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7,000,000,000 and rising rapidly. 390ppm and rising rapidly.

These are the statistical results of a long term experiment. An experiment with very deep roots.

The latest research is telling us that for thirty thousand years or so our Cro-Magnon ancestors wandered happily; eating a healthy and varied diet, getting plenty of exercise, living in community with their relatives and friends and having lots of spare time to draw, sing, dance and worship their deities. Then our ancestors made a bargain with the earth. Some say it was a terrible deal – on both sides. The intensive cultivation of the earth enabled greater population density because it provided more food quantity. But studies of skeletons and teeth reveal that the more populous farmers were smaller, weaker and less healthy than their wandering ancestors. And an examination of the state of the earth in areas long inhabited by agricultural civilizations shows a deforested and barren landscape.

From wandering tribes to agriculture that first number went up from about 10 - 15 million to around 370 million at the time of the Black Death. Well beyond any population size that would be expected to occur naturally in a large bodied mammal. Studies of the population sizes of other human-sized mammals (similar because smaller critters - like ants - have a much larger natural population and larger mammals - like whales have a smaller natural population) seems to indicate that ecological balance occurs at no more than 10 - 15 million individuals.

The real take-off was yet to come. In the run of this experiment the dramatic results didn't occur until the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the joint-stock corporation. Productivity jumps exponentially with the development of things like fossil-fuel powered farm equipment. But the manufacture and distribution of these technological advances required the development of the most powerful machine ever invented by humans. The joint stock corporation.

The joint stock corporation is a marvelous machine. It is a massively effective device for scooping up large numbers of small investors into a behemoth worth billions of dollars. These investors are “owners” only in the sense that their small investments move up or down based upon the fortunes of “their” company. If they had the audacity to question the leadership of “their” company those leaders would tell them to go pound sand and sell their puny shares.

The thing that makes these machines really effective is something called “limited liability.” An owner of a small business, a sole proprietor, does not have this protection. If his company sells a defective product that makes a child sick he can be sued for everything he owns. Limited liability, on the other hand, means that if “your” company, for example, spews a cloud of toxic methyl isocyanate gas that kills 25,000 people and injures 200,000, you are only liable for the value of the stock you own and your loss is only if that value goes down. (The share price went from $48 to $32 in 1985. Then in 1999 the company was sold for $67 per share.)

The joint stock corporation is designed for liquidity. You don't even have to touch the physical stock certificates, they are just electronic bits. The time it takes to sell securities is the briefest instant. And the transaction costs are extremely low. Limited liability, liquidity and scalability have made joint stock corporations the summum bonum of our capitalist economy. The role of ownership is passive – limited to the buying and selling of shares and the accountability of management is limited by legal protection.

The rise of this machine is well illustrated in the change in automobile manufacture. There were originally more than a thousand auto manufacturers operating like small workshops where the vehicles were made in small quantities by skilled craftsmen by hand. And they were exclusive luxury goods owned by wealthy thrill seekers. By the 1920s this number was down to around a dozen large joint stock companies who were able to raise the amounts of liquid capital needed to build manufacturing facilities that expanded the market to where automobile ownership became the standard mode of transportation.

Joint-stock corporations have now become Masters of our modern civilization. Us civilized sophisticates are completely enmeshed within the products and conveniences provided by these profit generating machines – from the toothpaste we use in the morning, the toilets we flush, the automobiles we ride in, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, on and on… and the jobs from which we get the money to buy all the products that give us life and support our lifestyle.

Some grumps have painted this complete and utter dependency as the life of abused children or spouses living under the control of a sociopathic power that only pretends to care about them when it suits its purposes. All the comforts and conveniences are the furnishings of a prison laboratory which, when working efficiently, keeps its inmates from considering escape. It is only when disturbing failures cannot be kept outside the laboratory walls that the prisoners sometimes wake sweating in the night disturbed by the unkind actions of their spouse.

This brings me back to that methyl isocyanate:  in 1999, after years of legal battles, the joint stock corporation responsible for the disaster paid $470 million in "a full and final settlement of its civil and criminal liability." The U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 said the Indian victims had no legal standing and couldn't sue a U.S. corporation. Payments to the families of those who were killed averaged $2000.00 and to those injured, $830.00. All appeals to date have been dismissed. No one has been prosecuted. The site is still contaminated.

