Life in the Ashes of Lotusland Dreams

The Kincade Wildfire, currently burning in Sonoma County, California erupted at 9:24 PM on October 23 during an extreme wind event, east of Geyserville (77 miles or 124 km north of San Francisco). An area of 400 acres (2 square kilometers, 2 km^2) burned that evening. By October 30 the fire had burned an area of 76,825 acres (311 km^2), and was only 30% contained. The daily progress of the Kincade Fire is charted in the following figure.

“The cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed by a formal investigation, but a compulsory report shows that the fire started when a 230,000 volt transmission line failed near the point of origin, just before power was about to be shut off in the area” [1] as a precaution against anticipated high winds causing electrical lines and tree branches swinging into each other and sparking a wildfire in the parched hilly landscape.

During October 23 and 24, PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Company] carried out a massive power shut-off to nearly 940,000 customers in Northern California, this included a swathe of territory at the higher elevations of the Berkeley Hills (the low mountains behind the cities on the east side of San Francisco Bay). My home, in Oakland, was in this blackout. The winds died down on October 25, and my power was restored for a day; but this was not so in the blacked-out areas of Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties (and possibly also Marin County, and numerous counties further north). Another extreme wind event was anticipated for October 26 and 27, so PG&E began shutting off power in an attempt to prevent additional fires, leaving an estimated three million people (2.5 to 2.8 million) without power.

A 102 mph (164 kph) wind gust was recorded at Pine Flat at 3,300 feet (1000 meters) elevation, at 8 AM on October 27. A National Weather Service forecaster noted the wind speed on Twitter and shared that sustained winds had also “officially broke Hurricane Force (78 mph, or 126 kph).” [2] From the chart above, you can see how the area covered by the Kincade Fire expanded during these gusty conditions, between October 26 and October 28.

There were and are many severe wildfires raging in California north and south during this time (the Getty Fire in Los Angeles being one); the Kincade Fire is merely the largest current wildfire in the state. The Kincade Fire threatened over 90,000 structures (by October 30, 189 have been destroyed) and has caused widespread evacuations throughout Sonoma County, including the communities of Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Windsor. The majority of Sonoma County and parts of Lake County are under evacuation warnings.

There are 4,900 firefighters trying to contain and extinguish the Kincade Fire alone. Some of these firefighters are prisoners. “These are the people we write off, don’t allow to vote, don’t allow to become firemen once released” [3]; “people who are paid unconscionably low wages” for helping to keep so many of us safe. [4]

By October 28, power had been restored in my section of Oakland; it still remains off in most of the blacked-out territory in the northern counties (October 30), but I believe it is now slowly being restored in areas released from evacuation warnings.

Cal Fire (the state agency dealing with wildfires) put out 300 fires between the 28th and 29th, and more than 650 fires since the 27th. Smoke will linger in the San Francisco Bay Area atmosphere for days, no rain is forecast and temperatures are predicted to drop to near freezing in some areas; and the winds are expected to die down after October 30. The Kincade Fire is expected to be 100% contained by November 7, 2019. Most Sonoma County school districts will remain closed through November 1, and many schools in Marin County were closed as of the 30th. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs in California demanded that Governor Gavin Newsom find a way to restore power to the numerous VA clinics that do not have backup power equipment. [5]

A Sonoma County man who used an oxygen ventilator to assist his breathing was reported to have died shortly after the electric power was cut to his home. [6] The power cuts and evacuations were very hard on people who are frail, infirmed or who require powered medical devices to assist and sustain them. The authorities had established evacuation centers to include the medically needy, but it seems not all of them made it to safety.

PG&E reported that 1.2 million people, in 28 California counties, have been without power since October 26. The process of restoring power can take 48 hours, and PG&E expressed the hope of beginning that process early on the 30th. [5]

There have been many calls now — as newspaper editorials, letters-to-the-editor, comments on social media, angry voices in the streets, and conversations through sporadic telephone connections between cold blacked-out homes — for the State of California to take over PG&E and run it as a publicly owned electric and gas utility.

