1

The math of runaway warming

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EDITED AND HOSTED BY THE GREANVILLE POST


Eric Schechter


A 26-minute video explaining feedback loops, exponential growth, etc. in nontechnical terms. Transcript (and links) at http://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/ru... .

 
 

[su_panel color="#1d1919" border="1px solid #24476d" padding="10" shadow="2px 0px 1px #eeeeee" radius="7" target="blank"] Eric Schechter, a special contributing editor at The Greanville Post,  is a Mathematics professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University.  He maintains a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/eric.schechter.7509. He blogs at https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/ [/su_panel]




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100 companies drive climate change forward & we can absolutely do something about that

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Lee Camp


 
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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]nly 100 companies will sign humanity’s death sentence. That’s it. One hundred corporate boards filled with sociopaths. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

In recent weeks, climate activists in New York City jammed up foot traffic on Wall Street with a die-in, covering themselves in fake blood and lying on the ground. Other activists in Washington, D.C., blocked intersections using a variety of tactics, gridlocking traffic and pissing off a lot of people. It seems clear that when it comes to our impending extinction, practically no one cares, unless it means they have to sit in traffic for 10 extra minutes. Apparently there is nothing that upsets Americans more than being stuck in their car, moving at a negative MPH, completely unable to get to the jobs they fucking hate.

And that’s why those are the types of protests that matter—the ones that interrupt the flow of capitalism, not the colorful marches where we all show up for two hours while the politicians we’re ostensibly trying to influence go play golf. I’m not saying don’t get involved in the friendly marches—I’m just saying our rulers don’t care that you did. It’s like when you dress up your baby in a costume: I’m not saying you have to stop, but you’re only doing it for yourself. The ruling elite, like your baby, doesn’t actually care.

But since I aim to please, here’s a point for those of you who don’t give a shit about the climate crisis. The corporations that are screwing up your life, tainting your water, polluting your air, buying up your favorite coffee shop and turning it into a gas station, sucking your tax dollars up through subsidies, and all the while paying their employees a warm can of farts per hour—those corporations are the same ones creating the climate catastrophe.

In fact, The Guardian reported that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These include Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Chinese and Russian coal, Chevron, BP, CNPC, ConocoPhillips, Gazprom, Lukoil, Total, Petrobas and many others.

One hundred incredibly rich yet morally bankrupt companies. That’s it.

It gets even worse. The Carbon Majors Report revealed that more than half of all industrial emissions over the past 30 years were put out by just 25 corporate and state-owned entities. Twenty-five companies are killing us, smothering us, stealing our futures while choking us (and not the fun kind of consensual choking done in the bedroom. This is the bad kind of choking that results in drought and hurricanes and your dog stuck in a tree!).

Basically, a tiny number of sociopaths make the decisions that are currently dooming us all, and as much as I’d like to tell you otherwise, those people don’t even notice if we all march outside in colorful hats. The marches are kinda like those “rate your experience” things at airports and restaurants, with giant color-coded buttons that feature four choices, ranging from a smiley face all the way down to the dreaded frowny face. I hate to get conspiratorial, but I’m 84% certain that those buttons aren’t even connected to anything. The powers that be just know that you feel better if you think you gave your opinion. Although I will say that the last time I “rated my experience,” I actually did get a response from TSA at the airport. I was only halfway through taking a dump on the frowny face when guys with guns showed up.

Point is, the only protests that create change are those that interrupt the flow of business, because these corporations will not give up easily. Too much profit rests in the balance for them to stop their prolonged execution of the human race.

The Guardian article continues: “Fossil fuel companies risked wasting more than two trillion dollars over the coming decade by pursuing coal, oil and gas projects that could be worthless in the face of international action on climate change and advances in renewables – in turn posing substantial threats to investor returns.”

They have made a two trillion-dollar gamble that we will all keep using fossil fuels even as society collapses. So they don’t just have a dog in the race, they have a goddamn elephant riding on top of a T. rex riding on top of Mike Pompeo. (One can argue that such an animal would not fare well in a race, but it is undeniably a significant beast to have in said contest.)

And I realize that for the average American—the regular person scraping by, trying to get the kids to eat, the dogs to poop and the grandpa to shut up for one second—climate change isn’t his or her top concern. But the truth is, your daily troubles are connected to the same corporations that are causing the largest existential threat we fleshy apes have ever faced. The higher-ups at those organizations control our governments, and therefore, our day-to-day lives.

