Skip to main content

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.
Continue Reading

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?


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.



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.


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.


The future will be most like --

22%8 votes
11%4 votes
8%3 votes
8%3 votes
0%0 votes
5%2 votes
42%15 votes

| 35 votes | Vote | Results

Continue Reading

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 04:00 PM PDT

Climate change psychology

by Cassiodorus

The starting point of this piece is a short commentary in the online Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail, suggesting that "To confront climate change, we must turn fear into empathy."  Now, Peter Martin is an astrophysicist, and so his piece is not so much a commentary on climate change science (yeah, I know, Freeman Dyson -- this is better stuff) as it is a commentary on what a scientist sees in the climate change situation.  It's also important that Martin comes from Canada.  Canada is a pivotal country in the fight to mitigate climate change, as Canada is the site of vast reserves of oil and tar sands which must at some point be allowed to remain in the ground if a proactive solution to the climate change crisis is to be attempted.

Martin's piece has a literary tenor and meanders a bit, but what I thought was valuable about it was that it suggests a psychology of abrupt climate change.  His conclusion is an exhortation to develop more proactive attitudes toward climate change:

This silent spring we should pause to cry for our beloved planet but not let future generations become the inheritors of our fear. It is time to reject the scourge of irrationality, resist the opiates that so distract us, and redirect the power of persuasion that has produced so cynically such a socially pre-Copernican century of self. Alongside evidenced-based policymaking we must “give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space” and so close the empathy gap.
Martin's idea, then, is that there is something wrong with the way the public is internalizing news about climate change.  The title given to Martin's short rant oversimplifies the matter, though -- as Martin himself recognizes, it's not just about fear.  Here, briefly, I will suggest some other possible psychologies of abrupt climate change, besides fear.  For the most part these psychologies are not proactive -- they will not tell us where to go.

Overconfidence -- Martin mentions this one.

On the one hand is hubris: there are no limits to human innovation, discovery, and development. But even then, do we rely on crises and emergencies with unjustifiable deaths to punctuate the process? Should we wait to pull the ripcord when only one metre off the ground, vainly hoping that “geo-engineering” will save the planet?
The voice of overconfidence tells us that everyone will buy a Tesla, you see (well, all of the Important People in the economy of the 7%), and they will all run on solar power, and then the problem will go away by itself.  

Helplessness -- there is no solution, we are all doomed.  No need to bother even with fear -- enjoy life while it lasts.

Willful ignorance -- climate change will go away like the rest of that fluff they show on the news.

Apathy -- it's not my problem and the experts know more than I do, so why ask me?  This psychology was delineated with expert grace in Nina Eliasoph's ethnographic study Avoiding Politics, and although Eliasoph didn't study popular attitudes toward climate change, her study makes a lot of connections to environmental politics.

Cynicism -- nobody really wants to deal with climate change; they just want to look good.

False hope -- we can solve the problem, and it's really easy.  Or: we are doing enough already (omigod California AB 32!) or we just need to be doing a little bit more and that's it.

So there are some other psychologies with which one may contend -- each individual can mix and match, or reject them all together.  My own analysis is below the noodle.

Continue Reading

On Thursday of last week, Mark Lynas responded to The Guardian's decision to publish excerpts of Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything" in a response-piece titled "We must reclaim the climate change debate from the political extremes."  

Many readers of Lynas' piece will see an immediate appeal in his argument.  Lynas starts off by defining himself as a moderate, thus his subtitle: "Alarmists and deniers need to climb out of their parallel trenches, engage with the developing world and work together to end the crisis."  On the one extreme you have deniers such as James Inhofe, and on the other extreme you have anticapitalists such as Naomi Klein, and Lynas wishes to position himself in the middle:

Climate change is real, caused almost entirely by humans, and presents a potentially existential threat to human civilisation. Solving climate change does not mean rolling back capitalism, suspending the free market or stopping economic growth.
One reader of this argument concludes that it rests upon a fallacy -- the blogger Dave Cohen, author of "Decline of the Empire,"  argues that "Lynas starts off with a common fallacy, more formally called the argument to moderation (Latin, argumentum ad temperantiam)."  Just because one is a self-defined "moderate" does not mean that one is correct.  Moreover, if one wishes to discover the truth, one starts by examining arguments in their own substance, rather than merely characterizing them as implying some sort of appealing or repellent image.

