It’s 2018, Do You Know Where Your Personal Data Is?

“The political relevance of Privacy Rights is not exclusive to one country or one continent. These rights are essential for combating violent forms of control practiced by States everywhere, which aim only to benefit a hegemony rather than the people as a whole. Europe and the Americas are connected in ways that transcend the virtual world, but these connections have undeniably been exacerbated in this ever-changing technological landscape.”

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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The concept of privacy, in relation to personal data, is paramount for the fight against fascism (in the literal sense). In Europe, where fascism was born and bred, authorities misusing personal information is a lurking threat. Just because there has been a historical struggle to eradicate this type of violent rule, it doesn’t mean combating fascist tendencies is a thing of the past. Technology evolves at alarming rates, and reaches far across the globe. Keeping up with the world-wide political implications of these changes is essential to ensure history does not repeat itself.

Some of these changes involve how personal data is processed and stored. We have become increasingly dependent on social media platforms; the internet has expanded into a complex network of institutions and companies; and data is being stored exponentially more on “the cloud” rather than on individual hardware. These innovations have provided us with new types of connections, but they also provided new vulnerability gaps on personal and political realms. These gaps can seriously undermine basic human rights, and there are serious doubts regarding whether the legal framework that is being put in place can be effective in safeguarding these rights.

An analysis of one of the shortcomings of the current legal framework that aims to ensure user’s basic rights (the inconsistency with which we establish accountability) will be presented tomorrow, October 5th, by René Mahieu at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference 2018. In the current networked online landscape, tracking down who has your data is a matryoshka doll of labyrinths, where arriving somewhere only means finding new sets of potential controllers. In his most recent working paper, Mahieu (et. al.) argues that in this context the law is unclear in assigning legal responsibilities to companies and institutions.

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“We are currently witnessing what Zuboff calls the rise of “Surveillance Capitalism”. It is characterized by a new form of extreme concentration of power by those who control the platforms and the data. If we do not force this concentrated power under the control of new forms of checks and balances, it will be detrimental to democracy and individual autonomy.” (Rene Mahieu)

According to Mahieu (et. al.), attempts to make this type of law enforcement more effective by the Data Protection Authorities, the courts and even the introduction of a new law in Europe have fallen short in doing so. Nevertheless, the European legal system became the main reference for law-making in Latin America. Brazil has just adopted a virtually copied-and-pasted version of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) as data usage accountability efforts. As one of the world’s biggest democracies, as well as the “most influential” South American country, we are yet to see if this new General Data Protection Law (LGPD) will be used to repair some glitches in this so-called “flawed democracy“.

The LGPD was approved in August 2018, and immediately confronts us with the following question: will it be used to protect personal and political freedoms of the Brazilian population, or was it approved precisely because it may not? If this new privacy protection law is an attempt to balance out the completely unbalanced way in which law enforcement operates, it is happening so slowly that by the time it can be used to help the people who need it the most, they would have already served their sentence and we would have a whole new set of problems (technologies and mechanisms) to deal with.

The law won’t come into effect before 2020, while 23 political prisoners of Brazil need protection now. They were convicted based on personal data collected online and by phone wires, which paint a distorted picture of criminal plans that were never realized (an investigation lead by the Precinct for Repression of Informatics Crimes).

This concern over using people’s personal data to monitor, intimidate, imprison, or even kill marginalized peoples is widespread in Europe. The conference where Mahieu presented his research hosted a vast majority of Privacy Rights related works, but it was strangely financed by the very companies most likely to evade people’s privacy and misuse personal data. For instance, Google, a large umbrella cellphone company, and even a data collection agency for the military were involved in the realization of this event, which provoked resistance from a hand full of scholars.

Scholars members of the groups DATACTIVE and Data Justice Lab published an open letter one month before the conference stressing that, “in the context of what has been described as the increased neoliberalization of higher education”, transparency with regards to corporate funding and “a clear set of principles for sponsorship” is of the utmost importance. Without it, participants and organizers of this academic field would inevitably play a role in efforts to “neutralize or undermine human rights concerns”.

