Global warming is Nature’s response to capitalism. The Earth will easily survive global warming. Will humans? Maybe, maybe not. Mammals have an average species “lifespan” from origination to extinction of about 1 million years, although some species persist for as long as 10 million years. The species Homo is between 2 to 3 million years old. While it is physically-technically possible for humanity to act cooperatively (socialism) to revamp its manner of resource and energy extraction from Nature, and its waste disposal into Nature, in order to satisfy human needs (equitably) in balance with Nature, it seems sociologically, politically and psychologically impossible for that to happen (see the “Prisoners’ Paradox,” a.k.a. the “Prisoners’ Dilemma”). I think that humanity will always be reactive, and reactionary (e.g., Trump, etc.), when it comes to climate change, and so our “solutions” will always be “too late.”
For more about how this problem came about, and how serious it is now and will increasingly become in the future, see the reports linked at this we page:
How To Respond:
Your best response is to distance yourself as much as possible from capitalism, corruption, bigotry, and wastefulness of natural and energy resources.
Try to have a reasonable degree of solidarity with humans everywhere, to support attitudes and efforts of social and economic justice, and to support socialist projects aimed at improving the public good.
Socially, climate change implies a degradation of living standards and habitability, particularly for the vast majority of Earth’s people in the lower economic classes. By the definitions of money and wealth, the wealthier will always have a relative abundance of financial resources to continue buying their comforts and exclusivity of preferential treatment, however the conditions for economic security and habitability degrade. We are seeing this today with the disparities between rich and poor as regards the availability and cost of healthcare, and with the “gentrification” of increasingly desirable real estate locations, with a resulting displacement of modest-income renters both young and old.
As an individual, your best response is to make the most of your life, to achieve your full human potential, to develop as good a moral character as you can manage, and in these ways to be a positive force in all the lives you touch, as well as gaining for yourself the inestimable treasure of a fulfilling life.
It is awareness and attitude that are key. By understanding the reality of the conditions under which life-on-Earth operates in this current era – the Holocene – and having a socialistic attitude not restricted to the egotistical selfishness of obsessive acquisitiveness and careerism, you will live a life that naturally adds value to the collective life of our species and our planet.
No single individual, however favored by birth and circumstances, can single-handedly make a significant contribution to countering Climate Change and improving social conditions. Obviously, some individuals will have much greater opportunities to do so because they happen to occupy roles with greater temporal power and wealth. But the point here is of relative merit: given the range and limits of your personal situation, you try to do what you can – however simple and modest – along the direction you know is correct and just. “You do what you can with what you’ve got.” Beyond the specific physical results of “what you do,” there is the intangible value of inspiring others to make such efforts of their own, by you being a good example.
So, let them laugh if you plug the drain in your bathtub to save your shower and bath water, and then use pails of it to flush you toilet; or use a hose to siphon the “gray” bath water for the plants outside. Given the right awareness and attitude, you can figure out how to balance your level of comfort, the intervals between your showers, the actual olfactory sensitivity of the social circles you operate in (“smell” versus conservation), and your pacing and limits on water use. Similarly with food consumption and the reduction of food waste (ideally collected for either personal or municipal composting), and with an efficiency of fuel consumption for your automotive travel. It is very satisfying to know that you have been efficient, because you gain a sense of achievement for your skills at life-engineering, and because the awareness for being efficient brings you into a conscious harmony with all of life and Nature.
The best that any of us can do is to manage our lives so as not to be a burden to others, and then to add to the health and well-being of those near and dear to us. This will always be true regardless of climate change. The greater the solidarity within humankind, and the more equitable the social conditions, the greater the likelihood that we as a species will be able to respond to climate change in an intelligent and just manner.
As I concluded in the following article:
To my dear friend who asked me “How do you address this?” I say that my personal mantra for facing my ever-expanding awareness of reality is: Enjoy!, and Be Kind.
For an earlier and soothing presentation of recommended personal responses to climate change, see:
In the end, it doesn’t matter what other people do, and it is not your personal responsibility to “save the world.” Authentic fulfillment is the satisfaction of knowing that you were the humanely best version of yourself that you could manage.
Enjoy!, and Be Kind.
Chris Hedges hosted the political writers Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton on his television program (yesterday, on the RT network/channel) for a discussion of the Syrian War, and its many current harmful impacts, as well as its possible grave future consequences for the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and the world. (That episode of Chris Hedges’ program is linked near the bottom.)
My reaction to that program follows.
The problem, as presented so compellingly by Chris Hedges, Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, is of such large scope that it is difficult to see how any one nation – even the United States – could act alone to “solve it” (forever).
However, the recommendation that the U.S. stop funding destabilization groups in the Middle East (and everywhere), and that the U.S. “pull back” from or “pull out” of the Middle East, would be a very, very helpful step for the reduction of suffering in that region: for example reducing the incidence of wars and the displacements causing huge refugee streams. Such a change in US policy would also benefit the American people by freeing public money now absorbed by covert and overt militarism, to be used instead for much more domestic socialism (like Medicare-for-all, and free college for all).
However, even were such a change in US Middle East policy to occur, there would still be many evils in the region:
– authoritarian and oppressive regimes continuing to hurt the people under them,
– the export of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia and Qatar,
– the regional Sunni-Shia proxy wars (basically, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran),
– the war by Israel against the Palestinians (who include Muslims and Christians),
– Israel’s agitation against Syria (for regime change, and to keep the Golan Heights),
– Israel’s agitation against Iran (which helps prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon),
– Israel’s agitation includes its own covert and overt military actions, as well as lobbying for the United States to make war against Israel’s designated enemies.
As an engineer without expertise on the Middle Eastern affairs, I have believed since 1973 that the best long-term plan for the U.S. to insulate itself from Middle Eastern turmoil would have been to use the U.S.’s vast fossil fuel resources (and even the nuclear ones) as a stop-gap energy source to power the building of a national solar (“green”) energy collection and distribution system.
That national green energy system would be made of many local solar energy networks interconnected into regional systems, which in turn would be interconnected into a national system. The local power sources would include:
– direct solar-collection to electrical-output arrays (solar panels),
– solar heat collection for boilers that power steam turbines cranking electric generators,
– river hydroelectric (the dams we already have),
– ocean-tidal hydroelectric,
– land-based wind-electric,
– offshore wind-electric,
– a few sites for solar-powered desalination for potable water,
– and solar-powered hydrogen recovery from water for H2-O2 fuel-cell propulsion for civilian aircraft, and road and rail transit.
Given real energy independence, the Unites States could stop funding and supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel (arming them to the teeth so extravagantly). I realize that defunding Israel would be harder to do regardless of circumstances, because of the metastasis of the Israel Lobby within the US body politic. But, if the U.S. could shut off its massive dollar streams currently paying for Middle East petroleum (and bribes to Egypt and Jordan to not annoy expansionist Israel), then many of the Middle East oppressor regimes would be weakened and likely overthrown by more popular and democratic alternatives, and the U.S. would be immune from blackmail by oil embargoes.
