Posts from our progressive community

The Citadel Nation - the Militarization of America

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:21

In his 2008 book "Climate Wars", Gwynne Dyer foretold the militarization of the American-Mexican border.  The American military, Dyer wrote, had plans to seal the border against a wave of climate refugees fleeing north out of Central America.  The plan envisioned the use of military-grade, lethal force to keep the horde south of the Rio Grande.

While we haven't yet seen the emplacement of robotic machine gun turrets to sweep a kill zone along the border, the militarization of America continues apace:

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

Across America (and coming soon to Canada too), the line between democratic law enforcement and martial law is being erased.  It is perhaps the inevitable outcome of neoliberalism in which security is to prevail over constitutional protections for some, a great many although not for all.

What Vestige of Democracy Remains in the Age of Neoliberalism?

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:56

Henry Giroux argues that we must perceive democracy as a culture and shake off the cloak of neoliberalism by which it has been subverted.  Excerpts from his essay, "Beyond the Spectacle of Neoliberal Misery and Violence in the Age of Terrorism":

American culture is beset with what I want to call the spectacle of catastrophes, which move between the registers of transgressive excess and extreme violence, and in doing so exhaust their shock value, degenerating into escapist entertainment, while furthering a state of ethical and political paralysis given the widespread cynicism that has become the modus operandi of neoliberal machinery of misery and precarity. Catastrophe is rooted in resignation and an acceptance of the neoliberal notion that nothing can be done whereas, as Zygmunt Bauman argues, crisis speaks to the need to address what exactly needs to be done.

...Amid the elevation of extreme violence and its degeneration into a cultural and pedagogical spectacle, historical, individual, and social modes of agency degenerate and pose a serious challenge to the very possibility of addressing diverse crises. Instead of responding to crises with the desire to correct a wrong and reimagine a different future, all that appears to be left in American culture is the desire to merely survive in the face of endless representations of state and non-state violence. The mass public indifference to the threat of human extinction, the use of state torture, the mass and indiscriminate killing of children, the shutting off of water to the poor in Detroit, the rise of debtors prisons, the war against women, the indifference to the nuclear war machine, the state violence against student non-violent protesters, and the brutality that fills youth detention centers are only a small indication of how the shadow of the apocalypse and the experience of actual suffering have moved out of the realm political and moral sensibility and responsibility into the black hole of a disimagination machine...

The United States is in a new historical conjuncture defined largely by global neoliberal capitalism in which the moment between cultural institutions, political power, and everyday life has become central to how we understand politics and the work that it does. At one level the market has eroded the affective and symbolic bonds that create public trust, public life, and the bonds of social life. At the same time, politics has become intensely educative in terms of how it constructs the ways in which people understand themselves, their relations to others and the wider society. Doreen Massey is right in arguing that “it is the internalization of the system that can potentially corrode our ability to imagine that things could be otherwise.”

...Democracy is under assault and appears to have fallen over the edge into what Hannah Arendt once called “dark times”, but as Catherine Clement has noted “every culture has an imaginary zone for what it excludes, and it is that zone that we must remember today.” I believe that such a zone is crucial to remember because it makes visible the long history of struggle by labor, unions, workers, young people, feminists, civil rights advocates, gay activists, progressive educators, and others who believed in the promise of a radical democracy along with the necessity to struggle with a renewed sense of urgency and collective strength. It is time for that struggle to deepen so as to shake off the authoritarian nightmare now engulfing American society.

Teach Your Children Well

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:22

They're already facing some serious challenges coming their way before all that long, let's teach them the difference between absurdity and reality, the gift of critical thinking.  That's been heavily drummed out of us these past two or more decades and it shows in the mess we've created during that interval.

Dan Arel, in his book "Parenting without God,"  argues that, in a society "ruled by absurd religion and other dogma," critical thinking is more important than ever.

One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should, but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

How many atheists do you know who are anti-GMO or anti-vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

...Our children should be using this method every day in all matters of life. With claims from friends, family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.
 Many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who we should be. Many never break out of that cycle and allow those they consider authorities to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation that questions everything, from religion to government and even science.

