Coming of the Post-Liberal Era

SUBHEAD: Clinton may still win the election, but the broader currents in American political life have changed.

By John Michael Greer on 28 September 2016 for the Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-coming-of-postliberal-era.html)

http://www.islandbreath.org/2016Year/09/160928drunkardsbig.jpg
Image above: A poster supporting American temperance from alcohol, a Liberal goal in the 19th century. It's labeled "The Drunkard's Progress - From the First Glass to the Grave". Click to enlarge. From (http://www.americanyawp.com/text/10-religion-and-reform/).

One of the big challenges faced by any student of current events is that of seeing past the turmoil of the present moment to catch the deep trends shaping events on a broader scale.

It’s a little like standing on a beach, without benefit of tide tables, and trying to guess whether the tide’s coming in or going out.

Waves surge, break, and flow back out to sea; the wind blows this way and that; it takes time, and close attention to subtle details, before you can be sure whether the sea is gradually climbing the beach or just as gradually retreating from it.

Over the last year or so, though, it’s become increasingly clear to me that one of the great tides of American politics has turned and is flowing out to sea.

For almost precisely two hundred years, this country’s political discourse has been shaped—more powerfully, perhaps, than by any other single force—by the loose bundle of ideas, interests, and values we can call American liberalism. That’s the tide that’s turning.

The most important trends shaping the political landscape of our time, to my mind, are the descent of the liberal movement into its final decadence, and the first stirrings of the postliberal politics that is already emerging in its wake.

To make sense of what American liberalism has been, what it has become, and what will happen in its aftermath, history is an essential resource.

Ask a believer in a political ideology to define it, and you’ll get one set of canned talking points; ask an opponent of that ideology to do the same thing, and you’ll get another—and both of them will be shaped more by the demands of moment-by-moment politics than by any broader logic.

Trace that ideology from its birth through its adolescence, maturity, and decline into senescence, and you get a much better view of what it actually means.

Let’s go back, then, to the wellsprings of the American liberal movement. Historians have argued for a good long time about the deeper roots of that movement, but its first visible upsurge can be traced to a few urban centers in the coastal Northeast in the years just after the War of 1812.

Boston—nineteenth century America’s San Francisco—was the epicenter of the newborn movement, a bubbling cauldron of new social ideas to which aspiring intellectuals flocked from across the new Republic.

Any of my readers who think that the naive and effervescent idealism of the 1960s was anything new need to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance; it's set in the Massachusetts counterculture of the early nineteenth century, and most of the action takes place on a commune. That’s the context in which American liberalism was born.

From the very beginning, it was a movement of the educated elite.

Though it spoke movingly about uplifting the downtrodden, the downtrodden themselves were permitted very little active part in it. It was also as closely intertwined with Protestant Christianity as the movement of the 1960s was with Asian religions.

Ministers from the Congregationalist and Unitarian churches played a central role in the movement throughout its early years, and the major organizations of the movement—the Anti-Slavery Societies, the Temperance League, and the Non-Resistant League, the first influential American pacifist group—were closely allied with churches, and staffed and supported by clergymen.

Both the elitism and the Protestant Christian orientation, as we’ll see, had a powerful influence on the way American liberalism evolved over the two centuries that followed.

Three major social issues formed the framework around which the new movement coalesced.

The first was the abolition of slavery; the second was the prohibition of alcohol; the third was the improvement of the legal status of women. (The movement traversed a long and convoluted road before this latter goal took its ultimate form of legal and social equality between the genders.)

There were plenty of other issues that attracted their own share of attention from the movement—dietary reform, dress reform, pacifism, and the like—but all of them shared a common theme: the redefinition of politics as an expression of values.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that last phrase. Politics at that time, and at most other periods throughout human history, was understood as a straightforward matter of interests—in the bluntest of terms, who got what benefits and who paid what costs.

Then and for most of a century thereafter, for example, one of the things that happened in the wake of every Presidential election is that the winner’s party got to hand out federal jobs en masse to its supporters. It was called the “spoils system,” as in “to the victor belongs the spoils;” people flocked to campaign for this or that presidential candidate as much in the hope of getting a comfortable federal job as for anyother reason.

Nobody saw anything wrong with that system, because politics was about interests.

In the same way, there’s no evidence that anybody in the Constitutional Convention agonized about the ethical dimensions of the notorious provision that defined each slave as being 3/5ths of a person.

I doubt the ethical side of the matter ever crossed any of their minds, because politics was not about ethics or any other expression of values—it was about interests—and the issue was simply one of finding a compromise that allowed each state to feel that its interests would be adequately represented in Congress.

Values, in the thought of the time, belonged to church and to the private conscience of the individual; politics was about interests pure and simple.

(We probably need to stop here for a moment to deal with the standard response: “Yes, but they should have known better!” This is a classic example of chronocentrism.

Just as ethnocentrism privileges the beliefs, values, and interests of a particular ethnic group, chronocentrism does the same thing to the beliefs, values, and interests of a particular time.

Chronocentrism is enormously common today, on all sides of the political and cultural landscape; you can see it when scientists insist that people in the Middle Ages should have known better than to believe in astrology, for example, or when Christians insist that the old Pagans should have known better than to believe in polytheist religions. In every case, it’s simply one more attempt to evade the difficult task of understanding the past.)

Newborn American liberalism, though, rejected the division between politics and values. Their opposition to slavery, for example, had nothing to do with the divergent economic interests of the industrializing northern states and the plantation economy of the South, and everything to do with a devoutly held conviction that chattel slavery was morally wrong.

Their opposition to alcohol, to the laws that denied civil rights to women, to war, and to everything else on the lengthy shopping list of the movement had to do with moral values, not with interests. That’s where you see the impact of the movement’s Protestant heritage: it took values out of the church and tried to apply them to the world as a whole.

At the time, that was exotic enough that the moral crusades just mentioned got about as much political traction at the time as the colorful fantasies of the 1960s did in their own day.

Both movements were saved from complete failure by the impact of war. The movement of the 1960s drew most of its influence on popular culture from its opposition to the Vietnam War, which is why it collapsed nearly without a trace when the war ended and the draft was repealed. The earlier movement had to wait a while for its war, and in the meantime it very nearly destroyed itself by leaping on board the same kind of apocalyptic fantasy that kicked the New Age movement into its current death spiral four years ago.

In the late 1830s, frustrated by the failure of the perfect society to show up as quickly as they desired, a great many adherents of the new liberal movement embraced the prophecy of William Miller, a New England farmer who believed that he had worked out from the Bible the correct date of the Second Coming of Christ. When October 22, 1844 passed without incident, the same way December 21, 2012 did, the resulting “Great Disappointment” was a body blow to the movement.

By then, though, one of the moral crusades being pushed by American liberals had attracted the potent support of raw economic interest. The division between northern and southern states over the question of slavery was not primarily seen at the time as a matter of ethics; it was a matter of competing interests, like every other political question, though of course northern politicians and media were quick to capitalize on the moral rhetoric of the Abolitionists.

At issue was the shape of the nation’s economic future.

Was it going to be an agrarian society producing mostly raw materials for export, and fully integrated into a global economy centered on Britain—the southern model? Or was it going to go its own way, raise trade barriers against the global economy, and develop its own industrial and agricultural economy for domestic consumption—the northern model?

Such questions had immediate practical implications, because government policies that favored one model guaranteed the ruin of the other. Slavery was the linchpin of the Southern model, because the big southern plantations required a vast supply of labor at next to no cost to turn a profit, and so it became a core issue targeted by northern politicians and propagandists alike.

Read detailed accounts of the struggles in Congress between northern and southern politicians, though, and you’ll find that what was under debate had as much to do with trade policy and federal expenditures.

Was there to be free trade, which benefited the South, or trade barriers, which benefited the North? Was the federal budget to pay for canals and roads, which benefited northern interests by getting raw materials to factories and manufactured products to markets, but were irrelevant to southern interests, which simply needed riverboats to ship cotton and tobacco to the nearest seaport?

Even the bitter struggles over which newly admitted states were to have slave-based economies, and which were not, had an overwhelming economic context in the politics of the time.

The North wanted to see the western territories turned into a patchwork of family farms, producing agricultural products for the burgeoning cities of the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes and buying manufactured goods from northern factories; the South wanted to see those same territories made available for plantations that would raise products for export to England and the world.

Yet the ethical dimension became central to northern propaganda, as already noted, and that helped spread the liberal conviction that values as well as interests had a place in the political dialogue.

By 1860, that conviction had become widespread enough that it shaped thinking south of the Mason-Dixon line. As originally written, for example, the first line of the Confederate song “The Bonny Blue Flag” ran “fighting for the property we won by honest toil”—and no one anywhere had any illusions about the identity, or skin color, of the property in question.

