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Jan 272011

The better the demagog , the more dangerous the demagogAristophanes

But though there is no difference in this respect between the best demagogue and the worst, both of them having to present their cases equally in terms of melodrama, there is all the difference in the world between the statesman who is humbugging the people into allowing him to do the will of God, in whatever disguise it may come to him, and one who is humbugging them into furthering his personal ambition and the commercial interests of the plutocrats who own the newspapers and support him on reciprocal terms.—George Bernard Shaw

A demagog is one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”— H.L. Mencken

By Tesha Miller  [print_link]
Wednesday, January 26, 2011  

We all remember candidate Obama and his moving speeches which were so uplifting that even during the economic wreckage of the Bush era, hope for meaningful reform actually seemed possible. We were elated because a seemingly intelligent and ethical person would once again reclaim our Presidency. Liberals who had been in political exile, reemerged and grassroots organizations crept up like weeds across the red map and we witnessed purples and blues in unlikely districts. Finally, someone in politics seemed up to the task of steering the US back towards the calmer waters of community, justice and international diplomacy. We imagined an entirely new reality for our country inside his motivational words. We were positive that this time, with real effort, we were going to live up to all those US ideals. All we needed to do was just roll up our sleeves a bit and actively participate…

Can I get a witness?
Can I get an Amen?

Candidate Obama, a former constitutional lawyer, promised the American people a return to our core ideas on justice as soon as he took office.  To demonstrate such actions he assured us that once elected, he would immediately close Guantanamo Bay detention center which human rights organizations around the globe considered to be a symbol of injustice and abuse. In fact, the human rights infringements were so egregious in Gitmo that on January 18, 2008  Amnesty International headed a simultaneous protest in thirty countries which called for its immediate closure. Those Americans alarmed by the sudden overreach of our Defense Department and its increasingly brutal brand of militarism agreed, what better way to restore our internationally tarnished image then to finally end this chapter of horrific US policy which illegally tortured detainees.

With candidate Obama, finally the downtrodden would get the Presidential support needed to champion a reversal of overt corporate policy. The last several decades of banking deregulation resulted in millions of foreclosed upon homes and untold losses in retirement funds and an eventual bailout to those largest banking failures. Meanwhile, corporate opportunistic trade agreements, such as NAFTA, had disemboweled the US manufacturing jobs sector and slashed benefits to better match their counterparts in developing nations. Despite these hardships, production was increasing even as median wage earners had suffered for decades with stagnant wages and the rising costs of health care. Obscene amounts of money were being made by the corporate and banking jackals while the middle class quietly bled out. 

But this time, finally, Main Street would be central to policy making instead of Wall Street insiders and corporate multinationals. The decimated middle class was assured that it would get a much needed break from the mounting debt, due to President Bush’s unfunded wars and TARP bailouts. Corporate tax loopholes were to be closed and offshore accounts were to be discovered and the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy would be allowed to expire… thereby generating new income, projected to be in the billions. Budgets would be examined line by line and with surgical precision useless programs were to be cut away and discarded. The message was clearly spelled out…trickle down economics had been nothing, if not a complete wrecking ball to the US economy and it was going to be dropped like a bad habit. The top 1% of our country be damned, it was time for the other 99% of the population to enjoy the fruits of increased production.

It appeared as if the stars had properly aligned in the heavens and this relatively unknown candidate was suddenly embraced by larger and larger swaths of the population who were eager to see the actualization of his campaign promises. Even the world was enamored by the diplomatic rhetoric and the prospect of a less imperialistic US. And so was the making of President Obama.

Buyer beware.

It is not uncommon for a new President to miss a few beats, as it is well understood that he must hit the DC ground running. There are a zillion things which need immediate attention and everyone that helped get a President to his current position wants a little face time. Voters realize this and give a newly elected President a bit of latitude during their first several months in office. Running the US is certainly not a middle management job.

President Obama appeared to be off to a fantastic start as he quickly signed  EO’s to close Gitmo by 2010 and a banning of harsh interrogation techniques. However, other matters, such as investigations into possible war crimes committed by the Bush administration were rebuffed by him, as the American people were informed, “We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. … My orientation is going to be moving forward”. 

This slippage in moral courage, especially when it is needed most, would not be an isolated incident to President Obama, but would come to characterize the first half of his presidency. Gitmo, perhaps best exemplifies this sad truth. When confronted with signing the defense authorization act for fiscal 2011 President Obama effectively signed away the ability to pursue criminal trials for the detainees in Gitmo until the provisions expire in September. In a statement he said, “Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011.”

Time and again the lack of moral courage gets glossed over by those who want to cling on to Obama’s now meaningless rhetoric. Such people claim that he is merely negotiating in a bi-partisan manner and that liberals have some unrealistic world view. They claim that such is the way of politics and that the constant churning out of conservative policy is not a testament to his actual political philosophy but, more accurately, a reflection in his shrewd ability to get policy enacted. They don’t seem to mind that the rich are keeping their Bush tax cuts, further crippling our fragile economy which boasts monstrous debt in the process or, that political prisoners are held without due process or, that the war in Iraq is still ongoing in a subtler manner.  They care not that the policy being procured is little better then the corporate and Wall Street bile which has been slowly eroding the democratic process we have left and further paving the way for complete fascist control.