As Tamara Pearson writes for Common Dreams, “The CEOs making these calculated decisions are hubristic-parasites with a fallacy-fetish, who treat wealth as a game—declaring themselves winners when they have more zeros than whole countries, while treading all over our magical habitat in their race for wealth. … Spoon-fed elitists who are so white and male and wealthy that they aren’t touched by the problems they create.”

While I love Pearson’s analysis, she’s wrong about one thing. These parasites are not only white and male. As President Obama pointed out last year in a speech, “American energy production, you wouldn’t always know it, but it went up every year I was president. … And you know that … suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer … that was me, people.”

Our former president is actually proud of the fact that he helped put the nail in our coffin. When the ruling elite don’t think you’re paying attention, they brag about their crimes—the same way you or I might sit around privately and say, “Man, you wouldn’t believe how much weed I smoked last night.” Our powers that be sit around boasting, “Man, you wouldn’t believe how many regulations I gutted last night.”

The 100 corporations actively suffocating us in a blanket of global warming emissions are the same ones that run our government. They have wrapped their tentacles around our politicians, the regulatory agencies and the criminal justice system. It’s now one big, incestuous, money-obsessed pile of X-rated nastiness—and you and I are not part of it. We are the cannon fodder, the collateral damage, the chum. Until we stop these corporations, the expiration date of the human race is set in stone.

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Up to You.

^3000US citizens have no real political representation.

We don't live in a democracy. And our freedom is disappearing fast.

I don't want to be ruled by hypocrites, whores, and war criminals.

What about you? Time to push back against the corporate oligarchy.

And its multitude of minions and lackeys.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
You can join Lee Camp’s free email newsletter here. This column is based on a monologue written by Lee Camp and performed on his television show “Redacted Tonight.” Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of the weekly comedy news...

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ALL CAPTIONS AND PULL QUOTES BY THE EDITORS NOT THE AUTHORS

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A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

HELP ENLIGHTEN YOUR FELLOWS. BE SURE TO PASS THIS ON. SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON IT.

We share this planet; we do not own it.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HELP THE PLANET TODAY?

APPEARING ON POLITICAL ANIMAL—
Christian Stache interviews Victor Wallis about resistance in the German Hambach Forest, class politics, technology, progress and an ecological-economic conversion.

THIS INTERVIEW BY CHRISTIAN STACHE OF VICTOR WALLIS WAS TRANSLATED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE OCTOBER 6 2018 ISSUE OF THE BERLIN-BASED DAILY NEWSPAPER JUNGE WELT (YOUNG WORLD), WHICH BEARS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ENGLISH-LANGUAGE TEXT.

Christian Stache: Recently, a huge socio-ecological conflict escalated in the Hambach Forest in Germany. Have you heard about it in the US?

Wallis

Victor Wallis: It was not widely covered in the corporate media, but there was very good coverage on the independent Democracy Now! program, whose host, Amy Goodman, spent a week in and around Bonn during the recent international conference, and visited some of the occupiers in their tree-houses. Singer/songwriter David Rovics has just now posted a tribute, in narrative and song, to the forest-protectors and to the journalist Steffen Meyn who died tragically while attempting to cover their story.

CS: How do you characterize the struggle? Are there decisive similarities with, for example, the battles against oil pipelines in North America?

VW: It is a classic case of confrontation between a big corporation and people trying to save a priceless ecosystem. There is a definite parallel with the clashes in North America, including especially the more recent battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which government forces intervened decisively on the side of the corporation.

CS: You recently published Red-Green Revolution (Political Animal Press 2018) which has a special focus on ecosocialist politics. Can you explain what makes politics ecosocialist? How does it differ from the ecological politics, for example, of the Green Parties, the United Nations or the big environmental NGOs like Greenpeace?

VW: Ecosocialist politics is based on recognizing that a sound ecological policy cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. In order to restore (to the extent possible) the health of the ecosphere, it is necessary that economic decisions be no longer based on the capitalist goals of maximizing profit and accumulating wealth. They should instead be based on the common interest of humanity, which is bound up with the health of the natural environment. The only way to define what this common interest requires is through a thoroughly democratic process of informed public debate, adequately structured in such a way as to equip everyone with the necessary time, ability, encouragement, and information. (Time includes paid time at work; ability presupposes adequate universal education; encouragement depends on the organization and facilitation of discussions, allowing for differences between different individuals; information depends upon wide diffusion of pertinent facts and analyses, free of distortion by commercial interests.) An organization like Greenpeace does important educational work, but none of the organizations you refer to here have acknowledged the need to transform the framework within which economic decisions are arrived at.

