23 July 2006

War and Hope, Part IV

This is the last of this series. This is where the 'hope' part of the message becomes most apparent.

Richard Jehn

I am finding these extended, thoughtful posts really interesting. The save-the-world topic is a set of arguments that improves in quality after the first few salvos get us past our shorthand versions and inspire us to defend and extend our thinking. Here are some contributions from my perspective.

[1] I don't mind being seen as unpatriotic. It's true, and I look forward to the day when national patriotism seems as quaint as Texas patriotism does today. One of the main contributions we can make to American political discourse is to push the idea that America and Americans have no special rights, and that we should be willing to abide by the rules that we want others to follow (and perhaps even let them help decide on the rules). The irony is that this idea is fully compatible with American traditions about equality before the law, due process of law, and democracy, which remain powerful and useful political ideals in spite of the serious shortfalls in their application. The most pressing problem with the neocons is not so much that they are thieves (so are the European ruling classes), but that they are vigilantes. Even bourgeois law offers evolutionary potential, and keeps the peace in a coarse way.

[2] Americans are not all that different from others, even if our flaws are particularly obvious just now. Greed and generosity, ignorance and wisdom, and fear and hope are prominent in all societies, often mixed in the same individuals. Many conservatives I know are painstakingly honest, excellent parents, and generous with their time and money within the boundaries they draw. Their fear (of other races, lifestyles, or countries) is partly from provincial ignorance, but also often reflects a sober awareness of the dangers of the world. While I agree that we shouldn't waste political energy trying to convert the neocons, we should use every opportunity to encourage our compatriots to expand the boundaries of their community and to show by example how one can live large and more lightly at the same time. This is why the hippy-ness and feminism of the 60's has had more cultural impact than the leftism. But one thing leads to another, and once people get used to a large world successfully shared with diverse others, most of them lose interest in conquest.

[3] A critical factual issue where I differ from many who have spoken is the question of how limited the resources of the world are. The assumption by many on both the left and the right is that sharing resources fairly would leave everyone much poorer than middle-class Americans are right now. I see this as profoundly incorrect – instead (if we can manage to make it through the next decade or so without irretrievably poisoning ourselves), we are on the verge of science-driven productivity increases from computers, genetics, and nanotechnology that will dwarf those of the industrial revolution. Much of this progress will take the form, exemplified by electronics, of greater utility combined with much smaller cost and resource usage (including much less energy). While I do not deny the danger of some fatal stumbles from this increased power, anyone who wants to shape the future needs to realize that this is the way things are going – we all are going to be rich or dead, not mostly at subsistence while fighting about how big to make the ruling class.

[4] There is a vital political message here – we no longer need to steal from poor countries to live well. We can also afford to produce things cleanly, with no net environmental impact. In fact, we will all live a lot better if there are no poor countries, as few poor people as can be contrived, and fully sustainable production processes for all human needs. How well America's children and grandchildren live will depend much more on how quickly we make this transition than on how much oil we can grab. I don't pretend that this tech-optimism analysis will placate the truly greedy, as is shown by their pathological pursuit of wealth (and tax cuts) even after they have more money than they can effectively use. It also will not replace the need for a vanguard whose desire for a fair world comes from the gut rather than an intellectual analysis. But this analysis will encourage those who would like to see a fair world but who lose their nerve because they are afraid that the price of that world would be poverty for themselves or their children. We need to show them that their fear should be in the opposite direction.

[5] I'm not an unbridled optimist, and see the tunnel as well as the light at its end. In particular, I see three places where this future is at substantial risk. Unsurprisingly, Bush is spectacularly wrong at all three. Each risk is a sector that is worthy of as much political work as we can manage or inspire.

[a] The environment – even with the much greater capability for remediation that I expect to see soon, we are being wildly reckless on greenhouse emissions (runaway positive feedback is a distinct danger) and self-destructive on air pollution by poisonous substances. We may luck out and get through this with only moderate damage, but major disasters could disrupt things enough to get us stuck in authoritarian poverty.