They continue to turn a blind eye to his latest surround of Wall Street bankers as Chief of Staff and personal economic advisers and the recent praises sung of his foreign policy, AKA war practices, by former VP Cheney. Obama tells us that he has objections to such things and by saying that, he magically gets a pass on policy enactment which would otherwise outrage. Those liberals who dare question his policy decisions are quickly mocked and ridiculed by him for suggesting that he actually stand up for those exact positions which he claims to support. When blatantly confronted with the grim reality that President Obama is not at all the brand that they went to the booth to elect, they opt out of the mess by tuning in to some fictitious left or right paradigm news show because ultimately… Obama hasn’t cornered the market on a lack of moral courage, at all.

TESHA MILLER writes often on political questions. Like many Americans rising to the occasion, the systemic crisis has forced her to split her attention into various venues: “civil liberties advocate, political nut job, mother and adviser, and artist.”

This article originally appeared on Seismologik (http://www.seismologik.com/), a fraternal site.

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Jan 272011


By Mickey Z | Crossposted with SEISMOLOGIK  (a fraternal site) 

Thursday, January 27, 2011  | [print_link]

As you begin reading this interview, take a look at the nearest clock. Now, dig this: Since yesterday at the same exact time, 200,000 acres of rainforest have been destroyed, over 100 plant and animal species have gone extinct, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals were released across the globe, and 29,158 children under the age of five died from preventable causes.

Worst of all, there’s nothing unique about the past 24 hours. It’s business as usual, a daily reality—and no amount of CFL bulbs, recycled toilet paper, or Sierra Club donations will change it even a tiny bit.

As you do your best to convince yourself of the vast chasm between the two wings of America’s single corporate party, I suggest you listen carefully to hear if even one of the politicians mentions any of the following:

  • Every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic
  • Eighty-one tons of mercury is emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation
  • Every second, 10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the US
  • Each year, Americans use 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides
  • Ninety percent of the large fish in the ocean and 80 percent of the world’s forests are gone
  • Every two seconds, a human being starves to death

This is just a minute sampling, folks, and sorry, but your hybrid ain’t helping. That reusable shopping bag you bring to the market has zero impact. Your home composting kit is not gonna start a revolution.

In fact, even if every single person in the US made every single change suggested in the movie An Inconvenient Truth, carbon emissions would fall by only 21%—in contrast to the 75% emissions decrease that scientific consensus believes must happen … now.

None of this, of course, is news to Derrick Jensen. He is the author of essential works such as A Language Older Than Words and Endgame. His worldview has nothing to do with party politics, incremental reform, leftist in-fighting, corporate compromise, or anything that seeks to tweak but ultimately maintain the ongoing global crime we call civilization.

“My loyalty,” he told me, “is with the nonhuman and human victims (or targets) of this culture, and my work is toward stopping this culture’s assaults on nonhumans, on the land, on the planet itself, on women, on indigenous peoples, on the poor.”

If you’ve grown weary (and wary) of the entrenched Left and all the words left unspoken, you owe it to yourself to read the rest of our conversation below. Afterwards, you just might start realizing that you also owe it to the planet to get busy.

Our exchange took place during the week of January 17 and went a little something like this …

Mickey Z.: We’re starting this conversation as another MLK Day is observed. Not much of a chance that we’ll hear this Dr. King quote—“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be”—mentioned much by the corporate media, huh?

Derrick Jensen: Just today I read an article stating that, no surprise, industrial-induced global warming will be far worse than estimated, and if carbon emissions continue as expected, could render much of the planet uninhabitable within 100 years. Even now, 150-200 species are driven extinct every day. This culture extirpates indigenous peoples. The oceans are being murdered. And today I saw a study of rates of fire retardant in every fetus. And on and on. And yet those of us who are working to stop this planetary murder are sometimes characterized as extremists.

I think the real extremists are the people who value capitalism over life, the people who value civilization over life. I cannot think of any more extreme position than valuing this insane culture over life.

MZ: Not surprisingly, another major African-American figure from the 1960s—Malcolm X—had some positive words for extremism in the name of toppling that insane culture. Using Hamlet as a springboard, Malcolm wrote:

“(Hamlet) was in doubt about something—whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—moderation—or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built with—is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

DJ: I think the key has to do with wanting to change this miserable condition.

