I didn’t really expect much to come of Deb Ozarko’s book Beyond Hope Letting Go of A World in Collapse. And my expectations were pretty much fulfilled for 199 pages. Not saying she isn’t saying things that for many will be profound, earthshaking, even terrifying if they take it seriously, which most wont, just saying I felt like I was hearing someone express what I’ve been seeing and saying for years.
Though it may not seem so, this post goes with yesterday’s. I ended yesterday’s with this line:
I think the result is we’ve made humanity into a kind of mindless disease expanding like a virus on this planet.
To understand what I mean by that, it helps to enter the fabricated world of the ecologist, where the ecologist has employed systems thinking and made an attempt to understand how ecological systems work to form habitats, and how habitats manage to achieve a kind of dynamic living balance proceeding through what must be imagined as time on this planet. Balance and imbalance become interacting features of this process, and where balance occurs, a multitude of species interact. Imbalance is usually the result of at least one species getting out of hand and trying to take over the resources that make a habitat possible. The ecologist, noticing that, attempts to understand how and why that might be, not to control it, but merely to understand and appreciate.
One ecological thinker came to this understanding: Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
Revolutionary change and radicalism sort of go together in my mind. Radical has a very distinctive meaning that is often overlooked when people use the term. The first definition in my Webster’s under radical describes it as of, relating to, or proceeding from the root; so radical problem solving is thinking towards the root of a problem. When the root is systemic, consisting of interlinking rhizomes under the surface, that opens up to a whole new way of thinking about the underpinnings of the universe we take for granted while we work at the problems we face individually. Here, in a forty eight minute video easily accesible from the Internet, William Catton describes his somewhat radical realization when he was inspired to write that book about the ecological basis of revolutionary change:
If anyone studies systems thinking, something that was in vogue in the seventies during what I now see as our brief awakening to our self-created environmental dilemmas, then the relationship I see between awakening the whole human brain — with our capacities for intuition, emotion, empathy, compassion, love, feeling relationships that can transcend our cold and mechanistic logical relationships, and all sorts of other related sensitivities — will likely be more obvious, unless that individual has suppressed those capacities to the point where they can’t work at all anymore. If that’s the case with the majority of the population, then I suggest we are truly doomed.
Anyway, that is my introduction for Richard Heinberg’s August Museletter, also published in EcoWatch under the title: “Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope”. EcoWatch is an environmental news site I’m almost certain will show up these days in many Republican’s environmental lexicons as a fake news site.
The second sentence in Richard’s essay contains the key ecological concept “overshoot”. Familiarization with that concept will help to make the rest of his argument easier to get through, even obvious. He’s writing what I find to be a lucid summary of everything I’ve been trying to say about the seriousness of our current predicament, along with the absurdity of believing our technological society is going to solve the problems that it’s created with the very rational and purely technological approach it used to create them.
So, in hopes of joining with another voice on what I believe is the fundamental — radical, if you will — issue of importance for humanity today, here’s Richard Heinberg:
Climate Change Isn’t Our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won’t Save Us
A Biophysicist discovers new life after death
At about 9:35 minutes Joyce makes a remark regarding this somewhat simplistically dualistic right/left brain paradigm people have been putting so much stock in, particularly as a deterministic explanation for behavior, which often gets translated into a kind of sexist mode, like men are left brained and women are right brained. It’s really what I’ve been trying to caution against whenever I hear it being used that way. I think what she’s saying is that achieving a balance along with those special characteristics each hemisphere apparently has built into them through the magic of our DNA is beyond simplistic and deterministic explanations. At least that’s been my own way of seeing it, though I’m also aware I may be caught subjectively trying to read too much of my own inner vision into what she’s saying here, but I suspect I’m not, because I’ve seen this happen with too many people now, and it just makes sense to me when I broaden my vision in the different ways she’s talking about.
