Global Weirding

Published online at CounterPunch and Countercurrents.org, 4/20/2018

 

Oh, what fun it truly was to experience the “bomb cyclone” in January in New England: the snowfall gave a sense of peace and calm, the winds were less strong than predicted, and the snow, while heavy, was not dense enough to take down trees and power lines in most areas. The following period of intense cold through February and March in the eastern half of the US, on the other hand, seems a harbinger of climate instability which will most likely worsen in upcoming years. As the jet stream weakens and buckles due to climate change, storm intensity and temperature fluctuations are certain to get worse.

The biggest danger for East coasters will remain the hurricane, as September 2017 registered as the most active month in recorded history for the Atlantic.

On the West coast, things are getting a bit Biblical: raging fires alternate with intense flooding and mudslides in Montecito and southern California a few months ago. The 2017 fire season set aflame over eight million acres mainly in the Western states. It’s not just a domestic issue: Portugal faced an epic firestorm in June of last year, killing close to 100, partly due to the monocultures of eucalyptus trees planted across the country. Millions face conditions of famine and drought worldwide.

Sadly, most reporting and discussion of global warming and climate change serves to abstract the issues into a diversionary attitude that the Earth is in crisis. Well, the planet, as a self-regulating super-organism, will do just fine without us, even if it takes millennia to recover from our misdeeds. It is stable and abundance-providing ecosystems that are in crisis, species that are going extinct at 1000 times the background rate, and humanity is the culprit.

Even though man-made global warming is acknowledged by most people, there is still a conflation going on in the West that the all-devouring Earth-mother is out to get us. Rather, it is Western civilization which is stalking any chance for future generations to live and prosper.

Ecosystems in Crisis

In Germany, a study was done measuring insect populations in nature reserves, and it was discovered that there was a 75% drop in total insects collected in only 25 years. Scientists estimate that 30-50% of all species may become extinct by 2050.

Tragically, regarding honeybees, scientists have discovered an important link between fungicide use and the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), showing a negatively synergistic effect on bee colonies and resistance to fungal infection. Bees seem to actually prefer honey set in traps with a small percentage of Roundup or fungicides added. Humans are not the only species to enjoy mind-altering drugs, even poisonous ones.

All of our problems involving the destruction of habitat are ultimately bound up in the fact that there are too many of us, conditioned to respond in violent outbursts, consuming too many resources, leading to stress, war, and unimaginable acts of cruelty. These acts are often sanctioned by the state or the corporation or religion or patriarchal vertical hierarchies.

The exponential population growth from the industrial revolution is already slowing and bound to top off at anywhere from 10-12 billion people by 2050-2100, if we manage to avoid the many catastrophes hurtling our way. Thus the growth curve will resemble an S-curve barring unforeseeable circumstances, with small waves and ripples due to the complexities of changing times, food sources, and a multitude of variables. In theory this population model could then lead to a steady decrease in total population due to a voluntary decision by humanity to slowly and carefully have fewer children due to stresses on ecosystems and natural resources. If we don’t convert to decentralized renewable energy and organic, communal-based agriculture, however, there is another model we may follow, and it’s not pretty one. Fossil fuel use is the habit that must be kicked for humanity to help recreate a sustainable world.

One of the most famous examples from studying mammalian populations is the debacle of St. Matthew Island, a warning to humanity. A tiny island located in the Bering Strait, with no carnivores, some lonely US coast guard officers decided to introduce reindeer onto the island. From a starting population of 29 in 1944, the hungry caribou ate through the entire island’s many lichen species, ballooning to 6,000 by 1963. Within two years and no other food source, the die-off was drastic, and only 42 remained in 1965. The entire population vanished by the 1980s. If our coal, gas, and oil run out without a democratic and scientific plan to make the leap to renewables, we are doomed to the same path.

The Unspoken Links

It would be simplistic to relegate these new and unprecedented levels of strangeness to the spheres of ecology and climate science. The deep wounds Western man has inflicted on fellow species and the planet are also inflicted on ourselves. From everything to decreased attention spans, the rise of xenophobia and mistrust towards minorities and immigrants, and billions living in poverty, these are by and large self-inflicted wounds. We must learn to see ourselves in the other, and see the other in ourselves.

