Book Review: Age of Anger By Pankaj Mishra

New York Journal of Books, April 17, 2017

 

What are the forces at play behind the referendum for Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of political extremism and polarization, and the outbursts of violence we see in the world today? In Age of Anger: A History of the Present, author Pankaj Mishra searches through the minefield of modernity to find the answers.

Mishra shows that the nationalistic, populist, and xenophobic undercurrents of today’s politics are driven largely by ressentiment, a term from Kierkegaard and explored in depth later by Nietzsche. Ressentiment is simply a word for a combination of anger, envy, and a sense of inferiority—a smoldering form of resentment, really. What drives these emotions of anger and negativity, as Mishra notes, are the gleaming, false promises of global capitalism, which have gone unfulfilled for the majority of the world’s population, and the related uprooting of traditional modes of life, leaving many spiritually and physically unmoored in an unfamiliar world.

Despite the well-told story of liberal democracy as the greatest economic system ever invented, Mishra documents how the ideals of democracy, increasing material affluence, and progress have been unevenly shared around the globe. Many millions of peoples’ lives have worsened from the expansion of globalization and technological advancements.

As Mishra deftly weaves between obscure Eastern European novels, French philosophers, and even Dostoevsky’s prophetic Notes from Underground, he exposes the modern myth of a new era of expanding material possessions and intellectual, work-related, and cultural advancement as a false promise, sold to us by our financial masters and politicians.

As our economic elites and technocrats gained money and power, the general population has been missing out on the benefits of modernizations for centuries. Building up underneath the surface of society is an immense anger, fueled by a permanent, structural underclass dealing with broken dreams and lowered expectations for a better life and future.

Mishra explains the similarities between the drives of many of today’s Islamist terrorists, contemporary hate groups, Hindu supremacists, and lone-wolf attackers, with past killers such as Russian nihilists, the Italian fascists, and the Nazis, and the anarchist violence of the late 19th century. All these examples consist of groups of people united due to an intense frustration regarding their economic and cultural situations, whose answer was, and is still for many, to immorally dehumanize and commit violence against people with different ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds.

In modern times, these emotions are directed at our economic and political elites, thus the backlash and the support for demagogues and neo-fascists around the world, such as Turkey’s Erdogan and India’s Modi. In the West, Mishra explains, we have lighter versions, but still, overall populist/authoritarian-type leadership, with Trump, May, and National Front candidate Le Pen in France, among others.

For Mishra, today’s debate between the populist, bigoted nationalists and the privileged, cosmopolitan globalist elite mirrors the war of ideology between Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire in the 18th century. Rousseau instinctively distrusted the siren songs of the global capitalists, and in Paris he got to see up close the contrasts between a pampered and spoiled elite and the entrenched misery of the poor and working classes.

Voltaire, on the other hand, profited immensely from his private businesses and defended the stock markets as rational and scientific, providing intellectual heft to the mendacious field of economics and liberal, pro-capitalist ideology. Voltaire’s slavish and unflinching support for Russia’s Catherine the Great was further evidence for Rousseau of the financial elite’s ideological blinders, and foresaw the confluence of capitalism and bloody authoritarian leadership that we are dealing with to this day.

Living in an age of diminishing expectations leads the disaffected, dispossessed, and disenchanted toward irrational outbursts of violence, affecting fundamentalists of all religious persuasions. Whether writing about Hindu nationalists or Timothy McVeigh, Mishra explains how:

“Two phenomena much noted in nineteenth-century European society – anomie, or the malaise of the free-floating individual who is only loosely attached to surrounding social norms, and anarchist violence – are now strikingly widespread.”

Mishra’s book is a roller-coaster ride, and well worth the time spent. Mishra is extremely well read, and readers may find some references dizzying and overwrought, while others may find them fascinating and erudite. There are a few slow spots discussing esoteric European novels, but Mishra’s talent for storytelling pushes the reader through fairly easily.

The low point occurs at the end of the book. Mishra does clarify quite well that the rest of the world can only be expected to go through the birth pangs that Western Europe and the U.S. has had to go through to arrive in the “modern world.” However, he does little to explain how today’s anger and resentment are all that different from past centuries and millennia of violence, hatred, and racism. Hasn’t civilization always faced such barbaric and bloody conflicts between the haves and the have-not’s?

