The Great Unraveling: Using Science and Philosophy to Decode Modernity

“we have lost half of our wildlife in the past 40 years. The implications are inconceivable and beyond words, and calls for global action on a coordinated scale beyond anything that has been seriously considered by the so-called political leaders of the “world community”. This will require an immediate mobilization of international resources to combat three main crises: global warming, habitat loss, and accelerating species extinction rates, all of which are interconnected.”

From William Hawes

“Forty percent of the United States drains into the Mississippi. It’s agriculture. It’s golf courses. It’s domestic runoff from our lawns and roads. Ultimately, where does it go? Downstream into the Gulf.”

—Sylvia Earle

Our civilization is headed for a downfall, to be sure, in part due to the massive gulf between our hopes for the future and the omnipresent inertia regarding social change in mainstream politics, though a more apt analogy for our society might be circling the drain. The dark, shadow side of our industrial farming practices in the US has resulted in the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately the size of New Jersey and growing every year. Caused by excess nitrates, phosphates, and various chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides draining from farmland into the Mississippi river basin, toxic algal blooms kill millions of fish, shrimp, shellfish, and, almost certainly, thousands of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico every year. There are hundreds of these dead zones around the world’s oceans, caused by agribusiness and sewage runoff from the world’s largest cities. There are also garbage patches in the Pacific (actually diffuse swathes of ocean littered mainly by microplastics) comparable to the size of Mexico.

Meanwhile on land, we have lost half of our wildlife in the past 40 years. The implications are inconceivable and beyond words, and calls for global action on a coordinated scale beyond anything that has been seriously considered by the so-called political leaders of the “world community”. This will require an immediate mobilization of international resources (a Global Marshall plan, which will need trillions of dollars of aid redistributed to the developing nations over decades) to combat three main crises: global warming, habitat loss, and accelerating species extinction rates, all of which are interconnected.

All of this ecological destruction has been driven by America’s most popular exports: capitalism and imperialism. Eight individuals have as much wealth as 3.5 billion, with approximately 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation. This is not simply unfair: it is an immoral and indefensible state of affairs. It must be acknowledged by the general public that capitalism, buttressed by the propaganda of “liberal democracy” in the West, uses moral relativism as its framework. The externalities of a pillaged, ravaged planet, billions in poverty, and diminished resource base are not taken into account by mainstream economics. If rare earth minerals and metals were properly accounted for, a car would likely cost six figures, and a computer five figures. This would be an unobtainable and untenable situation for the average middle-class American, as only the rich could afford such luxuries, and thus, the majoritarian tyranny of our narcissistic and ahistorical culture continues.

There are half-baked refutations which reactionaries trot out to defend US hegemony, but do not carry much weight: other nations besides the US are consumerists and warlike as well, the socialist nations of the Eastern bloc had horrendous environmental records, China and Russia are also imperialistic and environmentally deranged, etc.

All of these arguments have grains of truth, but they elide the greater picture: America drives the global economy and holds it hostage at the same time, continually punishing vassals who defy it and using the World Bank and IMF as economic vampires, sucking continents dry through crushing debts, privatizations, austerity measures, as well as using diplomatic blackmail, covert espionage, and proxy death squads. Three of the most illuminating works in this realm are Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Michel Chossudovsky’s The Globalization of Poverty, and John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

Examples from Political Philosophy

Thus the US certainly stands out as an “exceptional” nation, pillaging the Earth and forcing other countries to do so, so as to forestall economic depression and stave off extreme poverty in the developing nation-states which must compete or die. Concomitant with this Western-led death-impulse is Agamben’s “state of exception”, where the citizen has been stripped of all notions of rights and justice in a permanent state of emergency. Under the Patriot Act and NDAA, any notion of due process has been shredded for US citizens, and of course the situation is beyond mad when considering the psychopathic torture carried out at Bagram AFB outside Kabul, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the globe-spanning “rendition archipelago” which has to be assumed is still ongoing, despite Obama’s past-tense use of the phrase “we tortured some folks”, spoken back in 2014.

If the culmination of the totalitarian impulse is the gulag or concentration camp, the infernal apotheosis of education in the United States would have to be the School of the Americas, the US Army base in Georgia which was and still remains the paragon of higher learning for torturers, right-wing death squads, fascists juntas, and drug traffickers looking to make a mark in Latin America. The US exports death-education (practical skills for legions of buzz-cut military/ intelligence clones/clowns, not just theoretical book-learnin’) at an industrial scale, which led to hundreds of thousands of desaparicidos (the disappeared)  in the 1970s and 80s who were shot, hung, drowned, or thrown from planes throughout South and Central America.

Of course, if you want to peer into our dystopian future domestically, we will be experiencing more and more “blowback” from disaffected citizens and terrorists angered at our imperialism: look no further than the attack and reaction to the Boston bombing of 2013. Citizens of the greater Boston area were told to “shelter in place” and be on the lookout, creating a de-facto lockdown in the 10th largest metro area of our nation. The whole situation was Bradburyian (Bradburyesque?) and an out-of-control response to a few deaths that would barely cause a blink in terms of law-enforcement response for most parts of the world.

We are now faced with Bentham’s panopticon: an open air prison of a country where we work, shop, party to escape our drudgery and captivity, and go home to hide from the storms raging outside our doors. “Fun” is encouraged, but genuine fulfillment, spiritual and psychological health, are scorned. We are faced with a fascism that cannot be named as such, and rather than face the music, brave-hearted citizens, activists, and dissidents are faced with what Phil Rockstroh dubbed the “tyranny of amiability” when discussing issues that may cause anger, sadness, and discomfort. Personally, I have noticed this is particularly bad among the Baby Boomers, even those who’ve faced economic or personal hardships. Generally speaking, they are addicted to a cult of positivity, where any honest portrayal of our social and ecological crises is deemed “cynical” and “pessimistic”. GenXers and Millennials are not much better, with the latter crowd (my own age group) being much more amenable to socialist policies, at least. Yet there is, of course, a huge majority indulging in escapism, through our digital devices and social media: so much for a so-called “Christian nation”, where it is expressly pointed out to “put away childish things”.

We are told that the elites are continually “manufacturing consent” as Herman (RIP) and Chomsky pointed out, using Walter Lippmann’s phrase. Yet I believe it’s worth asking to what extent this applies: don’t most American consumers know and acknowledge there is “slavery stitched into the fabric of our clothes”, as Brett Dennen pointed out? We know child slave labor in the Congo provides the coltan for our cell phones, yet we do nothing. False consciousness and false needs only explain so much: many Americans seem to relish their place in the hierarchy of the global economy, which necessarily involves exploiting the proletariat in far-off countries. Apathy and lack of empathy seem to be fundamental features at play here. While we may be in an “inverted totalitarian” system, it is by and large one of our own acquiescence.

What does this tell us? For one thing, it seems to indicate that this academic terminology does not viscerally describe what is going on here: in blunter vocabulary, a brutal campaign of dehumanization, mind-control, and brainwashing of the public has been ongoing for centuries, led by the Western imperial nations.

What is needed, then, is a form of “cognitive mapping” as Jameson spelled it out. Part of this involves sketching the psychogeography of the cityscape that the Situationists had in mind. Another avenue pertains to anyone who has taken a cross-country road trip in the US, or visited a drug-infested rust belt town, or dilapidated urban area: the endless monotony of the same crappy chain restaurants, strip-malls, and convenience stores, and documenting the utter alienation from a sense of place and time that results.

The sense of transience and utter meaninglessness of living under corporate American control can be overwhelming at times. There is a “need for roots”, and if our system does not provide it, our collective culture must be reoriented or undergo a revolution, as Simone Weil wrote:

“There are collectivities which, instead of serving as food, do just the opposite: they devour souls. In such cases, the social body is diseased, and the first duty is to attempt a cure; in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to have recourse to surgical methods.”

This feeling of a being a consumer, floating above the world but never really grasping it, induces a sense of vertigo. Christy Rogers is on point when she writes that: “This is the capitalist utopia: the absolute antithesis of home.” Economic precarity is omnipresent, leading to severe stress in the poor and working classes, resulting in anomie and a rise in various criminal behaviors, as explained by Robert Merton’s Strain Theory. Peter McLaren (giant of critical pedagogy along with Freire and Giroux) and Ramin Farahmandpur write of the “Vertigo of Global Capitalism”, and Jock Young writes of this feeling as well:

“Vertigo is the malaise of late modernity: a sense of insecurity of insubstantiality, and of uncertainty, a whiff of chaos and a fear of falling. The signs of giddiness, of unsteadiness, are everywhere…”

I believe this explains the illogic behind the comments of scientific experts like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk: they feel the vertigo, realize the unstable height our civilization has reached, and yet their answer is based out of fear: to travel to other planets and solar systems rather than cleaning up our own home.

