How Will Our Inequality Balloon Pop?

The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy. Our delusions of merit now prevent us from recognizing the nature of the problem that our emergence as a class represents. We tend to think that the victims of our success are just the people excluded from the club. But history shows quite clearly that, in the kind of game we’re playing, everybody loses badly in the end.

The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy
(by Matthew Stewart)
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/

The article quoted is compelling, detailed, extensive, well-written, and ultimately obvious to non-zombies, especially those who have read any Chomsky. Marxists would just say the article presents their general observation that members of each economic class cooperate to protect their class interests, and then the Marxists would repeat their well-known overall conclusion that the needed remedy for a just political economy (a good society) is a breakup of this class hierarchy: the overthrow of the capitalists (the 1%ers) along with their bourgeois co-dependent enablers (the 9.9%ers) by the proletariat (the 90%ers).

I have long thought that the “solution” or “revolution” or “reform” will occur as an involuntary convulsion of society – busting up the economic classes at least partially – like the French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and/or the American Civil War and the Spanish Civil War. This latter civil war is most instructive for those inclined to learn about our possible 21st century future from the 20th century past.

Triggering the explosion of pent-up socio-economic resentment into major bottom-up political violence (the wage-and-wageless slave revolt) could be natural and anthropogenic mega-disasters like: a magnitude 9 earthquake along the San Andreas and Hayward Faults (like at Fukushima), or a loss and poisoning of major water tables (from massive pumping by industrial agriculture, and poisoning by excessive fracking), or a deadly pandemic in the northern latitudes unleashed by the global warming incubation and growth of presently remote tropical pathogens, and/or a global warming climapocalypse: ice caps melting causing the Atlantic Meridional Current to stop, causing the rapid onset of cold desert climate for North America and Europe.

Such climatic and environmental catastrophes could trigger and accelerate a collapse of social order because billions of people would become desperate just to survive physically on a daily basis, and thus become immune to the fear of death from the guns of the flunky paid enforcers (the “lackeys,” the “Pinkertons”) of the corporate-wealth royalty; and so be maddeningly motivated to mob the 1%ers despite all their guns.

It’s all obvious. There are so many historical examples, but as Frederick Douglass noted, those on top will never willingly surrender any fraction of their privileges – to oppress everyone else – they will have to be stopped (and head chopped to popular acclaim) by force. And the force of popular revolution is messy: bloody, disorganized, spasmodic, and easily cruel with lots of “collateral damage.”

But über-rich people don’t learn, and so the future will be fundamentally similar to the past (Santayana), just dressed up differently for the next reenactment of the same unnecessary historical tragedy. We, or our descendants, will be lucky if the next US revolutionary blowout is as benign (compared to the other revolutions mentioned) as the Cuban Revolution; and it was plenty bloody and devastating and heartbreaking to many – my family knows from personal experience.

This is what I see intellectually, but emotionally I have no hope for humanity, I think the selfish-stupids will by far overwhelm the moral-smarts. So, even though I know – intellectually-moralistically – that guillotines and that style of the-revenge-of-the-impoverished-resentful has never been a long-term success at positive social transformation (read Raymond Aron), I have reached the id-emotional point where I really would be fine with it for dealing with the über-wealth-corporate classes (today’s plantation and slave-owners, and our successful war criminal politicians and policy-makers). I just don’t have faith in humanity as a whole, though I am thrilled and inspired by today’s young idealistic-activist social democrats, who I see as the only authentic patriots.

What makes me sad, thinking about this sort of thing, is that I just don’t see an “ultimate solution” that isn’t largely based on horrible violence. I can hope (and wish to hope) that a majority of people volunteer to join in the “big change” as a non-violent highly principled and forever-after cooperative mass socialist movement, but my thinking side says all the evidence, past and present, makes such a hope a delusion. We won’t do shit as regards to what’s right unless we nuke ourselves first, or some equivalent, and then the much fewer survivors collectively chose to make the shift to a moral and good society.

