Last week Peggy and I took off from our home in Westport, CT to Clearwater Beach FLA where we’ll be snow-birding till the beginning of April. We’ve rented a condo in the Regatta Beach Club in North Clearwater. Such is octogenarian privilege (for some).
On the way, however, we ran into a dangerous snowstorm in the Washington D.C. area. It turned out to be truly frightening in a way that likely portends a new normal of systemic breakdown in the face of climate change and the inability and/or unwillingness of government to respond to associated problems.
Here’s what happened.
As we drove down I 95 on the outskirts of D.C., downed trees inhibited passage all along the way. Fallen trees overburdened by a wet snowfall blocked entire lanes while the rest of the highway was covered with snow, ice, and slush. Such conditions and innumerable accidents (with many cars stuck in the median) reduced highway passage to a crawl. There was not an emergency vehicle in sight.
Then suddenly everything stopped completely. Unbeknownst to anyone, a huge accident involving long-haul trailers lay some miles ahead. At least one of the truck drivers was trapped inside his tractor and had to be extricated by emergency crews. The process took hours.
Peggy and I were part of the lineup for about 5 hours – crawling forward only occasionally at less than a snail’s pace.
Luckily, our crawl eventually took us near an exit. On cellphone advice from our son, Patrick, we decided to leave the traffic jam then and there. We could see that there were several motels in the vicinity. We drove towards them, leaving the highway for a service road.
However, we found all the lodgings in darkness with empty parking lots. Evidently, electrical service had been lost to the entire area. And now we were on an uncleared side road and in danger of getting stuck in the snow with no one around to help. With difficulty, we made it back to the highway.
Peggy then secured a room for us via her Hilton app at a Comfort Inn about 20 miles from I 95. She also phoned ahead to confirm the reservation. The first words she heard from the motel desk were, “Thank you for calling Comfort Inn. All rooms are taken this evening. None are available.”
Peggy responded, “Yes, but I’ve just made a reservation online and it was accepted. Please check your records.”
“Oh, yes, here it is,” came the response. “You got the last available room.”
Relieved, we arrived at the Inn and were in bed by midnight.
The next morning, we found out how unbelievably fortunate we had been. I 95 was still closed and would remain so for most of the day. Many people, we read, had been forced to abandon their unheated cars now out of gas or electrical charge. They had to walk through the ice and snow to – who knows where?
The highway was closed for most of the next day. [Can you imagine the complications involved in removing (and retrieving) all those abandoned cars?]
Meanwhile, Peggy and I were able to continue towards Florida on secondary roads. It took us an extra day to reach our destination. But we were so much more fortunate than those other stranded motorists.
It was a close call indeed – for us, but a real tragedy for so many others.
However, the whole affair made us reflect on what promises to be a new normal. It demonstrates the inability of laissez-faire government to deal even with comparatively minor and predictable emergencies, much less with major ones looming on the climate-chaos horizon. For instance:
Virginia governor Ralph Northam refused to deploy the National Guard to help stranded motorists by clearing even a single lane to safety – or to distribute food, blankets, and information.
More specifically, despite unprecedented communications technology at their disposal (including at the very least helicopters with loudspeakers) motorists were left without basic information about the severity and likely time span of their situation.
They were stranded without means of mass transportation at highway exists to bring them to safety and warming centers which did not become available till noon the next day.
At the most basic level, highway crews left entire lanes blocked by fallen trees on I 95 for more than 24 hours despite possessing the machinery for debris removal.
All of this raises questions about government and its purpose in the face of (once again) entirely predictable and more severe emergencies ahead. As one stranded motorist put it, “No one came. It was just shocking. Being in the most advanced country in the world, no one knew how to even clear one lane for all of us to get out of that mess?”
Get ready, this promises to be the new normal. Evidently, despite our tax dollars and the predictability of emergencies much worse than the I 95 occurrence, we’re all on our own.
Welcome to Episode 11 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. And today we’ll examine together Part I, Lesson 3 of The Course’s Workbook for Students.
In the first part of the Workbook, we’ve been deconstructing our illusory understandings of the world. We’ve been imagining ourselves as residents in Plato’s Cave completely deceived by our culture, its educational system, by its advertising, its politicians, priests, and publicists. It’s all illusion.
In line with that insight, today’s lesson reads: “I do not understand anything I see in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place].”
For purposes of this podcast and its concern with social justice, the lesson’s central idea might better be phrased, “As a captive in my culture’s version of Plato’s Cave, I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place.]”
Or: as a beneficiary of a system that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal, I understand nothing at all about the world.
The truth of this last phrasing was especially illustrated this morning on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” and its coverage of the 26th meeting of COP (Congress of Parties) on climate change. The meeting began today in Glasgow, Scotland.
Global South guests on this morning’s “Democracy Now” described it in scathing terms invisible to most of us who are even taking the trouble to notice that COP 26 is taking place. “Democracy Now’s” guests spoke of:
White Supremacy: They described the Glasgow gathering as “the whitest and the most privileged climate summit ever, with thousands from the Global South unable to attend because of lack of access to COVID vaccines and visa issues.”
Dysfunctional Capitalism: They added that the exclusion of participants from the Global South was intentional to silence their voices highly critical of specifically capitalist schemes such as carbon trading and “Net Zero Carbon Emissions” that will permit the world’s biggest “free market” polluters (mainly the United States) to continue business as usual. As a result the Paris Climate Accord goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, will not only be missed, but global temperatures will reach the catastrophic level of 3 degrees above those pre-industrial measures.