Cell phone, TV, tablet, and computer use, dubbed “screen time”, can now be understood to have a net-negative effect on human communities when consumed in vast quantities, as it drives anti-social behavior and isolation from the wider community. A recent study concluded the average screen time for US adults was around 70 hours per week. Keep in mind, that means for every person getting 40 hours of screen time there is another getting 100 hours per week.

The rising rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions may be partly due to the stressors and conditions of modern life, including longer lifespans, but they do not account for the majority. Our polluted world and environmental crises play a mostly invisible role in the West, as our federal agencies such as the EPA and FDA have become corrupted by pharmaceutical and corporate interests.

With no way to systemically study or properly account for the rise of ill health and mental stupefaction of the public, medical and health professionals, shackled in their dim caves staring at shadows, have designated the “genetic” component to dis-ease as the Holy Grail. There is some truth to this: undoubtedly certain forms of breast cancer are linked to specific areas on chromosomes, etc. The idea, however, that billions of dollars in research must be shunted into the reductionist model of DNA manipulation and gene therapy is a huge waste of time, resources, and brainpower. (No, I don’t have mainstream “credentials” or a PhD, but I was happy to have my suspicions about targeted gene therapy confirmed straight out of the mouth of a former top researcher at the National Cancer Institute.)

The best way I’ve heard it phrased, regarding chronic disease and our toxified world, is like this: genetics is the loaded gun, and the environment is the finger pulling the trigger. Yes, many people are at risk due to genetic inheritance for many forms of cancers, diabetes, and the list goes on, but magnifying the capacities of the double helix as the primal cause of these conditions is not only dubious, it’s intellectually dishonest and dangerous. One may be at higher risks for certain disorders, but a healthy lifestyle can often slow, negate, or reverse chronic disease.

Many of today’s chemical dangers are invisible and thus fly under the radar of doctors and scientists. Yet, there are visible changes in our bodies that have manifested with the rise of industrial agriculture after World War Two. One change being the rise in obesity worldwide. Yes, we have increased meal portion sizes and live more sedentary lifestyles, and yes, food serves as a palliative for depression and anxiety.

Yet, this does not explain the study (summarized in an Atlantic article here)which concluded that, between 1988 and 2006, a person with the same diet, nutrient and exercise routines would be 10% heavier in 2006. This is a historic finding, and I can find nothing in the literature which reports a change in size of any other species in such short a time frame (18 years), other than weight gain in the abhorrent factory farming conditions of chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problem is, as the authors of the study note, there are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to determine what the culprit is. There are persistent organic pollutants, hormones in our food which act as endocrine disruptors, prescription drug overuse which leads to weight gain, and the possibility of a change in our gut bacteria due to mass antibiotic use in animal produce. In all likelihood, it is a combination of all of these factors that is driving the obesity and cancer epidemics. While many researchers are waking up to effects from increasing use of digital technology and social media, hardly anyone in the scientific community and academia have bothered to think about the huge changes to our bodies in the past few decades.

For every one human cell in our bodies, there are about 10 symbiotic bacterial cells. We are in very real sense super-organisms, and the huge influx of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in our food is forming a negatively synergistic effect on our ability to reason, to exercise, to relax, and to resist these new forms of genetic-biologic oppression.

This comes down to the nexus of corporate agribusiness, complicit federal health “experts”, lack of funding for research and grants for responsible scientists, and a poisoned food and water supply which has hijacked and somehow rewired our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune-response pathways. Have no doubt, this is an uncontrolled experiment being run on us all, without our permission.

The rise in cancer in particular can be tied to the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, as I and many others have posited. Estimates range that anywhere from 1 million to 50 million or even higher have already died/may die in the coming century earlier than they otherwise would have, because of cancer due to nuclear radiation from these tests.

The chance of getting cancer in one’s lifetime is expected to rise to a 33% chance for women and a 50% chance for men by 2050. This is the microcosm within the macrocosm of a world system based on infinite growth on a finite planet. The ideology of capitalism is death, and there should be no mystification as to why the clear unhealthiness of the hegemonic socio-economic system has been transported into our very bodies via cancer.