I try to be fairly inclusive of the people I would work with, but I’ve realized over the past many years that I’m not working toward the same goals as many of the environmentalists who are explicitly working to save capitalism or to save civilization, rather than the real world. In talks and interviews I often ask what all of the so-called solutions to global warming or the murder of the oceans, or biodiversity crash, etc, all have in common. And what they all have in common is that they all take industrial capitalism as a given, and the natural world as that which must conform to industrial capitalism. That is literally insane, in terms of being out of touch with physical reality. I mean, look at Lester Brown’s Plan B 4.0 to Save Civilization. What does he want to save? Could he be any more explicit? He wants to save civilization. But civilization is killing the planet. It’s like writing a book about how to save a serial killer who is murdering so many people he’s running out of victims. We see this attitude all the time. When people, for example, ask how we can stop global warming, they’re not asking how we can stop global warming; they’re asking how we can stop global warming without changing the physical conditions (burning oil and gas, deforestation, industrial agriculture, and so on) that lead to global warming. And the answer to that question is that you can’t. Likewise, when they ask how we can save salmon, they aren’t really asking how we can save salmon, they’re asking how we can save salmon without removing dams, stopping industrial logging, stopping industrial agriculture, stopping industrial fishing, stopping the murder of the oceans, stopping global warming, and so on.

A question I keep asking is: with whom (or what) do you identify? Where is your loyalty? Whom, or what do you want to save? And if what you really want to save is this “miserable condition”—capitalism, civilization, what have you—at the expense of the planet, then we’re not really working toward the same goal, are we? My loyalty is with the nonhuman and human victims (or targets) of this culture, and my work is toward stopping this culture’s assaults on nonhumans, on the land, on the planet itself, on women, on indigenous peoples, on the poor.

MZ: It’s a testament to the power of propaganda how even well-meaning folks will choose the options—both public and private—that work against their own interests. Gay rights activists are currently applauding the alleged repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In the name of promoting diversity and inclusion, they are celebrating the ability to volunteer for an institution that exists to violently crush all diversity and inclusion.

The conditioning is so interwoven throughout every aspect of our culture that even respected Leftist thinkers simply cannot comprehend your comment, “civilization is killing the planet” and resort to retorts about “misanthropy.”

So, the question must be asked, Derrick: Can these people be reached with the message that we can’t have industrial capitalism as a given without all the murderous side effects?

DJ: There’s a great line by Upton Sinclair about how it’s hard to make a man [sic] understand something when his [sic] job depends on him not understanding it. I think that’s true even more for entitlement. It’s hard to make someone understand something when their entitlement, their privilege, their comforts and elegancies, their perceived ability to control and manage, depends on it.

So much nature writing, social change theory, and environmental philosophy are at best irrelevant, and more often harmful in that they do not question human supremacism (or for that matter white supremacism, or male supremacism). They often do not question imperialism, including ecological imperialism. So often I feel like so many of them still want the goodies that come from imperialism (including ecological imperialism and sexual imperialism) far more than they want for these forms of imperialism to stop. And since the violence of imperialism is structural—inherent to the process—you can’t realistically expect imperialism to stop being violent just because you call it “green” or just because you wish with all your might.

Here’s another way to say this: as I say in Endgame, any way of life that requires the importation of resources will a) never be sustainable and b) always be based on violence, because a) requiring importation of resources means you are using more of that resource than the landbase can provide, which is by definition not sustainable (and as your city grows you’ll need an ever larger area to harm); and b) trade will never be sufficiently reliable, because if you require some resource (e.g., oil) and the people who live with or control that resource won’t trade you for it, you will take it, because you need it. It’s inherent. One of the many implications of this is that if you don’t question imperialism itself, the solutions you present will be absurd, and either irrelevant or harmful.

Here’s a story. A couple of weeks ago a tree fell down in a storm and knocked down an electric wire in this neighborhood. My neighbor told me about it, and when I saw the downed tree I looked and looked and looked for the stump, to see where the tree came from. I couldn’t find it. I’ve looked again every time I’ve gone by that place. Well, today I was walking and I saw where it came from. The top of a big tree had broken off. It was really obvious when I looked up instead of down. Point being (instant aphorism): You can search as thoroughly as is possible, but you’ll never find what you’re looking for if you’re looking in the wrong place.

This applies to everything from personal happiness to solutions to global warming.

But the problem is worse than mere entitlement. RD Laing came up with the three rules of a dysfunctional family:

Rule A is don’t.

Rule A.1 is Rule A does not exist

Rule A.2 is Never discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, A.2

This is as true of dysfunctional cultures as dysfunctional families. So we cannot talk, for example, about the fact that this culture is only one way of living among many, that this way of living is based on conquest and the acquisition of power, that this way of life systematically destroys landbases, other cultures, and on and on. Systematically, functionally.

But it’s worse than this. In the 1960s a researcher attached electrodes to people’s eyeballs to track where they looked, and then showed them pictures. What the researcher found is that if the photo contained something that threatened the person’s worldview, the person’s eyes would not even track to it once: they would evidently see it out of the corners of their eyes, and know where not to look. So far too often you can make the point as reasonably as you can, and the person will have no idea what you are talking about.

MZ: Considering the glacial rate by which most humans—myself very much included—recognize and address destructive or self-destructive patterns in their personal life, it’s difficult to imagine a lot more humans allowing their eyeballs to focus in on global crises and their obscured causes. High Noon is approaching and it seems most of us don’t even know how to tell time.

Speaking of High Noon, I recently watched the classic 1952 film and found myself focused on the moment when Amy (Grace Kelly), the pacifist wife of Marshal Kane (Gary Cooper), shoots and kills a man to save her husband’s life. Earlier in the film, Amy had declared: “My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live.”