We often imagine we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Theists, especially creationists, often claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth. However, this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid. All the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

In Canada, of course, we struggle under a government that abhors critical thinking.  The Harper government is intensely faith based.  It believes in belief and spurns facts and science and demonstrated proofs.  How many Harper supporters do you know who defend their choice on raw belief, on faith in this prime minister?  My experience suggests it's not so much a matter of intellectual dishonesty as it is intellectual laziness that creates a willingness to avoid critical thinking whenever possible.  It's perhaps the intellectual equivalent of reversed polarity.

The Double Bind of Climate Change

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:00

I'm still hopeful that we will see a workable, international agreement on climate change in 2015 but why does that have to feel like a pensive Charlie Brown with Lucy holding the football?  And why does Lucy remind me of Stephen Harper?

A new research study from Norway's Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in conjunction with Statistics Norway (a Scandinavian StatsCan), concludes that the chances of getting an effective agreement are slim.  The study concludes that the measures likely to get political agreement would be ineffective while an agreement that could produce results would be "politically unviable."  Kyoto, anyone?

Professor Jon Hovi, of the University of Oslo and Cicero, headed the project. He says there are three essentials for a robust agreement:
It must include all key countries—in other words, all the major emitters.
It must require each member country to make substantial emissions cuts.
Member countries must actually comply with their commitments.
While emissions cuts benefit all countries, he says, each country must bear the full costs of cutting its own emissions. So each is sorely tempted to act as a “free rider” to enjoy the gains from other countries’ cuts while ignoring its own obligations.

“Cutting emissions is expensive, and powerful interests in every country proffer arguments as to why that particular country should be exempted,” Professor Hovi explains. “This inclines the authorities of all countries to take decisions that make them free riders.”

The researchers identified five types of free rider. Some countries—the US, for example—never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Others, such as Canada, ratified it but later withdrew.

“We must eliminate free riding,” Professor Hovi says. “Each and every country must be certain that the other countries are also doing their part. It’s the only viable option.”

He thinks any country avoiding its treaty commitments must face consequences: “Free riding must be met with concrete sanctions. The question is what type of enforcement could conceivably work and, if such a system exists, would it be politically possible to implement it.”

The researchers say that some countries—such as the US—support international systems of enforcement that can safeguard compliance with an agreement. “At the same time, other key countries have stated a clear opposition to potent enforcement measures—either as a matter of principle or because they know that they will risk punishment,” Professor Hovi says.

“For example, China opposes mechanisms that entail international intervention in domestic affairs as a matter of principle. China is not even prepared to accept international monitoring of its own emissions.

The UN principle of full consensus allows countries opposed to enforcement measures to prevail by using their veto right during negotiations.”

Consider that the "Lucy Gambit."  All Harper needs is to toss in his "nyet" and it's game over for any viable climate change deal.  He'll probably side with China and possibly India in thwarting any meaningful action and he'll bury his veto under a landslide of justifications, excuses and claptrap.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 07:44
Assorted content to start your week.

- Robert Jay Lifton discusses the "stranded ethics" of a fossil fuel industry which is willing to severely damage our planet in order to protect market share:
Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale. 
This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground. ...
The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.
In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.
With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren. - But Mike De Souza reports on ALEC's latest meeting - demonstrating that there are plenty of well-funded corporations (including TransCanada and other tar sands operators) and their pet legislators doing everything in their power to make sure ethics get shouted down in any political discussion of climate change.

- Travis Lupick discusses how the Cons' anti-social crime policies are creating more dangerous prisons.

- Meanwhile, Tim Harper comments on Stephen Harper's aversion to asking "why". And Don Lenihan points out that Canada's premiers may be less than accepting of federal-provincial relations that consist of nothing other than Harper imposing on the provinces while refusing to accept questions, examine evidence or offer explanations - with Harper's intransigence toward missing and murdered aboriginal women being the most appalling example at the moment.

- Finally, Ajamu Nangwaya discusses the contrast between organizing people to better give voice to their own concerns, as opposed to merely mobilizing them toward others' causes - and emphasizes the ultimate need to do far more of the former.

Reused column day

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 07:04
For those wondering, my Leader-Post column was on hiatus last week, but will return this week.