A major problem is that modern medicine has become ideological and insular, with predictably deadly results. There can be no patents for plants, herbs, mushrooms, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices, thus no conglomerate, multinational, corporate money to be made.

If it becomes clear on a mass scale that traditional practices including, but not limited to, herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, holistic traditional healing, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine has immense value beyond the instrumental rationality of allopathic medicine, the gig is up for mainstream pill-pushers. Most health professionals would be unveiled as the educated fools that they are, drug pushers promoting dangerous drugs for children and the elderly, not to mention endless unnecessary tests and procedures which make billions for Big Pharma and medical technology companies.

Let me be clear here: I am not by any means trying to scapegoat every medical professional, as researchers and people who treat medical emergencies, trauma, surgeons, and doctors dealing with acute medical conditions do amazing work every day. What I’m driving at is the allopathic way of treating most chronic conditions is a farce, and our society should return to promoting preventative, holistic treatments.

Thanato-politics

Sadly, there is a legitimate reason why so much of society is organized around ignorance, fear, violence, denial of the body, and consumption: the death-drive. One does not have to subscribe to Freud’s exposition of thanatos to understand this: the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desertification of our world, the razing of habitat shows this quite clearly.

Modern civilization does not only lead to obedience, submission, and structural violence, but also to a certain form of captivity. Humans tend to rebel against such a depraved social order, even if only symbolically, with varying amounts of success. Some do so constructively, forming social movements and protests, yet masses have fallen prey to the siren-songs of nationalism, consumerism, addiction, and war. Along with the enclosure of public land and the destruction of the commons (“There is no such thing as society”) comes a culture of fear, cruelty, and ultimately projections of the outer world as scary and downright evil.

Captivity in action: consider the recent missile alert in Hawai’i. Was this not an example of a captive audience, doomed by elites to worry and scatter over a phantom nuke over the horizon? None of us asked for this. Most of humanity simply wants to be left alone from the vagaries of government and corporate rule to live stable, happy lives. Yet the sad truth of the matter is the elites are not going to leave us alone. Their appetite is insatiable, and they will in fact drag down the entire biosphere, because in their current state of mind, they hate life, and want to transcend this world, either to heaven (the Christian fundamentalists) or have their consciousness uploaded or bodies cryogenically frozen for future immortality (the Kurzweillian techno-futurists).

Evil, or rather, a disdain for authentic living, is banal in many senses: one of these is the utter unimaginativeness resting in the dark hearts of our political leaders. Evil is a lack, a poverty of the soul. It is incapacity to create, an absence of imagination, spontaneous creativity, and compassion. You can sense this in our “technocratic” leadership, pushing us ever closer to the abyss of economic depression and ecological ruin.

It often conjures up a chuckle when I remind people of David Graeber’s comments (paraphrasing here) on the elitist corporate/managerial/bureaucratic mindset: “These are the most unimaginative people ever.” This is basically a gallows humor, as the elite are numbing citizens of the will, mental capacities, and physical abilities to organize and resist effectively, and are setting up the masses for collapse of our civilization.

Reclaiming Eros

If there does exist some sort of death drive (most explicitly recognized in Nazi, Italian, and Spanish fascist ideology: “¡Viva la muerte!”) that modern civilization is imposing on us, is there a countervailing force?

Countering the bleak pessimism of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization offers clues. We can extrapolate and widen their focus on libido to consider Eros as an analogy for life-force or life-energy, similar to Eastern notions of prana and chi. If modern society has in fact regimented our lives around a Marcuse-esque performance principle, it does so at the cost of our very souls. It was no mythological coincidence that the ancient Greeks wedded the god Eros in immortal bliss with Psyche. One cannot exist without the other.

