The striving to inject beauty, truth and peace into the world is the noblest of ambitions, and deserving of our appreciation even of those who despite their best efforts in this regard fail miserably to achieve their lofty aims.
On the other hand, success in the ambition of gaining money wealth is no more worthy of admiration and praise than is the abject failure to do so worthy of condemnation. In general, you can make more money in screwing people over than in helping them. This does not speak well for the economics of our society, nor its politics, which both come out of our collective moral character.
We cheat ourselves of experiencing the the fullness of life if during the brief spans allotted to each of us we make an idol of material advantages, and our fear of being inadequate for lack of them, and call it God.
Success at being a life is an internal experience unseeable by the external world and thus despite the judgments it paints on you, and despite the disregard it dismisses you with. Thinking this way is how I see continuing with confidence and without apprehension about understanding some ultimate purpose. It is also a sense of solidarity with billions of anonymous souls, here and gone. For me, that is the actual experience of eternal life, and I would wish it for everyone.
“All jealousy is lack of love.”
All envy is lack of self-worth.
“Everyone has damage,” she said. And from all I have seen these many years, I know that is true. It is the source of our self-absorption, and the cause of our judging.
Deep down, I think that all my politics and all my moralizing come out of one simple idea — really a feeling — that: no person should ever have to live with desperation.
I think that all my socialism and all my schemes of social engineering come out of an intuitive response to that realization, simply that: human civilization should be a network of person-to-person interactions of appreciation and mutual help, with everything else being incidental.
Each of us should have our quiet, comfortable refuges of solitude, without ever being shunned into lonely abandonment.
Our civilization is very incomplete and wounded. It remains an idea orphaned by neglect. And that is the nature of sadness in our world.
I was asked my opinion on “the best U.S. rock-and-roll bands.” My answer:
‘The Band’ was ‘built’ around Levon Helm, from Arkansas, and the mythology it plumbed was all country-blues, country-folk, Levon’s canon of music. By “best” I mean most connected to the spirit of the people, coupled with absolutely superb musicianship, lyrical insight, and ever captivating ‘listenability,’ all equaling pure songwriting and pure performance.
What I DO NOT mean by ‘best’ is flamboyant sonic showmanship — though I have enjoyed much of this as well, as with Hendrix and the Allman Brothers (with Duane). Sly and Santana were good, mainly for dancing. Dylan and Aretha were superb, each in their own idiom, but they were showcased acts fronting cherry-picked studio bands, though I’ll give Dylan credit for sometimes blending into the bands who backed him (The Band, with the ‘Basement Tapes’, and George Harrison’s ‘Traveling Wilburys’).
For me, ‘best’ is a musical ensemble that is a song-expressing integral unit that has achieved a timeless recorded body of work; and for ‘American’ that has really tapped into the spirit of its people both on its light and dark sides.
My three favorite (‘best’) American Rock and Roll bands are:
— The Doors (especially albums 1,2,4,5),
— The Band
(‘Music From Big Pink’, and ‘The Band’ being to me two halves of one double album), and
— the 1969 band in Memphis, TN, that recorded ‘The Memphis Tapes’ with Elvis Presley, his absolute best work ever.
*If the pure ‘American idiom’ were the #1 criterion, then ’The Memphis Tapes’ band+singer rates #1.
*The most underrated Doors album is #4: ‘Morrison Hotel’, which is their most unified (a favorite).
*The most avant-garde Doors album is #5: ‘L.A. Woman’.
*The ‘best’ (favorite) Band song is ‘King Harvest Has Surely Come.’
(Steinbeckian musical mythology).
*The most ethereal song of any Rock band: ‘Whispering Pines’ by The Band.
*Best stoner album: ‘Blonde on Blonde’ by Bob Dylan
(+ real musicians, one from The Band).
*Best Dylan albums: ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Blood On The Tracks’.
*Best Hendrix song/track: ‘Little Wing’.
*Best Janis Joplin song/track: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
(Kris Kristofferson song).
*Best Southern Rock band: The Allman Brothers
(with Duane Allman).
*Best Duane Allman + Dicky Betts track: ‘Little Martha’.
*Most popular Duane Allman solo: on ‘Blue Sky’
(Dicky Betts’s non-blues balladic song).
*Best ‘supergroup’ band: The Traveling Wilburys (1988)
(also, best ‘old man’ band).
*Best Dance Band: ‘B-52s’.
(most creative song: ‘Rock Lobster’).
*Best Beer-Drinking Night band: ‘Hoodoo Rhythm Devils’.
(their best ‘American mythology’ song: ‘Red Pacific’).
*Best ‘generation II southern rock band’: ‘The Doobie Brothers’.
(with Tom Johnson, and pre Michael McDonald).
*Best soul singer: Aretha Franklin (obviously).
*Best female rock-pop-country vocalist: Linda Ronstadt.
*Most idiosyncratic: ‘Captain Beefheart’, a Howling Wolf imitator
(considered a genius by his afficionados, an acquired taste, not mine).
*Most Puckish: Ry Cooder
(especially his ‘Paradise and Lunch’ album: his best?)
(a favorite, especially ‘Married Man’s a Fool’, delicious guitaring).
*Best band for wallowing in depression: ’The Velvet Underground’.
*Best frenetic unhung rock band: ‘The New York Dolls’.
*Best album for spending the night with your girlfriend in the dormroom:
‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’.
*’The Rascals’ (or, ‘The Young Rascals’)
(‘Good Lovin’’ best cover ever).
(‘Do You Believe In Magic?’, ’Summer In the City’)
*’Creedence Clearwater Revival.’
(their groove is all in their pacing).
*’Steppenwolf’ (best white trash stoner band)
(’Easy Rider’ soundtrack).
*Best Country-Pop: ’The Carpenters’
*Most soporific on long roadtrips out West: ‘The Eagles’.
*Most ‘70s coke-hip cool: ‘Steely Dan’ (eh, for me).
Most amusing gen-II ‘Dolls’ style (with less chops): ‘The Ramones’.
Best Disco: an oxymoron.
CATEGORIES NOT INCLUDED HERE:
Blues, R&B, Soul, DooWop, ‘Detroit Sound’, JAZZ, Gospel, ‘50s R&R,
(Black music from which White R&R was sourced)
NON U.S. R&R Bands:
*Most appealing rock band ever, and best all-around: ‘The Beatles’
(and from the working class).
*Most pretentious rock ban ever: ‘The Rolling Stones’
(and most Tory-decadent rich hypocrite appropriators of American R&B)
(my favorite RS song: ’No Expectations’, last with Brian Jones).
One of the most popular ideas that springs into people’s minds when mulling over remedies for slowing the advance of climate change because of the ever increasing accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is to plant more trees, bushes and grasses. Let a greater quantity of plant photosynthesis filter our atmosphere of excess CO2.
This is not an entirely bad idea — especially in its more nuanced formulation as multi-crop regenerative agriculture coupled with wildland, wetland and forest conservation and reforestation, ending industrialized chemical pesticide monoculture farming and drastically reducing the entire meat industry, along with a popular shift to plant-based diets — though it is an entirely inadequate tactic for absorbing the ever increasing load of CO2 in the atmosphere being fed by gargantuan torrents of anthropogenic CO2 emissions exhausted as waste products from the fossil fueled engines powering today’s capitalism and militarism, which remain requirements by our capitalists and militarists for the continuation of our present civilizational paradigm.
So, planting trees is being done and will continue because it is something that many people can do to try to help, and because it poses no real threats to capitalism or militarism. But one of the cruelties of global warming is that high concentrations of CO2 combined with elevated global temperatures reduce the rate of photosynthesis and plant growth. These effects are called “acclimation” and “heat stress” of plants, respectively (https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z8c6gdm/revision/3).
Acclimation is either an enhancing or inhibiting effect on photosynthesis by high CO2 concentrations. Generally, photosynthesis is enhanced as CO2 concentration is increased from a low level. Then above an elevated threshold concentration, the rate of photosynthesis saturates and can even be reduced. The mechanism of the effect is involved and has been the subject of research for many years by agricultural scientists interested in maximizing crop yields (for example in greenhouses).
Elevated temperatures can cause heat stress in growing plants by dehydrating them: as in their fatally drying out in a drought. However, a growth inhibiting (and even growth killing) heat stress can also occur to well-watered plants by the high temperature “denaturing” of the enzymes that control the reaction rates (the chemical reactions) of the photosynthesis process within plant leaves.