Mishra’s critique is extensive and systematic, yet not overly revelatory. Many people instinctively understand that today’s populist leaders are driven by the masses’ wish for a return to authoritarianism, religious fundamentalist dogma, and racist ideology.

In Age of Anger, Mishra leaves us with the impression that rising powers such as India and China are doomed to follow in the West’s footprints. Yet sociocultural dynamics are never so monolithic as to create a destiny for developing nations to exactly follow. There is a possibility that poorer, emerging countries can avoid the rising tides of intolerance and cruelty that the West has stoked.

Mishra, toward the very end, does note that:

“We need to examine our own role in the culture that stokes unappeasable vanity and shallow narcissism. We not only need to interpret, in order to make the future less grim, a world bereft of moral certitudes and metaphysical guarantees. Above all, we need to reflect more penetratingly on our complicity in everyday forms of violence and dispossession, and our callousness before the spectacle of suffering.”

Yet one wishes he would expand more on this, and offer more detailed guidance and solutions to these issues. Mishra gives no blueprint for social change and no message for hope, regarding:

“the great chasm . . . between an elite that seizes modernity’s choicest fruits while disdaining older truths and uprooted masses, who, on finding themselves cheated of the same fruits, recoil into cultural supremacism, populism, and rancorous brutality.”

While Mishra offers an excellent critique of liberal democracy’s inconsistencies and unequal nature, as well as providing a magnificent backdrop for understanding the currents of rage in modern society, one is left wishing for more practical advice and specific answers to help build a better future.

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Reason Bowl Radio: Discussing Terrence McKenna’s Meme

Here’s my first video with Jason Holland for Reason Bowl Radio. We discuss McKenna’s famous line “culture is not your friend”. Please share if you enjoy our blathering. We are hoping to make more episodes soon and this could possibly turn into a semi-regular thing, if enough people show interest.

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Settle Down

Counterpunch, April 3, 2017

“Oh, I’ve plenty of time. My time is entirely my own.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

What does it mean to “settle down”, in today’s political landscape? Let me be clear, I’m not referring to the way the term was used by our teachers in school, as a sneered, patronizing declaration to submit and obey: “Settle down, boys and girls!” Neither do I mean to “settle” in the sense of taking what one can get, selling out one’s values for some feeble, abstract compromise.

Rather, it occurs to me that settling down with oneself, and one’s community, is just about the most radical stance a person can take these days. Whatever do I mean by this? Part of what I’m referring to here is cultivating a healthy inner life. Having a sense of contentedness, equanimity, patience, inner peace, and wild-eyed wonder at the beauty our world has to offer.

Our society must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day. Instead of reacting (often with feigned surprise and outrage) at each and every tragedy and crisis the corporations and the government is behind, concerned citizens and protest movements must begin to go on the offensive.

This will require a unified front among Leftists and activists, and an understanding that the piecemeal approach which mainstream non-profits, social justice groups, and protesters operate under must be reevaluated, reconfigured, and new strategies must be invented.

A sense of duty, care, compassion, and collective responsibility for the planet and the meek of the Earth must be stoked among leaders in civil society. This may require radicals and activists to step back from the maelstrom of contemporary life in certain senses: to set examples by not jet-setting around the globe regularly, to give up luxury consumer items in solidarity with the working classes, etc.

Healthy food, continuing one’s education throughout life, being fulfilled in work and in play, learning to appreciate nature, and developing a spiritual practice are just a few basics. Mainstream American culture does everything it can to distract, obfuscate, and distort every conceivable path towards personal and collective enlightenment among its citizens. This culture of speed, of being unable to hold attention, this mindset of Amusing Ourselves to Death, must be confronted.

Computers, TV, cell phones, social media, video games, and now virtual reality technology are zombifying the average US citizen more and more as each day passes. Rather than providing a lens to understand and interpret current affairs, provide a way to engage and study world cultures, and develop critical thinking skills, our omnipresent screens have become our captors, distracting us with loads of useless information, lowest-common denominator pop culture, and vapid Hollywood movies.

