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One of the live oaks that bless my home

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Now What?!

If you are like me, you may read, watch and listen to what is happening around you with disbelief. But should we be incredulous? Perhaps not...

By chance, I looked at "What on earth are we doing?," a sad commentary on human condition I wrote 6 years ago, and this passage caught my attention:

Our Society
“In order for us to maintain our way of living, we must, in a broad sense, tell lies to each other, and especially to ourselves. It is not necessary that the lies be particularly believable. The lies act as barriers to truth. These barriers to truth are necessary because without them many deplorable acts would become impossibilities. Truth must be at all costs avoided. When we do allow self-evident truths to percolate past our defenses and into our consciousness, they are treated like so many hand grenades rolling across the dance floor of an improbably macabre dance party. We try to stay out of harm's way, afraid that they will go off, shatter our delusions, and leave us exposed to what we have done to ourselves and to the world, expose us as the hollow people we have become. And so we avoid these truths, these self-evident truths, and continue the dance of world destruction.”
Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words, Context Books, New York, 2000, Silencing, page 2.

People all across the world are scared, angry and disoriented, and their governments routinely fail to explain the very basics of what is going on. Why is that?

Perhaps for the first time in modern western democracy, our leaders and leading intellectuals are relying in an essential way on keeping people confused.  This puts us on the opposite side of the moon from the attitudes of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and so on, who did their best to explain their thinking clearly to all. When these great men lived, the Earth surely seemed infinite, but she is very small today.  Here is the kicker: To pretend nowadays that the Earth is infinite, as most of us effectively do, and is capable of feeding our runaway economy ad infinitum requires some serious self-delusion.

In fairness to our leaders, they lie and we eagerly consume their lies, because otherwise we would have to change from within, and for most people change is genetically impossible.  Generally we leave change to political campaign slogans which are so obviously lies that we do not have to do anything. So, this is how it goes. Someone lies about an economic recovery which is just around the corner; someone else lies about the banks that must be saved at any cost with our money because they are too big to fail; and yet somebody else professes that converting over half of our fossil-fuel driven food to a fossil-driven biofuel is good for all.  And we all listen to these empty lies and eagerly try to believe them, for what else we can do.  That is a good question, isn't it: What else can we do? Can you think about a thing or two you could change on your own?

I guess I was prescient.

Today, I could follow up with this argument and quit:

The world runs on a high-rate flow of energy (power) through our societies. This fast flow of power keeps our societies from collapsing altogether. Of all power sources, crude oil and liquid transportation fuels are closest to societal blood. As excess energy obtained from oil production decreases, so does the maximum achievable rate of blood flow, and the societal metabolism slows down. Natural gas, coal, uranium, and renewable energy sources cannot be produced and deployed without oil. Coal, in addition, is very polluting. What we see everywhere around the world are the first difficulties with the global metabolic slowdown just at the time when those who have not benefited from the fast flow of fossil blood are shouting loudly, we want our share too! That's it, and we have wars, conflicts and populism everywhere.  Joe Tainter and I have explained this complex oil metabolism in our book.

To understand better why global elites have lost touch with reality, let's start from the beginning, skipping the inevitable Adam Smith and Karl Marx. As Matthew Steward wrote in The Management Myth:
Management theory came to life in 1899 with a simple question: “How many tons of pig iron bars can a worker load onto a rail car in the course of a working day?” The man behind this question was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the author of The Principles of Scientific Management and, by most accounts, the founding father of the whole management business.
In the spring of 1908, Taylor met with several Harvard professors, and later that year Harvard opened the first graduate school in the country to offer a master’s degree in business. It based its first-year curriculum on Taylor’s scientific management.

The rest is history and the world would never be as whole as it would have been had the Harvard School of Business never existed.  The efficiency lies in support of greed and wishful thinking changed everything everywhere, and magnified current global crisis.  Of course, I am oversimplifying here, but you get my drift.  The runaway global capitalism has been devouring the whole world to the benefit of some - including me -, but leaving most behind.  Now the forlorn masses are speaking out, but it is too late for them to join in the past gluttony.

Last week, I took a taxi from the Central Station in Warsaw to the airport Marriott.  The driver of a brand new Mercedes limousine taxi was a man in his early fifties, but with the snow white hair.  I asked him about economic situation in Poland and this is what I heard:
Life will never be really good in Poland, because capital is insufficient, but the current [Law&Justice] government is just and tries to alleviate poverty among the ordinary people.  It gave 500 PLN per month to young women for each child after the first one, and reduced poverty among children of really poor people who also get 500 PLN/mo for the first child.  
 Then the driver calmly observed that
The criminals [politicians and neoliberal economists], who over the last 20 years have sold every good factory, company and bank that Poland had to foreign countries and corporations ought to be hanged from the lamp posts, not by the neck, but by hooks in their ribs so that they would suffer longer.  The EU subsidies to Poland, while significant and helpful, have not replaced the real wealth and know-how Poland lost due to the buyouts.  In recent years, two million young people have left Poland to work elsewhere, because there are no job perspectives for them. 
He was a hard-working simple guy, who might have lived in Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Manchester.  He could not care less that the country was transformed and a huge new infrastructure built.  His pride and dignity were deeply wounded and he would have nothing to do with integration, free-trade, and immigration.

Therefore, when the well-educated, rich people from both coasts in the U.S. discount President Trump with a slight of hand, I shiver. How little you know, my dear New York Times fellow travelers.

On the other hand, the poor wretches who voted President Trump in - and are sticking with him - will see their lives going down in flames even faster and more completely than otherwise.  It is getting awfully late for the oil metabolism aerobics with ever more human participants...

P.S. 2/26/2017.  And the list of countries that are failing or collapsing outright is getting longer by the month: Brazil, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Greece, Honduras, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, etc.

P.S.P.S. 3/3/2017. More on the same theme from the New York Times:
It wasn’t Mr. Kvachkov’s acquittal that was remarkable about the case. It was his line of defense. On one hand, he denied a role in the crime; on the other, he argued that Mr. Chubais was an enemy of the Russian people and deserved to be killed. It’s unclear which argument proved more persuasive to the jury, but probably the second. Popular opinion in Russia holds Mr. Chubais responsible for the poverty that set in as a result of the neoliberal economic reforms, and at various times both the left and the nationalist opposition have condemned him. Mr. Kvachkov’s right-wing nationalist supporters deployed two mutually contradictory arguments: “He did not shoot; he’s not guilty” and “if he had shot, he would have been right to do so.” If the first argument saved the man from a prison term for attempted murder, the second made him one of the leaders of the radical nationalist movement.

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