Interview with Balkans Post, 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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Review: Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilised Times, 1/11/2018

The Dark Mountain Project is a worldwide collective of writers, artists, activists co-founded by Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth, dedicated to creating “uncivilized” art, poetry, prose, and more. By “uncivilized” they mean ecocentric: dissolving our dominant culture’s myths regarding human centrality in the cosmos and the notions of continual, beneficial technological progress.

Dark Mountaineers sagely encourage readers to understand how inherently unsustainable our society is, as well as acknowledging our complicity and acquiescence in propping up the system.

We are prodded to “look down,” and the founders draw inspiration from the fabulous Robinson Jeffers and the long lineage of environmentalist thought. This collection of works from 40+ writers, poets, and artists encompasses everything from a recipe for pheasant, meditations on the Mahabharata, two interviews, numerous poems (some heartfelt, some silly), and many commentaries on social and ecological collapse.

The common thread to each piece can be understood by quoting the Mountaineers first “principle of uncivilisation”: “We live in a time of social, economic, and ecological unraveling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.”

Written in 2009, the Dark Mountain Manifesto (which appears at the beginning of this collection) attracted many readers (this reviewer included) with its fiery, polemical arguments breaking down the false narratives embedded in Western civilization. Their website and multiple journals continue their tradition, with contributors chiming in from around the globe.

Radical, sincere environmentalists though many of the contributors may be, the antennae of this reviewer were alerted with warning shocks as soon as the cover was opened: testimonials from the odious Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen. On the other hand, kind words from Eric Utne and Kirkpatrick Sale gave a sense of reassurance.

With so many contributors, it would be insanity to review each. Highlights include Akshay Ahuja’s interview with Dmitri Orloy as well as his “Strange Children,” Carla Stang’s “Rampant Rainbows and the Blackened Sun,” Sylvia V. Linsteadt’s “Osiris,” and Vinay Gupta’s “Death and the Human Condition,” which are all brilliant.

One would think there would be more focus on practical steps in the book: perhaps a focus on permaculture, low-tech renewable energy, or homesteading. Especially since it is proclaimed in the manifesto that: “we write with dirt under our fingernails.”

Rather, the majority of works here favor the need expressed in the original manifesto (no doubt legitimate) for our culture to properly grieve for the losses in our societies and in the biosphere: the species pushed to extinction, rich ecological systems deforested and desertified, complex indigenous cultures bulldozed in the name of “progress.”

Like the original manifesto, there are tinges of fatalism and resignation in many of the essays. Grief at the impending collapse of ecosystems and society due to global warming, environmental devastation, and cultural disintegration due to neoliberal globalization should eventually lead to the next stages of processing: resistance, resilience, and initiation into a new holistic culture. The shoots of such a shift in worldview can be glimpsed in much ecocentric thought and are visible in a few of the better contributions, but they are not at the forefront here.

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Interview: Moving Forward w/ Rob Seimetz for the Progressive Radio Network


Here’s the link to my interview on Rob Seimetz’s radio show, I talk about the pitfalls of capitalism and what a future world can look like with Rob and my awesome co-guest, Paul Street.

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Review: Death of a Nation: 9/11 and the Rise of Fascism in America

Review: Death of a Nation: 9/11 and the Rise of Fascism in America

By George W. Grundy, January 3, 2018

George Grundy has done us all a great service: he’s written a definitive and expansive book about the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. Spoiler alert: Grundy, like the reviewer, believes the 9/11 attacks were a false flag perpetrated by elements in our own government along with foreign help, financing, and patsies who would take the fall for the crime.

Dylan Avery contributes the foreword, and like Avery’s documentary Loose Change, Grundy leaves no stone unturned in the events leading up to 9/11, such as the terror suspects’ incompetence in flying, arrogance, stupidity, and lack of discretion in public, the FBI being pulled off the suspects tails due to interference at the top of the Bureau, and the myriad inconsistencies of the two years leading up to the attacks.