Towards a New Science: Holism and Convergence

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Mapping our natural, local environment is of vital importance. The best model I can give to you all is the “Where You At?” quiz, which asks the reader to investigate bioregionalism, including your local soil, farming methods, geology, climate, local flora and fauna, and more. I first came across the quiz in Carolyn Merchant’s Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World, which I recommend for everyone.

The return to sustainable, organic agriculture, cooperatively owned, has to be rapidly increased, starting yesterday. Pesticide use from glyphosate (Round-Up) and atrazine are making our entire planet a toxic environment, with cancer and chronic health conditions rising in the general population. We are still dealing with the depravations of past generations, as well. Myself and others have postulated that millions have and continue to die early from the atmospheric nuclear testing of the 50s and 60s; for me, this was confirmed as true when a top former scientist in the NIH agreed with me in private conversation.

Only a rationally planned and ecologically-aware system, locally organized and at the same time globally integrated, can solve our crises. This will require fostering an internationalist outlook: we are interconnected with human societies worldwide, and as Western nations exploit the Global South, economies are destroyed, the Earth degraded, and millions of innocents suffer and die from preventable illness and climate and ecologically-related catastrophes each year. To anesthetize the masses in the West, pharmaceutical companies will attempt to market more and more painkillers and psychotropic pills to create an ever more docile, idiotic, and ill society.

People of color continue to suffer the most. As this brilliant study tragically shows, psychological and social stressors among minorities and environmental exposures to toxic and carcinogenic pollutants have a negatively synergistic effect on minority communities, leading to cascades of disease and epidemics of suffering. Unsafe industries are and were zoned irrationally or de-facto illegally in inner cities, with housing projects and low-income areas forced to suffer the consequences.

Albert Einstein made a terrific explanation for scientific and democratic planning of society in his essay “Why Socialism?”. It should be noted that if past political and business leaders in the mid-twentieth century would not listen to the greatest scientist of their time, there is no reason why today citizens should ask, on bent knee, to try and hold power accountable simply using rational arguments. A peaceful revolution must be stoked among the populace in the West.

Obsessing over the big names in science sometimes obscures the lesser-known greats: one of my personal favorite trail-blazers was Lynn Margulis, creator and popularizer of the endosymbiotic theory (in spite of the paternalistic douchebaggery and resistance from her colleagues), which postulates that bacteria merged with the precursors of animal and plant cells (eukaryotes) in a mutually beneficial way. This applies also at the extra-cellular level (symbiosis and reciprocal altruism) and a few popular examples are lichen, corals, clownfish and sea anemone, and many species of sharks and cleaner fish. Interconnectedness and cooperation, not just random mutations, are the drivers of evolution and sustain the material existence of myriad species. We are not exempt from this rule of nature, and we call learn to model societies via biomimicry, to create a regenerative, not degrading, culture.

Today, the natural sciences are so complex that it is impossible to be at the cutting-edge of research with a narrow specialty in one field: microbiologists are in constant collaboration with geneticists who integrate advancements with biochemists, and botanists must rely on help from mycologists when examining soil ecology. E.O. Wilson explains this much better than I could, and foresees the rise of a sort of unified theory of the social sciences in his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. I think Convergence Theory has a better ring to it. As Wilson says, ethics is everything, and ecology is the keystone science which explains the interconnectedness of all things, which was obvious to all ancient societies and the Earth-centered indigenous ones of today: a world culture steeped in ecological ethics is our only chance for survival.

Cooperation, reciprocation, and kindness towards strangers were the rule for 99.9% of human existence. As Pulitzer-prize nominated author Barry Brown explains in his book Humanity: The World Before Religion, War & Inequality, complex trade routes of our common ancestors existed 400,000 years ago on the east coast of Africa, and there are no records or archaeological evidence of large-scale warfare before 4000 BCE. Human society was almost totally peaceful and egalitarian throughout history.

Many other great thinkers have called for a return to harmonious and peaceful existence: Fritjof Capra, E.F. Schumacher, and James Lovelock come to mind. Yet what these authors point out is antithetical in one important sense to the mass of Westerners: advocating for de-growth, followed by a rationally, planned, sustainable, steady-state economy which distributes aid internationally based on need.

Thus the mainstream Left (we need a living wage!) and mainstream Right (bring back the manufacturing jobs!) are both deluded: our economic system is suicidal for the planet and our own species in the long term. As long as the masses cry out in favor of short-term economic growth instead of the need for generational rational planning of society, neoliberal hegemony will continue.

Decentralization and direct democracy are key here, although a hierarchy of scientists must be able to inform the public through deliberative councils, spreading environmental information as it evolves, explaining the consequences in layman’s terms. Thus we avoid the issue of false balance, where the media provides “equal space” to sides of issues like global warming, where an IPCC scientist is countered with an oil executive or lobbyist in a debate for “fair and balanced” reporting.

Further, a Green constitution must be put in place as a safeguard against majoritarian voting which threaten the environment. This is called the precautionary principle, totally needed in any Green society. The conversion to a vegetarian based diet, and the voluntary depopulation of overcrowded parts of the planet through a campaign of women’s education, gender and racial equality, free contraceptives, and monetary incentives is needed to lower the strain on the Earth’s resources. Gender equality is a pillar of the Green agenda, and rules should be in place to provide half of senior government positions to women, which would immediately create a more peaceful, egalitarian, and environmental-friendly community of nations.

Then there are issues of labor and social participation. There is the idea that a Universal Basic Income will solve all our problems, which is a fallacy. I’m overall in favor of a UBI, but there are limitations here which must be discussed, especially considering elites like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are coming out in favor of UBI.

Although it may seem like a pipe-dream today, it’s my opinion that the “left-wing” (say, Sanders/Warren) of the Democratic Party could one day promote policies such as the UBI to dismantle what remains of the welfare state. It’s also possible that more carrots will be introduced down the line such as healthcare for all, free college, and an end to student debt. The catch is that it will be a bribe to promote stability domestically, while meanwhile the American Empire will march on overseas, continuing to use economic leverage to exploit the Global South, and also deploying military force with drones and special forces to continue to destabilize entire regions and displace millions.

Also, I am wary of any imagined utopian society based on UBI which is fully-automated, the “Star Trek socialism” which I believe many Lefties secretly pine for. Let me be frank: I am by no means anti-progress: science and technology have their place if managed properly outside of a capitalist framework. Yet, I believe this must be stated clearly: I value manual and mental labor that informs, inspires, and feeds the community as sacred work. I don’t want to live in a society where rooftop solar panels totally power our hydroponic veggies grown in factory warehouses, or synthetic meat in our Petri dishes in labs, while we push buttons.

I am not entirely against this turn towards an automated economy, but I think there are limitations here in which the techno-futurists are not accounting for: namely, more worker alienation as our machines widen the gap between nature and ourselves, breeding further specialization and vertical hierarchical civic relations, which are inherently damaging to the social fabric.

Chaos Politics and a Viable Alternative

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Finally, after hundreds of years of capitalism and colonialism, we’ve arrived at the great unraveling. As István Mészáros brilliantly explained, “Capital’s Historic Circle is Closing”. He writes that, our “sustainable alternative can only be a radically different social metabolic order” and correctly notes that “the requirements of sustainability imply a societal reproductive order with its consciously articulated-autonomously planned and exercised-mode of decision making”. This will require, for him, “the total eradication of the Leviathan state”.

This will mean the breakup of the USA, which of course makes many people extremely uncomfortable. Yet America is a historical aberration: land stolen from Native Americans, an early textile economy based on chattel slavery, global imperial wars, one hundred years of segregation, structural racism against people of color including a prison-industrial complex and blighted inner cities, etc. There are good reasons that, due to its internal contradictions, in a generation or two the US could go the way of the USSR or Yugoslavia, or face a crippling recession spanning decades which would reduce the vast majority of the population to increasing economic precarity.

In the event we seriously consider reorienting our culture, social justice could likely require some sort of framework of law for the return of Native lands to form their own countries or autonomous regions. Reparations and redistribution of wealth are vital, as studies have shown that white households have total assets ten or more times the amount of African-American and Hispanic families.

Where’s the money to pay for all this? There is about 32 trillion dollars stashed by the super-rich is offshore bank accounts. Just a fraction of this amount, distributed worldwide, could solve world hunger, homelessness, poverty, preventable disease, and provide a 100% renewable energy grid for the globe if properly managed. However, if this is not done, the super-rich will soon own everything, and it’s quite possible in the coming decades that significant parts of the globe could ignite into Hobbesian anarchy due to lack of food, access to clean water, and infrastructural damage due to deadly weather and global warming-driven events.