Neo-Colonial Imperialism: The capitalist world’s business as usual includes ongoing subsidization of the fossil fuel industry and unabated plans for expanded oil drilling and pipelines across lands belonging to indigenous peoples. Unchanged business plans means that Africa’s 1.5 billion people who are responsible for about 3% of global warming will continue bear a vastly disproportionate share of climate change’s ravages. Those consequences will predictably turn the continent’s largely agrarian populations into impoverished climate refugees. The refugees will in turn be xenophobically excluded from seeking asylum in countries like our own.
Patriarchal Rule: Even though 60-80% of the non-industrialized world’s farmers are women, the ones making the decisions that will adversely affect their livelihoods are men like Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and the predominantly male CEOs of fossil fuel corporations.
In the light of all of this, Lesson 3 might well read, “I do not understand anything at all.” I don’t even know how white supremacy works because (as a white person) it works for me. I do not how capitalism works, because (as an American) it benefits me. For the same reason, I do not know how imperialism or patriarchy work.
In Plato’s Cave, I know nothing about climate change.
But guess who does know about climate change and how the world works for whites, capitalists, imperialists, and men. It’s those would-be delegates excluded from the Glasgow conference. It’s those spokespersons from the Global South who know the ins and outs of the real effects of carbon trading and “Net Zero” policies. It’s those poor women farmers made to bear the brunt of climate chaos.
It’s the poor who according to Christian faith (and Jesus’ voice in A Course in Miracles) constitute the site of God’s revelation of what’s wrong with the world and what to do about it. Indirectly, A Course in Miracles is asking us to listen to them – to the voices of the excluded who resonate with the voice of Jesus. The historical Jesus was one of them.
Think about those people from the Global South today as you repeat (almost as a mantram) the central expression of Lesson 3. As you focus randomly on whatever your eyes light upon, say “I do not understand anything I see in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place].”
As you watch television, or read the paper say, “As a beneficiary of a system that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal, I understand nothing at all about the world.”
To access previous postings in this series on A Course in Miracles, please go to my podcast site.
(Here are some timely thoughts written by my life’s partner, Peggy Rivage-Seul. She is professor emerita of Women and Gender Studies at Berea College, where she taught for more than 30 years.)
The Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico warned us long ago that “another world is necessary.” To make this happen we must exit from the development paradigm of the neoliberal new world order and return to a future of non-violent relationships between ourselves and the planet we call home. Another world has indeed arrived, and perhaps it will soon lead to the vision the Zapatistas have articulated over the past twenty-five years.
Where are we exactly? We are in a globalized moment of social isolation. Unless we are living with our closest relatives, we have lost physical contact with those we love—our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our church, our colleagues, our neighbors. We can no longer break bread with our communities.
How do we make sense of this new social isolation in the world? There are many explanations, undergirded by ideologies that shape the way we perceive our global circumstances. Perhaps most popular is the notion that a virus has either escaped a laboratory created for bio-weaponry against humanity or it has evolved on its own in response to our poor stewardship of our natural resources. Mother Earth has to do some house cleaning because the “developed countries” have not heeded the call to slow down its demands on the earth. The planet warned us through climate changes and catastrophes, but the wealthy among us have prevailed in their global denial of the need to change the way we live.
We are all vulnerable—some of us more than others. Those of us who believe in Adam Smith’s idea that the environment and laborers are expendable can accept that the earth is purging the global population of its poor and elderly who no longer serve the capitalist enterprise. And the earth has been given a respite to re-gather her energies for even more domination and exploitation in the new world to come. There are many sub-scenarios about the “deep state” trying to wrest control of the entire world population, and the “fake news” that there really is a virus at work in our bodies. These are the tales that fill our days.
But there is another story. Eight years ago began a movement in the cosmos: our solar system passed through a portal that leads to another dimension of living much closer to the Zapatista vision for world happiness. This passage is from the third dimension of the material world of capitalist growth to the fourth and fifth dimensions where humans behave at much higher frequencies with strong spiritual values of love and cooperation.
Like the change from pony express mail to cell phone texting, our collective crossing over to these higher dimensions creates an exponential change in our thinking and actions. In the fifth dimension, we can process information with much more efficiency. Working a higher vibrations, both problems and solutions occur at much greater speed. In this new world, the cultural values of the 20th century no longer serve us.
Wars are passe and violence toward one another is not tolerated. Co-creation for the good of everyone replaces capitalism for the privileged few, oppression gives way to liberation, etc. Most importantly, the mindset of globalized industrialism no longer functions and those unable to make the leap in consciousness will wither on the vine in the third dimension, unable to meet the requirements for living on the new earth.
Underlying this vision of a fifth dimension is a belief in the capacity of humans to claim their direct connection to a divine reality and to live the values of love and justice, cooperation and sharing, joy and sorrow. These values have been alive (and ignored by the developed world) in the ancient traditions of indigenous communities the world over.
The transition from the astrological Piscean Age to the new Aquarian era is made easier as we go back to the future by reclaiming the lessons of Zapatismo. There, we understand that as our consciousness changes and our frequencies rise, we see each other as one family moving into a world where there is room for everyone.