Grundy covers all the bases on the day of September 11th 2001, including the free-fall collapses of the World Trade Center buildings and Building 7, the Pentagon attack which shows no evidence of a plane hitting the building, and the fourth plane which fell near Shanksville, PA, which was almost certainly shot down by a missile, not taken down by the courageous passengers. The author also importantly cites the removal of rubble of the twin towers which would have proved explosives were used to take down the World Trade Center buildings.

Grundy connects the dots between the chain of command in the White House, Pentagon, Saudi and Pakistani agents, and shadowy war games designed to confuse the coordinated response of America’s air force (by NORAD). There are many other dead giveaways that parts of the US security apparatus were behind the attacks that the author details.

Grundy documents how certain actors in the military and intelligence high command and Bush Administration covered up these events, using the media to immediately and conveniently blame Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, despite no hard evidence of their involvement.

The horrible events of that day were then bizarrely and grotesquely spun by the government and mainstream media to create a cause for war with Iraq, even though no evidence was found connecting al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, and no WMDs were found in Iraq post-invasion. Stoking fear and paranoia among the populace, the author rightly points out that our massive military budget and global war on terror could never have taken off without the “New Pearl Harbor” that various Republican elites called for pre-9/11.

With a compliant, submissive citizenry obeying and believing whatever lies the government tells us, the Bush, Obama, and now Trump regimes have continually stripped our rights, whittled away at any anti-war resistance, we have corporate control of government via lobbyists, robbing us blind via Wall Street bailouts and rising inequality. Grundy sees all these issues as connected, and rightly so. There are also the tragedies of the prison-industrial complex and total surveillance society which the author deftly touches on near the end of the book.

Finishing the book by drawing on the events of 2016, the author points out that President Trump fits many of the characteristics of a fascist. Trump’s hatred towards minorities and chauvinism are total horrors, no doubt. Grundy sees a massive economic depression and wars igniting around the globe on the horizon due to the ignorance, incompetence, and bellicosity of the American Empire. This is certainly possible, yet as Grundy points out, the American people are far more progressive than their government.

While the author sees a slide into outright fascism as nearly inevitable in the near future, this reviewer would caution against such a prediction. The outright arrogance, stupidity, and patriarchic, violent nature of the American government, which Trump embodies, may yet serve as a warning to the American people against following such a dark path.



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The Great Unraveling: Using Science and Philosophy to Decode Modernity

“Forty percent of the United States drains into the Mississippi. It’s agriculture. It’s golf courses. It’s domestic runoff from our lawns and roads. Ultimately, where does it go? Downstream into the Gulf.”

—Sylvia Earle

Our civilization is headed for a downfall, to be sure, in part due to the massive gulf between our hopes for the future and the omnipresent inertia regarding social change in mainstream politics, though a more apt analogy for our society might be circling the drain. The dark, shadow side of our industrial farming practices in the US has resulted in the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately the size of New Jersey and growing every year. Caused by excess nitrates, phosphates, and various chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides draining from farmland into the Mississippi river basin, toxic algal blooms kill millions of fish, shrimp, shellfish, and, almost certainly, thousands of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico every year. There are hundreds of these dead zones around the world’s oceans, caused by agribusiness and sewage runoff from the world’s largest cities. There are also garbage patches in the Pacific (actually diffuse swathes of ocean littered mainly by microplastics) comparable to the size of Mexico.

Meanwhile on land, we have lost half of our wildlife in the past 40 years. The implications are inconceivable and beyond words, and calls for global action on a coordinated scale beyond anything that has been seriously considered by the so-called political leaders of the “world community”. This will require an immediate mobilization of international resources (a Global Marshall plan, which will need trillions of dollars of aid redistributed to the developing nations over decades) to combat three main crises: global warming, habitat loss, and accelerating species extinction rates, all of which are interconnected.