In the meantime, I'll point back to this post and column as introductory reading for Janet French's new report on SaskTel's disclosure of customers' personal information to government authorities. (And I'll add here one comment which didn't make it into the report: as a provincial Crown corporation, SaskTel is subject to additional provincial privacy laws which give consumers some extra means to challenge the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information.)

Harper's Reign Of Terror - A Closer Examination

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:57

While Stephen Harper's attacks on charities have been followed here and elsewhere, the Star presents a good overview of how the offices of the CRA have been subverted by a vindictive regime that brooks no opposition to its neoliberal agenda.

The article begins with the egregious case of CoDevelopment Canada, a small Vancouver charity that works with its Latin American partners in helping to fund programs that assist the poor. Apparently, if that assistance threatens to upset the corporate status quo, a crime has been committed in Harperland.

One of CoDev's Latin American partners is the Maria Elena Cuadra Movement for Working and Unemployed Women (MEC), which is based in Nicaragua. MEC’s goals include helping to modernize labour relations in Nicaragua’s free-trade zones by promoting the notion that human, labour and gender rights for workers must be upheld.

In 2013-14, CoDev and its Canadian partners sent MEC nearly $38,000. The money was used for causes such as MEC’s legal clinic, which that year handled 2,000 cases — 1,600 involving women — pertaining to issues such as labour-rights violations and gender-based violence.

Previously, the charity vigorously opposed Ottawa’s decision to sign a free-trade agreement with Colombia, a country [Barbara] Wood [CoDev’s former executive director,] describes as having “massive displacement and violence.’’

Wood muses about whether CoDev’s criticism of the government played a role in putting it on CRA’s radar.

Consider the tale of CoDev's two audits. Their first, in 2009, was a relatively innocuous affair:

The auditor came for about four days to the group’s small second-floor office in east Vancouver on June 10, 2009. A few glitches were spotted. For example, CoDev had been reporting some of its money in the wrong boxes on its tax returns, and filing cabinets in the charity’s office containing donor information weren’t being locked.

Case closed, right? Not quite. In 2012, 'Uncle' Joe Oliver, then Natural Resources Minister, in an open letter warned that environmental and other "radical groups" are trying to block trade and undermine Canada's economy.

It wasn't long after this that nonprofits critical of aspects of government policy suddenly found themselves the centre of the CRA's attention. The David Suzuki Foundation, of course, was one of them.

In mid-October, a new audit wass ordered of CoDev, one that began in January of 2013, this one involving three investigators, an auditor and two others whose area of specialty was program funding. They ultimately imposed onerous stipulations on the four-person office, including the translation of all Spanish documents into English. More specific details outlining the Harper-directed CRA vindictiveness can be found here.

Most reasonable people will draw the conclusion that these audits are far from innocent. In the simplistic and bifurcated world of Stephen Harper, you are either with the government or you are with its 'enemies'. If you fall into the latter category, beware the consequences.Recommend this Post

The "sociological phenomenon" of Herr Harper. . . .

kirbycairo - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:20
Herr Harper's recent claim that the disappearance and murder of hundreds of Aboriginal women should not be viewed as a "sociological phenomenon" is an important reminder of what rightwing ideology is really all about. It has been central to rightwing ideology in the modern period to continually reduce society and human interactions to individual units. They see society only as individuals and are desperate to make others see it that way. There are a number of reasons for this act of reductionism but they all come down, in the end, to control. If you atomize society and isolate individuals they are significantly easier to control. Before the phrase 'civil society' took on the positive connotation that it has had in recent years, it was used by a number of sociologists and political thinkers to connote a war of all against all. And it is this war that the rightwing wants to promote. Cooperation among the general population is the death knell of rightwing ideology in the same way that when, say, Cape Buffalo in Africa stand united as a small herd the lions they can fend off attack.