I suspect that her clunk on the head that sent her down the long dark tunnel to the light actually helped break her mind loose from the scientific paradigm she’d trapped herself in all those years. Visions do that. Visions often come within a ritual process. Incidentally, a ‘ritual’ process can come as a kind of accident, like her clunk on the head; or it can come spontaneously as part of what happens to someone in life, like being thrown into chaos and turmoil for any of a huge variety of reasons that most without guidance will respond to with fear; or it can occur in a very sacredly developed and guided way, as it often did in some indigenous cultures. Sometimes this is referred to as a Rite of Passage. Gail Sheehy found the magic fountain of ideas with this concept and made her life’s work as a writer on this topic. So I use the term ‘ritual’ cautiously here.
The ritual/vision process has been found to have three distinct phases. The first phase involves detachment from the norms one has learned and has naturally come to believe to be the true way of the world. Not surprisingly, this is often a practice that creative people consciously learn to do for themselves in order to invoke a creative state of mind. Then comes a period of liminality, which is like a death, but also a threshold with the sense of beginning a new process where all the old beliefs and their associations are suspended, and it is in this state where one experiences something like expansion of imagination and a potential for visions. Then follows a renewal with a rebuilding phase and a welcoming back into normality, such as it may be, of a given society.
That’s very likely why indigenous cultures, where this ritual process has been observed over and over, will tend to put so much stock in encouraging vision quests as part of the maturation process.
Applied to what we call modern society — where the closest standardized and accepted practice resembling one of these rituals might be a military boot camp, where we allow, in some cases even honor, the military institution when it takes our young, malleable children with all sorts of beautiful humane potential and turns them into a mindless, order-taking robots — perhaps it’s also an even deeper, subliminal urge behind all these sporadic efforts, often considered a kind of deviancy, towards using drugs like LSD, marijuana, and even alcohol.
What I see taking place all around me are sporadic occurrences of a somewhat blind but still valiant struggling for individual freedom going on in our mechanistically violent, and ever violating, mass mind controlling and manipulating modern cultures. These cultures have evolved over about a ten thousand year institutionalizing process to come to favor a form of societal organizing that has institutionally combined a systematic repression of a full range of humane potential in just about every corner of what people like to consider “civilized” cultures. These social practices systematically deprive us all of practicing — and sharing — on a daily basis all these amazing human characteristics people like Joyce Hawkins, a trained professional biophysicist, keep discovering are missing.
I think the result is we’ve made humanity into a kind of mindless disease expanding like a virus on this planet.
Perhaps because I too occupy that pessimistically-infused, quasi-prophetic space in what I think of as industrialized civilization, I don’t find Ta-Nehisi’s perspective in any way grating (Ta-Nehisi Coates is not here to comfort you).
To some extent my view goes back to my deep appreciation for James Baldwin, beginning when I was a freshman in high school. I’d recently stumbled upon Black Like Me and I was very intrigued about the notion of getting to see the world through another human’s perspective. I asked our school librarian if she had any other books like that one, and she suggested a book by James Baldwin. What a writer he turned out to be.
What I found as a shy, introverted child, something of an outsider bussed to school from a rapidly receding farm countryside, is the attitudes I was able to experience in this imaginative literary world were very much alive all around me in many different ways, even in the then very liberal, academically-influenced Ann Arbor public school system; some attitudes were more overt than others, but arrogance is very hard to hide, because what is taken for granted as natural is not something folks tend to reflect upon.
And, throughout my life — this goes back now to those readings in the early sixties — despite all the liberal-minded efforts to create a world where racist attitudes are supposed to be induced to change through a patterning of conscious behavior towards a more open acceptance of each other, not that much has changed underneath. Particularly not by those who identify as white. An acceptance of all others who are just as human, though they may have different skin and physical feature characteristics, seems to always find a way to express itself, even if it’s embedded in such tropes as the belief that America is the land of the exceptional humans.
This attempt at patterning an overt set of behaviors that followed the work of martyrs of the sixties, like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, only barely covers a deeply embedded institutional racism that cannot hide from an honest and calmly discerning apperception of behaviors and speech. Truth is very difficult to hide if one remains open and simply aware.
Perhaps that’s one of the inevitable failures of a political correctness program that so many have reacted against in a very political way recently. I now think that the political marketing phrase: “Make America Great Again” is code for “Make America White Again.”