CS: What is the ecosocialist strategy and what are the tasks for ecosocialists in confrontations like the one in the Hambach Forest?

VW: There is no single “ecosocialist strategy” applicable to every struggle, but it is increasingly clear that nonviolent direct action such as that undertaken by the defenders of the forest is a vital part of the ecosocialist movement. Even if the resistance to a particular capitalist project is defeated, the actions that go into it – especially if they are filmed and if the video is widely diffused — can raise the general level of public awareness. These actions can thus help lay the groundwork for building the wider political force that will be necessary in order to displace the capitalist class from its position of power.

CS: One focus of your work is the analysis and critique of “technology” and “progress”. Both concepts have become quite controversial. They are rightfully identified with ecological destruction and with the exploitation and oppression of humans in the service of capital. Why and how do you stick with these concepts? Don’t we also need new mechanical, organizational and social technologies to build an ecosocialist society?

VW: I distinguish between capitalist “progress” and real progress. I put the capitalist version in quotation marks because it does not signify improvement of the human condition. In fact, in many ways it debases the condition of people as well as that of the natural environment. This has been recognized for a long time. Capitalist “progress” is narrowly goal-oriented, and the choice of economic targets is driven by competitive criteria which disregard the wider impact of a given production process or a given product. For example, the development and marketing of pesticides pays no attention to their general effects on species-life, including the lives of the workers who are charged with applying them.

CS: And what about technology?

VW: One cannot be “against technology”; even the most basic human pursuits, such as the production of food, involve technology at some level. The question that needs to be posed is: what is the basis on which a given technology will be selected for the achievement of a particular goal? You ask whether ecosocialism requires new technologies. If we speak in the narrow sense of physical devices, the answer is: not necessarily. Devices like bicycles and solar collectors already exist. But technology also has to be viewed in the broader sense of how space is allocated (e.g., between virgin land, cultivated land, and paved surfaces) and how production is organized. In this regard, it is certain that new approaches will be needed, although we should add that some of what is introduced may reflect the practices of earlier historical epochs (e.g., for preserving local biodiversity).

CS: One central approach by the ruling class to avoid a real solution to the social and ecological questions at stake today and to revitalize capitalism is technological innovations. The German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, for example, recently announced that they approved tests of the Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) method by which CO2 emissions will be captured and stored in the ground. How is it possible to develop useful technologies and prevent them from becoming another “force of destruction,” as Marx and Engels put it?

VW: Again, the precondition for this is to have full democratic discussion, as opposed to the decrees of capitalist enterprises. Such discussion is desirable not only for its psychological and motivational benefits, but also because it allows for the fullest possible exploration – free of concerns about competition or “trade secrets” – of all the consequences of a particular technological choice. As for taking carbon out of the atmosphere, a more promising approach than capitalist geo-engineering schemes is the approach of regenerative agriculture (see bio4climate.org). To apply this widely, however, would require rejecting the chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, and genetic engineering approaches of capitalist agribusiness.

CS: Innovations of new technologies are one way to tackle environmental destruction without confronting its root causes. Are there other comparable strategies?

VW: The two most important types of positive step that can be taken within a capitalist framework are 1) initiatives on the part of particular enterprises and 2) regulations or incentives established by governments. These two steps are somewhat interdependent, in that the enterprise initiatives – such as the use of solar technology – may be taken partly as a result of government policies (although they also reflect a certain sector of consumer demand). In the other direction, the government measures reflect in part the common interest of capital in preventing too severe a deterioration in the conditions – including public opinion – within which it must operate. However, the “good” steps taken by some enterprises do not put an end to the “bad” steps – such as fracking operations – that continue to be taken by others, and the few progressive measures that may be taken by one governing party may easily be reversed by a later one as is now happening in the US under the Trump administration.

CS: In your book, you distance yourself from various positions on ecological politics which have gotten some support particularly among left liberals such as the so-called anti-catastrophist stance. What do anti-catastrophists stand for and why do you consider their standpoint to be incompatible with an ecosocialist project?

