs, and a source of cheap labor. Industrial cultures have enormous ecological footprints, low birth rates, and high labor costs, the result of lavishing huge quantities of resources—education, complex infrastructure, layers of government and legal structures, and so on—upon each person. This level of complexity cannot be maintained from within itself. The energy and resources for it must be siphoned from outlying agricultural regions. Out there lie the simpler cultures, high birth rates, and resulting low labor costs that must subsidize the complexity of industry.
An industrial culture must also externalize costs upon rural places via pollution and export of wastes. Cities ship their waste to rural areas. Industrial cultures subsidize and back tyrannical regimes to keep resource prices and labor costs low. These tendencies explain why, now that the US has shifted from an agrarian base to an industrial one, Americans can no longer afford to consume products made at home and must turn to agrarian countries, such as China and Mexico, or despotic regimes, such as Saudi Arabia’s, for low-cost inputs. The Third World is where the First World externalizes the overwhelming burden of maintaining the complexity of industrialism. But at some point there will be no place left to externalize to.
Horticulture to the Rescue
As I mentioned, Cohen locates another form of culture between foraging and agriculture. These are the horticulturists, who use simple methods to raise useful plants and animals. Horticulture in this sense is difficult to define precisely, because most foragers tend plants to some degree, most horticulturists gather wild food, and at some point between digging stick and plow a people must be called agriculturists. Many anthropologists agree that horticulture usually involves a fallow period, while agriculture overcomes this need through crop rotation, external fertilizers, or other techniques. Agriculture is also on a larger scale. Simply put, horticulturists are gardeners rather than farmers.
Horticulturists rarely organize above the tribe or small village level. Although they are sometimes influenced by the monotheism, sky gods, and messianic messages of their agricultural neighbors, horticulturists usually retain a belief in earth spirits and regard the Earth as a living being. Most horticultural societies are far more egalitarian than agriculturists, lacking despots, armies, and centralized control hierarchies.
Horticulture is the most efficient method known for obtaining food, measured by return on energy invested. Agriculture can be thought of as an intensification of horticulture, using more labor, land, capital, and technology. This means that agriculture, as noted, usually consumes more calories of work and resources than can be produced in food, and so is on the wrong side of the point of diminishing returns. That’s a good definition of unsustainability, while horticulture is probably on the positive side of the curve. Godesky (10) believes this is how horticulture can be distinguished from agriculture. It may take several millennia, as we are learning, but agriculture will eventually deplete planetary ecosystems, and horticulture might not.
Horticulturists use polycultures, tree crops, perennials, and limited tillage, and have an intimate relationship with diverse species of plants and animals. This sounds like permaculture, doesn’t it? Permaculture, in its promotion of horticultural ideals over those of agriculture, may offer a road back to sustainability. Horticulture has structural constraints against large population, hoarding of surplus, and centralized command and control structures. Agriculture inevitably leads to all of those.
A Steep Price
We gave up inherently good health as well as immense personal freedoms when we embraced agriculture. I once thought of achievements such as the Hammurabic Code, Magna Carta, and Bill of Rights as mileposts on humanity’s road to a just and free society. But I’m beginning to view them as ever larger and more desperate dams to hold back the swelling flood of abuses of human rights and the centralization of power that are inherent in agricultural and industrial societies. Agriculture results, always, in concentration of power by the elite. That is the inevitable result of the large storable surplus that is at the heart of agriculture.
It is no accident that permaculture’s third ethic wrestles with the problem of surplus. Many permaculturists have come to understand that Mollison’s simple injunction to share the surplus barely scratches the surface of the difficulty. This is why his early formulation has often been modified into a slightly less problematic “return the surplus” or “reinvest the surplus,” but the fact that these versions have not yet stabilized into a commonly held phrasing as have the other two ethics, “Care for the Earth” and “Care for People,” tells me that permaculturists have not truly come to grips with the problem of surplus.
The issue may not be to figure out how to deal with surplus. We may need to create a culture in which surplus, and the fear and greed that make it desirable, are no longer the structural results of our cultural practices. Jared Diamond may be right, and agriculture and the abuses it fosters may turn out to be a ten-millennium-long misstep on the path to a mature humanity. Permaculture may be more than just a tool for sustainability. The horticultural way of life that it embraces may offer the road to human freedom, health, and a just society.
I am deeply indebted to Jason Godesky and the Anthropik Tribe for first making me aware of the connection between permaculture and horticultural societies, and for formulating several of the other ideas expressed in this article.
- Diamond, Jared. The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. Discover, May 1987.
- Mollison, Bill. (1988). Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. Tagari.
- Cohen, Yehudi. (1971). Man in Adaptation: The Institutional Framework. De Gruyter.
- Lee, R. and I. Devore (eds.) 1968. Man the Hunter. Aldine.
- Harris, David R. An Evolutionary Continuum of People-Plant Interactions. In Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation. Harris, D. R. and G.C. Hillman (eds.) 1989.
- Milton, K. 1984. Protein and Carbohydrate Resources of the Maku Indians of Northwestern Amazonia. American Anthropologist86, 7-27.
- Harlan, Jack R. Wild-Grass Seed Harvesting in the Sahara and Sub-Sahara of Africa. In Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation. Harris, D. R. and G.C. Hillman (eds.) 1989.
- Goodman, Alan H., John Lallo, George J. Armelagos and Jerome C. Rose. (1984) Health Changes at Dickson Mounds (A.D. 950–1300). In Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture, M. Cohen and G. Armelagos, eds. Academic.
- Braudel, Fernand (1979). Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century: The Structures of Everyday Life. Harper and Row.
- Godesky, Jason (2005). Human Societies are Defined by Their Food. http://rewild.info/anthropik/2005/10/thesis-8-human-societies-are-defined-by-their-food/index.html
“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” –H. Rap Brown
A personal reflection on yesterday’s events by Surly1. Discuss this article here.
This past summer, my daughter came over for dinner one summer night and brought a friend to meet. She made it clear her guest was not “that” sort of friend, but a person of value nonetheless. “Nathan” (not his real name) was a slight young man, with shoulder length hair and a bespectacled, quiet manner.
Nathan and I spent much of the evening in pleasant conversation, albeit I strained to hear much of his part of it. When he spoke, which wasn’t often, you had to listen intently: his words barely reverberated in a quiet room. He was a young man of unfinished dreams. He was interested in ideas. He was intensely curious. He spoke of going to St. John’s College in Annapolis, to pursue a curriculum based on the great books. He was the best man at a wedding that I photographed, for two other friends of my daughters’. Yet whether it was his own struggle with sexual ambiguity, or his relationship with his father, or a lack of the ability to dance to the music of the spheres, we will never know.
Before Thanksgiving of this year, Nathan took his own life.
Last weekend, the neighbor told me about the daughter of neighbors up the street (not known to me) who had likewise committed suicide.
Stories of the suicide of young people are all too frequent, and always deeply troubling. Every community, every news cycle, every day brings us a news about premature death stalks young people. And then, the news of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut. We’re told that the shooter was intelligent, nerdy, a Goth, remote, autistic. We’re told he had Asberger’s. We’re told he might’ve suffered from a personality disorder. We’re told investigators seek the motives of this young man, who took his own life after shooting 28 people. We sit mesmerized by the blue light of evening talk programs and watch mental health professionals infer motives from the shooter’s reported actions, this in the absence of any other evidence. Sock puppet politicians gravely intone they are “shocked and saddened” by the days events, (a trope which should earn the next utterer a blow to the head with a seven-pound hammer.) We are told by that God did not protect the Connecticut shooting victims because prayer has been banned in schools. (This mouth breathing opportunist apparently went to the “never let a good crisis go to waste” school of public relations.) We are told that we have to have a big, principled discussion about gun control, as if that might actually be permitted to happen by Wayne LaPierre.
We are told repeatedly what to think. Never are we invited to ask questions. We never ask about the quality of life in the schools or in this rapidly declining country. We never discuss the future prospects of a generation. We never challenge our spending priorities. We never debate why we can spend billions overseas, most of it routed to the pockets of transnational corporations, but we can’t afford to build bridges or schools at home. And, most of all, we never discuss the irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner dealing death from above via drones and a private kill list.
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” — D.H. Lawrence
The unwelcome convergence of suicides close to home with yesterday’s news has led some of us who still retain a capacity for outrage to wonder aloud, “what the hell is going on here?”
And then you realize that none of this matters.
Screams over the intercom, 28 dead. Another violent rampage. Dozens of shattered families. This on the heels of another shooting earlier in the week in Oregon, and right before police in Bartlesville, Oklahoma arrested an 18-year-old high school student who was planning a school-shooting massacre plot.
A road man for the Lords of Karma might observe the bitter harvest of a culture steeped and marinated in violence. Others might cite our moral vacuity. Had we any sense of history, or capacity to consider more than the next quarter’s earnings, we would behold a culture which, in the space of a generation, has embraced both torture and drone bombing of civilians as “business as usual.” (All justifiable in the name of the “war on terror”, citizen. Get used to it.) Others will, like clockwork, cite the absence the absence of God and the Bible. Others will cite the need for new gun laws. All will have a point.
None will examine the bloody, beating Heart of Darkness that is this rapacious, flesh eating capitalist monster that devours all in its path. Having taken homeowners’ houses, dreams and lives (Google the story of Norman Rousseau), we have now begun to devour our children. What better symbol for the end game of the financialization of all aspects of human endeavor, in which human beings are turned into “head count” and “human resources,” and hopes and dreams into profits and losses.
Can there be a more to-the-point indictment of the utter soullessness and moral bankruptcy of the American enterprise?
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2
So much search for motive. We will not soon know the motives of this, or any shooter. What far shore of mind must a human being inhabit to take the life of another? And these incidences are happening more frequently. How many data plots do we need on our collective cognitive map to understand that there is something very wrong here, that goes beyond one or two disturbed teens? The rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world. In the last 30 years since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders. There have been 27 such events–27– since Columbine.
In Virginia, we survived the slaughter at Virginia Tech several years ago. The good citizens of the Commonwealth were left to try to puzzle out that latest act of wanton violence that led to 33 deaths and many more injuries. The ensuing conversations led to a conclusion of mental disturbance on the part of the shooter, a period of solemn mourning, and a good week a discussion of the proper role of guns in the society, after which the issue was shelved, per usual. There was some discussion about the shooter being a “collector of injustices,” an assessment which may have come closer to the truth then the FBI might have realized.
If mass murder and suicide is the symptom, perhaps the disease needs a name. Authors such as Paul Levy and Jack D. Forbes have explored a psychological disease observed by indigenous peoples informing self-destructive behavior on the part of European-based peoples. Some call it wetiko, others “malignant egophrenia.”
Indigenous people have been tracking the same “psychic”virus that I call malignant egophrenia for many centuries and calling it “wetiko,” a Cree term which refers to a diabolically wicked person or spirit who terrorizes others. Professor Forbes, who was one of the founders of the Native American movement during the early sixties, says, “Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease.” Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a “psychosis” in the true sense of the word as being a “sickness of the soul or spirit.” Though calling it by different names, Forbes and I are both pointing at the same illness of the psyche, soul and spirit that has been at the root of humanity’s inhumanity to itself.
Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a disease of civilization, or lack thereof. To quote Forbes, “To a considerable degree, the development of the wetiko disease corresponds to the rise of what Europeans choose to call civilization. This is no mere coincidence.”[vi] The unsustainable nature of industrial civilization is based on, and increasingly requires violence to maintain itself. Genuine “civilization,” in essence, means not killing people. Referring to the lack of “civility” in modern society, Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization and responded by saying, “I think it would be a good idea.” It makes sense that native people would know about malignant egophrenia, as they were both oppressed by, but weren’t, at least initially, under the “curse” of modern civilization. Being under the sway of modern civilization can feel like something foreign to our nature is being imposed upon us, as if we are living in an occupied land. Modern civilization suffers from the overly one-sided dominance of the rational, intellectual mind, a one-sidedness that seemingly dis-connects us from nature, from empathy, and from ourselves. Due to its disassociation from the whole, wetiko is a disturber of the peace of humanity and the natural world, a sickness which spawns aggression and is capable of inciting violence amongst living beings. The wetiko virus is the root cause of the inhumanity in human nature, or shall we say, our seemingly inhuman nature. This “psychic virus,” a “bug” in “the system,” in-forms and animates the madness of so-called civilization, which, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop feeds the madness within ourselves.
Whether new age or old, literature informs us of the danger within. As we wage slaves scrape a living from the gears of the machine, in order to earn the privilege of additional consumption of things we don’t need, we often rub up against that within us that stops us from expressing our full potential and whatever creative genius might lie within. Is that “herd think,” that groupthink that enlists us in endless cooperation, and co-optation, and that leads us to a slaughter? It may be that these shooters are merely a physical manifestation of the psychic horrors that are embedded in our morally bankrupt culture.
“We have a companion for life…We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners. The predator is our lord and master.” Don Juan, in Carlos Castaneda
There are echoes of this in the Bible as well. The Gospel of John refers to the devil as “the ruler of this world” (14:30; 16:11), and Paul speaks of Satan as “the god of this world” (Cor. 4:4). The Gnostic Gospel of Phillip, talking about the root of evil that lies within all of us, makes the similar point that unless this evil is recognized, “It masters us. We are its slaves. It takes us captive.” (II, 3, 83.5-30)
Many chafe at the lessons of biblical Christianity. Yes only the blind and deaf could possibly fail to see the existence and the works of capital E Evil in the world. If evil exists, good must logically exist as well. If the devil exists, and his existence can be inferred from his works, then God must exist.
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
— Revelation 6:1-2˄ NIV
So we continue to search for answers. But that search will be in vain as long as we fail to acknowledge the reality and the consequences of this way of life, a dreamscape of horror inseparable from our ego and our own inner being. The wetiko “cannibal” culture is destroying us; as we militarize and financial lives, extract the last drop of oil, poison the aquifers and eat food manufactured by pesticide companies, the wave of suicides and shootings remind us of the culture of death that invests all of us. Our young people are being sacrificed to Mammon at an escalating rate: several dozen this week alone. Mammon is hungry. What we fail to realize is that we are offering our own children up for sacrifice. There is no difference between “theirs” and “mine.”
