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What could go wrong?

Climate Talks In Copenhagen Dominated By Climate Destroying Corps
This is about the United Nations climate talks, as they are being sponsored by fossil fuel interests.  I gather they released the list of corporate sponsors.  Here is the money passage:
And who are the corporations financing the November 30th to December 11th conference—purportedly held to “achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C?”

They include the French energy companies Engie and EDF, whose coal plants, according to Malika Peyraut of Friends of the Earth, “are equivalent to nearly half of France’s entire emissions.”

They also include the French bank BNP-Paribas, which “accounts for half of the total support—now totaling more than 30 billion euros—provided by French banks to the coal industry between 2005 and April 2014,” according to the global NGO network Bank Track.

And just so the reading audience gets the point, the piece continues:
The 20 corporate sponsors revealed by Guignard on Wednesday constitute just the first group, with many more to come.
But hey, at least they're talking about it.  This news reminds me of nothing so much as another recently-breaking story.

Meanwhile, in the US, courtesy of Don midwest, as regards the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the newest "trade deal" (shall we call it "son of NAFTA"?) and climate change.  Apparently the administration has put out some sort of promo through the US Trade Representative telling everyone that the TPP and the TTIP, which is the deal after that, will be great for climate change.  This is an effort to promote "trade," well, corporate control really, good for corporations and all that.  However!  As Don midwest points out, referencing a Common Dreams article:

Also missing from the USTR report is how both TPP and TTIP continue an extractive model of trade that has not only negatively impacted jobs and equality, but has also been devastating for the climate.
Why?
The (environmentalist) groups pointed out that past trade deals, also sold as “green,” are hindering community responses to climate change: rules under NAFTA actually require Canada to export an ever-increasing amount of oil to the U.S., driving further production of dirty tar sand oil; a trade tribunal at the World Trade Organization ruled against an Ontario policy designed to support the creation of green jobs to produce locally-sourced renewable energy; trade rules allowed Swedish energy companies to challenge a German ban on nuclear energy production, undermining the country’s ability to set energy policy; and rules under NAFTA were used by a U.S. energy company to challenge a Quebec ban on fracking designed to protect the St. Lawrence River.
Oh and about those "environmental provisions"?  They're not enforceable.  Power will rest in the hands of unaccountable ISDS courts, packed with representatives of corporate financial interests.  

Write all the provisions you want; write all of the climate change deals you want.  What's really going on here is that the big financial interests sense the train wreck up ahead, and what are they doing?  Working overtime to lock in future profits from fossil fuel exploitation.  

One imagines a rich man, loaded down with suitcases full of money, aboard a sinking ship.  If he piles all of the money onto the tiny lifeboat, the lifeboat will sink, and no other passengers will be able to sit in the lifeboat.  But then, he thinks, maybe if I load all of the money onto the lifeboat, the lifeboat will take some time to sink!  And if it's just about to sink, I can always toss a suitcase or two overboard to keep it barely afloat!  yeah, that's the ticket!

That's what these guys are doing -- they're the rich man.  And climate change is what will make the ship of civilization sink.

Discuss

Sun May 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM PDT

The function of criticism

by Cassiodorus

It's just amazing how much criticism of elite Republicans goes on here at DailyKos.com!  So what does all of this criticism say about elite Republicans?  They play us for suckers, they wage war on workers, they hate the poor, they sound nasty, they're arrogant and wrong, and so on.

You'd think that if the elite Republicans actually read all of these criticisms published by front-pagers at DailyKos.com and took them to heart, they'd reform, and having reformed, they'd be the party to beat!  They would of course no longer be who they are now, at least in the descriptions put forth each day here.  But, once they'd reformed, who wouldn't want to be a Republican under those circumstances?  (And, of course, having heeded all of our front pagers' criticisms, said Republicans would no doubt start by thanking the blog of "more and better Democrats" for having goaded them into self-renewal!  This, no doubt, the result of years of DailyKos.com efforts to make the Republican party a better party.)