[b] Feminism – one element in my optimism is the decrease in population growth that prosperity has been shown to cause in every modern culture that has experienced it. This in turn is largely a consequence of improved status of women in the culture (generally accompanied by less oppression of gays and lesbians). Any successful attempt to return women and children to being valued primarily as possessions could set off population growth that would absorb the wealth increase. While I doubt that feminism can be reversed in the current developed countries, Bush's encouragement of religious fundamentalism and attacks on birth control in the underdeveloped world are clearly having tragic consequences, and could conceivably lead to eventual conquest of the low-birth-rate cultures by high-birth rate ones.

[c] Property – the shift (exemplified by computer software and entertainment items) of economic value toward tiny-cost-to-copy information and away from costly-to-replicate stuff is steadily undermining the already-shaky moral foundations of the concept of property. The US response has been to adopt and expand draconian "intellectual property" laws and to attempt (with some success) to force the rest of the world to follow them. This is the mechanism to ensure that the head start that the US and Europe have on the world will widen rather than narrow as other countries develop. Probably we can depend on Brazil, China, and India to lead a repudiation of patents at some opportune moment, but this will be easier for them to do if people in the developed countries cooperate in discrediting them.

Enough already. Now let's hear from the Luddites.

Hunter Ellinger

Amigos y amigas: for several years now, our resident psychic, Ms. Kate Braun, has prepared a quarterly e-letter for her friends and clients, about seasonal traditions, celebrations, gardening, and the natural cycles which govern lives and universes. I had been so swamped lately with doo-dah, I hadn't read the Fall Equinox message until just now. I think it's well worth sharing tonite.

Some of the terminology and concepts Kate deals with aren't always easy for me to wrap my material-girl leninist brain around; when that happens, as Brother Dennis so wisely suggests, I know it's time to take a deep breath - and let it out... take a deep breath - and let it out... take a deep breath - and HOLD IT!!!!

Tip o' the wizard hat to our Elder Statesman, too; thanks, Scott, for weighing in on the expat-inpat issue. You & Arina already know my interim solution: dropping in to visit all my long-lost friends! I'll look forward to seeing you in Costa Rica in a year or 2!

And now here's Kate, on the changing season; it's a little lengthy, maybe, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the final paragraph to us all at this very moment (I have included just the final paragraph, rdj):

-- As you focus your thoughts and intentions on balance, I urge you to keep in mind the Mars retrograde that begins on October 1, 2005. Mars retrograde is a time of fiery energy. It will be easier to become angry and to let the anger escalate. It will be harder to be even-minded. Mars will be retrograde until December 9, 2005. For more than two months we will all be challenged in our efforts to not lose our tempers. Keeping the yin-yang symbol visible during this Mars retrograde may prove helpful as we strive to not lose control. --

Re that last 'graph on Mars retrograde: when exactly did we start getting irritable in the group? I rec'd Kate's message on 9/19 (doo-doo-doo-da-doo-doo-doo-da; theme from twilite zone). Hunh! What a "coincidence" - Oct. 1, wuzzit?? Damn, she's good! (Just don't ask her how to win the lottery!! ;-•)

Maybe that whole inpat-expat discussion is kind of a yin-yang thang, as Scott suggests? David pH, do you feel that your frequent travels to Central America have a calming effect, or otherwise help you deal with the undeniable stress of residing in the US? But when you first return every time, especially, is there your sense of outrage immediately provoked? I recall standing beside an obvously overheated, borrowed vehicle on 290 E, in the States 3 days, broad daylight, no cover for an accomplice to hide behind, August, as HUNDREDS of cars whizzed by, most with driver or passenger clearly seeing me on the edge of the highway, thumb out, hood up, look of absolute innocence for AN HOUR AND A HALF (had no cel phone then) until a nervous woman - our age - reluctantly stopped, quizzed me thoroughly before unlocking her car, and drove me to the nearest service station.

In Belize, or Southern Mexico, if your vehicle breaks down, it may be an hour and a half before anyone comes by, but they will stop, and they will remain and help if they can or watch you work on the damn thing, and so will every other vehicle that passes, until you are on your way or someone at least gives you a ride.

Unless, of course, they are Guatemalan bandits, in which case they rob and possibly kill you; David, honey, your chances with the bandits would not be the best! Sally would probably be fine.