From this conclusion, we would be correct to examine Lynas' arguments to see if they hold water, rather than focusing upon his attempt to grant himself an image as a climate change moderate.  A few words on Lynas himself, however, should suffice to define whose argument this is.  Most pertinently, sometime in the late zeros Mark Lynas holed himself up in a library and read all of the pertinent research on climate change.  The book he produced, Six Degrees, not only built on his previous ethnography of climate change, High Tide, but provided us readers with the most convincing dramatizations of planet Earth as transformed by climate change yet produced.  I reviewed Six Degrees here at back in 2007.  

In 2011, Lynas put out a book titled "The God Species," outlining his solution to the climate change problem (which assumes further capitalist growth and relies upon carbon capture, nuclear power, and genetic engineering).  Last year, Lynas issued "Nuclear 2.0," a defense of nuclear power in light of climate change.

Lynas' most recent argument will, then, be examined below the fold.

Continue Reading

We don't have time to do anything effective about climate change.  So let's do something ineffective and call it a day.  We can get the greenhouse gas emissions down 5% with a cap-and-trade scheme, buy an electric car and a solar panel, and "build on our successes."

Right?  Never mind that those global carbon dioxide emissions are accelerating -- we're "making progress"! Bourgeois green rules, and besides, there is no alternative, as Saint Margaret Thatcher told us all. (end snark)

Where do we start with this argument?  We might start by asking why the politicians of today are all so enamored of cap-and-trade schemes whenever the subject of climate change comes up.  The main reason, of course, is that they promote more capitalism as a "solution" for climate change.  All the Important People like more capitalism.  Cap-and-trade schemes create a new commodity, "carbon credits," and invest said commodity with 70 billion euros of value.  That's 70 billion euros of commitment to the idea that carbon consumption doesn't go away.

Or here's a fun one.  The greenies in Australia compiled a list of scientific opinions back in 2011 or so against the cap-and-trade option.  Here's my favorite:

6. Professor Barry Brook (Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia), 2009: “1. A cap and trade mechanism is by its nature, an all consuming policy instrument that extinguishes the effectiveness of voluntary actions, harming rather than enhancing the evolution of a low carbon economy. 2. With a cap and trade approach, the target is everything as both the emissions cap and emissions floor are locked in. No one can do better than the cap, and so the cap must be a science based all consuming sustainable target pathway that won’t lock in failure. As we don’t yet have the widespread political and economic preparedness to commit to an all consuming sustainable target pathway (either nationally or internationally), the cap and trade mechanism is the wrong approach and we should instead focus on a carbon tax with complementary mechanisms that would transform the economy more effectively than the [Australian] proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).”
By the way, that last consideration of Brook's is important: "As we don’t yet have the widespread political and economic preparedness" to make it work, it won't work.  The same reasoning invalidates the carbon tax Brook wants.  We don't have the "widespread political and economic preparedness" for that, either.  And, as long as capitalism is the consensus "only option," we'll never have that preparedness, either.

Bill McKibben's excellent piece in Rolling Stone back in 2012 expressed the dilemma of capitalist efforts to rein in climate change more baldly:

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn't pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you'd be writing off $20 trillion in assets.
That asset-writeoff is the catch, then: real climate change mitigation obliges us to keep the grease in the ground -- but under capitalism "the grease" still in the ground (specifically, fossil fuel reserves) is positioned to have a commodity value that just can't be surrendered!  That's $20 trillion, right there on the table.  Think they'll walk away from it?