However, she not only ends up shooting a man, she also fights off the main villain, which allows Marshal Kane to finish him. Now, before some readers run and tell Gandhi on me, what I’m proposing as the lesson is that when faced with the clarity a crisis can sometimes inspire, we canrecognize that those clock hands are inching towards noon and surprise ourselves (as Grace Kelly’s character did) with our ability to take things to a new level.

If not, what chance do we (the animals, the trees, the eco-system, etc.) have?

DJ: Very little chance. Even if people don’t care about nonhumans, recent estimates are that billions, literally billions, of humans will die in what is beginning to be called a climate holocaust. This is if the temperature rises 4 degrees Celsius.

And the most recent estimates are revealing that global warming is far worse than previously believed (have you ever noticed how the previous estimates were always low?), and could go up 16 degrees C within 90 years, rendering much of the planet uninhabitable (“Science stunner: On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter—Paleoclimate data suggests CO2 ‘may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models’”). This means that there are young people now who will die in this climate holocaust. And there are too many people who prefer this wretched, destructive way of life over life on the planet, and literally over their own children. We need to stop this culture before it kills the planet.

MZ: Although I feel there’s way too much hand-holding in the realm of activism and far too many progressives sitting idle as they wait for a leader to give them direction, I must ask you this: What types of immediate direct action might you suggest to those reading this interview, in the name of stopping this culture before it kills the planet?

DJ: I think the important thing is that they start doing some form of activism. I can’t tell people what to do, because I don’t know what is important to them and I don’t know what their gifts are. But the important thing is that they start. Now. Today.

So how do you start? The problems are so huge! Well, the way I started as an activist was the result of the smartest thing I ever did. When I was in my mid-20s I realized I wasn’t paying enough for gasoline (in terms of including any of the ecological costs, etc), so for every dollar I spent on gas I would donate a dollar to an environmental organization (never a national or international organization, but rather local grassroots organizations), but since I didn’t have any money I would instead pay myself $5/hour to do activist work, whether it is writing letters to the editor or participating in demonstrations. My first demos were anti-fur demos and anti-circus demos. And don’t let your perceived ignorance stop you: I had no idea what exactly was wrong with circuses, but I knew they were exploitative of nonhuman animals and so I showed up, and other people handed me signs. If anyone asked me, What’s wrong with circuses? I just pointed them to the person standing next to me. I went from there to other forms of activism, including filing timber sale appeals, and so on. The point is that I started. At the time it cost $10 to fill my tank with gas, and if I filled it once a week, that meant two hours per week. And I started having so much fun with the activism that I stopped keeping track of how many hours I was doing activism, and just did it. But the important thing is that I got off my butt and started doing something.

It’s also important that when people do activism, that it not simply be personal stuff: environmentalism especially has gone down the dead end of lifestylism, where people think that changing their own life is sufficient. Just today I read an article that said, about water, “First of all, turn off the water when you don’t need it. It’s that simple. I don’t want to sound too preachy, but, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, lack of access to clean drinking water kills about 4,500 children per day. The water won’t magically travel from our taps to someone in need, but creating a mind-set of conservation will certainly help. There is absolutely no purpose served by letting water you are not using run down the drain.” This is just absurd. Yes, lack of access to clean water kills 4500 children per day, but it’s not because of my own water usage. 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. So all these environmental pleas for simple living are tremendous misdirection: these children (and what about the salmon children, and the sturgeon children, and so on) aren’t dying because I brushed my teeth: they’re dying because agriculture and industry are stealing the water. Just yesterday I read that Turkey is sacrificing all nature reserves to put in dams. This is not so people can have showers. It’s for agriculture and industry.

I live pretty simply, but that’s because I’m a cheapskate. I turn off the water while I brush my teeth, too. Big fucking deal. That is not a political act. There are no personal solutions to social problems. None.

So when I say that people should do some activism, I mean do something good for your landbase. Stop destructive activities. Do rehabilitation. Or if your primary emergency is violence against women, then do work against domestic violence, or against pornography, or against the trafficking in women. Get started.

Like Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize.”

MZ: I like to tell people that we live in the best time ever to be an activist. We’re on the brink of economic, social, and environmental collapse. What a time to be alive. We can take part in the most important work humans have ever undertaken. How lucky are we? In this era of “hope and change,” I say action is always better than hope. Or, as Rita Mae Brown said, “Never hope more than you work.”

DJ: Yes, I get so tired of people saying they hope salmon survive, or hope this or hope that. But what is hope? Hope is a longing for a future condition over which we have no agency. That’s how we use the word in every day language. I don’t say, “Gosh, I hope I put my shoes on before I go outside.” I just do it. On the other hand, the next time I get on a plane I hope it doesn’t crash. After I get on the plane I have no agency. Think of this: if a parent says to an eight-year-old child, “Please clean your room,” and the child says, “I hope it gets done,” we all know that’s ridiculous. I asked an eight-year-old what would happen if she said that to her parents, and she said, “Someone has to clean the room!”