In Revelation, we are told that the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are released after the Lamb of God opens the first four of the seven seals on the scroll in God’s right hand. This action summons forth four beings on white, red, black, and pale horses symbolizing Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, which visit a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment. Perhaps the shooters in these serial killings constitute a Fifth Horseman, a herald of sorts, announcing the coming of the promised Four, and the End of Days.
If wetiko is baked into our beings as a legacy, stemming from the “original sin” of agriculture and “dominion over all things,” then our challenge, and our work, will be to determine what it is that we do about it. Which is hte work of this website. It is quite clear that we are almost out of time.
Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Published on December 12, 2012 on Our Finite World
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Most of us have heard that Thomas Malthus made a forecast in 1798 that the world would run short of food, and that great famine would result. But most of us don’t understand why he was wrong. This issue is relevant today, as we grapple with the issues of world hunger and of oil consumption that is not growing as rapidly as consumers would like–certainly it is not keeping oil prices down to historic levels.
What Malthus Didn’t Anticipate
Malthus was writing immediately before fossil fuel use started to ramp up.
The availability of coal allowed more and better metal products (such as metal plows, barbed wire fences, and trains for long distance transport). These and other inventions allowed the number of farmers to decrease at the same time the amount of food produced (per farmer and in total) rose. On a per capita basis, energy consumption rose (Figure 2) allowing farmers and others more efficient ways of growing crops and manufacturing goods.
If it hadn’t been for the fossil fuel ramp up, starting first with coal, Malthus might in fact have been right. As it was, population was able to ramp up quickly after the addition of fossil fuels.
A person can see that there was a particularly steep rise in population, right after World War II, in the 1950s and 1960s (Figure 3). This is when oil consumption mushroomed (Figure 2, above), and when oil enabled better transport of crops to market, use of tractors and other farm equipment, and medical advances such as antibiotics.
It is likely that increased consumer and business debt following World War II (Figure 4) also played a role in the post-World War II ramp up.
The reason I say that debt likely played a role in this ramp is because at the end of World War II, people were, on average, pretty poor. The United States had recently been through the Depression. Many were soldiers coming back from war, without jobs. Without a ramp up in factory work and related employment, many would be unemployed. A ramp up in debt fixed several problems at once:
- Allowed low-paid workers funds to buy new products, such as cars, that used oil
- Allowed entrepreneurs funds to set up factories
- Allowed pipelines to be built, and other support for ramped up oil extraction
- Provided jobs for many coming home from the war effort
The debt ramp up, and the resulting increase in oil production, raised living standards. Figure 2 shows that the increase in per capita energy consumption was far greater in the 1950 to 1970 period when oil production was ramped up than in the coal ramp-up between 1840 and 1920. The long coal ramp-up period does not appear to have been accompanied by such a big ramp-up in debt.
A tentative conclusion might be that as long as we can keep ramping up availability of energy products and debt, Malthus’s views are not very relevant.
Of course, things aren’t looking as benign today. World oil production has been close to flat since about 2005 (Figure 5).
The world has been able to increase production of other fuels to compensate so far. Unfortunately, the big increase is in coal (Figures 1 and 2). This mostly relates to growth in the economies of Asian countries, which are large users of coal.
The cost of oil has more than tripled in the last ten years. The higher cost of oil is a problem, because it leads to recession, unemployment, and governmental debt problems in oil-importing countries. See my posts High-Priced Fuel Syndrome, Understanding Our Oil-Related Fiscal Cliff, and The Close Tie Between Energy Consumption, Employment, and Recession.
Continued increase in debt now seems to be running into limits. Federal government debt is in the news every day, and non-government debt seems to be contracting relative to GDP, based on Figure 4.
I am not sure that we can conclude that we are headed for catastrophe the day after tomorrow, but the graphs give a person reason to pause to think about the situation.
The reason I write posts is to try to pull together the big picture. If we only look at the latest new item forecasting huge increases in tight oil production or talking about 200 years of natural gas, it is easy to reach the conclusion that all of our problems are past. If we look at the big picture, they clearly are not.
Debt problems are closely related to high oil prices in recent years. Debt problems are today’s issue, and they are not being considered in the huge oil and gas forecasts we see everywhere. The new tight oil and the new shale gas resources likely will need to be financed by increasing amounts of debt, so there is a direct connection with debt. There is also an indirect connection, through governmental debt problems, higher taxes, and the likely resulting recession (leading to lower oil prices, perhaps too low to sustain the high cost of extraction).
Also, it is interesting that the supposedly huge increases in US oil supply don’t really translate to any discernible bump in world oil supply in Figure 5.
We know that the world is finite, and that in some way, at some point in the future, easily extractable supplies of many types of resources will run short. We also know that pollution (at least the way humans define pollution) can be expected to become an increasing problem, as an increasing number of humans inhabit the earth, and as we pull increasingly “dilute” resources from the ground.
Based on earth’s long-term history, and on the experience of other finite systems, it is clear that at some point, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years from now, the earth will cycle to a new state–a new climate with different dominant species. It may turn out that these new species are plants, rather than animals. The new dominant species will likely ones that can benefit from our waste. Humans would of course like to push this possibility back as long as we can.
At this point, my goal is to pull together a view of the big picture, in a way that other analysts usually miss. The picture may not be pretty, but we at least need to understand what the issues are. Is the shift in the cycle very close at hand? If so, what should our response be?
Off the keyboard of RE
Discuss this article at the Frostbite Falls Insider Table inside the Diner
Recently Diner Phillip Farruggio put up an article Sins of the Empire here on the Diner expressing his dismay at the inexorable collapse of the Public Library system he grew up with, and came to love for the vast amount of information and knowledge it brought to him from his earliest years. Pretty much since Homo Sapiens began the Civilization Journey, the collection of Knoweldge into Libraries has been of inestimable value in making it possible for those Civilizations to continue onward. The fact that our Library system is now in terminal decay is probably as good a Canary in the Coal Mine as any to let the Collapse Watcher know that our Civilization also is now bound for the Dustbin of History.
The best known destruction of Knowledge gathered from Antiquity came with the Burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, which at its Peak of Knowledge Base probably contained near 1 Million Scrolls of inestimable length gathered throughout the Ancient World. From Wikipedia:
The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt, was the largest and most significant library of the ancient world. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. The library was conceived and opened either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (323–283 BC) or during the reign of his son Ptolemy II (283–246 BC).
Plutarch (AD 46–120) wrote that during his visit to Alexandria in 48 BC Julius Caesar accidentally burned the library down when he set fire to his own ships to frustrate Achillas‘ attempt to limit his ability to communicate by sea. After its destruction, scholars used a “daughter library” in a temple known as the Serapeum, located in another part of the city.
Intended both as a commemoration and an emulation of the original, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2002 near the site of the old library.
In his seminal PBS Documentary and Book Cosmos, Carl Sagan expressed as his First Choice of places he would go visit if he had Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine would have been the Great Library at Alexandria before it got Torched.
In this segment of Cosmos, Carl points toward tantalizing evidence that Aristarchus of Samothrace developed a Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System long before Copernicus, just none of the Math involved in deducing this structure exists anymore. How did he come up with that theory? Far as we know, these Ancients had no Telescopes, nor did they have the Calculus either. How did they make their Observations, how did they do their Calculations to come up with these results?
Diner William Hunter Duncan speculated in Phillip’s thread that perhaps in this great destruction of Collected Knowledge, the evidence of still earlier Civilizations such as Atlantis may have been destroyed as well.
Watching that video from Carl Sagan, I’m reminded that I’m pretty well certain there was an advanced sea-faring culture existing before the great flood, before the so-called rise of agriculture. I believe there were maps in that library that detailed the geography of Antarctica, before it was covered by ice. I think it was a culture that mastered Science and Magic, and what little evidence existed of it, the worshippers of OMOG wiped away, in their mandate to wipe away all non-OMOG sanctioned knowledge. It is something of a bitter irony then, that we would know nothing of the Classical era of Greece and Rome if not for the OMOG inspired mendicants, the transcribers of books among the Men of God.
If the trajectory plays out like it appears it will, ten thousand years from now, people will know as little about us as we do about “Atlantis.”
Did the Great Library at Alexandria contain evidence of the Lost Civilization of Atlantis? Perhaps it did, but it is something we will never know. All we do know for sure is that a VAST amount of collected knowledge was lost in the destruction of this Library, and it took Millenia for some of it to be rediscovered or reinvented. Essentially with the loss of such vast amounts of collected knowledge, on an Intellectual level it marks the End of a Civilization.
It is worthwhile to note here that the primary dates involved in the destruction of this Great Library came RIGHT around the same time Jesus Christ hit the scene spreading His Gospel. Clearly at this Period in Human History, there was tremendous Dislocation going on, much as there is today. A part of that dislocation is the destruction of collected knowledge in Libraries, which can occur quite RAPIDLY. Although it appears that the TOTAL DESTRUCTION of the Alexandria Library did not occur in a single Burning, given the great changes underway during the rule of Julius Caesar, it is fair to surmise that a great portion of this destruction of knowledge took place in 48BC, quite near to the date of the birth of Jesus Christ:
Ancient and modern sources identify four possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria: Julius Caesar‘s fire in the Alexandrian War, in 48 BC; the attack of Aurelian in 270 – 275 AD; the decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in AD 391; and the Muslim conquest in 642 AD or thereafter
The fact that the Destruction of the Greatest Library of the Ancient World was DESTROYED at precisely the same Era in History that The Greatest Story Ever Told began its Journey is either a Coincidence of Epic Proportions, or else the two phenomenon are related, and I would say the latter case would appear to be the more likely one.
Without Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine it is impossible to know in absolute terms the level of Dislocation the Civilization ruled by Rome was undergoing in the Century from 50BC to 50AD, but the fact that you had this level of knowledge destruction AND the rise of a new Prophet at the same indicates to me that there was tremendous upheaval, of the sort we appear to be coming into now. The fact said Prophet “arrived” on the scene shortly after the Library Burning can be seen as indicative of how such Collapses play themselves out on the psycho-social level. When all you knew and held to be TRUE is destroyed, it opens the door for a new way of thinking and Charismatic Leaders of all sorts can arise in such times.
Is the destruction of the Great Lbrary at Alexandria the ONLY instance in Antiquity we have some knowledge of? No, another one was recorded as well in the first years of Writing, the Collapse of the Tower of Babel. In this one as Legend Goes, after the Tower Collapsed, the people dispersed, many different languages arose and nobody could communicate with each other anymore. Was the “Language” these stories were speaking of really Verbal or Written Words, or was it MATHEMATICS & MONEY?
In a thread I began way back in October of 2008 on Peak Oil, I discussed the ramifications of the destruction of that other Ancient Historical Information plant, the Tower of Babel:
by ReverseEngineer » Wed Oct 15, 2008 2:17 am
Reviewing as I have been Ancient History for parallels with what we see going on today, one Ancient Civilization collapse I always had trouble understanding and believing now is coming more clear to me as a parable. That would be the Fall Of Babylon and the destruction of the Tower of Babel.
From Wikepedia:According to the biblical account, Babel was a city that united humanity, all speaking a single language and migrating from the east; it was the home city of the great king Nimrod, and the first city to be built after the Great Flood. The people decided their city should have a tower so immense that it would have “its top in the heavens.” However, the Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of God, but was dedicated to the glory of man, with a motive of making a ‘name’ for the builders “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’” – Genesis 11:4. God seeing what the people were doing, gave each person a different language to confuse them and scattered the people throughout the earth.
Now first off in my old analysis, just how could a Tower falling down instantly render people unable to communicate with each other? This seems impossible if you take it at face value as describing verbal language, but what if you take it to mean a Reserve Currency to which all things are linked in their value?
What happens when the Dollar loses its meaning entirely? Then ALL the traders can’t talk to each other anymore, it about instantly renders it impossible to communicate in the world of trade.
The first obvious parallel here would be the Crashing Down of the World Trade Center in NYC, a “tower so immense it would have its top in the Heavens”. However, the more important tower that is crashing down is the intricately connected system of world markets. Its rapidly becoming apparent that traders cannot talk to each other in a common language, and so international trade is grinding to a halt. Now each country has “a different language to confuse them and scattered the people throughout the earth.” We are of course all scatterred, and each individual locale now has to come up with its own monetary language to begin trading internally again. The Confusion here is clearly apparent as well.
Some very interesting tidbits in this story that have some relevance to today’s Tower of Babel collapse:
The building of the Tower was meant to bid defiance not only to God, but also to Abraham, who exhorted the builders to reverence. The passage mentions that the builders spoke sharp words against God, not cited in the Bible, saying that once every 1,656 years, heaven tottered so that the water poured down upon the earth, therefore they would support it by columns that there might not be another deluge.
If you Google up the collapse of the Roman Empire, it actually occured in 352 AD (2008-1656=352) when the Empire fractured between Constantinius II and Magnentius.
Coincidence? Perhaps. However, that is one pretty big coincidence if you ask me. Interesting how the Geopolitics seem to replay themselves on the interval of every 1656 years.
The collapse of the Mesopotamian Civilization is SYMBOLIZED by the Collapse of the Tower of Babel, much as the Collapse of the Roman Republic and it’s transformation to Empire is symbolized by the Burning of the Great Library of Alexandria. Informational or Economic, essentially they represent the same things, CENTRALIZED SYSTEMS of Knowledge which essentially were no longer WORKING. Lots of collected information, but its COMPLEXITY for the given time period was too much for that Civilization to support anymore. It takes vast ENERGY to support Complexity, that is basic Thermodynamics and on a social level well documented by Joseph Tainter as well.
In the original discussion on this topic in the Collapse of an Economic Tower of Babel Thread on the Peak Oil Forum, we discussed how this played out on an Economic Level for Rome, as besides destroying their Cultural and Intellectual heritage, they also debased and destroyed their Monetary System as well:
Ayame wrote:Yes indeed. In the ‘Collapse of Complex Socities’ there is a detailed analysis of the collapse of the roman empire and the end was not pretty. When the empire first began expanding the roman citizen started out with not having to pay any taxes because of all the booty they were pillaging from conquered nations. However, at the end roman citizens were forced to sell their children in order to pay their taxes. The government was bankrupt through monetary debasement. Most romans openly welcomed the invading barbarians because of the liberation they would bring from the overwhelming taxes of the empire.
Assuming you take this model as applicable to what we see today, it brings up the question of the way the actual mechanics of currency debasement will function insofar as our military and social structures are concerned.