How can citizens fight such an all-pervading degradation of values, art, and culture? Literally, part of what I refer to by settling means sitting on the ground, and being still. Also, walking barefoot on the soil, our mother Earth, will help people understand how to resist. It’s no surprise that many mental health professionals are now advising their patients to take walks in nature or working at tasks like gardening en lieu of prescribing pharmaceuticals. This burgeoning field has been dubbed ecotherapy.

(There are other things that can help. Here’s an abridged version of some personal experiences which have helped me settle down: meditation helps put my mind at ease. So does responsible use of cannabis and psilocybin. Good sex, of course. If you’re traveling in the US, getting away from civilization to recharge is a good place to start. Fishing by a stream worked wonders for me in the Great Smokies. Fasting in the Mojave was a revelation. Sitting and watching the fog roll into a redwood forest was a transcendental experience.)

What kind of advice did you expect from an eco-freak like me, a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper? It is possible to draw strength from the planet, as well as lovers and friends and plant and animal allies, after all. All indigenous societies and Earth-centered communities understand this instinctively, implicitly. For comatose Westerners, it will require stretching and reawakening their enfeebled imaginations. The Earth is alive, teeming with life, and always has been: small children know this, but mass culture has brainwashed us as we’ve grown up to believe otherwise.

Settling also means each of us has to learn how to become rooted in one’s community, state, and nation: growing a stable and harmonious identity, a sense of belongingness, and a meaningful culture. In this sense, settling in one’s community becomes taking a stand: if local resilience and environmental education is built up in your town or city, democratic consensus and citizen action can prevent corporations from buying up local businesses, bulldozing lots for huge real estate projects, and polluting with abandon.

Pacts within communities to promote some sort of egalitarian redistribution of wealth to decrease inequality will foster higher levels of trust, friendship, and reciprocity. Deconstructing capitalist multinationals and replacing them with worker-owned cooperatives is another necessary step, as workers living in the vicinity of factories are less likely to allow for environmentally-dangerous industrial practices. Providing a universal basic income, along with universal health care, even if at first only on a local or state level, would allow the rest of us in the US to see the benefits with a clear gaze, unfiltered by ideology and dogma.

Rules for increasing the percentages of women and minorities in government and the workforce would certainly promote a healthier public sphere. Switching to systems of proportional representation for elections would benefit third parties and allow for new ideas to take hold. Laws for conversion of agriculture to fully organic, non-GMO, pesticide and herbicide free food would uplift people’s spirits and drastically reduce preventable diseases and increase life spans.  Converting more people to eating less meat, especially red meat, will slow the razing of our tropical rainforests. Every town and city will have to convert to renewable energy to soften the impact of global warming, which is slated to raise temperatures about 3-4 degrees Celsius and raise the sea level about eight feet by 2100. These are relatively conservative estimates, by the way.

Personal transformation will have to go hand in hand with citizen-led, community based environmental and socially-oriented education. This will require teachers who will help us remember how to feel comfortable in our own skin, free from the dramas of judgment and victimhood that our culture imposes on us.

Our relationship to the land must change. European settlers who arrived in the New World assumed that land could be owned, and most descendents here in the US still agree. European colonists and later US pioneers had their very own urge for Lebensraum, which accelerated in 19th century America, and was dubbed Manifest Destiny. This destructive, inflexible European ethnocentric outlook has to be defeated. Please read a wonderful Russell Means speech about these issues here.

Most US citizens are sadly still strangers to the continent they live on. In general, the West and the US have become spiritually impoverished. Rather than owning land, we can learn to become stewards, caretakers of the planet, for the brief time each of us is here. For Americans, increasing ecological awareness is key, and to survive, we will have to learn from indigenous, Native American traditions, and Westerners must rediscover and embrace their lost indigenous souls.

We are living in a critical time to determine the planet’s future. As Fritjof Capra foretold, humanity has arrived at The Turning Point. Ecological thresholds are being approached as amounts of desertification, topsoil loss, deforestation, ocean acidification, and atmospheric CO₂ rise year after year. If China and India attempt to industrialize to the levels of Western Europe and the US, it’s essentially game over for continual, steady levels of food production as well as climate stability.

