How Will Our Inequality Balloon Pop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Deathwish

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Thank you, Professor Chomsky.

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

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

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

Competitiveness:

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

Delusions of Invulnerability:

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

Sociopathic Religious Vision:

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

Malevolent Nihilism:

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

Are We Destined For Extinction by Loss of Soul?

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

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

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Choosing Dignity During Climapocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Of related interest:

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

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The Anthropocene’s Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Using the I Ching

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book whose purpose is to aid an individual in making a decision, by estimating the best attitudes to adopt and actions to take in order to fare best given the nature of present personal circumstances, and their potential for improving if one adopted the attitudes and actions recommended.

This essay will briefly describe the Wilhelm-Baynes-Jung edition of the I Ching, which is in English, then why it can be useful to help guide personal action (without mumbo-jumbo), and finally the mechanics of actually using the book.

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I Ching: The Book of Changes

The I Ching is a Chinese book of divination, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE (most likely), whose interpretation was expanded philosophically during the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to describe the dynamic balance of opposites and the inevitability of change in the phenomenal realm. Perhaps the most compelling translation of the I Ching into English appeared in print in 1950. This particular version began as a translation from the ancient Chinese into German by Richard Wilhelm guided by the Chinese scholar Lao Nai-hsüan, and was made during the years of World War I. In about 1927, Wilhelm’s friend the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung asked one of his American students, Cary F. Baynes (the former wife of Jaime de Angulo) who worked as a translator of Jung’s books into English, to translate the Wilhelm edition of the I Ching from German to English. This effort was slowed by the death of Richard Wilhelm in 1930, the death of Cary’s husband Helton Godwin Baynes in 1943, and dislocations resulting from the social turbulence of the 1930s and 1940s. The English translation was completed in 1949, and the book included an extensive forward by C. G. Jung explaining how to use the I Ching for divining the right course of action on a question of serious personal interest to the seeker.

The philosophy of the I Ching is of the organic unity and intrinsic appropriateness of the unforced unresisted phenomenal realm, or Nature, called the Tao; and the dynamic balance of opposites of every type, the ying and yang, whose ceaseless interplay give an illusion of duality, yet which dance is really just an alternation of images of the underlying eternal monism, the Tao.

The purpose of the I Ching is to guide the seeker toward a proper psychological balance for the circumstances of the moment. Such balance is essential when making the significant decisions of a lifetime. The propriety of that balance is defined by a moral code that can be characterized as Confucian combined with Taoist flexibility. The I Ching was already ancient by the time of Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu, 551-479 BCE) and the coalescing of formalized Taoism (traditionally 6th century BCE, more likely 5th-4th century BCE), which movement identified its founding text as the Tao Te Ching, a masterful collection of poetic logically ambiguous yet conceptually clear aphorisms ascribed to legendary author Lao Tzu. Modern scholarship is uncertain about the historical authenticity of Lao Tzu, and some scholars believe the Tao Te Ching is a collective work by now unknown authors. Regardless, the Tao Te Ching is one of the finest gems of world literature, philosophy and psychology. The Confucian school of thought is one of building up systems of social organization from simple elements and rules. Taoists see society as immersed in the organic whole of a phenomenal existence of infinite fractal complexity, hence impossible to systematize by reductionism. So, the interpretative commentaries that became attached to the I Ching during the Warring States Period were primarily written by Confucians, which infused the I Ching that has come down to us, with sensible and honorable Confucian morality.

For the man or woman of today’s modern Westernized culture, more interested in utility that in airy metaphysical prattle, the I Ching can be used for practical divination by means of intuitive fuzzy logic: a way to reshuffle the imagination to see present circumstances from a fresh perspective, and then to visualize how these circumstances could change into a specifically different situation as a result of adopting a particular attitude or performing a recommended action. The answer is in the question, and both — an illusory duality — come out of you.

The section above was excerpted from a large article on Asian philosophy, see
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/03/28/asian-philosophies-oppenheimer-the-new-age/

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How To Use The I Ching

The I Ching characterizes an individual’s present circumstances — specific to the question burning in the seeker’s mind — with an image made of six stacked horizontal lines: the hexagram. The lines can be of two types: “strong” (solid) or “weak” (broken), a line with a break (blank space) in the middle. Given these two types of line, it is possible to form 64 different hexagrams.