Also, a green national energy system for the U.S., replacing the 19th and 20th century fossil and fissile fuel system still in use, would offer a long term, sustainable and low-(no?)-pollution energy-flow for domestic consumption: it would not accelerate climate change.
Obviously, myopic greed such as by fossil and fissile fuel companies opposes such a strategy as they prefer to make private capital gains by extractive exploitation of Nature, and by setting off “pipeline wars” at public expense. The green energy vision and strategy described here is at its core socialist (it is best for the US commons), and it is also internationalist without being belligerent and interventionist, because by sharing such green energy technology internationally the U.S. would help boost the standard of living globally: the human development index (HDI) would increase everywhere, and poverty would decrease everywhere.
The Uncivil War, with Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton
16 April 2017
or, on YouTube:
Of all the articles I have ever written, the one I most wish had gotten wide attention and actually affected public thinking and action, is linked below.
Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
There are basically four groups of American voters:
1, Corporatist robbers (and associated wannabe flunkies);
2, Trump fans;
3, Hillary cultists; and
4, Bernie “berners.”
The Big Capitalists and corporatists are mainline Republicans and Democrats (1), who by and large voted for Hillary Clinton this last time because she was the current face of the money-grubbing robber elite (they vote for any Repub or Dem who is the current main front for the Big Money).
The Trump fans (2) are by and large poor dumb honest bigots, many down-and-out.
The Hillary cultists (3) are by and large pale-face suburban-type dishonest bigots (and their “poor relations,” the associated darker-skinned, poorer, Stockholm-Syndromed-to-Dems, wishing-and-hoping-in-vain, and reliably suckered “minority” voters).
The awakened multi-generational anti-corporate anti-neoliberal insurrectionists are Bernie people (4).
The election of 2016 was a battle between the American people and the corporations (the Big Money robber elite), and that election was lost by the American people in July 2016, when Hillary Clinton and the DNC influence-peddling mafia (including Obama) sidelined Bernie Sander’s campaign: the authentic will of the vast majority of the American people (to this day!). The Democratic Party has no continuing legitimacy ever (and the Repub Party, a wannabe-fascist national-robbery conspiracy, is only very slightly worse).
The contest in November 2016 was between two would-be figureheads fronting the Big Money management of the USG, and Trump won that contest because Hillary was odious to groups 2 and 4; and group 2 had no other option (as Bernie was out) for registering their just complaints (no jobs, no income, poisoned water, and government didn’t care about them), and Trump appeared sympathetic (e.g., anti-TPP) while Hillary was decidedly hostile to them (pro-TPP, “single-payer healthcare will never happen,” “[blue collar] jobs are never coming back,” “[you’re] irredeemables…deplorables”).
So, the real “civil war” and “economic war” in the US is between group 1 versus groups 2 and 4 (group 3 is/are the associated wannabe flunkies of group 1). It is imperative that Berners and Trump fans realize that they are fundamentally on the same side (except for the Group 2 bigotry). The most important force for revitalizing America, and kicking out the corruption eating it out, would be a strong coalition of groups 2 and 4 to become very active behind Bernie’s initiatives, AND for the dismissing of group 3 — to Mars if possible — the Hillary cultists, who are the single biggest impediment to any useful progress in America (the second biggest impediment is the obdurate bigotry of Trump fans of all colors).
Group 1 can never be dismissed (with anything less than 1793 French methods), but as in the F.D.Roosevelt administration, it can be regulated given enough popular pressure. Group 3 are deplorable parasitic airhead irredeemables. There is no reason to ever listen to, or pay attention to, or respect any irredeemable Hillary cultist. Theirs were the key votes for Trump, whose administration actually began on 25 July 2016. The Democratic Party, under the control of Hillarists and the DNC, is a political Dracula bloodsucking on the American people. It needs to be killed with a stake driven through its DNC heart, so it fades into dust blown away in the wind, and only then can a new and REAL DEMOCRATIC party, under Bernie and Berners be formed, and the 2+4 Coalition can begin putting some straitjackets on Group 1 for the good of the nation, and world.
Given the amount of ignorance, superstition, fear, bigotry and greed in the USA, it is no wonder that Donald Trump is president. He is a reflection, not an aberration.
I stand corrected (on my characterization of Trump fans in Dracula Dems): Trump voters were motivated by bigotry more than by economic hardships. From the article linked below:
“…whether it’s good politics to say so or not, the evidence from the 2016 election is very clear that attitudes about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims were a key component of Trump’s appeal,…
“Racial identity and attitudes have further displaced class (economics) as the central battleground of American politics,…
“Race trumped economics,…
“…evidence suggests that racial resentment is driving economic anxiety, not the other way around,…
“Always remember: You have to identify the disease before you can begin work on a cure. In the case of support for Donald Trump, the results are in: It isn’t the economy. It’s the racism, stupid.”
So, Trump really is the image of White (and anti-immigrant Black) America: racist to the core. See the article at this link:
Trump is Wall Street’s puppet whose strings are being pulled through his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump has kicked his Goebbels — Steve Bannon — into a corner, but Trump hasn’t had Bannon thrown out of Mister T’s clubhouse yet because Bannon is useful as a political mannequin to focus the attention of the Neo-Nazi rubes, and keep them attached to the Trump brand, as the most reliably conned component of Trump’s demographics.
Hear this slaves!: your bigotry is the slave-masters power over you.
A psychological disorder is:
“Any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.”
— George Alexander Kelly (1905-1967), http://oaks.nvg.org/george-kelly.html.
Kelly’s definition is the oldest likely source of the several quotes that have been blended into the well-known saying attributed to Albert Einstein (1879-1955): “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
When we say the American Empire is in decline, what do we mean? Is it the decline of:
1) The U.S. economy (and consequently U.S. political power) in relation to and in competition with the other national economies, the regional groupings of economies (like the E.U.), and the aggregate world economy?, or the decline of
2) The industrial mode of economic organization of society?, or the decline of
3) The capitalist model now controlling the U.S. economy in its industrial mode (as opposed to, say, a socialist model whether of democratic form or of command form as in China)?, or the decline of
4) The competence of the economic managing elite, and the influence of white males as the demographic group devising and directing public policy, controlling the national economy and ensuring their demographic group is most favored in the distribution of national prosperity?, or the decline of
5) The standard of living, physical health and security, mental state and personal development of the majority of the members of the public?
We can abstract these five aspects of a national economy, respectively, as its:
2) organization (as an industrial mechanism or as a social relations network),
3) purpose (capitalist or socialist),
4) leadership (ability and demographics), and
5) living conditions (the typical experience of daily life).
Clearly, any person’s view of the state of the economy will depend on which of these five aspects they most identify with; and any media account of the state of the economy will be crafted to resonant with the biases of the intended audience.
People in the corporate and political leadership classes will gauge the health of the economy on the basis of its power in relation to the international competition. The remora class of analysts, commentators, consultants and promoters, who base their livelihoods on the sale of information and “suggestions” to the executive classes, will also fabricate their interpretations of current events on the basis of the economy’s power.