Before long, though, it was rewritten as “fighting for our liberty, with treasure, blood and toil.” The moment that change occurred, the South had already lost; it’s entirely possible to argue for slavery on grounds of economic interest, but once the focus of the conversation changes to values such as liberty, slavery becomes indefensible.

So the Civil War raged, the Confederacy rose and fell, the Northern economic model guided American economic policy for most of a century thereafter, and the liberal movement found its feet again.

With slavery abolished, the other two primary goals took center stage, and the struggle to outlaw alcohol and get voting rights for women proceeded very nearly in lockstep.

The 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the US, and the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, were passed in 1919 and 1920 respectively, and even though Prohibition turned out to be a total flop, the same rhetoric was redirected toward drugs (most were legal in the US until the 1930s) and continues to shape public policy today.

Then came the Great Depression, and with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932—and above all with his landslide reelection victory in 1936, when the GOP carried only two states—the liberal movement became the dominant force in American political life.

Triumph after triumph followed. The legalization of unions, the establishment of a tax-funded social safety net, the forced desegregation of the South: these and a galaxy of other reforms on the liberal shopping list duly followed.

The remarkable thing is that all these achievements took place while the liberal movement was fighting opponents from both sides.

To the right, of course, old-fashioned conservatives still dug in their heels and fought for the interests that mattered to them, but from the 1930s on, liberals also faced constant challenge from further left.

American liberalism, as already mentioned, was a movement of the educated elite; it focused on helping the downtrodden rather than including them; and that approach increasingly ran into trouble as the downtrodden turned out to have ideas of their own that didn’t necessarily square with what liberals wanted to do for them.

Starting in the 1970s, in turn, American liberalism also ended up facing a third source of challenges—a new form of conservatism that borrowed the value-centered language of liberalism but used a different set of values to rally support to its cause: the values of conservative Protestant Christianity.

In some ways, the rise of the so-called “new conservatism” with its talk about “family values” represented the final, ironic triumph of the long struggle to put values at the center of political discourse.

By the 1980s, every political faction in American public life, no matter how crass and venial its behavior or its goals, took care to festoon itself with some suitable collection of abstract values. That’s still the case today; nobody talks about interests, even when interests are the obvious issue.

Thus you get the standard liberal response to criticism, which is to insist that the only reason anyone might possibly object to a liberal policy is because they have hateful values.

Let’s take current US immigration policy as an example. This limits the number of legal immigrants while tacitly allowing unlimited illegal immigration. There are solid pragmatic reasons for questioning the appropriateness of that policy.

The US today has the highest number of permanently unemployed people in its history, incomes and standards of living for the lower 80% of the population have been moving raggedly downward since the 1970s, and federal tax policies effectively subsidize the offshoring of jobs.

That being the case, allowing in millions of illegal immigrants who have, for all practical purposes, no legal rights, and can be employed at sweatshop wages in substandard conditions, can only drive wages down further than they’ve already gone, furthering the impoverishment and immiseration of wage-earning Americans.

These are valid issues, dealing with (among other things) serious humanitarian concerns for the welfare of wage-earning Americans, and they have nothing to do with racial issues—they would be just as compelling if the immigrants were coming from Canada.

Yet you can’t say any of this in the hearing of a modern American liberal. If you try, you can count on being shouted down and accused of being a racist.

Why? I’d like to suggest that it’s because the affluent classes from which the leadership of the liberal movement is drawn, and which set the tone for the movement as a whole, benefit directly from the collapse in wages that has partly been caused by mass illegal immigration, since that decrease in wages has yielded lower prices for the goods and services they buy and higher profits for the companies for which many of them work, and whose stocks many of them own.

That is to say, a movement that began its history with the insistence that values had a place in politics alongside interests has ended up using talk about values to silence discussion of the ways in which its members are pursuing their own interests.

That’s not a strategy with a long shelf life, because it doesn’t take long for the other side to identify, and then exploit, the gap between rhetoric and reality.

Ironies of this sort are anything but unusual in political history. It’s astonishingly common for a movement that starts off trying to overturn the status quo in the name of some idealistic abstraction or other to check its ideals at the door once it becomes the status quo.

If anything, American liberalism held onto its ideals longer than most and accomplished a great deal more than many, and I think that most of us—even those who, like me, are moderate Burkean conservatives—are grateful to the liberal movement of the past for ending such obvious abuses as chattel slavery and the denial of civil rights to women, and for championing the idea that values as well as interests deserve a voice in the public sphere.

It deserves the modern equivalent of a raised hat and a moment of silence, if no more, as it finally sinks into the decadence that is the ultimate fate of every successful political movement.

The current US presidential election shows, perhaps better than anything else, just how far that decadence has gone. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is floundering in the face of Trump’s challenge because so few Americans still believe that the liberal shibboleths in her campaign rhetoric mean anything at all.

Even among her supporters, enthusiasm is hard to find, and her campaign rallies have had embarrassingly sparse attendance.

Increasingly frantic claims that only racists, fascists, and other deplorables support Trump convince no one but true believers, and make the concealment of interests behind shopworn values increasingly transparent.

Clinton may still win the election by one means or another, but the broader currents in American political life have clearly changed course.

It’s possible to be more precise. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, in stark contrast to Clinton, have evoked extraordinarily passionate reactions from the voters, precisely because they’ve offered an alternative to a status quo pervaded by the rhetoric of a moribund liberalism.

In the same way, in Britain—where the liberal movement followed a somewhat different trajectory but has ended up in the same place—the success of the Brexit campaign and the wild enthusiasm with which Labour Party voters have backed the supposedly unelectable Jeremy Corbyn show that the same process is well under way there.

Having turned into the captive ideology of an affluent elite, liberalism has lost the loyalty of the downtrodden that once, with admittedly mixed motives, it set out to help. That’s a loss it’s unlikely to survive.

Over the decades ahead, in other words, we can expect the emergence of a postliberal politics in the United States, England, and quite possibly some other countries as well.

The shape of the political landscape in the short term is fairly easy to guess.

Watch the way the professional politicians in the Republican Party have flocked to Hillary Clinton’s banner, and you can see the genesis of a party of the affluent demanding the prolongation of free trade, American intervention in the Middle East, and the rest of the waning bipartisan consensus that supports its interests.

Listen to the roars of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—or better still, talk to the not inconsiderable number of Sanders supporters who will be voting for Trump this November—and you can sense the emergence of a populist party seeking the abandonment of that consensus in defense of its very different interests.

What names those parties will have is by no means certain yet, and a vast number of other details still have to be worked out. One way or another, though, it’s going to be a wild ride.

.

Review of "Dark Age America"

SUBHEAD: No, we aren’t going to work cooperatively to painlessly transition to a brave new green economy.

By Mary Wildfire on 28 September 2016 for Resilience -
(http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-09-28/dark-age-america-review#)


Image above: Detail of cover of John Michael Greer's new book "Dark Age America" From original article.

John Michael Greer’s latest nonfiction book looks at the likely trajectory for North America over the next five centuries. It’s too late, he says, to avert a collapse and ensuing dark age. Perhaps if we had embraced the alternative technologies that Greer himself was involved in exploring in the 1980s we could have avoided this fate, but instead we chose Ronald Reagan, Morning in America, and a continued addiction to fossil fuels and economic growth.

Now a combination of climate change and resource depletion, together with the cultural changes that reliably go along with a failing empire, guarantees that we will follow the time-honored path of previous collapsing civilizations.

As with Greer’s previous books, I have to take his word for these historical patterns as I’m not enough of a student of history to have my own opinion; but he does cite sources for many of these claims. These citations in turn link to a reading list. As with the last Greer book I reviewed on this site (Decline and Fall: the end of empire and the future of democracy in 21st century America), those readers who closely follow his writing will not find a great deal that’s new in this book.

But for anyone who doesn’t follow the Archdruid Report faithfully, there is much food for thought here—and despite the similar theme, little overlap with Decline and Fall. Greer spends little time persuading the reader that “a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”—instead he focuses on the likely outcomes over the next five centuries, after which he thinks a renaissance of some kind may come. He looks especially at North America, but much of his history-informed theorizing will apply to Europe and elsewhere too.

The titles of the chapters provide a pretty good overview of the themes: The Wake of Industrial Civilization is the first chapter and introduction, followed by the Ecological Aftermath, the Demographic Consequences, the Political Unraveling, the Economic Collapse, the Suicide of Science, the Twilight of Technology, the Dissolution of Culture; and the Road to a Renaissance.

The Ecological Aftermath focuses on climate change while acknowledging other environmental assaults of our society, notably upon the oceans, but he also mentions topsoil loss and “the long-term consequences of industrial America’s frankly brainless dumping of persistent radiological and chemical poisons”… the results of that last one will outlast the dark age.

He projects that North America will mostly dry out, with deserts overtaking all of the US Southwest and into the central plains, whose grassland will extend all the way to the Allegheny Plateau.

