Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Industrialism, environmentalism and anarchism

A long time ago, near the beginning of my short tenure on this whirling chunk of rock, Ed Abbey discovered that we humans are in deep shit. He saw, in the desert and elsewhere, the effects of a global megamachine on the rampage, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, laying waste to the neighborhood, and the neighbors, eating living things and non-living habitat, excreting greed, consumerism, acquisitiveness, folly and deceit, fueled by an economy conceived in a fantasy of infinite resources, rolling along on wheels of cultural distraction and deception.

Fifty years on, things are worse than Ed ever knew. The United States of America is controlled by a fascist corporate cabal, with a demented puppet at the steering wheel, and no pretense of dissociation between government and its corporate controllers. The people of the United States, supposedly the heirs of democracy and the rulers of this democratic nation, are disenfranchised, dispirited, distracted and disinterested. This is no accident, as the new rulers of the corporate oligarchy have worked for decades to get us to the point we find ourselves in today.

This is bad enough culturally, the loss of a brilliant human ideal, a glowing promise of freedom and liberty in a land where each human could work toward his or her greatest development. What's so much worse is that this evil imperialist empire lays waste to the non-human world in its pursuit of human gain. If our own species is bent on driving over the edge of the abyss, pedal to the metal, so be it and good riddance. Unfortunately for the rest of life, our car is hitched to everything else living, and we're dragging it all over the edge with us.

Fortunately, Mother Nature is far cleverer than Dick Cheney or even Carl Rove. It turns out that everything really is hitched to everything else, and we've found, and some of us have even admitted, that there is a limit beyond which even "Homo sapiens" cannot go, and we long ago exceeded that limit. Geological processes grind slowly and they grind exceedingly fine. Once put into motion, they take a long time to wind up their flywheels, but once moving they cannot be easily stopped.

The flywheel of climate change has been pushed into faster motion by the industrial excess of human consumptive society. No use arguing about it, it's real, cannot be denied with any credibility. And, as disappointing as it is to the Sahara Club and Foes of the Earth, there's nothing humans can do to stop it. A hundred years from now, a short breath in the life of the Earth, this place will be much hotter than it is now, and billions of life forms, including humans, will have died a premature death. More importantly, far fewer life forms, including humans, will survive to replace them.

This doesn't mean that Life is threatened on Earth. Life is far tougher and more resilient that that. Life will continue on its merry way, until the Earth cools down again, 10,000 years from now or so, an eyeblink in geologic time scales. And some form of life, perhaps different, perhaps old Homo sap hisself, will rise to ascendancy.

So, having received this death sentence for "Civilization, if that's what it is, which I doubt, what's a body to do?

Most of us alive now reading these scintillating photons will live to see some of the coming changes. Our children, if we have any, will live to see the beginning of the great die-off and may or may not survive to see human population reduced to a reasonable level. Our grandchildren, if any, will live in a world completely different from that we enjoy today. They'll live at more northern latitudes or at higher altitudes. They'll live simply, with technologies closely attuned to the places where they live. They won't know a "global economy" except as legend. They probably won't even know about some mythical White Castle in the East where the evil Oval One lives and casts his net over the land. They'll know the place where they live and how to live in it.

Or they won't be alive at all.

What we do now is get real and stop pretending that life will continue as it has for the past fifty years, and start preparing for real life bearing down on us like the Titanic on an iceberg.

Forget about saving the wilderness. It's gone. It's history. There's no place on Earth that's not irretrievably changed by human endeavor. Wilderness exists only in the human mind. What we have to save is the wild, both outside and inside of us, the future inhabitants of the New Wild, our true home.

I'm not talking survivalism here. That's another fantasy that leads to madness. I'm talking about Living in Place, reinhabitory strategies, relearning to live in the places we inhabit, not on them. This is the way our descendants, if any, will live of necessity. We might as well start practicing now and avoid the rush.

Start off by reading "Good News," and take it serious. Then dip into Gary Snyder, Peter Berg, and, of course, more Abbey. Wouldn't hurt to read James Lovelock and Ernest Callenbach, too, just to see what the possibilities are.

Then, get busy, learn about the places where you live. Forget about desert hiking and river running. Soon, you'll have more desert than anyone can use and most rivers will be dry or piddling little streams.

Or, you can fritter away your remaining days pretending none of this is true. It doesn't matter. We will all die in our time and take our right places in the earth to feed the future inheritors of our folly.

I just hope I live long enough to see Hiway 1 clogged with dead SUVs... all six lanes.

Bwthyn Lleuad Bae
Pacific Plate

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ignorance and Imperialism

“If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed. ” Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson had an amazing insight into “human nature,” if that’s what it is. He foresaw the dangers lurking in the shadows of the new “democracy” he helped create, dangers inherent in a system of government that required the informed participation of its citizens. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he had faith that humans would be able to rise from their limitations and take the reigns of government, exercising the full rights and responsibilities of citizen rulers in a democratic nation.

He recognized that rulers, left unchecked by an informed citizenry, would inevitably move toward despotism in the conduct of their rule. In any social system with a power structure, those who seek power over others naturally gravitate to those positions of power. Any social system that rewards efforts to grab power will foster a centralized authoritarian government.