Current research on plant growth under the combined effects of elevated temperature and high CO2 concentration shows that “in heat-stressed plants at normal or warmer growth temperatures, high CO2 may often decrease, or not benefit as expected, tolerance of photosynthesis to acute heat stress. Therefore, interactive effects of elevated CO2 and warmer growth temperatures on acute heat tolerance may contribute to future changes in plant productivity, distribution, and diversity.” (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19017125/)
There are now scientific projections of crop yield reductions for several agricultural regions, due to anticipated rises of CO2 concentrations and their related elevated regional temperatures. A report issued by Chatham House (https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/09/climate-change-risk-assessment-2021) on 14 September 2021 describes the following:
“The planet could be struck by a wave of ‘unprecedented’ crop failures in the next 20 years if global greenhouse gas emissions continue as usual… researchers detailed a litany of risks that climate change could pose to [food security]… global agriculture will need to produce nearly 50 percent more food by 2050 to feed a growing population. But as global demand increases, crop yields could drop by 30 percent as farmers contend with a hotter and more volatile planet… By 2050, an anticipated 40 percent of the planet’s cropland will be exposed to severe drought for at least three months per year, and the breadbaskets of the United States and southern Russia could be among the regions most affected. Europe, the report said, is likely to experience the largest increase in agricultural drought, ‘with the central estimate indicating that nearly half the cropland area will experience severe periods of drought by 2050’… By the 2040s, the United States, China, Brazil and Argentina, which grow 87 percent of the world’s maize, could suffer a steep drop in their maize production — all at the same time. ‘The probability of a synchronous crop failure of this order during the decade of the 2040s is just less than 50 percent.’… Farmers will also have to contend with a decline in the length of crop seasons and long stretches of water scarcity… East and South Asia will be particularly hard hit, with 230 million people subjected to prolonged drought by 2040. Outside of Asia, Africa will likely have the greatest number of people facing drought, exceeding 180 million by 2050. Many regions also will have to manage coastal and river flooding. By 2100… 75 million people in East, South, and Southeast Asia will face coastal flooding every year. ‘Across these three regions around 11 times more people will be impacted by coastal flooding than under a scenario in which climate change is averted.’” (https://thefern.org/ag_insider/crop-yields-seen-falling-without-climate-action-report/)
This all leads to a bleak vision of our planet’s future, where lives are shorter, food is more scarce, and 3.9 billion people “are likely to experience major heat waves.”
My purpose in describing all this is not to feed into more self-indulgent wallowing in depression and flaccid fatalism over the anticipated ‘collapse of civilization’ and ‘human extinction,’ but to show how elevated CO2 concentrations along with elevated global-regional temperatures will physically reduce our food security — crop yields — and in that way very directly shorten human life globally. This is intended to prod the public mind to get on with the job of effectively responding to global warming climate change, by cutting through the many excuses for continuing to cling to the dysfunctional behaviors (fossil fueled capitalism and militarism) driving the planetary crisis, and to change those behaviors to ensure we all have sufficient good food and clean water in an enduring future.
[Thanks to Peter Carter for pointing me to the Chatham House report.]
I saw a world dawn today
That will never see another day
As sunlight streams through evaporating mist
Quivering pinpoint rainbow lights
Bejeweled spidersilk enmeshing forest green
Deep out to vanishing sight of glowing sky
Earth’s heaving bosom steaming rising light
To crystallize air fractured by bird calls
Overturning the ceaseless awakening
Pristine indifference to our thoughts
Of self-regarding nothingness grasping void
That disappears all wanting
And can never be all love
The solidity nothingness imagines
Even memories descendants are destined to forget
What never was learned and never remembered
Like the dawning of this world today
A world that will never see another day
Like this blazing taste of freedom in
The glistening rainwater halo on these twining twigs.
From rain to rain,
From rain to light.
Of what use is our warmth
If not to pass on as love to others?
To fear the world’s end
Is to imagine obligating immortality.
Absorb the dawning light
Exhale the breath of night
There is no loss no mystery
Only blissful sleep bathed in light.
Will my bones parch in desert sun?
My legacy a dusty swirl that fades from eyeless sight?
Our lost world ever sinking stern first
Into the cold icy ocean of indifference
While I, a misanthrope write poems of love
To a world made miserable with visions from above
The mindless matter of matterless minds
The perennial pinings of humankind.
19 December 2019 — 19 September 2021
Here the ways of men divide.
If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe;
if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then search.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
There have been a few times in my life when I could see the total reality of our human world, and where it was going, with complete clarity. 2011 was such a time. This is not to say that I am some kind of genius or seer, but simply that by 2011 I had lived long enough, had learned enough and experienced enough to have my sense of awareness fully opened and finely sharpened to understand the full spectacle on display. It was a fortuitous combination of the flow of life and the pure luck of being. But it was nevertheless true: I saw, I knew, and I wrote some of it all down.
But what I also knew by then was that such moments of insight come with the realization that one is existentially alone: nobody else, however conventionally close and loved, can truly know your experience or feel your truths. And this is always true though one is usually oblivious to it because one is bedazzled by the moment-to-moment immediacy of their enthrallment with their desires and fears and emotions in the ever-changing ever-flowing kaleidoscope of personally experienced life.
So to be fully aware is to realize that one is a perpetual outsider, like Meursault in Albert Camus’s brilliant novel L’étranger. It’s not that I wish to be apart from people I conventionally love — children, spouse, family, even friends — or from the clubs I wish to be a part of, like that of the political Ezekiels ardent to bring about the socialist utopia of brotherhood and sisterhood they can so easily imagine and which few if any are prepared to actually bring about; no, it is simply that the conscious experience of being alive — and knowing — is completely unitary even as we are myriadly interconnected as social beings, as a species, and as organic forms of life.
So my instances of being prescient can only illuminate reality for me, they can never affect the perceptions of others, nor alter the course of human events. In that sense I am Sisyphus, and Meursault, alone in a world of implacable absurdity despite its many miraculous beauties flung across space and time like a spiderweb bejeweled with droplets from the first rainfall of the year now glinting and sparkling in the sun of a fresh new dawn.
What are your political beliefs, and why do you hold them? Is it because by objective analysis you see them as most beneficial to the public good, and you are motivated by solidarity and patriotism to promote them? Is it because they help preserve a traditional way of life or culture, perhaps of a minority population, which you were born into or to which you have become devoted? Or, is it because your stated political views are part of a facade, which shields your actual motives and agenda from public view?
What we say we believe emanates from who we think we are. Dialog on political issues can often degenerate into ritual displays in defense of egos, and detached from the realities of the nominal issues. The more conscious we are about the roots of stated political beliefs, the easier we will find political debate arriving at a clear understanding of reality, and functional consensus for action on matters of mutual concern.
Raymond Aron and the Paris Intellectuals of the 1950s
The Opium of the Intellectuals, by Raymond Aron, was published in France in 1955. This book is a sociological study of the mid 20th century intelligentsia, and a polemic against ideological fanaticism. Aron opposed the pro-Soviet views of the French intelligentsia, as exhibited by prominent personalities like Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The crux of Aron’s argument was that Soviet-style communism was not in the interests of the French public because as a 19th century conception of the organization of an industrial society it was outmoded for 20th century France, and as a political system it was devoid of the personal liberties, especially of political free speech, prized by the fractious French.
Aron advocated “politics” in place of “revolution” as the means of changing French society, arguing that a modern industrialized state would progress toward a more just political economy, more swiftly and with far fewer personal tragedies, through reformism rather than violent revolution. Aron illustrated this by comparing the lag in socioeconomic development and the achievement of political stability in France in comparison to that of England during the century from 1789 (the French Revolution to the Third Republic).
Aron’s criticism of the legitimacy of the pro-communist belief of his contemporaries was not aimed at members of the Communist Parties in Europe (the true believers), but at the “communisants,” the French fellow-travelers who did not join the Communist Party in France, nor relocate to Communist countries, but condemned post-war American influence in Europe (“Atlanticism”), praised Marxist ideology, and never criticized the Soviet Union nor its actions in Eastern Europe.
“Seeking to explain the attitude of the intellectuals, merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they were committed in the name of the proper doctrines, I soon came across the sacred words Left, Revolution, Proletariat.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)
It is possible to interpret the communisant attitude, which Aron criticized, as a defense of wounded pride. The Fall of France (1940) was not just a national catastrophe along the material dimensions of military and economic power, political independence, and social cohesion, but a psychological catastrophe as well. The humiliation imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was avenged twenty-one years later when France was placed under the control of a German Occupation and a collaborationist Vichy Government for over four years, a period we can bracket from the occupation of Paris to its liberation: June 14, 1940, to August 25, 1944.
