July 2008

One of the blogs that I read regularly is written by an articulate political and economic conservative. For more than a year now, I’ve been concerned about this fellow’s false consciousness. He was just so deluded about so many things. He seemed like a nice guy, smart too. Sometimes I wondered if he just acted clueless to generate discussion. Then the other day, the other shoe dropped. He’s not one of us, he’s one of them. He’s an owner of capital, an exploiter of labor – albeit petite bourgeois. Suddenly it all makes sense. He’s not suffering from false consciousness, he has excellent class consciousness. His positions all make sense now, they serve his class interests. I still think he’s totally wrong about just about everything, but now I can see that those positions are consciously taken to serve self-interest. I no longer worry about him, only about those he employs.

Saw this piece of Canadian humor on a science blog.

I was struck by the same as a commenter to the science blogger was: “”George Bush IS a moron, but we shouldn’t have pointed it out. And the fact that George Bush is a moron shouldn’t reflect poorly on the American people– it’s not as if you actually elected him.” I love it when someone remembers that….”

Problem is, the American people don’t get credit for anything, because even if we didn’t “elect” him in 2000, Americans (not me of course, but the vast majority of American voters, who must be moron lovers) did in fact undeniably vote for him in 2004. What makes it worse, is that by 2004 it was pretty clear to any one with half a brain themselves what an imbecil George W. was.

Today I read a piece that touted the objectivity and disinterest of science as an enterprise when it comes to global warming.  This completely ignores the fact that most of the people involved in the political promotion of anti-global warming policies are not scientists, and are motivated by many different agendas. Even when scientists enter into the political arena their activities in that arena are no longer governed by scientific review.

I’ve heard some people say that the real test in the difference between those who support the idea of anthropogenic global warming and those who deny it, is that no one who supports the idea really wants it to exist -they’d rather be wrong than right, and their acceptance of the rightness of it is reluctant. Well I’m here to say that’s bullshit. Of course there are people who want humanly caused global warming to be real, and I’m one of them.

First let me make a distinction between the scientists, who has a professional interest in not having his/her career go up in smoke because some one comes up with contrary findings, and some one like me who actively is rooting for a warmer earth. Most of those scientists may have career investments to protect, but they’d really rather be wrong than right, because the enterprise of science is highly dependent upon a stable, high tech, wealth industrialized society, and that’s precisely what global warming threatens.  Folks like me on the other hand, and there are quite a few of us, actively detest highly centralized, large scale, global, industrial capitalism and would really like to see a very different kind of social system in its place. We’re opportunists who see global warming as a chance to either convince people to make changes we think are necessary anyway, or force them by circumstances to change.

Now I don’t agree with the “mother earth” lovers, who whine about the earth dying and view humanity as a form of locust that should be exterminated. I think humans are a fine species. I like being human. I like most other humans.  I just think we’ve gone a very long way in the wrong direction, and need a course correction to a simpler, more localized, more decentralized, more humane way of life.

I’m not talking about reverting to foraging, or even becoming true agricultural societies. There’s not a thing wrong with computers or the Internet, or with electricity. However, I have overcome a prejudice of my youth that held flush toilets to be the epitome of civilization, and can now see that composting toilets, with the compost recycled back into local farms would be far more sustainable.

I’m a big fan of the writings of Murray Bookchin (Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future, South End Press, 1990), who envisions “decentralized communities, united in free confederations or networks for coordinating the communities of a region, …[reflecting] the traditional ideals of a participatory democracy…” (page 181).  Bookchin sees the “need to rescale communities to fit the natural carrying capacity of the regions in which they are located and to create a new balance between town and country” as an “ecological imperative” (page 185).

As I see it, if the climate scientists are right, and I suspect that they probably are, environmental circumstances will force upon us changes that will disrupt global capitalism, and combined with the loss of fossil fuels will result in greater localism whether we want it to or not. However, if we wait to be forced into this chances are the changes will come about due to more oppressive governments to deal with the extremes of dislocation and social unrest almost certain to appear.

So I’d rather use the fear of global warming as a tool to get people to willingly, gradually restructure society. Even if it turns out that the world doesn’t get warmer and the environmental catastrophe’s don’t happen, the end result of a restructured, more localized, slower, less energy intensive, more democratic society is more than worth it. But all in all, I think humanity — a  least what’s left of it — might be better off in a warmer world.