Alienation in the workplace is so all-pervasive it often goes unnoticed or unremarked upon. Perhaps this orientation around surplus repression is most visible in leisure activities such as today’s gyms, the insular form of physical exercise for the corporate workers and bosses. Regimenting the mind in the office is not enough: bodies must be splayed across endless rows of treadmills and metal strength-enhancing machines like legions of marching ants, with the requisite phone or Ipod and headphones attached. As for the flabby and out-of-shape, it is once again a lack of discipline and failure to take individual responsibility, rather than any oppressive social structure which is the causal factor.

These are the pod people, exemplified in a New York Times piece about a former Nike exec and artist who has refused to watch or read any news since Donald Trump became elected, who even goes to far as to use noise-canceling headphones blaring white noise in coffee shops to not overhear any chatter about world affairs. Why not just play music? “Stray conversation can creep in between songs.” The same game goes for the power elite: stray news about the poor and oppressed, and any possibilities of social transformation, are simply shushed away.

Thus, when the business and political elite blurt the snide “Be reasonable!” they are at the same time using the cynical trope of “no grand ideologies” (read: Marxism) which, of course, hides behind the moral relativism and lack of conception of the good life which liberal democracy has always played at, which is ideology at its purest: “the end of history”, “there is no such thing as society”, “there is no alternative”.

These people, whose ideas simply parrot the cultural hegemonic ruling class framework, are asserting the “logic of domination”. Drawing on Arendt and Orwell, Alexander Stern has dubbed this “Bingespeak”. Following Marcuse:

“Reason is to insure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of the human potentialities. But in the process the end seems to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs- and defines the needs themselves. The Logos shows forth as the logic of domination. When logic then reduces the units of thought to signs and symbols, the laws of thought have finally become techniques of calculation and manipulation.” (1)

This corrupted Logos seems to have pushed aside Eros in the modern world. Nietzsche would call it Apollonian overtaking the Dionysian. As the socially-constructed ego has developed under patriarchy, civilization, and capitalism, it has done so with the fear of the maternal-based clan, and the Earth-based tribal modes of life. Returning to Marcuse:

“The Narcissistic phase of individual pre-genitality ‘recalls the maternal phase of the history of the human race. Both constitute a reality to which the ego responds with an attitude, not of defense and submission, but of integral identification with the ‘environment.’ But in the light of the paternal reality principle, the ‘maternal concept’ of reality here emerging is immediately turned into something dreadful, negative. The impulse to re-establish the lost Narcissistic-maternal unity is interpreted as a ‘threat,’ namely, the threat of ‘maternal engulfment’ by the overpowering womb. The hostile father is exonerated and reappears as savior who…protects the ego from its annihilation in the mother.” (2)

Does this fear not play out between the lines of today’s discourse around the environment? It cannot be the patriarchal, murderous version of global capitalism which is at fault, but rather, an all-consuming mother planet bent on destroying us all (even though it’s all our own fault due to rampant fossil fuel use). In fact, the father figure of global capital now swoops in to act as a savior for everything he has destroyed.

Contrast, for example, the rush to space and immortality that the Silicon Valley techno-utopian folk seem to prefer, or even the “pragmatism” of Steward “we are as gods and have to get good at it” Brand; with the ecocentric approach of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, co-creators of Gaia theory. Corporate funded mainstream environmentalists would have us geo-engineer the planet and proliferate dangerous 5G technology via an internet-of-things around the globe. Rather, we should convert to small scale, decentralized renewable tech, and attempt to live in harmony with the biosphere by adhering to an ecological precautionary principle.

Thus, the “primal father” version of the future which Brand and his “green capitalist” (an oxymoron) acolytes believe in necessarily involves sacrifice of the masses and more exploitation of natural resources. We are told this everyday: “austerity” is needed for economic recovery; delay gratification to pay off debts; foreigners must be killed and are simply collateral damage to protect the world from terrorism, public land is off-limits or only for recreation, not sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; etc.

Reconciling Apollo and Dionysus, Logos and Eros, a less repressive society would not simply focus on what we must sacrifice, but allow space for passion, imagination, and desire. A democratic society would allow for collective decision-making regarding the scale and scope of a host of socioeconomic issues, including sustainable agriculture, genetic research, preventative medicine, animal testing, as well as chemical use in farming and industry.