Critics of the industrial mode of economics will focus on the mismatch between the performance of our current economic machinery and the human and societal needs of the public, which is required to support this economy. Ivan Illich (1926-2002) wrote three books in the 1970s (Deschooling Society, Tools For Conviviality, and Medical Nemesis) arguing quite effectively that many of the institutions of the modern industrial state impede their own supposed purposes; he focused on education and medicine in particular.
For example, the educational “funnels” sought today so as to insert more knowledge more quickly into student minds are so burdensome (too much homework, “one-size-fits-all” regimentation, politically circumscribed curricula) that they work against the natural impulse to intellectual exploration by children and young adults, and rob them of the time to follow their natural inclinations toward discovering and learning at their own pace. Children are conditioned, programmed and trained to be passive receptacles rather than being nurtured to become self-directed learners and creators.
Another example of industrial mode counterproductively is the high-volume production of automobiles, which enables suburban sprawl. The unavoidable result is the clogging of increasing longer commute routes between suburban homes and city jobs. The losses to individuals in hours-per-day of living-time spent commuting, and the societal costs in air pollution and the national security liability of oil dependency, are all well known.
A “convivial” (Illich’s term) solution would be to group residential and work areas close together within smaller well-planned cities and towns linked by networks of intra-urban and inter-urban public transportation systems (trolley, bus, train). Such convivial towns and neighborhoods (structured around the natural scale of human interactions) would harken back to earlier times when every city block was not far from a park, and had a bakery, produce store, meat and fish store, druggist and newsstand along it or “just around the corner.”
The industrial mode requires that people serve the efficiency goals of a delivery system so it operates at its lowest cost per item moved. For example, the “big box” stores one must drive to, because they are beyond walking distance from home, and because no one can carry all the bulky items and large quantities one is required to purchase in order to get the array of supplies needed for home-life. How much easier stepping off a bus or trolley a block or two from home after work, and within half an hour buying one easily-carried grocery bag filled with all the supplies and fresh food needed for the next few days.
Another Illich concept is that of the “radical monopoly.” This occurs when a technical system or method appears to be most effective at meeting some common need, and as a consequence of its popularity makes alternatives so economically disfavored that the use of the dominant technology becomes effectively mandatory. This might be acceptable in the case where a more convenient technology replaces a less convenient one, such as personal computers replacing typewriters; but it might be detrimental when the radical monopoly consumes large amounts of energy and pollutes (which we could recast as “requires a wasteful consumption of environmental potential”). The automobile transportation required by suburbia is one such radical monopoly.
Another radical monopoly is western medicine in the form of a pharmacologically and technologically intense industrial mode of centralized medical practice. A convivial alternative would be to have doctors (and their clinics) distributed throughout the well-planned towns mentioned earlier, so that one lived on every block, and every resident would have their “personal physician” living within walking distance. Hospitals would still exist, but patients would most likely enter them as a planned visit arranged by their local doctor, rather than as the only option in an emergency. This latter health care system is used in Cuba.
People address the problems of their daily lives by applying a wide array of tools: hand tools, kitchen and food storage appliances, transport vehicles and transportation systems, electronic devices and electrical power networks, houses and housing systems, drugs and medical devices and health care systems, and many other technical entities from simple pocket knives to trans-national social, monetary, judicial and government systems. Illich called all such entities “tools.”
His central point was that “A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.” Illich chose the term “convivial” to designate the opposite of “industrial productivity,” his concept of a society of autonomous and creative interaction between people, and between people and their environment, “where individual freedom was realized in personal interdependence.”
Tools that allow for many possible uses, as determined by the creativity of the user, and are not restricted to a narrow purpose by their designer, are convivial. Simple hand tools, like a hammer, are convivial tools. More complex examples are the telephone, in that the telephone company cannot restrict the nature of your conversations; and AC electrical power, in that the power company has no control over what you plug into an electrical outlet. In contrast, machines made for industrial productivity can only be used in a few ways, which is the intent of the designer so as to control and “own” the benefit of the tool’s use. The specialized machinery in any factory assembly line, big box stores, and “personal” computers with proprietary and purposely exclusive operating systems are examples of non-convivial tools. Non-convivial tools require humans to become their servants, who operate them in set ways to achieve unique purposes of benefit to the tool designer.
It is easy to see that centralized systems of supply (e.g., food) and service (e.g., medical) are industrial and non-convivial, they require people to “line up” and operate them in a set fashion (e.g., through inflexible bureaucracy, and customer service telephone holds), so the system providers can minimize their costs and maximize their returns. Conversely, decentralized systems of supply and service delivery — as we envisioned earlier in our hypothetical well-planned towns — would not operate at the lowest cost physically possible per item moved, but they would enable a much richer and freer living experience to the wide variety of people who were using and paying for these systems. This is conviviality.
An economy is a man-made procedural structure integrating the operation of the financial and commercial interactions engaged in by the members of its society. Every economy, however primitive and disorganized, or sophisticated and highly organized, is an artificial and intentional construction. It is built to a purpose by people, it is not an organism arising out of nature. So, no economy is based on natural and unbreakable laws. Every economy is a game, and is rigged. Just exactly how any particular economy is rigged is the purpose of politics.
Generally, economies are recognized to serve two purposes: capitalist and socialist. The capitalist purpose is the accumulation of private profit at general expense, and the socialist purpose is the support of varieties of social and humanitarian needs at general expense.
Most national economies today have some mixture of capitalist and socialist purposes, though usually the capitalism dominates. For both, the industrial mode is more popular. Capitalist big box stores aim to maximize the profits to the owners, while socialist big box stores aim to minimize the cost to the state for distributing the goods they dispense. Similarly for capitalist and socialist service dispensaries in the industrial mode (e.g., health care).
Both capitalist and socialist economic purposes can be organized in either the industrial or convivial mode. The socialist purpose industrial mode was forcefully promoted by Stalin. As Illich wrote:
“In 1931 Stalin translated ‘control over the means of production’ to mean the increase of productivity by new methods used to control the producer [the subject population]… Since then a socialist policy has been considered one which serves the industrially organized productivity of a socialist country. Stalin’s reinterpretation of Marxism has since then served as a form of blackmail against socialists and the left.”
Fifty-three percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent on pure Stalinism, known simply as the Pentagon, a non-convivial radical monopoly used for political intimidation.
Social Security is another example of a socialist purpose within an otherwise capitalist U.S. economy, that purpose being the dignified management of the transition from taxpaying productive life for old people to their taxpayer-supported maintenance and death. Another socialist purpose proposed for the capitalist-dominated U.S. economy, but so far rejected, is that of universal health care. Publicly funded education through college and child-care are similarly as-yet rejected socialist purposes (note that socialized child-care is a way to ease the strain of industrial mode employment of women; the convivial alternative is socializing the costs of mothers caring for their own children).
Realize that all of these socialist purposes can be addressed in either an industrial or a convivial way. Too often the choice between an industrial organization or a convivial one is ascribed to either a capitalist or socialist motivation (whether as a recommendation or criticism).
This author’s preference is for convivial socialism, probably because he lives in a capitalist-dominant industrial economy.
