COVID-19 vs. WWII

Drawing by Babak Kateb, MD

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COVID-19 vs. WWII

The Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was a murderous crime committed against the American people. [1] The perpetrators of that crime should be prosecuted for it.

Let us compare the sacrifices in lives paid by the American people during WWII, and during YEAR ONE of COVID-19.

WWII (for the U.S.A.): 7 December 1941 to 15 August 1945: 1347 days, (3 years, 8 months, 1 week, 1 day).

YEAR ONE of COVID-19 (for the U.S.A.): 20 January 2020 to 20 January 2021: 366 days, (1 leap year).

The United States lost 0.308% of its 1940 population, as fatalities during WWII: 405,000 fatalities out of 131,669,275 people.

The U.S. population has grown by a factor of 2.513x, from 1940 to early January 2021: 131,669,275 in 1940, to 330,831,759 on 18 January 2021.

The fraction 0.308% of the current population corresponds to 1,018,962 people. That number of people is 2.516x the number of WWII American dead.

So, when the number of COVID-19 American dead reaches 405,000 (in about 1.6 days from January 18, as there are currently 398,000 dead, and over 4,400 deaths/day), the country will have lost 0.1224% of its population to the pandemic.

ALL THIS LOSS has occurred since 20 January 2020, the third anniversary of the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States (366 days from 20 January 2020 to 20 January 2021), for:

— a LINEAR AVERAGED ABSOLUTE loss rate of 1,106.6 deaths/day (405,000 dead/366 days),

— which rate is 3.68x HIGHER than the LINEAR AVERAGED ABSOLUTE loss rate during WWII, of 300.7 deaths/day (405,000 dead/1347 days).

The LINEAR AVERAGED RELATIVE (to the population) loss rate per day was 2.229×10^-4 PERCENT during the 1347 days of WWII.

The LINEAR AVERAGED RELATIVE (to the population) loss rate per day was 3.344×10^-4 PERCENT during the 366 days of the year between 20 January 2020 and 20 January 2021.

The linear averaged relative (to the population) loss rate per day (PERCENTS) was 1.5x HIGHER during YEAR ONE of COVID-19 than during WWII.

Between the very end of 1941 and the late summer of 1945, the United States sacrificed 1 out of every 324 of its 1940 population, to win WWII militarily.

During YEAR ONE of COVID-19, the United States will have lost 1 out of every 817 of its 2020 population to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic — despite the intelligent, frantic, selfless and heroic efforts of many thousands of health care professionals and workers — because of the intentionally malevolent, criminally exploited, and psychotically negligent management of every aspect of the Federal response to the pandemic. This is nothing less than a war crime by the Trump Administration against the American people.

That war during 2020 was more than just the traditional and perennial American civil war of capital against labor and democracy; it was a hate-crime war by rabid bigotry against humanity itself, and against objective truth and reality.

The perpetrators of this crime — who besides government officials includes their political, and financial, and vociferous societal enablers — should be prosecuted by a National Tribunal. Remember that the foremost responsibility of any U.S. government administration and congress and judiciary is to protect the American people and defend the Constitution.

The Trump Administration’s management of the national COVID-19 response was an intentional violation of that obligation, and thus a direct assault on the well-being of the American population, and their socio-political collectivity (“the country”).

The perpetrators’s post-facto excuses: of being ignorant (“how could we possibly know it would be this bad?”); of acting legally (“we were just following orders”); and their blatant appeals to fantasy for a dismissal of any concern (“it’s not that bad”, “few get it”, “so few die from it”, “we did a great job getting rid of it”); are as entirely worthless today as they were before the Nürnberg Tribunals over 70 years ago.

To argue that a tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of the U.S. COVID-19 catastrophe is impractical and politically impossible in no way invalidates the fact that it would be an action of justice to do so. How can any government that fails to offer its people justice rightly expect to retain their allegiance?

[1] ‘An unmitigated disaster’: America’s year of Covid
18 January 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/18/america-year-of-covid-coronavirus-deaths-cases

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Salvation

Painting of the Roiling Ocean, by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

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It is sad indeed to see an oppressed people destroying itself through factionalism and civil war, while a far more powerful enemy squeezes them out of their land and lives. I have read of such in Thucydides, but it is too painful to watch in my own time. And, such a sad spectacle turns foreign eyes away, withdrawing their compassion and respect, and leaving “the lost” to their fate of ultimate disappearance. You and I, Nadia Issam Harhash, know that a universal solidarity among humans is the only salvation for all of us, but you and I also know the unfortunate truth that too many of those humans will resist contributing to that salvation to the bitter end: a death cult. What is left to people like you and I is to speak out against the death cult (and hope we are not silenced), and then also retreat into care of our families and immersion in being creative artists, so as to keep our sanity while we live. As an engineer, I always look for solutions to problems, but here as in so many other times and places the “solution” is purely one of choice: unrestrained compassion, respect and solidarity for and with the other members of the homo sapiens species. To me, all politics and all religions are madness, and should disappear. Heraclitus (~500BC) said “Bigotry is the disease of the religious,” and politics is so obviously the mechanisms of organized greed. Salvation will NOT come down from some Sky God in Heaven, nor from Hell out of the barrels of guns; salvation can only come from human hearts and souls who have come to realize that they each are merely momentary wave crests in a sea of humanity flowing within an ocean of Life. Peace.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