That kid is smarter than a lot of environmentalists. It’s ridiculous to say we hope global warming doesn’t kill the planet when we can stop the oil economy that is causing global warming. I’m not interested in hope. I’m interested in agency, and I’m interested in people no longer waiting for some miracle to solve their problems. We need to do what is necessary.

MZ: When you first began writing and speaking about civilization and the eventual collapse, did you ever truly imagine that you’d be around to see things as bad as they are right now?

DJ: No. And even though I wrote in The Culture of Make Believe about the ways in which economic collapse can lead to more and more brownshirt-ism and fascism, I’m still kind of stunned at the way it is happening here. But more to the point, even though I’ve written something on the order of fifteen books about this culture’s insanity, I still cannot believe this isn’t all a bad dream, with this frenzied maintenance of this culture as the world is murdered. I keep wanting to wake up, but each time I awaken this culture is still killing the planet, and not many people care.

MZ: I’m sure you can’t even calculate how many times you’ve been interviewed but I’m wondering if there’s a question you always wished you’d been asked but so far, no one has done so. If so, by way of wrapping up, please feel free to ask and answer that question.

DJ: Four questions:

Q: You’ve said many times that you don’t believe that humans are particularly more sentient than other animals. Where do you draw the line?

A: I don’t draw the line at all. I don’t see any reason to believe anything other than that the universe is full of a wild symphony of wildly different voices, wildly different intelligences. Humans have human intelligence, which is no greater nor less than octopi intelligence, which is no greater nor less than redwood intelligence, which is no greater nor less than flu virus intelligence, which is no greater nor less than granite intelligence, which is no greater nor less than river intelligence, and so on.

Q: How did the world get to be such a beautiful and wonderful and fecund place in the first place?

A: By everyone making the world a more beautiful and wonderful and fecund place by living and dying. By plants and animals and fungi and viruses and bacteria and rocks and rivers and so on making the world a better place. Salmon makes forests better places because of their existence. The Mississippi River makes that region a better place because of its existence. Bison make the Great Plains a better place because of their existence.

Civilized humans do not make the world a better place because of their existence. They are collectively and individually making the world a less beautiful and wonderful and fecund place. How can you make the world a better place? What can you do to make the landbase where you live more healthy, more beautiful, more fecund? And why aren’t you doing it?

Q: What will it take for the planet to survive?

A: The eradication of industrial civilization. Industrial civilization is functionally, systematically incompatible with life.

The good news is that industrial civilization is in the process of collapsing.

The bad news is that it is taking down too much of the planet with it.

Q: So if industrial civilization is collapsing, why shouldn’t we just hunker down and make our lifeboats and protect our own, and basically take care of our own precious little asses?

A: I would contrast the narcissism and cowardice of this attitude with that expressed by Henning von Tresckow, one of the members of the German resistance to Hitler in World War II. When the Allies invaded France in 1944, anybody paying any attention at all knew that the Nazis were going to lose: it was just a matter of time. So some members of the resistance suggested that they stop working to take down the Nazis, and instead just protect themselves until the war was over, basically hunker down and make their lifeboats and protect their own. Henning von Tresckow responded that every day the Nazis were killing 16,000 innocent civilians, so basically every day sooner they could bring down the Nazis would save 16,000 innocent civilians.

There is more courage and wisdom and integrity in that statement than in all the statements of all the craven lifeboatists put together.

Between 150 and 200 species went extinct today. They were my brothers and sisters. It is not sufficient to merely hunker down and wait for the horrors to stop. Salmon won’t survive that long. Sturgeon won’t survive that long. Delta smelt won’t survive that long.

Here’s another way to say all this. I would contrast the narcissism and cowardice of the lifeboatists with the attitude expressed by my dear friend, and the person who really got me started in environmentalism, John Osborn. He has devoted his life to saving as much of the wild as he can, through organized political resistance. When asked why he does this work, he always says, “We cannot predict the future. But as things become increasingly chaotic, I want to make sure that some doors remain open.” What he means by that is that if grizzly bears are around in 30 years they may be around in fifty. If they are gone in 30 they are gone forever. If he can keep this or that valley of old growth standing, it may be standing in 50 years. If it’s gone now, it will be gone for a long, long time, maybe forever.

As you said, Mickey Z, we are living at a time when we have perhaps more leverage than at many previous times. Any destructive activity we can halt now may protect that area until the collapse: people couldn’t realistically say that in the 1920s. I believe it was David Brower who said that every environmental victory was temporary while every loss was permanent. I think we are quickly reaching the point where every victory can be permanent.

One final thing: the single most effective recruiting tool for the French Resistance in WWII was D-Day, because the French realized once and for all that the Germans weren’t invincible. Knowing that this culture is collapsing should not lead us into narcissism and cowardice, but should give us courage, and should lead us to defend the victims of this culture.

For more about Derrick Jensen and his work, you can find him on the Web here.

Article originally appeared on Seismologik (http://www.seismologik.com/).

seismologik in Activists, Civilization, Clean Water, Culture, Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Environmentalism, Humanity, Mickey Z

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Jan 272011

Truly men hate the truth; they’d liefer

Meet a tiger on the road.”