Besides losing lights, reliable refrigeration (for food and medicine storage), the use of: electrically powered medical devices, electric cooking devices, wall-plugged electronics, recharging capability for battery-powered electronics and cellular telephones; many homes in more rural areas lost water because their local water company (or their own well) relies entirely on PG&E electricity to run the water pumps. It is no fun to not be able to flush in a blacked-out house for a week, unless you can find a way to haul in water. Running a gasoline-powered generator helps (if you have one, along with safe heavy-duty extension cords to run into the house), but this must be carefully done so as to avoid introducing carbon-monoxide fumes into the home (you’re stuck with the motor noise), and not cause a fire during your handling of the gasoline (which you must repeatedly travel to purchase) when replenishing the tank of the generator unit.

The losses of lives, property and homes to fire were the greatest tragedies that people suffered, and the large-scale evacuations and blacked-out sheltering-in-place were the most widespread hardships. But economic damage spread further in the form of lost wages by many lower-income workers in small businesses that were closed due to lack of power, and for restaurants the added impact of foodstuffs lost to spoilage with the loss of refrigeration. Large food supermarkets near me brought in self-contained refrigeration tractor-trailers to store perishable foods, or motor-generators to power the refrigerators in the stores. Either way, gasoline or diesel fuel was being burned (and exhaust gases emitted) locally to replace the missing PG&E electricity needed for refrigeration.

Nearby restaurants that were not in black-out zones were crowded through the week with us hungry refugees from the black-out; and our rate of expenditure for eating necessarily increased. Many of us refugees would also seek out electrical outlets at these restaurants and coffee houses, to recharge our cell phones and portable computers. I like to read books at night, and this became impossible without the use of some battery-powered light (and battery depletion would be a problem), or, more risky, with the use of candles.

The anxiety about lack of electrical power, and the uncertainty about when it would be restored was for so many otherwise prosperous and bountifully endowed Californians the visceral experience of a very noticeable decay of “the American way of life.” This was a sensible punch-in-the-gut by climate change (global warming, drought, wildfire) and not just climate change as an insubstantial verbal construct, an abstraction, a slogan. This was also an unpleasant visceral hint of what a descent into Third World living might be like, for a significant population of Americans (in California) who would otherwise unthinkingly continue with perhaps the most privileged lifestyles experienced by any mass population on Earth.

Some appreciation of the scope of the Kincade Fire can be gained by viewing the photo taken of it from by space by US astronaut Andrew Morgan. [7]

The Kincade Fire is the plume on the right, wafting toward the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco Bay occupies the left half of the image just below the coastline. The view from bottom to top is from east to west.

Another view of the Kincade Fire burn area is given by a 6 minute video recorded during a fly-over on October 29 by the Henry 1 helicopter of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. It looks like a film clip of a US chopper flying over the burnt and blasted jungle hills of Vietnam 50 years ago (with a touch more suburban development) but without the sight and sound of explosions. (https://www.facebook.com/sonoma.sheriff/videos/1163763990678292/) [8]

“The wildfire season in the American West is now two and half months longer than 40 years ago. Wildfires are now four times more common and burn six times as much forest area. Some of today’s fires are so big and hot they burn the soil itself, and when that happens it can take up to a thousand years for the trees to grow back. By 2050 wildfires in the United States will be twice as destructive as they are now and each year will burn 20 million acres. An estimated 339,000 people die each year from smoke from wildfires. By 2050 we are expected to lose half of all the forests in the American West.” [9]

It seems that by November 1 the Kincade Fire and other smaller blazes in Northern California will be nearing full containment and total extinction, most evacuees will have returned to their homes — if they still have them — and those homes will regain electrical power, and the many workers temporarily put out of their wage-earning jobs because of the black-outs will once again be employed. But it could all happen again with the onset of another period of extreme wind during this dry season (please rain soon! but then we will have flooding and landslides because of the loss of soil-holding vegetation). And what of the dry seasons in the years to come?