In the early years since Jefferson's time, the system worked quite well, with a burgeoning, decentralized, locally controlled education system
providing a basic education for most citizens, coupled with a free and open print media providing access to information. Although the vast majority of people in the largely agrarian United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries were barely literate, they were well informed about local politics and economy and well able to handle local affairs while fending off movements toward centralized federal authority.

Conditions changed drastically in the late 1800s. Following the Civil War, northern industrialists found themselves with excess production capacity, plenty of capital and a huge supply of cheap labor. Conditions were so conducive to industrial capitalism that industrialists began casting about the globe for new sources of raw materials, land to exploit and markets for all their gleaming products. The native conservatism, pacifism and local wisdom of the American people was guarded against in favor of imperialist economic expansion, stronger central government, centralized industrial production and consequent pressure for a conformist, compliant and quiescent citizenry.

Industrialists encouraged a centralized education system, based on the Prussian model, that emphasized conformity, punctuality, separation of disciplines and submission to authority, producing citizens groomed as elite rulers, compliant factory workers or ignorant cannon fodder. Rote learning and obedience replaced understanding and critical thinking, with the clock replacing the sun as the marker of daily activities. Humans were programmed out of their traditional agrarian lifeways into the molds of factory, military and authority. Even in the home, long-term, extended family relationships were discouraged in favor of the "nuclear family," able to move quickly on demand and individually consume the vast store of new products lining store shelves.

World War I marked the burst of Modernity on the world, unleashing the New Citizen into the world market, setting the model for all that was to come. US industrialists expanded their influence from North and South America to Europe and the Middle East, securing new markets for US industry, new sources of raw materials such as oil, and increased pressure for compliance among citizens of the United States at home. The excesses of a totalitarian US government in the first half or the 20th Century in suppressing dissent were equal to that in all but the most virulent fascist states. Character assassination, deportation, beatings, torture and murder were freely visited on the American public in an effort to maintain the status-quo of corporate domination in the affairs of the United States government.

While it may seem to adults today that popular dissent reached its peak in the 60s, Americans have always resisted imperialism and wars of aggression, such that voters always have to be convinced, through propaganda, disinformation and outright lies, of government legitimacy in prosecuting foreign wars. The government of the United States has increasingly turned against the people in an effort to defend government actions against public knowledge and censure. Secrecy has steadily increased, as have resources applied to internal propaganda, control of access to information and intimidation of groups seen as opposed to the government.

The result, in 2007, is a government ignorant of the cultures of the people occupying the lands it invades to secure desired resources, such as oil, trying desperately to keep its own citizens in ignorance and distraction long enough to consolidate economic and political power throughout the world. With a political process dominated and controlled by economic interests, through systematized bribery of public officials in the form of campaign contributions, the political structure consist of representatives to the government who are not accountable to the people who elected them. In turn, the people feel disenfranchised from the political process, further strengthening the power of the central government.

The United States government no longer leads, it barges forward, dragging a compliant populace in its wake. Through ignorance and fear, the United States has become a mockery of the golden promise of Jefferson's noble experiment. The people of the United States are prisoners of their own government, unable to understand what is being done in their name, forgetful of the tools handed to them two hundred years ago to create and maintain a democratic government, of the people, by the people and for the people.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring on the Central Coast

Sitting here in the golden sun of a pleasant spring evening, a short walk from the Pacific Ocean, earning its name for a change,
it's hard to remember that it's still 10 below zero in Fairbanks, snow on the ground, global climate change or none. I remember those frustrating March days, with the sun streaming through the cabin window, promising an invigorating warmth that disappeared at the entryway door. Still damned cold outside! The spike in the outhouse hasn't even melted yet!

Here on the Pacific Plate, Great Blue herons wheel overhead, extending their long landing gear for a comfortable set in the eucalyptus looming over the Small Craft Harbor. It's Crow Time at about 5:30, when flocks of gamboling crows fly southwest into the setting sun to their favorite perches on the coastal margin, there to squabble with each other and remark on the vast panoramic vista lit by the golden sunset. For some reason, as they fly south, the gulls fly northeast. Perhaps they have a condo-share arrangement somewhere in the hills to the north.

Kingfishers perch on the harbor pilings, chittering their distinctive call, and occasionally diving down into the salty water, flying through the liquid medium to catch their dinner, which they swallow insouciently head-first on a handy fence post. Frogs creak and croak in Arana Creek, providing a soprano counterpoint to the basso barking of the sea lions.

It's spring on the Central Coast, as if it's not always spring here.

Bwthyn Lleuad Bae
Pacific Plate

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Will it ever end?

I've been doing this for 40 years now, and I got started late! I didn't get to protest the invasion of Korea, or World War II or World War I.

When do we tell the Evil Ones in Washington that we don't want their filthy wars anymore, ever? Just take your damned imperialism under one arm and your fascism under the other arm and go to some quiet desert away from everyone else and pound sand!