It is a marvelous machine. Little accountability or liability, tremendous liquidity, the ability to raise huge amounts of money from passive “owners” and no distractions from any kinds of human emotions like shame, grief, compassion, despair. After a court battle they pay a fine, muddy the waters with claims of sabotage and produce glossy brochures:

Some of the chemicals we make go directly into products used every day… Whether they are adding strength to stretch wrap, or smoothness to paint, removing static from laundry or simply making a teddy bear more cuddly, our products make great chemistry a part of daily life.
The imprisoned victim asks about the 25,000 dead and the $2000 payments. The response is “No honey, you don’t understand. It’s very complicated what I do. Really beyond your understanding. There were some evil people who felt threatened by my success and sabotaged my factory. They are murderers and I will do everything I can to hunt them down and make them pay. Don’t fret yourself about those bad guys, I’ll take care of it. I’ll take care of you. Don’t you see that I do all this for you: look at your nice house, clothes, the new car. Isn’t your teddy bear soft and cuddly!? Now go back to sleep. I’ll read you a fairy story by Milton Friedman about the Magical Free Market.”

This kind of strategic deception is standard in pathological narcissists. What is said is nearly 100% manipulative and the true intent is deeply concealed. If the joint stock corporation were a person this is the kind of person it would be. And this multi-billionaire, immortal sociopathic narcissist is encoded in the laws of the land as a "person." There are important legal conveniences that make this determination efficient but this designation has helped turn the joint stock corporation from a powerful tool into an even more powerful Master. It has also caused great harm to the word "person" and the legal rights of those living flesh and blood persons for whom that term should be reserved.  

By design it is a machine that has no feelings, no soul, no humanity. It is designed to distance the living flesh and blood people who inhabit positions within it from the real life consequences of their behavior. From the poorly paid employee who is just "doing my job" to the highly compensated executives who may own thousands or millions of shares in "their" company; the joint stock corporation fosters narcissistic behavior and supports the commodification and monetization of their lives - both inner and outer.

This behavior is contagious. And not only in employees and managers. Victims can mimic their captors. What is deeply disturbing about this is that it seems to have infected the public life of our corporate oligarchical empire. It seems this contagion is spreading wildly. It is becoming more and more common in our cultural discourse, perhaps as a form of Stockholm syndrome, that more and more of the victims are becoming like their captors -  strategic and narcissistic little corporate persons aiming solely at their own advancement and profit and having little or no concern for how their actions affect their relationships and communities.

Consumerism has attached itself to a novel identity politics in which business itself plays a role in forging identities conducive to buying and selling. Identity here becomes a reflection of “lifestyles” that are closely associated with commercial brands and the products they label, as well as with attitudes and behaviors linked to where we shop, how we buy, and what we eat, wear, and consume.

The identity politics of the 21st century is then part and parcel of the infantilist ethos. It mistakes brand for identity and consumption for character while treating Americans as consumers of Brand USA rather than as the free citizens of a democratic republic.
– Benjamin Barber  Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole



The top 500 industrial corporations, which represent only one-tenth of one percent of all US companies, control over two-thirds of the business resources in the US and collect over 70 percent of all US profits. Internationally, the 1318 largest joint-stock corporations appear to own through their shares the majority of the world's "real" economy - representing 60 per cent of global revenues.  (New Scientist  “The Capitalist Network that Runs the World”)

We owe our lives and our livelihoods to these machines; they have made our civilization what it is today. The Green Revolution (of which that methyl isocyanate is an integral part) has miraculously increased the productivity of the earth to where we have the technical capability to adequately feed all 7 billion humans alive today. And advances in medicine and sanitation have improved the lives of many billions. The shiny, convenient products of advanced industrial technological productivity brought to us by the joint-stock corporation surround us, support us and protect us in all aspects of our lives. Airplanes! Computers! Shopping malls! Lifesaving medicines! Bananas in January in Alaska!

There is a price for this, of course. It’s a real Price bearing no relationship to the fairy tale “price” that the mythical Free Market produces from the “demand” of free, rational, well-informed consumers interacting with the “supply” of free, efficient, rational, productive suppliers. Yet it is this fairy tale "price" that determines our daily economic decisions. It is the "price" that economists consider in their models and calculations. The insanity is that there is almost no connection anymore to the reality of the earth in this "price."

In this laboratory/prison we never pay the full Price for anything we buy. But, since it is real, it is being paid - just not by us and not right now. Everyone is worried right now that the price of gas is going to make us so angry we will vote out anger, but that is not the real Price of gasoline. The real Price is being paid by the Ogoni and Ijaw in the Niger delta, by the ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, by the increasing acidity in our oceans and by the increasing temperatures of the whole planet. In our corporate Magic Kingdom we have limited liability for these things at the fairy tale price of $4/gallon.