There were several problematic sponsors, but the one that stood out in their protest was Palantir, a data analysis company from the United States affiliated with the military and inhumane border control initiatives:

“[P]roviding Palantir with a platform, as a sponsor of a prominent academic conference on privacy, significantly undermines efforts to resist the deployment of military-grade surveillance against migrants and marginalized communities already affected by abusive policing.” (Why we won’t be at APC 2018)

The political relevance of Privacy Rights is not exclusive to one country or one continent. These rights are essential for combating violent forms of control practiced by State-Capitalism everywhere, which aim only to benefit a hegemony rather than the people as a whole. Europe and the Americas are connected in ways that transcend the virtual world, but these connections have undeniably been exacerbated in this ever-changing technological landscape.

Just so you don’t finish this article in complete despair, there are a few things we can do to remedy the situation; if not a cure, at least damage control. There is value in demanding your right to access information about where your personal data is, who it is being shared with, and what this data consists of (e.g. address, name, birthday, etc). Denouncing the institutions that refuse or evade the request may shift the power imbalance between individual citizens and organizations in favor of the citizen. Perhaps our biggest asset in capitalist society is our demand as consumers, and consequentially our motivation to not wanna be fined alongside potential business partners. In short: do your best to keep track of where your personal data is, and don’t do business with shady companies.

And of course: #NotHim


Other References:

Booklet on Privacy as a Human Right (For teachers and students).

Coding Rights

Direitos na Rede

Policy review


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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Expert Opinion

“pharmaceutical hacks all agreed

selling heroin to children
calmed them down

helped them focus”

From Rex Butters

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from the 1890’s to 1912

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
the board of education
Bayer & St. Joseph’s
pharmaceutical hacks all agreed

selling heroin to children
calmed them down

helped them focus

quieted coughs
harmless
non-addictive
beneficial

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
industry experts all agreed

smoking tobacco
non-addictive
harmless
no cancer link
beneficial
white lab coated doctors
hawked their recommended brands

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
the board of education
and the school administration all concurred

we should play with hunks of asbestos
easy to mold
never explodes when fired
cheaper than clay
no cancer link
harmless
survives the kiln
safe as lead toys

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
nuclear engineers
shoe store owners and parents agreed

installing ineptly shielded
x-ray machines in shoe stores
christening untrained shoe salesmen
x-ray technicians
guaranteed a better fit
for kids’ Poll Parrot and
Buster Brown shoes
frivolously frying feet
storewide open exposure
to x-ray radiation
safe
harmless
no cancer link
beneficial

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
defense department officials
public health officials
the board of education all agreed

if an atomic bomb detonates
in the schoolyard
closing the window curtain
getting under our desks
duck and cover
would save our lives
radiation neutralized
they bell alarm drilled us regularly
threat eliminated

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
state and local government officials agreed

burning garbage
in concrete backyard incinerators
even plastics
every night
across the San Gabriel Valley
waking and walking and living
in a burning toxic brown cloud haze

was safe
harmless
no cancer link
no smog alerts
no respiratory threat
lazy P.E. kids coughing ordered to run harder
my lungs raw and scarred

for generations
your medical establishment
community and religious leaders
local officials
and human traffickers agreed
before anesthesia and asepsis
White Doctors
White Mengele Medical Students
dissecting
observing
experimenting
on live African specimens
soliciting
black body parts
exploiting
exterminating
subjects of theses
like prisoners and the condemned and the poor
and the institutionalized and the orphans
and indigenous peoples

important for medical progress
develops tools and techniques
serves humanity through science
advances crucial knowledge
noble individual sacrifice
for the good of the whole
necessary
to save lives

it’s 2015 and your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
state and local government officials just agreed