The most habitable areas, he thinks, will be in New England, the Eastern seaboard (that is, the new seaboard after rising seas take out the cities of the current coastline) the Great Lakes region, and some of the Pacific coast. He bases this on historical patterns when our continent was warmer than today.

This leads into the Demographic Consequences. Without the fossil fuel subsidy, our land will support nowhere near today’s population, and the ecological damage will reduce its carrying capacity further. Large-scale migration is also inevitable.

The Political Unraveling covers familiar terrain; you could call it class struggle. He refers to the time of “elite senility” in which those who run our world for their own benefit lost the ability and inclination to respond to crises. This opens the way to the warbands who will eventually rise to take power after some crisis… not a pleasant scenario but all too realistic.

The Economic Collapse looks at what Greer calls “intermediation” which is the habit of inserting specialists and bureaucrats between producers and consumers. With the breakdown will come “disintermediation” or a reduction in complexity. Much of this has to do with the end of the subsidy provided by fossil fuels.

The Suicide of Science, on the other hand, has more to do with the mistakes of scientists and those who speak for them. He includes here the complete change in what we are told about nutrition, the venal manipulation of studies by the pharmaceutical industry, and the arrogance of prominent atheists.

This is compared with the fate of intellectuals of earlier civilizations in decline—the association between these intellectuals and the elite led to their victimization.

The Twilight of Technology might not be what you’d expect, after that. Instead, Greer insists on looking at technologies individually, and asking whether they are affordable, useful, and actually improve lives. Many fashionable ones fail this test, once you take externalities into account.

Here Greer makes the important point that to be useful, technologies often need to have a suite of associated technologies supported, and so it would be very useful to think through which technologies are worth preserving and therefore looking into maintaining the associated suites (he didn’t mention it, but it strikes me that bicycles are said to be the most efficient means of transportation known; what can we use for tires in the deindustrial future?)

The final chapter is, as you might expect, the one where he talks about solutions.

First he dispenses with the notion that some technical miracle will allow us to continue living in accustomed, wasteful ways—or that some apocalypse will end the whole show and free us from having to do anything about anything.

His advice amounts to two things: to protect yourself and ease the transition, “collapse now and avoid the rush.” In other words, transition to a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on a global economy, money, and fossil fuels.

Perhaps, he suggests, it’s already too late to move to the country, grow your own food and so forth unless you are already well along with that program. But finding ways to do for yourself and your family, and to produce something your neighbors will need, is a sensible course.

The other focus here is what you can do for humanity, to preserve the good parts of our culture for a future civilization that will emerge after the dark age. Here he mentions his own project of getting into letterpress printing, as books can be a durable way to preserve information.

The difference between Greer’s works and those of authors covering similar terrain is that Greer refuses to sugarcoat anything. No, we aren’t going to painlessly transition to a brave new green economy; and no, we aren’t going to work cooperatively to bring all of humanity (not to mention other life forms) through the coming crises with as little pain as possible.

For a reader willing to face hard realities, this book is well worth reading.

.

A Time for Retrovation

SUBHEAD: The deliberate technological regression does not amount to a return to the caves—quite the contrary.

By John Michael Greer on 21 September 2016 for the Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/a-time-for-retrovation.html)


Image above: A photochrom of Belgian milk peddlers with a dogcart and cunstomer, circa 1890–1900. From (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photochrom).

It's been a little more than a year now since I started the narrative that wrapped up last week.

The two weeks that Peter Carr spent in the Lakeland Republic in late November of 2065 ended up covering a little more ground than I’d originally intended, and of course the vagaries of politics and culture in the twilight years of the American century got their share of attention on this blog.

Now that the story’s told and the manuscript is getting its final revisions before heading off to the publisher, I want to talk a bit about exactly what I was trying to do by taking an imaginary person to an imaginary place where things work better than they do here and now.

Part of it, of course, was an attempt to sketch out in detail the practical implications of a point I’ve been exploring on this blog for a good while now.

Most people in today’s industrial society believe, or think they believe, in progress: they believe, that is, that human history has a built-in bias that infallibly moves it from worse things to better things over time.

These days, that belief in progress most often attaches itself to the increasing complexification of technology, and you get the touching faith in the imminence of a Star Trek future that allows so many people these days to keep slogging through the wretchedly unsatisfactory and steadily worsening conditions of the present.

Faith does not depend on evidence. If that statement needs any further proof, you can get it by watching the way people respond to technological failure.

Most of us these days know perfectly well that every software “upgrade” these days has more bugs and fewer useful features than what it replaced, and every round of “new and improved” products hawked by the media and shoveled onto store shelves is more shoddily made, more loaded with unwanted side effects, and less satisfactory than the last round.

Somehow, though, a good many of the people who witness this reality, day in and day out, still manage to insist that the future is, or at least ought to be, a paradise propped up by perfectly functioning machines.

That the rising tide of technological failure might be something other than an accidental roadbump on the way to utopia—that it might be trying to tell us something that, by and large we don’t want to hear—has not yet entered our society’s darkest dream.

It so happens that in very many cases, older, simpler, sturdier technologies work better, producing more satisfactory outcomes and fewer negative side effects, than their modern high-tech equivalents.

After most of two years taking apart the modern mythology of progress in a series of posts that became my book After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age, and most of another year doing the more pragmatic posts that are being turned into a forthcoming book tentatively titled The Retro Future, I decided that the best way to pursue the exploration further was to imagine a society very much like ours that had actually noticed the declining quality of technology, and adjusted public policies accordingly.

That was the genesis of Retrotopia: the attempt to show, by means of the toolkit of narrative fiction, that deliberate technological regression as public policy didn’t amount to a return to the caves—quite the contrary, it meant a return to things that actually work.

The form that this exploration took, though, was shaped in important ways by an earlier venture of the same kind, Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. I don’t know how many of my readers realize just how dramatic a change in utopian literature was marked by Callenbach’s solidly written tale.

From the days of Thomas More’s novel Utopia, which gave the genre its name, utopian literature worked with the contrast between the world as it is and an ideal world as imagined by the author, without any connection between the two outside of the gimmick, however worked, that got a viewpoint character from one to the other.

More’s Utopia was a critique of the England of Henry VIII, but there was never any suggestion on More’s part that England might be expected to turn into Utopia one of these days, and nearly all the utopian tales that followed his embraced the same approach.

With William Morris, things began to shift. Morris was a socialist, and thus believed devoutly that the world could in fact turn into something much better than it was; during the years that his commitment to socialism was at its height, he penned a utopian tale, News from Nowhere, which was set in a future England long after Victorian capitalism had gone gurgling down history’s sewer pipe.

Later on, in the pages of his tremendous fantasy novel The Well at the World’s End, he wove a subtle but pervasive critique of the socialist views he’d championed—socialism appears there in the stark and terrible symbolic form of the Dry Tree—but that’s a subject for a different post entirely.

News From Nowhere was quite the controversial book in its day, not least because the socialist future Morris imagined was green, agrarian, and entirely free of the mechanized regimentation of humanity that played such a huge role in the Marxist imagination then as now.

Still, the historical thread that linked Morris’ utopia to the present was very thin. The story was set far off in the future, and Morris skimmed lightly over the process that led from the dark Satanic mills of Victorian England to the green and pleasant land of his imagined socialist England.

That was where Callenbach took hold of the utopian narrative, and hammered it into a completely new shape. Ecotopia was set barely a quarter century in Callenbach’s own future.

In his vision, the states of Washington, Oregon, and the northern two-thirds of California had broken away from the United States in 1980, and the usual visitor—journalist William Weston, from what’s left of the United States—came to pay the usual visit in 1999.

Over the nineteen years between independence and Weston’s visit, the new nation of Ecotopia had entirely reshaped itself in the image of the Whole Earth Catalog, adopting the technologies, customs, and worldview that San Francisco-area eco-radicals of the 1970s dreamed of establishing, and here and there actually adopted in their own lives.

It really is a tour de force.

One measure of its impact is that to this day, when you ask people on the leftward end of things to imagine an ideal future that isn’t just a lightly scrubbed version of the present, dollars will get you organic free range doughnuts that what you’ll hear is some version or other of the Ecotopian future: wind turbines and solar panels, organic farms everywhere, and everyone voluntarily embracing the social customs and attitudes of the San Francisco-area avant-garde circa 1975 in perfect lockstep.

While I was writing Retrotopia, until some of my readers got the hang of the fact that I don’t crowdsource my fiction, I fielded any number of comments and emails insisting that I really ought to incorporate this or that or the other aspect of the Ecotopian future into my narrative.

I didn’t take offense at that; it was pretty clear to me that for a lot of people nowadays, Ecotopia is literally the only alternative to the status quo that they can imagine.