All of this ecological destruction has been driven by America’s most popular exports: capitalism and imperialism. Eight individuals have as much wealth as 3.5 billion, with approximately 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation. This is not simply unfair: it is an immoral and indefensible state of affairs. It must be acknowledged by the general public that capitalism, buttressed by the propaganda of “liberal democracy” in the West, uses moral relativism as its framework. The externalities of a pillaged, ravaged planet, billions in poverty, and diminished resource base are not taken into account by mainstream economics. If rare earth minerals and metals were properly accounted for, a car would likely cost six figures, and a computer five figures. This would be an unobtainable and untenable situation for the average middle-class American, as only the rich could afford such luxuries, and thus, the majoritarian tyranny of our narcissistic and ahistorical culture continues.

There are half-baked refutations which reactionaries trot out to defend US hegemony, but do not carry much weight: other nations besides the US are consumerists and warlike as well, the socialist nations of the Eastern bloc had horrendous environmental records, China and Russia are also imperialistic and environmentally deranged, etc.

All of these arguments have grains of truth, but they elide the greater picture: America drives the global economy and holds it hostage at the same time, continually punishing vassals who defy it and using the World Bank and IMF as economic vampires, sucking continents dry through crushing debts, privatizations, austerity measures, as well as using diplomatic blackmail, covert espionage, and proxy death squads. Three of the most illuminating works in this realm are Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Michel Chossudovsky’s The Globalization of Poverty, and John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

Examples from Political Philosophy

Thus the US certainly stands out as an “exceptional” nation, pillaging the Earth and forcing other countries to do so, so as to forestall economic depression and stave off extreme poverty in the developing nation-states which must compete or die. Concomitant with this Western-led death-impulse is Agamben’s “state of exception”, where the citizen has been stripped of all notions of rights and justice in a permanent state of emergency. Under the Patriot Act and NDAA, any notion of due process has been shredded for US citizens, and of course the situation is beyond mad when considering the psychopathic torture carried out at Bagram AFB outside Kabul, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the globe-spanning “rendition archipelago” which has to be assumed is still ongoing, despite Obama’s past-tense use of the phrase “we tortured some folks”, spoken back in 2014.

If the culmination of the totalitarian impulse is the gulag or concentration camp, the infernal apotheosis of education in the United States would have to be the School of the Americas, the US Army base in Georgia which was and still remains the paragon of higher learning for torturers, right-wing death squads, fascists juntas, and drug traffickers looking to make a mark in Latin America. The US exports death-education (practical skills for legions of buzz-cut military/ intelligence clones/clowns, not just theoretical book-learnin’) at an industrial scale, which led to hundreds of thousands of desaparicidos (the disappeared)  in the 1970s and 80s who were shot, hung, drowned, or thrown from planes throughout South and Central America.

Of course, if you want to peer into our dystopian future domestically, we will be experiencing more and more “blowback” from disaffected citizens and terrorists angered at our imperialism: look no further than the attack and reaction to the Boston bombing of 2013. Citizens of the greater Boston area were told to “shelter in place” and be on the lookout, creating a de-facto lockdown in the 10th largest metro area of our nation. The whole situation was Bradburyian (Bradburyesque?) and an out-of-control response to a few deaths that would barely cause a blink in terms of law-enforcement response for most parts of the world.

We are now faced with Bentham’s panopticon: an open air prison of a country where we work, shop, party to escape our drudgery and captivity, and go home to hide from the storms raging outside our doors. “Fun” is encouraged, but genuine fulfillment, spiritual and psychological health, are scorned. We are faced with a fascism that cannot be named as such, and rather than face the music, brave-hearted citizens, activists, and dissidents are faced with what Phil Rockstroh dubbed the “tyranny of amiability” when discussing issues that may cause anger, sadness, and discomfort. Personally, I have noticed this is particularly bad among the Baby Boomers, even those who’ve faced economic or personal hardships. Generally speaking, they are addicted to a cult of positivity, where any honest portrayal of our social and ecological crises is deemed “cynical” and “pessimistic”. GenXers and Millennials are not much better, with the latter crowd (my own age group) being much more amenable to socialist policies, at least. Yet there is, of course, a huge majority indulging in escapism, through our digital devices and social media: so much for a so-called “Christian nation”, where it is expressly pointed out to “put away childish things”.