Mixing base metals with Silver in Roman coinage would be the equivalent of Ben firing up the digital printing press in our own civilzation. So at some point here if the analogy holds true, the currency won’t be sufficient to pay the army. My question to the members here would be just how long they think the military will hold up in unified form as the currency debasement works its way through the various levels of the economy?
In Roman times, I think this took quite some time to happen, certainly at least decades, possibly to a few hundred years depending on when you want to pin down the actual Fall of the Empire. However, the Romans did not have computers, the internet or the instantaneous transmission of digital wealth either.
How long before a Solider’s Paycheck in today’s Empire is no longer sufficient to feed the soldier’s family, and then no longer sufficient to feed the soldier himself? Clearly Iceland is going down VERY rapidly, I don’t think the Juggernaut that is the US goes down that fast, but neither do I think the system holds up decades or longer.
How long does it take for the military to cease to function as a unified force?
I think you can see here how these two phenomenon, that of Information Destruction and that of Monetary System Collapse both work together in Synergy as a Civilization approaches its Collapse Phase, and BOTH indicators are apparent here and now, both in the progressive currency debasement being undertaken by the Central Banks in order to perpetuate a failing system, as well as the inexorable destruction of the Public Library system Phlllip Farrugio wrote about here on the Diner.
In many respects, you can make analogies between the Tower of Babel Collapse and the Collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. This represented the physical destruction of an edifice constructed specifically for the purpose of Centralizing and Directing World Trade, and in the aftermath of that destruction there has been progressive and inexorable unwinding of the Monetary System it was built to represent. However, the collapse of those Towers did not result in an Instantaneous Monetary System Collapse, this is Ongoing. Likely also true is that when the Original Tower of Babel collapsed, it took years if not Generations for all of its effects to reverberate through that Civilization.
Pops wrote:Sorry for crapping on your thread RE, now I owe you an actual reply.
I’ll take the military question, since the US outspends the rest of the world combined on it’s military and since the most basic function of a government is to protect the borders I think it will be a very long time before the military will cease to function.Not to say we will always be the predominate force, Portugal, Spain, Briton all had their time at the top and eventually overreached. We may be approaching or at our peak as well, as we run out of land to plunder – just as they did.
My guess our military will take either of two courses as the budget shrinks; either less technology (more boots and less bandwidth) or more (fewer boots and more UAVs and joysticks) depending on the mood of the public and the tactics of whoever the enemy.Who knows, soldiers may someday again be expected to cook their own food and clean their own latrines.
Apology accepted, no hard feelings.
Agreed, the US by far outspends the rest of the world on the military infrastructure, and I would certainly postulate at the moment has by far the best military out there in training and equipment. Same could be said of Rome of course.
Also, I would consider it likely that as the economy spins downward and we get further problems related to the society basically coming apart at the seams that still more of the scarce resources will be thrown at the military to try to keep it together.
The problem I see besides currency debasement is an absolute numbers problem. We have X number of Professional soldiers, a good part of that crew currently deployed in what have to be considered losing theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very high price to project out that much military force that far.
As TPTB perceive more and more local problems, they seek to ignore Posse Comitas and deploy soldiers here on the home turf, but unless they conscript up and train in a mighty big hurry, they are short numbers even to resolve potential rioting in a city like Atlanta, much less handle multiple problems in multiple cities.
Any newby soldiers they do conscript up and hand Rifles to are not the professionally Brainwashed soldiers they might need to fire willy nilly on a crowd of protesters. About guaranteed these units are not well logistically supplied also, if what happenned to the National Guard units around Houston after Ike hit is any indicator.
With tax receipts falling like a stone, with the Federal Government now placed in the position of not only bailing out private banks but also STATES that don’t have money for their budgets, for just how long can Ben just print up fiat money to pay for more soldiers to keep order here?
I fail to see how even the best trained and best equipped military to ever walk the face of the earth holds together once the results of the currency debasement really take hold. How long does that process TAKE?
Best case scenario, I think MAYBE 2-3 years? Just a guess though. I’m wondering if anyone could try an analysis of the military economics relative to the projected tax receipts and the effects of non-stop printing of fiat money? You would have to have access to more numbers than I know where to find on the net, if they are available at all. However some here seem to have a real fine ability to dig up these sort of numbers.
BOY WAS I WRONG! LOL. At least on the Timeline level anyhow, the general prognosis remains correct. This thread went down on Peak Oil in 2008 at the HEIGHT of the Crash at that time, in fact the very month that Hank the Skank Paulson was pitching DOOM at CONgress if they didn’t let him fire off the BAZOOKA. 4 years later, Da Military is still getting Paid with Da Dollars by Da Goobermint, and said Dollars are STILL buying Oil!
Can we now look at the progress here to make some better estimations on Timelines? Is there a relationship between the Information Destruction and Monetary Collapse that can help us?
The Burning of the Great Library at Alexandria was essentially an OVERNIGHT event, at least the portion that was burned by Julius Caesar anyhow. This apparently just preceeded the arrival of Jesus Christ on the scene, which would likely occur when the Civilization had reached its greatest stress point. This is just interpreting the arrival of Christ as a Social Phenomena rather than a Trancendental one of the arrival of the Son of God on Earth.
Does the gradual defunding and Closure of our Paper Book Public Libraries signify an overnight event? No, this is just a gradual deterioration of the system, and could go on for a long time. The Main Branch of the NYC Public Library system remains Open, and so does the Library of Congress and so do the Stacks at Low Library on the Campus of Columbia University, my Alma Mater. So you still do have these vast repositories of Knowledge bound up on Paper that remain in existence, and at least so far nobody has set the Torch to them.
However, are these Paper Book Libraries REALLY where the Store of Information is held that keeps this Civilization running now? No, they are not. The place where most of this stuff is stored now is in Virtual Space, in Digital form on Computers and Hard Drives all over the world, all connected up into a Network we know as the INTERNET, or the World Wide Web.
Unlike the Books now sprinkled around in many Libraries in many places which cannot be destroyed all at once in a Fire like in the Alexandria Library Fire, the Internet can go down as fast or even faster than that Library did. In fact it can crash at the Speed of Light, or very close to it.
The vast quantity of knowledge now searchable with the Google Search engine all essentially DISAPPEARS as soon as Google goes offline, or just limits what you can search down, which in fact they already do. The vast video library now available on You Tube (where I pulled the Cosmos and Tainter videos from) becomes unavailable as soon as Bandwidth gets limited, which it will in the not too distant future because the costs both in monetary terms and energy terms for providing so much bandwidth to so many people are unaffordable, and of course have been financed up on irredeemable debt.
Bad as the loss of any of that is as far as free access to the Information running this Civilization goes though, it doesn’t have the rapid destructive effect that will occur when (not if) the Super Computers running the Trading Bourses all over the world like the NYSE and the Hang Sei and Nikkei lose their ability to communicate trades all over the Globe instantaneously. If there is any Definable Moment at which you could say our Civilization will Collapse, it is the MOMENT the Internet Goes Dark for Financial trading.
Insofar as the VALUE of all this information is concerned, generally speaking most people believe that More Knowledge is Better. My fellow Diner Admin and Author Surly wrote the following in the Coming Attractions to this article I posted in the Frosbite Falls Daily Rant here on the Diner:
IMO, this was one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity. The fire probably set the course of human development back 1000 years, at least.
God only knows what was lost.-Surly
Indeed this is true, the destruction of all that knowledge likely DID “set us back” a Millenia. If it is true that Aristarchus had a well established theory of a Heliocentric Solar System, Copernicus, Galileo et all did not establish that again for in fact 1500 years later or so.
However, had we NOT been so “set back”, if the Mathemeticians of that era had come upon the Calculus, if the Scientists of that era had come upon the principles of Thermodynamics etc, the Industrial Revolution might have arrived in 100AD, not 1750AD. The world might have already been an Industrial Sewer by 400AD, not 2012AD. In fact the Greeks DID have a form of “Steam Engine”, a metal globe filled with water and ports on it to allow the steam to escape, which made the Globe Spin. It was invented by Heron of, yes, Alexandria, who lived between 10AD and 70AD. PRECISELY the time of Christ, PRECISELY the time the Civilization got stopped in its tracks from developing further along these lines.
The Greeks, Egyptians and Romans just never applied this Steam Engine to do real Work, it was just a Toy. In the descent into the Dark Ages, this stuff was Lost and not Found again until the late 1600s. From Wiki:
The first practical steam-powered “engine” was a water pump, developed in 1698 by Thomas Savery. It used a vacuum to raise water from below, then used steam pressure to raise it higher. Small engines were effective though larger models were problematic. They proved only to have a limited lift height and were prone to boiler explosions. It received some use in mines and pumping stations.
The first commercially successful engine was the atmospheric engine, invented by Thomas Newcomen around 1712. It made use of technologies discovered by Savery and Papin. Newcomen’s engine was relatively inefficient, and in most cases was used for pumping water. It worked by creating a partial vacuum by condensing steam in a cylinder. It was employed for draining mine workings at depths hitherto impossible, and also for providing a reusable water supply for driving waterwheels at factories sited away from a suitable “head”. Water that had passed over the wheel was pumped back up into a storage reservoir above the wheel.
The really BIG JUMP though with Steam Power came with James Watt, who built a steam engine practical for application to Factory Work around 1770 or so. The rest of the Sad History of Industrialization proceeds from there of course, and took around 250 or so years to get us to the point we are today, in vast Overshoot of the Population and a seriously Depleted and Poisoned Environment unlikely to be able to support the current 7B Homo Sapiens walking the Earth right now much longer. Not to mention a whole lot of other Higher Organisms currently taking the Trip to the Great Beyond right along with us, like the Coral in the Great Barrier Reef of Oz, now 50% destroyed in just the last 27 years.
Had the Great Library at Alexandria NOT been destroyed; had the Scientists like Aristarchus and Heron been able to continue their work and research, in principle there is no reason why exactly the same Trajectory Industrialization followed from 1750 to today would not have occurred 2000 years ago. In which case in all likelihood most of us alive right now would never have been Born at all, and if we were Born we would be living in the same kind of Post-Apocalyptic SEWER that our surviving Grandchildren will likely inherit in the next Century or two.
Given this sequence of events, can you really say it is TRUE that “More Knowledge is Better” or that all our Libraries and all this Knowledge really served us all that well, or was very good for the Planet we live on?
Insofar as the Knowledge we have accumulated here over the Millenia currently stored as Digibits on the Internet, how much of that Knowledge is really WORTH saving? Do we really want to preserve the Knowledge of how to Fission Uranium and create Atomic Bombs? Do we really want to preserve knowledge of how to Genetically Modify food, and create Hybrid Crops that do not Breed True? Has being so SMART really been very good for us or this Planet?
I do not wish to see the Internet Go Dark anymore than Phillip Farruggio wishes to see his Local Branch of the NYC Public Library closed. I too value the Knowledge I have access to, and value the time I spent in more traditional Libraries as well as my time spent Googling the vast store of knowledge here on the internet. Given where all this Knowledge has led our Civilization though, I am not so sure that it’s preservation and retention is something we should be striving for.
Comment on this article here:
The Orkin man is one of RE’s favorite memes, often invoked as a symbol of retribution by the meek against the great. When we watch gangsters confiscate houses with impunity and murder by proxy and a pen (see the story of Norman Rousseau), run the economy into a ditch, commandeered great bonuses and be subject to none of the usual proceedings of justice, it is easy to despair and to look for revenge. This overwritten screed is a meditation upon what has become a thought-provoking thread rife with implications, a thought experiment which, if followed through the course of its own ineluctable logic, obliges each of us to measure where we would fall, and what we would do, in the event TSHTF.
What has actually happened here in this country on these rare occasions when people have stood up en masse to Fight the Power? In a previous lifetime, I investigated and created a documentary about the Battle at Blair Mountain. You will likely not have heard of this, the teaching of labor history having apparently been classified as a Class I misdemeanor here in the FSA. In the largest uprising in the United States outside of the Civil War, in 1921, thousands of miners waged armed warfare in Logan County, West Virginia against mine owners, sheriff Don Chafin, and federal troops, in an effort to unionize the mines.
In Mingo, Logan and McDowell counties, miners worked under incredibly bad conditions, were paid next to nothing, had no freedom of speech or assembly, and were dispatched with impunity by mine guards and local politicos in an atmosphere reminiscent of a third-world dictatorship, or contemporary South Carolina. In 1921, thousands of miners and families were evicted from their tents after having the temerity to join a union. The Miners’ March, as it was called, was set to change all that. The military was engaged, as always, to Protect Property Rights, those most sacred and revered of all rights extended by the Hand of God to the white, male property owners who created the FSA. The miners’ intention was to march to the southwestern coalfields and free fellow miners from abominable treatment at the hands or mine owners.
The miners were opposed by a well-armed contingent of mine guards and State Police with rifles and machine guns. These would eventually be joined by 2,000 regular Army troops armed with airplanes, bombs, and poison gas. The two forces met at Blair Mountain, in Logan County, along the ridge line.
This was the Battle of Blair Mountain.
The battle marked the first time U.S. troops were ordered to bomb civilians. Federal troops squared off against citizen miners, many themselves veterans hardened from recent service in WW I.
The union leader Bill Blizzard eventually surrendered his army in order to avoid further civilian casualties. Blizzard was acquitted in court of insurrection. Future UMW & CIO leader John L. Lewis fought alongside Blizzard at the Battle of Blair Mountain and succeeded in getting recognition for the union 14 years later in southern West Virginia.
One of the songs that sprung up in the wake of these labor troubles with the song “Which side are you on?” It was written by Florence Reece, the wife a union organizer for the UMW in Harlan County, Kentucky, when the miners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle with the mine owners called the Harlan County War. In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, the local sheriff illegally entered their family home in search of Sam Reece. Sam had been warned in advance and escaped, but Florence and their children were terrorized in his place. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to “Which Side Are You On?” on a calendar that hung in the kitchen of her home. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, “Lay the Lily Low.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Which_Side_Are_You_On%3F)
A Song by Florence Patton Reece
Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
My daddy was a miner
And I’m a miner’s son
And I’ll stick with the union
Till every battle’s won
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair
Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?
Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize
So the miners organized together to Fight the Power, to take the law into their own hands because the law was an ass. What they got for their trouble was the full response of the state in all of its Majesty and force of arms. Eventually the legal system would catch up. In the fullness of time, union rights would be recognized, at least until after World War II, when the elites mounted their counterrevolution under the banner of “right to work” laws.