Criticism can be a vehicle for improvement.  We often criticize people with the aim in mind of making them better -- we'd rather that those we criticize not play us for suckers, that they'd love the poor, that they would sound nicer, and that in word and deed they would be both humble and correct.  And if those we criticized really heard our criticisms, they'd take what we said to heart, and improve.

Of course, since they received so little of our criticism, the elites of the Democratic Party would maintain it as the same party it's always been.  This might not be good for the Democrats, and it wouldn't be a good thing for us, yet the reigning blog of "more and better Democrats" is okay with it.

Alas, however, the Republicans do not appear to be at all willing to take advantage of the joint strategy employed by the front-pagers here at DailyKos.com.  Maybe they're all dependent upon Koch money or maybe they just want to "cut the public out of the deal-making" or something like that.  But it would be sad if all of this blog's critical efforts to improve the Republican Party were to no avail.

An alternate strategy in deploying criticism, of course, would be to use it to point out where certain political actors "should know better."  Advocates of this particular deployment of criticism would not focus upon wasting critical pearls on those "swine" who were unwilling to use them.  (The people who in fact count as "swine" may, however, merely be those without self-esteem, who can't take criticism at present.  So I use the term "swine" loosely here.)  In deploying such a strategy, we criticize those whom we feel have the potential to take our criticisms to heart and to improve from them.

Perhaps to employ this alternate strategy we would need to learn a new critical language, using terms explicitly labeled as those of constructive criticism.  Here's how it sounds when it's aimed at politicians: "If you wish to merit our votes, you would listen to our constructive criticism, and here is what you would do."

In order to employ such a critical strategy, we would need to become more sensitive, as well, to whether or not those we criticize are actually listening to us.  Politicians will often say nice things to us and pretend that they "feel our pain" but all the while they act as if the people to whom they really listen are their corporate representatives and financial donors.  "Gee, if only our politicians could hear us they'd sympathize with our plight and do something to help us!" you might think at times.  After all, we elected them.  But, really -- have we given our favorite politicians any concrete reasons to listen to us?  Do they associate any material penalty with the consequences of not listening to us?  We need to make it clear to our favorite politicians that such a penalty exists.  

And what about the Republicans?  It doesn't seem as if they'll listen.  The front-pagers here have criticized them relentlessly, year after year, but the behaviors of the elite Republicans only get worse.  If they're a menace, their political power needs to be destroyed -- which means investigating why ordinary people vote for them, and appealing to said ordinary people for a change in behavior.

A Google search for "why do poor people vote Republican?" reveals, most prominently, two interesting pieces: 1) Kevin Drum's piece in Mother Jones on "Here's Why The White Working Class Hates Democrats," and 2) Gary Younge's piece "Working class voters: why America's poor are willing to vote Republican."  

Drum wants to argue that it was all about hatred for the "undeserving poor":

But if that's the case, why does the WWC continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare.
Why does Drum think welfare is stigmatized?
...at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn't vote for Democrats either.
As Drum points out, there is no point criticizing the misplaced priorities implied in such a vision of economic reality.  You want, then, another way of appealing to those who think in such a way.

Younge's piece, for its part, has this gem of an observation:

When liberals depict the existence of poor white Republicans as an expression of mass idiocy and false consciousness they not only disparage poor white people, they provide conservatives with one of their key talking points which is that liberals are elitists who look down on poorer whites.
Younge's observation brings us back to the main topic of this diary -- criticism.  In everyday life, ordinary people are just offended by criticism.  "I take offense to those remarks!"  The matter of whether or not the remarks were true takes a back seat to how they were uttered.  And perhaps everyone imagines that they are supposed to start out looking perfect, because first impressions are so important.  Not everyone knows that there is more than one way to make a good first impression.