VW: Anti-“catastrophists” argue that because of the urgency of the environmental crisis, we should prioritize policies that are acceptable within a capitalist framework. They claim falsely that advocating a socialist transformation means rejecting any near-term steps that fall short of socialism. No. Near-term steps are necessary, but they should be chosen and implemented as part of a strategy for radical transformation. The urgency of the crisis moreover creates conditions in which people can more easily understand the need for radical solutions. And, having a comprehensive or radical vision has the additional benefits of inspiring people with a positive goal and providing a framework for unifying various oppositional constituencies into a cohesive political force.

CS: This sounds like a classic reformist critique of ecosocialism. But in what sense are they against catastrophism?

VW: I put the word “catastrophism” in quotation marks because it is a derogatory term created by its users to denigrate those who argue, as I do, that the gravity of the crisis requires a radical or revolutionary response. The anti-“catastrophists” want to convey the idea that those who call capitalism into question, under present conditions, are driven by a kind of panic – leading them to set an unrealistic goal – and that reasonable people will therefore limit themselves to pursuing policies that can be implemented within a capitalist framework.

CS: In Germany, a debate on “new class politics” has been going on for some time among Leftists. Until now, the purport is that the left should revive class politics but place them among struggles for democratic emancipation based on identity and difference. You argue the other way around. Why should we consider class politics to be the basis for collective organization and action without downgrading other struggles?

VW: The basic reason for an overarching class politics is that this is what is imposed upon society by the capitalist class. The capitalist class can diversify its political elite and its cultural icons in the dimensions of skin-color, gender, and sexual orientation, but this has no bearing on its acceptance of the major obstacle to environmental restoration, which is the capitalist organization of the production process. A more “diverse” ruling class is still a ruling class.

CS: A central problem in the conflict over the Hambacher Forest is that the chairman of the works council (Betriebsrat) and the relevant union, the IG BCE (Industrial Union Mining, Chemistry, Energy), rather support RWE. Unfortunately, this is no isolated case. How is it possible to organize the working class to support protest and resistance against ecological destruction?

VW: There are disagreements within the working class on such matters. The sectors that immediately support the capitalist/productivist/developmentalist approach are those whose jobs are tied to the particular capitalist projects. This is a worldwide problem. A successful response will not come quickly, but it will involve a combination of considerations. First, a much larger proportion of the working class is not in the position of the union that you refer to. Second, the projects that these unions endorse are typically short-term, meaning that the workers will have to seek other jobs when they are completed. Third, all these workers are at the same time part of a larger community, whose members, if suitably educated, can remind them that no one is immune to the long-term impact of environmental devastation. Finally, this raises the key question of conversion. The great task of winning over such sectors of the working class requires offering them a positive scenario, whereby they can envision as an alternative not unemployment, but rather employment in more beneficial projects, organized and managed collectively by themselves. Historically, such scenarios have often arisen in times of revolutionary ferment.

CS: You propose an ecological and economic conversion program as a form of bridge between ecosocialist reform and revolution. What does such a project look like and is there a strategy of where to start?

VW: If the project is to be effective, it will require strong leadership and coordination at every level of society. This will in turn require that power be in the hands of a political party that not only recognizes what needs to be done, but owes its ascension to a popular movement grounded in such understanding. This is indeed not easy to imagine happening. There is certainly no guarantee that it can occur. But with the further environmental disasters that are sure to come, people’s readiness to envisage radical goals – and act on them – may suddenly accelerate. The likelihood of this happening depends in part, of course, on the quality and the diffusion of the analyses that ecosocialists can put forward. In the meantime, significant preparatory steps may be taken on the basis of initiatives “from below”, such as forming cooperative enterprises and introducing methods of “regenerative agriculture” to draw carbon back into the soil and restore biodiversity at the local level.


POLITICAL ANIMAL IS AN OPEN FORUM FOR SMART AND ACCESSIBLE DISCUSSIONS OF ALL THINGS POLITICAL. THROUGH OUR BOOKS, MAGAZINE, AND OUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINT, THE VIEWS THAT WE PRESENT WILL SUPPORT AND CHALLENGE YOUR OWN OPINIONS ON A VARIETY OF SUBJECTS, BOTH TIMELY AND TIMELESS. WE BELIEVE THAT WHAT UNITES PEOPLE IS NOT AGREEMENT, BUT THE NEED TO DISCUSS. WHEREVER YOUR BELIEFS LIE ON THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM, THERE IS A PLACE FOR YOU HERE. OUR COMMITMENT IS TO QUALITY, NOT PARTY, AND WE INVITE ALL POLITICAL ANIMALS TO SEIZE THEIR VOICE WITH US.