We’ll get to the broader implications of that last point in a moment. Just now, I want to talk about why I didn’t write a mildly retro version of Ecotopia. I could have; it would have been easy and, frankly, quite entertaining to do that.

I’ve imagined more than once writing a tale about somebody from our world who, via some bit of science-fictionish handwaving, is transported to an alternate America in which Ronald Reagan lost the 1980 election, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant underwent a full-scale Fukushima Daiichi meltdown with tens of thousands of casualties, and the United States had accordingly gone careening ahead toward the sustainable future we almost adopted. I may still write that story someday, but that wasn’t what I chose to do this time around.

Partly, of course, that was because Ernest Callenbach was there already forty years ago. Partly, though, it’s because not all the assumptions that undergirded Ecotopia have worn well in the decades since he wrote.

It’s become painfully clear that renewable energy sources, valuable and necessary though they are, can’t simply be dropped into place as a replacement for fossil fuels; huge changes in energy use, embracing issues of energy concentration and accessibility as well as sheer quantity, will have to be made as fossil fuels run out and we have to make do with the enduring power sources of sun, wind, water, and muscle.

It’s also become clear, painfully or amusingly as the case may be, that the notions that Sausalito intellectuals thought would save the world back in the 1970s—communal living, casual pansexuality, and the like—had downsides and drawbacks that nobody had gotten around to noticing yet, and weren’t necessarily as liberating and transformative as they seemed at the time.

Ecotopia also fell headlong into both of the standard pitfalls of the contemporary liberal imagination.

The first of these is the belief that a perfect society can be attained if we can just abolish diversity of ideas and opinions, and get everyone to believe what the affluent liberal intelligentsia think they ought to believe.

That’s why I put ongoing controversies between conservative and restorationist blocs into the story. It’s also, on another level, why I put in repeated references to religious diversity—thus there are people running for public office in the Lakeland Republic who end an oath of office with “So help me Jesus my Lord and Savior,” just as there are military officers there who spend every Sunday at the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Toledo, and politicians who attend the Atheist Assembly.

The second pitfall, which follows from the first, is the belief that since you can’t get “those people” to have the ideas and opinions you think they ought to have, the proper response is to hole up in a self-referential echo chamber from which all unacceptable views are excluded.

Ecotopia assumes implicitly that the United States, and by inference the rest of the world’s nations as well, are utterly irredeemable; the nation of Ecotopia thus barricades itself inside its borders and goes its green and merry way, and the climax of the story comes when William Weston decides to stay in Ecotopia and become one of the good people. (He had a significant other back home in the USA, by the way; what she thought of his decision to dump her for a San Francisco hippie chick is nowhere mentioned.)

We’ll be discussing both those pitfalls at length in future posts, not least because they bid fair to exert a massive influence on contemporary politics, especially but not only in the United States. The point I’d like to make here, though, is just how deep the latter habit runs through the liberal end of our collective imagination.

I’m thinking here of another powerful and morally problematic work of fiction to come out of the same era, Ursula K. LeGuin’s haunting story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” The core of the story is that there’s a splendid city, Omelas; its splendor depends on the infliction of suffering on one helpless person; now and again, people get upset by this, and leave the city. It’s stunningly well written but evades a crucial question: does walking away do anything to change the situation, or does it just let the ones who walk away from Omelas feel morally superior?

That was one of the reasons why the conclusion of Retrotopia didn’t feature Peter Carr chucking his Atlantic Republic passport and moving in with Melanie Berger.

Instead, he caught the train back home, having committed himself to the challenge of trying to move his own country in the direction that the Lakeland Republic has already taken, in the full knowledge that he might not succeed.

I had the entire last scene in mind from the beginning of the project, partly as a deliberate challenge to that aspect of Ecotopia, partly because that sort of leap into uncertainty seems much more relevant to our present predicament. We don’t know, any more than Carr did, what lies behind the clouds that hide the future.

Of course the primary difference between Ecotopia and Retrotopia was that my narrative was meant to explore a very different approach from Callenbach’s. He was trying to propose a new, avant-garde, cutting-edge future—it’s often forgotten that the kind of thing Callenbach was talking about really was seen as the next great wave of progress in the 1970s, before the current fad for schizoid withdrawal into a cybernetic Neverland took that title away from it in the 1980s.

I’m trying to explore the possibility that going back to what worked is a better idea than plunging forward along a trajectory that leads to no place any sane human being would want to go. He was talking about innovation, while I’m talking about retrovation: the strategy of using the past as a resource for problem-solving in the present.

Retrovation used to be utterly unthinkable in modern industrial societies.

At the moment, it’s making the transition from utterly unthinkable to unspeakably heretical—thus another term for it I introduced in a post a while back, the heresy of technological choice—but a lot of people still can’t get their minds around it at all.

When I’ve proposed steampunk technology as one model for the future, I’ve inevitably fielded a flurry of comments insisting that you can’t possibly have Victorian technology without child labor and oppressive gender politics—and of course while I was writing Retrotopia, quite a few readers assumed as a matter of course that the tier system in the Lakeland Republic governed every detail of daily life, so that you weren’t allowed to have anything belonging to a post-1830 technological suite if you lived in a tier one county.

Not so. The word I’ve coined for the strategy under discussion, retrovation, is obviously backformed from “retro” + “innovation,” but it’s also “re-trove-ation,” re-finding, rediscovery: an active process of searching through the many options the past provides, not a passive acceptance of some bygone time as a package deal.

That’s the strategy the Lakeland Republic puts to use in my narrative, and those of my readers who know their way around the backwaters and odd corners of history may find it entertaining to figure out the sources from which I lifted this or that detail of Retrotopian daily life.

The rhetoric of progress, by contrast, rejects that possibility, relies on a very dubious logic that lumps “the past” together as a single thing, and insists that wanting any of it amounts to wanting all of it, with the worst features inevitably highlighted.

I’ve long since lost track of the number of times I’ve been told that rejecting the latest new, shiny, and dysfunctional technology, in favor of an older technology that works, is tantamount to cheerleading for infant mortality, or slavery, or living in caves, or what have you.

I’ve sometimes thought that it might be entertaining to turn that around—“if you won’t use a cell phone, you must be in favor of bringing back a balanced global climate!”—or simply taking it in directions a little more absurd than it’s gone already—“if you prefer rail travel to air travel, why, you might as well just restart the Punic Wars!” In either case, the point that might be made is the silliness of the progress-worshippers’ insistence that the past, or the present, or for that matter the future, is an all-or-nothing deal.

That’s also why, to return to my narrative for a moment, I made a point of showing that the sexual mores of people in the Lakeland Republic didn’t correspond to how people behaved at some point in the past—or, more to the point, the mythical notion of how people behaved in the past that’s been circulated by certain pseudoconservatives in recent decades.

Thus industrial magnate Janice Mikkelson is a lesbian with a lovely wife, Peter Carr happens to see two young men who’ve just gotten married on their way to their honeymoon, and when Peter and Melanie go out for dinner and an opera, the evening ends in her bedroom. I know that was uncomfortable for the social and religious conservatives among my readers, but it had to be there, for two reasons.

On the one hand, as a moderate Burkean conservative, I see absolutely no justification for imposing legal restraints on what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, or for that matter in that dimension of the public sphere that pertains to marriage licenses—and, after all, this is my utopia and I’ll permit what I want to.

On the other hand, just as I put devoutly religious people into the story to discomfit the sort of doctrinaire liberals who believe that nobody should follow traditional religious teachings, I put married gay and lesbian people into the story to discomfit the sort of doctrinaire conservatives who believe that nobody should follow contemporary sexual mores.

In both cases, the point I hoped to make is that the Lakeland Republic, with its policy of retrovation and its relative comfort with a diversity of ideas and lifestyles, hasn’t gone “backward,” or for that matter “forward,” but off in a direction all its own—a direction that can’t be defined in terms of the monomaniacally linear fixations of the worshippers of progress.

And of course that’s the crucial point, the most important thing that I hope my readers got out of the narrative. At the heart of most of the modern world’s insoluble problems is the faith-based claim that human history is a straight line with no branches or meanders, leading onward and upward from the caves to the stars, and that every software upgrade, every new and improved product on the shelves, every lurch “forward”—however that conveniently floppy word happens to be defined from day to day by marketing flacks and politicians—therefore must lead toward that imaginary destination.

That blind and increasingly untenable faith, I’ve come to think, is the central reason why the only future different from the present that most people can imagine these days, if it’s not Ecotopia, is either a rehash of the past in every detail or some kind of nightmare dystopia. These days, as often as not, that even extends to science fiction, once our society’s most effervescent cauldron of novel futures.

While writing an essay on the genre for a new magazine of science fiction and fantasy, Mythic, it occurred to me—and not for the first time—how few recent works of science fiction seem to be able to portray a future society that isn’t either a straight-line extrapolation from the present, complete with all its most parochial features, a carbon-copy rehash of some specific society of the past, or a smoking wasteland.