In the interests of full disclosure let me say about myself that the normal operations of the career-consuming juggernaut I was immersed in ensured that I would not enter the “9.9 percent” class (described by Matthew Stewart in his Atlantic magazine article). I’m below it, but higher than most other people on the downside. I prefer to live appreciative of life, consciousness and nature, than to be resentful of the petty small-mindedness of the pasty-faced “meritorious” mediocrities who “passed me by,” and the slimy toady “minority” tokens who ate the pasty’s shit to line their pitiful pockets and boost their pygmy egos by cracking the whips on their own kind. I don’t let any of them define me. You don’t get paid for declaring your independence, but the compensation is inestimable: self-respect.

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American Deathwish

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The American people are the captives of and resources for the drive by its aristocracy, of super-wealth and corporate power, to fulfill its supreme desire for ultimate temporal power: to be the gods of the Earth. This beyond trillion dollar, fossil-fueled, multi-megaton nuclear-armed power-trip can only achieve its grandest capitalistic orgasm by causing a catastrophic global climate change that will inevitably collapse civilization, and possibly cause the extinction of humanity. The obsession for and complicity with this drive is the American Deathwish.

Noam Chomsky described this unbelievable situation very clearly in recent comments about the Trump Administration, which were video-recorded. (https://youtu.be/uQvig0KvUaE). Here is my transcript of that video:

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From the point of view of US power, he’s harming it. But from the point of view of US elites, he’s giving them everything they want. I mean, in fact what’s going on in the United States, if you think about it, is a kind of two-level wrecking ball, if you want to call it that. Trump, his role – whether this is conscious or not, I don’t know – but you can see what’s happening. Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and that public attention are always concentrated on him. So every time you turn on a television set, it’s Trump; open the front page of the newspaper: Trump.

 

And in order to maintain – he’s a conman, basically a showman – and in order to maintain public attention you have to do something crazy, otherwise nobody is going to pay attention to you. If you do normal things you’ll be, you know, way back somewhere. So every day there’s one insane thing after another and then, you know, he makes some crazy lie: you know, he had the biggest crowd in history, or something, and the media looks at it and says “No, that wasn’t the biggest crowd.” But meanwhile he’s onto something else and then you go to that one.

 

And while this show is going on in public, in the background the wrecking crew is working. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, the guys in the Cabinet who write his executive orders, what they’re doing is systematically dismantling every aspect of government that works for the benefit of the population. This goes from workers’ rights, to pollution of the environment, rules for protecting consumers, I mean, anything you can think of is being dismantled. And all efforts are being devoted, kind of almost with fanaticism, to enrich and empower their actual constituency, which is super-wealth and corporate power, who are delighted. That’s why the stock market goes up. The stock market has not much to do with the economy, but keeps booming because that’s the rich people, and they love being granted.

 

Now, the worst policies that he’s carried out, the most dangerous, are barely discussed. Those are the two existential threats that we face. We have to face the fact that humans are now in a situation which has never arisen in human history. This generation has to decide whether organized human existence is going to continue – and it’s not a joke. It’s global warming and nuclear war, those are the major issues. They ought to be big headlines every day. And Trump’s actions are making both of them much more dangerous.

 

In the case of nuclear war, the policies are significantly increasing the threat of nuclear war. In the case of global warming, it’s almost indescribable. Not only has the U.S. pulled out – uniquely alone in the world – it’s pulled out from the international efforts to do at least something about it. But, beyond that it’s – the Trump Administration is going out of its way to increase the threat. Look, listen to his State of the Union Address, the only phrase about global climate was to talk about “our beautiful clean coal,” the worst polluter there is, which we have 1,000 years of it, you know. And look at the new budget that’s coming out, sharply cuts research and support for any kind of renewable energy; more subsidies and support for the most polluting, destructive things.