We are told that the elites are continually “manufacturing consent” as Herman (RIP) and Chomsky pointed out, using Walter Lippmann’s phrase. Yet I believe it’s worth asking to what extent this applies: don’t most American consumers know and acknowledge there is “slavery stitched into the fabric of our clothes”, as Brett Dennen pointed out? We know child slave labor in the Congo provides the coltan for our cell phones, yet we do nothing. False consciousness and false needs only explain so much: many Americans seem to relish their place in the hierarchy of the global economy, which necessarily involves exploiting the proletariat in far-off countries. Apathy and lack of empathy seem to be fundamental features at play here. While we may be in an “inverted totalitarian” system, it is by and large one of our own acquiescence.

What does this tell us? For one thing, it seems to indicate that this academic terminology does not viscerally describe what is going on here: in blunter vocabulary, a brutal campaign of dehumanization, mind-control, and brainwashing of the public has been ongoing for centuries, led by the Western imperial nations.

What is needed, then, is a form of “cognitive mapping” as Jameson spelled it out. Part of this involves sketching the psychogeography of the cityscape that the Situationists had in mind. Another avenue pertains to anyone who has taken a cross-country road trip in the US, or visited a drug-infested rust belt town, or dilapidated urban area: the endless monotony of the same crappy chain restaurants, strip-malls, and convenience stores, and documenting the utter alienation from a sense of place and time that results.

The sense of transience and utter meaninglessness of living under corporate American control can be overwhelming at times. There is a “need for roots”, and if our system does not provide it, our collective culture must be reoriented or undergo a revolution, as Simone Weil wrote:

“There are collectivities which, instead of serving as food, do just the opposite: they devour souls. In such cases, the social body is diseased, and the first duty is to attempt a cure; in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to have recourse to surgical methods.”

This feeling of a being a consumer, floating above the world but never really grasping it, induces a sense of vertigo. Christy Rogers is on point when she writes that: “This is the capitalist utopia: the absolute antithesis of home.”  Economic precarity is omnipresent, leading to severe stress in the poor and working classes, resulting in anomie and a rise in various criminal behaviors, as explained by Robert Merton’s Strain Theory. Peter McLaren (giant of critical pedagogy along with Freire and Giroux) and Ramin Farahmandpur write of the “Vertigo of Global Capitalism”, and Jock Young writes of this feeling as well:

“Vertigo is the malaise of late modernity: a sense of insecurity of insubstantiality, and of uncertainty, a whiff of chaos and a fear of falling. The signs of giddiness, of unsteadiness, are everywhere…”

I believe this explains the illogic behind the comments of scientific experts like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk: they feel the vertigo, realize the unstable height our civilization has reached, and yet their answer is based out of fear: to travel to other planets and solar systems rather than cleaning up our own home.

Towards a New Science: Holism and Convergence

Mapping our natural, local environment is of vital importance. The best model I can give to you all is the “Where You At?” quiz, which asks the reader to investigate bioregionalism, including your local soil, farming methods, geology, climate, local flora and fauna, and more. I first came across the quiz in Carolyn Merchant’s Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World, which I recommend for everyone.

The return to sustainable, organic agriculture, cooperatively owned, has to be rapidly increased, starting yesterday. Pesticide use from glyphosate (Round-Up) and atrazine are making our entire planet a toxic environment, with cancer and chronic health conditions rising in the general population. We are still dealing with the depravations of past generations, as well. Myself and others have postulated that millions have and continue to die early from the atmospheric nuclear testing of the 50s and 60s; for me, this was confirmed as true when a top former scientist in the NIH agreed with me in private conversation.