prescribing heroin to children

beneficial
harmless
non toxic
not addictive

awarding the opiate pushing Sackler family
$14 billion and a Fortune 500
gold throne
richer and deadlier
than any other drug
cartel on earth
ever

in every case/in each era

anyone disagreeing with
these deadly lies
was ridiculed
shunned/shamed
as anti-science
superstitious
marginalized
satirized
diminished
disrespected
dismissed
and pitied

while now
44 people die
every day
from prescribed
painkillers
declared safe
by your medical establishment
top researchers
public health officials
500 die a day from medical mishap
in a health care system ranked 37th
by the New England Journal of Medicine
the lowest among colonizing nations
and the most expensive

as naturopaths
homeopaths
acupuncturists
and herbalists
with no bodies piling up daily
are harassed
bullied
labelled quacks
investigated
over regulated out of business
and the self-congratulating smart ones
continue to fill
the graveyards of expert opinion


Rex Butters

Rex foto

Rolling hills and wheeling crows, a voluptuous valley under sunset bloody clouds, night coyote pup trots, mouth full of rabbit or cat, pollinators buzz the trumpet creeper, windy, cold.


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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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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

Lighting a Flame in Dark Times

Are we born not knowing, are we born knowing all?

Are we growing wiser, are we just growing tall?
Can you read thoughts? Can you read palms?
Can you predict the future? Can you see storms coming? …
Can you read signs? Can you read stars?
Can you make peace? Can you fight war?
Can you milk cows even though you drive cars?
Can you survive against all odds now?”
-Nas and Damian Marley, “Patience”

MEET THE NEW BOSS, same as the old boss. Except he’s a bit crazier, less qualified, much more petulant, narcissistic, and thin-skinned. Regardless of what Trump says about wanting peace, he is above all a corporate stooge, easily distracted and manipulated. Behind the stage, the deep state will prevent any long-term peace in Syria and Iraq, won’t allow any substantial forms of economic nationalism/protectionism or isolationism to develop, won’t confront the Israeli apartheid state, won’t stop the Saudis from bombing Yemen, and won’t allow any rapprochement with Russia.

Alternative voices for peace continue to be pushed to the wayside. War in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and recent terror attacks in Berlin and Istanbul continue to upset any vision of an inclusive world community. US arms sales continue to enrich the very few while millions of ordinary Americans fall further into poverty. Dialogue, diplomacy, and the semblance of an international community are slipping each day. Propaganda continues to proliferate about the “hacking” of the election.

Disregarding who is at fault for a moment: why the surprise? Haven’t we been told for decades our nation was slipping into a banana-republic, a rogue state, etc? (If you work for CNN, you have to use the tame-sounding phrase “Illiberal Democracy”) Isn’t this what happens to crumbling countries? Circling back, it’s much more likely the CIA or NSA would fake the hacks, making them appear as Russian, if only to bolster a false sense of patriotism, a collective hate against the Other.

The descent into far-right populism and demagoguery is not confined to the US. Vulgar and dangerous European ideologues such as Marine Le Pen, Norbert Hofer, Geert Wilders, and Frauke Petry continue to use divisive and destabilizing rhetoric, demonizing minorities and refugees. Unfortunately, they, like Trump and the UK’s Theresa May, are symptoms of the great social unraveling, not the causes. In Europe and the US, there is much more going on than the formation of a “flatter” world. Culture is being hollowed out, modern science has been usurped by corporate grants to control research and regiment minds, medicine and social justice initiatives are scrapped, community has been cratered, global warming is ignored, and electronic distractions proliferate throughout society.

Westerners are obscenely coddled, satiated, privileged, and unprepared to handle the coming economic and ecological crises compared to citizens in the developing world. Nietzsche’s Last Man has arrived in the West, and creature comforts are all that we can be expected to desire as consumers, as we shy away from news about war, terror, and the hardships of life in far-away places. As a close friend says, we are bad for our health. Changing atomized living habits and re-engaging and reclaiming the public commons is a necessary first step.