OK, now let's imagine that they can walk away from those all carbon credit and fossil-fuel-futures commodity values and impose a carbon tax.  And let's hope (in this regard) for the most progressive option for that carbon tax, that promoted by James Hansen -- the fee-and-dividend option, which won't kneecap the folks just trying to get to work in their fossil-fuel-burning cars because they can't afford anything else.  John Bellamy Foster:

Hansen’s climate-change exit strategy represents what is clearly a calculated attempt to push through the maximum plan that the regime of capital could conceivably accept, and the minimum necessary to avoid complete disaster. It represents a heroic effort to promote the formation of political-economic conditions that will prevent the world from crossing a catastrophic climate tipping point. In fashioning his exit strategy Hansen says little or nothing about the world’s other immense environmental challenges, despite the fact that he is the coauthor of major scientific publications on the crossing of multiple planetary boundaries—signaling a planetary environmental crisis that extends beyond global warming to other critical areas as well.
The James Hansen fee-and-dividend scheme is then an attempt to promote "the maximum plan that the regime of capital could conceivably attempt."  This, as Foster points out, doesn't do anything about the other, manifold, flaws of the capitalist system.  Foster continues:
Hansen’s climate-change exit strategy thus has definite limitations. Despite its progressive features it is mostly a top-down, elite-based strategy of implementing a carbon tax with the hope that this will spur the introduction of necessary technological changes by corporations.
Yes!  The rich will save us!  Let's hope and pray that the capitalists will go along with this scheme, and that they will fork over the money necessary to change their favorite system to a cleaner, greener one.  Yeah right.

The real problem is that the current system of political economy, capitalism, isn't really designed for the sort of major change in its energy infrastructure (never mind its relationship with Earth's ecosystems) which will be required if we are to (in Naomi Klein's words) "save the climate."  Actually, capitalism is built for eco-destruction in a wide variety of areas, from chemical pollution to plastic pollution to species extinction.  Climate change is the only one that receives any publicity -- except, of course, in Florida and a number of other states, where the appropriate officials are not allowed to talk about it.  (Future generations will not recall those officials fondly.)

Capitalism is in fact inherently eco-destructive.  The capitalists regard nature as mere "natural resources" productive of "raw materials" -- they are compelled by their fetish of commodity value to ignore nature as (as Jason W. Moore pointed out) "historically variant webs of life."  Moore again:

Capital's dynamism turns on the exhaustion of the very webs of life necessary to sustain accumulation; the history of capitalism has been one of recurrent frontier movements to overcome that exhaustion, through the appropriation of nature‟s free gifts hitherto beyond capital's reach.
What has bailed out the capitalists so far, what has kept them from seeing the eco-destruction of their ways for centuries, now, is that the frontiers of capital accumulation have been pushed back from time to time by industrial revolutions.  But industrial revolutions no longer facilitate the "green" expansion of commodity value like they used to do.  This is why I argued that alternative energy will not save capitalism late last year.

You know, a few decades down the road, people aren't really going to care a lot about our excuses, especially after much of the Earth becomes unsuitable for agriculture.  It's already happening in California.

Eventually the truth will break through to schoolchildren now trapped in school systems obsessed with what students think, rather than if they think at all.  This is because, true to the ways of capitalism, the school systems have become another cash cow.  When civilization loses its basis in agriculture, nobody's going to care if today's students pass the endless array of reading and writing and math tests to which they're now exposed.  Nor will future generations care about the present-day commodity value of Pearson stock options.  America just has to stop hiding from the connection between capitalism and climate change, and start getting the kids involved in their own real-world futures, and that's all there is to it.

"Power conceded nothing without a demand.  It never has, and it never will."  - Frederick Douglass

Continue Reading

This diary was provoked by a short article in Common Dreams, "On Climate, Humanity Must Rise Up Against 'Collective Shrug of Fatalism," by staff writer Jon Queally.

Overcoming "fatalism" about climate change is of course important -- but a more important goal of climate change activism is to project the right motivation (thus Queally's word, "fatalism") to attract a critical mass of activists and thus to constitute a global movement.  Telling people that climate change will result in the doom of civilization is a fair enough thing to do, by itself, but it doesn't provide them with appropriate motivation to seek efficacious solutions or to, in Naomi Klein's words, "save the climate."  

