Two for Tuesday

Rhiannon Giddens

Saul Williams

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The Over-Criminalization of American Life

By Charles Hugh Smith

Source: Of Two Minds

The over-criminalization of America has undermined justice, the rule of law and legal egalitarianism.

While the corporate media devotes itself to sports, entertainment, dining out and the latest political kerfuffle, America has become the Over-Criminalization Capital of the World. The proliferation of laws and administrative regulations, federal, state and local, that carry criminal penalties has swollen into the tens of thousands.

The number of incarcerated Americans exceeds 2.3 million, with the majority being non-violent offenders–often for War on Drugs offenses.

Holly Harris has written an important summary of this profoundly destabilizing trend: The Prisoner Dilemma: Ending America’s Incarceration Epidemic (Foreign Affairs, registration required).

The over-criminalization of America is a relatively recent trend. As Harris notes:

It wasn’t always like this. In 1972, for every 100,000 U.S. residents, 161 were incarcerated. By 2015, that rate had more than quadrupled, with nearly 670 out of every 100,000 Americans behind bars.

The over-criminalization of America is rooted in federal laws and regulations, and state and local governments have followed suite. here is Harris’s account:

The burgeoning U.S. prison population reflects a federal criminal code that has spiraled out of control. No one—not even the government itself—has ever been able to specify with any certainty the precise number of federal crimes defined by the 54 sections contained in the 27,000 or so pages of the U.S. Code. In the 1980s, lawyers at the Department of Justice attempted to tabulate the figure “for the express purpose of exposing the idiocy” of the criminal code, as one of them later put it. The best they were able to come up with was an educated guess of 3,000 crimes. Today, the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates that federal laws currently enumerate nearly 5,000 crimes, a number that grows every year.

Overcriminalization extends beyond the law books, partly because regulations are often backed by criminal penalties. That is the case for rules that govern matters as trivial as the sale of grated cheese, the precise composition of chicken Kiev dishes, and the washing of cars at the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health. State laws add tens of thousands more such crimes. Taken together, they push the total number of criminally punishable offenses in the United States into the hundreds of thousands. The long arm of the law reaches into nearly every aspect of American life. The legal scholar Harvey Silverglate has concluded that the typical American commits at least three federal felonies a day, simply by going through his or her normal routine.

Federal policies reward states for building prisons and mandating harsher sentences:

…federal incentives for states that safely decrease their prison populations and reconsider ineffective sentencing regimes…would represent a stark reversal of legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, which did just the opposite, offering federal dollars to states that imposed harsher criminal penalties and built more prisons, which contributed to the explosion of incarceration rates during the past two decades.

How did we become a Gulag Nation of tens of thousands of laws and regulations and mandatory harsh sentences for non-violent crimes–a society imprisoned for administrative crimes that aren’t even tried in our judiciary system? I would suggest two primary sources:

1. The relentless expansion of central-state power over every aspect of life. As I describe in my book Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change, the state has only one ontological imperative: to expand its power and control. There are no equivalent mechanisms for reducing the legal/regulatory burdens imposed by the state; various reforms aimed at reducing the quantity of laws and regulations have not even made a dent in the over-criminalization of America.

The second dynamic is the political reality that the easiest way for politicos to be seen as “doing something” is to pass more laws and regulations criminalizing an additional aspect of life. The state and its elites justify the state’s relentless expansion of power and control by claiming problems can only be solved by centralizing power further and increasing the number and severity of penalties.

Criminalization is the ultimate expansion of the state’s monopoly on coercive violence. As the state expands its power to imprison or punish its citizens for an ever-wider range of often petty infractions, increasingly via a bureaucratic administrative process that strips the citizens of due process, another pernicious dynamic emerges: the informal application and enforcement of formal laws and regulations.

In other words, the laws and regulations are enforced at the discretion of the state’s officials. This is the systemic source of driving while black: a defective tail-light gets an African-American driver pulled over, while drivers of other ethnic origin get a pass.

This is also the source of America’s systemic blind eye on white-collar crimes while the War on Drugs mandates harsh sentences with a cruel vengeance. When there are so many laws and regulations to choose from, government officials have immense discretion over which laws and regulations to enforce.

Prosecutors seeking to increase their body count will use harsh drug laws to force innocents to accept plea bargains, while federal prosecutors don’t even pursue white-collar corporate fraud on a vast scale.

The over-criminalization of America has undermined justice, the rule of law and the bedrock notion that everyone is equal under the law, i.e. legal egalitarianism.

The over-criminalization of America breeds corruption as the wealthy and powerful evade the crushing burden of over-regulation by either buying political favors in our pay-to-play “democracy” (money votes, money wins) or by hiring teams of attorneys, CPAs, etc. to seek loopholes or construct a courtroom defense.

Meanwhile, the peasantry are offered a harsh plea bargain.

The over-criminalization of America is one core reason why the status quo has failed and cannot be reformed. That is the title of one of my short works, Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform, which explains why the ceaseless expansion of centralized power leads to failure and collapse.


Posted in Authoritarianism, civil liberties, Corporate Crime, culture, Dystopia, Law, Mass Incarceration, police state, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beyond Violence and Nonviolence

By Ben Case

Source: ROAR Magazine

The argument over violence and nonviolence — one of the oldest and most divisive on the left — is back. Broken windows, mass arrests and one well-timed punch marked Donald Trump’s inauguration alongside massive nonviolent marches. In the weeks since, demonstrators converged on international airports, adding weight to a heated judicial fight over a sweeping ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries, and fiery protests outside a famed hate-monger’s talk at Berkeley cancelled the event and forced the speaker to flee under police escort.

Against the backdrop of a renascent fascist menace, the mix of tactical approaches has brought renewed fervor to the violence-vs-nonviolence debate. The dispute has been calcified into fixed positions, where it becomes less about persuading others to a strategic position and more about winning a point for one’s team.

Despite claims to the contrary, the current arguments over violence and nonviolence are based more in personal belief than in strategy. It is perfectly reasonable for an individual to dislike, be frightened of, or not want to participate in violent actions. To others, violent resistance on the part of the oppressed is inherently virtuous — and given social realities, the desire to break and burn things is understandable. But these personal positions should not be confused with strategic logic. In this debate, it does immense harm to the movement to represent personal sentiments as empirical fact.

Lucid strategic thinking is crucial in the present moment, and this type of quarrel is extremely destructive. It is time for movements to update frameworks for understanding disruptive actions, and that means thinking beyond the archaic violence-nonviolence dichotomy.

Nonviolence and Civil Resistance

The violence-nonviolence framework as we know it emerged from a twentieth-century context in which the paradigm for political revolution was armed struggle. Whether drawing inspiration from ideologically Maoist and Guevarist guerrilla strategies or theories of decolonization, revolutionaries took up arms and went to war with the state.

Original adherents to the doctrine of nonviolence, mostly pacifists, objected to acts of violence on a moral and historically religious basis. Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha, often translated as “adherence to Truth” or “truth force,” which means social change through and as the practice of nonviolence, was deeply influential for pacifists as an alternative to the dominant model of guerrilla warfare. In this view, nonviolence is valued over political victory, since enacting violence in order to achieve a material goal would not be victory at all.

The field of civil resistance studies changed the approach of “nonviolentism.” Gene Sharp, the founder of the field, separated Gandhi’s theory of nonviolent organizing from his theory of nonviolent spirituality. This new approach of “strategic nonviolence” argues for the use of nonviolent action as a political tool based on its superior strategic efficacy. Strategic nonviolentists distinguish themselves from “moral” or “principled” nonviolentists, who argue for nonviolence based on its inherent virtue. Here the value is placed on political victory, with nonviolent action understood to be the most effective method of achieving it.