Increasingly, it is nonmaterial comforts that we are supposed to take pleasure in, through our omnipresent screens. Meanwhile, the need to convert to a steady-state, zero-growth world system led by organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable building materials, and renewable energy technology is greater than ever. Practical, useful work is denigrated by mass media, class consciousness is blunted by identity politics and bourgeois neo-Victorian values; having a socially-useful, fulfilling career is a demented dream as youth and millenials are simply “lucky to have a job at all” even with loads of student debt; work and play that forms roots in local communities is marginalized; jobs that would help export necessary health and energy techniques to less fortunate places are frowned upon, denounced as utterly unrealistic and utopian. The urge to use our hands, hearts, and minds together in a healthy and equanimous way, the attempt to develop scale-appropriate inventions, and the surge in bioregionalism and localism, are scoffed at by the high priests of technology and government.

Neoliberal globalization, mega-mergers, high-level corruption, greed, and privatization of the commons are wreaking havoc on ecosystems and the vulnerable economies of the developing world. Endless speculation disrupts any notion of stable currencies in the Global South, where inflation, bank runs, and demonetization schemes (most notably in India at the moment) prevent steady, secure access to banking, health care, electricity, and agricultural products. Speculation and artificial demand stemming from manipulation of commodity markets can ruin entire families and farming villages if their crops are no longer below prices set by international conglomerates.

The reasons for Trump’s rise, the virulent, fascist-lite rhetoric, the hate towards Muslims and Latinos, the populism and its acceptance in mass media, are well documented. What is beyond comprehension is the lack of any serious resistance among the Left. All progressive eggs went into the Bernie basket in 2016, for well-intentioned reasons, but one person does not a movement make, one woman or man does not a “revolution” start. Especially since Sanders was running his campaign positions to the right of Eisenhower, had very little interest in foreign policy, and was only offering social-democratic reforms, not the deep structural changes that are needed.

I won’t make any pretenses towards having any grand answers to the many pressing crises threatening to envelop us all. Unplugging from the Babylon system of our screens, mass media, smartphones, and getting out in nature is a great start, though. Begin to use your body and mind to help heal the vast devastation, the utter desecration and deep wounds we have inflicted on our Earth, our fellow man, and our wildlife.

Resistance to Trump and the American system will begin as soon as he enters office only to give handouts to his billionaire friends, cut taxes on the rich, and piss off foreign leaders with his jaw-dropping ignorance. It is money that seems to make him tick, after all. Whether the ideological resistance will emanate from a genuine Left, or a surging neo-nationalist far-right, remains to be seen. What is known is that sitting on the sidelines and leaving citizens without a say will only deepen the divides in our brave new world, where polarization through alternative newsfeeds and belief systems threatens the well-being of us all.

A sense of humbleness, of reverence and respect for others’ views has to be fostered among the public at large. At the same time, the absurd notions of normalizing what Trump stands for and the calls to give him a chance should be called out for what they are: ridiculous. Bullies like Trump do not compromise with “losers”, and even well-meaning forms of reconciliation will only be perceived as weakness by his administration.

It should be clear that our federal government and its social services, supposedly designed to help ease the hardships of the modern economy and international competition, are failing us all. Yes, senior citizens still have access to advanced medical help, and still are receiving social benefits. Yet even these basic services might not last for long if Congress decides to privatize Social Security, repeal Obamacare, cut Medicare, etc. The corporate pirates who control DC lobbyists and the media will eagerly strip, loot, and gnaw away every conceivable asset that the public would want nationalized, all in the name of getting rid of bureaucracy and a fallacious belief in the efficiency and fairness of private companies who are accountable to no one.

To accomplish a radical restructuring of society, our cultural myth of progress, and the fallacious notion of placing humans on a pedestal above all other species and the Earth’s health must be destroyed. These ideas are explained quite lucidly in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. Similarly, this was recently discussed by Paul Kingsnorth, who explains John Berger’s notion of a “culture of progress” versus a “culture of survival”.