The liberation of France began with the invasion of Europe by Allied forces, landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and was completed by the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945. Resistance organizations had formed themselves in every occupied country, and many of these irregular anti-Nazi fighters and agents were Communists. Immediately after WWII, the Communist parties of Western Europe had a well-deserved prestige because of the many risks taken and sacrifices made by Communist members of the Resistance.
Anyone from a country that had been occupied by the Germans, seeking some source of national pride to counter the humiliation of the occupation years, could at least look back and point to his country’s partisans.
The physical and economic ruin of Europe after WWII left the United States as the leading world power, and it applied its wealth to the rebuilding of Western Europe out of a mixture of motives: sympathy and goodwill, commercial self-interest, and a competition with the Soviet Union for political power: anti-communism. A major effort combining all these motivations was the Marshall Plan, which cycled $13B though Europe during the four years beginning in April 1948 (the U.S. had already contributed $12B in aid to Europe between the end of WWII and 1948).
Anyone who has suffered a calamity and then receives charity (which often has strings attached) can feel grateful up to the point where relief becomes overshadowed by resentment because of a growing sense of humiliation over one’s dependency. So it was with some Europeans in the early 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union locked horns in their Cold War and used Europe, Germany in particular, as their field of contention.
The Greek Civil War between the US-backed government and the Greek Communist Party lasted from March 1946 to October 1949. This was the beginning of US military assistance applied against the anti-Nazi partisans of the Occupation years. The Berlin Blockade, which was relieved by a NATO airlift, occurred between June 24, 1948, and May 12, 1949. Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and thwarted proletarian expectations erupted as the Uprising in East Germany on June 17, 1953. The Western European Union was founded on October 23, 1954, with the first inclusion of an independent West German state (the Federal Republic of Germany) into an economic and defense association of Atlantic Alliance (NATO) European nations, and which allowed the FRG to industrialize without restriction, and rearm. The Hungarian Uprising occurred during October 23 to November 10, 1956. Both the East German and Hungarian uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by the Red Army and local paramilitary police troops.
In societies where there is wide public appreciation of their men and women of letters, the intellectuals belong to the elite class that interprets the nation to itself. The French intellectuals of the immediate postwar period were sensitive to the popular desire for a recovery of national pride, and also very sensitive to their own loss of importance in shaping the political narrative of their time. The centers of power affecting daily life throughout Europe were no longer Paris, London, and Berlin, but Moscow and Washington, D.C.
That the relatively unsophisticated Americans should have such wealth that they could act like a Salvation Army for derelict Western European nations; that they should have such military power that they could align their propped-up European charity cases like pawns in a geostrategic chess game with the Soviet Union; that America would gleefully spin the gears and pull the levers of politics in Western Europe and around the globe without the least thought to the wounded self-regard of France, or to the interpretations of history-in-the-making from one of the most brilliant sources of such narration in Western Civilization since the Enlightenment — the French intelligentsia — was galling to distraction, and shaped the pro-Soviet anti-Atlanticist orientation of a French intelligentsia seeking redemption and relevance.
Occupy Wall Street: The Face of American Deindustrialization
In the first decade or two after WWII, the Europeans could still easily recall many instances of the pre-war exploitation of working people, along with the more recent memories of the many hardships of the war years and the early postwar years (the latter with many high-casualty refugee movements). In his book about his flight from France in June 1940, Strictly Personal, W. Somerset Maugham describes the changed attitude of non-collaborationist French industrialists and military leaders regarding the French working class. Since the eventual liberation of France would be a painful labor largely carried out by working people, that future free France would necessarily be a nation whose industrially-generated wealth would be extensively socialized, as a simple matter of gratitude and justice. There would be no going back to the class relationships of the Third Republic. With this background in mind, the political builders of postwar Western Europe fashioned states that generally aimed at meeting Aron’s ideal: “An economy, liberal in its functioning, social in its goals, holds the most promise.” (Politics and History)
With the growing prosperity of Western Europe, working life was transformed from a proletarian to a bourgeois experience: “Wherever democratic socialism has been successful, the factory workers, having become petty bourgeois, no longer interest the intellectuals and are themselves no longer interested in ideologies. The improvement of their lot has both deprived them of the prestige of misfortune and withdrawn them from the temptation of violence.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)
So, the heated existentialist-political debate between Atlanticism and Marxism in early 1950s France faded with the rising prosperity of the nation, driven by technological development. “The major fact of our age is neither socialism, nor capitalism, nor the intervention of the state, nor free enterprise: it is the monstrous development of technology and industry, of which the massive concentrations of workers in Detroit, Billancourt, Moscow, and Coventry are the consequence and symbol. Industrial society is the genus of which Soviet and Western societies are the species.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)
Half a century later, we are witnessing a deindustrialization of the United States, slight deindustrialization in parts of Europe, and an accompanying industrialization of China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico. Once again, technology (electronics, robotics, telecommunications) facilitates the geographic shift of production to lower cost and more easily exploited labor pools, and the resulting changes to national prosperity produce public reactions that are controlled or distorted by local political factors.
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest that has been in progress since September 17 in New York City, along with the many allied Occupy protests throughout the United States, have arisen in large part because of deindustrialization. Increasing redundancies in the American petty bourgeois workforce, at all levels of occupational skill, have forced many people to abandon previous career assumptions, and to question their own self images, because they are confronted by economic conditions that will not support making their original expectations real. Casting off an outmoded self image and then fashioning a new one can be a difficult and depressing task, to lose a dream is to lose a child of your mind. After that grief is finished, it can be liberating to successfully re-imagine yourself.
We can be sure that today millions of Americans are in a volatile psychological state, somewhere between realizing their original self image has become outmoded, and completing a robust reintegration of their psyche. They are awakening to new or reinforced political beliefs that will focus their subsequent social interactions in response to the changed economic realities in which they find themselves. The diversity and number of human beings that have been so callously shunted aside by the expatriation of the financialization-bewitched US economy is so great that no single mode of thought nor technically specific political demand can be expected to characterize the conclusions arrived at by Occupy Wall Street protesters and pilgrims and their sympathizers.
The appearance of the OWS movement in 2011 is obviously a direct result of the economic collapse of 2007-2008, but both the collapse and OWS are the fruits of Reaganomics: the divergence of the US economy from Aron’s economic ideal, since the Reagan Administration (1981-1988). We can anticipate that the many minds drawn into OWS will gravitate toward a thematic center-of-interest that we can label “economic fairness,” and which probably subdivides into five categories:
(1) personal debt relief,
(2) banking reform and financial market taxes,
(3) wide availability of diverse skilled employment,
(4) universal health and social security, a 35-hour work week,
(5) clean government: end corporate “personhood,” close tax loopholes, schedule equitable income and corporate taxes.
Marxism is an ideology originally developed to raise the expectations of a proletarian workforce in 19th century industrializing states. The growth of productivity during the 20th century, driven by “the monstrous development of technology and industry,” has elevated proletarian expectations by transforming the proletarians into petty bourgeois: they now have wealth beyond just their potential for manual labor, and their children. Ardor for revolution and enthusiasm for ideology have largely been lost during this transformation of the conditions of wage-earning life.
After thirty years of Reaganomics and “outsourcing,” or deindustrialization, and four years after the collapse of the financial bubble, the American workforce is suddenly confronted by economic conditions that undermine their now naturally petty bourgeois expectations. The prospect of having to downsize their dreams back to proletarian minimalism is clearly understood to be the foisting on them of the costs of the mismanagement of the US economy. Certainly, a wealthy class of politically well-connected speculators profited from the financial spectacle of the last decade, but their gains will cost the wider society far more than it could ever recover as a benefit because these speculators are richer.
The OWS movement is the face of petty bourgeois protest at the prospect of being pushed back into proletarian austerity. I do not anticipate a resurgence of Marxism in the near future because I cannot imagine American petty bourgeois people, however economically restricted, allowing themselves to assume a proletarian self image. It will be interesting to see how the OWS awakening expresses itself politically.
The Libyan Revolution and Progressivist Self Image
I began my investigation into the relationship between political belief and self image because of the forceful and emotional rejection of my views in support of the Libyan Revolution by progressive-minded correspondents in the left-wing Internet forums I frequented.