To any vaguely rational person crime is, of course, always an individual and a sociological phenomenon at the same time. For example, African Americans in the US make up about 13 percent of the population, yet they make up somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the US prison population. This statistic presents a remarkable dilemma for the rightwinger. If, as Harper would have us do, we are to treat individual crimes as just that, individual events rather than sociological phenomena, then we are essentially forced to make the radically racist assumption that African Americans are simply criminally minded while white people are more law abiding. Now, while some rightwingers do, in fact, believe this, no politician in his/her right mind would publicly acknowledge such a belief. However, I believe that most people (even slow-witted rightwingers) know that such a statement is clearly untrue and that, despite the words of King Harper, crime is, in fact, a sociological phenomenon. But the rightwing is desperate to dissuade the public from such sociological thinking because such thinking takes us down the path of a more cooperative social outlook. To put it plainly, when we acknowledge that trends in crime are not just individual acts but also indicative of social trends, social beliefs, and socioeconomic demographics we are embracing the idea that society is not simply a bunch of individuals acting in isolation but that our actions are significantly connected to our environment and the society in which we live. This belief, in turn, will make us realize that generations of neglect and oppression of a group, like, say, the Indigenous people of Canada, will result in a myriad of social problems such as poverty, violence, substance and sexual abuse, etc. This fact means, much to the chagrin of rightwingers, that we are collectively responsible for these problems and we cannot, as they are wont to do, reduce them to the individual choices and actions of the people involved. And here is the rub; if we are to adopt this kind of 'sociological thinking,' then the problems of Capitalism must also be seen in a social light, and this is what the rightwing really fears. If crime is party a result of our place in society and our social problems and biases, then the problems of capitalism (such as spiralling income inequality, debt rates, under performance in education, increasing student debt, rises in homelessness and various health problems, etc) are not simply a result of a bunch of poor choices made by individuals but are structurally related to political mismanagement, or perish the thought, to fundamental problems in Capitalism itself.

Marx wrote that people make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. An easier way of looking at this idea is to say that people make choices that make sense to them in their particular time and place. But if they are raised in the midst of poverty, crime, violence, substance abuse, and in the middle of a society that continually gives them the message that they are worthless and will probably amount to nothing, then the choices that make sense to them will be very different from the ones that they might make if they are raised in a safe, nourishing environment of love and education. The problem is, of course, that people like Harper don't really want us to make good choices. A society with more cooperation, from unionized workplaces to better social healthcare, ultimately means less relative wealth and power for the five percent who control society and reap the benefits of skewed capitalism. And these are the people that Harper and the rightwing work for.

Harper will always resist calls for an inquiry into the murder and disappearance of aboriginal women for the simple reason that the results of such an inquiry will inevitably have sociological implications. It will remind people that certain groups of people in society are collectively seen as expendable, that generations of racism and legislative mismanagement result in violence and social oppression. It will help bring to the public eye the real conditions of aboriginal people in this country and the structural racism that infests our society. More importantly, it will remind people that there are social solutions to these problems, and if these problems are subject to social solutions then so are our other problems like economic and social inequality. And the rightwing doesn't want us to believe that. Rather, they want us to believe that our collective fate is in the hands of that bizarrely invisible phenomenon that they tell us so much about, a phenomenon that is nothing more than an aggregate of individual acts.

There is an ironic postscript to this story. Let us not forget that Harper was the first to embrace a sociological approach when it suited his purposes. In the wake of the so-called sponsorship scandal, Harper told us it was not a result of a few criminal individuals but was a direct result of a 'culture' of corruption which promoted such individual kinds of choices. Here, for all to see, is the smoking gun of Harper's hypocrisy.

Our Essential Illness

Northern Reflections - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:05


Murray Dobbins' analysis is never superficial. He looks for root causes. In his latest column, he notes that two television shows -- House of Cards and Breaking Bad -- were tremendously popular. He suspects that,  just as science fiction movies of the 1950's were about Cold War paranoia, these two shows were really about the psychopathy of 21st century capitalism. He quotes Canadian author Patricia Pearson:

The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, 'I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I've said or done.'  'I'm 19-per-cent psychopath!' they announce. Or: 'I scored five out of 10!' As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.
Captialism has now become hyper-competitive. And the consequences are truly disturbing:

The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies.
It's that psychopathology which is a the root of our democratic crisis:

It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, says [Fred] Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."
If we want to reclaim our democracy, Dobbin writes, we need to discover an old human trait -- kindness:

British writer Barbara Taylor has suggested in her essay "On Kindness" (co-authored by Adam Phillips) that the missing ingredient is just that: kindness. The authors point out that for almost all of human history, people considered themselves naturally kind. Christian philosophy called on people to "love thy neighbour as thyself." But by the 17th century, kindness was under attack by competitive individualism. Today, says Taylor, "An image of self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity." This is in spite of numerous studies that show giving provides far more pleasure than taking. People involved in these studies are astonished by the results -- and simply don't trust them.
21st century capitalism sees kindness as a weakness. Certainly our prime minister regards it as such. But our prime minister -- unlike Dobbin -- doesn't believe in "committing sociology."  He believes in our essential illness.