Here we are, at the crossroads. Restraint, humbleness, and compassion must reemerge as key values for our descendants to have a chance at a prosperous future. Global capitalism, a combination of gluttonous consumerism and breakneck speed energy and financial flows, must be thrown out the window. This will in some cases mean monkey-wrenching the machine, and destroying private property. So be it. The conversion to a steady-state, de-growth, equilibrium economy is long overdue.

Stressed, burnt out, with savings tapped out, and overworked from the hustle of corporate America, we are approaching a breaking point. There is a lot of work ahead of us, too. Citizens can find the time, if we make time. That is to say, if our society can dare to imagine a system where time itself does not enslave us. So, lose that wrist watch and cell phone for a day or a hundred, if you can. Take that camping trip with your family you talked about. Live simpler. Love harder. Stop for a minute, and stare into the abyss which is global capitalism, imperialism, and systematic habitat destruction. Listen to the wind, the rocks and soil, rushing water, a crackling fire. One can find answers by keeping still and listening. As a poor, pacifist carpenter once said:

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

 

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Taking the First Step

Counterpunch, March 17, 2017

 

What is the first thing that Leftists and concerned citizens should be doing, in the wake of Trump? The first step among today’s activists should be the same as the first step as drug addicts: awareness of the problem and acceptance of its seriousness. We need to acknowledge that there are major structural problems in our societies, and that all of us are enmeshed in them, regardless of who we vote for, what zip code we live in, or what we shop for.

We can start by not reacting emotionally, by not organizing protests simply to make us feel better. We can resist better by being calm, rational, and patient: reflecting on where we are as a culture, and how our blood-soaked history of capitalism and imperialism brought us here. Rather than reacting out of anger or sadness, serious activists should take a step back, reflect on the hydra-like nature of capitalism and how their own lives have become ensnared by it, and begin to organize for the long game, beyond the legitimate grievances against Trump.

We can continue the fight by acknowledging our own complicity as US citizens in the ongoing global bloodbath: we use gas, oil, and coal far beyond our basic needs; we pay taxes which pay for the weapons of death our government wields against weak, defenseless nations. Between Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other not-so-covert operations worldwide, our country is directly responsible for tens of millions of deaths worldwide since WWII, not to mention the countless plants and animals killed from deadly toxins and resource extraction such as indiscriminant and unnecessary pesticide and herbicide use, nuclear radiation, DDT, Agent Orange, strip mining, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, and many, many more disgusting acts of cruelty against the planet and our fellow man. In short, the US has become the fourth Reich, with a truly hegemonic, global reach.

A dignified silence, a brief respite to ignore the ignoble Trump administration, could work wonders: imagine if the mainstream media took a few days or a week not reporting on Trump’s every breath and actually reported real issues, such as the fact that the UN is sounding the alarm about the worst famine crisis since World War Two.

It is mainstream culture that has embraced who Trump is and what he stands for. It was our media that slavishly and mind-numbingly normalized Trump’s dangerous, irrational, and sociopathic behavior. The US political system, with its tentacles entangled in the endless distraction of state primaries, using discriminatory policies against third parties, controlled by corporate conglomerates and lobbyists, with public discourse replaced by sensationalist, headline-seeking yellow journalism and sound bites, has denied us the soil in which democracy can grow.

Citizens have been reduced to spectators in elections, where every state is a contest, a trivial competition to be won for Team Red or Blue. There is very little mention that elections exist not just for parties to gain power, taxes to be apportioned, and for our representatives to pass necessary legislation, but that informed and spirited public debate is the well-spring of democracy, where novel ideas can take root and flourish. Yet capitalist exploitation, whether of Team Red or Team Blue variety, continues to prevent people and communities from redesigning their lives and redefining progress to allow for a peaceful, egalitarian way of life.