A Sketch of the Libyan Revolution
The Libyan Revolution broke out on February 15, 2011, and deposed Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s dictator during the previous 42 years, who fled his compound in Tripoli and went into hiding on August 22, 2011, as National Transition Council (NTC, rebel) forces gained control of most of the capitol, and the country. Aside from scattered remnants of Gaddafi’s forces in Tripoli, the remaining loyalists still fighting were penned into five cities: Tarhuna, Sirte, Sabha, Bani Walid, and Hun. By late September, only Sirte and Bani Walid remained occupied by loyalists. Bani Walid fell to the NTC on October 17; and the loyalists in Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, were concentrated into a narrow two-block area, with their arsenal reduced to machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
NTC fighters overran the last loyalist stronghold in Sirte on October 20, capturing a wounded Muammar Gaddafi who was apparently hiding in a storm drain, hustling him through the streets of a ruined Sirte amid a throng of ecstatic NTC fighters, and later delivering his body to a local hospital. It had two bullet wounds, in the head and chest. As I write on the 20th, fighting has ceased and the NTC is expected to declare Libya liberated, which then sets the date for democratic elections eight months later, to constitute the permanent successor government.
From its outbreak in the eastern city of Benghazi, the Libyan Revolution spread quickly through the country so that by the 25th of February most of Libya was under rebel control. Gaddafi controlled the cities of Tripoli, on the Mediterranean coast near the western border, as well as Sirte and Sabha. The revolution was a popular uprising; its fighters were civilians who had taken up arms and were joined by government troops who deserted. Gaddafi commanded the majority of the nation’s military forces, and thousands of mercenaries, primarily from African nations.
Because Libyan troops were reluctant to kill their own people, Gaddafi continually recruited mercenaries. Hundreds of Europeans were hired for specialized technical roles, such as pilots and military tacticians. Most of these fled by August. Thousands of black Africans were hired, like Tuaregs from Mali. The inducement of high pay to often impoverished men, and their lack of identification with the Arab and Berber culture of Libya, made the African mercenaries from the nations of the Sahel (the bio-geographic and climatic zone between the Sahara to the north and the savannas to the south) the most reliable killers at Gaddafi’s command.
In a televised address on the 23rd of February, Gaddafi stated that “Those who do not love me do not deserve to live.” During the 20 days between February 23 and March 15, Gaddafi’s forces recaptured most of the rebellious territory in the west and south, a particular exception being the coastal city of Misrata, east of Tripoli and west of Sirte.
On March 15, Gaddafi’s forces captured Brega and advanced east, beginning their assault on Ajdabiya, the last city along the road before Benghazi. In another public address, Gaddafi vowed to “bury” the rebels. Ajdabiya had been subjected to bombardment by Gaddafi’s air force since March 12, and on the 15th land and naval artillery barrages were added as well.
On March 17, Gaddafi’s forces captured Ajdabiya, about 120 km from Benghazi, and the United Nations Security Council adopted UN Resolution 1973 (2011), which authorized member states “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.” NATO military forces were set to intervene.
On March 18, Gaddafi’s forces captured Zuwetina, about 100 km from Benghazi, and continued their drive until within 50 km of Benghazi.
On March 19, Gaddafi’s troops and tanks entered the suburbs of Benghazi, while Gaddafi’s artillery and mortars shelled the city from about 20 km away. The first shots of the NATO military intervention were fired by French aircraft, and destroyed a convoy of 14 of Gaddafi’s tanks accompanied by several ammunition trucks.
With the NATO intervention now underway, and with increasing diplomatic recognition of, financial assistance for, and military equipment supplied to the three-week-old political organization of the revolution, the NTC, the rebel forces advanced from Benghazi toward Ajdabiya on the 20th of March, and this new rebel offensive began the five month push west to Tripoli.
The Human Right to Political Freedom
My support for the Libyan Revolution was a reflex based on the belief that freedom from dictatorship is a human right. I explained how I came to this belief in an article called “Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom,” which grew out of the despairing notes I wrote during Gaddafi’s offensive toward Benghazi. I anticipated a bloody purge of revolutionary sentiment in Libya after Gaddafi’s forces captured Benghazi. I recalled how Franco cemented his dictatorship and suppressed Republicans in Spain after the Civil War, between 1939 and 1942. I distributed a first draft of this article as an e-mail broadcast on March 30, and its final form was eventually posted on the Internet by Dissident Voice on May 3, 2011, accompanied by an editorial criticizing it.
In 1978, Raymond Aron explained his guiding political compass this way: “Of the two values invoked by our times, equality and freedom, I give first place to the second — not for intellectual comfort but as a result of historical experience.” (Politics and History)
I feel the same alignment, and in my article put the question to the left-wing world this way:
“So let me ask you, is it possible to have a bias for freedom, an opposition to dictatorship anywhere, and also oppose the capitalistimperialist consensus that dominates US and European foreign policymaking? Is it possible to support popular revolutions against tyrants and dictators — no matter how doctrinally appealing certain of them might be for some of us — even to the point of arming popular revolts so they can credibly match the firepower of their oppressors? In short, can anti-imperialists elevate freedom to a guiding principle?”
“Rules of Rebellion” is my second article about the Libyan Revolution, and was provoked by the largely negative reception to my first one (i.e., e-mailed criticisms, and publication rejections). “Rules of Rebellion” was written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” and, because irony is unknown today, it was taken at face value and published on the Internet on April 6, 2011. “Rules of Rebellion” is presented as advice from the progressive “contented spectators” of the West, to would-be revolutionaries contemplating overthrowing their dictators:
“A revolution that fails to recognize the primacy of the anti-imperialist outcome, by either undermining an authoritarian anti-imperialist stalwart or failing to replace him with an untainted government of equal or greater anti-imperialist vigor, within a matter of days, does not deserve the support and respect of the enlightened and progressive world community.”
Revolutionaries around the world are urged, in the article, to realize that having their governments oppose US imperialism is an ideological mandate that outweighs the political freedom of their nation’s people, and even the lives of the revolutionaries. After the article appeared, I received letters asserting its overt argument as sincere belief.
On the day Gaddafi’s regime fell, I reflected on the doctrinairism that could be blind to the purges necessary to maintain its view of the world. Louis Proyect published my letter of August 22, 2011, “The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals,” at his Web site, The Unrepentant Marxist. I recollected my clash with doctrine this way:
As I mentioned in my articles on Libya, the first priority was gaining the political freedom of the Libyan people, and preventing them from being massacred by their vengeful dictator. The blunt and inelegant instrument of a NATO intervention was the only means at hand capable of preventing a detestable outcome; capable of saving the lives of people who did not deserve to die. Whether or not the European and American governments, and corporations, were gaining economic and political advantages (the “humanitarian intervention” complex of modern left orthodoxy…) were unimportant considerations in comparison. Now that Libya is entering its liberated postwar period of political reconstruction, these considerations can be addressed, and by those who would be most affected by them, the Libyans themselves. It is so sad that so many leftists are so wrapped up in their politicized heads that they could obsess about “saving Libya from its Western saviors” to the complete disregard of the life-and-death struggle for political freedom by the Libyan people, the defeat of dictatorship. These political theorists must be relieved that the Syrian government has been untrammeled by Western interference in its rejection of its people’s rejection.
Anti-Imperialist Doctrinairism: Libya as Bosnia
“By doctrinairism I mean the attribution of universal value to a particular doctrine.” (Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith)
A popular leftist doctrine today is opposition to “humanitarian interventions,” the use of Western military forces to control political outcomes in Third World (undeveloped and developing) and Second World (moderately developed) nations that are in distress, often with a civil conflict compounded by a humanitarian crisis. The doctrine congealed out of the many arguments over Western involvement (“interference,” interventions) in the wars that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia (1991-1995, 1998-1999), and in particular from the outcry against the NATO bombardment of Serbia (1999) during the UN military intervention in the Kosovo War (1998-1999).
From the leftist perspective, “humanitarian intervention” is a disingenuous label for imperialism carried out militarily for Washington-consensus capitalism by the United States leading its mainly Western European NATO allies.
This analysis justifies skepticism about the officially expressed motives for the use of US and NATO military power in any foreign conflict, as a third party. Proponents of an intervention can always find some iota of humanitarian need in the host nation to justify their case, and opponents can always find some suspicion of interventionist self-interest to justify non-intervention. The morally correct course of action for third parties should be indicated by which of these two poles lies closer to the public interest in the host nation, given its current specific conditions.