With a healthy balance between Logos and Eros, we can transcend the deadly framework of instrumental reason and positivism to build a livable future. Some like to call this a “supra-rational” outlook, a transpersonal and holistic view of the world, where emotional intelligence is blended with the analytic, intuition with abstract logic.

What lessons can we draw here? There must be a concerted effort to blend work and play, especially in regards to communal farming, collective homebuilding, and low-scale renewable energy, to create the grounds for authentic liberation from capitalism.

Sustained and coordinated efforts to build autonomous zones free from governmental and hierarchical organization are paramount: indigenous movements throughout South America and worldwide, the mass strikes in France, Christiania in København, freedom fighters in Chiapas and Rojava, and the MST in Brazil offer models of resistance.

We are going to have to adopt a type of bricolage (Levi-Strauss) culture, scavenging what has not been absorbed by global capital, to create beauty in the ruins of empire. Thus, we can begin the Herculean effort to deterritorialize (as in Deleuze and Guattari) and thus reassemble a heterogeneous, co-evolving, transformational commons; to decolonize our minds from a simulated, mechanical mode of life; to detach from the Spectacle; to unlearn and deschool ourselves (Illich) from the oppressive social systems designed to rob and eventually destroy everything we know and care for.

 

Notes:

  1. Marcuse, Herbert. (1974) Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. Originally published 1955. pp. 111-112.
  2. Ibid., p. 230.
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Review of “The Great Unraveling” by Jean-Paul Baquiast

Journalist Jean-Paul Baquiast has reviewed my essay “The Great Unraveling” for the French website Mediapart.fr as well as his own site Europesolidaire.eu

Here is the link: https://blogs.mediapart.fr/jean-paul-baquiast/blog/261217/planetary-vision-par-williams-hawes-livre-electronique-2017 (It is in French but Google Translate does a pretty good job converting to English)

Baquiast points out some of the legitimate problems with implementing my ideas presented in my essay, such as redistribution of wealth, medical and health initiatives, and technology being co-opted by local elites in the Global South. This is a great point, and any solution would of course require a robust internationalist organization to combat such deleterious effects, to promote decentralization, and to evenly distribute and counteract elitist greed and power disparities.

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Review: Humanity: The World Before Religion, War & Inequality

Originally published at NYjournalofbooks.com, March 20, 2018, also at Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, and Counterpunch

In this groundbreaking work, author Barry Brown has managed to definitively prove humankind’s natural tendencies to be peaceful, cooperative, and egalitarian. Barry takes the reader on a tour de force through humanity’s prehistory as well as providing detailed evidence for his assertions about mysteries such as ancient artifacts like the Venus statues, the original meaning of the swastika, his theory about the location of the Garden of Eden, and the real purpose of the Gobekli Tepe site, an enigmatic archaeological site in southeast Turkey.

Brown’s background as a journalist is his greatest asset, as he manages to make connections that are seemingly overlooked and/or downplayed by the world’s leading archaeologists, historians, and even evolutionary biologists.

One of Brown’s main supporting arguments can be found in a Scientific American essay which elucidates the nearly completely non-violent behaviors of chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest living ancestors, as well as the early fossil record of hominids, where no group warfare among masses of people is found before the advent of agriculture, cities, and hierarchies. This indicates that our biological nature is peace-loving, and that our tendency towards group violence has become normalized due to propaganda, socialization, and cultural factors. Although small cases of individual killing did occur in hunter-gatherer societies, these are outliers, not the norm. The first ninety-nine percent of human history was peaceful, without organized warfare.

Brown starts off documenting the evolutionary history of our primate ancestors, exploring the possibility that having a better sense of balance with a more complex inner ear, and the consciousness of having a center of gravity, is what differentiated Homo sapiens from other hominids. With the tenacity of an investigate journalist, Brown offers unique insights into the mysteries of the ancient world, including that: Venus statues were the world’s first book, an object for reflection and to stimulate insight regarding anatomy, culture, psychology, and femininity. Also, Gobekli Tepe was the world’s first university, as it shows no permanent signs of settlement or religious use, where people from all over the region could come to learn farming techniques, animal husbandry, and share culture. The swastika was a symbol of peace and friendship, a signpost for travelers of welcome and to encourage newcomers that friendly human settlements were nearby.