Undoubtedly there will be swift recriminations, lawsuits, fights with insurance companies (and rate increases), political posturing and even perhaps useful actions in the California legislature and by the Governor’s office. With luck the political system of the State of California will swiftly develop new plans that are immediately put into action to devise strategies and infrastructure to better prevent the outbreak of such rapidly expanding wildfires, and reduce (ideally eliminate) the necessity of having widespread electrical power shut-offs during the highly windy days of our (global warming lengthening) fire season.

For an increasing number of Californians, the 20th century illusions about “the American way of life” have been lost in the dark of de-electrified homes with shut-off water, and gone up in the smoke of raging wildfires that extend to the horizons.

Notes

[1] Kincade Fire (30 October 2019)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kincade_Fire

[2] SFGATE (a Facebook web-page of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper)

[3] David Menschel, @davidminpdx

[4] Bay Area For Bernie (Facebook group)

[5] The San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, October 30, 2019

[6] Santa Rosa Press Democrat, October 24-27, 2019

[7] Kincade Fire from space, photo by Andrew Morgan
https://sfist.com/2019/10/30/heres-what-the-kincade-fire-looks-like-from-space/

[8] Kincade Fire, Henry 1 Fly Over (10/29 1:00pm)
Sonoma Sheriff
https://www.facebook.com/sonoma.sheriff/videos/1163763990678292/

[9] Climate Facts: Wildfire Season
11 October 2017
https://www.facebook.com/senatorsanders/videos/1511664332253953/

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Kincade Fire, FINAL, 6 November 2019, 7:00 PM
https://www.fire.ca.gov/media/10083/kincade-incident-update-11062019-pm.pdf

Sonoma County
active 14 days:
start -> 23 October 2019, 9:27 PM
cause: under investigation
77,758 Acres, vegetation
100% contained
374 structures destroyed
60 structures damaged
4 injuries (first responders only)

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Climate Crisis, Elite Panic, and Mass Exclusion

John Davis’s interesting article in Counterpunch,

Are We Moderns Or Terrestrials?
7 February 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/07/are-we-moderns-or-terrestrials/

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 Judt, Edward Snowden, And “The Excluded”
1 July 2013
http://swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

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.

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Guesstimating Our Own Götterdämmerung

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Guesstimating Our Own Götterdämmerung

We humans are our own Gods, and advancing climate change is the prelude to our own Götterdämmerung. Here then is my speculation (wild ass guess) of a schedule for the possible catastrophic events leading to human (and other) extinction by the year listed, or of those events greatly accelerating its arrival after the years listed.

2100:
A nuclear war with Russia within the next 100 years, if such were to occur, could cause our (and others) extinction.

2200:
With no prior nuclear war having occurred and no new efforts to curtail CO2 emissions since 2015, the prominent “extinction force” would be runaway global-warming/climate-change leading to a “Hothouse Earth” without glaciers and permanent ice caps:

– which in turn would lead to vast continuous wildfires worldwide;

– shrinking agriculture (from droughts and fires);

– shrinking fishing/aquaculture (from ocean warming, acidification and plastic pollution);

– frequent category 5 hurricanes and typhoons in the tropics
— causing extreme wind and mudslide damage;

– massive eco-collapse refugee streams from tropical latitudes to the north and south;

– continuing anti-immigrant wars by First World Nations against 2nd and 3rd World populations
— (as during the Roman Empire against German tribes),
— on land (e.g., Africa, Mexico), like Israeli military strikes against Gaza;
— on sea (e.g., Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea), the outright sinking of refugee ships;

– the expansion to high latitudes of old and new disease pathogens and parasites,

– American oil war aggression (Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) to secure hydrocarbon fuel for its vastly expanded military at war continuously worldwide (to repel immigrants/invaders, and get the oil ahead of its other First World rivals doing the same);

– massive die-offs of 3rd World populations, because of inhabitability, starvation, disease and war;

– a “Fortress America,” “Fortress Europe,” etc. mentality, leading to abandoned 3rd World “outlands.”