Collapse has happened many times in great civilizations, and the masses had no idea what was coming, doing little to prepare, as academics like Tainter and Diamond have explained. Through systems theory, the best scientists have explained time and time again that our world is entering a period of crisis never seen before. Politically, you can see this chaos emerging, personified in leaders like nationalist neo/proto-fascists such as Trump, Le Pen, Erdogan, Putin, Xi, Modi.

Consider Trump: many adjectives come to mind such as buffoon, clown, con-man. Yet what come to mind for me are the chthonic, atavistic impulses he embodies. This is a dark ages brand of politics.

Luckily, there may be glimmers of hope in the chaos politics Trump encourages. Thankfully, he does not seem to have any hard ideology, but is rather an opportunist, largely concerned with his petit-bourgeois hotel and real estate empire. Embodying a more venal form of capital in these very weird times, he along with his far-right brethren nonetheless around the world are forming what in chaos theory is known as a “strange attractor”: a basin (swamp pit might be the more appropriate term for these thugs) in which all points in the system of global capital are revolving in multiple dimensions. Eventually, in many of these non-linear mathematical models, bifurcations occur in the system: in a political system where “all politics is populist” as Mouffe might say, new alternatives to the system spring into existence, personified by Trump and Sanders, Corbyn and Farage, Melenchon and Le Pen.

Amazingly, non-linear dynamics in physics and biochemistry result in a higher state of order: this is how life emerged from the pre-biotic soup of fatty membranes, nucleotides, and proto-amino acids of the ancient Earth billions of years ago. In the same way, our highly complex social system allows for the possibility of seemingly disparate and splintered citizen movements, non-governmental organizations, and non-profit cooperatives to coalesce and resist.

We must combat the irrationality and “higher immorality” of the elites (Mills) by eliminating their hegemony in the areas of media, the military, and the corporate world. This won’t be accomplished by top-down government, even by well-meaning figures such as Corbyn or Sanders, who offer little fare in the realm of the anti-imperialist struggle worldwide.

Spiritual and psychological awakening among the public must be stoked by civil society in a grassroots manner: the cults of celebrity and social-media obsessions must be called out as superficial substitutes of an atomized culture, not a liberating digital space. Mindfulness and discernment must begin in early education, and a worthy model for personal reflection and social transformation is the Contemplative Mind Tree, which explores the means for actualization individually and collectively as well as the commonalities of seemingly different spiritual and cultural movements.

Necessarily, this will require disentangling from the virtual world of our screens, portals into an unreality which commodifies social alienation, fetishisizes technology, and relies on a grid powered by fossil fuels. This will mean using technology and money as means to the ends of living a meaningful life, not as ends in themselves. Nature must be defended, and regarded as having intrinsic value, not exploited for the false needs of global capitalism. Internationalism, solidarity, and reconciliation and cooperation between nations must be fostered in the public sphere via constructive debate and by progressive media dialogue.

We are a long way from this vision, and things will most likely get worse before they get better. In this period of transition, Westerners should be prodded to examine their priorities and basically accept a program of voluntary poverty regarding our extravagantly wasteful material possessions and fossil fuel use to help redistribute aid and resources to the Global South. If this were to happen, in the process, our lives would get qualitatively healthier, deeper, richer and fuller of meaning as the ethics of charity, reciprocity, and sustainability nourish our minds, bodies, and souls.

The longer we wait, the worse things are going to get, especially in terms of future effects from global warming. Westerners must overcome our apathy, renounce our privileged position in transnational capitalism, get out in the streets, use our power in numbers, and form a social movement centered on internationalism, radical democracy, gender and racial equality, and social and environmental justice.


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website at williamhawes.wordpress.com


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Capitalism and Its Discontents: What Are We Living For?

The Left has been fragmented for decades. Liberals, socialists, communists, greens, and anarchists have all endlessly debated future models for society. One wonders, how many are just talking, and how many are willing to listen? There already are models for society to live sustainably and to prosper, very, very old ways: by following the paths set by the indigenous.

From William Hawes

“Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.”
-Max Horkheimer, from the essay “The Jews and Europe”, December 1939

Aren’t we all tired of capitalism? Haven’t most of us gotten sick of the drudgery, the monotony, the exploitation, sucking up to our bosses and management who pretend to care about the average worker? The drive to consume more and more has degraded all art, values, and sense of community in the US.

Capitalists literally are holding the people of the Earth in bondage. As liberal democracy crumbles in the West, the risk of neo-fascism continues to rise in North America and Europe.

It’s worth examining why the US has TV shows like “Hoarders”, where people have problems collecting useless crap, and where viewers publicly shame and judge the afflicted. Yet, where is the outrage at the real hoarders, the billionaires, the banks, and the military industrial complex? This is serious hypocrisy, a cultural blind spot: a double standard that is not being addressed by our society.

Capitalists are Addicts

Why does society not ask arch-capitalists the obvious questions: when is enough, enough? Who needs a billion dollars? Once you can provide a comfortable life for your family, children, and grandchildren, what is the point of hoarding your money in bank accounts and lording over a monopolizing mega-corporation? Where does this endless desire for more come from?

It’s fairly obvious that a failure to confront death is closely linked to the bottomless appetite exhibited by capitalists. The perceived need to construct towers, monuments, mansions, and manufactured narratives of their own greatness is proof. Not to mention how many of the super-rich have chosen to become cryogenically frozen post-mortem: this is in outright denial of their own mortality, and the necessity of death so that future generations may live.

In failing to confront death, any object can be used as a crutch, an addiction. Addiction is linked to social isolation and lack of community, which the capitalist class creates by artificially creating specialized divisions of labor, alienation, and class differences.

Addiction leads to a disconnection from what some would call a “reality principle”, leading to further and deeper indulgences and lack of restraint. There are further similarities between capitalists and drug addicts: the impatience, the disconnection from others, the neediness, as well as a general childlike need to be validated and pampered.

Methodology and Treatment in an Age of Insanity

We see where capitalism leads: to a permanent crisis, a never-ending state of emergency. Since the 1970s, workers have increased productivity mightily with little to zero increases in wages considering inflation and other factors. Americans are also working longer hours; young adults are even having less sex partly because of this. There is a huge problem with prescription drug abuse (not just opioids), teen suicide is rising (sadly, at a 40 year high for teen girls in 2017), and child poverty isn’t being addressed properly, if at all, by our own government.

All of these absolutely tragic issues are connected to capitalism. When we are forced to compete against each other, in grades at school, for that raise or promotion in the workplace, this breeds a mindset of dehumanization.

I would also posit that the separation of young children from their parents when they begin schooling, either day care or pre-school or kindergarten or afterwards, is one of the first steps in life where the feelings of individual atomization starts, and collective social disintegration begins. Being ripped from your parent’s arms because they have to work just to survive, and the state/private/charter school substituting for the role of a parent, is one of the first deep tragedies inflicted on many of us by the “needs” of the modern world. I believe this suffering is lodged deep in our unconscious selves, and this is not being addressed publicly at all, and barely acknowledged in our private lives.

Treatment starts when we want to become free of the Great Beast of capitalism, the “Babylon system” as some like to call it. We must ground ourselves, and return to a deeper relationship with our mother Earth. Self-reliance is true freedom, and families and communities should begin to grow as much of their own food as possible. I understand the limitations for those in urban areas, or those stuck in jobs where time and effort cannot be adequately put towards farming, of course. Collectively, as a city block, a suburban neighborhood, a rural township, we are all going to have to learn to get together, share food and technology, and become independent of this beast. We must begin to develop a gift economy, an indigenous-based economy, based on reciprocity and trust, not exploitation and coercion, as Charles Eisenstein explains.

Other than that, a mass protest movement must be created so the resources that our federal government receives in taxes can be shifted from weapons of destruction to schools, health care, community projects, and renewable energy.

Analyzing a Popular Alternative

I believe it’s important to discuss some of the budding alternatives to capitalism that are developing around the globe. In the US, support for socialism has risen immensely, especially among the younger crowd, thanks to the work of Bernie Sanders (notwithstanding him not really being a socialist) and others. Yet how serious are most American socialists?

One of the most popular groups in the US is called Socialist Alternative (SA), led by the charismatic Seattle councilwoman Kshama Sawant. SA has some great ideas, and yet, some of their proposals make it seem as if they’re just going through the motions. Let me explain.

On their about page, a few things stand out. They write: “We see the global capitalist system as the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, discrimination, war, and environmental destruction.” Very well put. Yet then, this is followed by the line below:

“As capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elites’ global competition for profits and power.”