We are no longer individuals competing for scarce resources to survive. We are in this together. “I” becomes “We” as we make instantaneous connection to the source of life that is Spirit. We belong to the earth as much as earth belongs to us. My community becomes the entire world population. We all have a place at the table of life.
At last the left-wing environmentalists have come to their senses. Even the most extreme of them like Michael Moore has admitted that climate change is a hoax. So-called energy alternatives do more harm than good. And nothing can or should be done to address the Chicken Little faux problem of global warming – unless it’s reducing the number of people who have irresponsibly overpopulated the planet.
That’s the position adopted by more than one right-wing commentator gloating over Moore’s newly released documentary, “Planet of the Humans.” And for those who haven’t paid attention to the environmental movement, the evaluation might well ring true.
The film Itself
In making its case, “Planet of the Humans” for instance presents formidable rows of solar panels as perhaps only enough to energize a kitchen toaster. The film demonstrates that the elements required to manufacture wind turbines and electric cars require environmental devastation that destroys tribal lands and exactly parallels the coal industry’s mountaintop removal. And biomass is just crazy. The same holds true for ethanol and elephant manure. Too often, the purveyors of solar and wind technologies turn out to be fly-by-night con artists.
As for the heroes of the environmental movement, there just aren’t any (except, perhaps, for India’s Vandana Shiva who in a brief cameo dissents from biomass madness). Forget about the Sierra Club and Al Gore. Gore’s in bed with Virgin Airlines’ Richard Branson, Mike Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barack Obama, and the Koch brothers. They’re all compromised, interested only in corporate profit, and speak uniformly with forked tongues.
The same holds true for Bill McKibben and his organization 350.org. He’s fumbling, inarticulate, and evasive – just the opposite of how many of us have seen him repeatedly over the years in venues like Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now.”
No wonder climate change denialists loved the film. Observing their gleeful victory dances will disappoint progressives who likely find themselves upset with Michael Moore, whom so many have come to admire for his other films and his general political leadership. Even a sense of betrayal might not be out of place as the film undercuts an environmental movement at a particularly crucial juncture where time to save the planet is rapidly running out.
Josh Fox’s Counterpoint
In response to such understandable disappointment, Josh Fox the producer-director of “Gas Land,” – a documentary critique of the fracking industry – appeared recently on Krystal Ball’s and Sagaar Enjeti’s “Rising” news program. There, Fox criticized “Planet of the Humans” as fundamentally misleading. He pointed out the film’s puzzling misdirection in support of its thesis that renewable energy is not the panacea for climate change that environmentalists claim. However, according to Fox, “Planet of the Humans” errs when it:
Attacks and dismisses the basic premise of the alternative energy movement that relies on solar and wind sources, but not exclusively as the film suggests. Alternative energy must be complemented by reductions in consumption, by conservation of public lands, and by recycling and reusing.
Holds instead that reduction of consumption and population control represent the only viable ways forward. (The Malthusian overtones of such argument are especially reprehensible, Fox said, during a time of pandemic.)
Focuses on 10-year old technology as if huge strides have not been made in the past decade with both solar and wind power
Similarly advances the arguments that are not merely 10-years but 40-years old. They mirror perfectly what the fossil fuel industry has been saying during that near half century despite the fact that its leaders have known the links between their product and climate change the whole time. Even with that knowledge, they’ve argued (as the film itself implies) that the need for and viability of alternative energies is a matter of debate. In reality however, virtually the entire scientific community is in contrary agreement on the issue.
Spends an extraordinary amount of time addressing the pitfalls of biomass as though it were a major part of the alternative energy proposals. (In reality it accounts for 1.4% of non-fossil fuel alternatives.)
Ignores the environmental movement of the past 10 years, while arguing at the same time that a new more radical environmental movement is required
Specifically, avoids mentioning the extremely important Green New Deal, the Sunrise Movement, and the work of activist heroes like Naomi Klein, Greta Thunberg, and Bill McKibben around divestment from the fossil fuel industry. Instead, McKibben is specifically singled out as though he were a shill for the industry he’s been working against for decades. He’s criticized for support of biomass despite the fact that he informed the filmmakers beforehand that this is no longer the case.
Ignores the fact that most within the alternative energy movement stand in agreement with the filmmakers’ position that capitalism and renewable energy do not mix. At this moment of crisis with its need for an F.D.R.-like mobilization of productive resources, socialism is much more compatible with the movement’s goals.
Additional Points of Criticism
One could add to Fox’s criticism the facts that:
As John Gilkison has indicated, criticizing today’s electric cars for their continued dependence on coal, oil and gas is like disqualifying Model Ts in 1908 as viable transportation alternatives because they still relied on horse drawn wagons for delivery of materials to the Ford factory.
Obviously, wind power is not dependent on mountaintop removal procedures. In fact, mountaintops in Vermont do not at all represent the ideal spot for wind generators. Those would be found in the wind corridor stretching from North Dakota and Montana in the north to western Texas in the south.
Biomass does, of course, have a valuable place among today’s energy alternatives. It takes the form of fuel for wood stoves used by individual homeowners to supplement the energy generated by their rooftop panels.
The film misleads on the subject of population. At one point, it says that in a period of just 200 years, the globe’s population increased by a factor of 10. During the same period, energy consumption “on average” rose by the same measure. Clearly however, figures for average energy consumption make it appear that everyone on the planet is equally responsible for energy depletion. They are not. The United States with less than 5% of the world’s population, consumes around 25% of its energy. Meanwhile people on the African continent and elsewhere in the Global South consume far less. So, rather than giving the impression that there are too many people in the world, it would be more accurate to say there are too many Americans. The film avoids making that specific, but hugely important point.