Barry’s Brown is the first of its kind to look at humanity’s history before and after the advent of warfare. His central argument is that warfare started approximately 4000 BCE in India, which is documented in the epic Mahabharata, of which a small part is documented in the Bhagavad Gita. Brown also notices a possible correlation in the Old Testament, where it is his interpretation that the Hebrew people descended from Eastern India, near the Ganges River, which was the original “Garden of Eden.”

Social divisions were the precursor to war, as the forming proto-caste system in ancient India bred alienation, vertical hierarchies, patriarchy, wealth inequality, and families and clans demanding blind loyalty and obedience from their followers.

Brown’s contention that the war between the rival clans, the Kurus and the Pandavas, was the first war in history, which fractured social relations in India and spread suspicion, fear, and hatred throughout the premodern world. Divisions and hierarchical relations in ancient India were exacerbated to such a point that no person or group dared to challenge to reconcile the two clans. Elaborate musical and gaming events, clan rivalry, and mass religious rituals most likely were the precursors to the actual war, devolving into war games designed to let off steam and social tensions, which further devolved into actual warfare.

After this first great war, much of advanced Indian society shifted west to the Indus Valley civilization, where a democratic, egalitarian society flourished from about 3000-2000 BCE. However, the dark forces of empire, organized violence, and social hierarchies spread to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, where they eventually gave rise to monotheistic, dogmatic religions, fear, insecurity, and permanent wars.

Brown explains how the wounds of ancient violence, strife and fear, this turn towards warfare and discord, remain with us to this day. When security is traded for liberty, where “freedom from” hunger, tyranny, and poverty is replaced by a selfish creed of “freedom to” do anything one likes with their time, private property, and money, humanity as a whole suffers.

The roots of global conflict go back to this change in our shared history, a shift from helpful, friendly, cooperative communities to fearful, divided, traumatized nations who now threaten the entire world with the crises of global warming, habitat destruction, and nuclear war, just to name a few. Barry Brown’s revelatory work shows us a clear path in how to return to our natural, peaceful state of being.

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Ode to America

Published on Countercurrents.org, and CounterPunch, March 9 2018,

Dissident Voice March 10 2018

“My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.”

-Guster, “Center of Attention”

So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.

Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.

Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.

The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.

This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.

The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven and a half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.

There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.

Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.

While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.

There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect

I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.

The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.

As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).

There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.

Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.

Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle out of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.

Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.

I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming.  Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.

Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.

What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.

What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bioregional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.

Visioning

What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.

Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of biodynamic farming, permaculture, and agroforestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.

Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bioregional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.

The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.

Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how somehave tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.

Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.

Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.

Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has very clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.

Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.

This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.

More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.

Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.

The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and its natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.

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Interview with Extinction Radio

I recently did an interview with Mike Ferrigan and co-guest Rob Seimetz for Extinction Radio. It is episode 84 part 2, and it’s posted on their home page, Extinctionradio.net

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Interview with Balkans Post

Balkanspost.com, Feb 20th, 2018

What’s your take on the latest developments in Syria, especially Israel’s aggressions inside the Syrian soil?

William Hawes: Where to begin? There are so many elements in the Syrian conflict it is dizzying. There have been chlorine attacks in January. Turkey has invaded around Afrin and threatens to move east along the northern border. Syria’s army is tacitly helping out the YPG in Afrin against Turkey now. Russian mercenaries are fighting with Syrian troops and Iranian militias in the east near Deir Ezzor. Iran supposedly flew a drone into the Golan Heights and Israel overreacted with airstrikes against Syrian anti-air facilities and Iranian and Hezbollah command posts. Israel is concerned as well about Hezbollah missile factories in Lebanon. The U.S. had a massive attack against Russian/Iranian/Syrian troops near the oilfields at Deir Ezzor as well, killing hundreds.