This sounds nice, but I wonder how much time was really spent thinking through the implications of this policy. What if democratic control only leads to redistribution of the companies’ wealth, and not fundamental transformation of the products, resource usage, and dangerous working conditions?  Where is the sense of urgency, the fact that deadlines are being approached regarding global warming, regarding the ecological damage being done by these companies?

One wonders, has SA bothered to take a look at the list of the 500 top companies? For some, perhaps they can be repurposed to make sustainable products. For others, maybe the factories and warehouses can be dismantled and recycled for public use. For a few, it might be feasible that they could be broken up into smaller entities and non-profit co-operatives.

Yet, we must realize that these companies have only been able to thrive due to government tax breaks, insider trading, off-shoring hidden wealth, and other financial chicanery. Further, these mega corporations rely on specialized division of labor, fueling worker alienation.

Also, the biggest companies choose not to compete against each other in entire sectors, allowing for large profit margins. What happens when “public ownership” leads to stricter competition and price wars, forcing many employees to be laid off? How will these companies be able to compete against Europe and China? Is SA committed to local and bioregional approaches to agricultural and socially responsible industrial practices?

For many of these companies, though, the only democratic thing I can think of to do is to vote on who gets to throw the first brick or Molotov through the empty building. These corporations have done irreparable harm to the planet. Some of them are simply not going to be able to be reformed.

The only way to transform these entities (the ones that can be saved) properly, with the proper protections, would be to rewrite the constitution to include environmental and social rights, as well as the rights of mother Earth, as Bolivia has done. Without a legal framework based on ecology, there is no way to make sure “democratic control” of a transnational corporation would actually lead to environmentally-safe production.

SA is notable for fighting for a $15 an hour wage. First, I want to say that I support this policy. It is a laudable goal, and may work soon in some of the nation’s wealthy, tech-savvy, coastal metro enclaves.

Yet we need to ask what would happen if this were enacted nationally, and what we should do to prepare if it ever does. The elites would pull their money out of the system, if only to spite the Left and the socialists who enacted the policy, and give them a taste of pain for disobeying capitalism. The neoliberal economy is designed around low-wage service work, and is so tightly interwoven, not to mention extremely monopolized, that a sudden wage rise would lead to high levels of inflation, and possibly to a severe economic recession or depression. Are groups like SA ready to organize outside the political structure, to make space for a civic society, domestically and abroad, which will need massive influxes of resources, food, and housing when shit hits the fan?

SA also wants to “slash the military budget”, which is great. SA does not clarify where that new money should go. SA also proclaims that they support internationalism. Allow me to make a proposal: money from the military budget should be given away freely to developing countries, with transnational groups, either under UN auspices or some new framework, helping distribute and allocate resources so they are not wasted by corrupt dictators and governments. Poorer nations will need massive influxes of revenue to help them develop and avoid using fossil fuels and habitat-destroying industry, in the realm of trillions of dollars over decades. The West has accumulated ill-gotten wealth from centuries of colonialism, chattel slavery, and genocidal policies towards the “Global South”, and now may be the last chance to give back, before it becomes too late.

Are US socialists committed to these sorts of radical proposals? Are SA and others ready to admit to its followers that real socialism will involve hard sacrifices, and almost certainly (in the short term, at least) lead to less material goods and privileges that Westerners have enjoyed for centuries? Are socialists as ready to support a living wage in China as they are in the USA? Finally, are American socialists committed to transforming the nation, or just promoting an ideology that is centered too much on human needs, and not enough on the needs of non-humans and future human generations?

Ecocentrism, not Anthropocentrism

The Left has been fragmented for decades. Liberals, socialists, communists, greens, and anarchists have all endlessly debated future models for society. One wonders, how many are just talking, and how many are willing to listen? There already are models for society to live sustainably and to prosper, very, very old ways: by following the paths set by the indigenous.

For instance: by living in the moment, and observing things as they really are, it becomes quite clear that humanity is facing huge challenges unlike at any other time in history. Just one hundred companies have pumped out 70% of worldwide greenhouse gases since 1988. Is the answer, as SA has posited, really just to democratize these corporations and hope for the best, or to shut them down completely?

Westerners are going to have to realize very quickly that despite our space technology, skyscrapers, and instant media, we are the children in the room when it comes to ecological knowledge, and the indigenous around the world are the adults. Native American tribes and various indigenous peoples worldwide have catalogued thousands if not tens of thousands of local plants in their local ecosystems, often with hundreds of different uses for each individual plant. Indigenous accept their own mortality and have constructed elaborate rituals, ceremonies, and initiations to help each other confront death. Also, and this is critical, indigenous tribes understand their carrying capacity in their local habitat, and so are able to regulate and rationally plan for their population levels. Overpopulation now threatens the world with ecosystem degradation, habitat destruction, global warming, resource wars, ocean acidification, plastics proliferation, pandemics, and mass starvation and drought.

The indigenous are plant people, and we can follow just a few basic ideas to help us escape capitalism: conserve what remains of the South American, African, and Southeast Asian rainforests, as many future cures from disease and chronic conditions will be found there. In the Americas, the milpa, a planting of corn, beans, squash, and various nutrient rich veggies allows for huge crop productivity in a small area. We can use hemp and legalize cannabis to make biofuels, produce paper, make innovate building materials like Hempcrete, and provide the masses with a safe, relaxing herb for recreational, medicinal, and spiritual use. Advanced technology in most scenarios will only make things worse. What is the best thing one can do to stop global warming? Not a solar array, but planting a tree. Slow down soil erosion? Plant a tree. What is resistance? Planting a community garden is a more socialist, a more significant thing to do now than attending another symposium on Marxism.

The indigenous are freer and happier than Westerners not by some innate abilities, but because they have chosen to work for their freedom: by co-producing food, tools, clothes, pottery, by hunting, fishing, and foraging together. Westerners have refused to resist thus far, because deep down, many know they are dependent on the system for survival, and don’t want to pull that plug, to bite the hand that feeds. It’s the only way, though. We are going to have to walk away from all this, and activists, protestors, and concerned citizens are going to have to metaphorically step into our own Lacandon jungle, and organize around ecology, democracy, and social justice.

Yet, we must realize that it is too late in the game to rely simply on voting. Citizens will respond to a mass movement to the degree that it represents the will of the people: to the degree it can articulate a political truth on a deeply visceral level. Most mainstream socialists (important exceptions being Ian Angus, Paul Burkett, and John Bellamy Foster) have so far been too committed to a flailing, abstract ideology; specifically, wrongly committed to a Eurocentric, technocratic, anthropocentric worldview; to capture people’s imaginations. Developing an ecological worldview, one that acknowledges our interdependence and interconnectedness with all species, is crucial.

Thus, as the 21st century progresses, Standing Rock will eventually be seen as having more influence than Occupy Wall Street. We are connected to our planet and the web of life more than we can ever know or attempt to explain. For instance, we won’t end warfare until we abolish factory farming: the two are intimately linked, as exploitation of man over animal allows fascists the ideological justification for exploitation and the killing of man by man. Ecology is the keystone science: it allows us to see the linkages between species, food webs, and provides the science needed to develop scale-appropriate, sustainable technology. Ecologists understand that an injury to one is an injury to all, and under capitalism, we’ve all been wounded, plant, animal, and human alike, even the rich, who’ve suffered spiritual decay and moral disintegration.

The only democracy possible is an ecological democracy, with a long-term planning, and rational, sustainably-oriented national constitutions, a 90-95% reduction in fossil fuel use within a few decades at most, and an international consensus which will guarantee safeguards against habitat destruction, even in the face of democratic majority opposition. If we don’t face up to these facts, and collectively and courageously organize, we may in fact be due for the Kali Yuga, as the Hindus prophesied.

Thus, perhaps we can update and re-phrase Horkheimer’s famous quote for the 21st century:
“Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about the 6th mass extinction.”


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website at williamhawes.wordpress.com


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Lies That Capitalists Tell Us

 

While idiotic supporters of our two-party system wring their hands over the sensationalist nonsense reported by the mainstream media, we thought it might be worth touching on the most dangerous lie of all-time: capitalism. It’s an all-encompassing delusion, including: the myth of continual technological progress, the mendacious assumptions of endless economic growth, the lie that constant bombardments of media and consumer goods make us happy,  and the omissions of our involvement in the exploitation of the planet and the resources of distant, poorer nations, among other things.