Stephen Harper's Dismal and Dangerous Black and White World

Montreal Simon - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 04:15

I spent the weekend trying to forget, at least for a few hours, all the horrible things that are happening in this world.

By biking along the waterfront, and shooting things like this bunch of wilting but still beautiful flowers...

But even they reminded me of all those missing and murdered aboriginal women...

And made me wonder again how Stephen Harper could dismiss that veritable holocaust as the mere acts of random violence.
Read more »

GAZONTO: What if Gaza Was Toronto?

Montreal Simon - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 22:27

This simple but powerful artistic collage by the Palestinian photographer Belal Khalel, couldn't sum up better how I feel about what is going on in Gaza.

The ceasefire broken, whole neighbourhoods reduced to rubble, hundreds of thousands with no place to call home. More than 2,000 dead. More than ten thousand wounded. 

The Hamas death cult death firing off rockets and mortars in the general direction of Israel.

While shooting their own people in the street... 

The Israeli Death Machine levelling entire apartment buildings.
Read more »

Imagining Toronto bombed like Gaza

Creekside - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 21:54

Click Full Screen to render the script visible.

Via Electronic Intifada : Gazonto
"In his compelling new video Gazonto, Canadian filmmaker John Greyson reimagines Israel’s massive bombardment of the Israeli-occupied and besieged Gaza Strip as if it were an attack on his home city Toronto.Greyson imagines specific attacks on Palestinian homes, schools, mosques, hospitals and other institutions that Israel perpetrated since 7 July as if they had occurred on real-life Toronto sites including a well-known café, CBC TV, the University of Toronto and the Scarborough Injury Rehab Centre.The film uses the device of a simulated video game to show how the horrifying effects of Israeli violence against Palestinians are rendered distant or invisible while the violence itself is celebrated.".

Shorter, on the government jets

Cathie from Canada - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 21:27
Shorter -- why the Harper Cons couldn't decommission four of its six Challenger jets:Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.In fact, the Harper Cons will likely end up buying two more if they can find some place to hide the bill -- because really, its cheaper in the long run, economies of scale and all that....

The Militarization of Police: But Why?

JOE FANTAUZZI Thoughts about power - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 12:59
Since the beginning of the year, several stories in high-profile mainstream media publications have examined what some find to be the increasing militarization of police forces in North America. In March, The Economist wrote a feature on the phenomenon noting that the use of tactical units, which are often armed with military-style weaponry such as so-called […]

What Is the Meaning Of All This Chaos?

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 11:43

I am always amazed at how television pundits manage to call elections when just a fraction of cast votes have been counted.  It's always been a matter of considerable frustration out here on the west coast when elections are decided before our polls even close.

A recent post on research warning of imminent societal collapse brought me back to some vague musings I've been having about the chaos that seems to be rising throughout much of the globe and whether these incidents, taken collectively, represent the onset of collapse.  In other words, are we observing the beginnings of the collapse of our global society?

You don't fell a tree with one blow of an axe.  The bigger and stronger the tree, the more strikes that are required.  Yet if the tree is not strong, if it's small, just a couple of axe blows may do the trick.

I think a tree serves as a good metaphor for our global civilization.  We think it's big, we think it's strong.  Our very notion of globalization rests on those assumptions.  But what if it's not as big or strong as we'd like to imagine?  What if it's not healthy?  What if it's got rot?

The axe blows are coming hot and heavy.  They're coming from over-population. They're coming from over-consumption.  They're coming from inequality, both international and domestic.  They're coming from early onset climate change. They're coming in the rise of failed states and in the decline of liberal democracy often supplanted by increasingly illiberal democracy even in the West.  They're coming from often violent religious fundamentalism.  They're coming from hyper-militarism. They're coming from complacency and a growing nihilism.