Yesterday, a friend wrote me: “I really don’t know how we are going to come out of this. For a while I was okay. Over the last week I have grown more desperate with each day as the news develops.” I am trying to answer him here.

Many of my social media friends have expressed their anger, outrage, sadness and disgust at the lynching of George Floyd by a white supremacist cop in Minneapolis on May 25th (8 days ago as I write this). That lynching was carried out by an arresting cop kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the right side of George Floyd’s neck while the handcuffed Floyd was lying face down on a city street. Floyd kept pleading for relief because he could not breathe, but the killer cop continued his kneeling choke-hold for 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become unresponsive. Three other cops participated in the lynching: one holding Floyd’s back, another holding his legs, and the third looking on and preventing intervention by a person who stood nearby, watching in horror. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_George_Floyd)

The country has blown up, large protests and riots now fill the streets of many cities and towns in America, and have for the last week. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the expressions of that truth in 1965 (Watts, Los Angeles CA) and 1967 (Newark NJ, Detroit MI, and 157 other places). That truth again erupted into view in over 100 cities in the United States after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, with “the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War,” before it finally flamed out on 27 May 1968. And that truth was again acted out during 6 days of riots (29 April to 4 May) in Los Angeles CA in 1992, after the four cops who had savagely beat Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of any crime.

“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Dr. Cornell West said on 29 May, as he preached on CNN television with crystal clarity on the massive and systemic failure of America — as a society, an economy and a tangle of governments — to protect and defend all of its people. Listen to Cornell West for yourself to unflinchingly face the reality of America (https://youtu.be/cs3jdyfx_fo), a reality that had been made plain by Malcolm X by 21 February 1965, when he was assassinated.

People are in the streets because the George Floyd murder was the last straw on their unbearably strained patience in waiting for justice in America. They blew up because they saw that justice in America will never arrive. Their many pent-up disappointments and frustrations came to a head on seeing the video of the George Floyd murder. Those disappointments and frustrations include experiences of victimization — many fatal — by racist policing, as well as economic victimization by a structurally racist and fundamentally rigged economy.

So, the victim populations of the race war against Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and others disfavored by white supremacists; and the class war by the rich and powerful against: wage slaves, the unemployed, youth without prospects, and the 99% of Americans who are outsiders from the con games and self-aggrandizing capers of the economic insiders, just went ape-shit on seeing the Floyd murder and its obvious acceptability to the Trump-led bipartisan power structure. That is why I call it a lynching.

All this is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed society with its obvious deadliness, and that in turn has collapsed any hope of financial security for so many people who were already in the bottom tiers of the fundamentally heartless American economic system.

Many of these people are faced with sudden devastating losses: of health and life to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and of being cast into bankrupting debt by the medical bills for having survived COVID-19; of confidence in remaining healthy while on jobs they need for economic survival; of income when their jobs disappear, and with it their health insurance if those jobs even provided it; of housing with the inability to pay rent; and even of ready access to food. The pandemic has also interfered with the most fundamental source of solace we all rely on in our times of despair: sharing the company of our families and true friends. So going out into the streets now to protest is natural for many who want relief from the unbearable suffocation of the choke-holds on them, and for some of those people who feel they have nothing left to lose, to even riot.

Unfortunately, there are rotten malevolent scumbag bigots who are taking advantage of the street protests to act violently and destructively in the hopes of provoking a much wider race war of oppression by white supremacy. And there are too many cops and government people (the cop employers) who are obsessed with control and domination instead of public and individual welfare, and they too create more hurt and provoke more reactive rioting by their heavy-handed cop-riot “law enforcement” actions.

So we get a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. The best way to break that cycle is to quickly legislate substantive social and economic improvements that clearly address the underlying distresses of the people protesting visibly, and the people despairing silently and invisibly. The blinded-by-bigotry Trump-type people don’t want to enact those long-needed reforms because it would mean cutting back on their money-making schemes and their biased administrative actions.

I am guessing the current cycle of unrest will wind down simply because of exhaustion on the part of most of the people in the streets, coupled with heavy suppression by militarized police and federal troops. That won’t end the problem, but just make it more “invisible” to the authorities and simply delay its resolution, which if not forthcoming will simply mean another outbreak is inevitable.