Civil resistance studies has identified social and political dynamics that mass movements use to create material leverage in wildly lopsided power struggles with authoritarian regimes. The idea is to locate the “pillars of support” — the systemically loadbearing institutions — for a regime and to strategically dismantle them, focusing on the importance of mass noncooperation, polarizing populations through dramatic actions, and the backfiring effect of police repression.

In a moment when strategic thinking is desperately needed, the civil resistance framework is a powerful one. But the strategic nonviolent approach lags behind contemporary realities. The twentieth-century image of a revolutionary was the guerrilla unit facing off against the army; today it is the crowd facing off against lines of riot police. Of course, leftist armed struggle still exists, but it is increasingly framed as armed self-defense rather than armed conquest of the state, as in the Rojava Revolution and the Zapatista movement.

When guerrilla war was the prevailing method of revolutionary struggle, broadly distinguishing between violent and nonviolent strategy made more sense, because the strategic orientation of street protests was so dissimilar from that of warfare. In the emerging paradigm of revolutionary mass protest movements, whether or not any property is destroyed in a specific action is an entirely different issue, and far less consequential.

By Any Means Necessary

The use of low-level violent actions such as rioting and property destruction is often termed “diversity of tactics.” Like nonviolence, the defense of violent tactics can have both strategic and moral sides to it, and they can be equally difficult to separate.

Despite the objection that nonviolence depends on morality, arguments for the use of diversity of tactics frequently center on moral claims as well. For example, a common refrain is that the violence of breaking windows pales in comparison to the violence perpetrated by the state. While this is manifestly true, it does not constitute a strategic argument. A violent action being morally justifiable as a reaction to or defense from institutional violence does not mean that that type of action most effectively counters the institutional violence.

Malcolm X’s famous statement that “we want freedom by any means necessary” is frequently referenced to defend the use of diversity of tactics, classically juxtaposed to King’s nonviolence. However, the last word in Malcolm X’s sentence receives less attention than it should. The word “necessary” implies a strategic logic — by whichever means are required to achieve a particular goal — but in and of itself this approach does not point to a strategy. (It is worth noting that Malcolm X did not engage in any political violence himself.) Arguments for diversity of tactics might convince an activist that violence can be necessary, but questions of how and when those actions are strategically applied remain.

On the other hand, the study of civil resistance has focused on how and when certain tactics are most effective, but the field’s vestigial attachment to a totalizing concept of nonviolence limits its usefulness. Nonviolence is marketed as not only the most effective but the only viable method of political struggle. This position demands strict adherence to nonviolent discipline, as any act that can be reasonably perceived as violent is understood to help the enemy. Since violent actions nearly always occur at some point in large-scale social movements, a great deal of energy is wasted on hand-wringing over how these actions are hurting nonviolent efforts.

Focusing on What Works

The single most important study in civil resistance is published in Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Their claim is striking: nonviolent movements are almost twice as likely as violent ones to achieve “maximalist” political goals (overthrowing a leader, ousting a foreign occupation or seceding from a territory). This work has become the centerpiece of the assertion that nonviolence is more effective than violence.

Chenoweth and Stephan’s argument is based on a global dataset, Nonviolent and Violent Conflicts and Outcomes (NAVCO), which catalogues and compares uprisings between 1900 and 2006 based on whether or not the primary method was violent or nonviolent. The problem is that this study ignores riots and property destruction.

In fact, Chenoweth and Stephan’s study does not compare violence with nonviolence in the way those terms are used in movements today — it compares warfare to mass protests. According to the authors, NAVCO’s “violent” category comprises civil wars, while the nonviolent category is composed of campaigns that do not harm or threaten to harm opponents. Movements are ultimately categorized based on a campaign’s primary method of struggle, and the data contains no variables for any type of violent action that falls below the threshold for war.

NAVCO does include a variable for the “radical flank effect,” which in this case means an armed struggle being waged in the same country as a civilian protest movement. For example, during the civilian anti-Marcos protests in the Philippines in the 1980s, there was a separate armed insurgency going on at the same time elsewhere in the country — that is a radical flank in NAVCO data. This has nothing to do with the effect of protesters breaking windows or scuffling with police.

Indeed, campaigns in NAVCO’s nonviolent category contain prominent acts of violence. For example, the First Palestinian Intifada, iconically associated with people throwing rocks at soldiers, is listed as nonviolent because the movement was primarily nonviolent. The “Bulldozer Revolution” in Serbia, so named because activists used a bulldozer to break through police barricades at a crucial moment during climactic protests, allowing crowds to storm and burn government buildings, is also classified as nonviolent.

For the most part, activists today do not seriously discuss taking up arms and going to the mountains to wage guerrilla warfare. Instead, contemporary arguments over nonviolent discipline center around activities like smashing windows, throwing projectiles at police and punching neo-Nazis. To date, Chenoweth’s research does not address these actions whatsoever. Unfortunately, it is misrepresented as being directly relevant to the diversity of tactics debate, including by the researchers themselves, and has become the go-to reference for advocates of strict nonviolent discipline.

The gap between Chenoweth and Stephan’s findings and how they are presented is symptomatic of structural problems in the civil resistance field at large. The prevailing trend has been to ignore the types of actions that do not fit the theory. When violent actions occur, they are not investigated with the balanced, systematic analysis given to nonviolent actions, but are brushed off as random or unfortunate breaks from nonviolent discipline.

Between “Strategic” and “Nonviolence”

Though civil resistance studies claims to investigate which strategies are most effective for achieving a movement’s objectives, its conceptual framework ultimately emerged from a Gandhian view of political struggle. Sharp explained Gandhi’s movement in terms of its strategic approach and eventually abandoned the moral pacifism, but the foundational core of the field is still based on a theory of change constructed around the practice of spiritual nonviolence.

The term “strategic nonviolence” contains the contradiction within itself. A strategy that begins by assuming that a certain approach is correct is not actually a strategy but a belief. Civil resistance theorists claim to be motivated purely by the effectiveness of their approach, but if effectiveness is truly the goal, then one must be open to all possibilities that might prove to be effective in a given circumstance. If one rejects a priori all possibilities that are not nonviolence, then what is called strategy is actually selective evidence to support a preexisting conclusion.

While pacifism was never fully purged from strategic nonviolence, the attempt to abandon the moral foundation of nonviolence has had troubling consequences. Without a guiding ideology, that which is deemed to be most strategic can come to stand in for that which is just and correct. In other words, focusing exclusively on how movements win the next battle can obscure the meaning of the war. Ironically, moral nonviolentists like Gandhi and King were far more sympathetic to violent actions that were understood to be on the side of justice than strategic nonviolentists are to a broken bank window.

Rather than taking cues from Gandhi and King, who humanized and allied themselves with all resistance to oppression even when they disagreed with the methods, today’s strategic nonviolentists are quick to deride, abandon and even incriminate activists engaging in property destruction or self-defense. The loss of principle may have allowed strategic nonviolentists to pursue valuable research on effective tactics, but it has also led to a callous attitude towards fellow activists — one that is distinctly un-strategic in its approach to polarizing public opinion around systemic oppression.

Strategic Thinking Beyond Violence and Nonviolence

Like Chenoweth’s research, the field of civil resistance claims to do a lot more than it does — but what it does do is significant. The articulation of simple, user-friendly approaches for dismantling institutional targets using creative nonviolent disruption is important and needed. Research that illuminates how social movements effectively create widespread social and political change is one of the best uses of academic resources.

Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that violent actions generate greater police repression. At least one study suggests that mainstream tolerance for police repression of protests, especially violent ones, is quite high. These are important factors for activists to anticipate and strategize around, but this type of backlash does not necessarily undermine movements. In fact, state repression and polarizing public opinions are part of the cycle of disruption that is required for radical social change.

There are also many reasons to believe that use of limited violence, especially property destruction and community self-defense, might enhance a movement’s power. In addition to sometimes being strategic tools, acts of violence as collective resistance can be important components of consciousness-building and radicalization for many people, an effect that is sometimes overlooked by more clinical studies based on political outcomes. And far from being insulated from one another, there are often fluid interactions between more and less violent elements of movements — and those who participate in them.