We’ve taken the time to hash out some of the most pernicious mendacities we’ve come across in our (relatively) young lives, in the workplace, in our private lives, and in the media. ***

Please share these counter-arguments far and wide, in order to educate your fellow citizens, and, if necessary, to provide the intellectual beat-downs needed when arguing with pro-capitalists. So without further ado, here is our list of the most devious “Lies that Capitalists Tell Us”:

1) Wealth will “trickle down”

It’s hard to believe an economic policy that conjures images of urination could be wrong, but the idea is as bankrupt as the lower classes who have been subjected to the trickling. Less than ten people now have the financial wealth equivalent to half the planet, and the trickling seems a lot more like a mad cash-grab by the (morally bankrupt) elites. Rather than trickle down, the 1% and their lackeys have hovered up the majority of new wealth created since the 2008 crash. After 40 years of stagnant wages in the US the people feel more shit on than trickled upon.

It’s not a mistake that the elite reap most of the profits: the capitalist system is designed this way, it always has been, and will be, until we the people find the courage to tear it down, and replace it with something better.

2) I took all the risks

It can be argued the average employee takes far more risks in any job than the average person who starts a business with employees. The reason being is that the person starting a business usually has far more wealth, where most Americans can’t afford a 500 dollar emergency. Meaning if they lose a job or go without work for any stretch it means some tough decisions have to be made. A person with even a failing business cannot be fired, but the employee can be fired for almost any reason imaginable, they are operating without a net at all times.

The capitalist uses all sorts of public infrastructure to get his/her company off the ground. From everything to the roads to get you to your job, colleges, public utilities, tax breaks, electricity, etc. Even the internet itself was created from public research. Yet still, elite business owners still have the audacity, and are so full of hubris, that they believe in the hyper-individualist, macho, rugged-cowboy/pioneer façade they affect.

3) I could pay you more if there were less government regulations

Many capitalists argue that layers of government bureaucracy prevent them from paying their employees a fairer, living wage. This is a huge whopper, as our regulations (like no child labor, a minimum wage, disability and worker’s compensation, basic environmental impact studies, etc) actually provide safety against the worst type of exploitation of workers and destruction of the land by corporations. Without these minimum regulations, an age of even more outright neo-feudalism would occur, where employees could be layed-off and rehired ad-infinitum, based on downward market wage forces, at the wishes of ever-more capricious owners, management, and CEOs.

4) If you work hard, one day you can be rich like us (We live in a meritocracy)

America is not a meritocracy, and no one should think it is. There exists no tie to the intelligence of work done or the amount of it that guarantees success. Rather to be rich depends more on either being born into it, or being exceptionally good at exploiting others so one may take the bulk of the proceeds for themselves. This is the magic formula for wealth in this ever so “exceptional” land – exploit, exploit, exploit.

Inheritance & exploitation is how the rich get rich. To understand the exploitation aspect takes some understanding of how the rich function. Next to none of the super rich become that way solely by meritocracy. Their income is created through complex webs of utilizing leverage usually to extract some form of passive income. They are the rentier class or con artists, or both.

You only have to look at what the rich are dabbling in. Like Robert Mercer for instance, who made his money via “a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.” . Skimming money off corrupt financial markets hardly seems like a worthwhile activity that contributes anything to humanity, it’s a hustle.

Or take Bill Gates, who did some programming for a few years, poorly, and became rich by landing a series of deals with IBM initially, and then by passively making money off the share values of Microsoft. The late Steve Jobs may have been one of the more hands-on billionaires, but even he required thousands of enslaved asian hands to extract the kind profits Apple was able to make.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson almost certainly has organized crime links, as if owning a casino wasn’t enough of a con to begin with.

Rich DeVos became a billionaire by running a pyramid scheme most are familiar with called Amway.
The Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart, pays a median wage of 10 bucks an hour (far below a living wage), they strong arm vendors, and also rely on products made with working conditions that resemble old world slavery, while having more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans.

There’s just no way to make that kind of money without having a major market advantage and then profiteering off it. Lie, cajole, coerce, manipulate, bribe, rig, and hustle. These are the tools of the rich.

No one is worth this kind of money and everyone needs each other’s help to function, but in the minds of the rich they consider themselves the primary cogs in the machine worthy of their money for doing not much else than holding leverage over others and exploiting it.

5) This is as good as it gets (there is no alternative, TINA)

Through a process of gaslighting and double bind coercion the choices we are fed are propagandized via controlled media outlets owned and operated by elites. We are told our choices must be between the democrats or republicans, attacking the Middle East or face constant terrorism, unfettered capitalism or state run communism. We are given binary choices that lack all nuance, and nuance is the enemy of all those who seek to control and exploit. They feed us a tautology of simpleton narratives which unfortunately do exactly what they hoped, keep people dumb and biting on their red herrings.

Capitalists make it seems as if there is no alternative because they hoard all the money, have all the hired guns, and pay off teams of servile lawyers, judges, and lobbyists to write and enforce their anti-life laws. Capitalists demand “law and order” whenever their servant classes get too restless. In general, the most hardened, dogmatic capitalists exhibit bewilderment and/or disgust at genuine human emotions like joy, creativity, spontaneity, and love. Many capitalists have an unconscious death wish, and want to drag the rest of us and the mother Earth down with them.

Capitalists have stolen all the farmlands, hold all the patents to technology, and don’t pay enough to mass amounts of citizens to get out of the rat race and get back to the land, to live off of. The screws are turned a little tighter every year. If we are not done in by massive natural disasters or an economic collapse, expect a revolution to occur, hopefully a non-violent one.

6) We give back to the community

Corporations set out to create non-profits as a public relations move. They cause the problems and then put small band-aids on the gaping wounds they have directly contributed to and use the charity as a source of plausible deniability to obscure the fact that they are exactly what we think they are: greedy.

Handing out bread-crumbs after you’ve despoiled, desecrated, and bulldozed millions of hectares of valuable habitat is not fooling anyone. The elite one-percenters are the enemies of humankind and the biosphere itself.

7) The system (and economic theory) is rational and takes into account social and environmental costs

People tend to think someone somewhere is regulating things to keep us safe. They look around and see sophisticated technology, gleaming towers in the sky, and what they believe to be is a complex intelligent world. But in truth no one is running the show. The world functions as a mad cash grab driven by neo-liberal ideology. Our leaders are driven by power, fame, and money, and exhibit strong psychopathic, sociopathic, and narcissistic traits.

The problems of modern industrial capitalism and its impact on the world is clear – our exploitation of the resources, people, and other species are a direct result of our consumer based infinite growth model. Just a few of the problems we face are species extinction, climate change, ocean acidification, and a toxic carcinogen filled trash dump of a planet that reached population overshoot decades ago.

If the system was rational, we would begin planning to lower birth rates to decrease the world’s population, and voluntarily provide education, decent, dignified jobs, as well as birth control and contraception to women worldwide.

We live by money values, and think in money terminology. When we discuss healthcare the topic arises about how to pay for it before nearly anything else. The priority isn’t on saving lives but how to pay for things. Yes, how will we pay for healthcare when banks can create money on a computer through the magic of fractional reserve banking, which they often use to bail out their crony friends. The money isn’t real but the implications of restricting it from the populace are. Money is created out of thin air by the magic of the Federal Reserve, yet we have all heard our bosses, and the pricks in Washington complaining that “we don’t have enough money for that” when it comes to healthcare, improving schools, and humanitarian relief for the poorest parts of the world.

Again, if the system was rational, world poverty would be solved within a few short years. Money destined for weapons and “defense” could be used domestically as well as abroad to Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, and there is more than enough money (75 trillion is the annual world GDP, approximately 15 trillion in the US alone) to pay for a good home, clothing, and food for every family worldwide, with an all-renewable powered energy grid.

8) The future will be better

When Trump’s slogan make America great again was on the lips of every alt-right fascist, most of us stopped to ask, when was it great? The truth is that politicians have been promising something better since the inception of this country and better has never arrived.

There is always another expensive war to fight and another financial meltdown occurring on average every eight years. Wait, you might say, what about those sweet post-WWII growth years brought about by the New Deal? The sad truth is those years were only materially beneficial to white, middle-class men, who were highly sexist, racist, and complicit in incubating today’s consumer-driven Empty Society.

The post-WWII era was an aberration in our history and the result of having more jobs available than people, but as the country rapidly exploited its natural resources and reached the limits of linear growth while the population exploded the leverage that allowed people to have higher wages receded. Even though efficiency increased enormously, the people lost leverage to demand higher wages.

Without leverage held by the people capitalism will return to its status quo goal – exploit, and that’s just what it did. In the US, corporations grew richer and the people grew poorer starting from the mid 1970’s to the present.

9) It’s Just Business

Employees devote years of their lives to companies and when they are let go they are told it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. This is how all bad news is delivered even when personal, it’s says we are cold-hearted organizations that adhere to a bottom line first and human needs second. So know when they say “it’s just business” what they are saying is understand we are sharks, and acting like a shark is just what we do.