There would still be humans left, but in a situation of “negative” feedback [where I mean “positive feedback” enhancing effects of negative desirability] as regards increasingly chaotic and deteriorating organized human life/society.

A nuclear war occurring late within this period would likely ensure complete extinction.

2300:
Humans surviving after 2300 would probably be “survivors” of the above, and looking forward to a steady slide into “caveman existence,” which is to say living off-the-land and entirely at the whim of environmental conditions, resource availability and climatic forces.

Also, the survivalist individuals in caveman existence would likely have to contend with the universal hostility from other members of their own species.

One possible climatic force could be a new Ice Age initiated by the stopping of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current, which would be caused by the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, in turn further chilling and freshening – making less salty – the North Atlantic, which effect would stop the AMOC. (I’ve described this physics elsewhere.)

The stopping of the AMOC prior to 2300 would accelerate the schedule of catastrophes and the degradation of habitability for humans (and others).

Finally
Please note that humanity is not compelled to follow this schedule. It merely represents my estimate of the logical consequences of the collective attitudes we now hold, and the political, economic, militaristic, sociological, consumption and environmental choices we have made as of today.

As the Old Gypsy Fortune Teller said: “The stars foretell, they do not compel.”

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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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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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Kill for Peace, Bomb for Justice, Behead for Nookie

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Kill for Peace, Bomb for Justice, Behead for Nookie

Whenever you want to do something cruel, blame the necessity of it on God: Like the Allah-blamed wannabe caliphate of female sex slavery between Syria and Iraq, even between Arabia and Afghanistan; and the blue-eyed Christ-blamed same in Bible-thumping America.

Right now there is a contest between superpowers, mini-superpowers, micro-superpowers, and proxy wannabe powers to see who can kill the most Muslim civilians from Yemen through Palestine, Syria through Afghanistan, and even out to Burma, but mostly in the Levant.

Just yesterday (14 April 2018) Trump’s America threw in over $200M of ante-in poker chips (i.e., 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles bombing in) to the Syria gaming table of the Levant poker game, in league with returning players England and France, and all three are now mixing it up with new player China and always-in players: Israel, Syria, Russia, Iran, Turkey, shadow-player Arabia, and the usual regional proxy penny-ante bit players.

America must bomb the Syrian military because it kills masses of trapped innocent unarmed civilians, with poison gas and aerial bombs, and we want it to stop. America must not bomb the Israeli military because it kills masses of trapped innocent unarmed civilians, with hails of bullets and aerial bombs, and “we” don’t want it to stop. Nuance is important here, for statesmen-like conscience-free immorality.

Imagine if the Syrian and Israeli ghetto-blasting militaries could 69 their injustices for justice: The Syrian military poison-gas missile-bombing the Israeli military to distract it from killing Palestinian civilians, and the Israeli military retaliating by jet fighter airplane fire-bombing the Syrian military to stop it from killing Syrian civilians, who along with the Palestinians during the welcomed confusion would break out of their respective corralled ghettos to stampede free across the land from the Jordan and Euphrates to the sea, inundating the rabid remnants of the Syrian, Israeli, and Levant-stationed Iranian, Russian, etc., militaries biting each other’s asses in a range war of attrition, as a tsunami of popular revolution sweeping the land clean of authoritarian fundamentalism and imperial capitalism’s Sodom and Gomorrah colonies and Fort Apache military bases.

Such a World War 2-and-Three-Quarters could be a good reality if it didn’t result in a power vacuum that sucked back in new hordes of political opportunists crazed to kill for piece, bomb for “justice” and behead for nookie. To prevent that, we would need a whole series of simultaneous tsunami wave-trains of popular socialist revolution sweeping lands clean worldwide, to bust us all free of capitalism’s ghettos and eradicate the neo-feudalism of stifling authoritarian fundamentalism. That would be World War 3, a long shot last hope for popular liberation that would be increasingly beautiful as it was decreasingly bloody. Nuance is unnecessary for popularly obvious conscience-rooted compassionate morality.