Any tactic, whether or not it involves violence, has potential benefits and costs. Just as a riot might damage some people’s perception of a movement, it might galvanize others. A permitted demonstration led by liberal figureheads could play well on TV, but might also suck resources without challenging power. And of course there are differences in tactical impact between shorter term and broader strategic goals. The point is, violence is not necessarily the deciding factor in whether or not an action is strategic.

It is not about which team wins symbolic points in the violence-nonviolence debate; it is about how different groups’ tactical approaches can work in harmony to build power. In the context of today’s movements, the broad argument over violence and nonviolence is at best a distraction. At worst, it promotes a good protester/bad protester narrative that helps the state divide and conquer movements. We need a fresh approach.

Key principles of civil resistance such as noncooperation, mass participation, polarization and the backfiring effect are important and useful. If the blanket exclusion of all violent action is left aside, these principles are theoretically open to a much broader range of strategies and tactics than strict nonviolence currently admits.

Movement strategist Frances Fox Piven sees riots as a form of noncooperation in the routines of civic life. Riots can also dramatize and bring mass attention to serious issues in precisely the way civil resistance advocates. And it might turn out that the backfiring effect has more to do with disproportionate repression than the complete lack of violence on the part of protesters. For example, riots in Ferguson brought police militarization into national focus.

Importantly, these possibilities do not imply an inversion of nonviolent discipline, like some kind of violent discipline. Certainly there are many circumstances in which nonviolent actions are appropriate and effective. Contrary to what some diversity of tactics advocates claim, more violence does not necessarily indicate a more successful movement. But neither necessarily does less violence. We need dynamic strategic models — rooted in principles of solidarity, autonomy and equity — that can accommodate a spectrum of disruptive and prefigurative action.

The rhetoric and meanings of violence can and should be debated, but those meanings are no longer attached to distinct forms of political struggle. It does not make analytical sense to categorize movements or actions into two artificial, opposing categories based on whether or not activists do anything that can be called violence. The civil resistance playbook says that when there is protester violence, nonviolent groups should try to enforce nonviolent discipline or distance themselves. But this response is based less in strategic logic than in a stubborn and unfounded belief that any violence at all is necessarily a movement-stopper.

The moment is urgent. In terms of strategy, the violence-nonviolence dichotomy has outlived its usefulness. Organizers should not evaluate actions based on whether or not there is anything that could be interpreted as violence, but rather based on the potential of those actions to disrupt oppressive systems, build power and win short-term goals that can lead to long-term victory.

Posted in Activism, anarchism, Authoritarianism, culture, History, Law, police state, Revolution, Social Control, society, Sociology, State Crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 Questions You’re Not Supposed to Ask About Life in a Sick Society

By Sigmund Fraud

Source: Waking Times

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~J. Krishnamurti

Society is directed by a never-ending mainstream narrative which is always evolving, and always reaching new dramatic peaks in sensationalism and hype. They fill your mind with topics they select, they keep your attention on these topics, and they invite and encourage you to argue amongst each other about these topics. In this way our collective attention is permanently commandeered, preventing us from diving too deeply into matters which have more than a superficial impact on day-today life.

Free-thinking is the ability and willingness to explore of ideas and areas of the mind which are yet undiscovered or are off-limits. It is a vanishing art that is deliberately being stamped out by a control system which demands conformity, acquiescence and obedience of body, mind, and spirit.

For your consideration, here are three questions you’re not supposed to ask about life in our profoundly sick society.

1. Who owns the money supply, and the world’s debt?

Pretty much the entire world is in financial debt, an insidious form of slavery which enables the exploitation of human beings and of all things in nature. It’s maddening when you think about it. The United States alone supposedly owes some $20 trillion, while the world at large owes a shocking $215 trillion?

But to whom, precisely?

Money is just a medium of exchange which facilitates transactions between people. In and of itself it has no intrinsic value as we could just as easily use sea shells instead of dollar bills and still be able to get things done. But today’s money is the property of private third-parties who rent it out to national governments, who then use the labor of their citizens as collateral against these loans. This is a highly refined form of slavery, which has already put future unborn generations of human beings in debt.

But who, exactly does the human race owe? Who are our debt-slave masters?

2. Who owns your body?

Ownership means having the explicit right to use, control and dispose of something in the manner of your choosing. The one thing you are born with that you take with you to your death is your own body, but do you own it? If not you, then who does own your body?

If this question were already settled in our society then there wouldn’t be ever-increasing pressure on those who choose to refuse vaccines. Children battling cancer and other serious illnesses wouldn’t be forced to take chemo and radiation under penalty of law and under threat of being taken from their parents. Water wouldn’t be fluoridated without our consent. Natural medicines wouldn’t be outlawed under threat of fines and prison time.

We are rapidly approaching a time when people will be required by law to take psychotropic medications as citizens were in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, Brave New World.

Do you own your body, or does it belong to the state?



Posted in Authoritarianism, civil liberties, conditioning, Conspiracy, culture, Drug War, Economics, Health, Philosophy, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, State Crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Saturday Matinee: David Lynch Presents the History of Surrealist Film (1987)

By Colin Marshall

Source: Open Culture

What living director has drawn the descriptor “surreal” more often than David Lynch? If you’ve seen, or rather experienced, a few of his films — particularly Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., or Inland Empire, or even the first half of his television series Twin Peaks — you know he’s earned it. Like any surrealist worth his salt, Lynch creates his own version of reality, with its own set of often unfathomable and inexplicably but emotionally and psychologically resonant qualities. In 1987, the year after his breakthrough Blue Velvet opened in theaters, the BBC apparently thought him enough of an authority on the matter of cinematic surrealism to enlist him to present an episode of Arena on the subject.

And so we’ve highlighted, just above in two parts, the fruit of their collaboration, with apologies for the straight-from-the-VHS quality of the video. (I just think of the slight muddledness as adding another welcome layer of unreality to the proceedings.)

Lynch’s duties on the broadcast include providing facts about the films and filmmakers excerpted throughout to tell the history of surrealist film. (He also provides several choice opinions, as when he calls Philadelphia “one of the sickest, most corrupt, decadent, fear-ridden cities that exists.”) We see bits and pieces of pictures like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s 1929 Un Chien Andalou, Jean Cocteau’s 1932 Blood of a Poet, Fernand Léger’s 1947 The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart, and Chris Marker’s 1962 La Jetée. Not only does Lynch contextualize them, he discusses their influence on his own work. Casual filmgoers who’ve caught a Lynch movie or two and taken them as the imaginings of an entertaining weirdo will, after watching this episode, come to understand how long a tradition they fit into — and they’ll no doubt want to see not just more of Lynch’s work, but his sources of inspiration as well. (They may, however, after hearing all he has to say here, still regard him as a weirdo.)


Posted in Art, consciousness, culture, Film, Saturday Matinee, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s Rich Are Completely Losing Touch With Reality — and That’s a Really Bad Sign

By Shaun Bradley

Source: AntiMedia

The divide between wealthy and working class has grown wider each year since the last financial crisis, but this disconnect is about much more than just money or politics. The super-rich, in particular, have become completely detached from the everyday problems facing millions of their fellow citizens. Instead of recognizing the urgency of the current situation and contributing to solutions that help empower all members of society, the focus for many has shifted toward simply indulging in the present moment and increasing luxury. This kind of self-centered worldview has emerged throughout history and typically thrives most when decadent empires start to crumble.

Right now, the average person is forced to worry about central banks devaluing their currencies, corrupt bureaucrats eroding their civil liberties, and an economy on life support. Meanwhile, a faction of affluent individuals has committed themselves to avoiding the turmoil around them, instead choosing to obsess over life extension, genetic manipulation, and creating luxurious doomsday plans. Those people who have the crucial intellect, resources, and influence needed to implement real change are consumed with self-interest to the point of total apathy towards the future.