Interventionist self-interest actually has two classes: the leading economic and political class that directs foreign policy (or imperialism), and the general public whose labor, consumerism, taxes, and soldiering support the domestic basis of their nation’s foreign policy (or empire). Non-intervention is usually in the interest of the general public in the interventionist nation, from considerations of cost.
A third-party intervention is morally justified when conditions in the host nation indicate that it would be in their public interest, and when the public in the intervening nations willingly support the costs of the action. It is recognized that making such a determination is a matter of degree, there can never be a guarantee that a morally justified intervention will be completely free of any self-interest on the part of those intervening, nor be carried out without some errors and casualties. The need must be sufficiently dire, and the hazards sufficiently clear, that the responsible actors in both the host and third-party nations can see the potential benefits — to the host public — of the proposed intervention as far outweighing the unavoidable negative side effects.
From the above, it is evident that clear cases for morally justified interventions are rare. I believe Libya was one of those cases. Every case must be judged on its merits, on the specifics of the situation. We can be constant in our application of the principles outlined above to help us judge, but we should not close our minds to the plight of others because we have blinkered our thinking and walled off our empathy behind an absolutist doctrine that always equates third-party interventions to imperialism, and by a moralistic associative rule rejects all third-party interventions because of a self image as an anti-imperialist.
Libya is not Bosnia, Libya is not Kosovo; Libya is Libya.
Identify: Friend of Foe?
Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I must know if you are friend or foe.
Are you a Marxist or bourgeois?
I must find if you’re my kind.
Are you populist or an elitist?
I must feel if you are real.
Are you a worker or are you an owner?
I must determine if you are vermin.
Are you a capitalist or anti-imperialist?
I must decide what you should abide.
Are you a militarist or are you a pacifist?
I must tell if you are well.
Are you a patriot or are you a dissident?
I must judge if you should trudge.
Are you progressive or are you conservative?
I must infer if you can concur.
Are you a believer or are you a skeptic?
I must learn if you should burn.
Are you right or are you left?
I must know if you are friend or foe.
I am right and I am left,
I am friend and you are foe.
One of the sadder realizations I gained from the negative responses to my articles in support of the Libyan Revolution was that some people with progressive political attitudes, being against war, racism, and violence, and believing in the entire complex of humanistic “peace and justice” values, examples of which easily come to mind with the use of that phrase, could express angry disapproval of me approaching hate in some instances, for essentially blaspheming against their doctrinal code. It was this that made me understand how deeply rooted in self image our political beliefs are.
We are emotionally invested in what we think of ourselves. For example, an anti-imperialist political belief can be rooted in a self image as a “good” person who is morally opposed to war, exploitative capitalism and the many forms of intolerance (e.g., racism). Perhaps these beliefs are applied in a rigid or fanatical manner because this person is uneducated, or irredeemably indoctrinated, or intellectually lazy, and so interprets and labels reality on the basis of a doctrinal code.
The doctrinal set is sacrosanct because it is rooted deep in the ego or self image of the person. The doctrinal set is expressed as a list of commandments; rules to be applied in the external world and that are actually extensions of the inner core of a person’s being. These doctrines are expressed as simplified ideas and phrases, code words that are, if you will, linguistic objects of depersonalized aspect for safe use in the world exterior to our persons (the exosomatic realm), but which actually encase tender parts of our spirit, emotionally charged aspects of our self definition.
For such a person, the defense of a doctrinally-held political belief is in reality a defense of their ego. To dispute another’s doctrinally-held belief is to attack the religion of a true believer.
The defense of the ego knows no barriers of courtesy, or logic, or truth. So, when I asked doctrinaire anti-interventionists how they could stand by and let Gaddafi’s forces take Benghazi, and then “bury” those who didn’t love him and so “deserved to die,” taking Gaddafi at his word as seemed reasonable given his history, I was told:
The rebels were Islamicists and Al Qaida (ergo, they deserved to die);
The rebels were against Pan-Africanism, and massacred blacks whenever possible (deserved to die);
The rebels were Libyan agents of Western-directed destabilization groups exploiting the mood of Arab Spring (deserved to die),
There really weren’t many rebels (too few to worry about dying),
Most of the Libyan people supported Gaddafi (then why was there a rebellion?).
The ego defense against sympathy for the rebels was quite simple: they don’t deserve to live, and there aren’t many of them. Even the most skeptical viewing of televised reporting from Libya put the lie to these assertions.
Other ego defenses were aimed at interventionist motives: the intervention was an oil grab, it was to depose a defender of Africa from US and European imperialism. Clearly, NATO countries that participated in the intervention will hope the successor government in Libya will remember them favorably when considering future business partners.
But the Europeans and Americans were already doing great business with Gaddafi’s Libya, that being the quid pro quo for his cooperation on nuclear disarmament, suppressing al Qaeda and withdrawing support from terrorist and/or insurgent organizations, restricting black African migration to Europe, and producing oil for the world market. The NATO countries did not need to incur the expense of their Libyan intervention in order to create commercial opportunities for themselves in Libya.
The final defense of doctrinally-held belief was an attack on the character of the blasphemer. How could I possibly agree to the NATO intervention when it was responsible for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children? This made me equally guilty of the killing of babies in Tripoli. Did I want to personally plunge a knife into Aisha Gaddafi to stop her from rallying the people of Tripoli to her father’s cause?, because that was equivalent to my accepting a NATO intervention that rained bombs down on Tripoli.
It is pointless to respond to character attacks like this — they really have nothing to do with the person being attacked but instead show the desperation of an ego defending its doctrinally-held beliefs against the sense that they are unsupported by reality.
Muammar Gaddafi’s opposition to the Arab Spring-inspired popular protest movement in Libya degenerated into a war between a ruthless dictator with command of most of the nation’s military, and the lightly armed civilian population of the country. Given this balance of power and the history of Libya’s dictator, the world at large was faced with the choice of: acquiescing to a bloody suppression of the revolt, and probable purge of thousands of Libyans, by not intervening; or making a purge impossible by helping the revolt succeed, by intervening with decisive military force.
I think the second choice was by far the right one, as a matter of human decency for the greatest number of people, and because of that I accept that its implementation could never be “perfect” from every ethical and political perspective. It was the best course of action that circumstances allowed.
“In politics the choice is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.” — Raymond Aron
Raymond Aron: The Opium of the Intellectuals, Transaction Publishers, 2001, (reprint of 1957 English language edition),
Raymond Aron: Politics and History, Transaction Publishers, 1984, (reprint of 1978 edition),
Raymond Aron: Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith, (1956 essay revised, now an appendix in the reprinted The Opium of the Intellectuals).
W. Somerset Maugham: Strictly Personal, 1941.
Tony Judt: Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945, Penguin Books, 2005.
“Rules of Rebellion”
6 April 2011
“Libya 2011: The Human Right to Political Freedom”
3 May 2011
“The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals”
22 August 2011
Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011
The decade of the 1920s was one of industrialization and economic growth, globally. This relatively peaceful and prosperous period ended with the onset of a quarter century of economic hardship and armed conflict.
In 1927, a civil war broke out in China that would finally end with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. In 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, and the Great Depression began. Two years later, a period of 23 years of continuous international warfare began.
The period of open warfare, which includes the 1939-1945 interval labeled “World War Two,” began in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and ended in 1953 with the armistice ending the shooting of the Korean War.
The United States of America emerged from the period of economic depression and world war as the supreme global power by 1945, and it would revitalize its non-communist European and Asian allies, and former enemies, during the period of postwar reconstruction from 1945 to 1953.
As the combatant nations of WWII recovered and reconstituted themselves in the immediate postwar years, they were each motivated by revulsion over the recent past, gratitude to the millions of soldiers and workers who brought about the collective liberation, and hope for a brighter future, to develop some form of social contract between the people and their governments, the labor force, and the industries. In the United States, this social contract was a bipartisan support for popular New Deal and progressive collectivities like Social Security, public education, unionized labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), as well as the postwar G.I. Bill (educational and housing benefits for veterans). In the non-communist European states it was a social democratic form of government, which managed many nationalized popular benefits. In the communist states, the socialized benefits were offered in exchange for unchallenged political control by Communist Party authority.
The next twenty years (1953-1973) were the golden age of capitalism and Soviet communism, a period of unexcelled economic expansion resulting from vigorous industrialization coupled with distributive social contracts.