Only a rationally planned and ecologically-aware system, locally organized and at the same time globally integrated, can solve our crises. This will require fostering an internationalist outlook: we are interconnected with human societies worldwide, and as Western nations exploit the Global South, economies are destroyed, the Earth degraded, and millions of innocents suffer and die from preventable illness and climate and ecologically-related catastrophes each year. To anesthetize the masses in the West, pharmaceutical companies will attempt to market more and more painkillers and psychotropic pills to create an ever more docile, idiotic, and ill society.

People of color continue to suffer the most. As this brilliant study tragically shows, psychological and social stressors among minorities and environmental exposures to toxic and carcinogenic pollutants have a negatively synergistic effect on minority communities, leading to cascades of disease and epidemics of suffering. Unsafe industries are and were zoned irrationally or de-facto illegally in inner cities, with housing projects and low-income areas forced to suffer the consequences.

Albert Einstein made a terrific explanation for scientific and democratic planning of society in his essay “Why Socialism?”. It should be noted that if past political and business leaders in the mid-twentieth century would not listen to the greatest scientist of their time, there is no reason why today citizens should ask, on bent knee, to try and hold power accountable simply using rational arguments. A peaceful revolution must be stoked among the populace in the West.

Obsessing over the big names in science sometimes obscures the lesser-known greats: one of my personal favorite trail-blazers was Lynn Margulis, creator and popularizer of the endosymbiotic theory (in spite of the paternalistic douchebaggery and resistance from her colleagues), which postulates that bacteria merged with the precursors of animal and plant cells (eukaryotes) in a mutually beneficial way. This applies also at the extra-cellular level (symbiosis and reciprocal altruism) and a few popular examples are lichen, corals, clownfish and sea anemone, and many species of sharks and cleaner fish. Interconnectedness and cooperation, not just random mutations, are the drivers of evolution and sustain the material existence of myriad species. We are not exempt from this rule of nature, and we call learn to model societies via biomimicry, to create a regenerative, not degrading, culture.

Today, the natural sciences are so complex that it is impossible to be at the cutting-edge of research with a narrow specialty in one field: microbiologists are in constant collaboration with geneticists who integrate advancements with biochemists, and botanists must rely on help from mycologists when examining soil ecology. E.O. Wilson explains this much better than I could, and foresees the rise of a sort of unified theory of the social sciences in his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. I think Convergence Theory has a better ring to it. As Wilson says, ethics is everything, and ecology is the keystone science which explains the interconnectedness of all things, which was obvious to all ancient societies and the Earth-centered indigenous ones of today: a world culture steeped in ecological ethics is our only chance for survival.

Cooperation, reciprocation, and kindness towards strangers were the rule for 99.9% of human existence. As Pulitzer-prize nominated author Barry Brown explains in his book Humanity: The World Before Religion, War & Inequality, complex trade routes of our common ancestors existed 400,000 years ago on the east coast of Africa, and there are no records or archaeological evidence of large-scale warfare before 4000 BCE. Human society was almost totally peaceful and egalitarian throughout history.

Many other great thinkers have called for a return to harmonious and peaceful existence: Fritjof Capra, E.F. Schumacher, and James Lovelock come to mind. Yet what these authors point out is antithetical in one important sense to the mass of Westerners: advocating for de-growth, followed by a rationally, planned, sustainable, steady-state economy which distributes aid internationally based on need.

Thus the mainstream Left (we need a living wage!) and mainstream Right (bring back the manufacturing jobs!) are both deluded: our economic system is suicidal for the planet and our own species in the long term. As long as the masses cry out in favor of short-term economic growth instead of the need for generational rational planning of society, neoliberal hegemony will continue.

Decentralization and direct democracy are key here, although a hierarchy of scientists must be able to inform the public through deliberative councils, spreading environmental information as it evolves, explaining the consequences in layman’s terms. Thus we avoid the issue of false balance, where the media provides “equal space” to sides of issues like global warming, where an IPCC scientist is countered with an oil executive or lobbyist in a debate for “fair and balanced” reporting.