One of the more disturbing trends has been a rise in interest regarding something called parabiosis. This practice involves blood transfusions between the young and old in an attempt to slow the aging process. The procedure has been studied in the past but has always been met with moral and scientific criticism. Recently, however, a California start-up called Ambrosia began offering clients the opportunity to purchase the blood of someone under the age of 25 for a mere $8,000.

The process gained attention after Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel came out in support of further research during an interview:

“I’m looking into parabiosis stuff, which I think is really interesting. This is where they did the young blood into older mice and they found that had a massive rejuvenating effect. And so that’s … that is one that … again, it’s one of these very odd things where people had done these studies in the 1950s and then it got dropped altogether. I think there are a lot of these things that have been strangely underexplored.”

The blood used for these transfusions is often purchased from blood banks without informing the original donors. Popular high-school blood drives could soon have a whole new incentive to encourage students to participate. Any possible medical advancements that can help improve the lives of sick people should be explored, but for a private business to benefit directly from the generosity of others without their consent is a bit unnerving.

The question of whether this treatment is effective or not is almost a secondary issue to the ethical one. What does it show about our society when the priority of so many is not building a better world for the next generation but, rather, appeasing their egos by desperately clinging to their youth? The similarity to vampirism can’t be overlooked and may be another sign that, in the end, the truth is stranger than fiction.

The super-wealthy who can see the dangers facing the world are also fine with hitting the eject button to their own private bunkers in a worst-case scenario. The prepping community that was once isolated to ‘conspiracy theorists’ and survivalist groups has now been adopted by the 1%. Several billionaires have even gone so far as to buy entire islands to guarantee they won’t be swept up in the panic of the masses.

Tim Chang, the managing director at a financial firm called the Mayfield Fund, spoke to a reporter at the New Yorker about some of the conversations going on in these circles:

“There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens…I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to….I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”

While the ideas of democratic socialism have spread throughout the country, it’s clear that extreme individualism has developed on the other side. The majority of those with the means to care for themselves and their families have abandoned any connection to the rest of society. As long as the impact of the coming upheaval doesn’t affect them directly, it appears the fate of the rest is irrelevant.

The mentality of the nation has transitioned from proactive to reactive, with a sense of inevitability about the ultimate outcome we’re all facing. There is almost no effort to openly discuss the growing prospect of a civil war or severe economic breakdown, even as it grows more plausible in the minds of those paying attention. This obsession on the part of the super-rich for god-like control over their destinies only shows the fear that overwhelmingly dictates their choices. Maybe the modern day peasants of society should simply heed the advice of Marie Antoinette and eat cake while the world burns.

Posted in Consumerism, Corporate Crime, culture, Dystopia, Economics, Financial Crisis, Inequality, Recession, Social Engineering, society, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Love, Western Nihilism and Revolutionary Optimism

By Andre Vltchek

Source: Dissident Voice

How dreadfully depressing life has become in almost all of the Western cities! How awful and sad.

It is not that these cities are not rich; they are. Of course, things are deteriorating there, the infrastructure is crumbling and there are signs of social inequality, even misery, at every corner. But if compared to almost all other parts of the world, the wealth of the Western cities still appears to be shocking, almost grotesque.

The affluence does not guarantee contentment, happiness or optimism. Spend an entire day strolling through London or Paris, and pay close attention to people. You will repeatedly stumble over passive aggressive behavior, over frustration and desperate downcast glances, over omnipresent sadness.

In all those once great [imperialist] cities, what is missing is life. Euphoria, warmth, poetry and yes – love – are all in extremely short supply there.

Wherever you walk, all around, the buildings are monumental, and boutiques are overflowing with elegant merchandize. At night, bright lights shine brilliantly. Yet the faces of people are gray. Even when forming couples, even when in groups, human beings appear to be thoroughly atomized, like the sculptures of Giacometti.

Talk to people, and you’ll most likely encounter confusion, depression, and uncertainty. ‘Refined’ sarcasm, and sometimes a bogus urban politeness are like thin bandages that are trying to conceal the most horrifying anxieties and thoroughly unbearable loneliness of those ‘lost’ human souls.

Purposelessness is intertwined with passivity. In the West, it is increasingly hard to find someone that is truly committed: politically, intellectually or even emotionally. Big feelings are now seen as frightening; both men and women reject them. Grand gestures are increasingly looked down upon, or even ridiculed. Dreams are becoming tiny, shy and always ‘down to earth’, and even those are lately extremely well concealed. Even to daydream is seen as something ‘irrational’ and outdated.


To a stranger who comes from afar, it appears to be a sad, unnatural, brutally restrained and, to a great extent, a pitiful world.

Tens of millions of adult men and women, some well educated, ‘do not know what to do with their lives’. They take courses or go ‘back to school’ in order to fill the void, and to ‘discover what they want to do’ with their lives. It is all self-serving, as there appear to be no greater aspirations. Most of the efforts begin and end with each particular individual.

Nobody sacrifices himself or herself for others, for society, for humanity, for the cause, or even for the ‘other half’, anymore. In fact, even the concept of the ‘other half’ is disappearing. Relationships are increasingly ‘distant’, each person searching for his or her ‘space’, demanding independence even in togetherness. There are no ‘two halves’; instead there are ‘two fully independent individuals’, co-existing in a relative proximity, sometimes physically touching, sometimes not, but mostly on their own.

In the Western capitals, the egocentricity, even total obsession with one’s personal needs, is brought to a surreal extreme.

Psychologically, it can only be described as a twisted and pathological world.

Surrounded by this bizarre pseudo reality, many otherwise healthy individuals eventually feel, or even become, mentally ill. Then, paradoxically, they embark on seeking ‘professional help’, so they can re-join the ranks of the ‘normal’, read ‘thoroughly subdued’ citizens. In most cases, instead of continuously rebelling, instead of waging personal wars against the state of things, the individuals who are still at least to some extent different, get so frightened by being in the minority that they give up, surrender voluntarily, and identify themselves as ‘abnormal’.

Short sparks of freedom experienced by those who are still capable of at least some imagination, of dreaming about a true and natural world, get rapidly extinguished.

Then, in a short instant, everything gets irreversibly lost. It may appear as some horror film, but it is not. It is the true reality of life in the West.

I cannot function in such an environment for more than a few days. If forced, I could last in London or Paris for two weeks at most, but only while operating on some ‘emergency mode’, unable to write, to create and to function ‘normally’. I cannot imagine ‘being in love’ in a place like that. I cannot imagine writing a revolutionary essay there. I cannot imagine laughing, loudly, happily, freely.

While briefly working in London, Paris or New York, the coldness, purposelessness, and chronic lack of passion and of all basic human emotions, is having a tremendously exhausting effect on me, derailing my creativity and drowning me in useless, pathetic existentialist dilemmas.

After one week there, I’m simply beginning to get influenced by that terrible environment: I’m starting to think about myself excessively, ‘listening to my feelings’, instead of considering the feelings of the others. My duties towards humanity get neglected. I put on hold everything that I otherwise consider essential. My revolutionary edge loses its sharpness. My optimism begins to evaporate. My determination to struggle for a better world begins to weaken.

This is when I know: it is time to run, to run away. Fast, very fast! It is time to pull myself from the stale emotional swamp, to slam the door behind the intellectual bordello, and to escape from the terrifying meaninglessness that is dotted with injured, even wasted lives.

I cannot fight for those people from within, only from outside. Our way of thinking and feeling do not match. When they get out and visit ‘my universe’, they bring with them resilient prejudices: they do not register what they see and hear, they stick to what they were indoctrinated with, for years and decades.