Despite increasing population, productivity slackened in the 1970s, and given the unavoidable increase of social costs, the expansion of prosperity stagnated. By the end of the decade, plutocratic political pressure in the West had built up enough to increasingly detach government from stewardship of the social contract, and more closely focus it on corporate interests. In 1978, the People’s Republic of China abandoned central planning and began command capitalism.
Over thirty years of neoliberalism followed in the capitalist world, to the present day (from about 1979 to 2011). Non-communist neoliberalism is “free,” or market-driven (with varying interventions by governments), while a command form of neoliberalism is used in the People’s Republic of China, directed by its exclusive national party.
At the beginning of the 1990s (between 1989 and 1991) the economically and politically stagnant Soviet Union and its satellite empire in Eastern Europe disintegrated, and the many independent states formed out of that former political monolith were absorbed into the capitalist world.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the United States was de-industrializing (“outsourcing”) to increase corporate profits by decreasing its domestic labor costs. Many newly industrializing states (NIEs) in Asia and Latin America were taking advantage of this expatriation of American industrial capacity, by offering to host foreign-owned industrial facilities, and offering their people as a lower-cost substitute labor force.
Japan was a leader in outsourcing production throughout Asia, but it only did so after achieving full employment in Japan, and only to increase its total industrial output to feed its export (mainly U.S.) market. While the portion of Japan’s labor force in industry has dropped since before the 1990s, the affected workers have been shifted to service industry employment, so full employment has been maintained (about 4% unemployment during the 2000s).
As in the major industrialized states during the 1970s, productivity gains in the 2000s in the now more developed NIEs were not always capable of outpacing the growth of population and the increasing costs of social needs and unexpected losses. So, the returns from some outsourced investments were diminished from initial expectations. The perceived lethargy of industrial development anywhere to yield profits quickly enough increased investors’ fever to decouple profitability from productivity. The first decade of the 21st century was one of frenzied speculation in financialized paper (e.g., derivatives, hedge funds), and was facilitated by the deregulation of the US banking industry in 1999.
The financial system collapsed between 2007 (burst housing bubble, banks insolvent) and 2008 (stock market crash, public bail-out of banks), after thirty years of de-industrialization accompanied by a trend of growing income inequality. From a rate of 4.5% in early 2007, the official US unemployment rate shot up past 10% by January 2010, and remains above 9% today. One should double these numbers for a more realistic estimate of unemployment.
The combination of heavy personal debt and lack of jobs (for skilled labor and professionals) has spurred many people across the United States to congregate in public protests, to move themselves beyond fearfulness in isolation to a release of their anger, by channeling it into a joint sense of purpose for social change. These are the people of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in its many locations.
The sense of purpose for social change has two parts: a change of self image so one interacts in a new and more effective way with the rest of society, and the taking up of some form of political activism so as to help move the larger society to change in desired ways. How these two factors are proportioned within any particular individual is determined by their unique circumstances.
OWS is the human face of debilitating debt and unemployment, and it will disappear when popular debt relief (e.g., for underwater mortgages and student loans) and the widespread availability of skilled employment occur. How long it will take the U.S. to arrange for popular debt relief and the widespread availability of skilled employment is unknown. Equally unknown are how many political and thus economic changes will have to be made in the course of arriving at popular debt relief and a full employment economy, but ultimately that point will be reached because it is the most stable arrangement for US society. Resistance to achieving this stable social state will only delay the inevitable and increase the quantity of blood, sweat, tears, and money needed to achieve it.
Every desire for social change held by every person in the OWS movement can be reflected in one simple phrase: renew the social contract.
OWS is an awakening. People who had thought of themselves as law abiding, hard working, loyal Americans ready and willing to take their places in society as contributors are waking up to the fact that they have been pushed out of American prosperity, and they want in.
OWS is a protest about being personally saddled with debt, primarily for homes and education, sold under promises of a better future, and then government allowing the lending institutions to destroy the economy necessary to support those rosy futures, at a handsome profit, without penalty, and — most galling — without canceling the essentially fraudulently-created debt on the mortgage holders of financially inundated real estate or evaporated professional careers.
The young people of OWS are the cadets of the bourgeoisie who have been excessed by the time of their graduation. A soulless nation is eating its young: for decades by incarcerating rather than employing blacks, and now, because of a tightening of the money situation for plutocrats, even throwing over the white cadets who have been training to man the occupations that will continue America’s bourgeois economics during the next two decades. The graduates of 2006 to 2016 may be a lost generation, as this is an ageist society. When the economy recovers, maybe by 2016 (since neoliberalism is likely to persist), employers will look to fresh graduates to fill the available slots; once five years out of school, you are obsolete.
OWS has social and political impact primarily by being LARGE and PRESENT. It has to be the elephant in the middle of the nation’s view-screen in order to cause a course correction. The longer OWS endures, the more likely it is that the political class will agree to work toward debt-cancellation and job growth, since these will make OWS disappear.
Can enough new jobs be created soon? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (international business editor at The Telegraph) has the idea that a US economic turnaround (more jobs) will occur within the next few years, brought about by the exploitation of new domestic sources of petroleum (oil shale and tar sands) and a reversal of outsourcing (or, a return to domestic industrialization). This is just one indicator of rational expectations (devoid of environmental concerns) for a resumption of economic growth.
What about reform of the financial industry? Nicholas Kristof, a conservative pundit at The New York Times, is advocating reform of the financial industry because he understands that hubris by the plutocracy could lead to a disastrous popular backlash (the ultimate conservative nightmare is communism). Mainstream voices for financial reform know that wonderful profits can easily be made the old fashioned way, as was the case under Glass-Steagall banking regulations between 1933 and 1999.
And, what about debt relief? Wall Street certainly loves the idea when it applies to banks. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, recently stared down the European banks and made them accept a 50% writedown of their Greek debts. The stock market zoomed 300 points, because investors are far more concerned with the “stability” and continuity of the eurozone financial markets than they are with a few banks losing a few 10s or even 100s of billions (half made up with public bail-outs), so long as the game and the global banking casino are not shut down by a currency (euro) and credit market (banking industry) collapse.
Obviously, the concept of debt relief will be pushed and expanded further and further, because the debt burden everywhere is like a bone caught in the financial world’s throat. Once it is finally swallowed or coughed out, then the feasting can begin again. When debt is cancelled, people are free to borrow, spend, create, and expand productivity, that is to say generate earnings and profits. The next Steve Jobs may be milling about in an OWS throng, just waiting for student loan relief to set him capitalistically free. So, we can expect that when OWS people begin speaking the language of demands, one of the items included will be relief of students’ loans for education.
The young generation in OWS wants the freedom to advance their bourgeois, capitalist aspirations; they want to be the Steve Jobs and Barack Obama of the 2020s. They do not want to shrink their vision into re-entering a proletarian life, nor to occupy their minds and time with “organization” for proletarian-type unions like the UFW (United Farm Workers), nor consign their aspirations to distant hopes for an elusive millennialist “revolution.”
OWS is a leaderless coincident mass awakening, it is not a popular uprising in the style of the Mexican or Russian (February) Revolutions, and it is not organized in the sense of being hierarchical and regimented. The cadets manning OWS will never adopt Marxism, essentially none have flocked to the red banner.
The people in OWS are shackled by debt and economic fear, and they are gathered to celebrate the freeing of their minds from a number of illusions. Individually, they may go on to be active politically, each in their own way, but all are quite unlikely to relinquish their identification with the American bourgeoisie (“middle class”), or to relinquish their new and painfully-realized mental freedom by submitting themselves to the blinkered thinking of any political ideology that seeks to exploit their massed energy, or to direct their social purpose.
Renew the social contract.