Not all that many decades ago, SciFi authors routinely spun future societies as radically different from ours as ours is from, say, the ancient Maya, but such visions are rare now. I don’t think that’s accidental.

To borrow a metaphor from Retrotopia, when you’ve driven down a blind alley and are sitting there with your bumper pressed against a brick wall, the only way forward starts by backing up—but if you’ve been convinced by your society’s core ideological commitments that “backing up” can only mean returning whole hog to the imaginary, awful past from which the ersatz messiah of progress is supposed to save us, you’re stuck.

There you sit, pushing uselessly on the pedal, hearing the engine labor and rattle, and watching the gas gauge move steadily toward that unwelcome letter E; it’s no surprise that after a while, the idea of a street leading somewhere else starts to seem distinctly unreal.

Other futures are possible. Retrotopia isn’t the only option, though I have to say it strikes me as a much more pleasant choice than what we’ve got now, and retrovation isn’t the only tool we need to get us out of that blind alley, though I suspect it’s more useful than a good many of the more popular items in our contemporary toolkit.

Still, time will tell—and if my narrative irritates some of my readers enough to get them working on their own, radically different visions of a future that breaks free of the blind alley of linear progress, all the better.


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Stop funding Dakota Access Pipeline

SUBHEAD: A key pipeline loan is pending and banks are vulnerable to public pressure. We can it fight at any one of 38 banks.

By Bill McKibbon on 22 September 2016 for Yes Magazine -
(http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/standing-rock-is-a-two-front-war-big-oil-and-big-banks-but-maybe-thats-good-news-20160922)


Image above: Standing Rock Sioux chasing away pipeline security trucks. Photo by Dell Hambleton. From original article.

Most Americans live far from the path of the Dakota Access pipeline—they won’t be able to visit the encampments on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation where representatives of more than 200 tribes have come together in the most dramatic show of force of this environmental moment.

They won’t be able to participate in the daily nonviolent battle along the Missouri River against a $3.7 billion infrastructure project that threatens precious water and myriad sacred sites, not to mention the planet’s unraveling climate.

But most of us live near a bank.

Maybe there’s a Citibank branch in your neighborhood. Or Wells Fargo or Bank of America or HSBC. Maybe you even keep your money in one—if so, you inadvertently helped pay for the guard dogs that attacked Native Americans as they tried to keep bulldozers from mowing down ancestral grave sites.

Maybe you have a retirement plan invested with Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley—if so, you helped buy the pepper spray that the company used to clear the way for its crews as they cleared the right of way straight to the Missouri River.

Perhaps you bank overseas. Credit Agricole? Deutsche Bank? Sumitomo? Royal Bank of Scotland? Barclays? Yeah, them too.

In fact, virtually every name in the financial pantheon has extended credit in some form to the Dakota pipeline project, according to a remarkable dossier assembled by the organization Food and Water Watch. It shows a credit line of $10.25 billion (that’s a b) for the companies directly involved in building the project—from 38 banks—a list of names that, the group adds, “might give you flashbacks to the 2007 financial crisis.”

Sporadic protests have begun at some of the banks—activists occupied a Vancouver branch of TD Bank and across the continent in Philadelphia held a protest outside another of the giant’s outlets. The same thing happened at a Citibank in downtown Chicago.

“It’s unlikely that Citibank customers support poisoning indigenous peoples’ water, desecrating sacred burial sites, or contributing to global climate change,” said Gloria Fallon of Rising Tide Chicago. Which is true.

But banks love these kinds of deals precisely because they’re so capital-intensive. (And because they’re financially stacked in favor of the developers: Federal tax breaks worth more than $600 million helped make the balance sheet for Dakota Access).

The key Dakota Access loan, says Rainforest Action Network’s Amanda Starbuck, is still pending. It’s a multibillion-dollar line of credit, but only $1.1 billion of the loan can be doled out until the company “resolves certain governmental permits.” Citi, Mizuho, Bank of Tokyo MUFJ, and Mizuho Bank are leaders on that loan.
 

Many of these banks may be vulnerable to pressure. For one thing, they’re eager to appear green: Bank of America, for instance, recently announced plans to make all its bank branches “carbon-neutral” by 2020.

http://www.islandbreath.org/2016Year/09/160927chart.jpg
Image above: Name of financial source of credit/loan and receiving pipeline construction/operation partner. Created by Food & Water. From original article. Click to enlarge.

Which is nice—solar panels on the roof of the drive-thru tellers are better than no solar panels. But as Starbuck said, it’s basically meaningless stacked up against Bank of America’s lending portfolio, chock full of loans to develop “extreme fossil fuels, which are simply incompatible with a climate-stable world.”

Put another way: They’re going to be the vegan owners of a global chain of slaughterhouses.
RAN’s numbers make clear just how mammoth this problem is for those of us fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground: In June, it reported that just 25 banks have invested “$784 billion in coal mining, coal power, ‘extreme oil’ and liquefied natural gas facilities between 2013 and 2015.”

But there are success stories: Australian campaigners, led by indigenous groups downunder and working with campaigners across three continents, persuaded most of the world’s banks to stop bankrolling plans for what would have been the world’s largest coal mine and port, and in turn that has helped bring the project to a standstill.

The pressure will increase after this week’s release of a new report from Oil Change International, which makes clear that the oil fields, gas wells, and coal mines already in operation have enough carbon to carry us past the 2-degree target the world set in Paris a year ago (and to absolutely annihilate the stretch goal of 1.5 degrees).

And at least one bank is waking up. Amalgamated—the New York-based, labor-affiliated bank—announced jointly with Bank of America that it would make its branches carbon neutral. More significantly, it also announced it was divesting from the fossil fuel business.

“We need to be honest, we have a growing environmental crisis unfolding and Amalgamated Bank will no longer sit on the sideline,” said Keith Mestrich, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank. “As an industry that prides itself on innovation and bold action, we must all be leaders and take real action to change our course.”

Put another way: They’re vegans who will now be lending to tofu makers.
But it’s probably sustained public pressure that will do the most good.

“Oil companies are always going to drill for oil and build pipelines—it's why they exist,” says RAN’s Scott Parkin. “But the banks funding this pipeline have a choice as to where they put their money. Right now, Citibank, TD Bank, and others have chosen to invest in a project that violates indigenous rights and destroys the climate.”

Parkin points to the protests that have already sprung up at dozens of banks from D.C. to New Orleans to Tucson to Long Beach to the Bronx. “We have the power to derail that loan with a different kind of currency,” he said. “Putting our bodies on the line at any financial institution that says ‘Dakota Access Pipeline, we're open for business.’”

And if anyone has any doubts that civil disobedience can be useful, remember how the amazing activists at Standing Rock forced the federal government to blink, pausing construction earlier this month. Their nonviolent leadership has inspired all of us—and it should have sent a shiver down the spine of a few bankers.

That is to say: At this point anyone who finances any fossil fuel infrastructure is attempting to make money on the guaranteed destruction of the planet.

So those Dakota Access loans should come under new scrutiny—moral, as well as financial—since they assume that governments won’t enforce their Paris promises. That’s a gamble accountants might want to think twice about, especially after this week’s news that the SEC was investigating Exxon for its refusal to write down the value of its reserves in light of the global accords.

• Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of the climate group 350.org. He is a YES! Magazine contributing editor. Twitter: @billmckibben

See also:

Ea O Ka Aina: UN experts to US, "Stop DAPL Now!" 9/27/16
Ea O Ka Aina: No DAPL solidarity grows 9/21/16
Ea O Ka Aina: This is how we should be living 9/16/16
Ea O Ka Aina: 'Natural Capital' replacing 'Nature' 9/14/16
Ea O Ka Aina: The Big Difference at Standing Rock 9/13/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Jill Stein joins Standing Rock Sioux 9/10/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Pipeline temporarily halted 9/6/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Native Americans attacked with dogs 9/5/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Mni Wiconi! Water is Life! 9/3/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Sioux can stop the Pipeline 8/28/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Officials cut water to Sioux 8/23/16 

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UN Experts to US, "Stop DAPL Now"

SUBHEAD: "The tribe was denied access to information and excluded from consultations," says UN special rapporteur.

By Andrea Germanos on 26 September 2016 for Common Dreams -
(http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/09/25/un-experts-united-states-stop-dapl-now)


Image above: Photo of NoDAPL demonstration by John Duffy. From original article.

Backing up the Standing Rock Sioux and its allies, a United Nations expert has called on the United States to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Echoing pipeline opponents' concerns, the statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, cited the pipeline's threats to drinking water and sacred sites. She also admonished the U.S. for failing to protect protesters' rights and failing to properly consult with communities affected by the fossil fuel infrastructure.