                                            —Robinson Jeffers

 By Gary Corseri  [print_link]

What it’s not

First, let’s clarify: a “meme” (rhymes with “scream”) is not what Sarah Palin says when she goes on a family outing with her daughter; as in, “Meme Bristol’s gonna shoot up some mooses.” 

Even in herspeak, that don’t get it.

What it is

According to Wikipedia, “A meme, a relatively newly-coined term, identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another.” 

Except that it’s more than that: more like a transplanting than a transmission; more like an entire constellation of ideas and sentiments flowing from person(s) to person(s); a packet of info from mind/heart to mind/heart or group mind to mind(s).  And these ideas and sentiments are but feebly scrutinized, and, generally, not even realized to have been absorbed between organisms.  Like a simple computer virus that can crash a system. 

A little more from Wikipedia: “A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices [and, of course, values!—GC], which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. … Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.”

Americans love memes—whether they know it or not.  Memes shortcut and short-circuit real thinking and analysis, and give the opinionated something to opine about.  Herewith follows some especially noxious specimens.

1. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I was 14, watching JFK’s inaugaration on the 13” black and white TV my parents kept in the kitchen when I first heard those ringing words.  And… they resonated.  There was this movie-star-handsome president (!), with great hair, eloquently delivering a message to unite the country in a noble mission: to bring justice, freedom and democracy to the nation… and the world.  “To meet any challenge.” 

But… fifty years later, hearing the words repeated incessantly by every 2-bit MSM newscaster, hearing the dissections and bifurcations and vivisections, all I can say is “Bullsh*t!”

Kennedy himself, I’ll give a pass.  It was the height of the Cold War, and he was a young, untested leader.  And, a Democrat, taking on the mantle of respected—if not loved—Dwight Eisenhower.  We were locked in what Kennedy described as a “twilight struggle” between “freedom” and “tyranny,” between “democracy” and “Communism.”

Kennedy was spewing one meme after another—or Ted Sorenson was… or both of them—and its doubtful that he—or they—ever realized the extent of their misdirection.

For the goal of a meme is to inspire… not to educate or enlighten.  The goal is to cloud and mystify, not to clarify.

So, half a century later, it is clear: We not only must ask what our country can do for us, we should, in fact, demand to know!  That is the essence of what Rousseau called the social contract.  I shall give up a portion of my earnings, I shall pay my taxes, I may even go, or send my children or grandchildren, to war to defend my country.  But… I can never surrender my right to interrogate my “leaders.”  As an adult, I recognize my obligation to be informed and to hold my “leaders”—political, economic, social and cultural—accountable for their expressed ideals. 

In recent years, we have witnessed the debacle of our economic system when too many “asked not” what their country, or Wall Street bandits, or mortgage lenders, or Savings and Loans, or commercial banks, or hedge funds—were really up to.  “We the people” complacently sat on our asses and let our “betters” run the show.  It was a “really good shew,” in Ed Sullivan’s words, but it ended the way it had to end when intellect takes a hike on a prolonged sugar spike.  “Asking not” sowed the wind… and now we reap the whirlwind. … And that’s no fatuous meme!

2.  “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Jefferson gets credit for the phraseology, but the ideas had been kicking around for a while, notably among John Locke and the Scottish philosophers.  Since the European Enlightenment, the ethicists, the moral philosophers, had struggled to define “natural rights,” what we generally call “human rights” now.  For most of those philosophers, including T.J., the real struggle was to define “property rights.”  The rebels of 1776 postponed those splitting-hairs discussions for the Constitutional Convention—and the much more pragmatic and legalistic document that came out of it.  No need to rupture the nascent union over questions about how to consider slave property; would that represent 60% of a human or 59 and a half?  Better to go with the catch-all phrase and let the rabble read into it.

Problem is, we’ve been reading into the “pursuit of happiness” ever since, and generally making a botch of it.  Whose happiness?  How is happiness defined and achieved?  For too much of America’s history, happiness has been synonymous with prosperity.  As long as enough people were sufficiently prosperous, the general welfare was secure.

The equation of happiness and prosperity tips the scales of a just and admirable life with fools’ gold.  It redounds in the sort of confused delirium that ends with a mania for tulip bulbs or sub-prime mortgages. 

All the great teachers have warned us against the seductions of “happiness.”  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Christ taught.  And, “Lay not up worldly riches.”  Buddha’s final words were: “Be a lamp unto yourself.”  Not, as the modern gurus would have it, “Be happy!”  Kung-fu-tzu advised a responsible life, meeting one’s obligations to family, to the State, to friends, peers, subordinates.  Laotze cherished balance.  A few hundred years before the Nazarene, Rabbi Hillel expressed the Golden Rule in the more easily followed non-affirmative: “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.”  And the gadfly of Athens said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

I recall an essay—it was either by Emerson or Tolstoy, I was reading them both at about the same time: the author took a spontaneous walk through the woods on a moonlit night.  He came to a clearing, looked up, and was suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all—the gentle breeze, the shimmering stars blinking through passing clouds, moonlight and rustling leaves, and a fragrance of wildflowers.  And he was transported with a sense of peace, contentment, joy—happiness.  The next night, the moon was about as full and the weather the same, and he went out along the path, came to the same clearing, looked up—and felt nothing. 