Some have compared this situation as akin to three-dimensional chess in all its complexity. Perhaps with regard to the complicated nature of the conflict this has a grain of truth, but ultimately war has no logic or rationality behind it. This is pure mayhem and murder, and in modern, total war, civilians bear the brunt of the tragedy. The blame goes all around, but this conflict was instigated by the [Persian]

Gulf States and NATO who backed terror proxies to establish a Sunni jihadi insurgency, which their own declassified documents have proven.

With regard to Israel, Netanyahu is under investigation for corruption and it is possible the noose is closing fast for him. One could posit he is using war as a distraction to continue his bloody reign, a “wag the dog” scenario similar to what Clinton did in Kosovo. Today (Feb 18) the deranged Netanyahu is waiving a piece of the Iranian drone around in an interview: he is a clear and present danger to peace in the Middle East, and this is a clear type of baiting and provocation to induce a response, via political theater.

The Syrian military said it had hit at least one intruding Israeli F-16 warplane that attacked positions inside Syrian territory, sending it down in flames and smoke. How would this affect the Syrian crisis?

William Hawes: This could have been a lucky hit, or it could mean Syria’s anti-aircraft capabilities are improving with possible help from Iran or Russia. Haaretz reported the jet lingered in the area longer than it normally would have, but who can actually believe an outlet like that in this day and age? The F-16i variant that Israel uses is a very advanced modern jet which the U.S. and NATO use and should have easily outmaneuvered Syrian anti-air missiles.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described his country’s most significant air attacks on Syria in decades as a heavy blow to Syria and Iran. What’s your analysis?

William Hawes: A heavy blow to Syria, yes, as it is claimed half of all the Syrian anti-aircraft facilities were destroyed. A heavy blow to Iran, not at all. Iran’s influence across Mesopotamia into the Levant is increasing and this scares Israel. By making friendships with the governments Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, Iran has created a formidable alliance and will try to leverage this in the future towards becoming the “regional hegemon”.

The Israeli PM is a fool and a war criminal, head of an apartheid nation which has terrorized and ghettoized Palestinians for generations and invaded Lebanon multiple times causing mass bloodshed. People in Gaza and the West Bank are literally shot in the streets for no reason and children are thrown in cages for protesting or throwing rocks or much less.

Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy, Michael Oren, has said the U.S. currently “has almost no leverage on the ground”. How do you view Washington’s role in Syria in recent months?

William Hawes: Washington’s role is to continue to provoke unrest, chaos, and death in the region, as it has done for generations. U.S. foreign policy has been clear for a while – it will not allow another hegemon to control the Middle East, not Iran, and certainly not Russia or China. America along with their EU vassals and the Sunni Takfiri/Salafist/Jihadi fundamentalists, the Turk, Saudi, UAE, and Kuwaiti financiers, will back al-Qaeda, Daesh, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, you name it.

The U.S. role is fading around the globe and there is no clear way to recover the imperium, but the U.S. can sow chaos and destruction for every other potential rival by causing a conflagration and regional war. This was the “deep-state” strategy behind the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s: back both sides and watch them kill each other.

One could posit that Oren’s comments are a plea towards the Trump administration to escalate U.S. involvement, as the paranoid and fearful Israeli government understands that without some dramatic change America’s, and thus, Israel’s role in the Middle East is fading.

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Perspectives on Activism: Waiting and Being Present

Published online at Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, Feb 8-9, 2018

“The more people I meet, the happier I become.”

-Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

In the interregnum, we find ourselves as citizens waiting…for something. We bide our time with pablums, social media, or sports, or even pseudo-political debates. Many have insulated themselves from real issues: economic, social, and ecological justice.

Capitalism imposes a state of captivity, one where spontaneity and genuine feeling are shunted into commodified culture, into privatized service-oriented companies, and into increasingly mind-numbing social media and digital platforms.

When the unexpected occurs; a storm, a war, a tragic accident, we are transported back to the time when the depth of our emotions could overwhelm us, could drive us to joy or ecstacy or ruin. Just as many cannot help but watch a car crash, we cannot resist the temptation of a rush of adrenaline, a surge of serotonin.