In my loathing for the Banksters and their apologists, I take a back seat to nobody. The bailout of 2008, otherwise known as the “banksters coup,” was just the cherry on top of the same toxic milkshake served up as economic and social policy over the last 30 years. The insane clown posse that passes for the modern Republican Party has eyeballed the demographic trends, and pasted together an assemblage of what Drfitglass called “the scattered,raving remnants of the Confederacy for one, last glorious bonfire of democracy.” Combine the wholesale assault of the remnant of the New Deal in an atmosphere of “industrialized political hatespeech,” Fox News, Hate Radio and the Tea Party with its Billionaire backers, and it’s easy to succumb to the desire to want to kill something.
Intellectually I hold with Kunstler’s “lamppost and 40 feet of sturdy nylon rope” as the due for the “masters of the universe “who have ground down our economy and wrecked the ship of state. But personal morality makes looping the first skein of rope over the lamppost morally fraught. On the other hand, one is left with the spectacle of the pigmen rooting among the remains of the economy and the country, like Wu’s pigs disposing of a fresh corpse in HBO’s “Deadwood.”
It is this episode that springs to mind as I consider the “Orkin Man Master Plan” (OMMP) as discussed on the forum of the Doomstead Diner. http://www.doomsteaddiner.org/forum/index.php?topic=477.0
The Orkin man is a favorite device of RE, the invoking of which I have enjoyed since the same since his days on The Burning Platform blog. The Orkin man is an exterminator who cleanses the dwelling of lice, vermin, termites and all manner of infestations. The analogy is clear. The remedy less so.
One poster on Doomsday Diner posed the question, “Who gets to be the Orkin man?” Indeed. Who gets to be the decider? Being the decider has great costs, which turned on a fundamental moral issue, at a time when our moral and spiritual institutions are in decline, church attendance down, and many people utterly and completely unequipped to weigh moral and ethical questions. And as much as I like to give voice to my inner hunchback, there is that “judge not lest ye be judged” morality imbued by a Catholic education and nun-beatings that inflects one’s thoughts, processes and decisions, even decades later.
As I reflected on the more recent exemplars of individuals taking on such a strategy in this country, and after Blair Mountain, my mind skittered to thoughts of Kosovo, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Pinochet’s Argentina, and then settled on the best recent example: Pol Pot whose efforts to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25 percent of the country’s population from starvation, overwork and executions. Those Khmer Rouge wanted to return to the land as well, and also wanted to cleanse the parasites, userers and useless eaters from the face of Cambodia. A cautionary tale about the work of idealists who want to remake a society by means of “cleansing” the “parasites…”
It took a while for ol’ Pol to consolidate power– he needed to throw in with Sihanouk to fight the right wing junta the US had installed, then the US had to leave the ‘Nam and Cambodia. But once in power, he began a radical experiment to create an agrarian utopia that would warm the heart of the most doomy doomster. Pol Pot had seen Mao’s Cultural Revolution first-hand during a visit to Communist China, so he figured to go The Great Yellow River Swimmer one better.
Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” included forced evacuations of Chinese cities and the purging of “class enemies, ” a move that would apparently gain favor among participants in this thread. Pol Pot now stood up his own “Super Duper New and Improved Great Leap Forward” in Cambodia, which in itself was new and improved, hence renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea.
Remember Pol Pot’s ringing declaration, “This is Year Zero?” Ah, search your memories. Society was to be “purified.” Capitalism, Western culture, city life, religion, and all foreign influences to be extinguished. Intellectuals, bureaucrats and other glasses-wearers were to push wheelbarrows, the better to repent of their pointy-headedness, and to learn the glories of peasant Communism. Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, foreign economic or medical assistance refused. No use of foreign languages. Newspapers and television stations were shut down, radios and bicycles confiscated, and mail and telephone usage curtailed. Money was forbidden. (That will kick those usurers in the ass.) Businesses were shuttered, religion banned, education halted, health care eliminated, and parental authority revoked. Thus Cambodia was sealed off from the outside world, almost as effectively as if information were controlled by a small handful of media companies.
Something about that live-or-die thingy tends to bring out the excesses in our revolutionary heroes. I’ll put that in my “Robespierre was overworked and misunderstood” file.
Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. All of Cambodia’s cities were forcibly evacuated. At Phnom Penh, two million inhabitants were evacuated on foot into the countryside at gunpoint. As many as 20,000 died along the way. Can’t let that stop a man with a purpose.
Millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were now forced into slave labor in Pol Pot’s “killing fields” where they soon began dying from overwork, malnutrition and disease, on a diet of one tin of rice (180 grams) per person every two days, the better to become compost and improve the yields.
Workdays ran to the 18 hour day, Pol having taken the American South’s “right to work” euphemism to heart. The starving were forbidden to eat the fruits and rice they were harvesting, as that was confiscated by the Khmer rouge and loaded onto their own trucks.
And you can’t have a party without the purges… a veritable binge of purges. Up against the wall went the remnants of the “old society” – the educated, the wealthy, Buddhist monks, police, doctors, lawyers, teachers, glasses-wearers all, no doubt. Ex-soldiers were killed along with their wives and children. Eventually the taste for human blood leads to a paranoia of sorts, and why not? Anyone suspected of disloyalty to Pol Pot, including eventually many Khmer Rouge leaders, was shot or bludgeoned with an ax. “What is rotten must be removed,” a Khmer Rouge slogan proclaimed.
The casualty count rose until Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia seeking to end Khmer Rouge border attacks. On January 7, 1979, Phnom Penh fell and Pol Pot was deposed, and a Vietnamese puppet government put in.
Pol Pot disappeared into the jungles of Thailand with his Khmer Rouge remnant and waged guerrilla war against a succession of Cambodian governments for decades, eventually sputtering out and dying of an apparent heart attack before he could be dragged to trial before an international tribunal.
So it matters little who you pick as the Orkin Man, or how good your motives are, or how thorough your efforts at re-education or eradication may be. The role seems to carry some occupational hazards, as if the appetite for blood, human death and destruction carries with it the seeds of insanity.
Although the image of banksters and stockbrokers mucking out pigpens and pushing wheelbarrows through knee-deep mud remains compelling.
But point was that any kind of social engineering, social cleansing, ethnic cleansing executed by a political agenda will inevitably collapse, most often due to its own corruption and increasingly escalating paranoia on the part of the strongman or the secret oligarchy of “deciders.” There is a reason that we are taught from a very early age, “vengeance is mine saith the Lord, ” ”Thou shalt not kill,” and other Biblical admonishments against the taking of life. It could be that this ancient wisdom recalls that wielding the tools of vengeance is simply above the pay grade of us mere mortals. On the other hand, psychopaths recognize no such compunction. But the question remains: what do we do, what action should we take at a time when psychopaths have commandeered the engines of government and commerce, economic or rate with complete impunity and beyond the reach of such justice as still remains?
In response to such musings, RE posted the following:
Here of course is the EXCESS which occurs in many an Inqusition/Reign of Terror type scenario. There is going to be a lot of BLOWBACK resultant from many people who have lost their comfortable life and who want to see PPII DEAD because of that. He gets blamed for the problems they have; he gets blamed for their loss of economic status in the society. So PPII gets PARANOID, for good reason. People really ARE out to get him. So he starts Killing Them before they Kill Him. //
So all of them go down in History as the most vicious and Genocidal Dictators in all of Recorded History, at least in gross numbers if not in Percentages . . .
Moving into the FUTURE here, the issue is you cannot even Save As Many as you Can by PLAYING BALL with the Illuminati. Why? Because said Illuminati are Fresh OUT of Cheap Oil to sell you with Loans they hand out to you. So unfortunately here in this Morton’s Fork situation, the social dynamic is likely to produce numerous PPIIs and Great Uncle Joes. Because unless somebody does SOMETHING to try to keep the society organized up, the Dieing will be WORSE than it would be if you have some Dictator FORCING people to evacuate the Big Shities. They aren’t going to do that on their own until it is too late and they all are starving and Cannibalizing each other.
We are thus faced with an untenable situation: if any one of us were to put on the Pol Pot T shirt, we would find ouselves in a similar situation, fraught with awful decisions and tinged by paranoia, regions of the mind visited by Joseph Conrad. Far preferable to remember the biblical injunctions that direct our conduct, as Ashvin observed:
It’s not about what we you and I can justify to ourselves with our personal beliefs. It is what you can get OTHER PEOPLE to accept based on their beliefs. Anyone who truly believes in Judeo-Christian theology cannot accept OMMP any more than they can accept Infanticide, even when they are committed with “good intentions” for some Utilitarian goal. According to them, God is perfect and they are imperfect. God has commanded them to avoid certain Sins, and they must have faith in God’s wisdom no matter what. It is not up to them to decide what sins are acceptable via good intentions or utilitarian calculations.
Quote from: Matthew 7:14-27
14“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
15“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20“So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27“The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
I’m just using them as an example of people whose beliefs are fundamentally in opposition to OMMP. They will become your enemies… but them and who else? I think you can easily make the argument that most true Hindus and Buddhists will as well. Now we are easily talking about a lot of people. How many people who claim to believe in these Immortal Truths will have the nerve to follow through when your so-called Herd is stampeding against them? I don’t know, probably only a small fraction.
But my point here is that some of them will, and people like me will admire them for doing so. It’s an amazing thing, really, to have that kind of total devotion to some higher power even in the face of what appears to be the likely threat of species-wide extinction. Talk about a small gate and narrow way!
Yet as we abjure violence, the fact is that evil remains. RE remains adamant about proactively taking the fight to the Pigmen:
Regardless of the means here, whether it is Sepukku or Capital Punishment, the situation is going to create the BLOWBACK from people who once had power, now removed. They will attempt Counter Revolutions and so forth. So you get forced into a battle here no matter what, and people DIE no matter what.
Practical sort of fellow that I am, I work my way through this dynamic to try to find the pathway with the least pain and the greatest survivability for the typical Slave in our society. The means I see working best is to take the battle to the Illuminati before they get the Death Camps rolling in earnest here. You do have to wait for the Failure of the Conduits though, because as long as the Iluminati have the Big Ass Military and Gestapo organized up and functioning, you stand no chance here. Once those Conduits fracture though, the playing field is LEVELLED.
Then you don’t just get MAD, you get EVEN.
In other words, when you observe that the Illuminati are engineering a significant die-off of the “excess” workforce, to bring the earth’s carrying capacity in line with that proscribed by the Georgia Guidestones, what should the meek do? Stand obediently in line at the abattoir, or take the fight to the oppressors? As we all observe every day, there IS such a thing as evil. [There is an entire website (http://www.sott.net/) devoted to the subject of "ponerology" (the study of evil), for those who need a deeper dive into that sort of thing. I confess a somewhat light stomach for learning much more about the rarefied appetites of our elites, the Franklin affair and multiple pedophilia rings being enough to induce projectile vomiting . . .]
The question each of us has to address is, Which side are you on? If you knew that those in control were working to box you into a freight car headed to an unknown future, but which would likely involve Fresh Towels and Hot Showers, would you get on the train or would you take the fight to them? And would you take the fight to them knowing that they controlled all of the vectors and tools of violence with force overwhelming to individual scale? Indeed, our elites have changed the laws to enable the military to operate with impunity here in the “North American battleground” (yes, friends, if you are paying the least bit of attention, we are indeed the enemy), as they have likewise militarized our local police forces, complete with spiffy looking SWAT team suits, armored vehicles. and drones, as the latest invention. We have as our president the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a personal kill list. So it may be well to say that we’re living in a time where the lessons of history no longer inform what we may be able to infer about the future. All bets are off.
Ultimately, I hold with RE when he says, “save as many as you can,” although we may differ about what that means. As an occupier, I believe that our presence in the streets and withholding our consent is everything that we can do. The community gardening movement is a step toward self-reliance, and teaching others to be self reliant. A self-reliant independent populace is anathema to the powers that be. But even the most psychopathic will find it difficult to dial-up a drone strike against a community garden, unless I miss my bet. Our resistance will be nonviolent, as the state has an utter and complete monopoly of the tools of violence, and a demonstrated increasing bloodthirstiness in applying them. I do not wish to make it easy for them, and have little desire to become a martyr, in a time when even bankster loan officers can murder with a pen and a computer.
Hunter S. Thompson once described himself as a “Road Man for the Lords of Karma.” Since nature, or God bats last, my own view is that through education, self-reliance, and nonviolent resistance we can change a culture. The history of this society guarantees a rain of vengeance and disproportionate response on the part of the minions of the elites, in a road that runs from the Cherokee “Trail of Tears,” though the gulag, through Logan Country through the paddies of Kampuchea to Zuccotti Park. And even if successful, the victors turn into monsters. Changing a society will take generations; generations which we may not have. Our opponents have been at this for many decades; we should not expect the quick fix.
In the coming days, each of us will need to stand up and be counted. At least I know which side I’m on.
Comment on this article here.
A recent quote from Diner Karpatok get me thinking the other day about the nature of our post- industrial society, and several thoughts and issues began to intersect. And then I came across the story of Norman Rousseau, below.
Deep within the bowels of the diner, the original exchange, part of a longer thread:
“To really feel the pain of the prisoners, the pain of the raped children, the pain of the animals. Martin Buber wrote of the recognition of the reality of the Other. He called it I and Thou. I and Thou together is the full reality of consciousness. To the extent that one cannot embrace the reality of the Thou, one is not fully human... To the extent that one does not let oneself feel that pain, one also cannot experience joy. We are not solipsists living in isolation and doubting the reality of the forest, we are not autistic unable to respond to others; if we are we are very sick.”
To lapse serious for a moment, this is indeed the nut of the matter. And it is the illness at the heart of who we are, our addiction to the paradigm of unlimited growth, and in our “devil take the hindmost” politics. We used to believe, or at least proclaim, “E Pluribus Unum;” there was a time when we even taught it. There was a time where our institutions weren’t corrupt with moral rot. There was a time when people believed that a “rising tide would life all boats.” Indeed, there was a time when we cared about our neighbor, when we would not pull a crust of bread out of a hungry child’s mouth to give it to a war profiteer or a Wall Street bankster. There was a time, or so we believed, when our churches were not full of pederasts and thieves, when we actually held with what was taught from the pulpit and lived accordingly, or semi-accordingly, according to our lights.