The leadership classes of the United States are disproportionately populated by white males, and also include attendant females and accepted minority individuals (tokens) who service the class-race ascendancy imperatives. The whys and wherefores of this are well known. The essential public responsibility of an economic leadership class is to be competent (and, it should go without saying, to be honest).
Economic Living Conditions
The conditions of daily life in the U.S. are noted and reported on by the journalists of ethnic minority and working class life. At this time there is an economic depression for the working class because of the collapse of the housing market and financial bubble of 2007 [The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which implemented the $700 billion emergency bank bailout Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), was signed into law on October 3, 2008], and because of the permanent loss of U.S. jobs outsourced to China and other minimum labor-cost economies.
The U.S. population has a capitalist utility as a market — a mass from which to extract cash and dump goods into — but this population is largely unnecessary as regards productivity (Pentagon industries excepted). Much cheaper foreign labor can produce the goods needed to absorb the retail cash from the U.S. market. How the U.S. population is supposed to get this retail cash in the first place does not seem to be a matter of concern for U.S. capitalism’s economic planners.
Food, energy consumption and entertainment, often in combined forms such as “fast food,” flashy oversized automobiles, giant plasma-screen home-theater systems and hand-held video-viewing telecommunications devices (telescreens aplenty), are popular retail goods. Like the soma and feelies of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, they serve the political purpose of pacifying the U.S. population so it conforms itself to the service of the capitalist industrial mode economy that profits from them. In rural communities in California’s Central Valley, Mexican-American children of farm-worker parents play with iPods in homes with dirt floors.
Decline And Expectation
The experience of economic decline is a matter of expectation. Investors in stocks, bonds, real estate and currencies might fear a decline of the U.S. economy when the productivity of foreign economies surges relative to that of the U.S. Changes of this type are the result of: continuing progress in less-developed nations, changes in labor and resource availability, the unexpected twists and turns of international politics, and the occasional influence of geophysical forces (e.g., natural disasters and climate effects).
Investors might also fear a “downturn” of their expectations if there is a serious possibility that sectors of the economy might be reorganized in a convivial fashion (meeting people’s needs instead of just extracting cash from them), or worst yet become nationalized.
However, if a working class family is now covered by an industrial mode national health care plan, it could easily experience better economic conditions even if the cost of the plan actually reduced the national gross domestic product, and the economy’s power relative to the international competition. That family would feel even richer if their health care were available through a convivial system of neighborhood-based physicians and clinics, even if the Wall Street Journal were to assure them that they were now living in an even weaker national economy. In reality, no wealth would be lost. Quite simply, the profit potential of investor fantasy in an industrialized mode capitalist economy would have been used to provide the people-centered national health care benefit. A potential wave of private profit, and chips for financial speculation, having been smoothed out into a rising tide of socialized benefit.
This is an evolving planet, and some can view changes in demographics as an economic decline. This is race-based thinking, something like tribalism; it is primitive, ignorant and very popular.
The fertility rate of whites is lower than that of nonwhites in the U.S., and the fertility rates of northern latitude and industrialized countries are lower than those of less-developed and tropical latitude countries. This is the glacially advancing demographic steamroller that flattened the apartheid regime of South Africa, will eventually inundate the Israeli colonial project in Palestine, and is darkening the complexion of North American and European life.
For some of the most insular and least cosmopolitan populations of white North Americans, the visible changes in the complexion of the leadership classes — still predominately white but now routinely mixed in with non-white personalities — is too jarring a reminder of their own social and economic stagnation, and they express their resentment over their own unacknowledged backwardness by a rejection of any society with nonwhite members of equal status. This in turn is voiced most honestly as simple racism (against Latinos, blacks and muslims in the U.S., and muslims and blacks in Europe), or disingenuously nuanced as anti-government sentiment, by which they mean opposition to the socialized purposes of the national economy because such socialized activity is by definition racially integrated. These are the Tea Party people.
These resentful whites, angry at the imagined loss of their assumed race-based socio-economic privileges rail about the illegal immigrants (a.k.a. Mexicans) “taking” jobs and “getting free government benefits” which they have to pay for through their taxes (this is usually just the overblown hyperbole of simple misers resenting taxation). Yet, they never seem perturbed that 53 cents of every tax dollar they hand the government goes straight to the Pentagon and funds the most wasteful and destructive subsidy on Earth, at a societal cost far beyond that actually created by undocumented immigrants.
But, these resentments grow out of fears born out of ignorance, and logical argument can do little to break through to the emotional engine driving this mindset. These people see loud, uncouth and very rich nonwhite people on their televisions; they see as their president a black man whose sophistication and intellectual attainments they will never match; in their towns and shopping malls they see Mexicans, walking in large family groups and chattering in an undecipherable lingo, and obviously spending money, where did they get it?
It all comes back to hammer the painful point home: “things aren’t as I expected, I’m not special, and they’re making me pay to have it this way.” This mindset sees national social and economic decay in the darkened complexion of the national demographic, and harrumphs about “taking the country back.” Tea Party politicians will try to actualize their faction’s guiding delusion by disabling as much of the socializing purpose of the national economy as will return the country to a more racially segregated and white-favored past, without the loss of subsidies popular with white people, like Medicare and the military. In this work of social regression they will be the useful idiots of the capitalist ownership class, for whom industrialization is profit, conviviality is taxation, and socialism is expropriation.
Decline? Yes Or No For Five Factors
1) Decline of economic power? Yes.
China and India combined hold 36% of the world population (2.49B of 6.89B). The 2010 GDP third quarter growth rate for India was 8.9% and for China 9.6%. These rates are representative of their respective economies during the last three years (though all economies experienced some dip near the 2008 U.S. banking collapse). The growth of U.S. GDP during the 2010 third quarter was 2.6%, and the average U.S. growth rate over the last 15 quarters was 0.49%. The U.S. population of 311.9M is 4.5% of the world total.
If we take the GDP (in 2009 $) of India, China, the U.S. and the World ($1.31T, $4.99T, $14.12T, $58.14T) and divide each by their respective population (1.155B, 1.331B, 0.312B, 6.893B) we arrive at a productivity per capita (GDP/#) of, respectively: $1134, $3749, $45,270, $8438. Note that we are assuming that every single person in the country (and World) is a “worker” who contributes to the GDP; hardly exact but usefully indicative.
We can compare the performance of two different economies by forming ratios from pairs of GDP/#, to arrive at:
— the number (at top of the resulting fraction) of U.S. workers that produce the same absolute output ($ amount) as
— the number (at bottom of the resulting fraction) of workers from India, China, the U.S. and the World, respectively,
— as: 1/40, 1/12, 1/1, 2/11.
So, the output of one averaged U.S. worker equals that of 40 averaged Indian workers (as defined here), or 12 averaged Chinese workers; and 2 averaged U.S. workers produce as much as 11 averaged World workers.
Performing the same exercise but this time comparing India, China, the U.S. and the World to the averaged World worker, we find, respectively (World/country): 2/15, 4/9, 11/2, 1/1. So, 2 averaged World workers produce as much as 15 averaged Indian workers, 4 World to 9 Chinese, 11 World to 2 U.S. (and 1/1 for World to World).
