By Eric Schechter
NOTE: This essay is a work in progress and the author is making frequent changes and additions worth your attention. Please visit his personal site at
http://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/ for any revisions.
ABOVE IS Dürer’s 1498 illustration of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, described in Revelation 6:1-8. It seems appropriate for our present time: Life as we know it is ending. Soon we must choose between a vastly different and better life, and no life at all.
We are now under attack by many “horsemen”: unemployment, theft, hunger, cruelty, war, plutocracy, exploitation, madness — and more recently ecocide, which adds a time limit to our torment. These many afflictions cannot be addressed separately, for they all feed one another, and they all originate from a common source, a philosophy of separateness that has gained legitimacy and has become prevalent in our society.
To halt any of these ongoing crises would require an enormous change in our political, economic, technological, and communication systems. But those systems are firmly in the mindless grip of the plutocracy, which perpetuates the status quo and will not permit real reforms. And the status quo actually means things getting worse for all of us outside the plutocracy:
Sweatshop exploitation and poverty will grow, as unshared mechanization continues. Wars will worsen, as people learn more ways to make weapons. The oil-based economy cannot outlast the oil. And if ecocide continues much further, all of us — including the plutocracy — will perish.
* Some people think that we can solve our problems through law. But history has shown that laws are useless unless a society stands behind them. Laws can be evil in their own right (slavery; the so-called “Patriot Act”); laws can be twisted and misinterpreted to mean something different from their original intent (14th Amendment turned into corporate personhood); and laws can be disregarded altogether (unconstitutional wars, tortures, and denial of habeas corpus and the Posse Comitatus act by recent presidents).
And some people think the solution lies in small, localized government. An excellent case for that was made by Peter Gelderloos: only big government can make war and oppress people en masse. But the Jim Crow laws of the southern USA showed that local government, too, can oppress people, and might be stopped from doing so only by big government.
I remain convinced that the crucial thing we need is a cultural change; laws will then follow.
To bring real change, we must entirely de-legitimize the philosophy of separateness, and expunge it from our culture — i.e., we must see it for the destructive ideology that it is, and we must spread that understanding. We must change how we relate to one another; we must change human nature itself. This will amount to a cultural* and spiritual revolution of empathy and solidarity. Far more than just a change of government, this change in our lives will be greater than any since the development of agriculture ten thousand years ago. Nothing less will enable our survival, but such a change will bring us far more than survival — it will end not only ecocide, but also war, unemployment, exploitation, etc. — it will remake the world entirely.
The change begins with you talking to your friends. But it will be difficult, because so many people are deluded (don’t know) or alienated (don’t care). All we can do is to keep talking with people, and hope for the best. I’ll explain the situation as well as I’ve understood it, though I’ll also explain that no one has it all figured out (not even me).
The movement for change is already quite large, without center, and with many names. If we’re looking for a new name, I might suggest the ten thousand year revolution, to emphasize the enormity of the change. I also like Gaian revolution, referring to Greek mythology’s personification of Mother Earth, and also referring to environmentalist James Lovelock’s perception of the ecosphere as a single system, perhaps even an organism; indeed, lately I’ve begun to describe myself as a “Gaian.” Some people have suggested The Shift, The Great Turning, and Transition as names. Some people would like to read their religions into the great change — e.g., some think it’s what Jesus really had in mind; some see it as a fulfillment of the Native American prophecies about Rainbow Warriors; and I can see in it some elements of Buddhism, too. I also see in it elements of democratic socialism and anarchism, but I am reluctant to use those labels — they are misunderstood too severely by too much of our society.
OUR COMPREHENSION IS SUBJECTIVE
To work together, we will need a better understanding of our differences. War, ecocide, unemployment, etc., are part of objective reality, but our understanding of those crises is unavoidably subjective: We all have different perceptions of what is going on, and why. And that subjectivity is not well understood by many of us in the USA. Our culture is still heavily influenced by the “Age of Reason” or “Age of Enlightenment”: philosophers tried to apply Isaac Newton’s style of reasoning to all subjects. But neurophysiologists and linguists are now realizing that the paradigm of physics applies only to the objects that physics studies — i.e., simple, dead things.