For me personally there are not many significant things that I can do in Western cities. Periodically I come to sign one or two book contracts, to open my films, or to speak briefly at some university, but I don’t see any point of doing much more. In the West, it is hard to find any meaningful struggle. Most struggles there are not internationalist; instead they are selfish, West-oriented in nature. Almost no true courage, no ability to love, no passion, and no rebellion remain. On closer examination, there is actually no life there; no life as we human beings used to perceive it, and as we still understand it in many other parts of the world.


Nihilism rules. Was this mental state, this collective illness something that has been inflicted on purpose by the regime? I don’t know. I cannot yet answer this question. But it is essential to ask, and to try to understand.

Whatever it is, it is extremely effective – negatively effective but effective nevertheless.

Carl Gustav Jung, a renowned Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist, diagnosed Western culture as ‘pathological’, right after WWII. But instead of trying to comprehend its own abysmal condition, instead of trying to get better, even well, Western culture is actually made to expand, to rapidly spread to many other parts of the world, dangerously contaminating healthy societies and nations.

It has to be stopped. I say it because I do love this life, the life, which still exists outside the Western realm; I’m intoxicated with it, obsessed with it. I live it to the fullest, with great delight, enjoying every moment of it.

I know the world, from the ‘Southern Cone’ of South America, to Oceania, the Middle East, to the most god-forsaken corners of Africa and Asia. It is a truly tremendous world, full of beauty and diversity, and hope.

The more I see and know, the more I realize that I absolutely cannot exist without a struggle, without a good fight, without great passions and love, and without purpose; basically without all that the West is trying to reduce to nothing, to make irrelevant, obsolete and ridiculous.

My entire being is rebelling against the awful nihilism and dark pessimism that is being injected almost everywhere by Western culture. I’m violently allergic to it. I refuse to accept it. I refuse to succumb to it.

I see people, good people, talented people, wonderful people, getting contaminated, having their lives ruined. I see them abandoning great battles, abandoning their great loves. I see them choosing selfishness and their ‘space’ and ‘personal feelings’ over deep affection and inseparability, opting for meaningless careers over great adventures of epic battles for humanity and a better world.

Lives are being ruined one by one, and by millions, every moment and every day. Lives that could have been full of beauty, full of joy, of love, full of adventure, of creativity and uniqueness, of meaning and purpose, but instead are reduced to emptiness, to nothingness, in brief: to thorough meaninglessness. People living such lives are performing tasks and jobs by inertia, respecting without questioning all behavior patterns ordered by the regime, and obeying countless grotesque laws and regulations.

They cannot walk on their own feet anymore. They have been made fully submissive. It is over for them.

That is because the courage of the people in the West has been broken. It is because they have been reduced to a crowd of obedient subjects, submissive to the destructive and morally defunct Empire.

They have lost the ability to think for themselves. They have lost courage to feel.

As a result, because the West has such an enormous influence on the rest of the world, the entire humanity is in grave danger, is suffering, and is losing its natural bearing.


In such a society, a person overflowing with passion, a person fully committed and true to his or her cause can never be taken seriously. It is because in a society like this, only deep nihilism and cynicism are accepted and respected.

In such a society, a revolution or a rebellion could hardly go beyond the pub or a living room couch.

A person, who is still capable of loving in such an emotionally constipating and twisted environment, is usually seen as a buffoon, even as a ‘suspicious and sinister element’. It is common for him or for her to be ridiculed and rejected.

Obedient and cowardly masses hate those who are different. They distrust people who stand tall and who are still capable of fighting, people who know perfectly well what their goals are, people who do and not just talk, and those who find it easy to throw their entire life, without the slightest hesitation, at the feet of a beloved person or an honorable cause.

Such individuals terrify and irritate those suave, submissive and shallow crowds in Western capitals. As a punishment, they get deserted and divorced, ostracized, socially exiled and demonized. Some end up getting attacked, even thoroughly destroyed.

The result is: there is no culture, anywhere on Earth, so banal and so obedient as that which is now regulating the West. Lately, nothing of revolutionary intellectual significance is flowing from Europe and North America, as there are hardly any detectable unorthodox ways of thinking or perceptions of the world there.

The dialogues and debates are flowing only through fully anticipated and well-regulated channels, and needless to say they fluctuate only marginally and through the fully ‘pre-approved’ frequencies.


What is on the other side of the barricade?

I don’t want to glorify our revolutionary countries and movements.

I don’t even want to write that we are the “exact opposite” of that entire nightmare that has been created by the West. We are not. And we are far from being perfect.

But we are alive if not always well. We are standing, trying to advance this wonderful ‘project’ called humanity, attempting to save our planet from Western imperialism, its nihilist gloom, as well as absolute environmental disaster.

We are considering many different ways forward. We have never rejected socialism and Communism, and we are studying various moderate and controlled forms of capitalism. The advantages and disadvantages of the so-called ‘mixed economy’ are being discussed and evaluated.

We fight, but because we are much less brutal, orthodox and dogmatic than the West, we often lose, as we recently (and hopefully only temporarily) lost in Brazil and Argentina. We also win, again and again. As this essay goes to print, we are celebrating in Ecuador and El Salvador.

Unlike in the West, in such places like China, Russia and Latin America, our debates about the political and economic future are vibrant, even stormy. Our art is engaged, helping to search for the best humanist concepts. Our thinkers are alert, compassionate and innovative, and our songs and poems are great, full of passion and fire, overflowing with love and longing.

Our countries do not steal from anyone; they don’t overthrow governments in the opposite parts of the world, they do not undertake massive military invasions. What we have is ours; it is what we have created, produced and sown with our own hands. It is not always much, but we are proud of it, because no one had to die for it, and no one had to be enslaved.

Our hearts are purer. They are not always absolutely pure, but purer than those in the West are. We do not abandon those whom we love, even if they fall, get injured, or cannot walk any longer. Our women do not abandon their men, especially those who are in the middle of fighting for a better world. Our men do not abandon their women, even when they are in deep pain or despair. We know whom and what we love, and we know whom and what we hate: in this we rarely get ‘confused’.

We are much simpler than those living in the West. In many ways, we are also much deeper.

We respect hard work, especially work that helps to improve the lives of millions, not just our own lives, or the lives of our families.

We try to keep our promises. We don’t always succeed in keeping them, as we are only humans, but we are trying, and most of the times we are managing to.

Things are not always exactly like this, but often they are. And when “things are like this”, it means that there is at least some hope and optimism and often even great joy.

Optimism is essential for any progress. No revolution could succeed without tremendous enthusiasm, as no love could. No revolution and no love could be built on depression and defeatism.

Even in the middle of the ashes to which imperialism has reduced our world, a true revolutionary and a true poet can always at least find some hope. It will not be easy, not easy at all, but definitely not impossible. Nothing is ever lost in this life for as long as our hearts are beating.


The state in which our world is right now is dreadful. It often feels that one more step in a wrong direction, another false turn, and everything will finally collapse, irreversibly. It is easy, extremely easy, to give up, to throw everything up into the air, and to land on a couch with a six-pack of beer, or to simply declare “there is nothing that can be done”, and then resume one’s meaningless life routine.

Western nihilism has already done its devastating work: it has landed tens of millions of thinking beings on their proverbial couches of defeatism. It has spread pessimism and gloom, and a general belief that things can never improve anymore. It has maneuvered people into refusing to ‘accept labels’, into rejecting progressive ideologies, and into a pathological distrust of any power. The “all politicians are the same” slogan could be translated clearly into: “We all know that our Western rulers are gangsters, but do not expect anything else from those in other parts of the world.” “All people are the same” reads: “The West has been plundering and murdering hundreds of millions, but don’t expect anything better from Asians, Latin Americans or Africans”.

This irrational, cynical negativism already domesticated in virtually all countries of the West, has successfully been exported to many colonies, even to such places as Afghanistan, where people have been suffering incessantly from crimes committed by the West.