This article was worth my time, I spent about an hour with it, and double checked all his research: The First White President
If anyone is inspired to read it, note where he points out in the beginning that Trump’s predecessors were the recipients of something he calls “the passive power of whiteness.” This “passive power” is a latent feature of American life that folks like Mike Ditka (“There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”) have recently shown their obliviousness (at best) or active denial (at worst) about. However, with the rise of “Make America Great Again”, passive appears to be moving rapidly, in one sector of our population, from latent to overt. And that sector has had a large influence in electing the latest icon of American power to the White House.
“Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates
In 2001, Tom Engelhardt launched TomDispatch, a site that’s become one of the last bastions for intellectual discourse in what I think can fairly be called, in this latest iteration, a Trumpian America, in response to the Bush Administration, and primarily to its reactions to September 11, 2001 (9/11). As one writer describes our current culture:
“Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us.” – Andrew Bacevich, Slouching Towards Mar-a-Lago
While I try my best to avoid inventing hyperbolic clichés to describe something complex (and what is not complex when you make an effort to examine something with your rational tools of mind?) I’d briefly describe TomDispatch’s emergence on the Internet as: an intellectual response to the imperial activities of the Bush Administration as it captured the nation’s sanity, and, as a consequence, its conscience, in the process of responding imperially to the events of September 11, 2001. That Administration did so by sending the blunt instruments of our military establishment to the Middle East where it set the template for America’s Neoconservative driven 21st Century by sledge hammering apart the already damaged and fragile governing edifices of Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s fragile, sending both nations as well as much of the Strategic Elipse into waves of chaos that continue today, nearly 16 years later.
I don’t know how I first found the site, not sure precisely when, but some time around 2003 as my memory serves me. I followed some reference with a link, I suppose, because I was reading, therefore seeking out the works of people like Chalmers Johnson, Rebecca Solnit, Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole, and the like, as I was watching the events unfold globally after 9/11. I recall thinking then that Americans were on the verge of becoming the more hysterically insane human inhabitants of the planet, but surely the majority of the people will calm themselves from their natural reaction to watching those planes fly into the Twin Towers that day, and then we as a nation will recover our collective sanity and conscience and begin a more rational process of making sense of the world once again.
While that has yet come to pass, at least to my satisfaction, I have, meanwhile, continued to enjoy the high caliber writing that Tom attracted to his site. I find writing that does depart from the hysterical chaos of mainstream media, and offers a more deeply probing approach to the daily events. And I also have to thank TomDispatch for opening the door to a broad array of writers I had yet to meet in my own reading world.
Andrew Bacevich is one of those writers. Here’s a TomDispatch interview that will introduce anyone interested to know his background, thus the context that goes into what he writes: TomDispatch Interview: Bacevich on the Limits of Imperial Power and here, Part II. What I appreciate is that TomDispatch brings, with intellectuals like Bacevich, a range of intellectuals to the conversation. This is important to me because I find a commonality in all intellectual thought, but with that commonality I also appreciate a difference in cultural context that generates its version of intelligence. With that I get a chance to think about things in ways that are somewhat familiar to my own process but at the same time different enough to encourage me to expand my way of forming opinions. It slows me down just a bit.
Today, Bacevich writes about our current cultural hysteria. Here’s an introductory remark I feel worth noting, mainly because it echoes my own accounting of the moment:
“In his article today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich suggests another author worth revisiting — novelist John Updike — and a caution against worrying too much about President Trump and not nearly enough about the culture, the society, the country, and the people who put him in the White House. “Trump is not cause, but consequence,” writes Bacevich tellingly.”
…too much about Trump and not nearly enough about the culture…. Yes. That’s it. But then, what does worrying about the culture really get us? How does that translate into what I would like to see as a return to some semblance of national dignity? I doubt that collectively we’ll come up with a simple answer. But the questions need to be asked, and kept out there as something to work at answering, and maybe somehow the doubting and the wondering will restrain the panic that drives us to electing examples of ourselves that we then turn to look at with deep revulsion and even horror.
With that I give you a connection to the thoughts of Andrew Bacevich:
Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago
The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses
By Andrew J. Bacevich
MYSTERIOUS giant craters 50ft wide have begun appearing in northern Siberia as temperatures rise in the region.