“Planet of the Humans,” of course, is correct in positing that energy corporations like BP and Exxon are trying mightily to co-opt the concept of green technology. Moreover, the corporate version of energy alternatives continues to centralize and control solar and wind sources in massive plants. So, they build expensive energy-intensive installations that depend on solar panel arrays the extent of football fields or on thousands of easily destructible mirrors located in the desert to reflect and somehow gather the sun’s energy. The business model of these concerns has them retaining control of “smart grids” just as they did with the dumb ones formerly powered by oil and coal.
Moore’s film is correct: such “solutions” are top-down and hugely problematic.
However, there are more democratic bottom-up models of energy production. These have homeowners installing solar panels and water heaters on their own rooftops. Bottom-up models similarly turn every office building into its own energy production unit. In this way, solar energy democratizes production and takes it away from the giant corporations. Even today it has those concerns actually paying consumers for the energy homeowners’ solar panels feed back into the larger system. Jeremy Rifkin, for example, has written a great deal on this.
So, we’re left wondering why Michael Moore chose to ignore such patent truisms. Instead, he leaves his audience without constructive scientifically founded hope or alternative. He releases this disturbing film at this particular point in history when the Green New Deal is on the table. He gifts its opponents with the argument that even the “extreme left” now admits that anthropogenic climate change, if it exists at all, represents an insoluble problem.
Why in the face of contrary evidence, did Moore choose to support the right’s position like that? Why ignore the advances in the opposite direction that have emerged over the last 10 years? Why vilify climate heroes like Bill McKibben?
There are no apparent answers to these questions. Michael Moore’s credentials as filmmaker and progressive activist are impeccable. Progressives are still scratching their heads. . .
On November 21st, conservative pundit, David Brooks published a confusing op-ed in the New York Times entitled “The Revolt against Populism.” At least for this reader, it generated an overwhelming sense of information entanglement and of confusion about making sense of the world Brooks described.
I’m referring on the one hand to the welter of detail supplied in his enumeration of countries rebelling against populism. (How is one to know enough to make sense of all of that?) On the other hand, my reference is to Brooks’ all-encompassing use of the term “populism.” For him everyone from Xi Jinping to Donald Trump seems to fit into that category. How is that possible?
The purpose of this reflection is first of all to answer that question: how to make sense of the term “populism.” Its second purpose is to use that clarified term to offer a brief framework explaining the current worldwide rebellion unfolding before our eyes.
Begin with that last
point – the rebellion that Brooks describes as a revolt against populism. It’s
everywhere. As the author notes, demonstrations and street riots have erupted
in Hong Kong, Warsaw, Budapest, Istanbul and Moscow. Angry masses are currently
protesting in Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Similar phenomena surface
in Latin America’s “Pink Tide,” particularly in Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, and
Bolivia. Brooks also includes the “Yellow Vests” in France, Brexit in Great
Britain, and Trumpism in the United States.
He might well have added venues like Algiers, Argentina, Egypt, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Iraq. And then, of course, there are the permanent populist revolts entrenched in China (comprising 20% of the world’s population) and Cuba – not to mention ISIS and al-Qaeda. Finally, Brooks might also have included populist rebellion against climate change in our own country – e.g. Standing Rock, Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement, and School Strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg.
Yes, Brooks is right:
the world is in flames; it’s “unsteady and ready to blow.”
And what’s the cause of it all? Brooks gives two answers. For one, it’s a revolt against the revived and globalized form of laissez-faire capitalism that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. In the aftermath, with the Soviet Union in ruins, capitalist ideologues like Francis Fukuyama hastily declared the end of history and their own particular system definitively triumphant. As Margaret Thatcher put it there was no alternative.
However, far from being generally beneficial and inevitable, the emergent system of world-wide privatization, deregulated markets, and tax cuts for the rich alienated the masses. They experienced globalism as favoring a relatively small number of elites, while adversely impacting wage workers, rural populations and emerging middle classes. Neoliberalism proved to be culturally destructive as well.
In response to its austerity programs for the non-elite, people everywhere gravitated to populism. That’s the second explanation of the world’s turmoil identified by Brooks – a populism so ineffective that people are rebelling everywhere.
But it’s here that his deeper confusion appears. It comes from the author’s mixture of the term’s democratic meaning with neoliberalism’s undemocratic reaction precisely to that popular thrust. It comes from his refusal to face facts. In personal terms, Evo Morales Movement towards Socialism (MAS) represents a hugely effective populism; Donald Trump and the U.S. government is anti-populist.
To get what I mean, first of all consider the definition of populism itself. Wikipedia defines the term as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”
Of course (using Maslow’s hierarchy), the primary concerns of the people everywhere are always the same: food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education, dignified work, and just wages. Once those needs have been met, secondary concerns emerge such as freedom of religion, of press, and the rights to assemble and protest. According to that understanding, you might just as well define populism as democracy, and the title of Brooks’ article as “The Revolt against Democracy.”
Contrary to the impression conveyed by Brooks, that revolt is primarily embodied precisely in his beloved Establishment’s invariable reaction to the democratic aspirations just listed. It’s always the same: sanctions, regime change, coup d’états, assassinations, and outright war waged by proxy or by direct attack. Popular support for such anti-democratic tactics (insofar as they are even sought) is achieved by appealing to the economic self-interest of the elite and to the primal prejudices of “the base.”