Importantly, Queally's short article is more generally about Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything, which contains a number of ideas for providing the appropriate motivation to motivate activists to "save the climate."  In that book Klein implies that, as people join social movements and become motivated activists, the movements will at some point come together around the issue of climate change.  Thus the climate change movement is to work with already existing motivations of activists.  

Here I hope to push Klein's argument a bit further than Klein herself did.  I believe that bringing movements together can be facilitated by suggesting a movement goal beyond that of merely improving the character of more capitalism.  The movement goal I have in mind starts, but does not end, with the concept of "food sovereignty."  I will explain below the fold.

At any rate, Queally's piece in starts by discussing the renewed commitment of The Guardian to publish pieces about climate change, thus to overcome fatalism about it.  But Queally's piece is also about a draft version of a movie, currently being made by Klein's husband, as a sort of follow-up to Klein's book This Changes Everything:

According to sentiments shared by Rusbridger (the current editor of The Guardian) and expressed in both the film and the book, Klein and Lewis argue climate change, if properly understood, "could become a galvanising force for humanity" if a more appropriate response can overcome the pervasive denial, fear, and helplessness associated with the issue.
Much of the small segment of the movie which is embedded in Queally's piece is about tar sands mining in Alberta.  To be fair, the movie segment does recommend, through Klein's voice, a broader goal: that a number of other movements all join together in a climate change movement:
"What if," she asks, "we realized that real disaster response means fighting inequality and building a just economy – that everyone working for a healthy food system is already a climate warrior? So too, are people fighting for public transit in Brazil; housing and immigrant rights in the United States; battling austerity in Europe; extraction in Australia; pollution in China and India; environmental crime in Africa; and the bad trade deals that lock in all these ills everywhere."
Klein thusly suggests that we bring together a wide variety of social movements under the climate change banner -- she even wrote a piece on "Black lives matter," titled "Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate."  

But not all protest movements are equally effectual.  Protest movements are fine.  But protests, by themselves, are often relatively ineffectual when placed in relation to the enormous amounts of energy which goes into making them happen.  Let's say you can get thousands of people into the streets, all yelling the same thing at once.  Then they go home and business as usual continues on its merry way.  What was accomplished?  Thus Scott Walker: "If I can handle 100,000 protesters, I can defeat ISIS."  Attention Walker: it's not that you "handled" them, it's that they didn't achieve what they set out to achieve using the methods they selected.

Electoral campaigns are fine too.  But electoral campaigns which merely promote the lesser of two evils are not effective, or even important.  From that earlier diary, of 2010:

The problem with "lesser of two evils" voting is that it cedes the high ground that can be gained from having expectations of government.  All the "lesser of two evils" really has to do is to be less evil -- actually doing good does not have to be a prerequisite for obtaining (or maintaining) political office.  If you vote "lesser of two evils," then, your politicians are beholden to you for nothing.
And I don't think it's climate change, moreover, that is the main object of public attitudes of fatalism, or even of the "pervasive denial, fear, and helplessness" cited in Queally's short article as regards abrupt climate change.  Rather, it's capitalism that inspires popular fatalism, fatalism that centers around the question of what to do that doesn't just preserve the dichotomy of "capitalism vs. the climate" that is the subheading of This Changes Everything.  Or at least this is the fatalism common among those who don't assume that a mild carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme or a cheaper solar panel will solve all our climate change problems (and Naomi Klein is not one of those people).  

In this regard it may be useful to invoke the Naomi Klein of This Changes Everything who dared to finger capitalism as the problem.  More specifically, we should invoke the Naomi Klein of This Changes Everything who wrote a chapter in opposition to "extractivism," which she described as a "nonreciprocal, dominance-based relationship with the earth, one purely of taking" (169).  Creating a world that does not depend upon "extractivism" should be our first task.

So what to do?