This is also the logic behind defending war crimes and similar atrocities. Nations like the US claim they have a “responsibility to protect” civilians from terrorists. Then, when American bombs kill civilians (or their proxies use US-made weapons), they are referred to as “collateral damage”.

10) Financial markets & debt are necessary

The health of the entire economy is too often gauged by the stock markets. But the reality about financial markets is they are extraneous gambling machines designed to place downward pressure on companies to post good numbers to elevate share prices. These financial markets funnel capital to a smaller and smaller number of multinational corporations every year, and perpetuate non-linear economic growth (and therefore more pollutants, CO2, pesticides, strip mining, razing of forests) that is killing the planet.

Debt is the most fundamental lie in our economy. Money is only supposed to be a tool to move goods efficiently around a market, but for money itself to be a wealth engine is a Ponzi scheme. And we all know how that ends.


William Hawes

is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. His articles have appeared online at CounterPunch, Global Research, Countercurrents, Gods & Radicals, Dissident Voice, The Ecologist, and more. You can email him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website williamhawes.wordpress.com.

Jason Holland

is a writer. Visit his blog Reasonbowl.com. He can be reached at jason.holland@reasonbowl.com or follow him on twitter @ReasonBowl. Watch him on his Youtube channel at Reason Bowl Radio.


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Rewilding America

“Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse.”

Cultural and Ecological commentary from William Hawes

It’s time for us as a people to come together, to form an understanding about our natural environment, and our connection to it. If we are to survive long into this century and beyond, our society will have to learn to re-indigenize itself. This will be a painful process for those dependent on creature comforts, on the electrical grid’s continuous power supply, on the streams of TV, Netflix, even the internet itself, on factory-made pharmaceuticals, etc. It will be difficult for those whose illusions are about to be shattered, for those who thought they could live for so long and have it so good at the expense of others and to the detriment of their natural, wild surroundings.

We aren’t going anywhere. There will be no moon and Mars colonies to flee to. Isn’t it suspicious, though, how little talk there is about the parallels between the past colonialists of North America and the sci-fi dream of future colonies in space? Any potential future space colony wouldn’t be a glitzy affair: it would be similar to past and present immigrants and refugees streaming across continents, trying to escape death, privation, despair. In short, the dream of human habitation of the solar system exists because of the utter destruction of landscapes and the indecency of human societies in many parts of our planet.

Imagine if we actually decided to collectively care for our own world instead of having day-dreams and wasting billions on rockets and gadgets to propel us towards the “final frontier”. Doesn’t that sound nice? Luckily for us, the resiliency of our planet towards habitat degradation is very, very strong. That is why a policy of rewilding must be introduced into mainstream thinking and politics. Coined by David Foreman, rewilding refers to conservation methods that strengthen and maintain wildlife corridors and large-scale wilderness areas, with an emphasis placed on carnivores and keystone species which act as linchpins for ecosystem stability. Rewilding leads to increased connectedness across previously fragmented habitat due to roads, railways, urban sprawl, etc.

In the Americas, please consider educating yourself and others about these issues, and donating to a few of the fine organizations promoting wildlife corridors, such as: the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, the Paseo del Jaguar program led by Panthera, and the American Prairie Reserve.

Strengthening our ecosystems will provide a higher quality of life for future generations, as well as your children and grandchildren. Now that’s a return on investment. Forget about yourself, your fragile ego, and your “standards of living”, for a moment. Western capitalism and colonialism has been degrading habitats for centuries, with benefits mostly accruing to white, older men. Only by giving back to the land, and in many cases, non-intervening and letting our soils and waterways heal on their own, will allow for a more equal distribution of wealth. It is natural resources, not money, which are the real inheritance we will leave behind to our youth.

The distribution of the “common-wealth”, by the way, used to be far more equitable hundreds of years ago, when land was freely available for hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. Yes, there is less abject poverty in Europe and the US today compared to centuries ago, but it has come at a steep cost: there is no self-reliance, no collectively and culturally stored traditions of farming, crafts, weaving, pottery, home-building. Corporations have swallowed all this, citing the “need” for specialized divisions of labor. Self-sufficiency and homesteading are looked upon with scorn, and we are told to buy everything we could ever need (and desire), instead of co-producing tools, clothes, food, and more.

Sharing of community resources needs to be re-instilled in the populace. The average garage, shed, or extra closet of today’s Westerner is filled with useless crap used maybe a few times a year, all purchased from a few companies. Recycling usable equipment and renting for small fees throughout the communities will significantly decrease consumption and foster closer neighborhood ties.

Today, the legal webs and labyrinths of “property laws” and low-wage work have imprisoned the average person. So has the spread of capitalism and unequal distribution of money, division of labor, separation of classes. The lives of masses of working people, the precariat, are just as unstable and misery-inducing as they were centuries ago, when Frederick Douglas said:

“Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and rushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”

This all underscores the need for rewilding the American people, not simply expanding our National Forests and wildlife refuges. It calls for a transformation in consciousness, to promote understanding of different cultures, openness towards change, and advocating for compassion and peace. We can begin by starting to support a 15 dollar wage, to fight for climate science funding, to promote renewable energy. Yet there needs to be an understanding that those actions, while a good start, are simply a few first baby-steps towards re-orienting our culture.

Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse. Longing, in all actuality, is too mild a term; actually, there is an intense craving for unique and authentic notions of identity, for belonging to a caring culture, for sharing and cultural blending. There is also, to an extent, evolutionary reasons and epigenetic possibilities for the deep desires, for instance, to want to sing and dance around a fire, to go on long walks to calm the mind, to talk to plants and animals, to feel the Earth’s joys and pains, to partake of psychedelic plants. It’s what our species has done for millennia, and no freeways, high-rises, fluorescent-lit malls, or gated communities can possibly make up for these urges.

Inner calmness and contentedness, feeling joy at other’s successes, altruistic actions of bravery, spontaneity, the creative act, and transpersonal experiences all teach us that our egos are illusions. The drive of the ego is the drive of civilization, with all its life-denying baggage. It is this ego-based desire to dominate, to harness and pillage nature, which expands outwards to include all life-forms, including even our close loved ones. The judgments and pain inflicted on others are projections of our own, deep inner hurting. The ego shifts the blame, projecting, always outwards onto others, always disguising and rationalizing its selfish deeds.  Indigenous life is not without problems, but it recognizing and integrates the shadow-side of ourselves: there was no need for modern psychology until modern, Western man ramped up the process of destroying the world, all in order to fill the gaping void within the soul.

Thus, rewilding our psyches will mean dissolving the ego, recognizing it as a small part of the mind, occasionally useful in survival-enhancing or problem solving situations, but not as an absolute master of our sense of self. In short, it must be acknowledged that there are many aspects to individual minds, spectrums of ways of thinking, just as specific brain-waves exist, and differing states of sleep and dreaming.

Shrinking the ego will re-establish our commitment to protecting the Earth. As creator and protector of life, our planet, along with crops, animals, mountains and rivers, all have been venerated and deified across history. Thus, the sacredness of life and its continuity can be seen for the miracle it truly is. New spiritual and religious groups will be founded, with cross-fertilization and syncretism causing an explosion of kaleidoscopic cultures. Shrinking petty individual desires and grievances enlarges our view of nature: it allows for free living and amicable relations, promoting an idea of an Unconquerable World which can triumph over the capitalist-dominated, chaotic, absolutist, totalitarian impulses of modern life.

This has serious implications. What cannot be used, i.e. extra physical products, food, and extra income must be given away to less fortunate countries. Open-source medicine and technology will have to be distributed to developing nations to stave off the worst symptoms of global warming and habitat degradation. In the wealthy West, the rich should look to the example of the indigenous, where in some tribes the chieftains distributed their personal wealth among their tribe, often to be rewarded in kind at a later ceremonial/seasonal time of the year. Companies that produce weapons or various useless waste will be forced to shut down. Education will be reoriented to focus on the potentialities of each individual student, not as a one-size-fits-all indoctrination mill, churning out damaged, submissive, domesticated youth.

Green constitutions will have to be drafted to provide regulations to protect humans and wildlife from unnecessary pollution and production. It’s not just the West that will lead: the Chinese must realize, and be planning for, the eventuality that the demand for crappy plastic goods and gadgetry at big-box stores is going to decline, worldwide, in the coming decades. A new international order based on the UN, or otherwise, will be needed to uphold climate change commitments, speedily develop renewable energy tech, sustainable agriculture plans, and distribution of resources. Basically, this requires a shift from an anthropocentric outlook to an ecocentric outlook.