Its goal is evident: to prevent people from taking action and to convince them that any rebellion is futile. Such attitudes are brutally choking all hopes.

In the meantime, collateral damage is mounting. Metastases of the passivity and nihilistic cancers which are being spread by the Western regime are already attacking even that very human ability to love, to commit to a person or to a cause, and to stand by one’s pledges and obligations.

In the West and in its colonies, courage has lost its entire luster. The Empire has managed to reverse the whole scale of human values, which was firmly and naturally in place on all the continents and in all cultures, for centuries and millennia. All of a sudden, submission and obedience have come to vogue.

It often feels that if the trend is not reversed soon, people will increasingly start to live like mice: constantly scared, neurotic, unreliable, depressed, passive, unable to identify true greatness, and unwilling to join those who are still pulling our world and humanity forward.

Billions of lives will get wasted. Billions of lives are already being wasted.

Some of us write about invasions, coups and dictatorships imposed by the Empire. However, almost nothing is being written about this tremendous and silent genocide that is breaking the human spirit and optimism, throwing entire nations into a dark depression and gloom. But it is taking place, even as these lines are being penned. It is happening everywhere, even in such places as London, Paris and New York, or more precisely, especially there.

In those unfortunate places, fear of great emotions has already been deeply rooted. Originality, courage and determination are now evoking fear. Great love, great gestures and unorthodox dreams are all observed with panic and mistrust.

But no progress, no evolution is possible without entirely unconventional ways of thinking, without the revolutionary spirit, without great sacrifices and discipline, without commitment, and without that most powerful and most daring set of emotions, which is called love.

The demagogues and propagandists of the Empire want us to believe that ‘something ended’; they want us to accept defeat.

Why should we? There is no defeat anywhere on the horizon.

There are only two separate realities, two universes, into which our world had been shattered into: one of Western nihilism, another of revolutionary optimism.

I have already described the nihilism, but what do I imagine when I dream about that better, different world?

Do I envision red flags and people forming closed ranks, charging against some lavish palaces and stock exchanges? Do I hear loud revolutionary songs blasted from loudspeakers?

I actually do not. What comes to my mind is essentially very quiet and natural, human and warm.

There is a park near the old train station in the city of Granada, Nicaragua. I visited it some time ago. There, several old trees are throwing fantastic shadows on the ground, providing a desirable shade. Into a few big metal columns are engraved the most beautiful poems ever written in this country, while in between those columns stand simple but solid park benches. I sat on one of them. Not far from me, a couple of ageing lovers was holding hands, reading cheek to cheek from an open book. They were so close that they appeared to be forming a simple and totally self-sufficient universe. Above them were the shining verses written by Ernesto Cardenal, one of my favorite Latin American poets.

I also recall two Cuban doctors, sitting on a very different bench, thousands of miles away, chatting and laughing next to two goodhearted and corpulent nurses, after performing a complex surgery in Kiribati, an island nation ‘lost’ in the middle of South Pacific.

I remember many things, but they are never monumental, only human. Because that is what revolution really is, I think: a couple of ageing peasants in a beautiful public park, both of them in love, holding hands, reading poetry to each other. Or two doctors travelling to the end of the world, just in order to save lives, far from the spotlight and fame.

And I always remember my dear friend, Eduardo Galeano, one of the greatest revolutionary writers of Latin America, telling me in Montevideo, about his eternal love for his wonderful lady called “Reality”.

Then I think: no, we cannot lose. We are not going to lose. The enemy is mighty and many people are weak and scared, but we will not allow the world to be converted into a mental asylum. We’ll fight for each and every person who has been affected, and drowned in gloom.

We’ll expose the abnormality and perversity of Western nihilism. We’ll fight it with our revolutionary enthusiasm and optimism, and we will use the greatest weapons, such as poetry and love.


Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are the revolutionary novel Aurora and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism. View his other books here. Watch his Rwanda Gambit, a documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. He continues to work around the world and can be reached through his website and Twitter. Read other articles by Andre.

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Three Paths

By Erik Lindberg

Source: Resilience

To have lost the godlike conceit that we may do what we will, and not to have acquired a homely zest for doing what we can, shows a grandeur of temper which cannot be objected to in the abstract, for it denotes a mind that, though disappointed, foreswears compromise.  But, if congenial to philosophy, it is apt to be dangerous to the commonwealth.  –Thomas Hardy

We have the choice of three paths into the future.  But choice is probably not the right word, for historical change is, at its most orderly, the result of action and reaction and reaction to that.  The word paths may in the same way be too tidy, for we are more likely to go crashing into the thickets than to follow the marked and warn paths that inhabit our imagination.

But here, in this brief exercise, I’m thinking about moral and cognitive maps and the way we might direct our ideals.   Perhaps, then, I may be forgiven these simplifications.  I am not making predictions about how the future might actually unfold; rather, I’m imagining the directions towards which we might cast our highest aspirations.

1) The Arc of History Bends towards Progress

Path 1 might be called the Liberal[i] Choice.  It follows the idea that a just and secure global order requires basic equality among all humans and all nations.  But equality is only a half of it: as important as the ideal of equality to the Liberal vision is the way equality might be achieved—namely by way of economic growth and increased overall wealth, which (the Liberal half-assumes and half-hopes) will be spread more equitably in the coming decades, allowing the impoverished to increase their standard of living faster than the already-prosperous will.  The Liberal vision imagines that Western and industrialized standards of living might be spread across the globe so that all people might enjoy electricity, paved roads, internet connection, urban anonymity, and (almost as human right) relief from the most difficult aspects of manual labor or subsistence farming, with the opportunity to become educated and free from the limiting prejudices of traditional societies.  It sees mobility, individualism, and choice as the hallmarks of this just and equitable society[ii], and imagines humanity becoming more cosmopolitan, tolerant, and secular, while earning its daily bread through endeavors deemed creative according to middle class values.[iii]

Liberals sometimes appreciate the link between economic growth or growing overall prosperity, on the one hand, and a tolerant and cosmopolitan global order, on the other.  This link is more implied than discussed (though it is also sometimes difficult to find policy makers discussing anything but economic growth).   But Liberals are mistaken to assume, as they often do, that education, mobility, and secular tolerance (along with the embrace of “free markets” and the cultivation of an entrepreneurial spirit) have themselves created economic growth and growing prosperity, and are wrong to imagine (as they do in a vague and image-filled sort of way) that Africa, Asia, and South America might join the Euro-American prosperous middle class once they free themselves from the train of ancient and venerable prejudices[iv] that stunt their progress.  Western prosperity, after all, is not a pretty thing if you look into it too much.

Liberals are likewise mistaken to believe that tolerance or peacefulness is a simple state of mind, or that they might be projected effectively with bumper-stickers, protest signs, and earth-tone sweaters, or that a Clinton regime would have somehow been less bloody than a Trump one, or, cum Sanders, that our unparalleled levels of consumption (i.e. prosperity) does not in fact require a menacing global military presence in addition to the manipulations of a multi-billion dollar marketing industry.  Peace does not come from virtuous mental states; it is instead the product of a delicate sociological balance that is absent in many parts of the world and that is disappearing in traditionally Liberal nations—and often for reasons that Liberals are hard-pressed to explain except by declaring that we need more Liberalism and its states of mind, backed by vague and increasingly incoherent policy objectives.  The tepid enthusiasm for the center left (in the U.S. last autumn or in France today[v]) may be a symptom of its incoherent and increasingly implausible vision.