This culture of progress we find ourselves ensnared in is essentially irrational. Beginning in the Renaissance, the idea of humanity striving to greater heights, with mind split from body, using finite resources for infinite appetites, has driven us towards a cliff edge, and now a sixth mass extinction is underway. According to this culture of death, world markets must be expanded, ecology is disregarded, and our most intelligent scientists inform us that we must begin colonizing the stars, rather than fixing problems on the only home we have. Indigenous cultures and languages are extraneous in this Leviathan world system, whose needs are overlooked, people exploited, and lands despoiled.
In contrast, a culture of survival strives for just that: human life passed down from generation to generation, with the necessary language, culture, religions, and technology needed for continued existence.

Consider this analogy between the two cultures: there is a small group of people, morally/spiritually awakened, who are watching the village fire (the culture of survival). They tend the fire, stoking it when necessary, adding logs, etc. They understand implicitly their job as upholders of culture, surviving from year to year, keeping the sacred flame alive. Outside the fire circle, the rest of humanity (the culture of progress) has been continually distracted for centuries: by the printing press, by the light-bulb, the railroad, telegraph, the gun and modern weapons, the radio, the TV, the internet. This “need for new stuff” is related to moderns’ inability to enjoy quiet and solitude, to accept the ebb and flow of the natural world, and simply being comfortable in one’s skin. All of these inventions, which we’ve been told are necessary, are not bad per se: it is the lack of any ethical restraint, the insatiable appetite for more, which continually leads to disaster after disaster. These “progressives” are like moths to a flame, and they simply cannot resist: yet this is a fire which will undoubtedly destroy them.

In America, the village fire, the wisdom of a culture of survival, has mostly been extinguished. There are pockets of resistance, but for the most part, the culture of survival must be built from the ground up. Passing down necessary knowledge and planting seeds for the youth are our most important goals today. A growing darkness of militarism, racism, and neo-nationalism is spreading across the West, with a looming threat of ecological catastrophe; a surge of refugees fleeing war, lack of opportunity, and resource competition; and a danger of another large-scale economic recession. Promoting compassion, greater understanding of different cultures and solidarity with people around the globe must begin now, in every city and town across the continent.

Each of us must find the strength to light their own flame, find their own inner strength and sacred fire, and use their passion and creativity to change the world. By using our collective brilliance, a new space could be opened up for a new kind of Earth. Reviving our communities one-by-one gives us our only chance to confront and defeat the many tentacle monster of international capitalism and US imperialism. There is an alternative: but you won’t find it by watching your TV, or playing on your smartphone. As Arundhati Roy said:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

William Hawes

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


William Hawes has a piece in A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred. It’s available for sale here.

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Cracks in the Pavement (weekly update)

An Urgent Call…

We received the following communiqué and are pleased to repost it:

This is a call. Not to be heard, but felt. A call to be moved. A call to action.

Many of you now know of the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and innumerable other indigenous nations against the Black Snake called Dakota Access Pipeline. The prayer and action camp at Standing Rock has been sustaining a vibrant community in resistance to the pipeline since the spring, slowing down construction and withstanding militarized police harassment on a near daily basis. The 20 mile injunction placed on construction by the federal government has been lifted, and construction is now within just 6 miles of the Mni Sose River and the encampment. The battle has entered its most decisive moment.

Our indigenous relatives from across Turtle Island have come here to continue a struggle that has been kept alive for over half a millennium. They have come here as the original and sovereign land tenders, earth defenders, and water protectors of this place.  As the original walkers of the path of right relationship. They have come here to take back power and to show leadership in the fight against exploitation and commodification, against the culture of colonization and inquisition, and for a healthy and bountiful world.

We are humbled and inspired by their initiatives, and unconditionally support them. Now is the time for us as allies in this anti-colonial struggle, to call upon our fellow comrades to join us on the battlefield.