If we paid the real Price for the gas in our cars, the food we eat, the clothes we wear - if this computer was made by American Union labor with full benefits - we couldn't afford to live like we do.

And that is exactly the truth.

Our planet cannot afford 7 billion people rising by a billion every 12 years (it was 6 billion in 1999), and it cannot afford 390 ppm of CO2 and its continued rapid rise. The planet and all the suffering people in it cannot afford the true Price for the lifestyle joint stock corporations provide to those lucky enough to even be able to afford their false "price." The fairy tale “price,” according to the joint stock corporation, tells us the earth is worthless, human suffering is meaningless and government is a constraint that costs money to overcome – it’s more or less costly to buy politicians. Ethics, morals, anything of real, lasting value is reduced to a constraint that shows up on the ledger sheet as a cost of doing business and is targeted for reduction or, if possible, elimination.

basically everyone started being lulled into this strange sort of idea that markets are perfect, and rational people will always come up with the most economically beneficial solution… when I think of capitalism creating value, I think of it getting around constraints. What types of constraints? The constraints are physical constraints, or maybe legal constraints where the law really is sort of a dead letter or a bad idea. Like creating the wheel, you have to get around some of the constraints of gravity, or creating writing, getting around other constraints. I mean those are very beneficial ways of problem solving. The other constraints that people have started to view as just a minor problem for lesser people, are ethical constraints.
-    Jim Alexander former CFO of Enron Global Pipeline and Power
I guess I just don’t have the stomach to reside happily within the prison/laboratory walls. My domestic tranquility is disturbed because I pay attention to scientists and their facts  - the ones that aren’t bought off are very concerned about things like CO2 concentrations and the exponential function. But, I’m told, it’s just a bunch of complicated, boring math and science. And there are scientists who have facts that are different. So it’s not really something I should be concerned about.

This prison/laboratory is very large and appears powerful. But, remember, it depends upon our continuing low self-worth and disempowerment to function.Our low self-esteem will be used against us; to keep us isolated and dependent. We suck, therefore we need all these consumer products in order to become semi-adequate. Our feelings of shame and responsibility will be used against us. It is important to remember in the face of this onslaught that we are good people. Good people being manipulated by massive powerful machines into behaving like them.

We are not narcissistic corporate persons. We can become empowered citizens. Strong, empowered citizens don't accept corporate booster speech at face value, they research the facts; they don't buy useless crap to make themselves feel better; they make their voices heard in the offices of their bought corporate politicians and they form durable, resilient communities.

Things are going to get much uglier before they get better. But they will, eventually, get better. The earth will survive.

Find a safe place. Find a support group of people who understand your situation and can empathize with you. On this Earth Day, 2012, find a patch of earth you can work with. Take the first small steps away from your own narcissistic corporate personhood. You can connect directly with the earth without any disempowering intermediary. Learn to successfully enrich the soil and grow useful things. Make your small plot an example of how to care for the earth and build the soil rather than exhaust and brutalize it in pursuit of profit.

And most importantly of all, find people you can be in community with. Find people you can work with for mutual support in the coming transition. We need each other.

Originally posted to grains of sand on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by The Royal Manticoran Rangers, DK GreenRoots, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Horrifying and scary... but all too true. (13+ / 0-)

    Thank you for the eloquent break-down.  If only everyone would read - and heed - it.

    "I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization." - United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (Republican) -8.12, -5.18

    by ncarolinagirl on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:35:22 AM PDT

  •  The Growth Rate is Slowing Down (11+ / 0-)

    so it's not going to be another billion every few years forever.

    But to be as dark as possible, I think ownership's known all this for generations and is expecting a huge population decrease. Their behavior has been entirely consistent with that.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:45:07 AM PDT

    •  I agree, but to be clear, (9+ / 0-)

      I don't think it a conspiracy, but a meme propagated internally within the control elements of the system...The managers and bigC's of the corporations are as deluded, or more deluded than a religious fanatic, feeling that the structures that they believe themselves in control of are capable of solving all problems, presumably in their favor.

      "I took a walk around the world, To ease my troubled mind. I left my body laying somewhere In the sands of time" Kryptonite 3 doors Down

      by farmerchuck on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:49:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Entropy, not conspiracy... (6+ / 0-)

        Business models are built on profit/loss statements and growth projections. Endless (population) growth means endless profit. But we are reaching the upper bound of this growth as energy inputs will become more expensive when measured by dollar cost, but more importantly by environmental cost.

        We are in a closed loop system. There is no free lunch.
        Resource extraction will increasingly poison the terrarium we inhabit, and that is what will lead to population decline.