For instance, consider a shooting. On the surface, it appears to be an objective, concrete fact of physics: a bullet from one man’s gun enters the other man’s body. But how we feel about the event, how we react to it, depends on its significance:
Was it self-defense? murder? part of a justified war? part of an unjustified war?
For questions of this sort, answers cannot be objective and absolute. Any answers can only be formulated in terms of the models and frames and vocabulary through which we have learned to interpret the world. We all have different models — for instance, different people may subscribe to different theories about what constitutes a war, or about which wars are justified. These models are limited by our language, among other things, and different nations have different languages. We humans can only understand reality through models — but any model of reality, being merely an explanation in words, is simpler than reality and therefore must be somewhat unrealistic.
A naïve version of Buddhism would urge us to try to see the world directly, “as it is,” without the interposition of any models and interpretations; but that would leave us as helpless as a newborn babe. Models filter data that would otherwise be excessive and unsorted — e.g., for travelers, generally a road map is more helpful than an aerial photograph. Rather than see without models, I think a wiser goal is just the opposite: to become familiar with many models, to apply each as appropriate, and in this fashion to avoid being dependent upon and blinded by any one of them.
Any word is only a model, and it may mean different things to different people. The dictionary may give an official definition of the word “war,” but that doesn’t make it right in any absolute sense: Perhaps a slightly different definition — one that we haven’t thought of yet — would yield a more helpful way of understanding our world.
Here is an example of that: If you get caught up in the question of whether or not a certain person is a “terrorist,” it might never occur to you to ask how the word “terrorist” came to have its present meaning. What assumptions are implicit in that usage? Whose purposes are served by dividing “terrorists” from “non-terrorists” in that particular fashion? How does the word differ from “freedom fighter,” “resistance,” or “militarist”? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I feel the word “terrorist” is being used in a way that distorts our perception of reality in a way that is detrimental to the goals and values I believe in. Whenever I hear anyone using that word, I ask them to restate their idea using other words.
We humans are not very imaginative, and it is seldom that any of us discovers or invents a new way of seeing things, a new word or concept, a new model or part of a model. The models presented in a college course in philosophy may not be sufficient for the needs of our present world, and at any rate most of us have never taken such a course. And our corporate communications media offer us only a very narrow range of interpretations of events — more about that in the next section.
Some people hold philosophical views so different from our own that we may see them as crazy, stupid, or evil; we may be tempted to say “you can’t reason with those people.” And they see us that way too. But they aren’t going away, so we’d better keep trying to understand them, to understand how to heal our culture.
Because we humans can only see reality through our imperfect models, we can be sure that none of us (not even me) is seeing things exactly as they are. Nevertheless, despite the incompleteness of our knowledge, we have a duty to act upon whatever we are reasonably certain of. And yet, the more we act on our beliefs, the more we feel committed to them, and the more readily we blind ourselves to other views. Thus, one of our duties is to constantly struggle for self-awareness, to be aware of our feeling of commitment and how it may be biasing us. We are less objective than most of us realize. Chris Mooney wrote:
… when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.
Modern technology is making it increasingly easy for us to live in an echo chamber, to mainly have conversations with people who already agree with us (see Bill Bishop and Eli Pariser on this). We all have different trusted sources for what we believe to be factual information and meaningful models, and our trust cannot be won through debate. (Nevertheless, I will recommend my own favorite sources: Alternet, Common Dreams, and Democracy Now!.)
No one has a complete answer to all the world’s problems. Not even me. For instance, consider the most important question of all:
How can we all learn to live together in peace?
If anyone had a complete answer to that question, then we’d already have world peace; clearly, we’re not there yet. “Wait!” you say,
“if only everyone would listen to my answer, we’d have peace!”
But, indeed, how will you get everyone to listen to your answer? Knowing how to do that is a crucial part of the answer, and none of us has found that part. It cannot be separated from the rest of the answer, because communicating with everyone is necessary for peace — it must be achieved by consensus; it cannot be imposed by force or control.
It would be nice to find a magic phrase that would switch on a light in people’s heads, and then they’d tell their friends, who would then tell their friends, and so on, and by next morning the whole world would be enlightened. But none of us has found that phrase yet. Even Buddha and Jesus never found a way to spread their teachings to everyone. (And I haven’t found a way to get everyone to read this essay — but if you like it, please recommend it to other people!)