If, as is written in Matthew, “By their fruits shall ye know them,” then we are well and truly fucked. Because by our actions we invert every single thing that Jesus is reported to have said, and which every great teacher and moral leader teaches. By our actions, we clearly worship Mammon. When a vulture capitalist destroys a workforce, dumps pension obligations off on taxpayers, and pockets handsome sums for his trouble; when a company lays off thousands in the name of “efficiency,” leaving the remaining workforce stressed and gasping– and fearful of the next wave; when we balance the budgets on the backs of the poor; when we steal people’s houses through corrupt application of refinancing rules (thinking Wells Fargo here): we do the work of Mammon.
Several years ago I read an article in The Atlantic about the Muslim Brotherhood, and why the originator came to hate the United States. One of the reasons was that he came to hate the manicured, watered lawns in Kansas as an obscenity, when there is so much hunger, privation and suffering across the globe. There is a good reason the rest of the world hates us, and at the root is our wasteful, cannibal culture, that chews up everything in sight, as well as our utterly debased materialism with no organizing set of beliefs aside from profit.
I feel like Jeremiah today, but from here it is crystal clear that we are doomed. Which is, of course, part of what led me to this collective, to RE’s notion of “save as many as you can, ” and to thoughts of “what do we do next?”
It may not matter, but it is incumbent upon us to live and work as if it does.
Karpatok also added:
“Why did I shudder and flinch when my foreman lover said about construction hires at the 7Eleven, “Tu est Patrona, tu dau lucru si ei manunc.” That is ,” You are their patron, you give them work and they can eat.” Who the hell was I to have that power over them to grant life and life to the children on the dirt floor far away? But to do it without acknowledging them, without asking their names,how did they get here,[they walked a thousand miles under the burning sun el norte,el norte] how many children did they have, where were they from exactly? So in a tiny way we touched each other while they carried with their small bodies the huge stones to build the patios, the same stones with which they had built their pyramids before the Conquistadores had arrived. And now the huge houses for which the patios were built in Prince Georges county are all foreclosed and abandoned. Who are we all, passing in this conflagration?”
Who indeed? How we exercise the power that we have over one another, as we pull the levers and grease the gears of the virtual machines that increasingly govern our life says much about who we are– and who we have become.
Mammon remains hungry, and the story of his (our) endless lust for human flesh is best illustrated by the following story, well told by Mandelman on the blog “Mandelman Matters” (http://mandelman.ml-implode.com/2012/05/husbands-suicide-yesterday-wells-fargo-to-evict-wife-tomorrow-anyway/#.T7HDX8Iw28Y.twitter). This story goes on at some length, but the length is necessary to place this tragedy in its appropriate context:
Wells Fargo claimed that Norman and Oriane Rousseau had missed a mortgage payment. But the payment HAD been made in person at a Wells Fargo branch by Cashier’s Check, and Mrs. Rousseau has the receipt for the transaction.
The Rousseaus file a dispute with Wells Fargo over the supposed missing payment. Wells Fargo “investigates” and comes back saying that the Rousseaus had stopped payment on the check. They stopped payment on a Cashier’s Check? Seriously?
The teller’s receipt establishes that the cashier’s check was in the custody and control of Wachovia on April 1, 2009, and the research by the Cashiering Department should have concluded that Wachovia screwed up by not applying the cash-equivalent funds to the Rousseau’s account. After delivery and acceptance to the branch office, it was Wachovia’s responsibility to safeguard the instrument; Wachovia itself effectively stopped payment on the cashier’s check
Concerned that they could not resolve the payment dispute but told they should apply for a loan modification, the Rousseaus hired a law firm and submitted a loan modification application. After that it was standard operating procedure at Wells Fargo… we lost this, and we lost that, resend this, and resend that… for almost a year.
Wells Fargo then of course told the Rousseau family not to make their payments, that they were being considered for a loan modification and that making their payments would immediately disqualify them.
So, they saved their payments just in case Wells decided to deny them a modification. Saved every single one just in case the bank decided to act like… well, Wells Fargo Bank.
Then Wells sent them a Notice of Default, but when they called to say they wanted to reinstate their loan, Wells said what they always say… IGNORE IT… don’t worry about it, everything’s fine, it’s just an automated sort of thing… why, you’re being considered for a loan modification.
Then Wells filed a Notice of Sale on October 28, 2010. Their home would be sold on November 22, 2010. And still Wells said… IGNORE IT… it’s just another automated sort of thing… your loan modification is still pending… and please re-submit some documents.
It was November 10, 2010… just 12 days before their home was to be sold… when the Wells Fargo representative told the Rousseau’s that their loan modification had been denied. The reason: Insufficient income.
Yeah, but you know the funny thing about that is that their income hadn’t changed a nickel since they applied for the loan modification. So, what’s the deal? Did it take Wells Fargo a year to figure out the Rousseau’s income was insufficient? That same day the Rousseaus found a lawyer and discovered they had a RIGHT TO REINSTATE their loan. (Nice of Wells not to tell them that, by the way.) They contacted Wells and requested a reinstatement quote… TWO DAYS LATER Wells finally gave them the phone number for RCS, the trustee.
But, RSC said that reinstatement would take two weeks and trustee sale was going off as planned in 8 days. Wells got them their reinstatement quote too… it was dated November 15, but received via email on November 17, 2010.
And it expired in two days and had to be received in Texas by November 19, 2010.
The Rousseaus had more than enough in savings to reinstate their loan, they told Wells Fargo that… but now they couldn’t get the money from their IRA in time for the 2-day deadline and Wells refused to postpone the sale.
So, the Rousseau’s home sold at the trustee sale on November 22, 2010.
Next the Rousseaus go through a series of lawyers. Finally, they get a good one and in July of 2011, the court grants an injunction contingent on them making a monthly payment of $1800.
But, by December of 2011, Wells finally wore the Rousseaus down and they just couldn’t make December’s payment. They used up all their money fighting Wells Fargo, and Norm had been unemployed since the foreclosure. He was taking odd jobs as a handy man to make ends meet.
Wells Fargo immediately goes to court… gets the injunction dissolved… then proceeds with the Unlawful Detainer… the lockout is set for May 15th, 2012… at 6:00 AM.
THAT’S TOMORROW MORNING… AT 6:00 AM.
Over this past weekend, Norm Rousseau talked with their attorney who is working pro bono by the way. Basically, his lawyer tells him…
“Look… let’s face the facts here. We’ll proceed with the lawsuit. We’ll fight like hell to get you back in the home, but you have to be ready with some sort of plan so you’re not left homeless and on the streets.”
Norm found someone who has a 27-foot motorhome he can use, but after he gets it home on Saturday… it stops running… it won’t start. But, Norm Rousseau is a man in his 50s with mad skills. He goes to work around the clock taking apart the engine, doing everything he can to get it running so that on Tuesday morning he will have somewhere to house his family. He’s up all night Saturday night, but still can’t get it running. It’s too big to tow with a car.
His mind must have been wandering late on Saturday night. What must a man, a father, a provider be thinking when he knows that everything in life has somehow gone terribly wrong and there’s nothing left to do? He must have been imagining the sheriff pulling up to evict his family on Tuesday morning… just two days away, as the motorhome’s engine lay in pieces in his driveway.
I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as he worked tirelessly, without sleep, on that engine and electrical system… as the clock ticked away the hours, I’m sure going faster and faster as time was running out. Damn, it’s already 11:00 PM… then it’s 3:00 AM… and then 5:00 AM… and then before he knew it… a most unwelcome sun was shining… 9:00 AM…
I can almost hear him thinking: “Damn it, what am I going to do? How could this have happened?” I can hear him swearing under his breath as he fights with the old parts trying to get them to work together again… I can see him staring at the engine as the will to go on was leaving his soul…
Norman and Oriane Rousseau had bought their home in Ventura, California in 2000, putting nearly 30 percent down, which was their life savings. In 2006, every time they went into the World Savings branch they’d get pitched on refinancing into one of World’s infamous Option ARM loans… that are now illegal, I believe. After a couple of years of being pitched, they finally bought into World Saving’s lies.
They had told World Saving’s loan officer, ERIC COOPER, that they were only interested in obtaining a conventional 30-year, fixed-rate loan. They wanted consistent payments over the life of the loan.
But COOPER assured them that they could significantly reduce their monthly payments… by more than $600 per month, with a lower interest refinanced loan. COOPER said that the new Pick-A-Payment loan product was better suited to their situation.
He described the Payment Option ARM as the new industry standard. He pointed out that the lower interest rate and payment flexibility were valuable advantages that were not available with other loan products. And he said that even more importantly, unlike the previous WORLD loans, the interest rate was tied to an index with historically low rates that were continuing to decrease.
According to COOPER, industry experts projected the interest rates to continue to fall, and so their monthly payments would be EVEN LOWER than their initial payments.
Even under the worst case scenario, COOPER assured them, the historical data for the index indicated that changes in the interest rate would only be slight, and if an increase should occur it would have a negligible effect on their monthly payments… no more than a few dollars.
And besides, COOPER explained, the loan would only be around for a couple years, as they should expect to refinance within the next two years to take advantage of even more favorable interest rates and as the steadily rising housing values would surely increase the amount of their equity in the property.
Then COOPER went for the close…
On the condition that the Rousseaus apply for the new loan that very day, he would agree to waive their pre-payment penalty, stating that there would be virtually no costs to refinance beyond a $35.00 application fee.
COOPER also convinced the Rousseaus that it was in their best financial interests to consolidate approximately $25,000 in unsecured debt in the refinance transaction, citing the benefits of the lower interest rate and the convenience of having only one payment.
The Rousseaus provided COOPER with accurate and truthful information regarding their income and assets, and COOPER was such a nice guy that he offered to complete the Quick Qualifying Loan Application on their behalf.
It was right around November 1, 2007, that WACHOVIA arranged for a notary to complete the closing at the Rousseau’s home. The notary discouraged their review of the documents and directed them straight to the signature lines, but the Rousseaus noticed that a pre-payment penalty in excess of $4000.00 was included in the closing costs… the fee that COOPER had promised to waive if they applied that same day. They called COOPER and he apologized for the oversight, but tried to get them to sign anyway, because it would only add a couple of bucks to their payment.
They said… no… they’d reschedule the appointment and wait for the four grand to be taken off their bill, thank you very much.
Two weeks later, the notary returned and they signed the paperwork for their new $368,000 state of the art loan.
Now, the Rousseaus didn’t know it at the time, but COOPER was a lying sack of garbage that had misrepresented just about everything having to do with their new loan.
The 7.2% interest rate of the new loan was actually higher than their old loan and higher than the 6.8% quoted by COOPER. The “significant reduction in monthly payments” was an illusion accomplished by comparing the fully amortized payment of the 2006 loan with the negative amortizing minimum payment due under the new loan.
The new loan, at annual change dates, added deferred interest to principal and the loan amortized, with payment increases capped at 7.5% for ten years. Then, the new loan recast when negative amortization reached 125%.
The Rousseaus were never told about the new loan’s fully amortizing payment of $2,497.94 per month, in fact their payment amount was intentionally misrepresented by COOPER. And the new monthly payment could never decrease because it represented the minimum payment possible… the negatively amortizing option that meant payments would increase at each change date.
But that wasn’t enough for our boy COOPER. The Rousseaus were charged $2,640.00 in origination fees for the “low cost” refinance, which made a tidy profit for World/Wachovia/Wells/Whatever bank.
And best of all, an undisclosed Yield Spread Premium (“YSP”) of $4,195 was charged for placing them in a loan with an interest rate .50% higher than they qualified for, and that YSP increased their monthly payments by $123.32, or $44,395.20 over the life of the loan.
The truth is that the Rousseaus were a heck of a long way from being considered well qualified for their new loan. Their fully amortized payment represented a total debt-to-income ratio of 27.91%, but that percentage was based on income figures that were grossly overstated by guess who? That’s right… COOPER.
The Rousseaus told COOPER their total gross annual income was, $76,000, but somehow it got listed as $136,800 on the application. You know… the application that good old COOPER was nice enough to fill out for the Rousseaus.
So, it was Sunday… yesterday… around 10:00 AM… and Norm couldn’t get the motorhome running. He must have realized that he couldn’t handle the shame of seeing his wife and stepson evicted with nowhere to go… living on the street. I don’t know how anyone could face that reality. I don’t think I could.
How could it be that just 12 years before they had put their life savings down on their first and likely last home? They had done everything right, but nothing was right anymore, and I’m sure to Norm Rousseau, nothing would ever be right again.
Their church had offered to help them, maybe find them somewhere to stay temporarily, and that would be fine for his wife and her son… but not for him. I’m sure he wept as he looked at the engine parts laying there, realizing that it was over.
Norm Rousseau called me a couple of months ago. He wasn’t asking me to help him, in fact, he never even told me about what he was going through with Wells Fargo. No, Norm was concerned about someone else who was losing a home. A really good person who’s done so much for so many others, was how he described her. It wasn’t right what the banks were doing he said. He was hoping that I could do something to help someone he knew, because she was someone who had helped others… but he didn’t say a word about himself.
Norman Rousseau gave up over that engine that sits in pieces in his driveway today, the sun shining down making the metal parts hot to the touch. Maybe it was the frustration of having nowhere to turn for justice, maybe it was the shame he felt that somehow he had let his family down… even though that was not the case at all.
Sometime mid-morning on Sunday Norm Rousseau ended his own life. He went into his bedroom, covered his head with a blanket so as to contain the mess… and shot himself. At one point he could have reinstated his loan, that’s what he had planned to do, but Wells Fargo had made that impossible… they stripped him of everything he had.
And now, his wife and stepson are to be evicted at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. They have nowhere to go, they have no money, they are still in shock over the loss of Norm.
And I don’t know what to do really. I’m going to call the sheriff’s office in Ventura… see if I can persuade them to drag their feet for a week before locking them out. Their lawyer is trying to file something with the courts, but maybe you can think of something too.
Maybe you can forward this article to people in the media. Tell them what’s going on… maybe someone will care enough to do something. It’s 11:21 AM and I’ve been up all night again, I can’t really keep this up much longer… but somehow I felt like telling Norm’s story was the very least I could do.
Since Wells Fargo had already done the very least they could do.