Maybe you make the transition too often; there is definitely a culture shock in border-crossing and I think it affects even very experienced travelers such as yourself. Maybe this leads to blocked energy which can release as anger. I suggest this, guapo, just because such roller-coaster effects can also have negative effects on physical systems, and we don't need to hear that you have blown a gasket over some new imperial vomitorium pork contract. Calma, calma; would less frequent but longer travel cycles be more restorative and less stressful?

Balance, that's the ticket. (go-libras, go-libras, go-libras...)


Wow, Hunter, Can I forward this widely? It's great!

If/WHEN we start an online RAG this should be one of the first articles!

It is such a hopeful message, and hope is good.

To comment on another thread I've been following: Not to encourage censorship, (self- or by others) but to state my viewpoint, contempt isn't helpful for bringing about change, while hope is. I want to learn how to better find common ground with people with whose beliefs I differ, and this sort of hope, discussion of what sort of future we want to see, is an important part of the process. I agree with (was it Doyle?) who said that if we listen enough we can find points of agreement below the differences we have with a majority--I think he said 99%--of our opponents. Our fears for the future, for our children, for the earth compel us to protest, to struggle and to use whatever weapons we have at hand--but if we only return what we receive, the cycle of violence contiues. Contempt is understandable as we face the contempt of our opponents, but giving back in kind, "an eye for an eye" well, as greater than I have observed, "makes the whole world blind."

For me, whatever helps me open my heart to my opponents, whatever shows a way to disarm myself, to listen, to see more clearly the direction we can walk together -- these are the "weapons/arms" I want to take up in our struggle.

Thanks, Hunter.

Paz--Val Liveoak

While I agree with everything that you have said up to this point - I part company with the technology will save us all message. This isn't Luddism on my part, it is a direct result of watching technology increase the pace of environmental destruction a thousand fold since WW II.

I am particularly alarmed with the genome projects and the rush to patent life, particularly seed, and even more particularly Monsanto. There is an incredible amount of hubris in thinking that we have the knowledge of how natural systems work to the extent that we can tweak life systems and not be concerned with the consequences. Those consequences are already rippling through natural systems affected by GMO's released by large corporations.

While technology has much to offer it has an unhindered path right now with no ethical, or biological boundaries, and to my mind, it is incredible dangerous to all life forms.

I do agree that we are nowhere close to reaching the tipping point with our natural resources, in terms of agricultural. We could feed twice the existing population on existing agricultural lands if we would stop treating agriculture like another industrial process. There are serious problems with other resources like, timber, aquatic life, and most of the minerals used for energy and manufacturing. These resourses are already past the sustainable threshold and some may be unrecoverable, even if we stop using them now.

It is this shortage that may be the finger in the dike. Without oil we will be forces to slow our pace of growth and there is nothing to replace petroleum as an energy source. Natural gas is good for about eighty years, coal for 150 years and uranium about eighty years. The renewable sources of energy will never come close to supplying the energy needs at current demand - unless, of course, we uncover Tesla's secret files.

While there might be some light at the end of the endless tunnel around intellectual property rights. I see as a much greater danger in the corporate movement around the world to gain owernership of those elements critical to life. Water is one of the fastest commodified resource in the world. The people of Cocabamba, Bolivia just managed to fight of a takeover by the Cheney crowd of their municipal water utility. Agricultural seed is fast falling into the hands of Monsanto, Ciba Giege, Royal Dutch Shell, and Archer Daniel Midland. The famous "green revolution" was a Nobel prize winning game of taking over the agriculture of the third world.

If corporations control water and food the game is totally in their hands - and they know it. We are playing in technological fields where our ignorence exceeds that of a 2 year old child and there are no adults around to control that technology.

Scott Pittman

Is it technology that has led this destruction, or just the classic combination of population growth, shortsightedness, and greed? In places where the effort is made (e.g., developed-world water pollution), the environment has improved in the last few decades. I agree that some of this is the exportation of pollution along with manufacturing, but this is not necessary -- cleaner methods are only moderately more expensive.