I think things will get back to “normal” in time (within weeks?), but the “normal” that we had before late May was toxic. It carries within it the makings of more, longer and worse future riots if we let it return and continue unchanged.

A Bernie Sanders presidency aided by a helpfully supportive Congress would have been a potentially mild reform of our toxic “now,” but that reform was forbidden by the corporate-owned bipartisan power structure through its Democratic Party wing, with the full concurrence of its Republican Party wing. So now we have the George Floyd riots because people don’t feel like compromising any more, or of waiting for the Godot of American justice, or of turning the other cheek of a failed Christianity.

I don’t know and can’t really guess what’s coming next, or of how things will play out for the rest of this year.

We need a lot of wise leadership — which is obviously entirely lacking from the Trump Administration, from the U.S. Congress, and from many governors and elected politicians — and we need a lot of steady confident calmness that holds off from violent actions, by governors, mayors and police forces, who would in turn all be supported in that type of compassionately wise response by those wished-for intelligent and unbiased Federal authorities, for this national crisis to be calmed down quickly and humanely; and to then be permanently resolved by essential social and economic reform legislation, which was assiduously enforced thereafter.

The slogan “no justice, no peace” says it all. We’ve always known that, and the Kerner Commission Report spelled it all out after the riots in 1967 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerner_Commission), but it was ignored.

This crisis will be fixed for real when justice in America is established for real. I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. But I just wish it would soon.

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For America today: shamrock = lily; Erin = Freedom.

Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Australian wildfire, 2019
Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

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Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Please watch the 23 minute video, linked below, to completion. It shows an interview of Dr. Peter Carter (Director Climate Emergency Institute, IPCC expert reviewer, Co-author in 2018 of Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival). This interview was conducted at COP25 (“this is set up to fail”) currently underway in Madrid, Spain, on 10 December 2019.

Peter Carter gives a vividly clear, trenchantly concise summary of the state of Earth’s climate; the increasing acceleration of all the phenomena that drive global warming climate change (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions); the obdurate denial of the climate emergency, and the opposition to any action in response to it by the high carbon-emitting fossil fuel-loving nations: the United States, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at the very least. I would venture to guess that Australia, under its current reactionary Morrison Administration, would also join the objecting ‘carbonaholics’ despite it currently experiencing a mega-drought with massive and uncontrolled wildfires.

The average global temperature today is just under 1.4°C above its level during the years 1951 to 1980 (the baseline). The level in year 1000 coincided with the baseline. Between 1000 and the baseline years the temperature dipped to an average low 0.5°C below baseline, which extended from 1500 to 1800. All temperature fluctuations during the 800 years between 1000 and 1800 were well less than 0.5°C (plus or minus). Average global temperature has risen since 1980 at an average rate of 0.5°C every 14 years. Climate science has identified 1.5°C above baseline as the threshold between catastrophe to cataclysm; the threshold of 2°C above baseline, much publicized for over a decade as the “safe limit,” is actually over the redline of our climate change tachometer: “blown engine,” biosphere collapse.

The global carbon dioxide (CO2) level was between 275ppm and 285ppm (ppm = parts per million, 1 ppm is equivalent to 0.0001% by volume) between years 1000 and 1800. By 1900 it was 300ppm, rising increasingly rapidly since. Today’s CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 415ppm, a level that last occurred 3 million years ago.

The global methane (CH4) level was between 650ppb and 700ppb (ppb = parts per billion) between years 1000 and 1750. The methane level has risen at an increasing rate since: from 700ppb in 1750 to 850ppb in 1900; and then zooming to over 1850ppb today. Methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Peter Carter describes the massive explosion of methane emission that is occurring right now around Point Barrow, Alaska.

The global nitrous oxide (N2O) level was between 264ppb and 274ppb between years 1000 and 1880. Thereafter it zoomed at an increasing rate to 332ppb today.

Considering the mean sea level to have been at a baseline elevation in 1900 (which also coincided with its elevation in 1150, 1300, 1450 and 1800) its fluctuations about baseline between years 1000 and 1900 were limited to 8 centimeters (3.2 inches) above, and 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) below. Since 1900 the elevation of mean sea level has increased to almost 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) above baseline today; a steady average rate-of-rise of almost 2 centimeters per decade since the beginning of the 20th century.

Again, please watch the video to hear Dr. Peter Carter’s very important, concise and pungent summary of where our world is today regarding its climate change emergency: stepping out blindly from catastrophe into cataclysm.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
[23:11]
10 December 2019
https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s

Note

The numerical values given for CO2, CH4, N2O concentrations, and changes in global temperature and mean-sea-level, were read from charts published by the 2 Degrees Institute.

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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 2018
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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