The lesson is clear.  Happiness is a by-product of a life well-lived.  A life filled with meaning, good deeds, truth.  It can’t be forced.  It’s fortuitous.  Pursue it–and lose it.  “What mad pursuit, “ Keats wrote.  “What struggle to escape!”

Keats died of consumption at 25.  The disease—tuberculosis—had claimed his beloved younger brother a couple of years before, Keats nursing him to the end.  It was a terrible, wasting disease of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, exacerbated, no doubt by the smokestack industries popping up like pimples all over the land.  Consumption then; consumerism now.  The same wasting disease.

Jefferson himself could never square the circle.  Certainly “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had nothing to do with Native Americans—the Turtle Islanders.  He signed the Indian Removal Act which Jackson was to enforce some 30 years later, after the discovery of gold in Dahlonegha, Georgia.  Some 17,000 Cherokees and 2,000 of their black slaves (!) were forced to trudge at gunpoint through snow to Okalahoma.  Thousands died on the way. 

The magnificent redhead, the studious Francophile, enjoyed his bourbon and ice cream, his slave-mistress Sally Hemings, and his cultivated life at Monticello, accumulating huge debts, on the backs of 150 slaves.  Upon his death, he bequeathed his slaves to his daughter.  Washington, at least, had freed his slaves in his will—provisioned upon the death of his beloved Martha.  This no doubt led to some wakeful nights at Mount Vernon, as Martha lay abed, listening to branches crackling underfoot, trying to discern meanings in the day’s glances or meanings in mubling behind closed doors.  No doubt, some unhappy times! 

3.  The Second Amendment.

This is the motherlode of American memes.  It’s better known than the 2nd Commandment, and those who worship it will defend their right to do more truculently than those who subscribe to the Mosaic Code.  It holds its place with those few memes identified by numbers: The First Amendment; 911; 1776.

With the random murder of six innocents in Tucson, the near-killing of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others by one Glock-toting maniac, the gun debate is boiling again.  The apparently inoperable-tumorous meme in the midst of our Bill of Rights reads in its entirety:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Over 30 years ago, I watched “Meathead” on “All in the Family” try to explain to Archie Bunker, America’s favorite bone-headed bigot, the subsuming importance of that conditional clause.  Michael Stivic’s efforts were, of course, futile.  “Happiness is a warm gun,” the Beatles sang about that time.  Lenon’s ironies were lost on his assassin.

The matter should have been put to rest, the argument concluded, back in 1794 during the Whisky Rebellion.  Opposing the excise tax on whisky, a small army of 6,000, mostly Scotch-Irish frontiersmen, assembled in western Pennsylvania, threatened to attack government garrisons to obtain weapons, destroyed the stills of those who had paid the tax, modeled themselves after Robespierre and the Jacobins, cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

Fortunately for the nascent Republic, the best dog-catcher of the age, the one who had proposed and implemented that tax and others to raise the capital essential for the Republic’s survival, Alexander Hamilton, was there to stop the would-be guillotine-erectors.  “There is no road to despotism more sure or more to be dreaded than that which begins at anarchy,” Hamilton wrote at the time.  To oppose the poorly-led rebels, A. H. assembled militias from New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia: a mostly disciplined—they, too, loved their whisky!—force of 12,000 well-armed and provisioned men.  There were some skirmishes, some deaths, rebel leaders were captured, imprisoned, and, chastened, and ultimately pardoned by Washington, whose paramount objective during two terms was to keep the fractious nation whole and out of the unending wars between Britain and France.

Apparently the lessons of the Whisky Rebellion have dimmed in the minds of those fervent advocates of “the right to bear arms.”  They yammer about their need for Glocks and Uzis against an oppressive government whose most perfidious act will be the seizure of their arms!  (They seem to yearn for such a seizure!)  That seizure will signal the advent of a new age of tyranny, and light the torch of freedom anew in the hearts of millions of Glock and Uzi armed patriots.

Trying to argue against these memes is like trying to argue with Archie Bunker.  So much detritus to work through!  So many cobwebs to clear!  So much history to back-fill!  The lack of so much common sense to decry and lament!

Might not one argue that the seizure of personal firearms would be the least likely act of a tryrannical government… that anarchy would work just fine for controlling a Mad Max world in which the authorities could bring jets and predator drones, tactical nuclear weapons, etc. against an army of gun-slinging cowboys?

So, let’s talk about “arms.”  As in, “couldn’t-hit-the-broad-side-of-a-barn” arms.  An expression as old as the Constitution, and apropos of the personal firearms of our beloved forefathers.