Continue Reading

Awhile back, I wrote a diary on Star Wars, as a sort of critique of what happened to space opera and as a reminiscence of when I used to read that stuff back in high school.  I wasn't going to write a diary on Star Trek.  But this radical, visionary Leonard Nimoy obituary came out earlier this week in Jacobin on the topic of Star Trek ("Goodbye, Mr. Spock," by Leigh Phillips, 3/2/ 2015), and so as a consequence of reading it I decided to put forth my thoughts on Star Trek.

(public domain image, from Wikimedia Commons)

Star Trek originally came into focus for me with televised reruns of the original series.  When the original series came out, between 1966 and 1969, I was really too young (and not interested yet) to know what it was.  My interest in science fiction came later, in the 1970s.  When I was in sixth grade, my teacher had a small library in the back of the classroom with copies of Analog: Science Fiction/ Science Fact magazine, which is where my original interest in science fiction came from.  Star Trek, by contrast, appeared to me to be a cheap version of science fiction, adapted for television.  I was mostly interested in written science fiction, science fiction which explored ideas you wouldn't see on Star Trek.  (Another big limitation of Star Trek back then was its repetition of the spaceship-meets-planet plot mold, a mold which was only broken in 1993 with the first broadcast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.)

One of the most promising aspects of Star Trek, however, was its invitation to serious writers of science fiction to write episode screenplays.  From the Wikipedia page:

In its writing, Star Trek is notable as one of the earliest science-fiction TV series to use the services of leading contemporary science fiction writers, such as Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, and Theodore Sturgeon, as well as established television writers.
Moreover, a few Star Trek episodes attempted to use science fiction as a serious vehicle to probe contemporary social issues.  Wikipedia again:
"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" presented a direct allegory about the irrationality and futility of racism. Anti-war themes appear in episodes such as "The Doomsday Machine", depicting a planet-destroying weapon as an analogy to nuclear weapons deployed under the principle of mutually assured destruction, and "A Taste of Armageddon" about a society which has "civilized" war to the point that they no longer see it as something to avoid.
However, Star Trek appeared to me to be as much fantasy (as opposed to serious science fiction as a category, which I thought was supposed to use its scientifically-now-impossible plot devices sparingly) as Star Wars did when it came out in 1977.  The most fantastic Star Trek plot device, as I pointed out in my Star Wars diary, was time travel -- but then Star Trek also relied for narrative purposes upon matter transmitters (although Wookieepedia claims that someone used them in Star Wars writing), "aliens" who looked more or less like people and spoke English (through imagined technical devices of course), and "aliens" capable of magical powers (of which the ultimate example was Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation).  

Star Trek, then, relied upon a quick-and-dirty imagined version of future "science," with few narrative concessions to realism and a spirit of we-can-know-it (and "fantastic things are out there") utopianism.  As Leigh Phillips pointed out in "Goodbye, Mr. Spock,"

In his 1964 pitch for the show, Roddenberry had initially intended Spock to be half-Martian, but later changed his home world out of fear that part way through the series, if it were successful and had a long run, it was not out of the question that humanity could land on Mars and ruin the believability of the storyline.
 The instinct behind Star Trek was that alien life was everywhere in the universe, that technology could in utopian fashion ultimately satisfy all of our desires regardless of its necessary foundation in what we today call "science," and that the universe would ultimately be rendered understandable despite its initial attempts to defy our understandings of it.

These Star Trek themes became mere literary conventions.   Today they serve as reminiscences of what we once thought the future might hold, and as context for bright shiny movies (see e.g. the JJ Abrams contribution) bearing no relation to our present-day Year 2015 expectations of what the future holds.  The fact that we no longer believe in the Star Trek technological utopia in any sense is elucidated in a wonderful David Graeber piece, "Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit," which I'd encourage you all to read if you haven't done so yet.  Graeber argues that our shiny visions of the future have been replaced by bureaucratic, neoliberal, capitalism.