About the Author
  Christian Stache is an independent scholar who earned his PhD in social and economic history from the University of Hamburg, Germany. His first book Kapitalismus und Naturzerstörung. Zur kritischen Theorie des gesellschaftlichen Naturverhältnisses (Capitalism and the Destruction of Nature: Towards a Critical Theory of the Relation Between Society and Nature) was published in 2017 (it is available for free online here: https://shop.budrich-academic.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/9783863883089-1.pdf?v=3a52f3c22ed6). His fields of interest are Marxism, Ecology, Ecosocialism and human-animal relations

Victor Wallis is a professor of Liberal Arts at the Berklee College of Music. He was for twenty years the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy and has been writing on ecological issues since the early 1990s. His writings have appeared in journals such as Monthly Review and New Political Science, and have been translated into thirteen languages.

He is the author of the book Red-Green Revolution, published by this magazine’s parent company, Political Animal Press.

Read more of Victor’s writings on Political Animal Magazine here.



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Supreme Court Grants Government’s Extraordinary Appeal, Pauses Kids Climate Case

HELP ENLIGHTEN YOUR FELLOWS. BE SURE TO PASS THIS ON. SURVIVAL DEPENDS ON IT.

Fossil fuels, animal agriculture and an amoral industrialism have created the current ecoanimal catastrophe. Understand your place in the collapsing web of life.

By Karen Savage, Climate Liability News

The US Supreme Court granted the Trump administration request to halt the kids climate case, Juliana v. United States.

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts: A Southern reactionary doing his assigned job. Private, short-term gains over the public interest and that of nature. Capitalist values of transparent criminality.

The U.S. Supreme Court has put the brakes on the landmark youth-led climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States.

In a one-page order issued Friday by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., the court granted a request made earlier this week by the Trump administration to stay discovery and trial pending review of its newly filed petition for writ of mandamus.

Roberts also ordered the plaintiffs to respond to the government’s mandamus petition no later than Wed. Oct. 24.

Trial in the case was previously set to begin on Oct. 29 in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore.

The Trump administration has repeatedly asked both the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the trial via writ of mandamus, a rarely used and even more rarely granted appeal in which a higher court overrules a lower court before a verdict has been issued. The Ninth Circuit has twice turned down the request for mandamus (and a third is pending) and the Supreme Court turned down a previous one as well.

“We are confident once Chief Justice Roberts and the full Court receive the youth plaintiffs’ response to defendants’ mischaracterization of their case, the trial will proceed,” said Julia Olson, co-counsel for the young plaintiffs.


Our naive question is this: Why isn't this brave judicial case largely ignored by the commentariat? Why isn't everybody talking about it???


The case has survived numerous attempts by the government to dismiss the case since it was originally filed in 2015. The 21 young plaintiffs from around the country argue that the federal government is violating their Constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by promoting an energy system that exacerbates climate change. They are asking for a science-based program to reduce carbon emissions and protect the climate for future generations.

“As the Supreme Court has recognized in innumerable cases, review of constitutional questions is better done on a full record where the evidence is presented and weighed by the trier of fact. This case is about already recognized fundamental rights and children’s rights of equal protection under the law,” Olson said.



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Societal Death or Transfiguration? Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

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 by


Still from “Downsizing.”


How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018:

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.

I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.

I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizingwere the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?


The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 Manuel Garcia, Jr, once a physicist, is now a lazy househusband who writes out his analyses of physical or societal problems or interactions. He can be reached at mangogarcia@att.net 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

ALL CAPTIONS AND PULL QUOTES BY THE EDITORS NOT THE AUTHORS

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CODA

Let us never forget that it is the tiny grouplets of plutocrats in the West that control all major governments that have brought the world to this horrid pass. And their main citadel was and remains the US. Their sociopathy and indifference to anything except their short-term self-interest have blocked any visionary leadership worthy of the name, and what we have is lies upon more filthy lies, and deference to vicious criminals while the planet falls apart. 

Up to You.

^3000US citizens have no real political representation.

We don't live in a democracy. And our freedom is disappearing fast.

I don't want to be ruled by hypocrites, whores, and war criminals.

What about you? Time to push back against the corporate oligarchy.

And its multitude of minions and lackeys.