If we assume that the third quarter 2010 growth rates remain constant, then (by simple exponential extrapolation) the Chinese economy will match the total output of the U.S. economy in 15.8 years, at $21.2T (unchanging $).
By a similar extrapolation, India’s economy will match that of the U.S. in 39.9 years, at $39.4T. The estimated averaged Chinese “worker” productivity in 15.8 years will be one quarter that of the averaged U.S. worker then, and a similar calculation for Indian productivity at GDP parity yields 23% that of the U.S. in 39.9 years. (These calculations used national populations projected for 15.8 years and/or 39.9 years in the future; the projections were calculated using constant population growth rates of 1.3%, 0.5%, 0.9%, respectively, for India, China and the U.S.)
The sheer size of China’s population compared to that of the U.S. means that it must inevitably outpace the U.S. economy, as long as China’s productivity increases over time (and there is no revolutionary improvement in U.S. productivity). India follows the same trend but at less than half the pace.
2) Decline of economic organization? Neutral (yes and no).
The U.S. economy is as highly organized as it ever was, in its overwhelmingly dominant industrial mode. There has been no overall decline of organization, nor modal shift to conviviality (the no part).
However, there are significantly fewer industrial sectors today than existed three decades ago. The range of possible industrial production has diminished because of the permanent loss of major portions of the manufacturing base (the yes part).
In brief, civilian manufacturing industries have largely been “outsourced” to replace American labor with lower-cost foreign labor (primarily Chinese). Those portions of the domestic productivity base that have not been abandoned are strictly, even obsessively, organized along the industrial mode.
The haste, one might say panic, with which U.S. capitalist planners tossed domestic manufacturing labor overboard and walked away from domestic manufacturing physical plant suggests there has been little useful thought about the future economic impact of a swelling population of the permanently unemployed, and expanses of decaying industrial ruins (http://jalopnik.com/5110995/the-ruins-of-detroit-industry-five-former-factories).
The outsourcing gimmick has kept “the economy” (as experienced by U.S. capitalism’s management, ownership and investor classes) robust and competitive (factor #1). However, the detritus of mega-capitalist “open loop” schemes of wealth generation, in this case entire industries and their skilled domestic labor populations, is just too large a burden to dump onto the public for reabsorption and regeneration, without cost to the schemers. There will have to be “taxes” on future “earnings” to help pay for the reintegration of the jettisoned industrial capacity into a new type of all-are-included domestic economy.
The political conflict at hand is between capitalist exploiters and speculators, who wish to escape paying for the waste and societal damage of their schemes, and the working class taxpaying public (most of the people), which deserves receiving sizable payment for damages caused to the commonwealth, because the people of that public will do all the work of reprocessing abandoned industrial ruins and unemployed industrial workers into a new regrouped national community, with cleaned-up reusable sites, and revitalized neighbors, colleagues and co-workers.
3) Decline of capitalism and shift to socialism? No.
It would be wonderful, but circumstances have yet to decay to the point where they batter most Americans severely enough so they question their childhood indoctrination to capitalism (think Berlin or Tokyo, 1945).
Health care is the single issue that draws most interest to socialism in the U.S. today. The pressure for socialized medical care arises out of the stresses of the industrial mode of employment and service delivery.
I suspect that most Americans (U.S.) would lose interest in socialized medicine if they had access to a convivial capitalist health care system they could afford. An individual might state it this way: “If I have to be just one of the herd in some industrial medical system, then I’d rather it were government-run and taxpayer funded. At least then I wouldn’t have the added anxiety about paying for the indignity, nor even about being able to get it when I needed it. However, if I could get quick and easy access close to home anytime, and a professional to deal with the hospital for me when that was needed, I’d be happy to pay dues comparable to a swim club.”
4) Decline of economic leadership? Yes.
There has been an absolute decline in the competence of economic leadership, certainly since the days of John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith, and especially since the onset of the Reagan Administration (and Thatcherism in England), with its rabid Chicago School ideology (e.g., Milton Friedman’s “free market”).
The logical terminus of Reaganomics was the bank crash of 2008, though today’s economic managers remain witless before it, their minds still possessed by the free market cult. How can anyone think that the economic managers, ministers, experts and regulators, who collectively gave us the economic crisis of 2007 to the present, are competent? Unfortunately, neither these incompetents nor their Reaganomic mindset — which has eviscerated the American economy as a living experience, as opposed to an investment climate — have been swept off the scene so an authentic recovery and effective reforms can be started. Present U.S. fiscal policy is the equivalent of trying to blow air back into a burst balloon. Somewhere, Santayana’s ghost is laughing.
As described earlier, from a Tea Party perspective there has been a decline of the leadership elite by virtue of demographic titration. This is really a public health problem regarding epidemic mental illness.
5) Decline of the standard of living? Yes.
This is the great theft in the U.S. during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A specific instance is the abandonment of the American skilled industrial laborer, but the overall scheme affects every working person: the socialization of vast speculative losses and the costs of capital flight from civic responsibilities.
As long as the political problem of reintegrating the U.S. economy, so it includes all workers in an equitable sharing of economic gains, remains unsolved, even unaddressed, then the standard of living will continue to decay, and with it prospects of long term profitability even for members of the elite economic classes.
“Big capital” uses its money to forestall any political engagement on this fundamental issue, and too much of the public accepts being distracted and pacified by high-tech trinkets, toys and endless entertainment streams, to focus on the work needed for their own education in reality, and the commitment needed to organize politically in the public interest.
When a quorum of the public wakes up (Yoo Hoo! Stop watching and believing TV!) and comes together to take action, the capital interests will be forced to negotiate for their survival, and that will make it possible to actually reform the economic machinery of the country, to re-rig the game in the public’s favor.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, respectively: yes, neutral, no, yes, yes.
The economy-as-lived by Americans has declined steadily for three decades, and sharply after 2007. This economy is in a depression now, with no indication of imminent improvement. Further decline is inevitable unless an extensive recovery scheme is implemented (think non-militarized Keynes plus significant financial reforms plus large and permanent cuts in military spending).
The economy-for-investors, which hosts financial speculation, is growing slowly. However, it is a non-convivial shell game that excludes a large population of unemployed and underemployed people, except as members of a public dump used to absorb cast-off banking corporation liabilities and environmental damage. This is politically unsustainable in the long term. An economy that produces livelihoods for everyone is needed.
The long term solution to both problems is a reorganization and reorientation (a.k.a., ‘re-purposing’) of the U.S. economy, by dissolving and recombining the economy-as-lived and the economy-for-investors into a re-integrated whole. Of necessity, the result would have significantly more socialism and some more conviviality. A public that could accomplish this reform would understand that “lost” potential profits (which could have been had from the old economy-for-investors) would only have gone into risky and destabilizing gambling activities, and “lost” potential subsidies (like the excessive Pentagon favoritism in the old economy-as-lived) would only have gone into wasteful military adventurism and consumption. The new economy would produce living wealth.
How do we achieve this? Politics. Impossible? Remember, the barriers are all in our minds, collectively.