To get other people to listen to you more, you’re going to have to understand those people a lot better; perhaps you’ll achieve that by listening to them more. The knowledge that we are all seeking includes an understanding of each other, and that can only be found in conversation; perhaps that is the most important kind of action. And a new vision is always longer and more difficult to explain than the status quo; we must struggle to find the words. We must dig deeper than mere issues and policies — we must become aware of our own values, and the values of those around us. Be patient in conversation — after all,
what is obvious to one person is not obvious to another,
and even that fact is not obvious to some people! Mary Doria Russell said
“Wisdom begins when you discover the difference between ‘that doesn’t make sense’ and ‘I don’t understand.’.”
In most conversations, if other people don’t understand you, it’s probably not for lack of trying; and if you don’t understand them, probably that’s not their intention either.
DELUSION (everything you know is wrong)
The science fiction film THE MATRIX is primarily entertainment, but the premise with which it begins is a great metaphor for our era. In the world depicted by the film, nearly all of humanity is asleep, and plugged into a great computer that — for purposes of its own — manufactures a shared dreamed reality. That dream is called “The Matrix” by the few people who are awake and rebelling against the computer. Early in the film, a young sleeper called “Neo” takes the red pill and is thereby awakened, and it is a tremendously wrenching experience: the real world is vastly different from the dream.
Somewhat analogously, most of the “common knowledge” of most people in our own society is wrong. We are surrounded by misconceptions.
Some misconceptions are intentional. For instance, we now know that:
- for many years the cigarette companies knew but denied that research had proven that cigarettes were carcinogenic.
- the Jessica Lynch rescue story was a complete fabrication.
- the “errors” in the story of the death of Bin Laden cannot have been accidental.
- when Bush, Cheney, et al. said that they had indisputable proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they knew quite well that their only “evidence” was false testimony extracted by torture.
Project Uncensored lists many other, less famous deceptions. And — as Hitler himself explained (while accusing the Jews of lying) — really huge lies are sometimes the most convincing ones, because people will be reluctant to believe that anyone could have the impudence to tell such a huge lie. That sentiment was echoed by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director who had something dirty on everyone in Washington; he said “The individual is handicapped by coming face-to-face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists.”
Some misconceptions are unintentional — i.e., our newscasters and some of our other public figures may simply be passing along their own erroneous beliefs. They may dismiss and omit other ideas because they honestly believe those other ideas to be false or nonsensical.
The distinction between intentional and unintentional misconceptions is not always clear. Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Politicians routinely lie about all sorts of things, and some of them do not even attach much significance to that. Philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt describes a “bullshitter” as someone who is concerned not so much with propagating a particular falsehood, as with obscuring and devaluing truth, propagating confusion and imprecision, simply trying to sound good. The corporate news media, to save time and money, have cut down on fact-checking, and simply present any controversy in a “she said – he said” fashion, as though all opinions deserve equal respect and legitimacy, as though it does not matter if one is the truth and the other is a lie. [This conforms to the widely accepted PC idea that everyone is entitled to his opinion, implying that all opinions are of equal merit, an impossibility, and a case of “hyper-democracy” probably born of the elites’ desire to stroke the ego of the hoi polloi as they tighten the screws on their subservience.—Eds]
- In Neo’s world, the dreaming is altogether involuntary. But in our own world, the sleepers are collaborators in perpetuating the delusion, and so it has been called the consensus trance by some activists. Many of our sleepers are in denial, and do not want to be awakened, both because awakening would confront them with problems that are too great and terrifying, and because awakening would set them apart from their friends. They would rather believe that “everything is fine.”
- In Neo’s world the awakening is all-or-nothing. Here in our own world the awakening may be in stages, because the delusion is by topics — e.g., one might be deceived about climate change, or war, or the economy, or the possibilities in human nature, or several of those. (My own awakening began in early 2006; this essay describes some of the things I’ve learned since then.)
- In the world of THE MATRIX, all of physical reality is dreamed — clothing, cars, buildings, etc. In our own world, a car is actually a car, etc.; our world’s consensus trance alters some things other than our physical reality. These things, described below, cannot be depicted visually in a film, so perhaps a closer cinematic metaphor than THE MATRIX is not possible.