We can't seem to accomplish anything politically. Even now, when the Invasion of Iraq has gone on longer than any other war other than Vietnam, even now, there is no real alternative to the imperialists now in power. The Democrats are merely Republicans Light, buying in to the war with every breath, never standing up and saying, loudly, with four-part harmony and feeling, "Hell no! We don't want your fucking war!"

There's something terribly lethal in the combination of a capitalist economy and a representative republic with a strong central government. The ideal is democracy, but that ideal has been guarded against since its inception, by the people who lose out when the people control their own affairs. When the political system is beholden to monied interests to keep itself going, a la our system of corporate bribery, the people will never have a say in the affairs of their own government.

It's easy to say, we need to make a change, but the process of change is embedded in the system that needs to be changed, so their is no avenue for change within the legitimate system.

Perhaps it will implode and become so pervasively corrupt that the people will eventually turn their backs on Washington and fend for themselves. That would require a lot of people with far more self-reliance and gumption than is evident now.

As the gentle grasses grow, we push from underneath; patient, unrelenting, powerful.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

If Elected... Clinton Says Some G.I.’s in Iraq Would Remain

If Elected... Clinton Says Some G.I.’s in Iraq Would Remain

So what was this rumor I heard about a two-party political system in the United States?

Now we have a choice... between the male war-monger and the female war-monger.

It's been a one-party system for a long time: the Money Party. Government from the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. Some day the United States should try democracy. It might catch on.

The people are left out of course. Running the country is too important to let the rabble have a hand in it. Only the moneyed elite have the necessary brib... er, skills to run a country these days.

I have a better idea. Let's have a lottery every year. The winners get sent off to Washington to carry the brief of their home communities. No independent decision-making. Everything must be discussed at home before it can be decided in the Asylum on the Potomac.

Couldn't do any worse.

Leona Gulch
Pacific Plate

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Ed!

On this March 14, 2007, we come on yet another anniversary of the death of Edward Paul Abbey, now 18 years ago. It's a cliché to say so much has changed, and yet, so much has changed. And so much is the same, only more so.

Of course, Ed foresaw the world we decry today, the corporate excess, the continuing and accelerating destruction of the wild. He would not be shocked and awed by the world today, just saddened even more that we have been completely unsuccessful at even slowing down the trends he saw so clearly. He would probably not even set foot in Arches today, with its new road and "visitor's center." The long line of SUVs climbing the road to the entrance is enough to dissuade anyone from entering yet another environmental Disneyland. And Moab will be abandoned with the rest of the doomed cities, to the sand, the coyote and the lonely circling buzzards.

Furthermore, the continuing commodification of wilderness as a tourist destination is increasingly evident, thus, the denial of wildness in human experience. Even the designation of wilderness as a category of management places wildness, that anarchic concept of lack of management, into the management regime of the computer-tapers, the form-completers, the petty bureaucrats, the governments toadies and corporate sycophants. Hank Thoreau's quotation, "In wildness is the preservation of the world," has been forever bastardized into "In wilderness..." thus forever distorting the meaning into human management of the wild, and totally missing the critical implications in the word "wildness."

Ed told us so many times that humans are wild animals, and we ignore his admonition at our own risk. We adopt the trappings of sane and civilized human beings, while all the time acting and reacting as the wild animals that we are, albeit trapped in a technocratic civilization that will be the death of civilization and the birth of... something else. If we're very lucky, Mother Nature's just and impartial hand will guide us back to the wild before we can do much more damage.

Happy anniversary, Ed, on your grand transformation. Those of us left behind continue with the struggle, each in our own way, inspired by your vision, missing your acid lash, contenting ourselves with your words inscribed in black and white on much dog-eared pages.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Food prices to rise as biofuel demand grows

One thing to note in this article is that they're talking mostly about corn... for feeding livestock. This means the price of meat will rise. Good thing. Of course, as land dedicated to biofuels increases, all other crops for feeding humans will become more expensive as well.

This is the trade-off. Do we continue in our extravagant ways, sacrificing all to maintain personal automobiles, wasteful lifestyles, unbridled consumerism?

Or do we recognize the signs telling us the bridge is out, slow down, turn back before it's too late.

The front tires are on the approach ramp, pedal to the metal.

Leona Gulch
Pacific Plate

Sunday, March 04, 2007

UN chief decries global warming

As if this were news...

I remember in the 70s my earth science professor telling us that agriculture had developed during a period of unusually stable climate, and that, some day, the climate would start shifting back to "normal," that is, less stable and suitable for agriculture.

Looks like some day has arrived.

It's only political inertia that has cast any doubt at all on the observations that global climate has been shifting at an increasing rate over the past 12,000 years. I observed it and an island in the Bering Strait, standing in the surf where archaeologist had been digging on dry land only thirty years before. I watched long lines of fence posts toppling over near Fairbanks, as melting permafrost shifted and heaved the ground. A huge hole appeared in my front yard, requiring several truck loads of sewage sludge to fill the space left over by melted permafrost.

It's has been abundantly obvious that the planet is warming and subsequent changes are now and will continue to affect human society in increasingly dramatic disasters.

It's Nature's way.

Leona Gulch
Pacific Plate