Originally published on 21 January 2011:
21 January 2011
The re-posting here was prompted by the following.
“Deaths of despair” are surging in white America
23 March 2017
Yvette Carnell (the political commentator on Facebook, a Black woman) is right: it is a battle for the crumbs between America’s (the U.S.’s) minority populations. And it is the natural clannishness and tribal-centric focus of these many races and ethnicities, in their economic competitiveness, that is their greatest contribution to the continuing domination of the dominant culture and the dominant “race” in our White capitalist society.
Freedom versus Equality
The Cuban Revolution brought to power a centralized authority — Fidel Castro — who the Americans called a dictator, who could impose a vision of racial, sexual, and eventually sexual-orientation non-discrimination on the entire Cuban society. This Cuban Revolutionary vision extended to the liberation of African Blacks from colonialism and apartheid, and this Fidelista vision transformed the Cuban people, moving them beyond the Spanish colonial and Catholic racial and sexual hierarchies and prejudices that existed in Cuba up to the mid 1960s. Cuba was transformed from the top down into a society of great equality because of a great dictating power. (1)
In contrast, the United States is a society of great inequality because of a great degree of freedom from top-down restraints on individuals — especially on those with means — so they can pursue their many schemes of personal enrichment by the legally-accepted exploitation of weaker and poorer people. So, for the winners in America’s capitalist competition for self-aggrandizement America is “free” and Cuba is a “dictatorship.”
While to the Cubans who have been liberated from poverty, oppression and corruption, and have then been uplifted with state-provided physical security, healthcare and education, the obviously racially prejudiced and exploitative American capitalist elite are rabid imperialists and even fascists, whose “liberty” is exclusively the liberty of slaveowners to globally expand their temp-gig and prison labor plantation economy. The equalized Cuban socialists see American democracy as the democracy of property owners whose voting power is equated with the magnitude of their wealth, whose ultimate power rests on the micro-fragmentation of American society (by racism, sexism, anti-socialism, anti-unionism), and where the degree of one’s personal enslavement is equated with the depth of poverty that one can “freely” achieve.
Envy Enslaves Us
Black Americans resent White Americans for not loving them, and they resent all immigrants and their American-born descendants for getting in the way of that yearned-for love. The divide and conquer program of dominating colonizers continues in the United States, with the many minorities set into vicious labor competition with each other for the economic crumbs falling off the feasting table of the White capitalist elite. So, Black Americans deeply resent the Spanish-speaking people in “their” country, the one they believe they have priority rights for minority benefits and preferences, because their ancestors paid early and heavily during slavery for those yet-to-be received “reparations.”
It is true that every immigrant and immigrant group that lands in America aims to improve their economic condition, and they take advantage of whatever opportunities the system allows them. This is a threat for American Blacks because they see themselves as still struggling to own the opportunities available at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. They resent the fact that all immigrant groups do better than they do in the battle for the crumbs in American capitalism. They also resent being conned by elite White neoliberals like Hillary Clinton, and their own self-aggrandizing Black mis-leadership class, to believe “we are all in this together” with other minority groups with whom they experience bitter labor and economic competition.
Capitalism Is Racist
There is overt discrimination by everybody. Every minority individual and group, given the opportunity to make employment decisions, will hire their own. So, it is easy to find Latinos (“Hispanics” to the Gringos, and the Blacks Stockholm-Syndromed to them) excluding monolingual Blacks from job calls (e.g., Miami), and Blacks being excluded in favor of Latinos by temporary job agencies because of White employer preferences (e.g., Chicago). Here in Oakland, California, it is also unfortunately easy to learn about instances of personal attacks on Latinos (and Chinese) by Blacks (I have seen such, and heard from people involved). Social media exudes vituperativeness in this regard (e.g., comments by some Black Oaklanders about Mayor Libby Schaaf, a White woman). Also, I have seen Chinese patronage-by-hiring enclaves within a large corporate structure, a very closed form of Affirmative Action. Basically, every race and ethnicity one can imagine prefers their own kind when doling out advantages.
Humans Prefer Division
Every American, of whatever type, is a racist without exception. Individuals who object to this characterization only do so to defend their egos. We humans are all just a species of primate (and there is only one “race” of humans, who happen to have some variety of physiological features and pigmentation). Like our primate cousins the chimpanzees, we fragment into troops that maintain fierce rivalries with other troops (we myopically see other human “races” as other species) for territory, resources, food: wealth. This basic human characteristic (flaw) has been used by imperialists, colonizers and race-dominating slaveowners for millennia to keep the “natives,” the plebes and the slaves at odds with each other, to ensure the rule of the dominant minority over the squabbling, oppressed and exploited majority.
The chronic toxicity of American racism and race-consciousness is such that today a perfectly acceptable vision for many Americans would be the idea that President-Elect Donald Trump could uplift Black Americans — the descendants of slaves, not the more successfully competing modern black immigrants from Africa — by offering a down payment on reparations in the form of making them (exclusively) the well-paid construction workforce in his mega-project of building a 3,201 kilometer (1,989 mile) wall along the Mexican border, to exclude potential labor competition to the English-only American underclass.
Prejudice Is The Self-Worth Of The Defeated
People imbibe their defining racist attitudes (ignorance) with their mother’s milk, it is passed down through families and by their “traditional culture.” Most people do not make the effort to gain the intellectual sophistication and the moral character needed to grow out of this prejudicial ignorance, and to evaluate other individuals on the basis of their personal merits and flaws, instead of as symbols of abstract concepts called “race.” Most people form their personas — their images of themselves and their foundational ideas — early in life (usually by 14 years of age) and are loath to alter them because doing so is sensed as a loss of confidence, a diminution of self. So, they are stuck for life with the misconceptions of their youth, however acquired.
But, each new generation always absorbs some new attitudes that are in general circulation in the local and world societies of their formative years, and in that way the consensus attitudes of larger populations (both ethnic-tribal populations and regional-national populations) glacially evolve. What I conclude from the efflorescence of popular racist ignorance in this present Brexit-Trump period is that the pace of attitudinal evolution about “race in America” is indeed exceedingly slow. One would have thought that a century and a half after the end of the Civil War that racism would be absent in the United States; but no. So, the half-life for the decay of American racism may be in millennia instead of centuries. It is conceivable that climate change will wipe out humanity with Americans still being stupidly racist, sexist and capitalist.
(1) Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (13 August 1926 – 25 November 2016)
Searching For The Hermit In Vain
I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, “The master’s gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”
— Chia Tao (777-841), translated by Lin Yutang (1)
Old now, I feel it more than ever — so good
to be here in the mountains!
Die at the foot of the cliff and even your bones are clean.
— Zen monk Jakushitsu Genko (2)
“If only you knew how splendid it is up there, that’s where I want to die.”
“The land looks like a fairytale.”
“Adventure is just bad planning.”
— Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), the first human at the South Pole (and North Pole), speaking: in 1928 about the Arctic, and earlier about his 1911 Antarctic expedition. (3)
In the 1985 film series “The Last Place on Earth,” about the race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, the screenwriters graced the cinematic climax of Amundsen’s success, on 14 December 1911, with fictionalized speech of a Zen-like sparseness and focus that matched the expansiveness and extremity of the scene. Against a visual field of white, the lone figure of the screen Amundsen is seen from a distance walking up to an indistinguishable point in space about which the Earth rotates. How does he feel?, his companions ask; “All I know is, how good it is to be alive.” (4)
During January and February of 1911, Amundsen’s expedition established three supply depots for the return trek from the South Pole, at intervals of about 150 km (93 miles) from their base camp on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at the Ross Sea. The South Pole is about 1300 km (808 miles) from the Ross Sea. Amundsen’s party for the dash to the South Pole comprised of five men, four sledges and 52 dogs. The five Norwegians departed their base camp on 19 October 1911 and returned 99 days later on 25 January 1912 with only 11 dogs. Amundsen had planned for a 100 day trip.
Scott’s party set off from Cape Evans, 883 miles (1421 km) from the South Pole, on 1 November 1911 with twelve men, ten sledges, ten ponies, and dogs. They established supply depots for the return journey at intervals of about 70 miles (113 km), and as groups of men were no longer needed they were sent back to base camp. By 3 January 1912, Scott’s party was reduced to five men pulling sledges, and no animals (the ponies were butchered for meat). Scott was 169 miles (272 km) from the South Pole and at 10,280 feet (3133 m) elevation. He reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, thirty-four days after Amundsen, and his men were bitterly disappointed at the sight of the Norwegian flag and the many dog tracks around it. The last entry in Scott’s diary was dated 29 March 1912, he and the two men who had survived to that point were found frozen in their tent on the Ross Ice Shelf only 11 miles (18 km) from a large depot, and about 400 km (250 miles) from Cape Evans.
“How good it is to be alive” is both the alpha and omega of insight that some people find when facing the challenge of surviving extreme circumstances. It can be the endpoint of a difficult and dangerous effort; and it can be a rebirth, a new beginning, a way of focusing the mind to the tasks of living and the joy of consciousness, by overcoming fear. This attitude is the psychological buoyancy that frees the mind to direct a person’s full physical and analytical powers to working out the mechanics of survival. Such a person will go further against the opposition of implacable circumstances than a fearful one.
In the stories and poems of Zen and Taoist sages climbing the mountains to experience insight, like the Japanese poet Ryokan (1758-1831), there is usually the implicit suggestion of a subsequent descent. Otherwise, how could the tale have been told? This descent is the second part of the insight on the goodness of life; it is a descent back into the plane of human interaction, it is the goodness of life among other people. “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX). (5)
The dual realization of the “goodness” of consciousness, and that this experience is rooted in and nourished by the field of our interconnected individual psyches, is what some call love.
On Friday the 13th of October 1972, a Fairchild FH-227D twin turboprop airplane chartered from the Uruguayan Air Force by the rugby team of Stella Maris College of Montevideo, Uruguay, the “Old Christians,” crashed high in the Andes Mountains while on route to Santiago, Chile from Mendoza, Argentina, the last leg of their trip. Forty-five people, the young men of the rugby team, some family members and friends, and a flight crew of five had boarded the aircraft. Ten weeks later, sixteen survivors were rescued. The search for survivors had been abandoned after eight days, and the rescue only occurred because two of the survivors had trekked from the crash site on Las Lagrimas Glacier in Argentina at 12,020 feet (3664 m) elevation, up to a ridge crest of the Andes Mountains at 14,774 feet (4503 m), and then descended into the valleys of Chile to 4,676 feet (1425 m) elevation by walking a total of 33.5 miles (54 km) over very rugged and desolate terrain in ten days before finding another human being.
The story has been told in a popular book, “Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,” by Piers Paul Read (6), which was made into a 1993 feature film “Alive, The Miracle of the Andes.” One good English language summary with links to maps of the area appears on the internet at (7), and another site in Spanish gives an extensive presentation, including a day-to-day chronology, which conveys the emotion of the story as Latin Americans would feel it. (8)
The sensational aspect of the story is that in order to survive, the living had to eat the flesh of the dead. The essential element of the story is that the rescue hinged on the determination of one man, Fernando Parrado, to see his father again or die trying; and that his trek out of the mountains only succeeded because of the combined efforts of the group.
Parrado’s mother had died in the crash, and his younger sister eight days later in his arms. The loss of nearly half of his immediate family, the excruciating effort to prolong the group’s survival for sixty days, and then finally his arrival at the ridge 2754 feet (839 m) above the crash site after a three day climb up the steep glacier to see a westward vista of seemingly endless snowy mountains had savagely shocked then forged Parrado to the realization of “how good it is to be alive.” Yes, death in these mountains seemed a certainty, but that apparent certainty did not compel him to surrender. He could choose to use all that was in him to find help and to return to Montevideo to express his love to his father personally, or to approach as near to that goal as the force of circumstance would permit. He had found a vision worth dying for; “how good it is to be alive.”
Of the forty-five people on FAU (Fuerza Aerea Uruguaya) Flight 571, nineteen died during the crash or the first eight days. The remaining twenty-six would dwindle to sixteen and struggle to overcome the tensions of surviving at high altitude on the snow in the wrecked fuselage, without cold-weather clothing and mountaineering gear like boots and dark goggles, with very little food and no medical supplies. Despite the inevitable conflicts and the depressed or debilitating psychological state of some of the people, an effective and admirable level of group cohesion evolved and was applied to the purpose of self-rescue.
It might seem that the commonality of religion (Catholic), class, school, sport and even team would more easily incline individuals to cooperate in unexpected and difficult circumstances. However, it is really personal character that determines the capacity for cooperation under stress, because extreme circumstances can give rise to panic, desperation and despondency, which can easily lead to a lack of judgment, and unthinking selfishness in behavior.
One key result of the group effort was the fabrication of a large, three-person, insulated sleeping bag. The insulation was salvaged from the tail section of the airplane, down the slope of the glacier about a kilometer or two (about 1 mile) from the fuselage; and the bag was sewn by a group of the survivors. When the supply of thread was finished, they had to use wires pulled from the electrical circuits in the fuselage. This sleeping bag enabled Fernando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintin to survive the nights during their trek west up the wall of the glacial valley to the crest of the Andes.
It was there that Fernando Parrado had his epiphany. After the sinking dread that came upon seeing the snowy jagged crags of the Andes stretching far out to the west, instead of the lush green valleys of Chile falling away to the Pacific, he accepted the fact of his mortality and awakened to his power to choose how to employ it. About this epiphany, Cynthia Boaz wrote “in the most hopeless of situations, we still have a choice. At its core, Nando’s story demonstrates that we always have a degree of control over our lives, even if that choice is simply defining the terms under which we die. This phenomenon is much more than hopefulness or optimism; it is the manifestation of human agency. It is the essence of empowerment.” (9)
Fernando Parrado describes his moment this way: “My love for my father swelled in my heart and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. It staggered me. The mountains, for all their power, were not stronger than my attachment to my father. They could not crush my ability to love. I felt a moment of calmness and clarity, and in that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Only love can turn mere life into a miracle and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear. For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the godforsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell, I would die that much closer to my father.” This was Thursday, 14 December 1972. (10)
Parrado’s strength of purpose was enough to convince Canessa. Vizintin was sent back — a quick sled ride downhill — to wait with the thirteen others while Parrado and Canessa continued on with all the provisions the three had carried to that point. Six days later, on the 20th, the trekkers made contact with a Chilean horseman tending his cattle. On the 22nd and 23rd, Chilean helicopters brought rescue and medical people to the crash site and ferried the survivors out, two days being necessary because the weather and travel time only permitted one trip per day, and there was a limited carrying capacity.