Do we know how to criticize effectively?  When criticism is just jeering, then how is it effective?  Sure, you might inspire your allies to more actively dislike those whom you jeer.  But to what end?  Wouldn't you rather inspire your allies to know how to criticize effectively, so that those who "should know better" might be improved by their criticisms?

Perhaps political partisans imagine that politics is like a team sport, and that they are on some sort of political drill team.  It's easy to see the idea of "political self-interest" becoming completely lost in this sort of framework.

I suppose I think this way because, as I see it, the idea of "political self-interest" has been lost to America.  What do we really get, these days, for our income tax moneys?  A few more wars, a trade agreement or two, and government for rich people and out-of-control bureaucrats?  Perhaps it's time to abandon "hooray for the good guys" in favor of "let's figure out how to be the good guys."  In this regard effective constructive criticism might be the easiest way through.

Discuss

Fri May 15, 2015 at 03:15 PM PDT

Bureaucracies out of control

by Cassiodorus

It's long after Herbert Marcuse warned us of technocracy in his classic (1964) One-Dimensional Man.  You know, that part (page 32 if you want to look it up) in which Marcuse says "the capitalist bosses and owners are losing their identity as responsible agents; they are assuming the function of bureaucrats in a corporate machine" and so on.   So let's just roll this stuff out, m'kay?

The US Military Uncontained: Chaos Spread, Casualties Inflicted, Missions Unaccomplished
This great summary appeared in yesterday's TruthOut and today's Naked Capitalism.  I'm sure it's been true for quite some time now that the US military has existed for the most part to keep its own gravy train going, but it's nice to see it summarized so well here:
Once upon a time, the US military was more or less tied to continental defense and limited by strong rivals in its hegemonic designs. No longer. Today, it has uncontained ambitions across the globe and even as it continually stumbles in achieving them, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or elsewhere, its growth is assured, as our leaders trip over one another in continuing to shower it with staggering sums of money and unconditional love.
Oh, and here's a cute one from last October:
Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon
Here's the key passage:
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
Both of these are reminiscent of another, slightly-less-recent study:
Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy
The study's conclusion:
Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
So who's got power?  Rich people.  Bureaucrats.  The military.  David Graeber complains about the bureaucrats in one of his "Baffler" jeremiads.

What are they doing with it?  They're maintaining their own power.  They're creating even more bureaucracy -- "Lambert Strether" has a fun time discussing the unaccountable ISDS courts which we'll see once the TPP is passed. Otherwise, they're being screw-ups.

Wise leadership would have set America, and the world-society as a whole, on a different course -- towards the utopia of human rights, or toward a less severe dieoff, as opposed to the continued maintenance of the society of money.  But that's not what oligarchies are about -- oligarchies are about keeping groups of people in power, and making sure the rest of us continue to work for them.

I suppose there's always resistance.  Here's a small-scale example.

Continue Reading

Yeah, I know, maybe if I'm very lucky this will generate another Rox/ Sux piefight, just like this diary has generated one today about Hillary Clinton.  I think of those piefights as opportunities -- they give you all an opportunity to share where you really stand, rather than being able to put on leftistface while using "omigod Republicans" as a backup debating strategy.

I suppose that we will be reading the leftistface/ omigod Republicans shuffle until 2036, when we can expect famine, drought, and climate-change adjusted heat waves to ravage 93% America while great methane fireballs emerge from the floors of our dead oceans and explode into flames.  And even then nobody will be able to figure out where the "liberal Democrats" stand on Presidents who support oil interests.  At any rate, here is this diary's main course, a statement day-before-yesterday by Bill McKibben:

Obama’s Catastrophic Climate-Change Denial
McKibben's complaint is as follows:
THE Obama administration’s decision to give Shell Oil the go-ahead to drill in the Arctic shows why we may never win the fight against climate change. Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no.
Now, of course, if you look at the White House page on global warming, you can see that President Obama accepts the scientific consensus on global warming, and that he claims to have some sort of plan.  So what's McKibben's beef?  Here's the critical paragraph in which McKibben outlines his position.  Like me, McKibben thinks we need to keep the grease in the ground:
But you can’t deal with climate on the demand side alone. If we keep digging up more coal, gas and oil, it will get burned, if not here, then somewhere else. This is precisely the conclusion that a study in the journal Nature reached in January: If we’re to have any chance of meeting even Mr. Obama’s weak goal of holding temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, we have to leave most carbon underground. That paper, in particular, showed that the coal reserves in the Powder River basin in the West and the oil in Canada’s tar sands had to be left largely untouched, and that there was no climate-friendly scenario in which any oil or gas could be drilled in the Arctic.
On the one hand, Obama makes deals with China; on the other hand, he allows Shell to drill in the Arctic.  How does McKibben reconcile the contradiction in Obama?
This is not climate denial of the Republican sort, where people simply pretend the science isn’t real. This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children. They just deny the meaning of the science, which is that we must keep carbon in the ground.
What liberals really like is a President they can call a "leftist."  Actually forcing the government to do something, however, is another issue for them.  We might say "hurray" when someone posts a global warming diary with lots of pretty videos on DailyKos.com -- and we might even claim that we've "put pressure" upon our politicians to do something effective.  But as long as our backup position is "omigod Republicans," it's all hat and no cattle.

Here's how you pressure politicians within an authoritarian system like ours:

1) Form a voting bloc
2) Threaten to withhold your votes from your favorite politicians if they fail to carry out your agenda
3) Withhold votes from those who fail to carry out your agenda

Think we can do it if the planet is at stake?  Clinton takes gobs of money from oil interests.  What's your position?

Discuss

Summary: Yesterday we read the "OPOL report," which argued we have a "bullshit political system."  Today, with reference to a piece by Raul Ilargi Meijer in today's Naked Capitalism, I'm going to suggest that a bullshit political system is appropriate to a bullshit world economy.  Everything might look nice on the surface, but this is so because the managers of that surface are kept very busy polishing it and making it look clean and shiny and, well, unreal.  If you look hard enough, however, you can see the scary reality (symbolized by Ilargi's necrophiliac title) underneath.

Continue Reading
Property is theft. -- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.  -- Frederick Douglass
So what white America told black America was: "Two hundred fifty years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, maybe a few civil rights acts in the Sixties, and you're on your own! Enjoy discrimination and predatory policing!" I'm sure it was applied with the same banal foolishness with which white America applies corporal punishment to its children.

Does this sound like a fair deal to you?  And everyone's worried about a few broken windows?  

Back in June of last year we read a call for reparations from Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Let's be clear about what this is about: it's a call for reparation payments, to be issued to African-Americans, as restitution for slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism continued to the present day.  Coates' piece is great.  He updates the story of generation-after-generation white plunder and Black desperation from the era of slavery to the present day, in which, as Glen Ford put it:

Black America has plummeted to such economic depths... that there is no possibility of ever reaching economic parity with whites absent a social revolution, the beginnings of which we may be witnessing in the growing mobilization against brutal police enforcement of the oppressive social order.
Thus Baltimore, as Ferguson, as Florence and Normandie, and as Watts.
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OK, so first the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Nobody is allowed to see it, but it's going to pass.  The White House is working with Republicans on this one.