I’ve been trying to keep track of the science on these crater events since they first got noticed back in 2014. I think the key points in the article are in synch with the the common observations that have been coming out since the first crater was discovered. The theme is, the tundra is melting. The melting releases both CO2 and methane. This has happened before. Yes, true, but the last time the geologic record tells us it happened was 130,000 years ago, and that permafrost melting happened over thousands of years. This one is happening over decades. While the actual sinkholes remain an unresolved phenomenon by the strict, objective standards of science, the melting of the permafrost has become much more thoroughly understood.
If you see the world from a systems view, which is the view I learned while studying ecology back in the early 70s, then you can begin to imagine the entire earth as a complete system. There are also systems within systems to take into account. Systems within systems are connected and with that connection you get feedback loops. What’s happening with the melting of the permafrost is part of a positive feedback loop process.
Positive feed backs can accelerate effects in a geometric fashion. Thus a linear projection of global warming can quickly become a geometric effect with an acceleration of the warming. That’s ecology and systems thinking 101. One of the first principles needed to be learned to understand systems thinking.
If you don’t teach system thinking in the education system, people don’t even get a chance learn what it is and therefore can’t make a deeper, richer sense of this kind of interconnecting, narrative enhancing information. IF people can’t put together an interconnecting narrative (why do we love storytelling and especially mythological storytelling? I’d suggest because it helps to build a sense of wholeness in our understanding of the world), their understanding of scattered bits of information presented in various ways through media remains peripheral, isolated, and fails to become part of a general narrative about what’s going on in the world.
I’m feeling very safe in saying people like Donald Trump never were exposed to this way of thinking, or if they were, they were successful in ignoring them. Why do I feel safe with this view? Because I brought it to my job as a systems analyst and strategic planning consultant, which I sold as a skill to corporations like the ones run by Trump and other CEOs. Their “art” of making “deals” has no relationship to this level of systemic understanding of the entire world. Their skills are isolated events that are considered successes in the moment, but no consideration is given to the long term systemic feed backs they may cause. They relied on nerds like me to pay attention to that, and in their corporate reality, in their world view of making the deal and solving the short term problems of keeping their corporations profitable to keep their stockholders happy, and therefore being a success, we were mostly in the way. At best they might breeze through the executive summary of a 250 page systems analysis and strategic plan we labored to put together for them.
Unfortunately these are the people making decisions about what goes into causing some of these positive feedback loops. It’s like, if your body had a fever, and your doctor told you what infection was causing that fever, and what you were doing to enhance that infection, rather than inhibit it, and you blissfully ignored that advice and went right on with your addictive behavior that was actually the cause, your body may not, in fact, probably would not be able to compensate for the infection, and the chance of it killing you would accelerate as the infection sets in and spreads all through the body.
I posted this essay on my Facebook timeline today, where I’ve been writing lately. Very frustrating writing environment. This essay, however, may be worth saving here. In Facebook, I know this will just drift off into oblivion. It sort of offers my very own version of what I see as the big picture explanation for this latest entry into the decline of the American Empire: The Trump Presidency. But even more, it’s about the decline of the global complex system, a system that goes by many names. A more commonly popular name lately has been the neoliberal global system.
I begin by offering two fresh versions attempting to explain the Trump phenomenon:
One from Chris Hedges: After Trump and Pussy Hats. In this Chris argues that kleptocracy (corporate power) made the Trump Presidency possible.
Tom Engelhardt, whose Empire Project I’ve been following since it emerged on-line after the start of the illegal Iraq Invasion, argues that the Iraq War, and the emergent war culture that followed, brought Trump to the White House: President Blowback: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home
I think the answer’s not either or, it’s both. The two go together, war and corporations. I don’t really know how, but somehow I saw that when I got off that bus in boot camp back in 1966, ignorant though I was, deprived though I’d been of the accurate historical perspective that would have told me the true story during my so-called institutionalized, state-approved public education up to my eighteenth year, I somehow saw that I was a prisoner in a massive system I at that point did not understand. So I know from experience it’s possible to see what’s taking place, even without thoroughly understanding it. Whether change can occur without a thorough understanding is an entirely different question. Without actually having a solid answer, I’ve been a part of an active anti-war resistance movement since I got back from Vietnam.