Further, a Green constitution must be put in place as a safeguard against majoritarian voting which threaten the environment. This is called the precautionary principle, totally needed in any Green society. The conversion to a vegetarian based diet, and the voluntary depopulation of overcrowded parts of the planet through a campaign of women’s education, gender and racial equality, free contraceptives, and monetary incentives is needed to lower the strain on the Earth’s resources. Gender equality is a pillar of the Green agenda, and rules should be in place to provide half of senior government positions to women, which would immediately create a more peaceful, egalitarian, and environmental-friendly community of nations.

Then there are issues of labor and social participation. There is the idea that a Universal Basic Income will solve all our problems, which is a fallacy. I’m overall in favor of a UBI, but there are limitations here which must be discussed, especially considering elites like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are coming out in favor of UBI.

Although it may seem like a pipe-dream today, it’s my opinion that the “left-wing” (say, Sanders/Warren) of the Democratic Party could one day promote policies such as the UBI to dismantle what remains of the welfare state. It’s also possible that more carrots will be introduced down the line such as healthcare for all, free college, and an end to student debt. The catch is that it will be a bribe to promote stability domestically, while meanwhile the American Empire will march on overseas, continuing to use economic leverage to exploit the Global South, and also deploying military force with drones and special forces to continue to destabilize entire regions and displace millions.

Also, I am wary of any imagined utopian society based on UBI which is fully-automated, the “Star Trek socialism” which I believe many Lefties secretly pine for. Let me be frank: I am by no means anti-progress: science and technology have their place if managed properly outside of a capitalist framework. Yet, I believe this must be stated clearly: I value manual and mental labor that informs, inspires, and feeds the community as sacred work. I don’t want to live in a society where rooftop solar panels power our hydroponic veggies grown in factory warehouses, or synthetic meat in our Petri dishes in labs, while we push buttons.

I am not entirely against this turn towards an automated economy, but I think there are limitations here in which the techno-futurists are not accounting for: namely, more worker alienation as our machines widen the gap between nature and ourselves, breeding further specialization and vertical hierarchical civic relations, which are inherently damaging to the social fabric.

Chaos Politics and a Viable Alternative

Finally, after hundreds of years of capitalism and colonialism, we’ve arrived at the great unraveling. As István Mészáros brilliantly explained, “Capital’s Historic Circle is Closing”. He writes that, our “sustainable alternative can only be a radically different social metabolic order” and correctly notes that “the requirements of sustainability imply a societal reproductive order with its consciously articulated-autonomously planned and exercised-mode of decision making”. This will require, for him, “the total eradication of the Leviathan state”.

This will mean the breakup of the USA, which of course makes many people extremely uncomfortable. Yet America is a historical aberration: land stolen from Native Americans, an early textile economy based on chattel slavery, global imperial wars, one hundred years of segregation, structural racism against people of color including a prison-industrial complex and blighted inner cities, etc. There are good reasons that, due to its internal contradictions, in a generation or two the US could go the way of the USSR or Yugoslavia, or face a crippling recession spanning decades which would reduce the vast majority of the population to increasing economic precarity.

In the event we seriously consider reorienting our culture, social justice could likely require some sort of framework of law for the return of Native lands to form their own countries or autonomous regions. Reparations and redistribution of wealth are vital, as studies have shown that white households have total assets ten or more times the amount of African-American and Hispanic families.

Where’s the money to pay for all this? There is about 32 trillion dollars stashed by the super-rich is offshore bank accounts. Just a fraction of this amount, distributed worldwide, could solve world hunger, homelessness, poverty, preventable disease, and provide a 100% renewable energy grid for the globe if properly managed. However, if this is not done, the super-rich will soon own everything, and it’s quite possible in the coming decades that significant parts of the globe could ignite into Hobbesian anarchy due to lack of food, access to clean water, and infrastructural damage due to deadly weather and global warming-driven events.