 

And, it’s not just Trump, it’s the entire Republican leadership. So, if you look at the 2016 election, at the primaries, every single candidate, not a single exception, either denied that global warming is taking place or said “Maybe it is but we shouldn’t do anything about it,” which I think is worse. They were called the moderates, like Kasich. So then, and if you look at Trump himself, or say Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, they know perfectly well that humans are causing global warming. In fact, Trump has golf courses all over; he hasn’t built a wall in Mexico yet but he’s building walls around his golf courses to make sure that the sea level doesn’t destroy them.

 

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil – since the 1970s scientists at ExxonMobil have been – we now know, they been made public, forced to be made public – they’ve been producing severe warnings to the leadership about the effect of the use of petroleum on destroying the environment. So they all know about it but they’re not doing anything about it, which is a level of criminality that is almost hard to find words to describe. I mean, here are, you know, educated well-off rich people, upper elite, who know that what they’re doing is destroying the prospects for human – organized human life – and do it anyway because they make more profits tomorrow. Can you think of an analog for that in human history? I really can’t.

 

I mean, I’ve said sometimes, what’s considered an utterly outrageous comment, that today’s Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Sounds outrageous, but think about it for a moment. I mean, Hitler didn’t intend to destroy the prospects for human existence. Attila the Hun didn’t intend that, nobody has. But that’s what these guys intend. And it’s not ignorant, uneducated, you know, religious fundamentalists, whatever you want to blame people. These are the most educated, best supported people in the world. And they’re doing this eyes opened, because you make more profit tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine anything like it.

 

And it’s not just my opinion. Take, say, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – the Doomsday Clock – famous Doomsday Clock that’s set up by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists since 1947. Each year they gather distinguished physicists, political analysts, others to look at the state of the world and make a judgment of how far we are from terminal disaster; midnight is terminal disaster. In 1947, the clock was at 7 minutes to midnight, that’s after the atom bomb, moved up and back since. Now it’s at the closest it’s been to midnight ever. They just moved it to 2 minutes to midnight, that’s where it was in 1953 when the U.S. and later the USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons which were, could totally destroy the world; so it went to 2 minutes. Now it’s back to 2 minutes, and that’s the Republican Party. That’s the ones who are running the country and dominating the world. There’s never been a situation like this.

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Thank you, Professor Chomsky.

So, why are the Trump Administration, the Republican Party, their sucker-fish flunkies clinging on in hopes of getting scraps, and the super-wealthy and corporate sponsors, patrons and owners of them all so driven to pursue this American Deathwish?

They are each compulsively working on immorally rational schemes for satisfying their obsessions to experience the euphoria of having supreme power and unrivaled wealth: to be able to lavish their senses with opulent materiality, exult their egos with an unlimited supply of utterly subservient slaves and with a complete absence of responsibility and legal liability, and to command the envy and fear of multitudes as the confirmation of their personal victories in gaining domination over the rest of humanity.

I can think of four factors that, either separately or in combination, could make up the psychology of the American Deathwish obsession: competitiveness, delusions of invulnerability, a sociopathic religious vision, and malevolent nihilism.

Competitiveness:

This is the fascination with racing: to “win the race” for the most goodies, for first place, for the most glory and attention, to get the “good stuff” before as many other people as possible, before the supplies run out, and to keep them for oneself ‘forever’ after, to be able to monopolize them and sell them at whatever price you want. This is the obsessive compulsion to kill the last rhinoceros to capture the last rhino horn, acing out everyone else in the entire world who wants it, so you can profit monumentally and also ever after be known as The One who got this unique prize, to forever exclusively possess the glory of being the ultimate winner of a race no one can ever run again, your victory ensuring the eternal loser status of every other would-be contender after you: you will have become a god.