Favorite reactionary anti-democratic themes invoke patriotism, religion, racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia. Meanwhile, the genuine causes of popular misery – including unaffordable rents, inadequate wages, inescapable debt, widening gaps between rich and poor, privatized healthcare and education, a tattered social safety net, decaying or non-existent public transportation, ubiquitous political corruption, and endless war – are left unaddressed. To call such austerity measures “popular” simply muddies the waters making it more difficult to make sense of the world. And yet this is what Brooks and standard treatments of “populism” constantly imply and say.
Such sleight of hand enables mainstream pundits like David Brooks to falsely equate “populisms of the left” and “populisms of the right.” In the process, it empowers them to admit the failures of neoliberal capitalism, but to hastily add that leftwing populism is no better. As Brooks puts it: “But it’s also clear that when in power the populists can’t deliver goods. So now across the globe we’re seeing “a revolt against the populists themselves.” After all, Brooks claims, “Venezuela is an economic disaster” and in Bolivia “Evo Morales stands accused of trying to rig an election.”
declaration of populist failure doesn’t mention:
The crippling sanctions the United States has imposed on Venezuela
Nor those placed on China, Cuba (for more than 50 years!) and Nicaragua.
The fact that Morales’ populist policies in Bolivia had drastically raised the living standards of the country’s majority indigenous population
Or that those of populist Lula da Silva had done the same for the impoverished of Brazil
Or that China’s policies (with enormous popular support) have transformed it into the world’s most dynamic economic force lifting out of poverty fully 20% of the world’s population
Or that the latter’s “Belt and Road” foreign-aid initiative has made its political economy and populist policies the aspirational standard of the entire Global South – despite the contrary efforts of the U.S. and of the EU’s former colonial powers
Above all, Brooks’ overwhelming list and standardized false equivalency doesn’t recognize the historical pattern behind the explosive situation he describes. That pattern has the former colonial powers, and especially the United States, resisting democratic populism on every front. It does so according to the pattern which follows. Here is how I describe it in my recently publishedThe Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact & fake news:
Any country attempting to establish a populist economy favoring the poor majority
Will be accused of being illegitimate, communist, socialist, authoritarian, and/or a sponsor of terrorism.
It will be overthrown either directly by U.S. invasion
Or indirectly by right-wing (often terrorist) elements within the local population
To keep that country within the neoliberal orbit
So that the U.S. and its rich international allies might continue to use the country’s resources for its own enrichment
And for that of the local elite.
What I’m suggesting here is that historical pattern analysis just outlined goes much further towards pinpointing the original spark that has ignited the world’s conflagration and resulting disequilibrium than Brooks’ misleading description as a “Revolt against Populism.”
Underneath many, if not all of the revolts Brooks so overwhelmingly enumerates is the heavy hand of the United States and Europe’s displaced colonial powers. They are the consistently inveterate enemies of genuine populism concerned as it is with meeting basic human need. They are the advocates and sponsors of the world’s anti-democratic forces that have (with the help of establishment pundits like David Brooks) coopted the term to confuse us all.
In other words, there’s no need to be overwhelmed rather than inspired by the unfolding worldwide revolt against neoliberal austerity and laissez-faire capitalism. At least initially, it’s not necessary for us to know the details of every country’s history and political economy.
Instead, critical thinkers should simply remain cognizant of the nature of authentic populism and of the pattern just summarized. Then, when necessary, further reading and research can confirm or disconfirm the validity of the pattern’s particular application. In most cases, I predict, its heuristic value will be vindicated.
Here in Connecticut, Peggy and I are part of a Climate-Change activist group that is just getting off the ground. We’re planning on supporting the Green New Deal that I’ve written about earlier here and here and here.
In that connection, here’s the best short video I’ve come across on the topic. It’s co-written and narrated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the most dynamic new member of the House of Representatives. Please watch it and see if it confers understanding of the GND as it invites you to get on board with this important movement.
Last Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial on the Green New Deal (GND). It was called “The Green New Deal Is Better than Our Climate Nightmare.”
Though its title purports to second the GND proposal sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D MA), the article actually damns the measure with faint praise. It also endorses remedies for the climate crisis much less comprehensive and closer to what corporate America favors than to the broad worker-friendly recommendations of the Markey-Cortez proposal.
By doing so, the authors obscure the proposal’s historical connections to FDR’s daring New Deal as well as those between climate change and a failed capitalist system itself. Finally, the article’s half-measures imply an unexpressed reservation about paying for the GND that shows little appreciation of the problem’s gravity and of the fundamental socio-economic changes necessarily connected with transition to a truly non-fossil fuel economy.
Begin with the article’s faint praise. True, the Times editors rightly chastise the Trump
administration’s policies as “boneheaded,” including its denial of the problem,
rolling back of Obama-era limits on emissions, opening more lands to oil and
gas exploration, weakening of fuel economy standards, and its formation of a
special committee bent on debunking the climate crisis.
Granted: all of that reflects the thinking of GND advocates.
So far, so good.
But then, the Times
editors criticize the proposal first because its initial draft was poorly
written by Ms. Cortez’s staff and, secondly, because the proposal is too extensive.