Timeline: 1945 Social Contract to 2011 Occupy Wall Street
1945, Europe and Japan ruined by World War II
Civil War in China (1927-1949) interrupted by Japan’s occupation of Manchuria (1931-1945) and Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
Postwar rebuilding in Europe, 1945-1956:
- 1944, Bretton Woods system of currency relations to US dollar
- 1945-1948, $12B in U.S. postwar aid to Europe
- 1948-1952, $13B in Marshall Plan aid to Western Europe
- (US GDP in 1948 was $258B)
- 1945-1954, Soviets extract 23% of East German GNP
- 1945-1954, slow release of German POWs, forced laborers
- 1949 Cold War split formalized, West and East Germany created
- 1949-1956 East and West evolve comprehensive social contracts
Western European states (Atlantic Alliance) 1949-1956:
- renew politically as social democracies
- much foreign aid in, rapid growth, more satisfied population
- have extensive political freedom on account of prosperity
- 1954, West Germany gains full political and economic autonomy
Eastern European states (Warsaw Pact) 1949-1956:
- reformed as Soviet communist satellite states
- reparations or little aid, slow growth, less satisfied population
- very limited political freedom in exchange for social contract
- 1953 East German and 1956 Hungarian revolts suppressed
Postwar rebuilding in Japan, 1945-1960:
1945-1952, US aid of $1.9B while Japan under occupation:
- this equaled 15% of imports and 4% of GNP, in forms of:
- 59% food, 15% industrial materials, 12% transport equipment
1953, US military spending (Korean War) is 7% of Japan’s GNP
- by 1960 US military spending in Japan less than 1% of Japan’s GNP
Economic growth 1953-1973:
“Golden Age” in Western Europe, Japan, and Soviet Union
economies achieve “full employment”
labor cooperation exchanged for social contract
productivity and gains due to industrialization, and:
- government (trade) policies
- cooperative labor
Economic stagnation 1971-1979:
1971 collapse of Bretton Woods currency relations to US dollar.
(The Vietnam War had accelerated inflation, and faith had been lost in the US’ ability to cut budget and trade deficits. “On August 15, 1971, the United States unilaterally terminated convertibility of the dollar to gold. As a result, ‘the Bretton Woods system officially ended and the dollar became fully fiat currency, backed by nothing but the promise of the federal government.’ This action, referred to as the Nixon shock, created the situation in which the United States dollar [not gold] became the sole backing of currencies and a reserve currency for the member states.”)
1973, first oil crisis
(Arab boycott over US aid to Israel in 1973 Arab-Israeli War)
1973-1974, stock market crash (20+ years of steady growth ends)
1978, People’s Republic of China abandons central planning
- a centrally planned economy is replaced by command capitalism
1979, 2nd oil crisis
(U.S. opposes Iranian Revolution)
Thatcherism and Reaganomics
- Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister, 1979
- Ronald Reagan, US President, 1981
- lower productivity after 1960s, higher population and social costs
- government increasingly oriented to corporate interests
- retreat from New Deal and post WWII social contracts
- trend of increasing income inequality begins
30 Years of US Neoliberalism, 1981-2011:
Ronald Reagan Administration (R), 1981-1988:
- breaks the air traffic controllers union in 1981
- “supply side” and “trickle down” economics, and tax cuts
- deep recession of 1982 with 10% unemployment
- stock market crash of 1987
- Savings and Loan crisis, a $125B public bail-out
- deregulation and hostility to regulate
- no change to the minimum wage
- raised national debt from $997B to $2.85T
- the share of US income received during 1980-1988 by the:
— 5% highest-income households grew from 16.5% to 18.3%
— 20% highest income households grew from 44.1% to 46.3%
— 20% lowest income households fell from 4.2% to 3.8%
— second poorest 20%, fell from 10.2% to 9.6%.
George H. W. Bush Administration (R), 1989-1992:
- recession in 1992 with 7.8% unemployment
- developed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
Bill Clinton Administration (D), 1993-2000:
- 1994, enacts North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
- 1996, ends Aid to Families with Dependent Children,
— (fulfills promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it”)
- 1996, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
— (significant precursor of the Patriot Act of 2001)
- 1999, signs Gramm-Leach-Blyly Act,
— (this repeals Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, bank deregulation)
— (see ENDNOTES for more on Glass-Steagall)
- 2000, signs Commodity Futures Modernization Act,
— (legalizes over-the-counter derivatives)
- federal budget surpluses 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 (Fiscal Years)
- War on Drugs swells prison population from 1.4M to 2.0M
George W. Bush Administration (R), 2001-2008:
- 2001 and 2003, total tax cuts of $1.3T, aimed at the wealthy
- 2002, No Child Left Behind Act (push to privatize public schools)
- “War on Terrorism”:
— 2001, Patriot Act (curtails civil liberties)
— October 2001, invasion of Afghanistan
— March 2003, invasion of Iraq
- 2002, stopped funding the United Nations Population Fund
— (UNFPA promotes family planning in the developing world)
- 2005, response (and lack of) to Hurricane Katrina
- 2008, Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the $700B bail-out
Barack H. Obama Administration (D), 2009-present:
- failed to use Democratic majorities in congress to pass reforms
- September 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street begins; what now?
“The People Cry Out Against the New Great Depression”
by Manuel Garcia, Jr.
(Glass-Steagall Act and financial reforms are described)
“Some Central Themes of the Occupy Protesters”
by Associated Press
(video on income inequality)
“Graphic of US Income Inequality, 1947-2011”
by Robert Reich and New York Times
“United States Income Distribution 1947-2007”
“Where’s My Job?” by ConnectTheDotsUSA.com
by The Economist
(global debt map)
“World Power Swings Back to America”
by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
“Crony Capitalism Comes Home”
by Nicholas Kristof
“Calling Bankers’ Bluff, Merkel Won Europe a Debt Plan”
by Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle
“Another Idea For Student Loan Debt: Make It Go Away”
by Petra Cahill
From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street
7 November 2011
On Wings of Light over Canyons of Blight
Beam me up, Scotty!
I’ve got to get off this doomed planet dominated by Archie Bunkers, Gomer Pyles, Karen Dingbats, and their Toxic Bratspawn!
Power up the Phasers and load in the Photon Torpedoes when I get there!
We’ve got to blow all this wasted cytoplasm and ectoplasm back into the Gravitational Recycler of the Galaxy!
What I’ve learned from 9/11 ‘truthers’, anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers is that there is comfort in stupidity because it offers certainty in a world of doubts!
What can I teach? Nothing! Everybody already knows how they want to be ignorant!
Isn’t it amazing how something as brainless as a virus can outwit multitudes of the most pampered technologically-enriched populations of humanity: an emotional commitment to suicide by anti-thinking!
I am living out the opposite polarity of The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari!
And so I cry out today… But…, a century earlier:
Nikola Tesla is sitting on his park bench on a crystalline crisp February morning tossing seeds and crumbs to New York City’s flocks of Rock Doves, who know him well for the regularity of his largesse. They wheel about him gracefully and wing down so elegantly to scuttle about his feet, pecking at the bounty of nourishing granules offered to them.
I have no doubt he would long watch them approvingly, delighting in their cooing and motions, while thinking to himself:
How different they are from the race of men: reliable in their behaviors, in expressing their wants honestly and without shame, and never pretending to be unselfish or — despicably — to be betrayers. How admirable they are as pure, unpolluted works of Nature. If only men could be like this instead of the myopically petty self-absorbed self-limiting disappointments they insist on condemning themselves into being.
It is so refreshing and enlivening to just sit in this cathedral of bright chill sunlight, sliced by long fingers of canyon-wall shade, immersed in the expansive subaural hum of Nature’s breath, and just watch the infinite cascade of Life’s eddies surrounding and enveloping me.
How sad that all the midget blind cyclopses of my species will never know they can live — transformed — in a Paradise they could extend forever. But here on this bench, at least, I have the comfort of experiencing that infinitude of joy for myself, alone.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
I sat out under the high sun in front of my tall trees this morning, looking out across my modest wooded creek canyon as the gliding shadows of two hawks — their trailing edges emblazoned by the warm cascading radiance — passed over me in waves. What fools these mortals be that blind themselves to wonders such as these.
ON BEING A SUCCESS:
My great discovery — and rueful awakening — about “being successful” occurred when I was at ‘peak career’, and had gained enough experience and produced enough technical successes to apply for and deserve a promotion into “management.” Then it was all made very clear to me, not just by rejection, but by seeing who got promoted and why. The essential quality sought by higher-ups for moving ‘you’ up — below them — is a proficiency at lying to bring money into the organization and making the boss look good, and a demonstrated bullet-proof reliable loyalty at servicing the career advancement schemes of your boss and the boss class above you.
YOUR advancement comes when a bigger boss poaches you from your smaller boss, and your success is assured by applying the same technique for acquiring your own growing troop of faithful vassals below you. The organizational hierarchy looks like a troop of monkeys in a tree. The leader sits at the top, and the other monkeys are arrayed in the branches below him in descending rank order. The leader looks down to see a sea of smiling faces. The bottom ranked monkey looks up to see a sea of assholes. And the shit always rains down.