- Our consensus trance alters history. For instance, many people in our society still believe that nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought World War II to a close sooner, that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident actually happened, and that Saddam Hussein actually had weapons of mass destruction. The mainstream media makes major omissions.
- More subtly, but perhaps more importantly, our consensus trance misdirects our interpretation of the significance of events — i.e., the models through which we interpret the subjective parts of reality, as discussed in the previous section. In more detail:
Our corporate communications media are consolidated into ever fewer hands, particularly ever since the Powell Memorandum in 1971. Thus the media offer us only a very narrow range of interpretations of events, and only a very narrow range of models of how we might understand our lives, how we might relate to each other, and how we might choose to live.
For instance, the following assumptions are often implicit in the way that both news stories and entertainment stories are presented to us:
- our economic system is fair, and moreover it is the only system possible;
- the best plans are not at the extreme left or extreme right, but in the center, i.e., in maintaining the status quo, in not making any fundamental changes;
- perhaps global warming is a problem, but it’s not really urgent;
- the word “terrorist,” as it is commonly used, is meaningful and useful; and
- our soldiers have only fought in wars that were unavoidable and noble.
Have you accepted those assumptions without being consciously aware of them? They are as invisible, unnoticed, and unquestioned as the air we breathe. A chief strength of the grand deception is its misdirection. As Thomas Pynchon said,
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.
- “consensus” contains those concepts that everyone in the news media would accept without question;
- “deviance” contains those concepts that the news media would either ignore or ridicule as crackpot notions; and
- the intermediate zone of “legitimate controversy” contains those issues that the newscasters actually consider to be worth discussing.
The boundaries set by the news people generally have been accepted by the public, since the public has had no other sources of information; lately the internet has begun to change that. Ironically, most of the press is unaware of their role as gatekeepers, and so the Hallin diagram itself is actually a “sphere of deviance” concept.
The positioning of topics can occasionally change — for instance, almost single-handedly, Al Gore moved global warming nearly all the way from deviance to consensus, through the stages listed with the Gandhi picture at right. But politicians rarely exhibit such leadership; more often they stick to “safe” positions.
Perhaps even more important than the media, the marketplace itself habituates us to seeing everything in our lives in terms of the marketplace.
RESOURCE EXHAUSTION AND ECOCIDE
Our way of life is dependent on resources that are disappearing, much faster than most people realize.
We need major retooling of all our technologies: solar and wind power, mass transportation, bio-recyclable everything. That cannot be done instantly — it will require some research and development, which we should now be encouraging through subsidies. But nothing like that is going on right now. Unfortunately, the corporate media are paying little attention to the problems involved, the major corporations are actively denying that any change is needed in their present methods of reaping big profits, and our government has been captured by those corporations because winning elections requires expensive advertisements.
Our lifestyle is based thoroughly on the availability of cheap oil. We use gasoline to harvest our crops and to transport them to market; we use gasoline to drive our cars to, from, and around suburbia. How will we manage when the price of gasoline climbs higher? The demand for gas is climbing: now India and China are getting cars too. The world is now reaching peak oil: The easy-to-get oil is nearly all gone; we’re turning to the hard-to-get oil and to other risky energy sources such as nuclear power plants. This is resulting in environmental disasters.
And our entire ecosphere — including our food, water, and air — is being destroyed by global warming. This is controversial: Most scientists say global warming is real, but most conservative politicians say it’s a hoax. Whose “facts” are you going to trust? Personally, I trust the scientists, but I doubt that I’m going to change anyone’s mind about this. And I see many reasons for disbelief.
Perhaps the biggest reason is political. Naomi Klein has explained that if global warming is accepted as real, then it will require public policies contrary to everything the political right wing believes about the proper role of government in society.
Here are some other reasons that some people deny global warming:
- Big oil and other beneficiaries of the status quo have hired people to spread disinformation.
- A few of the advocates of climate legislation are investing in companies that would profit greatly by gambling on cap-and-trade carbon credits; thus their word rightly should be suspect.
- Some people claim that we will adapt to the new environment. Perhaps they have not understood how slowly evolution works. Or perhaps they envision moving us all, along with our farms and factories, into airtight underground bunkers for the next million years. I don’t think we have the time and resources to do that.