In this regard, Leigh Phillips' piece, the main topic of this diary, is admirable especially for its attempt to pay tribute to Spock, and thus the recently-passed actor Leonard Nimoy who played him (and who in passing removed his Spock from the realm of reality), as a major contribution to the Star Trek mythos.

Science officer Spock was of course as much a creation of actor Leonard Nimoy, who died on Thursday (2/27/2015) at age eighty-three, as of Roddenberry and the other writers who built and continue to build the Star Trek mythos. In a production memo from 1968, Roddenberry wrote: “In the beginning of the Star Trek episodes, Mr Spock was a fellow who occasionally said ‘illogical’ and that was about it. We all worked hard to build him into a fully dimensional character, and a lot of people, including Leonard Nimoy, deserve credit.”
I also liked the connections the piece makes to Spinozist logic and to socialism (as would be appropriate to a publication like Jacobin).  On Star Trek and socialism:
Discussions abound online as to whether the Federation in the various series is intended as a socialist utopia (What about the Ferengi? Does Chateau Picard mean their is still private ownership of land?), and while the series makes no explicit references to democratic planning or the market, the consensus is that, well, it does appear to be a post-scarcity socialist economy of some description, albeit with a highly hierarchical, even militarist tinge.
As regards the Ferengi: The Ferengi were intended as an alien species of "beings" (really, people) who were more or less trapped in problems of capitalism and sexism which humanity proper had overcome a long time ago.  This allowed Star Trek writers to portray critiques of capitalism within the Star Trek universe -- so, for instance, in the episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled "Bar Association," the workers in Quark's bar go on strike, and the ultimate resolution of this strike becomes a series of pretenses -- the strikers win the strike, but Quark asks them to pretend that the union never existed because he feels obliged to look good as a Ferengi businessman.  Thus a fundamental problem of wages and of worker power is transformed into a mere cultural conflict with the socialist society of Star Trek, resolvable through the manipulation of appearances.

Ultimately, though, the appearance of Star Trek in our own culture represents a problem of our present-day capitalist culture.  The dwindling away of the "Space Age" is itself a problem of capitalism.  Since there is no perceived profit in "going where no-one has gone before," the space program, and the fantastic dreams which once accompanied it, have been dramatically scaled back -- and thus Phillips concludes that the reinvigoration of the public sector is a prerequisite to the rediscovery of those dreams, because the profit motive won't get us there by itself:

Whether manned or otherwise, space exploration is simply too expensive with too little promise of profitable return for the private sector to care about anything beyond the servicing of low-Earth-orbit satellites.
And then he laments:
Could it be that an unrecognized casualty of neoliberalism has been the forward-looking optimism of both the Left and Right? That neoliberalism and the global defeat of workers’ movements have resulted in a decadent bourgeoisie more interested in looting short-term profits than investing in new technology, research, and exploration?
The problem, of course, is that the "Left" has become a mirage Left, offering tantalizing visions of utopia which become "sold out" once anyone tries to put them into practice. We should have ended hunger and poverty a long time ago, for instance, but is anyone even thinking of doing that anymore?  And, as for the "Right," all there really is there is a reactionary historical residue, a series of different tint-shadings for the longing for some imagined past (much in the way in which 1968's Presidential candidate George Wallace was motivated by a longing for the return of racial segregation).  Political vision, then, has more or less congealed in a competition between varieties of conservatism, or pushed to the margins.

As for neoliberalism -- well, for a postcapitalism of Star Trek caliber to emerge on Earth, first capitalism has to die, and since this hasn't happened we have neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the "picture of Dorian Gray" version of capitalism, in which both eternal youth and total corruption are granted the bourgeoisie, at the expense of that increasingly terrifying face which can today be seen in the portrait of working-class life under capitalism.

And, lastly, about the Star Trek universe: Phillips reminds us in passing that the Star Trek universe went through World War III -- between 2049 and 2053 -- but perhaps this isn't just an incidental fact. What sort of transformative, millenarian event (which we can hope will be relatively peaceful) will in fact prepare our capitalist world-society for a more realized utopia than the one we currently inhabit?

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.


Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site