To some degree, this urge is natural. Yet, for instance, the endless pathological displays of violence on TV and media point to some sort of social disease, a barbarism and degradation of inner life. This was best exemplified on 9/11: what was the point of endlessly replaying the jet smashing into the tower, or the people jumping? The only explanation is that it made people feel…something, anything to escape the boredom/ennui/anomie/malaise of modernity. The live feeds from CNN in 2003 Iraq accomplished the same goal, with the additional jolt of dark revenge-energies.

I think this is why, for certain people, it is inevitable that they go live with and experience plight of the drug-addicts, the very poor, the oppressed and castaways: for someone like Baudelaire, for instance, it was the only place where authentic human existence still thrived.

To be sure, we’ve all experienced immense joy and beauty in our own private lives. The thing is, we should be able to comfortably express the feelings of awe and mystery regarding our universe, our existence, in a common space, in public, unencumbered by feelings of guilt, shame, or judgment from community. We must confront our own mortality, daily, and live in the moment.

Our culture is complicit, but it does not mean we are necessarily doomed. We are “condemned to be free”, as Sartre put it. Our agency cannot be denied, we are free to choose our path.

This freedom can be downright scary, it is the feeling of existentialist dread and nausea. One can see it today, as Trump’s authoritarian promises calm the nerves of fearful, mostly older, mostly whiter folk who have and are living inauthentically, who have ceded their agency to the corporation, the nation-state, the town, the church.

Masha Gessen wrote of this recently, citing the great, often forgotten Erich Fromm:

“Fromm suggests that at certain times in human history the burden of ‘freedom to’ becomes too painful for a critical mass of people to bear, and they take the opportunity to cede their agency- whether it’s to Martin Luther, Adolf Hitler, or Donald Trump.”

This submerging of individual identity, losing oneself in the collective authoritarian or fascist collective, seems to ring true in today’s politics. One can sense this turn in large corporations, in state bureaucracies, in the military with all its Borg-like qualities. The loss of individual autonomy is palpable.

All this becomes even more dangerous in our “biopolitical” age: one where social production and reproduction reduces the juridical subject into a consumer, a body to be prodded, socialized, anesthecized and for many lobotomized into a culture of amnesia.

Now that the fires of Occupy and Standing Rock have died down, progressive citizens yet again find themselves waiting. Waiting, as millions of our sisters and brothers around the world die of starvation and preventable illnesses. Waiting, as the US bombs and kills civilians with impunity. Waiting, as we continue to plod along to our jobs pumping more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, imperiling hope for a livable future.

We know what we are facing. The solutions, however, are not exclusively, or even primarily material-technological ones. They lie within. The lessons of the indigenous are our guide.

Westerners are going to have to stop talking, and start listening. The answers lie in the ground we stand on, in the plants and soil that traditional people worship, in the waters that provides life and sustenance.

Recently, there have been some howls of protest about the defeatism on the Left. Broadly, the analyses are correct, but I am left to wonder, are they helpful to movement-building, are they inspirational?

It does no good to harp on the limitations of pusillanimous liberals, on the social justice warriors or identity politic mavens. Especially since propaganda and false consciousness continue to mold citizens into consumers, free-thinkers into conformists. We have been all socially constructed to become weak, infantile, and many have succumbed to this, and its not entirely their own fault.

Waiting can be tiresome, we all know that. It’s also tiresome to hear endless diatribes of the limits and failures on the Left. For we are have limitations, and we all need each other’s help. As for the lack of success, it was Beckett who said: “Fail again. Fail better.”

This is the task before us. The struggle is all we have, all we’ve ever had. There is no inevitable march of progress towards some pre-ordained teleological utopia, Marxist or otherwise, no moral arc of history. There is only us. There is the autonomy of the individual, and there is the structural servitude that the nation and the corporation impose upon us.

When I see someone consistently angry, or complaining, or consistently negative, I think of what Castaneda might say: “They are on a path with no heart”. It does no good to castigate a person or group, or to uphold one’s purity politics. What is needed is to hold out a helping hand, to establish charity, patience, reciprocity.

I read recently that the origin of the word miracle comes from the Proto-Indo-European words to smile, to be astonished. I cannot imagine a more apt analogy for activism today. We are going to have to remember how to smile.

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