- Each part of The Matrix reinforces the other parts: “If warming were a real threat, wouldn’t the government be doing something about it?”
Another obstacle to understanding stems from the fact that we evolved as hunter-gatherers in a world that changed only slowly, in a mathematically linear fashion — i.e., changes were mostly at a constant rate, so the graph is a straight line. That is the only kind of change we can understand on a visceral level. It is only on an abstract level, if at all, that we can understand the mathematical nonlinearities in global warming:
- Feedback loops: The consequences of the change add to the causes of the change, and so the change gains speed — in fact, for a time it may accelerate exponentially, which is faster and more sudden than most people understand. For instance, polar ice reflects much sunlight back into outer space; but warming replaces the ice with absorptive dark water; thus the warming is accelerated. And as the oceans and the permafrost warm up, they are both releasing great amounts of stored methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.
- Tipping points — i.e., abrupt change after passing a threshold level. (If a canoe is tipped sideways just a little, it will tip right back to an upright position; but if it tips sideways too far, it will fill with water and sink.) The change could be very sudden, as in the dramatization THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, though it might not take the form depicted in that story.
- Delay effects: Even after we reduce or stop carbon emissions, our past carbon emissions will continue to warm the planet.
- * Indeed, when the melting of Greenland’s glaciers lowers the salinity of the nearby parts of the ocean a bit more, the North Atlantic Current may halt, resulting in the sudden arrival of an ICE AGE in Europe (as in the film The Day After Tomorrow). And that would be devastating for the rest of the world too, since all the national economies have become deeply interdependent. But it would only mean a redistribution, not a reduction, of the heat within the ecosphere. It would do nothing to alleviate the long-term problem of the planet’s overheating trend, which would reach Europe within a few more years even without the North Atlantic Current.
Inhomogeneity (unevenness and irregularity): Even while the average temperature — over the entire planet and the entire year — is rising, some places* may get colder for a while, especially during the winter. Climatologists, exasperated at trying to explain this, have accepted the euphemism of climate change.
Many people in our society will take warming seriously only after it becomes blatantly obvious, without the use of scientific models and measuring instruments. But by then it will be too late. They are like the man who fell off the top of a 100-story building, and who said, as he passed the 50th floor, “hmm, no serious problem so far.”
I view warming as a MUCH MORE URGENT problem than most climate scientists have wanted to say publicly, because they don’t want to look like sensationalists or alarmists. Climate scientists keep revising their models upward, and yet they still keep getting surprised by changes outpacing their models. (It makes me wonder if even some of the climate scientists, not being mathematicians, have failed to fully grasp the significance of exponential growth.) Scientists warn us that if we don’t soon halt the present trends, we will get into “runaway warming.” I don’t know why they’re describing things that way — we ALREADY have “runaway warming”!! Stopping it is going to be difficult.
The difficulties caused by warming will be enormous; it’s not just a day at the beach. Increasingly, weather will fluctuate to greater extremes: blizzards, hurricanes, floods, droughts (in different places), and perhaps more earthquakes too. Wet places will get wetter; dry places, drier. Arable land and sources of fresh water are diminishing. If any of us survive the resulting resource wars, those few will perish in a general collapse of the ecosystem by the time the planet’s average temperature has risen by 6°C / 10°F (at the latest).
But pollution may kill us sooner. The viability of the ecosystem depends on its diversity, but we’re losing species rapidly; we’re in the midst of the greatest mass extinction in millions of years. Each species depends on other species, and so each extinction contributes to others. When we lose enough species, we may pass a tipping point, and the remaining ecosystem may collapse rapidly, leaving only cockroaches and bacteria. Already, large regions in the oceans are dead, and our bees are dying out — are you aware that most of our crops depend on bees for pollination?
Unlike most of my fellow eco-activists, I do not believe that the answer is simply for us to get ourselves back to the garden. I think it’s already too late for that — the damage that has already been done is so great that, left to itself, it will kill us all through the delay effects. Our only hope is to use science-fictionish geo-engineering to make further artificial changes in the climate and the ecosystem, but this time to help Gaia — e.g., float trillions of tiny mirrors in the sky, or design a new microbe to transform the ocean, or something like that. But it must be planned carefully — as we’ve heard in so many apocalyptic science fiction movies, “we’ll only get one shot at this.” And it must be done soon, for with each passing day the problem becomes worse while the resources available for dealing with it become fewer. And it must be planned and carried out by a worldwide consortium of scientists who are not in the employ of for-profit contractors — we’ve already seen that “the market” cannot be entrusted with the health of the planet.
