Climate Crisis, Elite Panic, and Mass Exclusion

John Davis’s interesting article in Counterpunch,

Are We Moderns Or Terrestrials?
7 February 2019

Describes the idea of “social triage” practiced by a global wealth elite, to exclude the mass of Earth’s people from the finite natural bounty our planet can supply to humanity; this drive being accelerated by the obvious threats of the accelerating Climate Crisis. Davis writes:

In [the book] Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, 2018, Bruno Latour, the French philosopher and sociologist, writes, “To the migrants from outside who have to cross borders and leave their countries at the price of immense tragedies, we must, from now on, add the migrants from inside who, while remaining in place, are experiencing the drama of seeing themselves left behind by their own countries”.

Davis’s article reminds me of earlier sallies on this topic.

The most prescient, to my mind, was Tony Judt’s essay The Social Question Redivivus, which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1997 (and is still behind a paywall) and was reprinted as the last selection in Judt’s book Reappraisals, Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century (Penguin Books, 2008). Except for the mention of Climate Change, Judt’s 1997 article laid out a very detailed exposition of the same form of triage as Davis (and Latour) now describe 22 years later.

I wrote a short gloss on Judt’s books and this topic in particular as

Tony Just, Edward Snowden, And “The Excluded”
1 July 2013

Also, on the idea of triage being practiced by the global wealth elite to separate “the excluded” from the finite bounty of the Earth, a very similar idea formed the core of Joseph Heller’s 1994 novel Closing Time (Simon and Schuster, 1994), which is both a reminiscence of their youth by WWII generation Brooklyn NY Jews, and a scathing satire of late 20th century American political attitudes. In the novel, a nitwit President of the U.S. plays a video game called Triage, which is actually a command console connected to an underground technological complex (based on the Reagan Administration idea of an underground mobile MX missile complex) for secretly controlling the day-to-day process of manipulating both selected individuals and the population as a whole, and ultimately of mass exclusion by nuclear war.

Davis notes that the basic practice by wealth elites of working hard to exclude the mass of people from prosperity, and to enslave them, is ancient. His (and Latour’s) point is that climate change is adding pressure to that elite drive for mass immiseration.

The implication of the above is that some form of serious and vigorous populist movement that successfully addresses climate change despite elite opposition (combining geo-technical strategies of direct mitigation, individual and societal adaptation, and — obviously — economic justice, a.k.a. “socialism”) is necessary for an organized human survival with decency.

We all know the problem. Our challenge (which may be tragically beyond us) is to triumph over the Climate Crisis and the elite selfishness driving it.


Aesop’s Puerto Rico

MG,Jr. in Puerto Rico in August 1967.


Aesop’s Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, conquered and taken during the Spanish-American War has been part of the USA as a Commonwealth since 1898; prior to that is was a Spanish colony for four centuries. The people of Puerto Rico were given U.S. citizenship in early 1917, during the Wilson Administration, a few months before the U.S. entered World War I on the side of the Allies: Britain and France. So, men from Puerto Rico could be drafted for that war, as they were in subsequent US wars, like WWII and the Vietnam War.

The people of Puerto Rico have elected representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, but those Puertorriqueño representatives cannot vote in nor introduce legislative bills to the U.S. Congress; they can only observe and lobby. Puerto Rico is neither a state of the U.S. (like New York, and Hawaii), nor an independent country (like Cuba). A 2017 referendum in Puerto Rico, hoping to show a popular majority in favor of either statehood or independence, showed an overwhelming preference for statehood (97.18%) but only among the 23% of the electorate who actually voted. Those opposed to statehood for a variety of reasons (whether preferring some form of Free Association, or the status quo, or — least popular — pure independence) boycotted the referendum.

The Republicans in the U.S. proper are against the idea of letting Puerto Rico become a U.S. State, because that would introduce two new senators (to the U.S. Senate) and several new representatives (to the U.S. House of Representatives), all fully enfranchised and who would certainly all be Democrats. Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President and Vice President, only for their local representatives and governor within the island itself, and for the observer representatives sent to Washington, D.C. People from Puerto Rico can vote in US presidential elections and for active members of the US Congress only if they move to the mainland (or Alaska or Hawaii) and establish residence there.

I, among others, think that the Republicans (and many Democrats) want Puertorriqueños to emigrate as economic refugees seeking jobs on the mainland so as to depopulate the island of its ethnic population, and make it easier for real estate speculators and developers (people like Trump) to move in and buy up land cheap, and then make big profits on hotel and vacation property developments. Because the people of Puerto Rico lack direct representation in the U.S. Government, they are dependent on the charity and goodwill of the US President, Senators and Congressional Representatives of the fifty US States to address their island-wide needs, such as hurricane disaster aid, and island-government financial security. It has been evident that there is not much of such charity and goodwill available to Puerto Rico from its US master.

In early 2017, the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis posed serious problems for the island government. The outstanding bond debt had climbed to $70 billion at a time with 12.4% unemployment. The debt had been increasing during a decade-long recession. This was the second major financial crisis to affect the island after the Great Depression when the U.S. government, in 1935, provided relief efforts through the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration. On May 3, 2017, Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board in the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico filed the debt restructuring petition which was made under Title III of PROMESA. The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) is a 2016 US federal law that established an oversight board, a process for restructuring debt, and expedited procedures for approving critical infrastructure projects in order to combat the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis. Through PROMESA, the US Congress established an unelected Fiscal Control Board (FCB) to oversee the debt restructuring. A draconian austerity program had been imposed on the island, and by early August 2017 the debt was $72 billion with a 45% poverty rate. In late September 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing devastating damage. The island’s electrical grid was largely destroyed, with repairs expected to take months to complete, provoking the largest power outage in American history. Recovery efforts were slow, and over 200,000 residents had moved to the mainland State of Florida alone by late November 2017. The island population was 3.7 million in 2010, and 3.2 million in 2018. [This last paragraph is taken from wikipedia,, and edited with additions by me.]

Among several major pro-independence Puertorriqueños was the great singer (and disobedient WWII US soldier) Daniel Santos [Porque Soy Boricua,]. Independence would be better for Puerto Rico, even if that island-nation were poor, because at least it could then direct its own affairs, like Cuba. The con of Commonwealth is that being totally dependent on the paternalism of the U.S.A., the promise of “protection” and “prosperity” handed down from Uncle Sam can be (and has been) withheld, leaving Puertorriqueños poor (except for those connected to the high-end capitalist classes), unprotected (as with Hurricane Maria and from vulture capitalists) and politically powerless (they can’t go on their own to get loans and foreign aid on the world market).

The sad state of Puerto Rico is an example of Aesop’s fable of The Wolf And The Dog. A gaunt Wolf almost dead with hunger happened to meet a well-fed Dog out for his daily scamper. “Cousin Wolf,” said the Dog, “why suffer with such an uncertain life when you can work regularly under the protection of my patron for certain meals, as I do.” “I would have no objections,” replied the Wolf, “show me how.” So, they set off together to the master’s estate. On the way, the Wolf noticed the worn and ruffled fur around the Dog’s neck, and asked about it. “Oh, that’s nothing,” said the Dog, “it’s just from the collar master puts on me to keep me chained up every night. It chafes a bit, but you soon get used to it.” “Oh, is that so,” said the Wolf, “well then, goodbye to you. Better to starve free than be a fat slave.”

The tragedy for Puerto Rico is that it is both collared and chained, and starved.


52 State Flag (proposed); if add Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.