One of the things TPP will probably be able to do is that it will in all likelihood create an "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" mechanism, wherein state restrictions on business can be formulated as curbs on "investor rights," thus allowing for a sort of absolutist capitalism in which the unaccountable ISDS courts, staffed by corporate representatives, can continually rewrite the rules so as to create ever-expanding definitions of "investor rights."  Public Citizen:

There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create ever-expanding interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.The leaked text reveals the same “safeguard” terms that have been included in U.S. pacts since the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). CAFTA tribunals have simply ignored the “safeguard” provisions that the leaked text replicates for the TPP, and have continued to rule against governments based on concocted obligations to which governments never agreed. The leaked text also abandons a safeguard proposed in the 2012 leaked TPP investment text, which excluded public interest regulations from indirect expropriation claims, stating, “non-discriminatory regulatory actions … that are designed and applied to achieve legitimate public welfare objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment do not constitute indirect expropriation.” Today’s leaked text eviscerates that clause by adding a fatal loophole that has been found in past U.S. pacts.
The trade deals will basically rewrite zoning and land-use law.  The TPP and other such deals will guarantee profits for multinational corporations.

Okay, so that's the TPP, and probably also the TTIP and a number of other deals.  (Meanwhile, the White House claims that Hillary Clinton is on board with all this.  There's nothing like good insurance.)  What does this have to do about abrupt climate change?

The sort of global governance which will be necessary to mitigate abrupt climate change is being reinforced, here -- but the rules are being written to give everyone global governance in the form of ironclad corporate hegemony, locking in profits for those who expect them, rather than in any form conducive to the medium-term future survival of planetary civilization.  

It's hard to imagine any of the signatories to these details being able to do anything about climate change besides buying a few solar panels and hoping for the best.  You know, without catching some adverse rulings from the ISDS courts.  It's definitely hard to imagine any sort of "keep the grease in the ground" strategy with the TPP and the TTIP in place.  Is that okay with everyone here?  

And once our system of global governance starts guaranteeing corporate profits, how far of a leap is it for them to guarantee profits for fossil fuel interests?

Discuss

From the Huffington Post's Zach Carter:

Hillary Clinton Calls For 'Toppling' The 1 Percent
Hillary Clinton believes that strengthening the middle class and alleviating income inequality will require "toppling" the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to a New York Times profile published on Tuesday.
Okay, I've read the HuffPo piece, I've read the New York Times link, and I've read Matt Taibbi's analysis, which seems to me to be thorough.

So here is my take.  I'm not going to get into what this whole "topple the 1%" pitch says about Hillary Clinton here.  What's important about Clinton's call for "toppling," rather, is what it says about her mass public audience.  Clinton's mass public audience must really need a "leftist."  My link explains in full what I mean by a "leftist" here -- a "leftist" caters symbolically to "left-wing" demand, of course, but it's really up to an audience to define who is or isn't a "leftist."  For some very, very important reason, Clinton can't sell corporate conservatism to the mass public as the superior alternative to antipublic conservatism, and so she responds to that reason by presenting "leftism."

Continue Reading

Dear Political Elites Elected Representatives,

This is my most heartfelt email.  Please consider it as if the fate of your souls were in the balance.

I know that you receive campaign donations from billionaires and "funding organizations" who consider you a much better investment than, say, actual productive capital, and that your fictions of a robust economic recovery are mighty.  I know that you'll respond to all of my concerns with small-time government programs which benefit people who make great photo-ops, and with glorious platitudes bearing little relation to actual policy.  And I know that I'm going to vote for you anyway, rather than be accused of disloyalty by those whose rallying cry for the past four decades was and is "omigod the other party!"

So why am I pleading before you today?  It's not really about any actual piece of legislation, because of course I'm not rich enough to influence policy.  And I know that your followers like to portray you as being vastly different than your buddies with that other, more sinister, (alphabet letter) next to their names.  Rather, I'm pleading before you today because my buddies need to see that I've maintained the appearance of "pressuring" you.  

You know of course that if I were actually to pressure you (without the scare-quotes), I'd threaten to withhold my vote for you unless and until you enacted my agenda.  But I have no such intentions because "omigod the other party."  Thus my unswerving party loyalty.  BUT REMEMBER THAT I REALLY ONLY LIKE THE COOL PEOPLE Y'KNOW.  You can be one of those people if you say some nice populist things now and then.