As one respondent in the editorial’s “Comments” section
observed, the Times editorial devoted
twice as much space (150 words) to critiquing the proposal’s initial “poorly
written talking points” as it did to describing the actual resolution (72
And what about the Times’
disagreement with the broad character of the Green New Deal?
To answer, consider the (in progress) proposal so far . . .
It suggests nothing less than a complete overhaul of capitalism-as-we-know-it.
In doing so, it purposely parallels the measures implemented by Franklin Delano
Roosevelt in his original New Deal.
Following the Great Stock Market Crash of ’29, the latter
didn’t content itself with bailing out banks and Wall Street. Instead it more
comprehensively addressed the concerns of Main Street providing minimum wage
legislation, unemployment benefits, government-funded jobs for the unemployed,
and a Social Security retirement plan for all. It also legalized labor unions.
By adopting that strategy, FDR not only addressed the
deep-seated problems of capitalism such as widespread unemployment, low wages
and huge wealth-disparities. He also met the genuine needs of the country’s
majority and secured their buy-in to the New Deal despite pressure by the elite
to reduce the great depression to a technical matter solvable by the monied
classes. The working class was won over; its members’ anger against the system
was mollified; they put down their pitchforks, Roosevelt was elected four times
in a row, and capitalism was saved.
This time around, the green version of the New Deal does something similar. It includes not merely a transition to a renewable energy economy powered by wind and sun, but rejection of any nuclear power options, of technology allowing fossil fuel plants to capture and store their own emissions, and of market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap and trade policies. As described by the New York Times, and in the spirit of FDR’s program, the GND proposal suggests:
Free higher education
Universal health care
Affordable housing for all
Remedies for “systemic injustices” among the poor, elderly
and people of color
Family-sustaining wage guarantees
Adequate family medical leave
Paid vacations for all workers
Retirement security for everybody
Like Roosevelt’s measures, these provisions are aimed at securing
the required support of the country’s majority who might otherwise be persuaded
to continue ignoring the problem by the propaganda of elite climate-change
deniers and by the forbidding specter of austerity measures. The generous GND
provisions are intended to acquire buy-in on the part of those who also might otherwise
be too distracted by simply trying to make ends meet than to comprehend and face
up to the very real threats posed by climate chaos.
Failing to see all of that, the Times editorial board asks in effect, what do the social goals
listed above have to do with meeting the climate change crisis? Wouldn’t it
would be better, the authors imply, to be less radical and more focused on setting
a national electricity standard, including the nuclear and carbon capture
options along with wind and solar alternatives, providing tax incentives for
electrical vehicles, improving the efficiency of buildings and the electrical
grid, and intensifying efforts at carbon sequestration?
More specifically, the editors ask, “Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing
the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a
wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the
Democratic Party to the left?”
(See what I meant by “faint praise?”)
In other words, the Newspaper of Record, wants readers to
focus narrowly on remediating climate change while overlooking what GND
advocates identify as the root cause of the catastrophe. It wants its readers
to ignore what Green New Dealers consider the
indissoluble link between capitalism-as-we-know-it on the one hand and worker
exploitation along with environmental destruction on the other.
Think about the
connections first with workers and then with the environment. (Sorry: but doing
so might evoke painful memories of ECON 101.)
With both workers
and the environment, capitalists are forced by the logic of market competition
to adopt exploitative practices whether they want to or not. That’s because,
for one thing, wage workers in particular are compelled to enter a labor market
whose compensation level is set by rivalry among laborers seeking the same job.
As a result, each
prospective employee will bid his competitors down until what economists have
called the “natural” wage level is attained. Marx for one, found this “natural”
level below what workers and their families need to sustain themselves in ways
worthy of human beings. In other words, wage competition represents nothing less
than a race to the bottom. Capitalism’s unregulated labor market assures an
inadequate wage for the working class.
this is the major point in the context of climate change) the capitalist system
also necessarily devastates the
environment. That is, the market’s reliance on competition all but eliminates
the presence of environmental conscience on the part of producers.
example, environmentally sensitive entrepreneurs might be moved to put
scrubbers on the smokestacks of their factories, and filters on the sewage
pipes to purify liquid effluents entering nearby rivers, streams and oceans.
Doing so would, of course raise the costs of production, Meanwhile, however,
competitors who lack environmental conscience will continue spewing unmitigated
smoke into the atmosphere and pouring unfiltered toxins into nearby bodies of
water. Their lowered costs will enable them to undersell the conscientious
producers, and eventually drive the latter out of business. In this way, the
market rewards absence of environmental conscience.
In other words,
fighting climate change and protecting workers’ rights are intimately
connected. They are both aspects of resistance to the destructive logic of
According to proponents of the Green New Deal, such
realizations uncover the failure of the market system itself. That system has
proved incapable not only of addressing climate change. It has also failed to
provide a living wage for its unskilled workers, jobs for those displaced by
technology, affordable housing to the working class, and inexpensive health
care – not to mention repair of the country’s crumbling infrastructure. That
array of problems calls for remedies far beyond the band-aid solutions suggested
by the Times board. It also requires
extensive buy-in from the affected majority including those who work for wages.
The GND achieves both ends.
Paying for the Green
Not far in the background of almost any criticism of the Green New Deal is the question unspoken or emphasized, how are we going to pay for such “generous provisions?” The incredible and ironic implication here is not only that it makes sense to do a cost-benefit analysis about saving the planet and the lives of our grandchildren. The implication is also that some price might be too high or some social change (like abandonment of capitalism-as-we-know-it) too drastic!