Rest in peace, Norm Rousseau.
The psychopaths in charge of Wells Fargo have already killed another American. Wells Fargo, Mammon’s agent on earth, now has Norman Roussseau’s blood on its hands. And these are people who never missed a house payment. Given that Wells’ only responsibility is to generate profits for shareholders, and devil take the hindmost, perhaps Cooper’s behavior, described above, is to be expected. And thus the wages of “corporate personhood:” if we knew a person willing to do whatever it takes to generate a profit, lie, cheat, steal, kill, wouldn’t we call that person a psychopath? Instead, executives get fat bonuses, banks build giant buildings as monuments to themselves, or as temples of Mammon, and we whistle down the street knowing that the business of America is business. And this is why Occupy has sprung from the streets and alleys, and resistance is beginning to form. And why the state maintains such an overweening interest in squelching nonviolent protest.
How we the sheeple can sleep through this slow-motion Kafkaesque nightmare without getting our ample butts off the couch and into the streets is simply beyond me.
In the blog, “The New Inquiry (http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/how-bad-is-it/),” George Scialabbla answers the question, “How Bad Is It?” with precision, and by invoking the writer whose work whose works are highly instructive in these times, the man I call the arch-prophet of Doom, Morris Berman:
“Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map. Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school. Only 6 percent now read even one book a year. According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.
Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War. Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence. Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred. Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government. Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.”
This all sounds very much like Kunstler territory, as that stylist regularly decries the burgeoning illiteracy of the neck tattoo crowd, the NASCAR crazies, and the vulture capitalists. Citing Robert Putnam in bowling alone, he notes that “all forms of social capital fell off precipitously.” We stick our noses and computers and on social networking sites, and leave behind having friends to dinner, card parties, making new friends face-to-face, trusting one another, joining volunteer organizations, and otherwise being vitally involved in our respective communities.
And while we members of the “precariat” toil for our bread, the quality of life in the world’s richest nation continues to spiral down to Third World levels. Recently summarized by James Speth and Orion magazine, you’ve heard it all before. The US has the highest poverty rate for both adults and children, lowest rated social mid-ability, lowest score on you and indexes of child welfare and gender inequality and of course, remarkable levels of economic inequality. Thus the legacy of trickle-down economics.
Scialabba goes on to invoke Morris Berman. For those not familiar with his work, Berman is a cultural and intellectual historian, so his portrait of American civilization is anecdotal and atmospheric as well as statistical. Scialabba puts it well:
“He (Berman) is eloquent about harder-to-quantify trends: the transformation of higher (even primary/secondary) education into marketing arenas for predatory corporations; the new form of educational merchandising known as “distance learning”; the colonization of civic and cultural spaces by corporate logos; the centrality of malls and shopping to our social life; the “systematic suppression of silence” and the fact that “there is barely an empty space in our culture not already carrying commercial messages.” Idiot deans, rancid rappers, endlessly chattering sports commentators, an avalanche of half-inch-deep self-help manuals; a plague of gadgets, a deluge of stimuli, an epidemic of rudeness, a desert of mutual indifference: the upshot is our daily immersion in a suffocating stream of kitsch, blather, stress, and sentimental banality. Berman colorfully and convincingly renders the relentless coarsening and dumbing down of everyday life in late (dare we hope?) American capitalism.
In Spenglerian fashion, Berman seeks the source of our civilization’s decline in its innermost principle, its animating Geist. What he finds at the bottom of our culture’s soul is … hustling; or, to use its respectable academic sobriquet, possessive individualism. Expansion, accumulation, economic growth: this is the ground bass of American history, like the hum of a dynamo in the basement beneath the polite twitterings on the upper stories about “liberty” and “a light unto the nations.” Berman scarcely mentions Marx or historical materialism; instead he offers a nonspecialist and accessible but deeply informed and amply documented review of American history, period by period, war by war, arguing persuasively that whatever the ideological superstructure, the driving energy behind policy and popular aspiration has been a ceaseless, soulless acquisitiveness.” Not surprisingly, Berman finds parallels to the fall of Rome in our current state. By the end of that empire, Berman noted that economic inequality steeply rising, the legitimacy of the state was waiting, popular culture utterly the based, and civic virtue among the elites had disappeared. This made the effectiveness of the state and the projection of military power unsustainable. Scialabba points out this is 21st century America in a nutshell. Our foreign policy for the past 50 years has brought us to the turn where, in the period of time after 9/11 we have flailed about looking outside ourselves for the solutions to vague and undefined threats, ramping up internal Stasi-style security apparatus to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate the citizenry. “Our response to 9/11 is been utterly hysterical, and our inability to make an effort to understand the long festering consequences of our Imperial predations portended is clearly as anything could the demise of American bloat global supremacy.”
Scialabba adds, “What will become of us? After Rome’s fall, wolves wandered through the cities and Europe largely went to sleep for six centuries. That will not happen again; too many transitions — demographic, ecological, technological, cybernetic — have intervened. The planet’s metabolism has altered. The new Dark Ages will be socially, politically, and spiritually dark, but the economic Moloch — mass production and consumption, destructive growth, instrumental rationality — will not disappear. Few Americans want it to. We are hollow, Berman concludes. It is a devastatingly plausible conclusion.”
Jesus is quoted in Matthew as having said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.” By our fruits, or deeds, we clearly worship Mammon, and Norman Rousseau was a blood sacrifice. For all of that and more, as Berman notes, we are doomed, if for no other reason than the Lords of Karma will see to it. After all, Nature bats last. And, as to how we treat one another, Karpatok reminds us of Martin Buber’s I and Thou: “To the extent that one cannot embrace the reality of the Thou, one is not fully human..”
What are we? What have we become? Ray Kurzweil whispers of the Singularity, as we dispense with one another with all the empathy of machines.
It is thus on my heart on a Sunday morning, with the soft breezes of her Virginia spring whispering through the trees. . . a holiday weekend, where the sun is bright, the birds chirping in trees bursting with bright green, my neighbors bustling about readying themselves for church. Yet Mammon lurks, hungrily.
Over in the 53 Million thread discussing the Abortion question, I brought up the alternative to abortion for the poor, which is Starvation. However, given the copious amount of food currently available in the FSofA along with Social Welfare programs like SNAP cards and Free School Lunches for children, starvation is not YET really a problem here in the FSofA. Will it be a problem in the future though? Was it a problem during the original Great Depression? How will society deal with these issues in the future if it is a problem? These are complicated questions not amenable to simplistic exchanges of photos of Fat Kids and Anorexics in Amerika. Although they can be entertaining, these kind of juvenile debating methods do not do much to elucidate the real problems and solutions. So I will treat the questions in greater depth here in this Daily Rant. Not for the squeamish, because I am very Darwinian in my analysis in what is likely to come to pass here. I don’t view this as so much a moral question as it is a question of numbers and real human behaviors as were practiced for most of the history of Homo Sapiens on Earth. The morality with respect to Abortion we developed that is being argued here was mainly a result of the development of Agriculture and then Industrialization after that. As the fossil fuel energy we accessed to make these paradigms possible becomes too low in EROEI to access, I believe we will REVERSE ENGINEER our way back to the systems which worked for some 60,000 years after the Toba Bottleneck until the development of Agriculture, and I will explain here in this post why I believe this to be true. It is a long argument, so settle down with a nice Bloody Mary on this Sunday Brunch Rant to read it, if you so choose.
It’s never going to be possible to determine exactly how many people died from starvation in the FSofA during the Great Depression, in large part because “Starvation” isn’t generally the proximal cause of death in the malnourished. Opportunistic diseases take out the malnourished person usually before the biological systems shut down simply from lack of energy in the chronically malnourished.
We know for a fact that many people fell off the economic cliff during the Great Depression. We know there were “Hobos” who were reviled and who led a hand to mouth existence through those years. They slept in Boxcars and in Parks. Many of them would have died from exposure in the Winter months. Up here in Anchorage every year we turn up a number of Dead Indigents in the parks and in the tent city in Anchorage when the Spring Thaw comes, a few more each year since I moved up here. One has to suspect there were many more such deaths during the Great Depression nationwide. Freezing to Death is listed as the cause, not starvation.
What of poor families where the mother got pregnant, putting another mouth to feed at the table? How many of those children were undernourished and succumbed to the many childhood diseases running rampant at the time? Measles, smallpox, etc. We know that the mortality rate from Childhood disease was quite high during the Depression years. How many mothers on the road from Oklahoma to California on Route 66 chose to take a newborn infant and drown it in a lake and bury it by the side of the road? This happens even TODAY in the inner cities, in fact it happened in the 1980s also and Neil Young sang about it.
I see a woman in the night With a baby in her hand Under an old street light Near a garbage can Now she puts the kid away, and she’s gone to get a hit She hates her life, and what she’s done to it There’s one more kid that will never go to school Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool.
What was the suicide rate during the Great Depression? How many people chose to take their own lives rather than suffer a slow death from starvation? How many people became violent criminals, stealing until they got shot in a robbery attempt? We know about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow of course, but there were many other small timers who did not get so much press as Bonnie and Clyde. You can’t find out “reliable” statistics on this sort of thing no matter how long you Google. Frankly, any stats that come out of Da Goobermint that you do turn up are NEVER reliable, so using statistics to try and elucidate what happened is a waste of time..
Now, the Great Depression officially lasted from the crash of the Stock Market in 1929 until our entry into WWII in 1941, with the worst years being 1932-1934. However, out in rural Amerika, land values crashed well before that in the 1920s. So let us say there was a solid 15 years of real deprivation there. To work up to 7M dead with malnourishment as part of the cause would only take around 500K each year, spread out Nationwide in an average population at the time of around 100M. This means only about 1 in 200 people dieing this way in a given year through the time period, which would be pretty easy to miss. I do not agree with Boris Badanoff’s estimation that there was a huge and sudden die off in 1932-1934, that seems unlikely. However, a distributed Die Off between 1925 and 1941 totalling to 7M, similar in size to the Holocaust in Europe seems quite possible to me, particularly when you look at the population stats Boris Badanoff was looking at. It’s just logical to conclude with so much economic dislocation and such a thin social safety net as existed at the time that quite a few folks fell so far off the cliff they starved, or died as a result of malnutrition over more than a decade of time. Frankly, I doubt the 6M Jews and 6M Gypsies and various other poor folks quoted as official numbers who died over in Europe mostly went to the Gas Chambers in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, rather I suspect most of them died of starvation and opportunistic diseases in places like the Warsaw Ghetto, and it happened over a pretty protracted period of time there as well.
Remember, Da Goobermint writes the Textbooks and controls the Statistics any researcher can use to try to piece together what occurred in the FSofA during the Great Depression. Whether the historian is a Russian like Boris or an American, trying to figure this out when it is in the interest of Da Goobermint to paint the happiest picture possible is very difficult. We all are witness to how Da Goobermint is currently manipulating statistics on UE; they would be even MORE likely to manipulate really unpleasant data about the Death rate in the society. So the picture is painted that Plucky, Self-Reliant Amerikans came through the Depression a little deprived, but nobody starved. In fact Herbert Hoover said that, while at the same time 20 dead folks were plucked out of Central Park in NYC. 20 isn’t a big number, but again its just the Tip of the Iceberg of people with no family support and so forth. When a family has someone die, they don’t list the cause of death as Starvation, nor does it get reported in the newspaper in the Obituaries as such. You just don’t know how many people were dieing then from malnourishment, not in exact reported numbers anyhow.
Dmitri Orlov has written about the Die Off over in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the country is depopulating and this is reported in population statistics, its almost unnoticeable on a daily basis. A few more older relatives go, a few more funerals. Are they starving to death? Not in the sense we think of mass and rapid starvation like in Africa where we get whole populations rapidly cut off from food supplies for one reason or another and images of large numbers of people who are walking skeletons, but a slower form of starvation coming from chronic malnutrition. This of course hits the weakest of the population first, generally the very old and the very young.
Here in the FSofA moving into the future, we most likely would see a mirror of what has happened in the old Soviet Union rather than an African style starvation scenario playing out rapidly, but even that is not out of the question. If/when we suffer a transportation breakdown into the Big Shities where they generally only have a few days of food supply n hand, there could be a rapid starvation scenario. Same thing even in rural areas because most people are not farmers in those areas and most do not have a year’s worth of preps to tide them over during a transportation breakdown where the local Supermarket doesn’t get supplied. They may be able to raid the Grain Elevators in the Midwest, but then again the National Guard may be surrounding them and directing the food elsewhere.
Beyond all this is the aspect of Globalization, and who will be faced with starvation first and hardest, and that obviously it’s not the FSofA, its places like Egypt & Libya. That is where the REALLY poor people of the world are right now, and clearly for every one of them that ends up dieing off here it leaves that much more food for the remaining populations around the globe. So, barring a transportation collapse of Food resulting from a collapse of the Oil distribution system, I do not see a mass starvation scenario happening here in the FSofA in the near future, it comes first in the impoverished countries. I don’t see the SNAP Card system here being removed, and essentially Free Food for Amerikans who are UE will continue on right up until the Dollar goes the way of the Dinosaur. I still Prep for the Fast Food Crash though (pun intended), just in case we DO get quickly cut off from food shipments from the lower 48 up here.
Long term of course, my Food Preps don’t keep me well nourished more than a couple of years, and that is only if I kept them all for myself, which I would not do. I’ll be sharing them with friends not so well prepped. Once as a community we strictly have to get by on what we can harvest from the environment around here, its quite possible that chronic malnutrition will be a problem. In this case I don’t go out as a rapidly starving Skeleton, but rather probably get hit by opportunistic diseases hitting on older and weaker individuals. Do you list my death as Death by Starvation? No, it is listed as Death from Pneumonia, but really the cause of that death was slow starvation leaving me succeptible to infection by Pneumococcus.
Even after the collapse of the Dollar and the SNAP Card system administered by JP Morgan (which they book a nice profit on, and more all the time as more people need their SNAP Cards), Da Goobermint in Fascist cooperation with corporations like Monsanto and Conagra still will have the ability to produce copious quantities of food as long as the Oil is available. I can certainly envision a Fascist society here where each person gets a Food Ration Card from Da Goobermint to go to Walmart and get your ration of Goobermint Cheese. So, barring a catastrophic failure in transportation, mass and rapid starvation for people in the FSofA seems unlikely in the near future.