Delusions of Invulnerability:

Imagining that power to resist fate, or bend it to your will, is granted by virtue of possessing great wealth. In human societies that deify money, individuals who possess and control great stores of it are effectively venerated as gods: superior beings who can “save” or “condemn” you “eternally,” so far as your lifetime is concerned. The higher such temporal monied godlets are elevated, the easier it is for them to imagine that they are shielded from life’s hazards, and so the easier it is for them to take more daring risks and more destructive self-aggrandizing actions, because the painful consequences of those risks and the destructiveness of those actions will fall entirely on an anonymous mass of powerless and impoverished people.

Sociopathic Religious Vision:

When people are their own gods, there is no consciousness of any connection to Nature and to the rest of humanity, whether as individuals or en masse. The way to deify yourself without being nagged or embarrassed by the realization of your all-consuming selfishness and egotism, and by the evident void of compassion and empathy that you have become, is to present yourself as a “saint,” a fully committed worshipper, devotee and follower of a “supreme being” in whose “true” religion you are a faithful member, ‘obeying’ His commands (which are always of benefit to you) and exerting yourself in community with your saintly cohorts – the elect – to enforce His will and prosecute His punishments on an erring, sinful, and darkly debased humanity. In this way you are preferentially deserving because of your intimate and favored connection with the Ultimate Authority. You are a minister in the court of the King of Kings. Hallelujah! Whatever the Supreme Being chooses to do, you are assured of getting the message first and of being most favored in the consequences of His exercise of supernatural power, even if cataclysmic.

Malevolent Nihilism:

Some members of the über elite will not be susceptible to religious delusions, but will be hard-as-nails materialists and even nihilists. One form of nihilism can be a complete indifference to everyone and everything; you just do whatever you want whenever you want without ever a concern for the consequences even as regards your own life and death. This variety of nihilism could almost be seen as similar to the happy-go-lucky attitude of an itinerant Zen Buddhist poet, or a ronin samurai, except that it lacks any compassion and empathy for others, any sense of responsibility, and any valuing of grace, refinement and elegance. A much more likely attitude for a nihilistic über elitist would be malevolence: the pleasure derived from the confirmation of their über elitist status, and the acclaim for their über elitist victories, that confirmation and acclaim being in the form of the evident massive sufferings of others, which are consequent to the achievement of those victories. “If Earth is doomed, and we’re all going to die, I might as well get everything I can out of it as I piss my defiance on all of existence.”

Are We Destined For Extinction by Loss of Soul?

People at any level of wealth, power and social status who lose their souls and are sucked into the cult of the American Deathwish (or its analogs elsewhere around the globe) are moral weaklings, even moral vacuums, invertebrates as regards character. They are zombies being led, as Gustave Flaubert put it, “by their materialism and their instinctive worship of power.”

Can the Captains Ahab of our ships-of-state, and the barons of our latifundias of capitalism, ever be morally reformed or rationally converted?, ever be dissuaded from harpooning the great White Whale of their feverish fantasies? Billions of us so dearly hope so, but I fear: no. Yet, our vision of a better and – so easily achievable – compassionate world demands that we continue to pursue all the conscionable avenues available to us to gain those moral reformations and rational conversions, because the only other alternative to end the mad pursuit of the American Deathwish is the equivalent of a French Revolution with 21st century weaponry, probably on a global scale. Such an explosion of bloody, terrifying, desperate and chaotic violence would in itself seem like the end of the world, and perhaps it will be, as the ripened fruit of the American Deathwish.

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Choosing Dignity During Climapocalypse

As industrialized civilization plows majestically forward towards its climapocalypse future created by the waste products trailed in the wake of its obsessive-compulsive fossil-fueled power-trip, guided by its delusional capitalist compass, an increasing number of establishment academics in the physical and social sciences are publicly announcing their utter despair about the likelihood for the continuation of the species homo sapiens beyond this century.

