2017-08-04

The Empire Express, 4 August 2017


Editorial

The reason the 'Train of Civilization' cartoon works so well as a running gag is civilization's actually being a train going in a relatively straight line from a beginning to an end at an ever-increasing speed. We are bridging gaps and penetrating obstacles to keep it going where it's heading. This behavioral linearity and this eschatological directedness is mirrored in the inability to explore off-track territory and to turn back to previous, more functional ways of being. The machine is not going to stop speeding up until we are running out of building materials for bridges, or are simply too fast to stay on track, or lose our ability to tunnel into reality's fabric. In any case, the train of civilization is going to catastrophically crash, either by jumping tracks, falling off of a cliff, or hitting a wall at full speed.

Most activists and their supporters and sympathizers may have a sense of such an event coming up rather sooner than later, but how close are we actually, and how will we respond when, finally, the day has arrived?

This recent collection of links has its focus for most part on how to face this world in all its beauty and decay, and whether there is something left for humans to be done. We get diverse answers from the Pentagon, Brian Calvert, Keith Farnish, and Confucius, among others. Words like 'apocalypse', 'dystopian', 'collapse', and 'doom' are popping up a lot, and SF author William Gibson has an explanation for this trend (see below), but the presence of such a word in an article does not keep most writers from promoting an active stance. Let yourself get surprised. The differences in view between the authors presented here are quite telling and I hope they help you make up your mind about where to find your place in the scenery.

Ongoing Assault


The end of the world is universal shorthand for whatever we don’t want to happen. We have very little control over anything much at all, individually, so fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency.”

Are we doomed? Let's have a conversation – Richard Heinberg, Resilience.org, 20170727
Even if – in all unlikelihood – we tackled every single one of our many converging crises with a technological fix civilization may still crash because of unintended side effects to those fixes. And there is no technical solution for social inequality anyway. So the lifestyle we are used to is basically toast. But that doesn't mean we are doomed, says Heinberg. If we collapsed consciously there'd be something left to rebuild upon. This conversation, though, is happening among few only.

Headline says it all: just your normal climate insanity being confirmed by dumbstruck scientists discovering that Earth's systems are unraveling faster than expected. Make no mistake, it's going to pick up even more speed and will exceed the damage projected in this study.

Withdraw,” Kingsnorth advised, “so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.”

The unhappy ape – Ben Kadel, Medium, 20170720
The irony is that a raft of recent research in positive psychology has basically rediscovered everything you already learned in kindergarten: money can’t buy happiness; it’s better to give than to receive; bullies are actually scared wounded souls. Science has confirmed what most traditions already teach about how to live a happy life […] Look around at the excesses and the misery, side-by-side. Look at Trump. This is what it looks like when you only care about yourself.”

Then what is science good for, when the things it teaches us about ourselves and the world just confirm what's commonplace, and when the technology it underlies alienates us from ourselves and the world? The article doesn't provide an answer, but maybe that's also not necessary. The path it promotes may lead you all by itself to some insight about the implications of civilized life.

Not in front of the children: liberal meditations of the apocalypse – Chris Shaw, Wrong Kind of Green, 20170719
The nature, problems, targets, and solutions to climate change are being discussed among middle class white men mainly. They bear the mark of cultural narcissism and fail to involve both decision makers and ordinary folks. A Scottish experiment came to interesting results when breaking these limits.

Men unlike gods – John Michael Greer, Ecosophia, 20170719
Similar to Shaw (see above) JMG explores how the myths of a select few drive the development of societies – into the abyss. Awareness of the drivers may become essential when being confronted with historical patterns.

Our study suggests, first, that thinning permafrost in a warmer climate may not only result in the frequently reported and discussed increased emission of biogenic CH4, but also in increased emissions of geologic CH4, that is currently still trapped under thick, continuous permafrost, as new emission pathways open due to thawing permafrost.”

Which is to say that the findings of Shakhova et al., from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, are being confirmed by research results from other parts of the Arctic. Subsea Methane deposits are already in the process of breaking open, about to release significant amounts of greenhouse gas. The authors conclude that the results indicate that geologic CH4 emissions may contribute strongly to the permafrost-carbon-climate feedback, especially in permafrost areas vulnerable to thawing and therefore warrant much more attention.”
It is to be noted that the data has been collected in 2012/13 already. For an easier to understand description of the issue, read Robin Westenra's article Methane seeps out as Arctic permafrost starts to resemble Swiss cheese.”

The planet is warming. And it's okay to be afraid – Margaret Klein Salamon, Common Dreams, 20170717
While I think both Mann and Holthaus are brilliant scientists who identified some factual problems in the article [“The uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells], I strongly disagree with their statements about the role of emotions—namely, fear—in climate communications and politics. I am also skeptical of whether climate scientists should be treated as national arbiters of psychological or political questions, in general. I would like to offer my thoughts as a clinical psychologist […] I hope that every single American, every single human experiences such a crisis of conscience. It is the first step to taking substantial action. Our job is not to protect people from the truth or the feelings that accompany it—it’s to protect them from the climate crisis.”

Brilliant!
There are only two elements here that I disagree with:
a) "dire discussions of the climate crisis should be accompanied with a discussion of solutions." -- What if there are no solutions, or if the problem-solution dichotomy is invalid? That would be part of the truth, wouldn't it?
It is not the duty of Cassandra to discuss escape routes, but to point at the things she alone seems to be able to see.

b) Salamon's "Victory plan" is a top-down approach requiring all the world's political and economic leaders, and especially their superiors to mend their wicked ways. Hand on heart: how likely is that? Are you willing to bet your life – and all life on the planet – on the outside chance that this is going to happen?