Collapse has happened many times in great civilizations, and the masses had no idea what was coming, doing little to prepare, as academics like Tainter and Diamond have explained. Through systems theory, the best scientists have explained time and time again that our world is entering a period of crisis never seen before. Politically, you can see this chaos emerging, personified in leaders like nationalist neo/proto-fascists such as Trump, Le Pen, Erdogan, Putin, Xi, Modi.

Consider Trump: many adjectives come to mind such as buffoon, clown, con-man. Yet what come to mind for me are the chthonic, atavistic impulses he embodies. This is a dark ages brand of politics.

Luckily, there may be glimmers of hope in the chaos politics Trump encourages. Thankfully, he does not seem to have any hard ideology, but is rather an opportunist, largely concerned with his petit-bourgeois hotel and real estate empire. Embodying a more venal form of capital in these very weird times, he along with his far-right brethren nonetheless around the world are forming what in chaos theory is known as a “strange attractor”: a basin (swamp pit might be the more appropriate term for these thugs) in which all points in the system of global capital are revolving in multiple dimensions. Eventually, in many of these non-linear mathematical models, bifurcations occur in the system: in a political system where “all politics is populist” as Mouffe might say, new alternatives to the system spring into existence, personified by Trump and Sanders, Corbyn and Farage, Melenchon and Le Pen.

Amazingly, non-linear dynamics in physics and biochemistry result in a higher state of order: this is how life emerged from the pre-biotic soup of fatty membranes, nucleotides, and proto-amino acids of the ancient Earth billions of years ago. In the same way, our highly complex social system allows for the possibility of seemingly disparate and splintered citizen movements, non-governmental organizations, and non-profit cooperatives to coalesce and resist.

We must combat the irrationality and “higher immorality” of the elites (Mills) by eliminating their hegemony in the areas of media, the military, and the corporate world. This won’t be accomplished by top-down government, even by well-meaning figures such as Corbyn or Sanders, who offer little fare in the realm of the anti-imperialist struggle worldwide.

Spiritual and psychological awakening among the public must be stoked by civil society in a grassroots manner: the cults of celebrity and social-media obsessions must be called out as superficial substitutes of an atomized culture, not a liberating digital space. Mindfulness and discernment must begin in early education, and a worthy model for personal reflection and social transformation is the Contemplative Mind Tree, which explores the means for actualization individually and collectively as well as the commonalities of seemingly different spiritual and cultural movements.

Necessarily, this will require disentangling from the virtual world of our screens, portals into an unreality which commodifies social alienation, fetishisizes technology, and relies on a grid powered by fossil fuels. This will mean using technology and money as means to the ends of living a meaningful life, not as ends in themselves. Nature must be defended, and regarded as having intrinsic value, not exploited for the false needs of global capitalism. Internationalism, solidarity, and reconciliation and cooperation between nations must be fostered in the public sphere via constructive debate and by progressive media dialogue.

We are a long way from this vision, and things will most likely get worse before they get better. In this period of transition, Westerners should be prodded to examine their priorities and basically accept a program of voluntary poverty regarding our extravagantly wasteful material possessions and fossil fuel use to help redistribute aid and resources to the Global South. If this were to happen, in the process, our lives would get qualitatively healthier, deeper, richer and fuller of meaning as the ethics of charity, reciprocity, and sustainability nourish our minds, bodies, and souls.

The longer we wait, the worse things are going to get, especially in terms of future effects from global warming. Westerners must overcome our apathy, renounce our privileged position in transnational capitalism, get out in the streets, use our power in numbers, and form a social movement centered on internationalism, radical democracy, gender and racial equality, and social and environmental justice.

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Review: The Russian Revolution: A New History

Nyjournalofbooks, Dec 12, 2017

If readers are interested in a broad work covering the essential actors and historical events leading up to and following the Russian Revolution of 1917, this book is a good place to start.