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Kill For Peace, Bomb For Justice, Behead For Nookie
16 April 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/16/kill-for-peace-bomb-for-justice-behead-for-nookie/

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Zionism’s Palestinian Problem, And Ours

The “Palestinian Problem” for Israeli Zionists and their codependents (e.g., the AIPAC-bought U.S. two party system) is: how do we get rid of the Palestinians as fast as possible – to get all the Levant real estate we want, free and clear – while not going too fast so as to stir up the concerted ire and actual physical opposition of the combined rest of the world?

The consensus now seems to be for the equivalent of a Wounded Knee (1890, South Dakota) every few months, punctuating the continuous intentional erosion of living conditions in the “reservations,” like Gaza, by the controlling “whites.” But, that limit is always being tested with an eye toward accelerating the removal.

The attitudes of Western liberals (and conservatives, but they’re remorseless) towards the Palestinians is equivalent to that of the 19th century American public towards the American Indians: acceptance of their inevitable (but not to be delayed) disappearance for the sake of “progress,” occasionally garnished with a sense of pity for “the primitives” by the cultured and comfortable sentimentalists of the privileged bubbles.

Given the self-serving attachment of the American ruling class to Zionist manifest destiny in the Levant, and the irrational popularity for that support by the American public (especially its lunatic religious segment), it is likely that a sacrifice of war dead and lost potential national social development, equivalent to that made between 1962 and 1975 to prop up the anticommunist regimes of South Vietnam, would be tolerated by the American public for the sake of maintaining the Israeli state in its present apartheid form.

The best – and infinitesimally slim – hope for the liberation of Palestine would be a revolutionary change of the US government to a socialist model, with the consequent removal of Israeli lobbying influence, correctly identified as “foreign interference.”

For that to happen we would first have to embrace the truth that ethnic cleansing and slavery form the historical foundation of American capitalism. America’s continuing embrace of Zionist manifest destiny is a projection of our own denial of our history by cloaking it in romanticized myths about ourselves as heroic 7th and 9th Cavalries riding out of Fort Apache to save wagon trains of virtuous settlers penetrating wild lands whose primitives are hostile to our advance of “progress.”

Given the realities of power in today’s world, and the reality of individual human weakness against it (and generally), what can insignificant people like us, the readers and writers of obscure blogs like this, do to change tragic situations like the relentless suppression of organized Palestinian life, by superpower design?

Political and journalistic activists will always find it easy to answer that question by telling you to devote yourself to tasks, groups and movements they think important, because it is always easy to tell other people how they should spend their money and time, and live their lives, in order to fulfill your own preferences.

I would suggest that the best first answer we each can make for ourselves is to just stop believing, or acquiescing to, the propaganda – the excuses – that cloak the continuation of these war crimes, and to not be reticent about expressing that unbelief. Attitude can be contagious, the disempowerment of the fabled Naked Emperor began with the disbelief of a child, after all.

Beyond that, the second and subsequent answers depend on a myriad of personal factors and individual circumstances; I certainly can’t make generalizations about others. But, I am convinced that the first step for everybody is a clear-eyed embrace of the truth, however unpleasant that truth and unsociable its expression.

I keep thinking of Albert Camus’s epigram: “I rebel, therefore we exist.”

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Israel Kills Palestinians, and Western Liberals Shrug. Their Humanitarianism Is a Sham.
2 April 2018
Mehdi Hasan
https://theintercept.com/2018/04/02/israel-killing-palestine-civilian-liberal-humanitarian/

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Now (9 April 2018) published at Counterpunch:

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/09/zionisms-palestinian-problem-and-ours/

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