I am writing you today to remind you of the urgent necessity, impending with great immediacy now for over four decades, of a less evil politics than the one promised by that Party Whose Name Dare Not Be Enunciated Here.  We need to be sure that if anyone really asks penetrating questions about what "lesser evil" politics means, we can throw up a facade or two.  

This is especially important as regards the issue of abrupt climate change, where we must redouble our efforts to pretend continue to imagine that alternative energy will save capitalism and that restraining wealthier consumers a bit while letting the fossil fuel interests do what they want will solve the problem in its entirety.  We can't allow the climate deniers to have the upper hand on this issue (and we can't let them hog all the oil money, either)!

Got it?  Now go out there and do policy like you were the reincarnation of FDR or Lincoln or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or someone like that.

Kthanxbye.

Discuss

In a recent piece posted to the Grist website, David Roberts tells us that "there's an emerging right-wing divide on climate change."

Now I suppose that by "right wing" Roberts means Republicans, because of course all of the Important People want to give the Democrats some space to claim that they are not conservatives.  

Even so, I wanted more evidence from Roberts that this was in fact a "divide."  I felt reinforced in my belief that Republicans have no solid opinions on climate change, but rather that they have a knee-jerk reaction to anything like climate change that would threaten their precious capitalist system (as Naomi Klein points out at the beginning of her book This Changes Everything).  What appears to be most prominently the case is that prominent Republicans are backtracking on claims that climate climate change isn't happening, or that it isn't caused by human beings.  They're starting to waffle on denial claims.  This appears most prominently in the Dana Milbank piece which Roberts cites.  Here's Dana Milbank:

But on Christmas Eve, Justin Haskins, a blogger and editor at Heartland, penned an article for the conservative journal Human Events declaring: “The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists.”
There's also the issue of ALEC threatening to sue people who argue that it's a denier organization, which I suppose is a landmark too.

At any rate, the new status quo after the forthcoming "conservative" (i.e. Republican) shift in position is laid out best in Roberts' conclusion:

Conservatives don’t need to deny that the healthcare system sucks to fight all healthcare solutions; they don’t need to deny that the immigration system sucks to fight all immigration solutions. Why should they need to deny climate change to fight all climate solutions?

They don’t. Denialism has just become an unnecessary distraction, one that’s hurting them culturally. They are better off just opposing any bill or regulation that comes up on the usual grounds: big government, overreach, economic misery, blackouts, blah blah. That kind of thing has worked for decades and there’s no reason it couldn’t work against climate solutions too.

So here is my question, for Roberts and others: where are these "climate solutions" that the "conservatives" (read: Republicans) are so interested in opposing?  By "climate solutions" here I don't mean symbolic stuff that is meant to improve the resumes of legislators without doing anything about the problem.  Those are career solutions, not climate solutions.  The important thing about non-solutions is that they create lots of glorious tempests in lots of pricey teapots while things get worse.  Let's argue forever about cap-and-trade systems which won't solve the problem, y'know.  Or maybe we can improve fuel efficiency standards without recognizing Jevons' Paradox, or we can set up climate change information centers which recommend more insufficient stuff, or something like that.

Let's start with the fundamental principle any and every "climate solution" must have: keeping the grease in the ground.  If it isn't extracted, it won't be burned.  So here's how it could work, in the most reformist, meat-axe way I can spell it out:

1) Every nation on Earth, as cemented by treaty, nationalizes its oil and coal and tar-sands reserves.

2) Every nation on Earth, as cemented by treaty, phases out its oil and coal and tar-sands production.

3) Everyone receives free solar panels or windmills or other non-fossil-fuel energy devices.  (This will also be cemented by treaty.)

If the Republicans don't like this solution, well, I'm sure they can put up their usual bluster about socialism and the free market being God and all that.  The thing is that, since very few people are really proposing it, the Republicans need not expend any energy opposing it.  So in reality the Republicans need not cling to climate change denial, not because real solutions involve some degree of that "socialism" which said Republicans so hate, but because real-solution denial is the status quo nearly everywhere.