We need a re-tooling of all our technology, and that will require cooperation on a huge scale. But that will not happen as long as our society’s movers and shakers continue to be motivated solely by profit. Indeed, the widespread philosophy of separateness leads “entrepreneurs” to privatize and plunder the commons, rather than protect it. So re-tooling will require revolutionary change in our socio-economic system.
Decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr. said “the US government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”; it was true then and remains true today. All our wars are far away, so it’s easy to forget what a hell we’re making of other people’s lives. (It’s the “third world war” — i.e., a war upon the third world.) But I can argue against our wars on selfish grounds too: Our wars are bankrupting us while making us less safe.
In the USA, over half of every tax dollar goes to the military. We’d solve our economic problems overnight if we stopped fighting so many stupid, pointless wars. (Is the bankruptcy intentional?) President Eisenhower warned us, half a century ago, of the military-industrial complex, which profits from all wars, win or lose, justified or unjustified, and somehow always manages to give us reasons that we need another war. And Washington — almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the military-industrial complex — has been lying* to us about the justifications for one war after another, for decades, in bipartisan and nearly unanimous fashion; that is explained in David Swanson’s recent book WAR IS A LIE. (That includes our proxy wars — e.g., the occupation and apartheid in Palestine that our taxes pay for.) Our nation was founded on genocidal theft. And have you noticed that the USA’s military “humanitarian interventions” occur only in countries that are commercially valuable — e.g., countries that have oil, or countries that sit on a major oil pipeline route?
* But what about World War II, the so-called “good war”? Was that a lie too? As it is presented in our movies nowadays, the German Nazis were cold, ruthless, cruel, sadistic totalitarians; they were evil incarnate. In our culture, “Nazi” has become synonymous with “satanic.” The winners get to write history.
But actually the callous brutality of the US military, then and now, rivals that of the Nazis. We’ve got our own list of war crimes, which I won’t bother to recount here.
Like Obama, I’m “not opposed to all wars, just stupid wars,” but apparently he finds fewer of them to be stupid than I do. I’m not certain whether World War II falls into that category. But at any rate, whether or not the USA had a good reason for entering World War II, the public was not given a good reason.
Why did the USA enter World War II? It wasn’t primarily to fight the Nazis, though the history has been repainted that way. Indeed, until shortly before the USA’s entry into the war, American feelings were mixed: fight against the Germans, fight against the Russians, or stay out of it altogether. Indeed, many Americans felt more closely allied with the capitalist Germans than with the socialist Russians. Franklin Roosevelt wanted to enter the war on the side of the Allies, and so he goaded the Japanese in various ways — aiding Japan’s enemies, conducting naval maneuvers near Japan, setting up an economic embargo of Japan — until Japan finally was provoked into attacking, giving FDR the excuse he was looking for.
When Truman nuked Japan, the excuse given was that this would bring the war to a close more quickly, and thus save many lives. That was not true. Through the indirect diplomatic channels that they had to use, the Japanese had already asked to surrender. They stopped short of unconditional surrender — they asked that their emperor be permitted to continue to live, as a powerless figurehead. But Truman used that exception as an excuse. Apparently his real reason for wanting to nuke two Japanese cities was to demonstrate his new weapon to Stalin.
But I truly believe that the wars would end if more people knew the truth about them. You and I and other working people have more in common with the peasants we’ve been bombing than with the fat cats in Washington and Wall Street who profit from the wars.
(Many people in our society are reluctant to believe that our own political “leaders” could lie to us about such matters. Let me just remind you that we are not a different species from Hitler and other tyrants.)
(Despite their lies, I cannot be sure about the motivations of the makers of war. Perhaps they are psychopaths who enjoy killing large numbers of people — or perhaps they are misguided but well-intentioned people who really do believe they are working for some noble cause that justifies their lies. However, my preference is for democracy, not rule by an elite that keeps secrets from us and claims to know what is best for us.)
Some of the U.S. military’s current actions make no sense whatsoever — I cannot even imagine lies that would justify them.