2.  Power Realism[vi]

As I write these words, geo-political analysts are envisioning Russia and the United States on the verge of a new cold war.  Perhaps.  Regardless of how heated it becomes, the nature of this new East-West opposition, especially when compared to the previous one, is well worth noting.  Not only has the past ideological divide mainly disappeared, we might instead be struck by the way these global rivals are coming to resemble each other.  Never mind the possible scandals and whatever is at their root, the arrival of Trump represents what might hyperbolically be called Russianization of the U.S.  Like Putin, after all, Trump does not operate according to a myth of emancipation, but only according to the pursuit of national power.  Trump may not share Putin’s understanding that the source of power lies in resources (but perhaps he does), but his actions and his economic assumptions seem to concur with this view, as does the operating outlook that statecraft should work to corner as many remaining resources as possible.[vii]

Meanwhile, the rise of Trump and Trumpism in the U.S., as well as similar movements and sentiments in Western Europe, should in fact be attributed to the failure of the Liberal path and the decline of global economic growth—the end of one version of the “delicate sociological balance,” and the only version most of us can imagine (that gap in imagination is why I write).  Long term stagnation and the end of expansive bourgeois hope have worked to weaponize the “me first” attitude: under a neo-Liberal world order, self-interest was supposed to lead to a rising tide, but Power Realists have little need for any such benevolent apologia.  Now harnessed by belligerent nationalists, this attitude of economic competition is more and more likely to accept wide-scale inequality and is instead concerned to be on the winning side of a winner-take-all competition over the world’s remaining resources and comparative advantages.[viii]

To put this last point in another way, relatively few people have, at least until very recently, been willing to openly and consciously embrace the me-first belief-system of Power Realism, absent any accompanying narrative of emancipation.  But most of the West’s middle-class has long wanted, expected, and demanded in a way that effectively “chooses” a path of Power Realism and the international bullying it requires–far sooner, at least, than it would veer towards a lowering of any such demand and expectations.

Dead Ends

Liberals and Power Realists equally see the dead-end that the opposing path leads to.  But both are equally blind to, or at least resignedly sanguine about, the dead-end that their own path leads to.  Liberals correctly understand that the widespread global inequality that Power Realists appear ready to tolerate will lead to permanent war and conflict and perpetual assaults on national security by those left behind.

Meanwhile, Power Realists seem to understand[ix]  or sense (though they don’t openly articulate it in public) that the Liberal vision of 3% economic growth into perpetuity is a farce and a fantasy, and that the whole world will never live like we in Europe or America do.[x]  Our way of life may in fact depend, in the end, on the walls and borders that Liberals decry on “moral” grounds.  Insularity and defensiveness may be the required dispensation, as we choose our way of life over global equality.  Power Realists also intuit that most Liberals can be turned into Power Realists under increasingly common economic conditions.  The mere loss of expansive prospects is enough to turn many an Obama supporter into a Trump supporter.   Minor economic decline, even the absence of economic expansion, was all that it took.  Except for those prepared to blaze a new trail into uninhabited ideological wilds, Path 1 usually leads to Path 2 with the onset of only moderate duress.  Liberals mistakenly believe that hate is a prime driver[xi] of inequality or discrimination, and that it might be purged from the heart with an enlightened dose of Liberal hope.  This may occasionally be true, but hate is more the symptom and might inflict itself on anyone who has suffered repeated humiliations or degradation—or even the mere loss of unquestioned privilege.

Our current political conflicts, both domestic and international, can therefore be largely attributed to our adherence to these two merging paths—especially if we take into account our destabilized climate and resulting droughts in places like Syria and Somalia, in addition to all the other ways nations and peoples jostle for power and advantage.  Climate chaos and the resulting political chaos will be the most notable legacy of Liberal growth and the Power Realism that has begun to cruelly manage it.[xii]

Political conflicts are almost always presented as a battle of ideals (as with the American choice of freedom over tyranny during WWII[xiii]) with the implied presumption that we might choose peace and equality as discrete policies or national values, unconnected from our economic and consumptive being- in-the-world.  According to this battle of ideals, then, one side sees the world divided between a coalition of enlightenment, empathy, tolerance, and inclusion, opposed to uninformed bigotry and short-sighted selfishness.  As a bumper sticker I saw the other day smugly put it, “I think, therefore I’m Liberal.”  The other side sees a line dividing steadfast, uncompromising faithfulness and resolve from naïve and undiscerning acceptance and compromise, a line between strength and weakness, between realism and soft-headed idealism.

But our current global change and conflicts are better understood with concepts drawn from sociology or anthropology than from self-reassuring talking-points.   A stable social order requires what we might refer to as consent or “buy in,” perhaps a lessening of the inevitable tension between civilization and its discontents into a stable détente.  During the short Pax Americana, this consent has been purchased with the promise of expanding prospects for all, fueled by an economy that devoured its own resource base in a way that renders its continuation impossible.  The Liberal order replaced social bonds with growing possibility,[xiv] and required for its maintenance the fulfilled promise that every year would provide more and that every generation could expect distinct material improvements. [xv] This order had no plan for material contraction or the onset of limits, other than to declare in the face of reality that there are no limits to growth.

This lack of a plan for stasis, let alone degrowth, might explain the demise of what so many Liberals believed to be the arc of history.  We maintain our acquisitive and competitive values and the primacy of individual liberty.  But in the absence of the growth and opportunity that purchased consent, trust horizons shrink and we see a turn towards group identity (as an alternative to participation in some imaginary global civilization) and begin an openly hostile scramble for remaining pockets of wealth and privilege (in the absence of the promise that everyone might have more forever).  Globalist buy-in has no dependable currency.

Picture global conflict not as the fight between liberals and conservatives, between the enlightened and the ignorant, between moderates and fundamentalists.  Picture, instead, penniless children with their noses pressed against the candy store window, while entitled brats stuff their pockets full of unearned loot.[xvi]  Forget ideals and instead imagine repeated humiliation, envy, and frustration, broken promises and abortive ideals.  It is not some obscure “ideology of hate” or an unexplained failure of moderate pro-Western policies according to which the explosive vest is strapped on.  Nor can we explain as simple sexism the way Donald Trump’s gropings (and so much else) were so widely forgiven.  Far stronger than we tend to accept is the desire for purpose and belonging, and the desperate (and sometimes violent) search for renewed social bonds when the limitless world of boundless and bondless expansion flounders on the shoals of a finite planet.  We once lived in a world when there was little disbelief in face of the comforting contradiction that we might all somehow “get ahead.”  Now it is clear that only a few can actually do so.  It is this realization that creates nationalism, Brexit, right wing populism, hatred of immigrants, or “America First.”

3. A Third Way

The Liberal Dream is dying because the planet was never infinite and our potential never limitless–not because some bad-guy ignoramuses somehow got the upper hand.  A social order could never be maintained for long by the promise of more every year, while the tide can only rise so high before it washes all good fortune away.  The most direct and facile, yet brutal and likely, antithesis of Liberal Growthism is personified by Trump, Putin, or Le Pen today, Hitler, Mussolini and Franco in years past,[xvii] and can only lead to war and repression.[xviii]  Such rulers are what arise at the onset of Liberalism’s decline.  But they offer no real solution, only a quick reordering of hope and expectation into anger and hate—an ordering nonetheless.  Intoxicated by the thrill of an arms race, Power Realists ignore the fact that the oppression and forceful repression of at least half the world’s population is unsustainable, and that the immiseration it spreads will eventually inflict us all.  Liberals know this and are aghast at the rise of these values.  But they, in turn, are all too ready to ignore the fact that Liberal hope requires unsustainable growth and insulate themselves from the realization that our global climate crisis was not caused by nationalism or the greed of someone else.  It was caused by this same growth, which continues to demand levels of goods and services that are bringing our ecological systems to the point of collapse.

There is of course a third choice—one that is simple yet mainly unthinkable.  It sees with heart stopping clarity the dead-end towards which the other two paths lead and has math, science, and even hard-headed economic analysis[xix] on its side, not to mention a pretty solid interpretation of most of the world’s major religions.  But it is a choice that few appear prepared to adopt, even entertain.  It accepts the view that a secure and stable global order must be a relatively egalitarian one—that, according to one idiom, all God’s children deserve a fair share of the Earth’s bounty.  It understands that the 5% of the global population that the United States accounts for cannot continue to use a quarter or a fifth of the world’s energy and natural resources while emitting a similar proportion of carbon dioxide.