What I also learned from this awakening was that the merit and value, or venality and worthlessness, of any organization is entirely expressed by the actual (not public relations crafted) personal merit and (always cloaked) venality of the management leading and controlling the organization. Successful liars being in charge indicate a lying and exploitative organization — by design.
This may all seem obvious when stated as I have here, but it is not lived and felt as obvious by most people in the real ‘working’ and ‘political’ worlds. And this is why the rueful awakening — if it occurs — leads its no longer naïve sleepers startled out of their dreams, to the sinking realization: everything is a lie.
The one consolation (needed after the loss of income, perhaps precipitous) that can be gained after this point is the thought: do I really want to be the kind of person that becomes a careerist success by being a completely servile lying sycophant and back-stabbing betrayer? If your answer is “no,” you have discovered your self-respect as your central treasure and source of freedom, and you will have saved your soul. I can’t say this will fill your belly, but I can say this will let you die at peace with yourself and without shame.
Acknowledging the achievements of others — especially in your own field, and especially if superior to yours — is a mark of superior character, which too few have.
In the vastness of their popular cranial vacuity, Americans are enthralled with a celebrity culture to which they abjectly submit with expressions of envy over their own insignificance, and for the most deluded with pathetic expressions of self-inflationary grandiosity. Thus, American popular culture is an ocean of bullshit acidified with envy.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Notes on Carbon Dioxide in Global Warming, Acidified Oceans, and Weathered Rocks
Like CO2 (carbon dioxide), H2O (water vapor) is a strongly heteropolar molecule — having one end with a positive electrical charge, and another end with a negative electrical charge — and absorbs outgoing Infrared Radiation (IR) from Earth’s surface, thus capturing heat in the atmosphere. Homopolar molecules like N2 (nitrogen) and O2 (oxygen) are transparent to IR. Inelastic molecular collisions redistribute that heat (as kinetic energy) to other atmospheric molecules (N2, O2, mainly) and atoms (Ar, He, trace components).
Most of Earth’s surface heat eventually diffuses into the oceans. Heat flows along the heat gradient in the negative direction from warmer air to colder water. The heat capacity (storage ability) of the oceans is IMMENSE (this is where ‘global warming’ ends up), and their heat content takes centuries to diffuse into a stable stratified distribution, rearranged by thermo-haline currents (a solar forcing effect) and by geometry (oceans as a spherical shell with warm equator and cold poles, so ocean heat diffuses poleward).
The fundamental problem of global warming is the ‘excess’ capture of outgoing IR (infrared radiation), reducing the rejection of Earth heat (originally delivered by incoming LIGHT radiation) into space: causing an imbalance between incoming energy (in the form of light to which atmospheric molecules are almost completely transparent) and outgoing energy (IR, to which heteropolar molecules, like CO2, H2O, CH4, NOx, are all quite opaque — absorbing).
Water vapor is by far the ‘greenhouse gas’ (IR absorber) with the highest concentration in the atmosphere at any time (immensely larger than that of CO2). It has been found by a combination of climate modeling calculations coordinated with field measurements in many global environments, that though the whiteness of clouds reflects sunlight back toward space (a global cooling effect), their IR absorptivity overwhelms that cooling, so that water vapor has a net global warming effect. As the average global temperature increases there is more water vapor in the atmosphere and this mode for global warming grows in magnitude — this is a self-amplifying or positive feedback effect.
CH4 (methane) and NOx are ‘short lived’ because they are eventually oxidized (by O, OH, formed by UV breaking up O2 and H20, and by other chemical reactions), whereas CO2 is very long lived because it is an endpoint product/species of chemical reaction chains that oxidize carbon compounds in oxygen-containing mixtures. CO2 has a low “chemical potential” and is known as a “chemical thermodynamic sink”. CH4 is eventually converted to CO2 and H2O. NOx is eventually converted to HNO3, nitric acid, which attaches itself to water droplets, so it has an aqueous form and rains out.
The long-term ‘chemical sink’ nature of CO2 is why science focuses on it as the leading culprit in the long-term trends of global warming. With greater warming of the ocean surface, more H2O vapor rises and releases its latent heat when it condenses into droplets (liquid) and ice crystals, and that ‘extra’ heat adds power to storms (winds, hurricanes: mass motion), and ultimately that ‘extra’ heat energy finds its way back into the oceans (for the portion of atmospheric heat that does not escape as IR into space).
When analyzing global warming, it all comes back to CO2. I highly recommend the book ‘Thermodynamics’ by Enrico Fermi (available in a budget-priced Dover edition): a slim volume that is a classic on the topic of chemical thermodynamics, and one of the best books on science of any kind that I have ever read.
My highly detailed outline of the chemical thermodynamics of atmospheric global warming is ‘Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change’ at https://manuelgarciajr.com/2014/01/25/closing-the-cycle-energy-and-climate-change/.
The process of capturing atmospheric CO2 with rocks on the ground is one of rock weathering. CO2 in the air that brushes against the surface of carbonate and silicate rocks has a finite (and very low) probability of undergoing a chemical reaction with the rock surface, fixing the airborne CO2 onto a solid substrate. This is the longest term natural process of capturing CO2 from the atmosphere (10s to 100s of millennia).
A shorter term process is capture by the surface waters of the oceans, and that aqueous CO2 then combining with water molecules and already existing carbonate ions (CO3-2) in the water to form carbonic acid (H2CO3), which is weakly bound and both acidifies the oceans and scarfs up free floating carbonate ions to both starve mollusks, corals and foraminifera of the easiest chemical species from which to grow their shells (CO3-2), and even dissolving such shells of existing organisms (most being part of the masses of plankton, the base of the oceanic food chain).
The surface (not too deep) load of absorbed acidifying CO2 is then slowly cycled to the ocean floor by the ~1,000 year vertical currents, and at the bottom it dissolves the chalk deposited as the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) remnants of dead sea life, basically bone, shell and foraminifera casing ‘fossils’ — an ocean acidifying effect. So ocean capture of CO2 happens all the time, but the intake rate can saturate as the ocean becomes more acidified; eventually this intake process could shut off, coral reefs being a long lost memory by then.
Loss of “excess” ocean CO2 requires a low CO2 concentration atmosphere that can accept the gaseous release (is not saturated with CO2) of ocean CO2 that slowly diffuses out on mainly kilo-year timescales. A technically accurate description of ‘the carbonate system in seawater’ is given at https://sundoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/diss-online/04/04H141/t5.pdf. My more formal article than the discussion here, ‘Global Warming and Ocean Acidification Accelerate,’ is at https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/07/18/global-warming-and-ocean-acidification-accelerate/.
The next quicker process of fixing atmospheric CO2 is photosynthesis, and this is done both by plants on land and in the oceans, like: seaweed, giant kelp, and many small plankton-sized organisms; ocean based photosynthesis is a huge component. This happens all the time and fixes CO2 at the rate of plant growth. At a high enough CO2 concentration this process saturates, too.
What is not commonly appreciated is that there is an unbelievably gargantuan amount of fungal and bacterial ‘biome’ in the soil worldwide (as well as inside each of us in our intestines and colon) that interconnects plant roots and actually makes possible the fixing of CO2, by breaking down organics and minerals in the soil enabling plant roots to absorb nutrients they need to complete their growth cycles, which result in carbon being fixed into plant cellulose, and into soil carbonates. The TV show ‘Fantastic Fungi’ gives a visually stunning explanation of this, and is available here, https://www.netflix.com/title/81183477, and here https://fantasticfungi.com/. This plant-based natural process of “carbon capture” is disrupted and destroyed by chemical pesticide dependent industrialized monoculture farming.
I know it is a bitter pill to swallow, but the only real way to slow global warming in any noticeable way is to stop anthropogenic CO2 emissions FOREVER. There are no post-facto technological ‘capture’ or ‘remediation’ techniques that exist now or “could be developed” that would actually work as “silver bullets” of salvation; they would only ‘work’ as money making scams with which to gull those despairing of the ‘loss of easy living.’
Our best response to climate change is to change ourselves in every way possible and without ever looking back, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis — and to have fun doing so together. This has to be a willed conscious process because we do not have the luxury of a long timescale in a slowly changing world to allow the transformation of humanity to happen naturally through the unconscious genetically paced process of evolution.
But, with the right shared attitude, that much shorter timescale consciously willed personal and societal transformation could be more magical and take us to more wondrous new worlds than any fantasy of intra-galactic space travel at Warp Speed on the Starship Enterprise.