Let’s take one recent example of the miseducation of liberals. Mainstream Democratic supporters still prattle on uselessly about possible Russian involvement in the election, although the likelihood is very low. What they fail to understand is that interfering is exactly what governments and foreign intelligence agencies are designed to do: meddle in other’s affairs abroad, gather and keep secrets for blackmail and leverage over other countries, steal technology and military techniques, use black propaganda to shape national perceptions, etc. Never mind the innocuous pretensions to gathering information for “national security”. The CIA has murderously overthrown dozens of governments since WWII: please see William Blum’s Killing Hope for details.

Instead, we should call for a ban on all intelligence agencies, and for that matter, all nuclear weapons and energy, and all standing armies worldwide: killing is killing, no matter who is doing it, governments or terrorists. The dark arts which the intelligence communities specialize in are kept secret not to keep adversaries guessing about the sources and methods used, but because, exposed to the light of day, the public would never accept such outright, barbaric depravity.

This will require citizens and activists to look beyond our own borders, to see the levels and layers of devastation capitalism has reaped around the world. It will require us to understand that no country can stand alone, that all of our actions are interconnected, and that many of the products we use are ripped from the Earth’s body without any recompense, without any acknowledgment of the grievous injuries we cause. It will require people to learn about the civil war in South Sudan which is driven by famine, of state repression in Lhasa, to learn about the Kings of Corruption in Argentina and Brazil.

Only an internationalist Left can begin to work towards fighting global warming, deforestation, ethnic wars, and desertification of the planet. Countries using xenophobia and nativism as their raison d’etre simply can’t develop enough solidarity for the many pressing crises of the 21st century. This can only be done by enlarging a sense of care in our communities to include protection for peoples of all nations, plant and animal life, and future human generations. To survive, we must develop a Planetary Vision.

If the past year has taught us anything, it is that now, after the initial shocks of Brexit and Trump, we simply don’t have as much time as we previously thought we had. The pace of the unraveling is picking up, and Western governments are continuing to hollow out our social services and environmental regulations against the will of the people, all the while convincing the populace that their interests lie solely in provincial, domestic affairs, with little to no sympathy for international disasters, wars, droughts, etc.

As the pace of social disorientation continues to pick up, we have foolishly deepened our addictions to social media and our screen times, if only to shield us from the rising tides of inequality and social injustice. Digital technologies should be reevaluated as means to the ends of diminishing human suffering and increasing the planetary knowledge base, instead of ends in themselves, becoming the mass distractions of our age.

It’s quite late in the evening for capitalist governments. Their demise is in many ways overdue, but most people in the West haven’t learned to look down yet. Proper political reflection requires this, an unblinking, unflinching gaze at the carnage caused by our culture’s complicity and acquiescence towards industrialism, free-market ideology, and globalization. The mega- corporations, the federal government, and our military-industrial complex are not our friends.

The industrialized capitalist nations are headed for a cataclysm, and the worst shockwaves will fall upon the smaller, developing nations. Can Western activists, concerned citizens, and academics look down, get off their treadmills, go beyond their specialized niches, lecture circuits, and unite to form a global Left?

Once we collectively accept responsibility for the sorry state of our union, we can begin the healing process. The first step is always the hardest, but we can’t avoid the facts: our childlike dependency and unquestioning loyalty towards our corporate and political leaders must be broken, starting now.

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Something is Happening

Counterpunch, February 13, 2017

 

Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is: Do you? No one knows, really, as this something is still evolving.  As we look back to 2016, though, it is abundantly clear that history has awoken from its slumber. We’ve had a couple events in the West last year: Brexit and Trump.

Politically-charged, dynamic events (as Alain Badiou might define them) have been rare in the West since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the USSR. Capitalism made it seem as if neoliberalism was winning in the 1990s, even as the US wantonly murdered in Iraq and took perverse pleasure in helping to dismember Yugoslavia, among other things.

In fact, one could argue there have only been four notable Western political events in the post-Cold War era: the 9/11 attacks, the 2003 protests against the Iraq War, the 2008 banking crisis and following protest movements of 2011 (Occupy and 15-M Movement), and the populist, anger-driven aforementioned events of 2016.

You see, authentic, spontaneous political events (in the form of uprisings or popular revolts against the elite) are a no-no in the West. History is supposed to have ended, remember? Max Weber called this the Iron Cage, and for good reason.