This will require a global awakening, and a moral/spiritual transformation of consciousness. It is the only way for our societies to move forward. Adaptability and having a broad range of skills and a wider knowledge base will be preferred over the narrow, technological elitism we see today in the corporate world and reflected in culture and the media. Ultimately, rewilding ourselves means learning how to live free, i.e., unlearning what our consumer-based culture has brainwashed us into believing.

I don’t intend to shy away from the hard political questions of what the world and the US could look like in the near future, if the above steps are taken. Most likely, the modern nation-state will perish, America included. Our national experiment has been blood-drenched and steeped in genocide, slavery, domination by capitalists, and structural racism from the very beginning. A new era of cooperation is called for, with true democratic consensus and citizen involvement in governance as well as the workplace. Smaller areas based on bioregionalism and the city-state will replace the nation-state (which Gore Vidal, among others, spoke out in favor of) and will be more likely to prosper, as they will be more likely to provide for their citizens. Climate refugees and nomadic ways of life will increase for those fleeing disaster, or those simply seeking better opportunities. Decentralization of power as well as a closer connection to the land will foster a reawakening of the tribal ways of life, where tight-knit communities care for the sick, the elderly, disabled, and troubled souls, instead of shunting them into various soul-crushing institutions like jail, mental hospitals, etc.

A new era of solidarity and care for the meek must begin. This will mean feeding the millions per year who die of starvation, drought, lack of medical care, etc. This will mean reprioritizing our lives, with no excuses. Radical egalitarianism and faith in the boundless potential of each and every person must be instilled in our societies. Some will denounce this as radical, utopian, unachievable. Those who say so are without hope, without faith, having been indoctrinated by mainstream media and enshackled by capitalist ideology. Recently, in an interview, China Mieville explained this quite well:

“We underestimate at our peril the kind of onslaught of received opinion from the media, from the sort of cultural establishment, basically kind of ruling out of court any notion of fundamental change. Ridiculing it as ridiculous, to the extent that, you know, when you start to talk about wanting a better world you see the eyes rolling. What kind of despicable pass have we come to, that that aspiration raises scorn? And yet that’s where we are, for huge numbers of the political establishment.”

What sort of ideology can replace this cynicism, this nihilism? What kind of world do we want to create? I defer to Carl Rogers:

“Let me summarize my own political ideology, if you will, in a very few words. I find that for myself, I am most satisfied politically when every person is helped to become aware of his or her own power and strength; when each person participates fully and responsibly in every decision which affects him or her; when group members learn that the sharing of power is more satisfying than endeavoring to use power to control others; when the group finds ways of making decisions which accommodate the needs and desires of each person; when every person of the group is aware of the consequences of a decision on its members and on the external world; when each person enforces the group decision through self-control of his or her own behavior; when each person feels increasingly empowered and strengthened; and when each person and the group as a whole is flexible, open to change, and regards previous decisions as being always open for reconsideration.” (1)

Notes:

1.) May, Rollo, et al. Politics and Innocence: A Humanistic Debate. Saybrook Publishers, 1986. p. 6.


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com


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Settle Down

“We must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day.”

“Oh, I’ve plenty of time. My time is entirely my own.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

 

What does it mean to “settle down in today’s political landscape? Let me be clear, I’m not referring to the way the term was used by our teachers in school, as a sneered, patronizing declaration to submit and obey: “Settle down, boys and girls!” Neither do I mean to “settle” in the sense of taking what one can get, selling out one’s values for some feeble, abstract compromise.

Rather, it occurs to me that settling down with oneself, and one’s community, is just about the most radical stance a person can take these days. Whatever do I mean by this? Part of what I’m referring to here is cultivating a healthy inner life. Having a sense of contentedness, equanimity, patience, inner peace, and wild-eyed wonder at the beauty our world has to offer.

We must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day. Instead of reacting (often with feigned surprise and outrage) at each and every tragedy and crisis the corporations and the government is behind, concerned citizens and protest movements must begin to go on the offensive.

This will require a unified front among Leftists and activists, and an understanding that the piecemeal approach which mainstream non-profits, social justice groups, and protesters operate under must be reevaluated, reconfigured, and new strategies must be invented.

A sense of duty, care, compassion, and collective responsibility for the planet and the meek of the Earth must be stoked among leaders in civil society. This may require radicals and activists to step back from the maelstrom of contemporary life in certain senses: to set examples by not jet-setting around the globe regularly, to give up luxury consumer items in solidarity with the working classes, etc.

Healthy food, continuing one’s education throughout life, being fulfilled in work and in play, learning to appreciate nature, and developing a spiritual practice are just a few basics. Mainstream American culture does everything it can to distract, obfuscate, and distort every conceivable path towards personal and collective enlightenment among its citizens. This culture of speed, of being unable to hold attention, this mindset of Amusing Ourselves to Death, must be confronted.

Computers, TV, cell phones, social media, video games, and now virtual reality technology are zombifying the average US citizen more and more as each day passes. Rather than providing a lens to understand and interpret current affairs, provide a way to engage and study world cultures, and develop critical thinking skills, our omnipresent screens have become our captors, distracting us with loads of useless information, lowest-common denominator pop culture, and vapid Hollywood movies.

How can citizens fight such an all-pervading degradation of values, art, and culture? Literally, part of what I refer to by settling means sitting on the ground, and being still. Also, walking barefoot on the soil, our mother Earth, will help people understand how to resist. It’s no surprise that many mental health professionals are now advising their patients to take walks in nature or working at tasks like gardening en lieu of prescribing pharmaceuticals. This burgeoning field has been dubbed ecotherapy.

(There are other things that can help. Here’s an abridged version of some personal experiences which have helped me settle down: meditation helps put my mind at ease. So does responsible use of cannabis and psilocybin. Good sex, of course. If you’re traveling in the US, getting away from civilization to recharge is a good place to start. Fishing by a stream worked wonders for me in the Great Smokies. Fasting in the Mojave was a revelation. Sitting and watching the fog roll into a redwood forest was a transcendental experience.)

What kind of advice did you expect from an eco-freak like me, a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper? It is possible to draw strength from the planet, as well as lovers and friends and plant and animal allies, after all. All indigenous societies and Earth-centered communities understand this instinctively, implicitly. For comatose Westerners, it will require stretching and reawakening their enfeebled imaginations. The Earth is alive, teeming with life, and always has been: small children know this, but mass culture has brainwashed us as we’ve grown up to believe otherwise.

Settling also means each of us has to learn how to become rooted in one’s community, state, and nation: growing a stable and harmonious identity, a sense of belongingness, and a meaningful culture. In this sense, settling in one’s community becomes taking a stand: if local resilience and environmental education is built up in your town or city, democratic consensus and citizen action can prevent corporations from buying up local businesses, bulldozing lots for huge real estate projects, and polluting with abandon.

Pacts within communities to promote some sort of egalitarian redistribution of wealth to decrease inequality will foster higher levels of trust, friendship, and reciprocity. Deconstructing capitalist multinationals and replacing them with worker-owned cooperatives is another necessary step, as workers living in the vicinity of factories are less likely to allow for environmentally-dangerous industrial practices. Providing a universal basic income, along with universal health care, even if at first only on a local or state level, would allow the rest of us in the US to see the benefits with a clear gaze, unfiltered by ideology and dogma.

Rules for increasing the percentages of women and minorities in government and the workforce would certainly promote a healthier public sphere. Switching to systems of proportional representation for elections would benefit third parties and allow for new ideas to take hold. Laws for conversion of agriculture to fully organic, non-GMO, pesticide and herbicide free food would uplift people’s spirits and drastically reduce preventable diseases and increase life spans.  Converting more people to eating less meat, especially red meat, will slow the razing of our tropical rainforests. Every town and city will have to convert to renewable energy to soften the impact of global warming, which is slated to raise temperatures about 3-4 degrees Celsius and raise the sea level about eight feet by 2100. These are relatively conservative estimates, by the way.

Personal transformation will have to go hand in hand with citizen-led, community based environmental and socially-oriented education. This will require teachers who will help us remember how to feel comfortable in our own skin, free from the dramas of judgment and victimhood that our culture imposes on us.

Our relationship to the land must change. European “settlers” who arrived in the New World assumed that land could be owned, and most descendents here in the US still agree. European colonists and later US pioneers had their very own urge for Lebensraum, which accelerated in 19th century America, and was dubbed Manifest Destiny. This destructive, inflexible European ethnocentric outlook has to be defeated. Please read a wonderful Russell Means speech about these issues here.

Most US citizens are sadly still strangers to the continent they live on. In general, the West and the US have become spiritually impoverished. Rather than owning land, we can learn to become stewards, caretakers of the planet, for the brief time each of us is here. For Americans, increasing ecological awareness is key, and to survive, we will have to learn from indigenous, Native American traditions, and Westerners must rediscover and embrace their lost indigenous souls.