In this sense, the Abortion-Starvation Choice is less about the current FSofA then it is about impoverished countries like Egypt. There, right NOW it really is a direct choice, you can see it in the pictures of the Skeleton-Children. Is it really a better choice to let these children be born just to starve, rather than abort them? When I write about this choice, I am not really talking about the current situation in the FSofA, I am talking about really IMPOVERISHED societies right now, but also as a society I think this is coming down the pipe in the future for the FSofA as well. Right NOW in the FSofA, no problem, we can feed EVERYBODY, at least so long as we will hand out SNAP cards so they can get Free Food, and provide Free Breakfast and Lunch in the schools to impoverished children.
Simply Feeding these children is not enough though, because what good is it to feed the population of the 30 Blocks of Squalor when there is no economic opportunity for them, and they simply will perpetuate the endless dependency cycle as a result of being provided with free food? Here is where you walk into the deep moral abyss of trying to Limit the Reproduction of Poor People. The Margaret Sanger Eugenics style Abortion Clinics theory. Please remember folks, Margaret Sanger was promoting this means of resolving the problem of poor people back in the 1920s. See the connection? You generally cannot expect people will self-limit their reproduction, particularly not horny teenagers with nothing better to do with their time than fuck. You can issue free condoms until you run out of Oil to make the condoms with, they won’t always use them. Teenage girls will still get pregnant with no means of supporting the child growing in their bellies. You will not be able to place ALL of these children with Adoptive Parents, particularly not when they are Brain Damaged as a result of drug addiction the mother has. This leaves you only with the Choices of Forced Abortions or Forced Sterilizations of the Poor. This is just a small step away from Forced EXTERMINATIONS of the Poor, which of course is the FINAL SOLUTION Adolf Hitler undertook. Certainly Jews took a Big Hit in Hitler’s Final Solution, but so did Gypsies. Hitler’s Final Solution wasn’t really about anti-Semitism, it was about eliminating Poor People. In Germany at the time, there were many poor Jews, who got there as a result of Pogroms in Russia preceeding that time. Just like there are now many poor Muslims in Europe now who were driven out of their homelands by economic reasons to become Guest Workers in the rich countries of Europe.
Thing here is, you don’t target people specifically for being Poor, because you probably have a poor relative. You target them based on racial and ethnic characteristics instead. So the Racial/Ethnic Tribe in POWER targets the disenfranchised Tribe. Poor Jews went to the Gas Chambers in Europe, but Rich Jews mostly did not. A few did of course, stripped of their wealth by the Authorities at the BIS much like el-Kabong is being stripped of his, but the REALLY rich ones did not go to the Gas Chambers. No Rothschild went to the Gas Chamber, because of course the Rothschilds are the “Authorities”.
As we spin down here this go round, the vast population of Poor People in the world now are Muslims through Africa and the M.E, along with of course the poor Chindian Hindus and Buddhists Put together the populations of Impoverished in China, India and the M.E countries, and you probably are looking at half the current population extant on the Planet right now. These are the folks Targeted for Extermination, but there are so MANY of them that it would take too much Xyclon-B to Gas them all, and rounding them all up in Boxcars would be too difficult. So instead of that, these folks are going to be EXTERMINATED by Starvation and Malnutrition over the next decade, at least within the borders of the countries from Africa to India that they live in. Their populations have grown WAY past their ability to grow their own food, and once they are economically CUT OFF from being able to import food, they will mostly starve to death. They will fight with each OTHER, Sunni’s vs Shiites, Haves and Have Nots in their various Nation-States, all mostly artificially constructed at the end of WWI after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. This kind of economically driven starvation in poor countries can happen VERY quickly, as we have seen in places like Biafra and Somalia over the last 30 years. Their internal Goobermints break down, food importation comes to a halt and inside a year you have an entire country of walking skeletons. Walking only until they finally drop dead of course. Unlike Movie Zombies, they don’t last forever, they just seem to for the Living because they keep being replaced by still more Zombies as they fall off the economic cliff.
What will happen to the ex-pat Muslim Guest Workers in Europe is a more difficult question to answer. It is unclear that the remaining White European population in those countries has sufficient POWER to try and undertake the kind of Final Solution Hitler undertook. It is not clear that they can control the riots sure to come here once the Euro collapses. Europe is a big crapshoot in this regard.
Here in the FSofA, the Muslim Population is still relatively small compared to the overall population of Christians, which means they probably can easily be controlled and targeted. They can be Rounded up and placed in FEMA Concentration Camps before being shipped to the Human Waste Reprocessing Facility in San Antonio, much as Japanese Americans were rounded up here into Concentration Camps in WWII. Not so easy in this country is the vast population of the long term underclass, mostly Black and Hispanic that live in places like the 30 Blocks of Squalor. Like the Guest Worker population over in Europe, the numbers here are soooo big in these groups that any kind of Industrial extermination in Hitler-style Gas Chambers is nearly beyond comprehension as to how it might be accomplished.
The original debate JimQ set up was with regards to the Morality of Abortion. In a society of great PLENTY, abortion is quite immoral of course. How can you possibly justify taking the potential life of an Innocent when there is quite clearly enough food around to feed EVERYBODY, really to the point of OBESITY here in the FSofA? The thing you must remember here is that this extraordinary plenty is an artifact of the Age of Oil, which is rapidly coming to a close here. Its close is certainly hitting the peripheral economies of places like Egypt and Libya first and hardest here, but eventually the same problems will roll around to our own society. The ETHICS you must define are with respect to exactly how you view and implement such things as Abortion, Euthanasia, Exposure, Sterilization and in fact WAR as well as a means by which you control population size.
Every last “30 Blocks of Squalor” post has as its subtext that these folks are WORTHLESS people, LEECHFUCKS on society. It is a form of Propaganda demonizing the impoverished. It’s the area I have the greatest disagreement with JimQ, because I think he writes pure propaganda there that panders to his primary readership of Conservatard Aging White Bizmen suffering from the combined effects Senile Dementia and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy from eating too many Big Macs over the course of their lives. LOL. Regardless of the Propaganda though, Haves in the society no longer want to nor can they really afford anymore a social welfare state which provides these people a living. At the same time, to forcibly require them to ABORT their children or to STERILIZE them is an ethical swamp that puts people who have POWER in charge of life and death of people with no POWER. This is nothing short of Playing God of course. You cannot resolve this dilemma ethically, and so it always ends up in WAR or GENOCIDE, both of which themselves are ethically irresolvable.
Small Tribal populations never really had this problem on this kind of scale, although they also most certainly faced similar questions when for one reason or another their resources ran thin. For the most part though, they controlled their reproduction by a variety of means around the time of Puberty, with Rites of Passage tests. Unhealthy children at birth were left exposed, they were left to die quickly. The healthy children were succored by the tribe until they reached Puberty. At this time Males for the most part had to demonstrate their ability to be a successful tribe member, if they could not they often did not even survive the test, the slightly better alternative was they would not be permitted to reproduce, aka they do not get a Wife. Women did not usually have such tests because childbearing itself was the test. The mortality rate in childbearing was of course quite high back in the day.
I expect this sort of Reproduction control in the population to reassert itself in the future. As long as it is exercised fairly, it’s a little more morally justifiable than Mandatory Abortion, Sterilization or War, the consequences of which always get visited on the less powerful in the society, namely the Poor in a society run on a Monetary system, which all Ag based societies have been. Money, the love of which is the “Root of all Evil” according to the Bible comes as a result of distributing out Ag production. In parable form, the Bite which Eve took out of the Apple was the bite into Ag production of food. In Biblical terms, Evil per se did not exist before Agriculture and Money, and the life of the original H-Gs was essentially the “Garden of Eden” which existed from roughly 70,000 years ago when Toba bottlenecked the population of Homo Sapiens down to around 10,000 Human Souls or 1000 Breeding Pairs up until around 5000 years ago with the development of Agriculture.
In Rites of Passage tests among H-Gs, they are visited equally on all male members of the society, children of Chiefs as well as Hunters. You can’t buy a deferment out or get a cushy job behind a desk to avoid the challenge. You aren’t generally pitted against other males, but rather against yourself and your strength, endurance and intelligence to survive the challenges put before you. If you cannot do that by the time you hit puberty and can reproduce, you are not acceptable to the tribe to reproduce, and so you do not get a wife. Can you imagine how MOTIVATED generally rambunctious 13 year old boys would be to LEARN and LISTEN while being instructed in the means to SURVIVE if they knew the CONSEQUENCE of not learning and not listening would be they would DIE, or at best be allowed to live getting no nookie? Methinks you would have some pretty attentive Teenage Boys in the classroom in that scenario. LOL.
The development of Agricultural society mostly removed these sort of tests, Religious Rituals like Confirmation and Bar Mitzvahs became simply that, RITUALS. No real consequence for not doing too good at these festivals. Everybody Passes their Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah, it is No Child Left Behind. Namby Pamby stuff compared to the Rites of Passage in Hunter Gatherer societies . If you don’t have your shit more or less together by the time you can Reproduce, your reproduction will NOT help the Tribe so it is Taboo and Forbidden. This is FAIR, it gives all healthy children the opportunity to succeed as long as they LISTEN AND OBEY.
What of the children born with Disabilities? Not to sugar coat this, these kids are TOAST from the get go. Minor disabilitites maybe a successful tribe can cope with, maybe there is a role in the society for a child with a bad arm or something like that. SEVERE retardation, Blind Deaf and Dumb though? Sorry you get an early ticket to the Great Beyond when Mom holds you under the bathwater just a little too long there. Maybe I get napalmed for this here with this picture of the future, maybe not. From my POV, I am just being fucking REALISTIC about how people dealt with these issues in the past, and how they are likely to REVERSE ENGINEER their way back to similar solutions in the future. The society that is to come here will not have means to support Blind, Deaf and Dumb Drooling Vegetables. Similarly, the society cannot support rebellious teens who will fuck other children into the world without a means to support those children. Best case scenario for losers like this is they get to live out their natural lives mating with sheep. Generally speaking this produces no progeny so is not a problem for the society overall. Whether the ewes like it or not is another question entirely. LOL.
Is this kind of Rites of Passage testing Morally supportable? Not in a society where there is Plenty for everybody, where you have enough resources to support every blind, deaf and dumb drooling vegetable born into the society. Once your society has limited resources though, it is about the most fair way of limiting reproduction in the society. The only other ways are through forced Sterilization or War, which both also were undertaken in some H-G societies. New Guinea tribes practiced castration of male infants to keep their populations down and many Plains Tribes were quite the warmongers with their neighbors, Apaches were quite a nasty bunch overall and so were the Payute. Given Door #1 of Rites of Passage, Door #2 of Castration or Door #3 of Warmongering, I’ll take Door #1, Monty. This gives me as the Teenage Boy the Power and Responsibility over my own Life to Succeed or Fail in a fair manner. If I study hard and listen to my teachers and I build my strength and endurance, I will make it through. Elsewise, I take an early Ticket to the Great Beyond or I live out my life with great affection for the Sheep I herd. LOL.
The bottom line here is that the population must and will reduce in size, the only real questions revolve around how that reduction is undertaken and then how the lower population will be maintained at a steady state. Eventually the society will self-select against the corrupt, which come at both ends of the spectrum. Both the poorest of the poor and the most outrageously rich will die in the greatest numbers by percentage of their populations, and this is unlikely to be a very fair process. Many Poor folks will be unwillingly conscripted up as Cannon Fodder, many rich Folks will be unwillingly Guillotined. The Meek in the Middle who remain will have to find ways to control their population size in a world of limited resources. It will be a difficult and lengthy process, likely lasting for the next Century. Eventually when this time comes to a close and we have finished our Journey down the Trail of Tears, if we do not exterminate ourselves, we will reach a Better Tomorrow. Until we do though, it will be a major Clusterfuck.
If you’re not familiar with the work of Morris Berman, you might wish to become so immediately. Berman is a cultural historian and social critic, former academic, and author of many books, including a trilogy observing the decline of America.
The Donner Party story and analogy, drawn from the interview below, seemss particularly apt. The observation of the native expedition party, that “they eat each other” reminds me of the observation that the United States has a “wetiko,” or cannibal culture, that Thom Hartmann made in his book, ”The Last Days of Ancient Sunlight.” In that book, Hartman made the point that we needed a new set of stories around which to organize our culture. Berman however, is having none of that. In his view it is far too late. And that is, of course, the view that motivates many on this board. Interesting how these lines tend to converge at some as yet undefined but seemingly-just-over-the-horizon vanishing point.
I first encountered Berman in his book, “Dark Ages America” several years ago. Some of the themes therein are continued in his new book, “Why America Failed,” which is the subject of this interview below with author Nomi Prins.
Berman’s argument is that the seeds of America’s decline were sown from the very beginning. That the culture of hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on other people have been the powerful forces that have motivated Americans from the very beginning ever since the Pilgrims landed in America. We seem to have this idealized view of the founders, and their unselfish beliefs that motivated the creation of our sacred founding documents. The truth is, the fix was in from the very beginning, they created a commercial republic from the start with an eye to preserving property. Wasn’t long before naked self interest had replaced the common good as the primary social good in the colonies.
The American story was always about growth, expansion, the limitless frontier. All we had to do is get those damn Cherokees out of the south and look at the farmland that would be opened up. As invention proliferated and industry expanded it was growth, growth, growth, things were good. The nation expanded, and so did our appetites. The hustler ethos seemed to work for everybody, in those halcyon days when “a rising tide lifted all boats,” or so the prevailing story had it… To put the lie to that assertion, tour the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, RI, then compare with the photography of Jacob Riis or Lewis Hine, who documented the plight of the urban and immigrant poor in the cities. And infer the future that the political classes have in story for us…
Having found “the air too thin” in the US, Berman now live in and writes from Mexico. In The Twilight of American Culture, Morris Berman compared the current state of the United States to the sunset hours of ancient Rome. It is thus tempting to compare Berman’s recent work to the personal reflections of a retired Roman statesman, like Ovid writing from exile on the Black Sea.
Perhaps Berman is more a retired Seneca or Tacitus, drinking wine in a villa rustica, considering the state of his walled garden, and a new life far from Greek banking failures, TBTF banks, and police state repressions.