While the author correctly proposes that for kicking people into action truth must be told, she basically reduces them to consumers of solutions that Cassandra and the world's leaders are asked to provide. One more example of why someone being able to perform a brilliant situation analysis may not necessarily be as able deducing suitable actions.

Apart from repeating the "2100" myth Wallace-Wells' "The uninhabitable Earth" has done a great job at bringing runaway climate change to public awareness. The hysterical outcry across the whole spectrum confirms as much. The rapidly warming planet will tell the truth about the time frame.

Pentagon study declares American empire is 'collapsing' – Nafeez Ahmed, Insurge Intelligence, 20170717
The US military knows a few things the government denies, but its strategy proposes more of the same elements that brought about the crisis of Empire in the first place.

This is a war, then, between US-led capitalist globalization, and anyone who resists it. And to win it, the document puts forward a combination of strategies: consolidating the U.S. intelligence complex and using it more ruthlessly; intensifying mass surveillance and propaganda to manipulate popular opinion; expanding U.S. military clout to ensure access to 'strategic regions, markets, and resources'.”
The military, of course, wants to justify the budget it got allocated and the actions it is about to take against perceived enemies of US national security. There may be an element of exaggeration in this report, but they might as well understate some of the trouble the government doesn't want the general public to be aware of.

Simultaneous harvest failures in key regions would bring global famine.
'We have found that we are not as resilient as we thought when it comes to crop growing,' said Kirsty Lewis, science manager for the Met Office’s climate security team.”

Not news. Just for the records. Another July article reported an acutal 25% loss in olives and an acutal 75% loss in grains from Italy and Spain. That's a currently happening, observed, real life decline in food supply, due to climate change, and similar events have been reported from all continents.

The truth is that these other beings wouldn't need to be saved if civilization weren't killing them. The truth is that they can't be saved so long as civilization is killing the planet. And the truth is that in this culture there are certain topics which must never be discussed, certain self-perceptions and perceived entitlements which are never negotiable.
We would rather kiss ourselves and the entire planet good-bye than to look honestly at what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will, so long as we have this supremacist mindset, continue to do.”

Voluntary poverty as a way of life is millennia old. Wise men know for a long time already that material wealth has its downsides, especially regarding peace of mind and its consequences on human behaviour. It's true, “some lifestyle choices matter more than others”, yet one has to be careful with jumping to conclusions. Passing judgments is easy, though not at all helpful when deciding how to deal with runaway climate change.

Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't. The author uses the “BP statistical review of world energy” to graphically emulate the information about how much fuel the world is burning or, in other words, whether anthropogenic carbon emissions actually stopped rising. The bad news is, they didn't. The good news might be, from my understanding, that emissions from natural feedback loops were not as severe as thought – which doesn't mean they haven't been kicked off already. But I guess this doesn't change a tiny thing about our collective inability to stop the runaway train.

The buildup of tensions between US-led countries and Russia comes neither surprisingly nor accidently.

At times, I have found myself performing activism more than doing activism. I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me. Ultimately, the quest for political purity is a treacherous distraction for well-intentioned activists.”

A call for tolerance towards different paths rather than black&white points of view.

Pearls Before Swine


As a poet with major depression,” the author writes about seeing an owl in chains, I knew these eyes well. These were the eyes of a creature pushed beyond pain into numbness, overwhelmed with despair, and fading into the void. These were eyes I have seen on the street. These were eyes I have seen in zoos, in aquarium tanks, and in cages. These were eyes I have seen in prison, in psyche wards, and at funerals.
I knew these eyes because I have seen them reflected in the mirrors I have peered into before trying to kill myself. I knew these eyes because I have seen them in myself.”
Viewing human mental health through the lens of deep ecology he writes, We are animals and animals are an ongoing process of relationships. When those relationships become impossible, we lose ourselves. I do not believe I go too far when I write, 'We are no longer human.' By we I mean civilized humans who live much like I do.

Confucian-inspired family values: a moral vision for thee 21st century – Henry Rosemont Jr, Huffington Post, 20160510
The autonomous individual simply does not exist in our daily life. Confucians view other persons not merely accidental or contingent to my goal of living a full life, they are fundamental to it. My life can only have meaning as I contribute to the meaningfulness of the lives of others, and they to me,” Rob de Laet writes in his summary of Rosemont's blog. Gratitude, respect, loyalty are important values that when practiced on a daily basis towards all our relations cultivate their own meaning, their own sense of joy and happiness, so this is not some form of altruism or selflessness. In our yearning for a different society built around collaboration rather than competition we may assume that, Each of us comes from a family, and thus the revolution begins at home.

What does the end of our world look like from a Buddhist perspective? What is left to be done?

Those following my blog do almost certainly see that something is profoundly wrong with our set of living arrangements. Some if not all of you may agree that something must be done about it, and that it were basically better for it to go away. You heard me saying that building alternative structures while starving the old system of our contribution -- distributed denial of servitude -- was the way to go. That does not mean, though, you should fully ignore the system's doings; knowledge about how it works and how you can extract yourself from its grip may be of vital importance in defining your own paradigm and successfully develop into actually living it. The same information may be important when it comes to a showdown, intentionally or not, between your life plan and society's plans for you.

"Underminers" is a seminal comprehensive work in this field. The book which is available as a webpage, as a pdf, or in paper meticulously shows how the system undermined human faculties completely, but also how we in turn may undermine its hold on us and bring it crashing down.

Don't think about going into noble lines of work, think only of doing what you do best. Because that's where you're going to make the most difference in the world.

Action is the antidote to despair. The author of “Ishmael” on the question what every single person on Earth could do.

Cartoon

The train of civilization

“Waiter! There's a fly in my soup"

Famous Last Words

Humans are not like mice!

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