Now, though, the meaninglessness and rootlessness of our lives trapped inside the cage have become too obvious to ignore, for most of us. As each day passes, our political discourse glosses over how lazy, ignorant, mean-spirited, and numb our society has become. We import luxuries from all over the globe, but can’t be bothered to cook or grow our own food, assemble our own electronics, expand renewable energy projects, provide clean water to inner cities, organize high-speed transport, or educate our youth without drowning them in debt, etc.

So, many have lashed out against the system, and our more vulnerable members of society, in anger, defiance, out of sheer ignorance. Could it be because, deep down, we know how helpless, sheltered, and out-of-touch our society is, compared to the rest of the world? What are the root causes of this disintegration of public discourse?

One cause is our utter dependency on the capitalist system to clothe, feed, and shelter us. What we used to inherit from our mothers and fathers, important agricultural knowledge, artisanal and cultural wisdom, a sense of place and belonging, have all been traded in for money, the privilege to be exploited by capitalism, toiling in jobs that alienate us from ourselves, families, the Earth. Paper bills and electronic bank accounts are a pitiful substitute for self-reliance. This loss, this grief, isn’t allowed to be expressed in public. Logical positivism tells us that progress will prevail, the future will be better than the past, and anyone who thinks otherwise must be some sort of Luddite.

Since real income has fallen and social services have been slashed in the last 40-plus years, many have seen their loved ones’ lives cut short (lack of access to health care and quality food and produce, air and water pollution), their dreams defiled (steady jobs gone, factories shuttered), their entertainment homogenized and dangerous (sports mania has become normalized, “Go Team!”, alcohol, painkiller, and opiate addiction is rampant), their hopes for the future shattered (community and public space swallowed by corporations).

There are those, as well, still too plugged into the system (both Trump and Clinton voters), too attached to their gadgets, to the hum of their slave-labor appliances, to the glow emanating from their screens. They will cry incessantly about the turning away of Muslims from flights, but there is only silence for the millions killed abroad by the US war machine. Mainstream liberals are just as likely as the meanest, most selfish conservatives to fall prey to emotional pleas, demagoguery, and pathetic attempts to see themselves as victims in this Age of Anger.

The urge to resort to the myth of a righteous, homogenous, “pure” social group, to denigrate the other, is strong in such dire, despondent situations. In America, though, material poverty cannot be said to be the only, or even the main causal factor, behind this return of nativism and tribalism. Rather, it is undoubtedly a spiritual malaise that has swept over the West. Ever since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, it has been technology which has provided the underlying weltanschauung for our culture. Sprouting from this, an inhuman and Earth-destroying morality has formed. Jacques Ellul explains:

“A principal characteristic of technique … is its refusal to tolerate moral judgments. It is absolutely independent of them and eliminates them from its domain. Technique never observes the distinction between moral and immoral use. It tends on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality.” (1)

Thus, Western society, through the use of mass-produced electronics and disseminated in what some call our “Information Age”, has now seemingly accelerated the pace of change and ecological destruction beyond the scope of any group or nation which could possibly control it. We are then confronted with the thought that only an economic collapse or series of natural disasters could possibly provide the impetus for revolutionary change to occur. This only leaves us feeling helpless, depressed, and passive in the face of government oppression and capitalist exploitation.

Not only that, but capitalism has quite literally dulled our senses and disconnected us from our source of being, planet Earth. Don’t believe me? Read this amazing paper on how Polynesian wayfinders discovered islands thousands of miles apart without any modern technology. This is part of what Morris Berman means by Coming to our Senses. To re-establish our unity with nature, the Western notion of an ego-driven, domineering and reductionist search for truth, meaning, and creativity must be thrown out. Here, Berman invokes Simone Weil:

“‘decreate’ yourself in order to create the work, as God (Weil says) diminished Himself in order to create the world. It would be more accurate to say that you don’t create the work, but rather you step out of the way and let it happen.” (2)

This isn’t really discussed among wide swaths of leftists, the social-justice crowd, or with mainstream liberals. It’s anathema to a materialistic, dead world where freedom has been traded for comforting lies, money has been substituted for the ability to provide for ourselves and our communities, and the abundance and resiliency (truly a miracle!) of the Earth is taken for granted as we chase our next fix for consumer goods, our next chance for drugs or gadgets to dim our perception.