Then, after I studied anthropology and ecology, I began to see how a global economic system engineered by transnational corporations, threatened indigenous cultures, stomping them out as it took over their habitats, and turned many of them into industrial monocultures feeding the industrial matrix that includes Europe, the United States, and now China-rising. Of course the displaced indigenous culture individuals had no choice but to migrate once their habitat disappeared, so now “civilized” humans are experiencing an “immigration problem” with the Trump Presidency as its latest emblem of that 10,000 year, civilization-activated dynamic.
In the process civilized human beings have grown to massive proportions, ecologically speaking. They walk around looking like normal human sapiens, but their actual size is quite deceptively huge in terms of habitat encroachment and species displacement, with our precious planet now entering a Holocene Sixth Mass Extinction event. The cause is not hard to determine with a little scientific inquiry. Yes, science, the same tool that helped cause the problem also explains what the problem is. In 1980, William Catton tagged this emerging technologically civilized species: homo colossus. I’ve never forgotten that image.Homo Colossus stomping through eco systems on the planet. Civilized humans, can be measured by the size of their ecological footprint, and the evolved biology of the planet it crushes as it goes.
So I’ve been an active part of an anti corporate movement as well. That endeavor has taken a lot more effort to undertake. The effect of a complex global corporatocracy on our lives is much more deeply embedded in our consciousness than most of us consciously recognize. It takes some serious work to reveal what’s really going on. Conspiracy theories are the usual shortcut that many take when the size of the task begins to emerge from the depths of our collective subconscious. For most of us in these industrially civilized nations, it’s our very culture that we live and breathe, even if the majority of us are innocently following along, living our lives, doing the jobs that we are offered in these complex systems those distant authoritarian managers manage.
Everything Trump is doing now after getting into the White House is an act of upper management. Perhaps with little appearance of enlightenment of past managers like FDR, but he’s busy trying to save the kleptocratic system — of which he is one of the reigning members. That’s what’s happening: kleptocrats are saving their system. Doesn’t matter what name you give it, and them; some like capitalistic system and oligarchs, but names don’t really tell us much about it. The problem is abstract, structural, systemic and complex.
Our systemic protections, code-named regulations and entitlements, were never really ours. They were “allowed” by the kleptocrats as long as they didn’t interfere with the system itself. It’s clear because they can so easily take them away with the sweeping brush of an executive order. Almost nothing in this system is capable of preventing the kleptocrats from exercising their will by the will of the people. All we really do is legitimize their authority to manage the system by voting. Their concern when we protest is of minor importance to the complex systems they manage. They have the ethics and morality of machines, and what they do is entirely based in the logic of making the systems work. Management is one of the most sociopathic, institutionalized processes that human beings have ever invented as a form of survival strategy.
All our inherent humanity is nothing in the face of that pathology. And perhaps that very absence of our full human capacities, our deeply suppressed emotional intelligence, our empathy, our many other existential capacities that kept humans going for a couple hundred thousand years before the invention of complex social systems that became civilizations, are the secret to our own inevitable demise — inevitable as long as we keep these complex systems going..
Most civilized members of this homo colossus sub species are uneducated in the indigenous skills of survival that have been vastly decimated over the past two hundred years. Apart from what’s provided them by the system, the sub species homo colossus has few survival choices. It’s become a very vulnerable version of homo sapiens, one that’s dependent on a vast complex system now on the verge of global collapse. Protest as they might about the actions of upper management, most of this sub species’ efforts to rebel are going to run into the blackmail of corporate-controlled resources, like the ones people find on their grocery store shelves that will be there for only a few days after the trucks stop traveling the highways. Imagine that.
The question emerges, how are we enabling this process, and will we even do anything about it once the necessity to change is fully and articulately faced? I believe there are things we can do. But it will take some vision and planning. It’s extremely difficult to reverse decades of social complexity succession. I’ve been working on it for years; I’ve made a few suggestions on my web site: Watching Apocalypse. I plan to make a few more. But I’m not hopeful these days.