In an article earlier this year, Top Climate Scientist: Humans Will Go Extinct if We Don’t Fix Climate Change by 2023 (19 February 2018, https://gritpost.com/humans-extinct-climate-change/), Professor James Anderson opined that:

Climate change will wipe out all of humanity unless we stop using fossil fuels over the next five years. In a recent speech at the University of Chicago, James Anderson — a professor of atmospheric chemistry at Harvard University — warned that climate change is drastically pushing Earth back to the Eocene Epoch from 33 million BCE, when there was no ice on either pole. Anderson says current pollution levels have already catastrophically depleted atmospheric ozone levels, which absorb 98 percent of ultraviolet rays, to levels not seen in 12 million years. Anderson’s assessment of humanity’s timeline for action is likely accurate, given that his diagnosis and discovery of Antarctica’s ozone holes led to the Montreal Protocol of 1987. Anderson’s research was recognized by the United Nations in September of 1997. He subsequently received the United Nations Vienna Convention Award for Protection of the Ozone Layer in 2005, and has been recognized by numerous universities and academic bodies for his research.

In my previous article (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/) I quoted Mayer Hillman at length. Mayer Hillman is an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, whose fundamental conclusion is (see The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps.

So, what can we do individually, cooperatively and independently of the capitalist juggernaut to improve the prospects for our collective life and death on Planet Earth?

Idealistically, the best we might be able to do is to make our national and world societies fairer, more cooperative and more compassionate, so as to make the end-times (which I think are more likely to occur over a 200 year period) as “good” as we can manage; instead of uncooperatively and cruelly suffering the worst possible combinations of wars, refugee mass migrations-invasions, pandemics and natural catastrophes (e.g., violent weather, hurricanes, earthquakes) as the norm of humanity’s experience for decades to come.

Realistically, I don’t see humans having the capacity to cooperate globally to relinquish fossil fuels because combustion-based energy is the basis of economic power (capitalism) and military-political power (e.g., the US-DOD military-industrial complex, China, Russia, etc.).

I think it clear (based on acts versus talk during recent modern history) that the actual consensus of world opinion favors maintaining the hierarchies so individuals of all types can continue to contend to maintain their “rank” and try to advance it. This obsession ‘must’ continue forever (until our extinction), so there will never come a time when EVERYBODY agrees to transform world society (and by necessity their own little societies and even their own personalities and selves). Logically, I see no likelihood of a homo sapiens-wide rapid voluntary personal evolution and societal paradigm shift to world eco-socialism.

So, the best that the “willing volunteer eco-socialist segment of humanity” might be able to accomplish is to make humanity’s coming climapocalypse “less bad,” by helping to expand kinder social behaviors and societal policies (in the ideal extreme: ‘ending’ corruption, ‘ending’ authoritarianism, and normalizing democratic socialism), to reduce the extreme disparity between opulent selfishness and unconscionable suffering by the impoverished that exists now, and which disparity would otherwise expand.

There is so much greenhouse gas already in the climate-change pipeline that we are locked into continuing and accelerating climate change: a runaway train with no brakes. There is about a 30 year lag-time between new greenhouse gas/pollutants emission and their having GLOBAL climate-altering effects; today’s level of climate change is largely the effect of emissions prior to the 1990s!

Can that “willing volunteer eco-socialist segment of humanity” be vastly and quickly expanded into an overwhelming majority?

I always hope more people question and wonder, AND use critical thinking to study, read and learn more about important topics like climate change. This has motivated every word I’ve ever written on the subject. It just happens to be my observation that most people don’t do this. They get “bored” with factual, logical explanations of the science and the reality of climate change (and the reality of most everything else).

Technically speaking, there is much that could (should) be done to ameliorate the advancing stresses of climate change, but social-psychologically speaking it is the “mental inertia” of the masses and their “leaders” that is by far the most “hopeless” — and controlling — element in the entire human-geophysical complex called “climate change.” There is no physical law of nature that prohibits humanity from adapting, “evolving” to a new paradigm for world society in much greater balance with nature, but it is a simple fact they they haven’t, aren’t, and don’t seem inclined to do so in the future.