To all who pray to our Earth and the water that cleanses her and brings forth life. To all who cast a circle and call in the elements, spirits, gods and goddesses, and deities; who ask for guidance from the spirit world.  To those who listen to the ancestors as our descendants lay and wait. To those who align themselves with the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and the tides. For whom the cycle of life and death does not instill fear and aggression, but strength and comfort. To all who know how to listen.

It is time now witches, to deepen our work not only of casting spells and hexes, but of breaking them. We call forth the de-spelling of individualism, empire, spectacle, domestication, and whiteness.

It is time now witches to join us. Join us in spirit and join us in humility on this land. Bring your magick. Bring your prayers. Bring your bodies to the frontlines to protect all of creation. Come ready to take decisive action to kill this Black Snake. Come ready to follow in the path of indigenous warriors. We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.

If you cannot come in body, take action from afar; the form of life of our enemies pervades all around us. If you cannot come, pray, cast, gather the coven, go to the wild, hold ritual, plan attacks. Ground yourself and continue to do the work. Continue to be moved.

We toss you a bundle of thread sweet witches, from the beautiful homelands of the Oceti Sakowin in each direction. It is the thread of centuries of resistance. Weave with it.

The Persistence of Ink

Though we’re not anti-technology ’round here (see: this site you’re reading), over-reliance on centralized networks powered by coal and accessed by machines built by children and others in near-slave labor makes the internet not quite the future any of us hope. In light of the massive Denial-of-Service attacks that shut down many sites this weekend, we’d like to point out that Gods&Radicals is also a print-publisher.

Our latest book, Pagan Anarchism by Christopher Scott Thompson is still available for pre-sale.

The next A Beautiful Resistance will be out February 1st, 2017. The deadline for submissions has been extended to 15 November!

La plus ça change….

You’re no doubt aware that the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAP) continues unabated as private security firms increase their presence.

Government arrests of journalists continue, as well, using the same laws originally written to arrest and imprison anarchists and communists in the early 1900’s.

There’s a connection between the use of private security and those laws, by the way. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was formed in the United States as a for-hire private security firm (read: mercenaries) to arrest IWW members as well striking miners and railroad workers. Later, the Federal Bureau of Investigations was formed as a way of giving the government the same capability that Pinkerton had. The FBI is heavily involved in breaking the power of leftist groups, be they unionists, anarchists, the Black Panthers, environmentalists, or indigenous resistance movements.

History is full of repeating forms, and in this case it’s clear that private security (hired by corporations) and the government are working in tandem just like the early 1900’s. Laws once used against anarchists and communists never went away, and the same apparatuses used to put down earlier revolts continue to be used.

We Are All Mercenaries

In the US state of California, soldiers are being forced to pay back sign-up bonuses to the US Military. In Paris, police are protesting against the government:

Soldiers and police officers are people–mostly men–hired by the State to maintain the ‘state monopoly on violence.’ Soldiers are hired to fight and kill people their government has declared enemies; police are hired for the similar purposes within the State.

As governments need to implement more and more violence in the world to maintain capitalism, they’ll need to continue paying and arming footsoldiers to do their will. The key, though, is pay.

Under capitalism, we are all mercenaries. We all sell our time and labor for a price. Police and soldiers are mercenaries like us, except their job is to keep the rest of us in line. Eventually, any resistance movement to capitalism and the state will need workers to refuse to sell their labor, to desert their jobs, and we’ll need soldiers and cops to do the same.

How do we get there, though? By widening the cracks in the system. When police start to sicken over their work and protest against the government’s use of their bodies to destroy the bodies of others, the state weakens. When the illusions that soldiers are doing ‘honorable’ work and ‘defending freedom’ starts to fall away, the state weakens.

Any anti-capitalist movement must use these moments to get police and soldiers to desert, to refuse to work, refuse to beat protestors and other workers, refuse to kill Black people, refuse to be mercenaries for the rich.

But we must also start to desert, too, and make the same refusals.