There are two issues in the comments Scott makes here -- [1] how dangerous the technology is [2] who owns it. I agree about the dangers, but do not think this will slow down the nanotechnology uses even if it should, since they are less sensitive than the medical and agricultural uses. On ownership, the world will have to choose between being enslaved and changing its definition of property. It seems to me very unlikely that property will win that fight, although it will be one of the main political events of the next decade. Even in capitalist countries and business circles, resistance is growing to overreaching patents because they slow subsequent innovation.

The water issue seems to me somewhat less drastic, and similar to the problems of landless farmers. There is in fact a need for more development, including water resources, in many countries. While I would much prefer to see this development done under public rather than corporate direction, people can always nationalize things later if what is being built is actually useful. The critical issue here is for populist governments to be possible, and for them to have enough power to resist the IMF when needed. Not a small challenge, but also not a new one, as is shown by some recent successes in South America.

Hunter Ellinger

-- we all are going to be rich or dead, not mostly at subsistence while fighting about how big to make the ruling class. --

Wow, what a concept! And how threatening that must be to the ruling class we now have! This is pretty heady stuff, Hunter!

Definitely agree with you on the primacy of environmental matters at this time, with deployment of clean fuel sources at the top of my short list - but wanted to get back on this one partly because of a group David pH left off his list of contemptibles, at least as a specific subgroup, altho I think most would fit neatly within his several categories of religious fanatic: the anti-scientists. Gotta say that these folks are for sure on my no-fly list, which generally tends to focus more on behaviors than beliefs, but not in this case.

Between the "debate" on evolution vs. "intelligent design", the "issue" of whether or not global warming is human-powered or a "natural cycle", and so forth, the Bush administration has the worst record in history on rejecting its own science advisors' advice, on every topic.

Our little baby boomer demographic has a very distinct advantage in that we benefitted, to some degree or another, from the post-Sputnik science fad in education. It is a distinct agenda item of the far right to reduce the ability of the population to discern logic from cant, and to cast science and the scientific method into disrepute. ("Burn the laboratories!")

Fortunately, science doesn't respect international borders one bit, and even if the US continues to push its educational system into the Dark Ages, all of the advances Hunter mentions may be possible anyway. But say; "genetics"; are you talking about GM food?? Bionic tomatoes? BTA corn? Big controversy, as you surely know, with many on the Left in the "Luddite" role in Europe and here; NOT in Africa, Asia, etc., where the idea of reliable, pest- and rot-resistant crops is quite attractive to many. Milk and "select cuts" from cloned cows, I read this week, will soon be available. To the extent that the science of genetic modification is bought and paid for by the big ag corporations, it is intended to never be replicated without their profits coming first. Is this part of what you're getting to with the patent repudiation thing?

Fascinating; more, please!


Before you bio-engineer a food supply for a population, you need to test it for a few generations.

This is impractical, so they want to just get it out there and feed people for less money etc.

The likelihood is that the “food” will produce unforeseen consequences.

There already is a “western disease syndrome” composed of auto-immune diseases such as asthma, ms, allergies, etc. That is, diseases that those of us who live in the West and shop at supermarkets for food grown on depleted soils, picked green, and weeks from picking to table, get chronic diseases unknown or rare among those who pick their own food or buy from local farmers. There is no grant money to look into why this should be so.

The good news is that this has made the pharmaceutical companies over the last ten years leap to the top of the fortune 500, and the grant money goes to find a drug to treat the symptoms.

Are we losing the war on cancer because our immune systems are attacking our bodies rather than defending them?


The government subsidizes agribusiness, leaving the small farmers steadily going under, and our immune systems weaker every year.

Janet Gilles

Scott and Hunter, thanks so much for this little dialogue, it's the best I've read in ages, maybe ever. And in my view, goes right to the core of what the real issues are on a global level. It's so commonsense, isn't it? And, of course, the caveats always (rightfully) come down to the mindset / consciousness / motivations of the folks who make the decisions, set the policies, spend the money. As one whose main focus has been on this "inner" dimension of needed change for many years now, I often get discouraged by all the well-meaning activities of people who are plucking at leaves trying to make a better tree ... but you guys today made me feel encouraged again.


Carol Neiman

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