There are many seasonal and religious themes that can come to the minds of Christians and people of the Americas when reflecting on the story of FAU Flight 571. The most poignant is that of Holy Communion, the sixteen survivors today are literally “the resurrection and the life” of many of their companions. They are a tight knit group who 35 years ago entered a horror during the harvest-time gaiety of pumpkins, Halloween and the Day of the Dead. They endured a ghastly negation of Thanksgiving, and were lifted to salvation for Christmas. Three Kings among them set forth from east to west following the star of Parrado’s vision, which carried the hopes of many and was itself the gift that gave birth to new lives for them all. Their gift to us is their story, reflecting on it can center minds otherwise distracted by the relentless hyper-animated flash of crass commercialism and mawkish religiosity that propels so many from pumpkins to turkeys to Santa Claus to cheap flat champagne with even shallower resolutions for “new” ways of living. The future is a fiction.
The plane in this story was a Fairchild FH-227D, an American built version of the Fokker F27 F. I flew in a Fokker F27 F over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California many times, on trips to and from the Nevada Test Site. Flying at 18,000 feet (5487 m) and looking down, the rocky crags poking through the snow-pack (at about 13,000 feet or 4000 m) are very clear, and the expanse of the desolation — for a marooned unfortunate — is evident. Having been through bumpy flights and frightening storms, it is not hard for me to imagine the experience of the FAU Flight 571 crash.
The majestic inhuman beauty of the Andes made a compelling impression on the FAU Flight 571 survivors, and you, too, can experience it through the photographs of a 2005 expedition to retrace the trek over the crest of the Andes by Parrado and Canessa, on the exact same dates 33 years after the events. (11) The Uruguayan trekkers had no mountaineering experience nor specialized equipment and clothing, there was no trail laid out for them, and they had no maps. Try imagining this as you look at the 2005 pictures. The 2005 expedition was sponsored by National Geographic. (12)
To me, a compelling aspect of this story is how a sense of appreciation and love can grow out of the effort to overcome adversity, and how that in turn can give one a greater psychological stamina. This same theme appears in Zen, and I believe is the essence of Buddhist insight regarding “enlightenment” as opposed to religious superstitions, which can have an uplifting effect on people facing hard times, but which are unreliable because they are a placebo effect based on fantasy.
In his book “Man’s Search For Meaning,” (1946) Viktor Frankl expressed a similar idea. His epiphany was forged by surviving a Nazi concentration camp; he was a Jew. For Frankl, survival demanded that one made a conscious choice to live fully, even happily, despite external circumstances. Again, externalities may control my life and my lifespan, but I can always choose my attitude within my time of consciousness. The attitude that made life as fulfilling as possible, whatever the constraints, was one that saw itself as directed toward a goal greater than oneself. A great love for another person, for one’s family; a desire to preserve and publish original ideas on your field of study (Frankl’s motivation); a desire to produce art, literature or some invention you can visualize; these are all examples of what could motivate a person to “live through anything” or die trying. Frankl saw humans as having an innate need to create something of personal meaning out of the physical and mental labor of their lives. If individuals can bring this insight to consciousness and make it specific to their particular lives, they would be as steeled as any human could become to face the buffeting by reality.
What Parrado and Frankl express about their epiphanies may simply be particular examples of Novalis’ elegant presentation of Heraclitus’ aphorism “Character is fate.”
On a less elevated level, a sort of Marxian view of the FAU Flight 571 story would be that in the extremes of scarcity, group action and sharing rather than resource competition and inequity have to be the rule to survive. Yet, despite this there is no loss of individuality, in fact it seems to flower as each person discovers their niche in the collective endeavor. There could also be an element of dismal math here, when there simply isn’t anything, then everyone is “poor” and thus “equal.”
If we look at the Andes story as a microcosm of humanity in a world with a decaying environment, then we could say the lesson is that cooperative attitudes must precede any ability to respond effectively — globally — to halt and then repair environmental damage. Otherwise, I suppose we could hope that as environmental damage becomes more widespread and threatening we will all be drawn together into a more cooperative frame of mind, though this is a rather unappealing form of hope. The analogy does not preclude the possibility that humanity will simply kill itself off unnecessarily through blind, obstinate stupidity. One need only drop names like Cheney and Bush to make this point.
The FAU Flight 571 story — as a story for us — pivots on a realization of happiness by Fernando Parrado that relieved him of any anxiety about the inevitability and near eventuality of his own death. The external reality remained unchanged, and it was crushing and cruel, but he had changed. All the survivors had to have this experience to some degree. The escape was as much a shedding of psychological restraints as it was a trek out of the wilderness; survival was transformation, it was a release of one’s former self. I think this is the essence of the “happiness” that is signified in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “pursuit of happiness,” and I think the reality upon which this “happiness” is based for any individual is their solidarity or “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” with the sea of individuals that surrounds them as our communities, societies and nations. Happiness is simply caring for others who care for you, and wealth can only be the extent of that mutual affection. The political structures of a population with this attitude would necessarily be socialist. So, happiness is solidarity, and solidarity is the objective of Socialism. George Orwell put the matter this way:
“I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.” — George Orwell (“Can Socialists be Happy?” 24 December 1943)
“Love is the final goal of world history – the One of the universe.”
— Novalis (1772-1801)
Enjoy your time in the wild, behind every ridge is a marvelous vista.
 This poem opens Alan Watts’ book Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, a “mountain journal” (1973, Random House). It is a series of essays written between 1968 and 1972.
 This poem opens Jack Turner’s book Teewinot, Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range. (2000, St. Martin’s Press)
 Map of Amundsen and Scott routes to the South Pole in 1911-1912
The Fram Museum,
 The Last Place On Earth,
a 1985 film series based on Roland Huntford’s book with the same title,
 “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX)
 Piers Paul Read, Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,
(1974, Avon Books/J. B. Lippincott, Inc.) ISBN 0-380-00321-X
 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, The Crash and Rescue,
 Alexis J. Scarantino, El Milagro De Los Andes,
 Cynthia Boaz, Thoughts About the True Miracle in the Andes,
14 October 2007,
 Fernando Parrado with Vince Rause,
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, (2006, Crown Publishers)
 Ricardo Peña and James Vlahos,
National Geographic Adventure Expedition December, 2005,
 Alive, Retracing The Survivors Daring Escape,
April 2006, National Geographic Adventure,
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair for recommending Jack Turner’s book.
[Published by Counter Punch on 21 November 2007]