- The illegal pre-trial torture of Bradley Manning appears to have as its real purpose the intimidation of other soldiers, so that they will not also become whistle-blowers. But the law instructs soldiers to expose war crimes, not to become complicit in them. If Manning actually did what he is accused of, then he should be given a medal; the wrong people are in prison.
- The use of depleted uranium in weapons — which will permanently raise the frequency of birth defects in a nation that we are supposedly “liberating” — shows a psychopathic lack of concern about the well being of others.
Or maybe it’s just stupidity? In any case, through these actions and others the US government has forfeited any claim to legitimacy.
Oh, and let’s not forget that a moment of madness or error could produce nuclear war and end the whole world. (Indeed, it would have happened in 1983 if Stanislav Petrov had followed orders!) Fortunately, of all the nations that have ever had nuclear weapons, so far only one has ever been insane enough to use those weapons against humans.
Many people have been persuaded that 9/11 somehow justifies, or even necessitates, one or more of our current wars. But I draw just the opposite conclusion. Indeed, we are told the 19 hijackers were armed only with cheap box-cutters and determination — no nukes, tasers, etc. And even if we bomb their country and several neighboring countries back to the stone age, they’ll still be able to get their hands on box-cutters or other cheap, low-tech weapons. Thus, our wars do nothing to prevent future attacks like that of 9/11/01.
In fact, our wars are making us less safe. Our so-called “smart bombs” aren’t actually smart — they’re killing far more noncombatants than enemies, and so we’re making new enemies faster than we kill old ones. Every innocent bystander who we deprive of a home, a limb, or a loved one thereby gains a reason to pick up a box-cutter. Moreover, it will just get worse — it becomes ever easier for a few angry people to find ways to make terrible weapons, as knowledge continues to grow and spread. I expect that germ warfare soon will be cheap and easy, and it will not be preventable through surveillance. As long as a few people hate us, they will find ways to hurt us.
Evidently, we must stop giving other people reasons to hate us. Bush’s claim that “they hate us for our freedoms” was a lot of nonsense. History did not begin on 9/11/01. The attacks of that day, if not an inside job, were blowback — i.e., retaliation for past crimes by our military-industrial complex. For many years, while most Americans weren’t paying attention, we’ve permitted our government to prop up dictators and overthrow democracies whenever that has served the interests of a few large multinational corporations that have befriended a few politicians. We need to stop that sh*t.
The USA has claimed to be a protector of freedom and democracy, but it has a greater track record of protecting “stability,” [of plutocratic exploitative and tyrannical regimes—Eds] which is a euphemism for predictability through control — i.e., the opposite of freedom. Our military leaders are control freaks. They use a perpetual “war on terror” as a justification for spying on us while keeping secrets from us, which is just the reverse of how Thomas Jefferson and V said things should be. War is an excuse for all sorts of crimes, and euphemisms help too: Kidnapping is called “rendition”; imprisonment without trial is called “detention”: torture, including the extraction of false confessions, is called “enhanced interrogation.” Concentration camps sound nicer when they are called “refugee camps” or “reservations”; invading and putting people into concentration camps sounds nicer when it is called “settlement.” Murdering large numbers of innocent bystanders is called “terrorism” when the other side does it, but when our side does it, it is called “collateral damage.” We have followed the example of Arnaud Amalric, Abbot of Cîteaux in the 13th century crusades: When he was sacking the town of Béziers, and could not distinguish friend from foe, he indifferently said
“Kill them all. God will know which ones are his.”
We’re not making any friends that way. People don’t drop bombs on their friends.
I want people to be free, but that means I accept the possibility that they may do something I don’t like. I hope to reduce the likelihood of that, not through control — which is both unethical and unreliable — but through friendship. Only friendship can make us safe.
I wear a big conspicuous peace symbol, everywhere I go. I keep hoping that it will become a fad, a fashion, that nearly everyone will start doing it. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll continue wearing it and hoping. For me the symbol has come to represent far more than just the ending of bombs and bullets. Wars will continue as long as a few people can profit from them, and as long as people see their own interests as separate from the interests of other people. The ending of that attitude, and the spread of a worldwide caring community, is what I now see in the symbol.