Their weapons—for hunting rabbits, deer, racoons, “Injuns” or redcoats—were muskets.  They were unrifled, could shoot ball or shot or both.  About four times a minute, a handy rebel could load his musket with black powder, look down the barrel length—no sights!–and fire.  That unrifled ball could fly off like a curve ball.  One was unlikely to hit a man-sized target at more than 75 yards, “aiming” straight at him—or the side of a barn at more than a hundred.  Once in Concord, Mass., near the “old stone bridge” that Emerson monumentalized, I heard a guide explain that more soldiers had died in the Revolutionary War as a result of bayonets than muskets!  The principal “armor” against musket shot was good, strong, fibrous clothing—often spun from hemp! 

Let’s also recall that in those days we were a fledgling agglomeration of “states” spread over a vast territory, with under 3 million people—mostly farmers and slaves.  People knew their neighbors.  If the village idiot—a certain young Jared, say—was seen running around with his musket protruding from his britches, people would have had the time to stop him, toss him in the pig pen and disarm him once and for all.  It’s dubious he’d ever have had access to that musket in the first place.  And his lack of wherewithal would have saved their lives.

4.  “The future is ours to win.”

Once you start thinking about memes, it’s like having cataracts removed—colors emerge more vividly; you start seeing patterns in carpets, in wallpaper.  It’s like suddenly seeing Snooky’s face for the first time on HDTV!

Okay, forget that!

The point is, they’re everywhere.  More than cliches, more than the banalities that used to fill those empty spaces between the synapses, memes come in a multitude of colors, with images, sound track, Facebook personalities!

“911,” for example—the official narrative… or, the better, “fringe” explanations! 

The assassinations of JFK, Bobby K, MLK and Malcolm X.

“The falling dominoes” that never were, for which four million lives were sacrificed.  (Check out Gareth Porter’s “Perils of Dominance” for insight into the real story of the Vietnam War.)

“American exceptionalism”. … “We’re number one!”

“The wisdom of the voters.”

“Change you can believe in.”

“The  War to End all Wars.”

“The War on Terror.”

“The Cold War.”  (Check out William Blum’s “Killing Hope” for the best book about the Cold War.  Reads like LeCarre—only it’s non-fiction!)

Not just words, but a panoply of figures marching across the TV sets of our minds, the movies, the political rallies, demonstrations, electronic imagery meshed with e-mail conversations, infiltrating every neuron—memes define, refine… and devour.

“Move on,” for example.

Some character gets devastated in a movie, a book… or you hear about it in the news.  You see the tornado or the mudslide or rain torrents destroying houses, schools, churches, lives.  People are broken by earthquakes and cholera.  And then some pundit announces, “they’ll have to move on.”

A beloved child dies, 31 students are massacred, and we are exhorted… to “move on.”

To what, where, how? 

Why… to the future, of course.  That great meme in the sky.

And so Obama, master of ceremonies, magician of memes, declaims in his State of the Union, “The future is ours to win.”

And—presto!–the future becomes something tangible, something already there—the brass ring just needing deft fingers to grab.  We have only to see ourselves “winning” it, and it is ours.  (Kind of like Texas and northern Mexico in 1848!)  The eternal vision of the vanquishable American frontier.

Except that… eleven years into our new millennium, one hopes for something more!

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child. … But now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things.”

We should know by now that the future is not something to conquer, something to “win,” but something to share, and that we’ll never understand the future—and very possibly not survive into it—without integrating our past and present, knowing truly what we have done, from where we’ve come, and what we are now in this crazy quilt of peoples and species blanketing this planet.  We need “integration” in the sense of wholeness and integrity.  Attachment to memes divides and tribalizes us.  The ability to discern and assay our common lot, can unify our fracked and fractured, our wounded planet. 

How to be whole again?  Fully aware, conscious and conscientious? To look beyond memes, to probe deeper, to ascend to a higher view?

Memes are signposts, markers on the road to Oz.  When we meet the Wizard, we must challenge him wisely, or lose mind, heart, courage—and never get back home.  Life is learning… putting away, with cherished memories if we’re lucky, childish things.

Our problem is not so much that we have chosen the wrong memes, as that we have failed to develop the discernment to know what is what—how to value correctly, to espy the very real tribulations we shall reap from disparities of wealth, the plundering of resources, greed and stupidity.  We celebrate the quick-buck hucksters, the mealy-mouthed impostors, and disparage the steady, steadfast striving after excellence and truth. 

And we wonder about happiness?  And how to serve our nation and our world?  And how to organize for the struggle?

“See, now they vanish,” the poet wrote. 

“The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,

To become renewed, transfigured in another pattern.” 


“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”


GARY CORSERI has published/posted work at Cyrano’s Journal Online, The Greanville Post, Global Research, CounterPunch, L.A. Progressive, The Smirking Chimp, Dissident Voice, The New York Times, Village Voice, and hundreds of other venues.  His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and at universities.  His books include the novels, Holy Grail, Holy Grail and A Fine Excess, and the literary anthology (edited), Manifestations.  He has been a professor in the U.S. and Japan, taught in prisons and public schools, worked as a grape-picker and furniture-mover in Australia, a gas station attendant, a door-to-door salesman.  He has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum. He can be reached at gary_corseri@comcast.net or garyscorseri@gmail.com.

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