I have tried, I really have, but I can't think of one of these issues or conditions that hasn't significantly worsened over the past ten or twenty years.  I can't think of one of them that we have collectively chosen to wrestle back under our control.  We're not even trying.  We seem to have embraced our own version of Andean Fatalism. "When your number's up, your number's up."

Until Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney eviscerated our national psyche, we used to believe in progress, a better tomorrow. It was a belief that was as expansive as it was inclusive and forward-looking.  It somehow died at the hands of those three axemen.

As I listen to the incessant axe blows, I wonder if what I'm really hearing is the toppling of our civilization?  The tree still stands, for now. How much longer before it falls?

When Overshoot Meets Inequality

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 09:54
Tuesday marked Earth Overshoot Day, 2014.  August 19th was the day by which humankind had consumed an entire year's production of renewable resources. Overall that means we're using resources more than 1.5 times the rate at which the Earth can replace them.  EOD is a moving target that, unfortunately, keeps moving in the wrong direction.

Overshoot Day got me thinking of a study that came out in March that found abrupt societal collapse was and will be triggered by two factors - overconsumption and inequality.  The researchers concluded that today's global civilization is in the throes of these very forces.

Among the findings, an egalitarian society that limits consumption to less than the natural carrying capacity of its environment can achieve an equilibrium.  Failure to live within our environment's limitations (see Overshoot above) inevitably leads to collapse.  Likewise, inequality, if not held in check, grows exponentially, also leading to collapse.  The rapid rise in inequality over the past three decades suggests we're also in the end-game phase envisioned in this research.

And so the question is, now that we've got the data and this research, what are we going to do about it?  Steady State or Full Earth economics specifically addresses what we need to restore our society to a state of equilibrium but we're saddled with a political class (in Canada, all three major parties) that are absolutely obsessed with perpetual, exponential growth.  There are two locomotives racing toward each other headlong on the same track.  One is being driven by our political class. The other is being driven by reality.  How do you think this ends?  Abruptly?

      Charts show possible scenarios for collapse of civilization.

This Is What Happens When You Run Out of Water.

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 09:11

Could you get by for three weeks with 12-gallons of water?  That's a smidge over 45-litres which works out to about 2 litres per day.

In Porterville, California, the county Office of Emergency Services, has delivered bottled water to 182 households where wells have now run dry.  12-gallons of water per head.  Three weeks rations.  Two litres per person per day.

East Porterville resident Angelica Gallegos fought back tears as she described being without water for four months in the home she shares with her husband,, three children and two other adults."It's hard," she told The Bee. "I can't shower the children like I used to."Farmworker Oliva Sanchez said she still gets a trickle from her tap, but dirt started coming out with the water about a week ago."I try to use the least possible. I'll move if I have to," she said.Along with experiencing inconvenience and thirst, some residents have been reluctant to speak up about being waterless because they are afraid their landlords will evict them or social workers will take their children away.
Minimum daily requirements for basic hydration are about 3-litres per day.  The UN says the daily minimum requirement per person for drinking, cooking, hygiene and sanitation is 20-litres per day.

To put that in perspective, the per capita water consumption for domestic purposes in Canada is 329-litres per day.

Meanwhile Texas is still holding out hopes for a long overdue El Nino to develop to bring "drought buster" rains this fall.

Update -

I somehow stumbled across an editorial in the Porterville Recorder dealing with the drought relief programme.  The op-ed laments that the local municipal council is using the emergency as a political football.  It seems there's an election campaign underway.

I was also struck by the libertarian views of the editors to a situation they describe as a "humanitarian crisis."

"While we strongly support efforts to help those residents who are without water, we do not feel taxpayer money should be used.  This needs to be a community effort and the city's role should stop at helping to coordinate all efforts, especially by volunteers."  

The disconnect between the municipal government and the "community" is bizarre.  The municipal government surely is the political embodiment of the community and it acts on behalf of the community.  If "the community" was going to respond to this "humanitarian crisis", chances are it would have done just that long before the muni had to purchase and distribute bottled water.

Then again, this ad appeared just beside the op-ed.


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