"The tribe was denied access to information and excluded from consultations at the planning stage of the project, and environmental assessments failed to disclose the presence and proximity of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation," Tauli-Corpuz stated Thursday—just two days after Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II urged the UN Human Rights Council to help the tribe stop the pipeline.

Informed consent from those affected—and abiding by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—is essential, she said, "particularly in connection with extractive resource industries."

Responding to the crackdown on pipeline protesters, she said, "The U.S. authorities should fully protect and facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of indigenous peoples, which plays a key role in empowering their ability to claim other rights."

According to Tom Goldtooth, the director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, "The UN Expert got it right."

"What the U.S. calls consultation is not consultation but a statement telling people what they're doing after millions of dollars have been invested, painting Indigenous Peoples as spoilers. The right of free, prior, and informed consent begins prior to the planning process, not when their bulldozers are at your doorstep."

Tauli-Corpuz's statement was endorsed by seven other UN experts, including Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller; Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox; and Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune.

The pipeline, slated to snake a 1,172-mile path across four states from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to a hub in Illinois, has faced months of building resistance.

Given the continued protests—and legal hurdles—"the way forward won't be simple" for the pipeline company, the Bismark Tribune reports this weekend.

And if it is ultimately halted, that'd be good news for pipeline opponents and proponents alike, according to Jacob Johns, a Spokane, Wash. resident and member of the An akimel O'Othm (Gile River Pima) and Hopi tribes.

"We're out there protesting on behalf of the people who were for the pipeline," he said to KXLY. "They don't realize we're out there fighting for each other, we are humanity trying to heal itself and save itself."

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: No DAPL solidarity grows 9/21/16
Ea O Ka Aina: This is how we should be living 9/16/16
Ea O Ka Aina: 'Natural Capital' replacing 'Nature' 9/14/16
Ea O Ka Aina: The Big Difference at Standing Rock 9/13/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Jill Stein joins Standing Rock Sioux 9/10/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Pipeline temporarily halted 9/6/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Native Americans attacked with dogs 9/5/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Mni Wiconi! Water is Life! 9/3/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Sioux can stop the Pipeline 8/28/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Officials cut water to Sioux 8/23/16 

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Is the Deep State dumping Hillary?

SUBHEAD: Clinton is holding down the status-quo of failed expansionism and proxy wars.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 26 September 2016 fpr Of Two Minds -
(http://www.oftwominds.com/blogsept16/deep-state9-16.html)


Image above: Illustration on Mrs. Clinton, terrorist groups and U.S. intelligence operations in the Middle-East by Greg Groesch. From (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/aug/3/hillary-clinton-pursued-by-us-intelligence-agents/).

The governed are ready for a period of retrenchment, consolidation and diplomatic solutions to unwinnable conflicts, as imperfect as the peace might be to hawks.

Are you open to a somewhat unconventional perspective on this election? If so, read on. If you're absolutely confident you know all there is know about this election (good vs evil, Democrat vs. Republican, etc.), well then let's compare notes in five years and see which context provided more insight into the future.

In the context presented here, the personalities of the two candidates matter less than their perceived role in the changing of the Imperial Order. Let's start with a quick overview of the relationships between each political party and the Deep State--the unelected power centers of the central government that continue on regardless of which person or party is in elected office.

Liberal Democrats have always been uneasy bedfellows with the Deep State. Republican President Eisenhower had the political and military gravitas to put limits on the Military-Industrial wing of the Deep State, so much so that Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy claimed the U.S. had fallen behind the U.S.S.R. militarily in the 1960 presidential election (the infamous "missile gap").

Eisenhower was a cautious Cold War leader, wary of hot wars, wars of conquest, and the inevitable burden of conquest, nation-building. The military was best left sheathed in his view, and careful diplomacy was sufficient to pursue America's interests.

Kennedy entered office as a foreign policy hawk who was going to out-hawk the cautious Republicans. A brush with C.I.A. cowboys (the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba) and a taste of Imperial meddling in distant, poorly understood lands (Vietnam) increased his interest in peace and reduced his enthusiasm for foreign adventurism.

Lyndon Johnson, perhaps the most activist liberal Democrat of the era, was not about to be out-hawked by the Republicans, and so he followed an expansive Imperial agenda into the 10-year quagmire of Vietnam.

Since the immense global enterprise known as World War II had taken less than four years to win, Americans had little patience for low-intensity wars that dragged on inconclusively for years while combat deaths mounted into the tens of thousands.

Liberal Democrats could find no easy political ground between the pressure to out-hawk the Republicans and the demands of an expansive Cold War Deep State. Both liberal Democratic presidents between 1965 and 1980, Johnson and Jimmy Carter, were one-term presidents, undermined by military/foreign entanglements.

The Republicans were given a freer hand; Nixon unleashed the B-52s on Hanoi in late 1972 until the North Vietnamese ran out of Soviet-supplied SAMs (surface to air missiles). Given a choice between a brokered peace or a flattened capital, they chose peace, and Nixon was free to declare victory and pull the majority of remaining American forces out of Southeast Asia.

The disastrous defeat in Vietnam of expansive Imperial ambitions (nation-building, etc.) led to an era of retrenchment and consolidation. Other than "splendid little wars" in Grenada and Panama and supporting proxies such as the Contras, the 1980s were years not of Imperial expansion but of Cold war diplomacy.

Republican President Reagan was also given a free hand to be a peacemaker, overseeing the fatal erosion of the U.S.S.R. and the end of the long, costly Cold War. President Bush Senior was a cautious Cold War leader, careful not to alienate the post-U.S.S.R. Russians and wary of over-reach and quagmires even in the new Unipolar world of unrivaled U.S. power.

The era's one hot war, Desert Storm, restored the sovereignty of Kuwait but left Saddam Hussein in control of Iraq. Bush and his inner circle (and the Deep State they represented) were mindful of the lessons of Vietnam: Imperial over-reach led to costly, drawn-out failures of nation-building in the name of exporting democracy.

Though it was poorly understood by the public, Desert Storm played to American military strengths: a high-intensity conflict with concentrated forces, maneuver warfare with heavy armor protected by absolute air superiority, aided by proximity to allied bases and aircraft carrier groups. If you designed a war optimized to American military strengths, it would look much like Desert Storm. No wonder it was one of the most lopsided victories in history, with most American casualties resulting from random Scud missile strikes and accidents.

The end of the Cold War and victory in Iraq left the Republicans without their hawkish agenda and political raison d'etre, and Ross Perot's third-party movement in 1992 effectively delivered the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton.

Clinton was blessed with a booming domestic economy and a peace dividend from the end of the Cold war. Though Clinton reportedly hankered for a great crisis he could exploit to burnish his place in the history books, alas none arose, and the 20th century ended with a decided absence of existential threats to the U.S. or even U.S. interests.

The incredible success of Desert Storm and the temptations of Unipolar Power birthed an expansionist, activist Imperial doctrine (neoconservatism) and a Deep State enthusiasm for flexing America's unrivaled power. What better place to put these doctrines into practice than Iraq, a thorn in the Imperial side since Desert Storm in 1991.

Alas, Bush Junior and his clique of doctrinaire neoconservatives had little grasp of the limits and trade-offs of military tactics and strategies, and they confused the optimization of Desert Storm with universal superiority in any and all conflicts.

But as veterans of Vietnam knew, low-intensity war with diffused, irregular combatants is quite a different situation. Add in the shifting politics of Sunni and Shia, tribal allegiances, failed states and a post-colonial pot of simmering resentments and rivalries, and you get Iraq and Afghanistan, two quagmires that have already exceeded the cost and duration of the Vietnam quagmire.

A decade after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and 25 years after Vietnam, the Deep State was once again enamored of expansion, hot wars, conquest and nation-building. Fifteen years on, despite endless neocon PR and saber-rattling, the smarter and more adept elements of the Deep State have given up on expansion, hot wars, conquest and nation-building.



Even empires eventually taste the ashes of defeat when expansion and hubris-soaked ambitions lead to over-reach, over-extended military forces, and enemies who are not just undeterred but much stronger than when the over-confident expansion began.

In my view, the current era of U.S. history shares parallels with the Roman era of A.D. 9 and beyond, when a planned expansionist invasion of the Danube region in central Europe led to military defeats and insurgencies that took years of patient warfighting and diplomacy to quell.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. President Obama, nominally a liberal Democrat, has pursued an extension of the neocon Bush expansionism, with the key difference being Obama has relied more on proxies and drone strikes than on "boots on the ground." But the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan have not only persisted, they have expanded under Obama's watch into Syria and Libya.

War by drone and proxy is even more tempting than outright invasion, as American casualties are modest and the responsibilities for failure are (it is fervently hoped) easily sidestepped. Alas, fulfilling Imperial ambitions via proxies has its own set of limits and trade-offs; proxy wars only get the desired results in very specific circumstances.