This is like a Greek Tragedy: the plot is clearly perceptible from the start but everyone continues implacably forward without alteration of their mindsets, so the tragic ending is programmed as the fate to be experienced. We are Titanics aimed straight at our icebergs with our eyes wide open, steaming at full speed ahead. A game theory (decision theory, Bayesian statistics example) abstraction of the whole mental-inertia dynamic described here is given by “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” (look it up).

However, it is also true that chaos erupts unexpectedly in our marvelously complex space-time-consciousness universe, and it is always (remotely) possible that we could experience future surprises in our benefit, which are logically unimaginable now.

In any case, it would be better to be guided by rational thought than by delusional hope for a quick-fix salvation from the workings of Nature, and to recognize that the best tools we have now for crafting a decent life-on-Earth and death-with-dignity for our species during the overwhelming climate change we are geophysically compelled to experience, are in the social dimensions rather than in any of our over-rated technological gimmickry.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to Climate Change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero-carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.

The problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

The “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.
I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.
I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizing were the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu, and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction
30 April 2017
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/

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Of related interest:

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci43.html

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The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing

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The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing

The Atlantic Overturning Current is part of a worldwide twisted loop of ocean water, called the thermohaline cycle (thermo = heat, haline = salt), which emerges very salty and warm out of the Gulf of Mexico, travels north as a surface current along the east coast of North America, veers east in the North Atlantic toward Europe, then loops back west to a region just south of Greenland where it cools and sinks to the ocean floor – because it has become denser than the surrounding and less salty North Atlantic waters (colder water is denser than warmer water, and saltier water is denser than fresher water of equal temperature). The dense highly salted descending water then runs as a cold deep ocean current south along the east coast of South America, and continues in a complicated path along the ocean floor into the Pacific Ocean, where it warms and eventually rises to become a surface current of more buoyant less salty water. This current distributes solar heat collected by ocean waters in tropical latitudes to higher latitudes (closer to the poles).

In 2004, Peter Schwartz and Douglas Randall described the thermohaline cycle this way: “In this thousand-year cycle, water from the surface in tropical areas becomes more saline through evaporation. When it circulates to the poles and becomes cold (“thermo”), the greater density still present from higher salt (“haline”) concentration causes the water to sink to great depths. As with most large-scale geological processes, the thermohaline cycle is not thoroughly understood. Wallace Broecker has been studying the cycle for decades and, according to the December 1996 issue of Discover magazine, he has shown that the thermohaline cycle has not always been in operation, and that it has a strong effect on global climate.”

In 2003-2004, the US Department of Defense commissioned a secret study of what might be the worst possible effects of Global Warming triggering an “abrupt climate change” in the near future, in order to estimate the potential liabilities that military planning would have to consider (to maintain US security, and global power). This study was conducted during the climate-change-denying George W. Bush Administration. When the existence of the resulting report, produced by independent researchers Peter Schwartz and Douglas Randall, became publicly known there was such a public outcry (bad PR for the DOD) that the report was declassified and made publicly available.

The Schwartz-Randall report pointed to the abrupt onset of a significantly colder, dryer climate in the Northern Hemisphere as the most perilous possible consequence of Global Warming up to about 2010, because such warming (the trapping of incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation from the land and oceans, by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) might cause the thermohaline cycle to stop. How? Global Warming causes glaciers and ice caps to melt, and such fresh (unsalted) meltwater from Greenland floods into the North Atlantic where the thermohaline current dives to the ocean floor. This fresh surface water dilutes the high salinity of the presently descending thermohaline current, making its waters less dense (less heavy) and so less likely to sink. Sufficient freshening of the thermohaline current would cause it to stop entirely, shutting off this global conveyor belt of climate-regulating oceanic solar heat.