Sean McMeekin offers a comprehensive look into the background and socio-economic factors in early 20th century Russia, as well as the brutal reality of the Tsar’s autocratic regime. This is a relatively short work: the author covers the main actors and historical moments quite well, including the many minor characters of the Revolution and the following civil war, yet still gives appropriate detail. On the whole, if the reader wants a fast-paced, wide understanding of the history leading up to and after the Bolshevik Revolution, here is a good place to start.

McMeekin starts off with a broad overview of the far-flung Russian Empire at the dawn of the 20th century. Stretching from Poland to the Bering Sea, from the Arctic tundra to the arid Central Asian steppes, the Empire was a sprawling, massive enterprise, with about 125 million citizens circa the turn of the century.

Russian industry was catching up with the rest of Europe in the first decade of the 1900s, although with mass poverty in the countryside and the usual squalid working and housing conditions for the poor, similar to other European nations. The first flash points in 1905 are covered well, including the war against Japan, although McMeekin seems to underplay just how much the smoldering resentment at the Tsar’s regime as well as the brutal repression of the Okhrana (secret police) and killings by the army made a future revolution only a matter of time.

McMeekin does due diligence by focusing on the Balkan Wars and the slow collapse of Ottoman influence pre-WWI, which shifted geopolitics in the region and started one of the first sparks in the powder keg that was Europe. The details of WWI are one of this works’ highlights: There is little ideology, and McMeekin focuses on the facts.

The big shifts of WWI are covered quite well, if briskly. Fast forwarding to 1917, and McMeekin’s twist on what he considers “A New History” is that Lenin was financed to a large degree by Germans, if not outright by the German government. The evidence he provides, however, is sparse. While German intelligence did return Lenin to Russia via Finland station in the hopes of sowing chaos and lowering Russian troop morale, “in this flood of discontented humanity pouring into revolutionary Russia, Lenin was but a single individual,” as McMeekin correctly notes.

However, he then paints the canvas of Lenin’s arrival and subsequent rise to power as a grand conspiracy orchestrated by Germany, rather than as an opportunistic ploy of the return of one revolutionary figure. In revolution and war, it is assumed that tough decisions are to be made regarding funding and alliances: Lenin cannot be considered a German “agent” just because he or his party took money from shadowy figures.

The end of the WWI, and the Treaty of Breist-Litovsk are very well documented. The period of the civil war and War Communism are also explained deftly, and Lenin’s and Trotsky’s mistake by advocating for revolutionary defeatism makes for engaged reading, showing how the German high command played the Bolsheviks diplomatically.

However, it’s hard to support McMeekin’s confusion surrounding the violence and authoritarianism that followed: the Bolsheviks were attacked from all sides, basically all the nations of Western civilization attacked the Red Army, leading to further party centralization and brutality, as could be expected in nearly any other country facing such odds and violence.

McMeekin is right to describe the Revolution as a series of missed chances and random acts of fate that brought the Bolsheviks to power. McMeekin is highly critical of the Tsar’s actions preceding WWI, yet seems to imply that since the economy was expanding rapidly pre-WWI, and the Russians were beginning to show signs of turning the war towards their favor in 1917, the revolutionaries and the Soviets were wrong to place so much in the hands of the Bolsheviks.

Yet this only reinforces for the reviewer just how hard it is to understand the socio-economic forces at play of only 100 years ago, never mind the state of mind of exploited peasants, workers, women, and their desire for an authentic socialist government.

McMeekin’s epilogue strays from history toward the ideological, trying to equate theoretical Communism with the totalitarianism of the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Lenin and Stalin were both bloodthirsty tyrants, of this there is no doubt.

Yet when McMeekin claims that “the popularity of Marxist-style maximalist socialism is on the rise again in the United States and other Western “capitalist countries,” his misreading of contemporary politics becomes all too clear.

What is on the rise in the West are right-wing, ethnocentric, xenophobic governments, and a small undercurrent in Left-liberal politics has countered with a mild return to social democracy, exemplified by figures such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who are not Leninists in any reality-based sense of the term.

All told, this book is an excellent resource for the facts and key players in Russian history from the start of WWI to the mid-1920s.

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