The Democrats have out-hawked the Republicans for eight years, and the Deep State is in disarray. I have been writing about this for several years now:

Is the Deep State Fracturing into Disunity? (March 14, 2014)

When we speak of the Deep State, this ruling Elite is generally assumed to be monolithic: of one mind, so to speak, unified in worldview, strategy and goals.

In my view, this is an over-simplification of a constantly shifting battleground of paradigms and political power between a number of factions and alliances within the Deep State. Disagreements are not publicized, of course, but they become apparent years after the conflict was resolved, usually by one faction winning the hearts and minds of decision-makers or consolidating the Deep State's group-think around their worldview and strategy.

Even the Deep State only rules with the consent of the governed. The wiser elements of the Deep State recall how the Vietnam War split the nation in two and exacerbated social upheaval. These elements recognize America is tired of Imperial expansion, quagmires, proxy wars and doomed nation-building.

This exhaustion with over-reach shares many parallels with 1968 America.

In this long view of Imperial expansion, defeat and retrenchment, Hillary is holding down the status quo fort of failed expansionism and proxy wars. Her ability to out-hawk the Republicans is unquestioned, and that is one of her problems:

Could the Deep State Be Sabotaging Hillary? (August 8, 2016)

When the governed get tired of Imperial over-reach and expansion, they are willing to take chances just to get rid of the expansionist status quo. In this point in history, Hillary Clinton embodies the status quo. The differences in policy between her and the Obama administration are paper-thin: she is the status quo.

The governed are ready for a period of retrenchment, consolidation and diplomatic solutions to unwinnable conflicts, as imperfect as the peace might be to hawks.

For these reasons, the more adept elements of the Deep State have no choice but to dump Hillary. Empires fall not just from defeat in war with external enemies, but from the abandonment of expansionist Imperial burdens by the domestic populace.
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Labour Party supports Corbyn

SUBHEAD: Despite sabotage and dirty tricks, he wins party leadership race in unprecedented landslide.

By Cory Doctorow on 24 September 2016 for Boing Boing -
(http://boingboing.net/2016/09/24/despite-sabotage-and-dirty-tri.html)


Image above: Jeremy Corbyn accepting party vote victory. From original article.

It's been just over a year since Jeremy Corbyn won the UK Labour Party leadership race with the biggest margin in history -- an avowed socialist who would reverse the party's years of special gifts to the UK's legendarily corrupt finance sector, fight mass surveillance, pull out of secretive trade deals -- a frugal man who walked his talk.

Almost immediately, his own party began sabotaging him, from the top on down, culminating in the mass-disenfranchisement of Corbyn supporters through an after-hours, non-agenda vote, which the party grandees doubled down on by spending the money those disenfranchised members had paid to appeal their decision to higher and higher courts.

In parallel, the UK press unilaterally declared Labour's most-popular-ever leader to be "unelectable" and did everything they could to sideline, belittle and dismiss him and his supporters, even as the UK Tories were leading the country to disaster through their Brexit vote.

So it is nothing short of a miracle that Corbyn has won the leadership race, and that, moreover, he has increased his lead, beyond last year's landslide, with a higher voter turnout than ever.

Corbyn's pledged to unite Labour (something that will require cooperation from the bankster-friendly, warmongering, surveillance-addicted party establishment) and promised not to retaliate against the party execs and elected leaders who tried to sabotage his leadership.
Mr Corbyn was first elected Labour leader in September 2015, when he beat three other candidates and got 59.5% of the vote.

Turnout was higher this time around, with 77.6% of the 654,006 eligible party members, trade union members and registered supporters - 506,438 in total - confirmed as taking part.

Mr Corbyn won comfortably in each of the three categories - winning the support of 59% of party members, 70% of registered supporters and 60% of affiliated supporters.

Party members - Jeremy Corbyn (168,216); Owen Smith (116,960)
Registered supporters - Corbyn (84,918); Smith (36,599)
Affiliated supporters - Corbyn (60,075); Smith (39,670)

Despite winning the leadership in a vote of the wider membership and registered supporters last year Mr Corbyn, who spent three decades as part of a marginalised leftwing group of Labour MPs in Parliament, has never had the support of more than about 20% of Labour's MPs.

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Capitalism and Degrowth

SUBHEAD: Beware of cultural constructs that make the status quo appear natural.

By Susan Paulson on 22 September 2016 for DeGrowth -
(http://www.degrowth.de/en/2016/09/capitalism-and-degrowth/)


Image above: Promotional graphic for poster of Budapest 2016 Degrowth Conference where Susan Paulson made this presentation. From (http://budapest.degrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/08/2016-Budapest-Degrowth-Week-Programmes.pdf?18d38a).
What is capitalism?
A kind of state?
An institution?
Some values?
A power structure?
Ideology?
A Culture?

What governs capitalism?
Supply and demand
Invisible hand
Enclosure of land
The drive to expand
Market mechanism
Class schism
Racism
The moral virtue of productivism.

Innovation!
Invest!
Impress!
Progress!
Entrepreneurial quest for
Technological success in
Pursuit of profit.

Laissez faire!
Free market
Free trade
Free enterprise
Freedom to buy
Wage slavery
And debt.

Individual self-interest!
Ambition
Addiction
Friction
Cut throat competition
Eat or be eaten
Grow or die.

I think about capitalism as a moment. A blink in time. Organic life has thrived on earth for four billion years. Modern humans have been walking around for some 200,000 years, looking a lot like you and me. That magical moment of capitalism dawned just 500 hundred years ago with European colonial expansion that enabled the rise of fossil-fueled industrial economies.

Vital to that rise are hierarchical systems of class, gender and race that interact with markets to engineer—and to justify—unequal exchange .Those who engage in markets from superior positions get more for their money. Ecological value flows toward them and wealth accumulates.

Those who sell labor and other resources from inferior positions tend to get drained. Degraded. Deforested. Eroded. Impoverished. Exhausted.

Net cultural exchange has flowed in the other direction: capitalist practices, values and myths have been impelled far and wide, with scant return of other traditions. Cultural features of capitalism now seem so omnipresent that it is difficult to imagine and to forge alternatives.

The most ingenious maneuver of modernity is to propagate the perception that this moment fills all horizons. As a result, political left and right, pro-growth and degrowth, slug it out in a confined capitalocentric arena.

The biggest challenge faced by degrowth is the shallow historical depth and narrow cultural scope that circumscribe contemporary debates. How to break out?

(1) Debunk myths that naturalize features of capitalism, (2) learn from all kinds of socionatural worlds, (3) forge systems driven by desires other than growth.
Degrowth is denounced as ecofascism:ideologically-driven imposition that would force unwilling victims to sacrifice their God-given freedoms and betray innate self-interests. Capitalism, in contrast, is perceived as apolitical and morally neutral; markets, in particular, appear as timeless mechanisms through which all humans freely organize livelihoods and establish value. Karl Polanyi (1944) showed they are anything but.

The commodification of labor and nature, together with the colonization of human practice and worldview by market-relations and money-value, are historical exceptions brutally imposed in 18th and 19th century Britain in efforts to “mold human nature” for industrial growth.

Moving to late 20th century, David Harvey (2007) and others have exposed the formidable political incursions enacted to force expansion of “free” market relations into the most isolated parts of the world and the most intimate realms of human intercourse.

Our stubborn blindness to these and other historical details is enabled by certain architectural features of Western language, science and philosophy, notably: hierarchical binaries.

Binaries of white over non-white, man over woman, human over other nature are engraved in the world in ways that make it difficult to question unequal exchange and exploitation, even from the position of those most exploited.

The nature-culture binary marks thinking humans as superior over instinct-driven beasts; it also cements as “natural instinct” (therefore unchangeable) those aspects of human life that should not be questioned.

Today, the conviction that human biology is responsible for the insatiable drive to increase production and consumption is fostered by powerful cultural and scientific narratives.

Featured myths include Homo economicus, the innately rational agent who always maximizes utility for personal gain; Adam Smith’s “natural propensity” to truck and barter, and that selfish gene that makes each of us crave control over resources and strive to take more than our share, condemning to tragedy any attempts at commons management.

Even the Anthropocene is portrayed as a result of human evolution! Teleological narratives surrounding climate change are exemplified by Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill (2007, 614) who write: “the first use of fire by our bipedal ancestors, belonging to the genus Homo erectus, occurred a couple of million years ago.”

And“The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.”

As Malm and Holmberg (2014, 65) point out, just as the power to shape planetary climate passes from nature into the realm of humans, it is re-naturalized as innate “human nature.”

Beware of cultural constructs that make the status quo appear natural.

Antonio Gramsci (1971) taught us to beware the power of cultural constructs that make the status quo appear natural and inevitable. He also noted that historical crises can destabilize that power, opening transformative possibilities. Let’s seize this opportunity to shake up those myths. 