Though abrupt climate change is a less likely and worst case scenario as compared to gradual climate change, Schwartz and Randall concluded that such an occurrence would “challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.” The climatic cooling that might occur in the Northern Hemisphere as a result of a collapse of the thermohaline cycle could be like the century-long period 8,200 years ago with temperature 5 °F (2.8 °C) colder, or the 13 century-long period 12,700 years ago with temperature 27 °F (15 °C) colder. The shift to colder climate could occur as rapidly as 5 °F (2.8 °C) of cooling per decade. So, the world could plunge into a new Ice Age within a period of twenty years. In their 2004 report, Schwartz and Randall showed data on the salinity of the North Atlantic since 1960; the trend was a steady freshening. (I wrote about the above in an article for the Internet, in July 2004).

A 2015 scientific publication of new observations on the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (the Atlantic part of our thermohaline cycle) concluded that “the melting Greenland ice sheet is likely disturbing the circulation.” The Phys.org news article (https://phys.org/news/2015-03-atlantic-ocean-overturning-today.html) about this study [Rahmstorf, S., Box, J., Feulner, G., Mann, M., Robinson, A., Rutherford, S., Schaffernicht, E. (2015): “Evidence for an exceptional 20th-Century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning.” Nature Climate Change (the journal)] concluded:

“The scientists certainly do not expect a new ice age, thus the imagery of the ten-year-old Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is far from reality. However, it is well established that a large, even gradual change in Atlantic ocean circulation could have major negative effects. ‘If the slowdown of the Atlantic overturning continues, the impacts might be substantial,’ says Rahmstorf. ‘Disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and the associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas. A slowdown also adds to the regional sea-level rise affecting cities like New York and Boston. Finally, temperature changes in that region can also influence weather systems on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America as well as Europe.’ If the circulation weakens too much it can even break down completely – the Atlantic overturning has for long been considered a possible tipping element in the Earth System. This would mean a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change.”

On April 11, 2018, an article titled “Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning” appeared at Phys.org (https://phys.org/news/2018-04-stronger-evidence-weaker-atlantic-overturning.html). This article notes:

“The Atlantic overturning—one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northward and cold water southward—is weaker today than any time before in more than 1000 years. Sea surface temperature data analysis provides new evidence that this major ocean circulation has slowed down by roughly 15 percent since the middle of the 20th century, according to a study published in the highly renowned journal Nature by an international team of scientists. Human-made climate change is a prime suspect for these worrying observations. There have been long debates whether the Atlantic overturning could collapse, being a tipping element in the Earth system. The present study does not consider the future fate of this circulation, but rather analyses how it has changed over the past hundred years. Nevertheless, Robinson cautions: ‘If we do not rapidly stop global warming, we must expect a further long-term slowdown of the Atlantic overturning. We are only beginning to understand the consequences of this unprecedented process—but they might be disruptive.’ Several studies have shown, for example, that a slowdown of the Atlantic overturning exacerbates sea-level rise on the US coast for cities like New York and Boston. Others show that the associated change in Atlantic sea surface temperatures affects weather patterns over Europe, such as the track of storms coming off the Atlantic. Specifically, the European heat wave of summer 2015 has been linked to the record cold in the northern Atlantic [caused by the inflow of cold Greenland meltwater] in that year—this seemingly paradoxical effect occurs because a cold northern Atlantic promotes an air pressure pattern that funnels warm air from the south into Europe.”

While the scientists are not being alarmist Jeremiahs and warning of an imminent climapocalypse as depicted in the Hollywood movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” they nevertheless make it clear that if this Global Warming caused (fossil-fuel-burning human caused) slowing of the thermohaline cycle continues to the point of a dead stop, then this would likely be a tipping point of the entire Earth System of climate leading to “a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change” — not for the better.

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Thirsty Invaders, Chasing Heat
19 July 2004
Manuel García, Jr.
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci18.html

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Now appearing at Counterpunch:

An Oceanic Problem: the Atlantic Overturning Current is Slowing
13 April 2017
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/13/an-oceanic-problem-the-atlantic-overturning-current-is-slowing/

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Schwartz-Randall report
http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/SchwartzRandall2004.pdf

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The Atlantic Overturning Current Is Slowing
20 April 2018
https://dissidentvoice.org/2018/04/the-atlantic-overturning-current-is-slowing/

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The Anthropocene’s Birthday

The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the birthyear of human-accelerated climate change.