This all began with a question from the significant other (SO): “I understand why the rich people accept that extreme inequality is legitimate and vote for the conservatives that want to preserve the existing system with all its inequalities, but why do the poor people accept it’s legitimacy? Why do they accept things the way they are? Why do the poor and working class vote conservative?”

Last time I expounded my ideas about why those in the lower and working classes who have some thing to lose (it may not be a lot, but it is something) acquiesce to inequality even though they don’t really accept it as legitimate, and even vote for conservatives in what might appear to some to be counter to their economic interests.  But there are people who really don’t have anything to lose, and everything to gain from rebelling against the inequalities. Why don’t those who are truly at the bottom, with nothing to lose, strike out against the structures of inequality in our society?

Well, first up, many  do strike out  — at least against individuals, groups and businesses that are close at hand, and are perceived as representing the hand of repression. This is what happens in riots, and acts of looting and vandalism. The striking out may also be expressed through theft, burglary and robbery. But its not just the big crimes, petty shoplifting and minor vandalism, violation of school rules, may also be attacks on what is viewed (accurately I might add) as a biased and unfair system. That these actions have no effect on the over all structure of inequality does not negate the intent behind them — to strike back, to tear down or to take something that is not otherwise available. One reason why these actions are particularly non-effective for changing inequality, is that they are directed at available targets — small business people and residents in poor neighborhoods — not at the upper class owners of corporate America.

Most street crime (theft, robbery, burglary is exercised by individuals or small groups. It does not represent a coming together of people with a common cause against an unjust system, to do something systematic about changing it.  Why not? One reason is that racism, ethnic animosities, and xenophobia are routinely cultivated in our society in such a way that when young people do create groups to engage in criminal behavior, their animosities are focused upon other young people  in similar groups, especially groups of different races and ethnicities. In other words, gang warfare is a mechanism by which our society bleeds off anger and frustration of the poor and powerless, and prevents it from becoming a unified revolutionary force.  As long as gang members kill and injure other gang members law enforcement does little about gangs. When gang violence spills over into “innocent bystanders” attempts are made to punish transgressors.  Not always, of course, because most innocent bystanders are also lower and working class members who lack power and resources in our society.

When punishment occurs it involves being sent to correctional facilities or prisons, in which the daily life of prisoners is dominated by gangs.  Gang organization in prisons serves the interests of those in charge of the prisons. Gangs create order, mete out punishment, and create divisions that prevent prisoners from developing awareness of common, economic or class interests. This is why gangs are tolerated and allowed to flourish within the American prison system; most of the time, the existence of gangs facilitates greater control over the prisoners, than could be accomplished through the formal structures, security personnel and sanctions of the prison.

The United States imprisons a higher percentage of their population than any other country on the face of the earth. The vast majority of those imprisoned come from the ranks of the lower and working classes.  They are more poorly educated, more likely to be illiterate, and more likely to have been unemployed before engaging in criminal activity.

One indicator that the U.S. uses its prisons to control those at the bottom and defuse revolutionary potential, is to compare how street criminals are treated by the police, legal and penal systems, compared to the “white collar” criminals who steal far more money every year through fraud, price fixing, embezzlement, and other crimes that require access to high economic positions and power just to commit them.  Take folks found guilty of embezzling — most get off with no jail/prison time at all.  For one thing, many of the institutions (such as banks) that they embezzle from don’t want their customers to know about the losses. The argument frequently made by their (private, highly paid) lawyers is that they are “upstanding” citizens, responsible members of the community — who have just stolen huge amounts of money, but never mind.  Of those who do get incarcerated, their sentences are shorter than those doled out to not violent thieves, and they serve less of those already short sentences than street thieves do.