Learning from all kinds of socio-natural worlds expands our historical depth and cultural breadth. Archeological and ethnographic studies demonstrate that diverse hunter-gatherer-fisher cultures with extremely low societal metabolism and little or no market activity have thrived throughout human history and still today. Certainly they’ve impacted and co-constructed ecosystems in many ways– but there’s no sign of them changing the course of earth systems.

Evidence points to gradual expansion in per capita societal metabolism in some populations, starting around 10,000 years ago with the dawn of agriculture and urbanism, followed by much steeper increases just a few hundred years ago with the moment of capitalism, then a miraculous erection of supercharged growth in the late twentieth century, accompanied by skyrocketing atmospheric concentration of CO2.

Putting that latter moment in deeper historical and broader cultural context reveals the absurdity of claims that the ability to make fire (evolved two million years ago) inexorably led to human destruction of earth systems in the mid 20th century, when Geologists mark the beginning of the Anthropocene.

It also challenges the common message that this new era was provoked by humanity as a whole (rather than a minority group or social system).

Cross cultural awareness can help us answer questions like: “How can humanity progress without capitalist motivation?” And, “How can non-expanding economies even sustain human society?” I’ve been learning with a network of scholar-activists working in 15 countries with communities trying to thrive equitably with low or decreasing societal metabolism.

Some of the countries boast booming economic and material growth, others face postgrowth, or having missed out on growth altogether.

Whereas many participants in this conference promote degrowth as a purposeful project, we also pay attention to degrowth as an unintended consequence, not necessarily welcomed, and not always recognized as a consequence of growth elsewhere.

We find promising practices and meanings in long-sustained arrangements, among forced adaptations, and amid innovations toward new visions. You can learn about these diverse cultural paths in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Political Ecology on Degrowth, Culture and Power.

The purpose of these studies is not to promote a return to primitive life or third world conditions. On the contrary, awareness of many possible modes of human existence widens horizons for building unprecedented futures. We turn now to the furnace where those futures are forged.

We’ve made clear that behaviors and values that drive capitalist growth are not natural; they are artifacts of recent systems of culture and power. But there is something about human biology that is relevant here.

Creatures interacting in the earth’s ecosystems display amazing characteristics evolved to meet their needs and to assure their descendants’ survival. Spotted salamanders use solar power, Atlantic wolf fish manufactures antifreeze, and African dung beetles navigate with the Milky Way.

Cacti grow spines to defend their juicy stems against succulent-eaters, and nettles puncture predators (and passers-by), injecting poison into their wounds. Relative to those of other creatures, human bodies do not shine as particularly strong, quick or tough.

What does stand out is a biophysical capacity for symbolic thought and communication that enables usto collaboratively develop cultural systems that survive the individual organism and, in turn, shape the production of new generations of Homo sapiens, their habits, and their habitats.

These uniquely human systems take the form of languages, religions, and sciences; production, kinship and gender systems. They are our most fundamental commons. That is where the growth imperative came from, and that is what we are already changing to support equitable and pleasurable degrowth.


Video above: Evening plenary - "Capitalism and Degrowth" presentation by Susan Paulson (left). From (https://youtu.be/dbZRTsH81-k).

This presentation was part of the plenary session “Capitalism and Degrowth“. Watch this conference session on our YouTube Channel

Literature:

Gramsci, A. 1971.Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers.

Harvey, D. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Malm, A. and A. Hornborg. 2014.The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative. The Anthropocene Review 1(1): 62-69.

Polanyi, K. 1944. The Great Transformation. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

Steffen W, Crutzen PJ and McNeill JR (2007) The Anthropocene: Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature? Ambio36: 614–621.

• Susan Paulson spent many years in Latin America, researching and teaching about ways in which gender, class and ethnoracial systems interact with biophysical environments, influencing the development of bodies, landscapes and ecosystems (including humans). Books she has written/edited include Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America’s Uneven Development (Routledge 2015), After living and working for more than 20 years outside her home country of USA, she joined the University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies in 2014.

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Tokyo damaged by nuclear pellet rain

SUBHEAD: Intensely radioactive glass pellets rained down on Tokyo from Fukushima explosions with impact on human health.

By Admin on 28 June 2016 for ENE News -
(http://enenews.com/intensely-radioactive-glass-rained-downtown-tokyo-fukushima-nuclear-fuel-particles-500-trillion-becquerelskg-significant-consequences-human-health-scientists-understanding-disaster-extreme-im


Image above: Still fame of simulation of radioactive particles clinging to living cell structures. From video below.

[IB Publisher's Note: I know this article is old (June 2016), but it is still informative. We've known for a while about the radioactive elements including cesium embedded in tiny glass particles or carbon buckyballs. That does not mean the issue has gone away and does not need attention. These particles will persist and be a threat for a very long time.]

Public Release from Goldschmidt Conference, Jun 26, 2016: New research shows that most of the radioactive fallout which landed on downtown Tokyo a few days after the Fukushima accident was concentrated and deposited in non-soluble glass microparticles, as a type of ‘glassy soot’. This meant that most of the radioactive material was not dissolved in rain and running water…

The particles also concentrated the radioactive caesium (Cs), meaning that in some cases dose effects of the fallout are still unclear… Japanese geochemists… analysed samples collected from within an area up to 230 km from the FDNPP…

It had been anticipated that most of the radioactive fallout would have been flushed from the environment by rainwater. However… most of the radioactive caesium in fact fell to the ground enclosed in glassy microparticles…

These particles… formed during the molten core-concrete interaction inside the primary containment vessel in the Fukushima reactor units 1 and/or 3. Because of the high Cs content in the microparticles, the radioactivity per unit mass was as high as ~4.4×10^11 Bq/g [440,000,000,000,000 Bq/kg]…

Analysis from several air filters collected in Tokyo on 15 March 2011 showed that 89% of the total radioactivity was present as a result of these caesium-rich microparticles, rather than the soluble Cs, as had originally been supposed.

Discovery (Seeker), Jun 27, 2016: Fukushima Accident Rained Glass Particles on Tokyo… Most of the radioactive fallout that descended upon downtown Tokyo in the days after the March 2011 accident [was] glass microparticles — essentially, glass-filled soot. As a result, the fallout, which contained concentrated radioactive cesium, wasn’t dissolved by rainfall, and probably lingered in the environment…

Japanese scientists thought that most of it would be washed away by rainwater. Instead, analysis… revealed that most of the radioactive cesium in fact fell to the ground enclosed in glassy microparticles.

ANI, Jun 28, 2016: Research indicates Fukushima radioactive fallout may be worse than expected… Most of the radioactive fallout, which landed on downtown Tokyo a few days after the Fukushima accident, was concentrated and deposited in non-soluble glass microparticles, as a type of ‘glassy soot’…

Inverse, Jun 26, 2016: Radioactive “Glassy Soot” Fell Over Tokyo After the Fukushima Meltdown… The findings… show that the radioactive fallout… has been poorly understood. Previously, it was assumed that most of the radiation that fell dissolved in rain. This would mean that it would wash out of the soil and through the environment…

These tiny glass particles entered the air and fell as soot on the surrounding region. Because the radioactive molecules are contained in an insoluble medium, they will not wash out of the soil with rainwater to the same extent…

Beyond the consequences for the environment, there are significant consequences for human health. Breathing caesium encased in glass particles may have a very different impact from exposure to it as radioactive rain…


Image above: Video on the creation and contamination created by radioactice nano-particles from Fukushima affecting health. From (https://youtu.be/YDZMhywXwHY).

Scientists from Fukushima Univ., Japan Atomic Energy Agency, Stanford Univ., etc, June 2016: Cesium-rich micro-particles unveil the explosive events in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant — Cesium-rich micro-particles (CsMPs) retain novel information on the molten core-concrete interaction… CsMPs specimens were discovered… in atmospheric particulates collected at Suginami, Tokyo… [Note: "The author has requested that this abstract is not discussed on social media."]

Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya, Kyushu Univ.: “This work changes some of our assumptions about the Fukushima fallout… This may mean that our ideas of the health implications should be modified“.

Prof. Bernd Grambow, Director of SUBATECH laboratory, France: “[The observations] presented here are extremely important. They may change our understanding of the mechanism of long range atmospheric mass transfer of radioactive caesium from the reactor accident at Fukushima to Tokyo, but they may also change the way we assess inhalation doses from the caesium microparticles inhaled by humans. Indeed, biological half- lives of insoluble caesium particles might be much larger than that of soluble caesium“.

See also:
Nuclear fuel found 15 miles from Tokyo — Fukushima uranium in ‘glassy’ spheres flew over 170 km
Fukushima Nano Bucky Ball Hot Particles Filled With Uranium, Plutonium, And Cesiu

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