Scientists have found a major spike in the amount of Carbon-14 within the tree rings of “The Loneliest Tree In The World,” which ring corresponds to October-December 1965.

This tree is a Sitka Spruce, a species from the American Northwest (and into Canada) that was planted on Campbell Island in 1901 (or 1905), which island is in the Southern Ocean about 400 miles south of the southern tip of New Zealand.

There are no other trees on Campbell Island, just low scrubs. Since the next landmass south of Campbell Island is Antarctica, this tree is the furthest one south on Earth (so far as I can tell). The next closest tree is north about 170 miles, on another small island south of New Zealand.

The significance of this finding is that geologists now know that the start of the Anthropocene – which is the geological Epoch (after the Holocene Epoch) when GLOBAL (not just local) climate is clearly being influenced by human activity and at an accelerating rate – began in 1965. The Holocene Epoch occurred from -11,700 to 1965.

The Carbon-14 marker is from the radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear bomb testing, which grew from 1945 and peaked in 1962, after which it stopped in 1963 as a result of the Test Ban treaty of that year (except for a few isolated atmospheric tests since).

The accumulated radioactive fallout from the massive testing of the 1950s and early 1960s (with a huge amount in 1962) had finally spread out uniformly through the global atmosphere, and the Carbon-14 from that fallout was being infused into trees globally through the process of photosynthesis.

So, this spike in tree-ring Carbon-14 in 1965 is a GLOBAL marker of human activity on global climate, and thus marks the ‘birthday’ of human-induced/accelerated Climate Change.

Coring “the loneliest tree in the world”
https://youtu.be/954fZW9F3tQ

The geophysical transition of 1965, noted above, was imperceptible to the human senses, but it is a very significant event/transition in the history of Planet Earth.

You should easily be able to find internet sources giving all the scientific details including charts/graphs of the actual Carbon-14 signature (of the subject tree) over time, which clearly displays the spike during 1965. This same spike was found in trees sampled in the Northern Hemisphere as well, and since there was the same marker on trees globally – for the first time – it was clear the spike indicated a uniformly global effect. And that effect was caused by humans. Hence, the birth of the Anthropocene.

Geologists are now updating their table of geological supereon-eon-era-period-epoch-age, and all textbooks will have to be updated. The last Epoch (the Holocene) of the Quaternary Period extended from 11,700 years ago, when the last glacial retreat was clearly accelerating and the Ice Ages were over, and 1965 when humanity now had leverage on the global climate: the Anthropocene.

When will the next Epoch begin, and how will it be determined (and will there be any ‘who’ to do so)?

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The part of this posting down to and including the weblink to the tree coring video were published online at Counterpunch, see below.

The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
22 February 2018
by Manuel García, Jr.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/02/22/the-anthropocenes-birthday-or-the-birth-year-of-human-accelerated-climate-change/

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The Obvious Paradigm

Solar Powered Desalinator, homemade

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The Obvious Paradigm

The American consensus: a demise under capitalism is preferable to a continuation under socialism.

Fracking has made coal mining unnecessary. The upkeep of nuclear wastes makes nuclear power pointless. GPS guided missile technology makes nuclear weapons obsolete. The abundance of freely available solar energy and the great expanse of publicly held sunny lands makes privately metered and polluting fossil-fuel energy unnecessary, both for the power and as an expense. Fossil fuel energy is only necessary for the maintenance of militarism, and only for those who consider militarism necessary. Global warming is Earth’s fever from its infection with fossil-fueled capitalism. Solar-powered socialism is the obvious paradigm for a just and prosperous humanity in balance with Nature.

9 January 2018

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