The hexagram is an image that appears “naturally” and “spontaneously” out of the the same present reality that is expressing you along with the particular quandary that is occupying your mind. Hence, by analyzing that hexagram as a generalized abstraction of your present, you might find a helpful change of perspective that could lead you to adopt new attitudes and take new actions, which would resolve the concern in your mind.

So, that is the essential value of the I Ching: it can surprise you with a shift of perspective that comes out of your own mind as it ponders the dynamics of your own living. No mumbo-jumbo is required, the modern person can use the I Ching without skepticism, as a technique of “spinning the arrow” and “throwing the dice” in your own mind to get a fresh view of your own reality.

How do you determine your hexagram of the moment? In ancient times, hexagrams might be seen to appear accidentally, such as by a bundle of straw falling at your feet and six or more pieces of straw forming a haphazard hexagram; or the cracking of a tortoise shell, from being roasted over a fire, forming the illuminated image of a hexagram. The appearance of these accidental hexagrams would occur while you were deep in thought about some personal question. Later, methods based on randomness for the intentional determination of the moment’s hexagram were developed. I will describe the three-coin method.

Select three coins; I prefer three different types of coin (e.g., US quarter, dime and nickel). Hold them in a closed hand while you think clearly about a specific personal question or decision you want guidance about. Be serious, the exercise is a pointless waste of time otherwise. In ancient times they would have said, poetically, that the “energy” (chi) and “vibrations” (tao) expressing you while you hold this clearly focused question in mind would infuse themselves into the coins warming in you fist, so they would naturally express “you” when forming the hexagram.

Now, shake the coins in your hand, and toss them in front of you (gently so they land close by and don’t fly away). For each coin that lands “heads” assign a value of 3. For each coin that lands “tails” assign a value of 2. Add these three values to determine the numerical value (or strength) of the first line. For example: three heads has the value 9, three tails has the value 6, two heads and one tail yields the value 8, one head and two tails yields 7.

Begin drawing your hexagram, this first line is at the bottom. The line is solid if it has an odd numerical value (7 or 9). The line is broken if it has a even numerical value (6 or 8). It is useful to mark the numerical value next to the line. Repeat this coin-toss process to form the second line, which is drawn above the previous line. Continue until you have a stack of six lines (the sixth line being the top line found with the sixth three-coin toss).

Now you have your hexagram. Consult the book’s interpretation of that hexagram (and the interpretations of each line in the hexagram), and think about how the images presented could be analogies of aspects of your personal situation: THINK!

From the above, you have gained an interpretation of “you now.” What about “the future”? In the conceptions systematized as the I Ching, any solid line with numerical value 9, and any broken line with numerical value 6 were considered so charged that they could spontaneously change into their opposites: solid to broken, and broken to solid. Form a second hexagram from the first, by changing solid lines of value 9 into broken lines, and changing broken lines of value 6 into solid lines, and leaving lines of values 7 or 8 as they were.

This second hexagram represents a future set of personal circumstances that is expected to evolve out of your present, particularly if you follow the recommendations described by the I Ching in its interpretations of each line in the hexagrams as well as the I Ching’s interpretation of the hexagrams as a whole. Again, the personal specifics come out of YOUR THINKING about how the poetic imagery by the I Ching would be analogous to your situation. If you do draw a hexagram that can transform into a second one, then this “change” is the kind of future-casting that the I Ching can provide.

If you treat the I Ching as a technique (something serious) rather than a game (something trivial), you will find it helpful in many instances when you want to clear your mind of confusion, and arrive at useful conclusions. The fundamental point about use of the I Ching is not “how accurate is it?” as if the I Ching were a mysterious external agency or “black box” telling your fortune, but that the I Ching is a random-process moralistic-poetic thought-triggering technique for you to apply to yourself to aid in your own self-analytical thinking.

Try it. If it helps and you like it, then you’ve gained a new tool. If you don’t find it useful, no blame, forget about it and move on.

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What Can I Do About Climate Change?

The Problem:

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:
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/04/26/climate-change-life-green-energy/

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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 your 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:
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/12/11/living-confidently-in-times-of-climate-change/

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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.

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