JOBS AND THE DEFICIT HOAX
Lately there’s been a lot of noise about the deficit, and very little understanding. But any honest economist will tell you that during this time of high unemployment, increased stimulus spending, not a balanced budget, should be our primary concern, if we want to preserve our economic system. That may surprise some people, and needs to be explained:
An economy should not be viewed simply as a “zero-sum game,” an unchanging pie that is to be divided. Rather, it is an organism that is always changing and moving, and the sum is rarely zero. While the economy is healthy, it produces more than it consumes, and so people can pay taxes and the government can pay down some of its debt.
But if the [capitalist] economy slows down, it is ill. That’s where we are right now. When unemployment is high, ordinary people have less money, and so they purchase fewer goods and services. Consequently there is less demand for the people who create those goods and services, so many of those people get laid off, raising unemployment still higher. It’s a vicious cycle, called a recession or depression, and it can last for years. During this period, the economy consumes more than it produces, and so someone’s debt — the citizen’s, the nation’s, or both — must rise, no matter how the books are juggled. We have a great waste of resources: we have unemployed people adjacent to closed factories, two problems that could solve each other if our distribution system were more rational. Likewise, homeless people not far from empty houses. We have increased poverty, and in some places increased hunger.
Clearly, if we wish to preserve our current economic system, the most urgent task is to get people working again.
But some politicians claim otherwise, and they advocate “austerity measures” — i.e., cutting spending, especially on social programs — schools, roads, etc. That actually makes things worse, because it increases unemployment. Perhaps some of these “deficit hawks” simply have a poor understanding of economics; but Lakoff says — and I agree — that many of them don’t really care about ending the depression or even understanding it. They’re giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy friends who helped get them elected, and then using the resulting increased deficit as an excuse for austerity measures that they wanted to impose anyway, because of their philosophies of elitism and/or separateness, both discussed elsewhere in this essay.
They claim that tax breaks for the rich will stimulate the economy, but that claim is simply false, as a study of our economic history easily reveals. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. The market, growing ever more “efficient,” permits ever fewer crumbs to fall.
By experimenting, [and following Keynes’ insights into capitalist cycles] Franklin Roosevelt discovered how to end a depression: We should increase government spending, and the money should be directed primarily toward poor people, by outright subsidies or by hiring them.
For instance, right now the government could be hiring people to build public transportation systems and to install solar panels. After enough people regain employment, the economy will get moving at its proper speed, and then we can resume balancing the budget and paying off the debt.
(Fans of the New Deal have made a hero of FDR, who is perhaps the only president to have ever helped the middle class in a big way. But we cannot be sure where FDR’s loyalties really were. In his time, the labor movement was quite strong, and without the New Deal there might have been a socialist revolution. In other words, he used a little bit of socialism to bail out capitalism and to prevent a greater amount of socialism.)
(Some non-fans of FDR claim that the economic recovery had nothing to do with his stimulus spending; they attribute the end of the first great depression to World War II. But that was simply accelerated government stimulus spending. And at any rate, for evidence supporting the Keynesian theory, we can look at the several years immediately before USA’s entry into World War II. The economy improved every year that FDR exercised stimulus spending; but it slid back a bit in the one year when FDR tried instead to balance the budget.)
But this whole business of deficit hawks versus stimulus spending really is not the main issue, and perhaps I’ve given it more attention than it deserves. Stimulus spending might save the system of economic separateness each time it crashes, but it’s just going to crash again after a while. And stimulus spending will not stop the wars, the ecocide, or the long-term trend toward high unemployment neo-feudalism. The present economic crisis is not just a momentary aberration; rather, it is an intrinsic part of our present economic system, as I’ll try to explain at a later date.
ERIC SCHECHTER is a searcher of answers to the current global crisis. His philosophy comprises “born-again eco-anarcho-socialist-Buddhist” aspects, plus “Imagine” AND “Internationale.”
Version 5.43 by Eric Schechter 2011 June 26. Underlined magenta phrases are links. Your feedback is welcome. There is also a much shorter version.
Summary: Increasing war, unemployment, sweatshops, ecocide, extinction — only an enormous cultural revolution can save us.
Jump to sections: Intro • Subjectivity • Delusion • Ecocide • War • Jobs • Robots • Plutocracy • Elitism • Alienation • Awakening
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