We are living in a critical time to determine the planet’s future. As Fritjof Capra foretold, humanity has arrived at The Turning Point. Ecological thresholds are being approached as amounts of desertification, topsoil loss, deforestation, ocean acidification, and atmospheric CO₂ rise year after year. If China and India attempt to industrialize to the levels of Western Europe and the US, it’s essentially game over for continual, steady levels of food production as well as climate stability.

Here we are, at the crossroads. Restraint, humbleness, and compassion must reemerge as key values for our descendants to have a chance at a prosperous future. Global capitalism, a combination of gluttonous consumerism and breakneck speed energy and financial flows, must be thrown out the window. This will in some cases mean monkey-wrenching the machine, and destroying private property. So be it. The conversion to a steady-state, de-growth, equilibrium economy is long overdue.

Stressed, burnt out, with savings tapped out, and overworked from the hustle of corporate America, we are approaching a breaking point. There is a lot of work ahead of us, too. Citizens can find the time, if we make time. That is to say, we can succeed if our society can dare to imagine a system where time itself does not enslave us. So, lose that wrist watch and cell phone for a day or a hundred, if you can. Take that camping trip with your family you talked about. Live simpler. Love harder. Stop for a minute, and stare into the abyss which is global capitalism, imperialism, and systematic habitat destruction. Listen to the wind, the rocks and soil, rushing water, a crackling fire. One can find answers by keeping still and listening. As a poor, pacifist carpenter once said:

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com


 

Something Is Happening

SOMETHING IS HAPPENING HERE, but you don’t know what it is: Do you? No one knows, really, as this something is still evolving. As we look back to 2016, though, it is abundantly clear that history has awoken from its slumber. We’ve had a couple events in the West last year: Brexit and Trump.

Politically-charged, dynamic events (as Alain Badiou might define them) have been rare in the West since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the USSR. Capitalism made it seem as if neoliberalism was winning in the 1990s, even as the US wantonly murdered in Iraq and took perverse pleasure in helping to dismember Yugoslavia, among other things.

In fact, one could argue there have only been four notable Western political events in the post-Cold War era: the 9/11 attacks, the 2003 protests against the Iraq War, the 2008 banking crisis and following protest movements of 2011 (Occupy and 15-M Movement), and the populist, anger-driven aforementioned events of 2016.

You see, authentic, spontaneous political events (in the form of uprisings or popular revolts against the elite) are a no-no in the West. History is supposed to have ended, remember? Max Weber called this the Iron Cage, and for good reason.

Now, though, the meaninglessness and rootlessness of our lives trapped inside the cage have become too obvious to ignore, for most of us. As each day passes, our political discourse glosses over how lazy, ignorant, mean-spirited, and numb our society has become. We import luxuries from all over the globe, but can’t be bothered to cook or grow our own food, assemble our own electronics, expand renewable energy projects, provide clean water to inner cities, organize high-speed transport, or educate our youth without drowning them in debt, etc.

So, many have lashed out against the system, and our more vulnerable members of society, in anger, defiance, out of sheer ignorance. Could it be because, deep down, we know how helpless, sheltered, and out-of-touch our society is, compared to the rest of the world? What are the root causes of this disintegration of public discourse?

One cause is our utter dependency on the capitalist system to clothe, feed, and shelter us. What we used to inherit from our mothers and fathers, important agricultural knowledge, artisanal and cultural wisdom, a sense of place and belonging, have all been traded in for money, the privilege to be exploited by capitalism, toiling in jobs that alienate us from ourselves, families, the Earth. Paper bills and electronic bank accounts are a pitiful substitute for self-reliance. This loss, this grief, isn’t allowed to be expressed in public. Logical positivism tells us that progress will prevail, the future will be better than the past, and anyone who thinks otherwise must be some sort of Luddite.

Since real income has fallen and social services have been slashed in the last 40-plus years, many have seen their loved ones’ lives cut short (lack of access to health care and quality food and produce, air and water pollution), their dreams defiled (steady jobs gone, factories shuttered), their entertainment homogenized and dangerous (sports mania has become normalized, “Go Team!”, alcohol, painkiller, and opiate addiction is rampant), their hopes for the future shattered (community and public space swallowed by corporations).

There are those, as well, still too plugged into the system (both Trump and Clinton voters), too attached to their gadgets, to the hum of their slave-labor appliances, to the glow emanating from their screens. They will cry incessantly about the turning away of Muslims from flights, but there is only silence for the millions killed abroad by the US war machine. Mainstream liberals are just as likely as the meanest, most selfish conservatives to fall prey to emotional pleas, demagoguery, and pathetic attempts to see themselves as victims in this Age of Anger.

The urge to resort to the myth of a righteous, homogenous, “pure” social group, to denigrate the other, is strong in such dire, despondent situations. In America, though, material poverty cannot be said to be the only, or even the main causal factor, behind this return of nativism and tribalism. Rather, it is undoubtedly a spiritual malaise that has swept over the West. Ever since the rise of the Industrial Revolution, it has been technology which has provided the underlying weltanschauung for our culture. Sprouting from this, an inhuman and Earth-destroying morality has formed. Jacques Ellul explains:

“A principal characteristic of technique … is its refusal to tolerate moral judgments. It is absolutely independent of them and eliminates them from its domain. Technique never observes the distinction between moral and immoral use. It tends on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality.” (1)

Thus, Western society, through the use of mass-produced electronics and disseminated in what some call our “Information Age”, has now seemingly accelerated the pace of change and ecological destruction beyond the scope of any group or nation which could possibly control it. We are then confronted with the thought that only an economic collapse or series of natural disasters could possibly provide the impetus for revolutionary change to occur. This only leaves us feeling helpless, depressed, and passive in the face of government oppression and capitalist exploitation.

Not only that, but capitalism has quite literally dulled our senses and disconnected us from our source of being, planet Earth. Don’t believe me? Read this amazing paper on how Polynesian wayfinders discovered islands thousands of miles apart without any modern technology. This is part of what Morris Berman means by Coming to our Senses. To re-establish our unity with nature, the Western notion of an ego-driven, domineering and reductionist search for truth, meaning, and creativity must be thrown out. Here, Berman invokes Simone Weil:

“‘decreate’ yourself in order to create the work, as God (Weil says) diminished Himself in order to create the world. It would be more accurate to say that you don’t create the work, but rather you step out of the way and let it happen.” (2)

This isn’t really discussed among wide swaths of leftists, the social-justice crowd, or with mainstream liberals. It’s anathema to a materialistic, dead world where freedom has been traded for comforting lies, money has been substituted for the ability to provide for ourselves and our communities, and the abundance and resiliency (truly a miracle!) of the Earth is taken for granted as we chase our next fix for consumer goods, our next chance for drugs or gadgets to dim our perception.

What you’re not supposed to say in public, of course, is that our world is falling apart, and we are doing nothing to stop it. The reactions are too raw, the reality too grim, even as we know, for example, that 10% or more of the total species on Earth will be gone by 2050.

Yet we can do something: there is an opening now in political discourse which has been previously denied to us. The Republican and Democratic parties have thoroughly delegitimized themselves by offering up Trump and Clinton as their figureheads: these were widely considered the most widely disliked candidates in recent memory, if not the history of our republic. There is room for Libertarians, Greens, and Socialists to gain power: yet only if they avoid their own regrettable sectarianism, organize, and promote an inclusive, broad-based platform.

To do so, citizens will have to gain some perspective on their lives. A slow pace of life needs to be seen as a virtue, not a sin: many on the right and left are quick to denounce the hedonism of the jet-setting, parasitic globalists, the Davos men; yet refuse to see their own lifestyles and actions as smaller examples of such outlandish consumption.

If we are open to life and our environment as part of a greater whole, an unfathomable mystery, we can refuse our culture’s siren songs of death, misery, and destruction. While modern technology can be useful if reined in by an Earth-conscious, responsible morality, some things are better left unknown, undiscovered, if it risks destroying the Earth in order to find the answer. Rather than running a cost/benefit analysis to determine the land’s worth, some aspects of the planet and the universe are better Left Sacred.

Also, acknowledging our mortality, and accepting the basic fact that death could come for you at any moment, can liberate our souls and propel them to unimaginable heights. Joe Crookston explains this quite well:

“And then when I turn dry and brown
I’ll lay me down to rest
I’ll turn myself around again
As part of an eagle’s nest
And when that eagle learns to fly
I’ll flutter from that tree
I’ll turn myself around again
As part of the mystery”

 

Notes:
1.) Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Vintage Books, 1964. p. 97.
2.) Berman, Morris. Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West. Simon & Schuster, 1989. p. 337


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com