What you’re not supposed to say in public, of course, is that our world is falling apart, and we are doing nothing to stop it. The reactions are too raw, the reality too grim, even as we know, for example, that 10% or more of the total species on Earth will be gone by 2050.

Yet we can do something: there is an opening now in political discourse which has been previously denied to us. The Republican and Democratic parties have thoroughly delegitimized themselves by offering up Trump and Clinton as their figureheads: these were widely considered the most widely disliked candidates in recent memory, if not the history of our republic. There is room for Libertarians, Greens, and Socialists to gain power: yet only if they avoid their own regrettable sectarianism, organize, and promote an inclusive, broad-based platform.

To do so, citizens will have to gain some perspective on their lives. A slow pace of life needs to be seen as a virtue, not a sin: many on the right and left are quick to denounce the hedonism of the jet-setting, parasitic globalists, the Davos men; yet refuse to see their own lifestyles and actions as smaller examples of such outlandish consumption.

If we are open to life and our environment as part of a greater whole, an unfathomable mystery, we can refuse our culture’s siren songs of death, misery, and destruction. While modern technology can be useful if reined in by an Earth-conscious, responsible morality, some things are better left unknown, undiscovered, if it risks destroying the Earth in order to find the answer. Rather than running a cost/benefit analysis to determine the land’s worth, some aspects of the planet and the universe are better Left Sacred.

Also, acknowledging our mortality, and accepting the basic fact that death could come for you at any moment, can liberate our souls and propel them to unimaginable heights. Joe Crookston explains this quite well:

“And then when I turn dry and brown
I’ll lay me down to rest
I’ll turn myself around again
As part of an eagle’s nest
And when that eagle learns to fly
I’ll flutter from that tree
I’ll turn myself around again
As part of the mystery”

Notes:

1.) Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Vintage Books, 1964. p. 97.

2.) Berman, Morris. Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West. Simon & Schuster, 1989. p. 337.

 

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Interview

Hey everybody, I wanted to post the link to my interview with Marcus Ruiz Evans of Yes California. It’s quite long, so I won’t repost here, but you can read it in its entirety at Dissident Voice: http://dissidentvoice.org/2016/10/secede-to-succeed/

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We Are on Our Own Now

Counterpunch, January 23, 2017

 

 

No one is coming to save us. There is no political savior coming, no new national campaign for Hope and Change, no new version of a progressive Revolution, led by Bernie Sanders or anyone else. There are no more smooth-talking, charismatic, erudite Harvard law professors in Congress waiting in the wings for 2020, either. There are no respectable Democrats coming to sink the “Left” back into another political coma either, no one to alleviate the guilt “liberals” and fake-leftists feel about the current state of America. It is only us, citizens, not politicians, who can begin to co-create a livable future.

We are who we are, as a nation. Let’s face it: we are all deplorables now. We allowed this to happen,  Democrats and Republicans alike, aided and abetted it, we laughed as a neo-fascist demagogue skyrocketed through the polls, we feigned outrage, and we did not launch any significant form of resistance to Trump, or Clinton either.

We allowed childishness, fear, hate, and narcissism to explode on social media, mainstream news, and mass culture, yet are somehow surprised when these features show up in our political milieu. We continue to allow the myth of American exceptionalism to pervade every nook and cranny of private and public life, yet are shocked at Trump’s personal hubris.

We’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we should “Make America Great Again”, when the plight of the world’s poor continues to worsen. There are now eight people (six are Americans) with more wealth than half the world’s population.  If one considers all of those in the developing world who die of starvation, drought, and preventable diseases each year due to lack of antibiotics, antivirals, and vaccines, it is clear that the rich West is guilty of genocide by inaction.

It is the US federal government, working with NGOs and the UN, who should be at the forefront of planning and distributing medicine, open-source technology, and freely available patents and inventions to the world’s needy. Yet this can only work when we elect representatives with honor, virtue, courage, and a moral code.