        I am afraid that the era of "cheap" energy for fueling traditional measures of GDP is coming to an end. Wise stewardship of our commons must recognize that we will increasingly need to make difficult choices such as between BTUs and Calories, or between clean water and barrels per day.

        Transition Movement - Something to think about...

        The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question.

        by The Angry Architect on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 09:47:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree, but extend the system model (4+ / 0-)

          Increasingly (it's already happening, and has for a while) resources will be devoted to the maintaining the system. What we have beginning to propagate is a matrix like dystopia, with the market taking the place of the machines. Business models have very little to do with it. The situation is more analogous to an animal competing for resouces with a much larger population of much smaller creatures. Unfortunately, we as the smaller creatures have been taught to think our survival depends on leviathan.

          "I took a walk around the world, To ease my troubled mind. I left my body laying somewhere In the sands of time" Kryptonite 3 doors Down

          by farmerchuck on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 12:37:10 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I wholeheartedly agree. n/t (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          QDMacaw, radarlady, farmerchuck

          muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

          by veritas curat on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 01:20:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  The un projections for population growth vary (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marie, NoMoreLies, radarlady

      It is very hard to predict what people will do in the future regarding their intimate decisions about having children. Population growth rates could go down, go up, or stay the same. A conservative estimate that they will remain constant means we will be adding about a billion humans every 12-13 years. While this is no longer exponential it is still disastrously way way too much.

      That famous "demographic transition" is not necessarily permanent and there is no hard and fast rule that determines it. The Princeton Fertility project that studied it in Europe came up with these conclusions:

      1.    The fertility transition was very concentrated in time
      2.    The transition was due largely to reductions in marital fertility, specifically the change from “natural” to “controlled” fertility
      3.    The adoption of parity-specific fertility control was primarily the result of innovation and diffusion
      4.    Structural change was involved in the transition, but not a dominant force
      5.    Mortality decline did not always precede fertility decline
      6.    Transitions occurred under a wide variety of social and economic conditions
      7.    Transitions often followed linguistic and religious contours

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 01:19:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I agree with most of the diary, (10+ / 0-)

    but really feel that we are no longer in control of the corporations and the market.  In short, it is an emergent system, is now self perpetuating, not in the abscence of humans, but utilizing them as discrete elements of itself. The system is not dependent on 100% success (and thus accommodates the human concept of free will), as it is very much a stochastic engine. The diarist is correct action taken within the system can change it's bounds at present.

    "I took a walk around the world, To ease my troubled mind. I left my body laying somewhere In the sands of time" Kryptonite 3 doors Down

    by farmerchuck on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:55:49 AM PDT

  •  We will need to live our lives (8+ / 0-)

    Work (as opposed to being worked).  Take responsibility.

    I suspect nearly all of know this somewhere within ourselves, but that far too many of us get weary, frustrated, cynicized, or otherwise broken down by the disappointment of realizing that we are prisoners.

    There is nothing we can do that is too small to matter.  There are a lot of us and even our tiniest and unrecognized rebellions and resistances add up.  Each and every way we find to reclaim some autonomy builds a little more foundation for a world and society that will be livable for all the inhabitants of earth (regardless of species or taxonomy).

    Great diary.  Thank you.

  •  Wow! (10+ / 0-)

    It is time to jump!


    Like the nutrition-less calories in junk food, wanton consumerism feeds a craving for novelty, but dissipates the soul. It is time to "starve the beast" - the evolution and pathology of which you have well outlined - by choosing to live with less stuff, and greater (human) value.

    We need to decentralize and re-localize our sources of production, consumption, and sustenance. We must define, prioritize and protect the "Public Commons".

    I am working on framing many of these ideas in my own mind, but you have well expressed much of what has lead me to join the Kosack community as "The Angry Architect"

    Well done, and many thanks!

    The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question. For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question.

    by The Angry Architect on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 09:11:03 AM PDT

  •  we know this (10+ / 0-)

    and we've boxed ourselves into a corner.  There are of course solutions, but many of them are genocidal, and thus impractical.  Frog in boiling water is absolutely correct, but unless EACH of us does something drastic to reverse the decline (and don't tell me that we'll all be dead anyway when the disaster happens), we might not all survive it.

    I'm over 60, and it makes my life more difficult to do this, but the drastic thing I do is to live in Los Angeles without a car, and use public transit for everything.  It's not much, but it's a start.  I'm sure many of you can do something as drastic without reducing the quality of your life too.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 11:34:43 AM PDT

  •  "Find a safe place." Where? (11+ / 0-)

    I came back to live on the Cumberland specifically to get set for an uncertain food future--we started a small homestead.