And here is where this path parts ways from any of the views normally deemed fit for polite company: for it does not believe that the rest of the world should be brought to our level; that would be ecological suicide.  For if the whole world were to live like Americans we would need an additional four to six Earth’s to supply the required energy and natural resources, and to absorb our terrible waste.  A transition to wind and solar power does not substantially change this equation, nor do all the most far-flung efficiencies that anyone might realistically imagine.

The path according upon which humanity has a chance to find a just and sustainable world requires what is unthinkable yet mathematically impeachable and morally imperative: that we in America and Europe live more like African villagers, Indian subsistence farmers, and South American peasants.[xx]  They must become our models for the triumph of human dignity and justice, not to mention sustainability.  We, who have the appearance, at least, of a choice, must choose this sort of radical simplicity, embrace the hard work and the community interdependence, and abandon dreams that we might live without limits and be or do anything we can imagine (that godlike conceit was forged under the illusion that we have an infinite universe at our disposal[xxi]).

This will never happen you say.  It is unrealistic.  People will never give up privilege unless they have to.[xxii]  Congratulations: you have just chosen Path 2.  But true enough, I can’t disagree, this skepticism is probably warranted, especially if the limits of human aspiration are to be pragmatic and strategic, if you can’t hope beyond the current political parties and already established life-paths for middle class people.  For there is no clear path from where we are to a world of radically simple sustainability, except the one paved with cataclysmic violence and bloodshed, in which we will eventually be forcefully taken to our knees.[xxiii]

But we might still stand up and declare, “this is the right path, this is what I support, this is where I will throw my energy.”  There is no reason why we must continue to choose Path 1 or Path 2, or accept it–no reason why we must continue to pretend that our way of life or our side of the ideological divide (give or take a few ideological tweaks) is just and sustainable.  There is no reason why we should continue to give our consent to the maintenance of either growth or inequality.   Let us openly and loudly declare our commitment to our own eventual material poverty, and in this declaration find moral and spiritual wealth.  Let us begin to proclaim the unthinkable and think it every day.


[i] By Liberals I mean philosophical Liberals, which has generally included many who are considered political conservatives.  Ronald Reagan was as much a Liberal as Bernie Sanders.  Donald Trump, however, may not be a Liberal.

[ii] To borrow Chris Smaje’s term, Liberals are “solutionist” when it comes to freedom and choice, unable to see that there are in it advantages and disadvantages, payoffs and collateral damage.

[iii] Where apps are “creative” but managing erosion on a hardscrabble farm is not.

[iv] And accept that loan from the IMF along with the accompanying “restructuring” and “reforms.

[v] Does anyone really embrace the vision of a Clinton or a Macron?  Or is it just a safe alternative to the alternative?

[vi] I am not suggesting that “Power Realists” are across the board more “realistic.”



[ix] I’m completely not sure about this.  Power Realists may be as Growthist as neo-liberals and certainly trumpet the ideals of economic growth.  But their rise, I would assert without much qualification, has been made possible by the ending of growth and their policies are suited to the end of a Growthist order.

[x] It is with some weariness that I feel compelled to provide evidence for this conclusion.   Either the idea that the Earth can provide enough resources for the rest of the world to live like us, or the idea that exponential growth remains a viable plan for the future, on their own, belie any mathematical conclusions. But the Liberal vision requires both.  A true Liberal paradise would require that we maintain 3% or so economic growth in the industrialized world, while the “developing” world grows even faster to catch up.  The main reason that this can’t work is, simply, that growth is tantamount to mass genocide followed by mass suicide.  For despite ballyhooed efficiencies and alleged “decoupling” no one has figured out to create more stuff for more people without using more natural resources.  There is no way to lift a 400 ton passenger airplane off the ground with a small ecological footprint or provide everyone with one-hundred horsepower personal transportation without making the planet unlivable.  If everyone were to live like Americans, we would require about 6 times the current amount of things like rubber, oil, timber, concrete, and iron ore.  Meanwhile 3% economic growth—the amount most Liberal economists believe is necessary to maintain our delicate sociological balance—means that the size of the economy (and the amount of natural resources it requires) will double every 23 years.  That means in 56 years, the natural resource requirements would be quadruple the current level.  This is not a viable path into the future.  These resources simply don’t exist, and attempting to squeeze them out of our planet would make it unlivable.  Past and current attempts may already have.  No wonder so many pro-growth technophiles look to outer space as the solution to humanity’s alleged need for growth—which begs the very basic existential question of why so many humans see this as a better plan than the unthinkable one I suggest below.  I review some of the fundamental problems of economic growth in

[xi] What Jacques Derrida would have referred to as a “transcendental signifier,” a thing-in-itself, something that just is, which, like “evil,” not only needs no further explanation, but in fact shuns it.

[xii] As Michael Klare has recently noted more people are on the brink of starvation now than at any time since WWII.

[xiii] This “choice” is far better described with that word, and with the notion of “ideals,” than anything we encounter today.  However, the clean narrative of good vs evil has nevertheless been simplified, with the relation of national interests to resources and empire being erased from the picture, or perhaps overshadowed by the atrocities.



[xvi] And then picture these same entitled brats with their noses pressed up against another window on some other day.

[xvii] As the US Joint Forces Command concluded in 2010, “A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.”, p.22 (emphasis added).

[xviii] Someone like Reagan is of great historical interest, what with his attempt to create a synthesis of the two, reflected in his soaring rhetoric, but paid for with massive debt and the strategic use of populist hate.

[xix] I am not, of course, referring to most mainstream economic analysis.  Economics as a discipline has been charged mainly with the task of figuring out how to grow the economy regardless of the consequences or the possibility.  By “hard-headed” I am thinking of the few economists who have escaped this Growthist ideology and follow what Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard refer to as “biophysical economics.”

[xx] This point has been made most poignantly by Chris Smaje.  If you haven’t been reading his work, start now.  It’s among the most interesting in the “deep sustainability” world.  I need to further note that this current essay was motivated by Chris’s “Article 51” where he writes: “I’ve been accused before of irresponsibly wishing to lower the standard of living in the wealthier countries to the level of common misery experienced by humankind in general in relation to my remarks on immigration. On reflection, I’m happy to embrace that accusation, if I’m allowed a few extra lines of defence. I embrace it because, well, what’s the alternative? Historically, capitalist ideology has justified itself with aqueous metaphors of downward trickling and upwardly rising tides that benefit all. It’s become clear that these are mirages. So the argument against a fair global spread of economic resources then boils down essentially to the devil take the hindmost. I can’t justify that to myself ethically, and in any case I think that road leads to a still deeper mire of global misery.”

Smaje consistently condenses complicated issues into digestible form without sacrificing the complexity.  I’m trying to recondense some of his thoughts—or my take on them—into my own idiom and may be justly accused of adding little to what he has already said.

[xxi] It’s a nice sentiment, and it’s everywhere.  The prevailing “moral” of 90% of the movies currently made for 5 year olds is that they can be who or whatever they want, if they only follow their dreams and “be themselves.”  I get where this is coming from, and can glimpse the cost of abandoning this fiction.  But we need to start considering the fact that it just isn’t true, and certainly can’t be, at least as currently understood, for 6 or 7 or 8 billion people.  It might be possible, for a while, for half a billion or so.  And then they are likely to kick and scream and pout when the promise turns out to have been false.

[xxii] And the ecological limits of the world will never appear to us as a “have to,” even though they most certainly are.

[xxiii] There are of course brave pioneers who have beaten a track in this direction—ones like Jim Merkel.  But the problem of a whole-society or whole-system transition has yet to be solved.

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