What we are left with in Washington are the leaches and sycophants of capitalism, devoted to a dying system of consumerism, a casino-like rigged economy propped up by bankers’ tricks, mineral and resource extraction, and fossil fuel use. Self-serving, without a conscience, our corrupt representatives, lobbyists, and corporate leaders must be sent a message: you are all alone. As much as possible, we as citizens must begin our own Boycott-Divest-Sanction movement against the transnational corporations.

This doesn’t mean that we are abandoning our responsibilities, or being quietists: only that we recognize the culture of death, and refuse further involvement. In this sense, resistance is a dignified silence and non-involvement.

Boycotting the international conglomerates will inflict damage on the economy, and will likely affect standards of living for large parts of the population. We must not overlook this fact, yet we cannot shy away from it either: only by a direct confrontation will the parasitic corporate powers be destroyed once and for all.

The jobs are not returning, anyways. Unemployment will rise as automation and robotics absorb both blue and white collar work. Even Elon Musk is now speaking out in favor of a universal basic income.

While the majority of Americans are hypnotized by our criminal duopoly, and continue to place faith in the spectacle of mass-media driven elections, the rest of us must begin to organize horizontal, parallel political structures. In doing so, more and more will abandon the illusion that our government is benevolent. This will forge new bonds between neighbors, friends, and communities: it is these new relationships and bridges we must build to weather us through the storms of the collapse of neoliberal capitalism and the ravages of global warming and ecosystem degradation.

It is land and the right to grow our own food and water, to use renewable energy technologies for our homes, to use taxes for education and health initiatives, to provide for our families and community, which is urgently needed. Electronics and machines must be reevaluated as means to an end of a higher quality of life, not as self-justifying ends in themselves. Similarity, if “the medium is the message,” as Marshall McLuhan says, then we must reconsider whether our mass media is propagandizing and stupefying the public beyond our capabilities to react in a calm, rational, responsible manner. Maybe TV sound bites, twitter trolling, and alternate worldviews streaming on social media are not the best ways to promote public discourse, cooperation, and an amiable society.

It must be admitted that for much of the world’s population, the experiment of modernity just hasn’t worked out as well as we’ve been led to believe. Billions still live in abject poverty, and millions in the West still suffer from false consciousness, alienating labor, spiritual malaise, anomie, and ennui.

To combat such serious maladies, entire industries such as defense companies which use harmful mining and extraction techniques will have to be nationalized and used for good, such as farming equipment, efficient public transportation, and high-speed rail corridors. Companies that promote warfare and manufacture dangerous weapons will be forced to have workers seize the means of production and “turn their swords into plowshares”, or else they will have to be broken up.

Public squares must be reclaimed as commons for all, and federal wilderness should be reevaluated to allow for autonomous land usage for First Nations, for responsible, sustainable practitioners of agroecology, and cities must become linked by greenbelts, as Lewis Mumford might have imagined them.

At the same time, federal lands should not be allowed to be sold off to state or local entities: Republicans in Congress are prepared to do the unthinkable, by rewriting a technicality in a budget law to allow for the selling off of public landholdings. Oil, gas, and real estate magnates will no doubt be circling the waters and bribing state officials if federal land is parceled off to state governments.

We have to begin now, in every town, to engage in one-on-one bonding, to heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on each other and the planet, to slow down our pace of life, to realize that we need not fear demagogues, if we organize and resist. It is this fear and anxiety about the future that has put the anti-science Republicans in Congress, and the same emotions have catapulted Trump into the White House.

This can be overcome, only by acknowledging the reality of the situation. We don’t have much time, before the walls start to rise, the jobs start to dry up, the elderly begin to be neglected, and the rising numbers of homeless, needy, and refugees begin to overwhelm the capacity of our society to absorb the shocks. Reaching out a friendly hand to those closest to you, establishing solidarity with the world community, and providing for the less fortunate are no longer issues that Westerners can avoid, by frittering away hours in meaningless jobs or staring numbly at screens. There is still a possibility for the world’s population to collectively thrive and flourish, if our energies are harnessed to promote egalitarian democracy and global cooperation, and the West is willing to remove its rose-colored glasses, to see the world as it truly is.

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