There are even more people at the bottom of our structure of inequality, who have nothing to lose, who do not strike out through crime, but rather who check out through drug and alcohol abuse.  Addiction is a powerful method of controlling those at the bottom of society. Oh, sure there’s been a “war on drugs” for the past quarter of a century — a highly ineffectual war, that primarily places low level producers, traffickers and users in prison [pardon me a few statistics: More than half a million people were behind bars for drug offenses in the United States at the end of 2004; people sentenced for drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners.]. The “war on drugs” does little to stop the flow of drugs and money into poor communities. Indeed, keeping a certain amount of law enforcement pressure on drug transactions at the lowest level, helps keep the profits high for those at the top of the drug supply pyramid — who are not poor and not powerless, and who have used their money and power to support politicians who are “anti-drug”.

Societal outrage over drugs generally kicks in when addictive substances, or drug related violence, encroach on middle class communities.  Even then the primary response is a punitive one, focused on locking up the dealers (see above). Very little money is put into drug treatment and rehabilitation facilities.  Keeping a large percentage of the lower class hooked on drugs is a good way of absorbing their energy in ways that will not threaten the status quo.  Someone who is just looking for their next fix is not going to be involved in trying to engineer political and economic change by legitimate or violent means.

Moreover, it provides a superior means to delegitimize the complaints of the poor in the eyes of those higher on the stratification ladder. One does not feel sympathy for the economic plight of the drug addict or wino in the way one might for a sober beggar. Clearly the addict deserves his/her position at the bottom.

So to answer the question at the beginning, many of those at the very bottom of American society who have little or nothing to lose by challenging the system, and trying to change the distribution of resources, are co-opted through gangs, cooled out of society in prisons, and silenced by addictions.


Against the dying of the light...

Against the dying of the light...

 A storm battered American Elm is slowly being choked out by other vegetation.  American elms are a rare sight today due to the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-twentieth century.

Photo taken in June 2008 with a digital camera in the late evening against the evening sun.

Submitted to http://creativephotographyaward.blogspot.com/

From time to time I will be recognizing others who go out on a limb. Today’s nod goes to Dr. Glen Barry at Earth Meanders – http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com/ – who really goes to the edge with his dark visions of earth’s future.  Dr. Barry does have other, more fact oriented websites, but Earth Meanders is where he really lets his visions fly.  Unfortunately, his posts are only periodic.

There are folks who never seem to get it. As I said in my introduction I like to read science blogs, and in general like to read science. Doesn’t matter what, biology, ecology, geology, physics, astronomy, climatology, you name it and I find it interesting.  Sometimes the mathematical models get a bit beyond me, but most of the time I can follow the arguments.  The most interesting aspect of many science blogs is the comments. Most comments are by other scientists discussing and arguing about some aspect of the data or research findings, often offering other references to scientific material. What always amuses me are the non-scientists who occasionally blunder in with some really simplistic question (they should do some basic research first) or who have some harebrained idea that is more science fiction than science, and some how expect the scientists to take them seriously.

Ran across one of these this week on a climate science blog, where a non-scientist was complaining that no one there was paying attention to his idea for polar cities as a solution to global warming.

There might be a time, in the not too distant future when humans find themselves moving further north, and there just might end up being permanent settlements along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. But this fellow is advocating the construction of these cities in the polar regions now — “when we have time and resources and air transport and fuel available, and get them ready for the future when the world MIGHT need them” before, as he says it’s too late — and deciding what fraction of humanity will get to take refuge in them when the world comes undone.

Let’s see, this guy wants some one to ante up enough money now to build cities to hold 100,000 to 1 million residents on the shores of the Arctic ocean, as a hedge against a possible future in which the mid-latitudes are uninhabitable.  There are so many reasons why economically and politically this is not feasible, but how about simple practicality.

Chersky, Russia

Chersky, Russia

Currently most of the land at the Arctic circle is still in permafrost.  So one begins building one of these cities now, on the currently stable permafrost land. Then if the warming he’s predicting occurs, all that permafrost melts (releasing its store of methane) and totally rips to shreds everything that was built on it. Like the building pictured to the right in Chersky, Russia cracked like an eggshell by the melting of permafrost.

Add to this the enormous amounts of fossil fuel energy that would have to be expended to air lift materials, food, supplies and workers, and provide power for the project. Because there are no roads from here to there, and no reliable ocean passages (yet).  How does one combat global warming (since that does seem to be what this person is about) by cooking up a scheme that will use dramatically more fossil fuel resources?

No wonder the guy can’t get any feedback from the scientists who frequent the site!

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