One of the interesting theses that Berman puts forth in this book is that there was an always another tradition evident in America, the communitarian tradition which he posits as having been represented, and having died with the old south in the Civil War. Provocative and interesting. Most who land on this page now see that the vision of unlimited growth is a Ponzi scheme and that the wheels are beginning to come off the wagon via the multiple vectors of peak oil, credit crunches, extend and pretend, et al. That’ll be no surprise. Berman’s analysis is cogent, his eyes clear and he is a compelling read. and I recommended everybody pick up at least one of his books.
Why the American Empire Was Destined to Collapse
Author and social critic Morris Berman says the fact that we’re a nation of hustlers lies at the root of our decline.
March 7, 2012 |
Several years after the Wall Street-ignited crisis began, the nation’s top bank CEOs (who far out-accumulated their European and other international counterparts) continue to hobnob with the president at campaign dinners where each plate costs more than one out of four US households make in a year. Financial bigwigs lead their affluent lives, unaffected, unremorseful, and unindicted for wreaking havoc on the nation. Why? Because they won. They hustled better. They are living the American Dream.
This is not the American Dream that says if you work hard you can be more comfortable than your parents; but rather, if you connive well, game the rules, and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm, human empathy, caring, compassion, and connection have been devalued from the get-go. This is the flaw in the entire premise of the American Dream: if we can have it all, it must by definition be at someone else’s expense.
In Why America Failed, noted historian and cultural critic Morris Berman’s brilliant, raw and unflinchingly accurate postmortem of America, he concludes that this hustling model, literally woven into the American DNA, doomed the country from the start, and led us inevitably to this dysfunctional point. It is not just the American Dream that has failed, but America itself, because the dream was a mistake in the first place. We are at our core a nation of hustlers; not recently, not sometimes, but always. Conventional wisdom has it that America was predicated on the republican desire to break free from monarchical tyranny, and that was certainly a factor in the War of Independence; but in practical terms, it came down to a drive for “more” — for individual accumulation of wealth.
So where does that leave us as a country? I caught up with Berman to find out.
Nomi Prins: Why America Failed is the third book in a trilogy you wrote on the decline of the American Empire. How did this trilogy evolve?
Morris Berman: The first book in the series, The Twilight of American Culture (2000), is a structural analysis, or internal comparison, of the contemporary US and the late Roman Empire. In it, I identified factors that were central to the fall of Rome and showed that they were present in the US today. I said that if we didn’t address these, we were doomed. I didn’t believe for a moment we would, of course, and now the results are obvious.
After 9/11, I realized that my comparison with Rome lacked one crucial component: like Rome, we were attacked from the outside. Dark Ages America (2006), the sequel to Twilight, is an analysis of US foreign policy and its relationship to domestic policy, once again arguing that there had to be a serious reevaluation of both if we were to arrest the disintegration of the nation. Of course, no such reevaluation took place, and we are now in huge economic trouble with no hope of recovery, and stuck in two wars in the Middle East that we cannot seem to win.
By the time I sat down to write the third volume, Why America Failed, I was past the point of issuing warnings. The book is basically a postmortem for a dying nation. The argument is that we failed for reasons that go back more than 400 years. As a result, the historical momentum to not undertake a reassessment, and just continue on with business as usual, is very powerful. At this point we can no more reverse our downward trajectory than we can turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub.
NP: So you’ve been analyzing America’s decline for over a decade. Was there a particular, specific inspiration for Why America Failed?
MB: I was originally inspired by the historian Walter McDougall (Freedom Just Around the Corner) and his argument about America being a nation of hustlers. The original working title was Capitalism and Its Discontents, the point being that those who dissented from the dominant ideology never had a chance. The crux of the problem remains the American Dream: even “progressives” see it as the solution — including, I have the impression, the Wall Street protesters — when it’s actually the problem.
In my essay collection, A Question of Values, I talk about how we are driven by a number of unconscious assumptions, including the notions of our being the “chosen people” and the availability of an endless frontier (once geographical, now economic and technological). For a while I had The Roots of American Failure as the title, but more to the point would be The Failure of American Roots — for even our success was a failure, because it was purely material. This is really what the American Dream is about, in its essence, as Douglas Dowd argued years ago in The Twisted Dream.
There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a Native American scouting expedition that came across the starving members of the Donner Party in 1847, who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. The expedition, which had never seen white people before, observed the Donner Party from a distance, then returned to base camp to report what they had seen. The report consisted of four words: “They eat each other.” Frankly, if I could summarize the argument of Why America Failed in a single phrase, this would be it. Unless Occupy Wall Street (or some other sociopolitical movement) manages to turn things around in a fundamental way, “They ate each other” will be our epitaph.
I should add that Why America Failed is actually part of a lineage, following the path initially staked out by Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward and Louis Hartz. Between 1948 and 1955 they all argued something similar; I just updated the argument.
NP: What do you say to people who don’t believe America has failed; who may just see the country as going through a bad patch, so to speak? What evidence have you compiled for the argument that the United States has failed?
MB: The major evidence is, of course, economic, and there is by now a slew of books showing that this time around recovery is not really possible and that we are going to be eclipsed by China or even Europe. These are books by very respected economists, I might add; and even a US Intelligence report of two yrs ago, “Global Trends 2025,” says pretty much the same thing, although it adds cultural and political decline into the mix. The statistics here are massive, but just consider a single one: in terms of collective wealth, the top 1 percent of the nation owns more than the bottom 90 percent. If we have a future, it’s that of a banana republic. And there will be no New Deal this time around to save us; just the opposite, in fact, as we are busy shredding any social safety net we once had.
NP: How does this relate to the rise of the Tea Party, or the Occupy Wall Street movement?
MB: Americans may be very vocal in claiming we’ll eventually recover, or that the US is still number-one, but I believe that on some level they know that this is whistling in the dark. They suspect their lives will get worse as time goes on, and that the lives of their children will be even worse than that. They feel the American Dream betrayed them, and this has left them bitter and resentful. The Wall Street protests are, as during the Depression, a demand for restoring the American Dream; for letting more people into it. The Tea Party seeks a solution in returning to original American principles of hustling, i.e. of a laissez-faire economy and society, in which the government plays an extremely small role. Thus they see Obama as a socialist, which is absurd; even FDR doesn’t fit that description. There are great differences between the two movements, of course, but both are grounded in a deep malaise, a fear that someone or something has absconded with America.
NP: Most political analysts place the blame for our current situation on major institutions, whether it is Wall Street, Congress, the Bush or Obama administrations, and so on. You agree with them to a great extent, but you also seem to place a lot of emphasis on the American people themselves—on individual values and behavior. Why is that? How do you see that as a factor?
MB: The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.
In addition, all of the data over the last 20 years show that Americans are not very bright, and not even the bright ones are very bright—it’s not merely a question of IQ. A Marist poll released on July 4, 2011 showed that 42 percent of American adults are unaware that the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, and this figure increases to 69 percent for the under-30 age group. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t know from which country the United States seceded. A poll taken in the Oklahoma public school system turned up the fact that 77 percent of the students didn’t know who George Washington was, and the Texas Board of Education recently voted to include a unit on Estee Lauder in the history curriculum, when they don’t have one on the first president. Nearly 30 percent of the American population thinks the sun revolves around the earth or is unsure of which revolves around which. Etc. etc. How can such a population grasp a structural analysis of American history or politics? They simply aren’t capable of it.
NP: So, basically it’s only a matter of time before students are taking courses in the historical significance of Kim Kardashian? What are the deeper, structural obstacles, in your opinion, to the American public accepting your general argument?
MB: It seems to me that it would involve a complete reversal of consciousness. I remember after the publication of the German edition of Dark Ages America, a major Berlin newspaper, the TAZ, or Tageszeitung, ran a review of the book called “Hopes of a Patriot.” One of the things the reviewer said was that America might be able to save itself if it decided to pay attention to its more serious critics. What would it take for most Americans to regard someone like myself as a patriot, and someone like Dick Cheney as a traitor? Or Ronald Reagan as a simpleton who did the country enormous damage, and Jimmy Carter as a visionary who was trying to rescue it? As I said, this is not a matter of intelligence as IQ, because in America even the bright are brainwashed—just check out the New York Times. It’s more of an “ontological” problem, if you will.
Let me give you a concrete example. A friend of mine who is a dean at one of the nation’s major medical schools was very taken by my discussion of Joyce Appleby’s work, in my book Dark Ages America. He went out and bought her essay, “Capitalism and a New Social Order,” in which she describes how the definition of “virtue” underwent a complete reversal in the 1790s—from putting your private interests aside for the sake of the greater good, to achieving individual material success in an opportunistic environment.
As a dean, my friend interacts with faculty a lot, at department meetings, cocktail parties, or whatever. He took these opportunities to raise the topic of the rapid redefinition of virtue in colonial America, only to discover that within 30 seconds, the eyes of whomever he was talking to glazed over and they would change the subject. Tocqueville said it in 1831, and it is even more true today: Americans simply cannot tolerate, cannot even hear, fundamental critiques of America. IQ has very little to do with it. In an ontological sense, they simply cannot bear it. And if this is true for the “best and the brightest,” then what does this say for the rest of us?
NP: What do you think can be done to reverse the situation? Is there any hope for the American Dream?
MB: At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values, then change would require a different people, a different country. In dialectical fashion, it is precisely those factors that made this nation materially great that are now working against us, and that thus need to be jettisoned. What we need now is a large-scale rejection of the American Dream, and an embracing of the alternative tradition I talk about in Why American Failed. These are the “hopes of a patriot,” and they are simply not going to be realized.
NP: Can you mention briefly what some of those alternative traditions are ? You have a chapter that’s attracted some controversy regarding the Civil War – how does that relate?
MB: As I mentioned earlier, the working title of the book was Capitalism and Its Discontents. The reason I liked it (for various reasons, my publisher didn’t) is that it does reflect the thesis of the book: that although there was always an alternative tradition to hustling, with one exception America never took it, and instead it marginalized those alternative voices. The exception was the antebellum South, which raises real questions as to the origins of the Civil War, which were not about slavery as a moral issue, no matter how much we like to believe that. As Robin Blackburn writes in his recent book, The American Crucible, antislavery ideas were far more about notions of progress than about ones of racial equality. That’s a whole other discussion, however, and I have it out in the book for an entire chapter.
But the main narrative here is that from Captain John Smith and the Puritan divines through Thoreau and Emerson to Lewis Mumford and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith to Jimmy Carter, this tradition of capitalism’s discontents never really stood a chance. It never amounted to anything more than spiritual exhortation. Reaganomics, also known as “greedism,” was not born in 1981; more like 1584. The result is that for more than four centuries now, America has had one value system, and it is finally showing itself to be extremely lopsided and self-destructive. Our political and cultural system never let fresh air in; it squelched the alternatives as quaint or feeble-minded. Appearances to the contrary, this is what “democracy” always meant in America—the freedom to become rich. The alternative tradition, in the work of the figures mentioned above, sought to question the definition of “wealth.” If the dominant culture was following the template of “they eat each other,” the alternative tradition can be encapsulated in that famous line from John Ruskin: “There is no wealth but life.”
NP: Speaking of wars, having just undergone Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration, and actually the Republican candidates as well, have begun to vilify China, and have amped up the volume regarding Iran. You talk about our need as a country to have an external enemy. In what way do you believe that need will manifest itself in any coming military actions?
MB: I deal with this issue in A Question of Values. America was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something—the British and the Native Americans, to begin with—and it never abandoned that framework. It doesn’t really have a clear idea of what it is in a positive sense, and that has generated a kind of national neurosis. I mean, we were in real trouble when the Soviet Union collapsed; in terms of identity, we were completely adrift until the attacks of 9/11 (just think of how frivolous and meaningless the Clinton years were, in retrospect). War is our drug of choice, and without an enemy we enter a kind of nervous breakdown mode.
Hence the saber rattling against Iran now, or the foolish decision to set up an army base in Australia to “watch” China. What bothers me is that we are doing all of this unconsciously, and we always have. Mr. Obama, like most of his predecessors, is little more than a marionette on strings (Mr. Carter being the only postwar exception to this pattern, in a number of significant ways). Once again, true intelligence is ontological, and as a nation, we are sorely lacking in that department.
NP: But haven’t we heard all this before? After all, there is a long history of the so-called “declinist” argument, that the country is in permanent decline and has no future. Such books come and go; meanwhile, the country goes on. What makes your book, or books, different from previous assertions that “it’s all over”?
MB: Decline takes time; an empire doesn’t come to an end on August 4, A.D. 476, at two in the afternoon. Similarly, declinist analysis also takes time: the books you are referring to form a continuous argument, from Andrew Hacker’s The End of the American Era in 1970 to George Modelski’s Long Cycles in World Politics in 1987 to Why America Failed in 2011. And there have been a good number of declinist works in between. These books are not wrong; rather, they are part of an ongoing recognition that the American experiment is finished. Even then, we can go back to before Professor Hacker to Richard Hofstadter (1948), who called the US a “democracy of cupidity”; or to C. Vann Woodward (1953), who wrote that we were probably doomed because we had put all of our eggs in one ideological basket, namely laissez-faire economics. During these years the country hasn’t just “gone on”; what it has done is progressively fallen apart, and these writers have made it their business to document the process.
NP: Finally, you moved to Mexico a number of years ago. Is all this why? Do you ever see yourself coming back to America?
MB: There are a lot of answers to that question, and yes, some of the reasons can be found in the above dialogue. You know, the air is really “thin” in the United States, because the value-system is one-dimensional. It’s basically about economic and technological expansion, not much else; the “else” exists at the margins, if it exists at all. I first discovered this when I traveled around Europe in my mid-20s. I saw that the citizens of those countries talked about lots of things, not just about material success. Money is of course important to the citizens of other countries, Mexico included, but it’s not necessarily the center of their lives.
Here’s what the US lacks, which I believe Mexico has: community, friendship, appreciation of beauty, craftsmanship as opposed to obsessive technology, and—despite what you read in the American newspapers—huge graciousness; a large, beating heart. I never found very much of those things in the US; certainly, I never found much heart. American cities and suburbs have to be the most soulless places in the world. In a word, America has its priorities upside down, and after decades of living there, I was simply tired of being a stranger in a strange land. In A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues conclude that happiness is achieved only by those who manage to escape the American value-system. Well, the easiest way to escape from that value-system, is to escape from America.
Nomi Prins is a journalist and senior fellow at Demos. She is the author of Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and Jacked: How “Conservatives” are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted For Them or Not).