Discuss

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

The critique of relationships

by Cassiodorus

Relationships and nature

Much recent literature labels this time in which we live as the "Anthropocene Era" -- the term refers to a specific era of natural history in which human beings institute drastic changes upon life on Earth -- in other words, the present time.  The term "anthropocene" literally means "the era of humans."

The ecosystemic meltdown currently taking place on planet Earth, the ecological disaster we currently face, is defined through the "Anthropocene Era" term as the result of "human activity," without any reference to the human social relationships which stand as the most proximate causes of this meltdown.  In short, what we're being told is that human beings are ecological monsters pure and simple.  The Wikipedia entry on the Anthropocene offers a simple definition:

The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems.
A number of questions are begged by this definition.  The most obvious one is that of what counts as a "significant global impact."  From the Wikipedia entry again:
The Anthropocene has no precise start date, but based on atmospheric evidence may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century).[4][7] Other scientists link the new term to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP).
But we can of course dig even further.  The human race has been on this planet for around 200,000 years.  What is so special about this portion (and indeed we are talking about a small portion indeed, maybe 6% of the total timespan) of human existence on the planet that it is characterized by such pronounced ecosystemic impact?  Well, clearly, human organization was at one point characterized by the development of agriculture, and then at later points by sophisticated technologies, from metalworking to electrical systems to air and space travel.  Perhaps, then, we might speak of a "technocene," an era of geological history in which technologically-empowered humans changed the planet.  Insofar as our relationship to the planet was massively altered by technological dissemination, we can say that we have changed the ecosystems of the planet.  It isn't just us, then -- it's our technology.  But the fact that we have technology doesn't mean we're obliged to use it destructively.  Our relationships, to the planet and to each other, are at fault.

An approach that gets us closer to the human relationship problem is suggested in an article highlighted in Jacobin online magazine this week: "The Anthropocene Myth."  Its subtitle is: "Blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook."  Author Andreas Malm does not regard humans as ecological monsters: rather, for him "capital, not humanity as such" is the ecological monster in the house.  It isn't just us, then, it's capital, that changes our ecosystems, and for that we can speak of a "capitalocene."

Continue Reading

Mon Mar 30, 2015 at 02:04 PM PDT

Feudalism might be a good idea...

by Cassiodorus

...if we lived in the 6th century.  Do we live in the 6th century still?

Well, the residents of what Robert Frank called "Richistan" might like to style themselves as the new nobility, but "flexible" wage labor in the 3rd world's labor camps is clearly more profitable than scooping up the surplus produced by peasants reduced to serfdom, and having the government print up money so you can claim a profit has definite advantages over hiring knights so you can try to increase the size of your duchy at the cost of your neighbor's land holdings.  And why bother with the divine right of kings when you can count on a public trained to vote for the lesser of two evils and worked over by propaganda in every election run-up?  (Romney version) (Obama version)

So no, nobody really wants feudalism anymore.  Every once in awhile, though, you see the word "feudalism" bandied about as if had an application in the politics of the 21st century.  One thing the Internet did was to free up the great plethora of history-free analysis, the vast numbers of "thinkers" who imagine that politics and economics are like flavors at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store -- choose from the 31 flavors of historical example, mix and match.  It's amusing stuff -- but it's all noise and no signal.

It's easier, I suppose, to borrow from the past than it is to imagine the future, especially when you live in a world in which (to quote Slavoj Zizek) "It’s easy to imagine the end of the world — an asteroid destroying all of life, and so on — but we cannot imagine the end of capitalism."  What we need, however, is real thinking about the future.

Poll

The future will be most like --

22%8 votes
13%5 votes
8%3 votes
8%3 votes
0%0 votes
5%2 votes
41%15 votes

| 36 votes | Vote | Results

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