But overlooked in such mystifying thought processes are the considerations
that, among other benefits, abandoning a fossil-fuel-dependent economy will:
In the end provide very low-cost energy to consumers
Save government subsidies currently extended to the fossil fuel industry
Make unnecessary the resource wars currently waged against countries in the Middle East and threatened in Venezuela
Therefore, render unnecessary the tremendous expenditures such wars entail
And remove a major stimulus to terrorism
In summary, necessitate a basic restructuring of our economy including precisely the provisions sought by GND advocates
It’s that fundamental restructuring of everything that the
Green New Deal anticipates. The proposal of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ed
Markey recognizes that necessity far better than the editorial board of the New York Times.
As Naomi Klein has put it, the climate crisis “changes everything.” It calls for a comprehensive New Deal – for a new start beyond business as usual. It requires recognizing the intrinsic weaknesses of capitalism-as-we-know-it and remediating those weaknesses by incentivizing and including the working class in any solution that has the slightest hope of success.
Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35
We’re standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don’t mean the end of the world. I’m talking about the end of empire.
That’s the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That’s what the biblical literary form “Apocalypse” is about– not the end of the world, but the end of empire.
Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to “insiders” familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to “outsiders” like the persecutors of the authors’ people.
In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.
To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It’s as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian –or Al Capone – were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he’s blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.
Here’s what Chomsky has said:
To clarify Chomsky’s point, here’s a short list of our current president’s most recent atrocities. He has the country:
Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we’re in Yemen??)
Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government’s own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities’ bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
Insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country’s coasts.
Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casusbelli were the perpetrator’s name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.
All of that is relevant to today’s liturgical reading, because (as I’ve said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.
As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days’ social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God’s will – i.e. from policies that harm God’s favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor – and (we might add) the planet itself.
When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God’s dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.
In today’s gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke’s Jesus says “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?
Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction – a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our “leaders” refuse to address. And who’s responsible for that crisis?
Prominent religious leaders would have us believe it’s God. He (sic) is punishing us for opening borders to the poor, for Roe v. Wade, for legalizing same sex marriages, or for allowing women access to contraception. Let’s face it: that’s nonsense. It turns Jesus’ embodiment of the God of love on its head. It turns God into a pathological killer – a cruel punishing father like too many of our own dads.
The real culprit preventing us from addressing climate change is our government. Our elected politicians are truly in the pockets of Big Oil, the Banksters, narco-criminals and other fiscal behemoths whose eyes are fixed firmly on short-term gains, even if it means their own children and grandchildren will experience environmental apocalypse.
What I’m saying is that this government has no validity. How dare a small group of climate-change Philistines take it upon themselves to decide the fate of the entire planet in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting their stupidity?
It all has me wondering when our fellow peasants who don’t share Jesus’ commitment to non-violence will get out their pitchforks and storm the White House and other seats of government.
Remember: It was Thomas Jefferson who advised periodic revolution. He said: “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
California is on fire. Its 17 unprecedented conflagrations are predicted to rage out-of-control till at least the end of this month.
Despite such disaster, there are three terms Americans will scarcely hear mentioned in media reporting of the catastrophe. The first two are “climate change” and “profit.” The third is a person, “Pope Francis.”
Begin by considering the silence of our leaders and media about “climate change.” The term hardly crosses the lips of commentators covering the wild fires across an area larger than the sprawling city of L.A.
That’s because virtually alone in the world, the United States (and its media enablers) stand in aggressive denial of the obvious fact that the “American” economy and way of life remain the major causes of such disasters. (Even the Chinese contribution to climate chaos is largely induced by U.S. factories relocated there.) So, you don’t hear much these days connecting wild fires and climate change.
And that brings me to the second culturally unpronounceable word: “profit.” In fact, as Noam Chomsky points out, that word is so unspeakable that it must now be pronounced and spelled as j-o-b-s.
Nevertheless, we all know, the real reason for climate denial is not jobs, but money. It’s greed that drives corporations such as Exxon to accept destruction of the planet over appropriate response to the climate impacts of their products that their own research uncovered decades ago.
Pope Francis has recognized the hypocrisy of it all. And that’s why his name is unmentionable in connection with California’s omni-fire. In fact, more than three years ago, Francis wrote an entire encyclical addressing the problem. (Encyclicals are the most solemn form of official teaching a pope can produce.)
Yet, Francis’ dire warnings in Laudato Si’ (LS) remain largely ignored even by “devout Catholic” leaders like Paul Ryan.
Worse still, the pope’s words generally go unreferenced by pastors in their Sunday homilies.
Yet, the pope’s words are powerfully relevant to not only to wild fires, but to the record temperatures, droughts and increasingly violent hurricanes now happening in real time. For instance, in section 161 of Laudato Si’ Francis says:
“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain . . . The pace of consumption, waste, and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only . . . be reduced by our decisive action here and now”
And what are the “here and now” “decisive actions” the pope called for? Chief among them is the necessity for all nations of the world to submit to international bodies with binding legislative powers to protect rainforests, oceans and endangered species, as well as to promote sustainable agriculture (LS 53, 173-175). That, of course, is exactly what the Exxons of the world fear most. Their rationale? Such submission threatens profits.
But realities much more important than unspeakable profits are at stake here. We’re talking about the survival of human life as we know it.