    Safe? Last June it DID NOT RAIN. I was able to limp along with the hose (at least I'm not in Georgia or Texas), but whenever folks who supply the water figure what water is really worth (I know because I lived in So Cal for 25 years), water will rise as have all other utilities.

    This year, we've already had summer. Plums were covered with tiny shiny green plums. After a "light freeze" (24), they are black and crumble between my fingers. Likewise peaches. Asiatic lilies. Blueberry flowers were frozen on the plants. Too much to cover,

    My raspberries are set to bloom this week. Tonight we're due for another "light freeze." They will be covered, as will a few other things. Haven't put in any garden yet, but will have to take in all the flats of seedlings.

    From Wisconsin Ag Connection:

    This week's crop/weather summary by the Wisconsin Ag Statistics Service notes that fruit crops, hay and winter grains are being threatened as temperatures dipped into the 20s across central Wisconsin and into the teens in some northern areas.

    Reporters say the full extent of freeze damage varied, with the worst impacts reported on budding apple and cherry trees. Small grain, alfalfa and fruit development was reportedly running nearly a month ahead of normal across the state.

    Meanwhile, the threat of drought is another concern. Soil moisture levels are about 35 percent short to very short statewide.

    This isn't "safe". No where and no one is safe.
  •  Tippenwreckednrepubbed (5+ / 0-)

    To The Royal Manticoran Rangers.

    One minor quibble: our Cro Magnon ancestors lived some forty years average of short, nasty and brutish lives.

    Agriculture brought us the false promise of better eating. Instead, we got the priesthood with more organized authoritarianism.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    "What have you done for me, lately?" ~ Lady Liberty

    by ozsea1 on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 12:31:10 PM PDT

  •  Limited liability (0+ / 0-)

    "An owner of a small business, a sole proprietor, does not have this protection. If his company sells a defective product that makes a child sick he can be sued for everything he owns. "

    Proprietorships and corporations each entail different regulations, tax treatments, and liabilities. Depending on what you want to do and what risks you wish to bear, you choose one form of ownership over another. Your clients and customers can choose to deal with you or not based on your form of business organization. But neither form is in and of itself more ethical or moral than another. It may even be more likely that I'll get a substantial settlement or judgment from a corporation with deep pockets, than from some individual contractor whose assets all turn out to be in a spouse's name and unattachable.

  •  the truth cures (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    veritas curat

    Veritas... I love your writing. Thank you.

    •  Thanks. There have been many occasions when I (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      have wished I'd chosen something more clever, snarky or less "pompous." But it's an important thing to me personally - uncovering the truth about myself and not shying away from those uncomfortable truths that I desperately needed to uncover has been the heart of my recovery. It's cured me.

      muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

      by veritas curat on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 09:03:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Please do write more often (0+ / 0-)

        You are so effective at penning these spot-on points that are as succinct as they are just stinging, nauseating reminders of the insouciance with which we are faced in capitalism.

        I especially appreciated (as much as anyone could on a somber subject of this caliber) this paragraph:

        The fairy tale “price,” according to the joint stock corporation, tells us the earth is worthless, human suffering is meaningless and government is a constraint that costs money to overcome – it’s more or less costly to buy politicians. Ethics, morals, anything of real, lasting value is reduced to a constraint that shows up on the ledger sheet as a cost of doing business and is targeted for reduction or, if possible, elimination.
        Evidently, I'm beyond the point of ever regaining any shred of innocence or dewy-eyed beliefs in business. I am beyond believing that there is a such thing as a price which is real or honest that does not take into account the negative externalities that go into a thneed's production. There is an infuriating ad circulated by McDonald's which appeared earlier this year in the DC's Metro system, depicting what boasts itself as a juicy, tasty hamburger: "Tastes like a million bucks. Costs under two." No, no, no, no, NO! They know damn well it does not cost under two. Not if they include the gestation practices of the beef suppliers, fed genetically modified corn that is difficult to digest, waiting for impending death in claustrophobic, factory farm conditions, the flesh "cleaned" with ammonia hydroxide. It's a disgusting lie repeated over and over. It's a lie that just steals my soul, because I'm forced to look at that garbage when I take the train.

        Commercials with humorous edges (most, anyway) don't make me laugh anymore. There is a shockingly sinister feel to them, like a cinematic dissonance. Dulce music amidst a fatal scene, like Enya's "Sail Away" piping in Martin's death dungeon scene in the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. They are jokes on us in the end, as humans.

        "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

        by rovertheoctopus on Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 11:23:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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