This is a matter of faith and morality.
In fact, the California fires and the other climate disasters I’ve just mentioned remind us of the most dreadful papal observation of all. “God always forgives,” Pope Francis said. “Human beings sometimes forgive. But nature never forgives.”
The California omni-fires demonstrate that truth.
The question is: why aren’t people of faith listening? Why are we not electing public servants who will simply recognize and respond appropriately to the disasters unfolding before our very eyes?
I recently came across a powerful but profoundly misleading video about climate change. In the name of progressiveness, compassion and love, it waves a white flag before anthropogenic climate change and invites its viewers to blissfully coast through to their inevitable evolutionary demise.
The film’s resigned surrender contrasts sharply with the more hopeful, clear-eyed vision of Pope Francis and the faith-inspired program he suggests in his all-but-ignored eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’.
The stark difference between the two approaches illustrates the impotence of the secularized left before the world’s most pressing problems. It also shows the potential power of Francis’ faith perspective, which progressives ignore at their own (and the planet’s) peril.
First of all, consider the film in question. The eight-minute piece is called “Edge of Extinction.” It was produced and narrated by Guy McPherson, an evolutionary biologist whose webpage slogan is “Nature bats last. Passionately pursue a life of excellence.”
McPherson’s thesis is that “humanity is behaving exactly in accordance with its evolved genetic imperatives to survive, thrive and multiply today, regardless of the consequences tomorrow.”
In other words, humanity is like other animal species. Its evolutionary short-sightedness has it rushing headlong towards its own inevitable extinction whose ultimate cause is “industrial civilization, the most violent set of living arrangements ever devised.”
According to McPherson, this preordained inevitability means that we should all set aside anger and bitterness about human-caused climate change, replacing such unproductive emotions with “compassion and tolerance” presumably for climate change deniers. This, in turn, will confer peace of mind and a resultant “general happiness” as we glide towards extinction which, Mr. McPherson says will occur in 2025.
None of this is to say that it will be easy, the film continues. We’ll witness the cataclysmic death of 7.5 million people. We’ll run out of food, water, and fuel. The soil will become completely unproductive. The world’s abandoned nuclear facilities will melt down catastrophically. Hospitals will be shuttered; disease will run rampant. There will be no first responders to rescue us. Many will commit suicide. Others will be murdered by the last remnants of the privileged still hanging on to their dwindling resources in their sweltering radiated bunkers.
Is that pessimistic enough for you?
It needn’t be for three reasons: First of all, “humanity” has not actually made the decision in question. Secondly, as signaled by Pope Francis, there are clear alternatives. Third, while climate change deniers might deserve our compassion, they emphatically do not merit tolerance.
To begin with, “humanity” has certainly not decided “to survive, thrive and multiply today, regardless of the consequences tomorrow.” In fact, only a sliver of the human race has done so; the rest are in complete resistance.
The sliver in question is a small part of the planet’s richest 1% most of whom happen to live in the United States whose population comprises only 5% of the world’s inhabitants. To put a finer point on it: the criminals in question have coalesced in the United States and in the Republican Party, identified by Noam Chomsky as the most dangerous organization in the history of the world. Republicans can be removed from office. (Remember that next November!)
Meanwhile, the rest of the world has other ideas as signaled in the nascent reforms of the Paris Climate Accord endorsed by nearly everyone in the world excluding the Republican leadership. Moreover, polls show that 61% of Americans—including 43 percent of Republicans—say climate change is a problem the government needs to tackle.
Secondly, there are simple, common-sense alternatives to the looming catastrophe. They have been outlined most compellingly by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ (LS). They include on the one hand, acts on the parts of individuals such as “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights. . .” as well as reducing the use of air conditioning (LS 55, 212).
On the other hand, Francis says that dealing with climate chaos requires action which national governments alone are capable of performing (38, 129). These include weening national populations from dependence on fossil fuels (165) as well as investment in high-speed railways, and renewable energy sources. National governments must also strictly regulate transnational corporate activity (38).
According to Laudato Si’, changing paradigms additionally includes the submission of national governments to an international body with legislative authority to protect rainforests, oceans and endangered species, as well as to promote sustainable agriculture (53, 173, 174, 175). (BTW, the U.S. already submits to international legislative authorities such as, for instance, the World Trade Organization which has the power of overturning United States law.)
So, all of this is doable. And, as Francis insists, the Judeo-Christian tradition about stewardship and care for God’s creation can be invoked to persuade the 83% of Americans who identify themselves as Christian to save the planet.
Ironically, Republicans have effectively invoked the biblical tradition to support their ecocide. Few on the left have followed Pope Francis in the opposite direction. Progressive church leaders need to make climate change the absolute center of their ministries. 2025 is fast approaching.
Finally, like other criminals, Donald Trump and his Republican cohorts in the Congress certainly deserve our compassion. Perhaps, they’ve been corrupted by gilded childhoods, limited experience of the life’s hardships, and by an overriding love of money, profit, pleasure, power, and prestige.
But no matter how sorry we might feel for them, we must recognize that they are criminals. This sliver of 1% have taken it upon themselves to condemn all of us, our children and grandchildren to the fate so accurately described in “The Edge of Extinction.”
We cannot allow them to do that. Citizens’ arrests are in order, not to mention non-violent revolution – stimulated by recognition of shared humanity and even faith.
That’s the path Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ suggests.