Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.



February 29, 2004

THE BOSTON TEA-PARTY AS ‘ECO-TERRORISM’

Filed under: How the World Really Works,Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 10:07
Boston Tea Party
A
member of the Derrick Jensen mailing list pointed out a brilliantly-written letter to the editor of a small Virginia community newspaper, describing new laws to increase penalties for ‘eco-terrorism’, a vaguely defined term which appears to include acts of sabotage to corporate ‘property’, even if they do no harm to any individual. The law was apparently designed to discourage acts against the property of logging, mining, and factory farm corporations, developers and SUV retailers. Here’s the letter in its entirety.

Last week, you used the term “ecoterrorist” with regard to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). A note on semantics: The Department of Defense defines terrorism as “The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.”

Somehow, burning a bulldozer fails to meet these criteria. Unlawful and ideological, yes. But they intended to coerce corporate entities (United Land, Virginia Land, Kessler Group, Regency Centers, and Dierman Realty Group), not governments or societies.

Do you feel “terrorized” by the loss of the Land Company’s trackhoe? Even developer Wendell Wood seems non-plussed. “You can go buy another.”

What is scary is how terms like “ecoterrorist,” “cyber-terrorist,” “narco-terrorist” and “special-interest terrorist” are slipping into our vernacular.

Know this: “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” legislation was proposed in Texas and New York, to officially label many forms of advocacy as “terrorism.” Plus, President Bush’s proposed Patriot Act II hopes to broaden the definition of terrorism and make it easier to sentence such “terrorists” to death. Now, who’s scaring who?

Indeed, the ELF is the FBI’s top priority regarding domestic terrorism. But I, for one, would hope they’d instead focus more on whoever mailed U.S. military-manufactured anthrax and ricin to Congress.

Truth is, most people agree with ELF’s intentions. A recent national survey found that two out of three people think the environment is more important than property rights, corporate profits, or even creating jobs.

The ELF usually targets only the most egregious of industrial polluters and ecology-destroying profiteers. Take Nestle’s Ice Mountain bottled water, which built a plant in Michigan’s Mecosta County (despite a 2-1 resident vote to deny them zoning) and then proceeded to violate state and federal water rights by siphoning from public rivers and streams. ELF activists, after exhausting legal avenues of dissent, tried to blow up the plant.

Is the sprawling Hollymead Center as bad? No. But Richmond’s SUVs were arguably an environmental and social menace. Objectively speaking, SUVs kill more Americans than al-Qaeda does.

The last word: There was a time when we had a very different term for those who sabotage avaricious corporations. As John Adams said of the Sons of Liberty who dunked East India Company tea into Boston harbor: “There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire.”

Brian Wimer

Charlottesville

P.S. This week, Bush’s Education Secretary called the National Education Association teachers union a “Terrorist Organization” for criticizing the shortcomings of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Who’s next? Editorialists?

February 28, 2004

BUSH’S JOBLESS RECOVERY AND LUDICROUS EMPLOYMENT FORECAST

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 10:45
US Employment
A
lmost immediately after Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors glowingly predicted they would create 2.6 million net new jobs this year, the Republican spin doctors and backtrackers have been working overtime to deny that’s what they meant. Of course, as CBS Moneywatch has reported, that’s precisely what they meant — they were just insane to believe it was achievable, and to believe that the press and public would be too stupid to pick up on it. The semi-literate and uneducated Presnit, of course, hummed and hawed and refused to say anything when asked about it after he had trotted it out as ‘evidence’ the economy was doing just fine.

Which of course it is not. The red line in the chart above shows Bush’s pathetic job creation record, and shows once and for all that his criminal tax cuts for the ultra-rich were simply a give-away for friends, and did not help the economy for the other 99% of Americans one bit. I am endlessly amazed that anyone with an annual income less than seven figures could even contemplate voting to re-elect this fraud.

Again, as CBS reports, there are two ways to interpret Bush’s ‘forecast’. The more conservative one is that the economy will generate 2.6 million net new jobs in 2004, about 220 thousand per month, moving total employment up almost to where it was before he seized office (the lower blue line above). This compares to growth of 112 thousand in January, so despite the ebullience that surrounded that number announcement, even that number is only half the monthly rate needed to achieve this target. But when asked for clarification, the Council Chairman said that the forecast is for average 2004 employment to be 2.6 million higher than average 2003 employment of 130 million. To achieve that feat, employment will have to jump by 460 thousand per month and reach about 135 million by December (the higher blue line on the chart above).

In the interest of public service, I’m going to hold Bush and the Council to their word. Each month I’ll repost the above chart showing progress towards the 2.6 million net new job target. And to be more than fair, I’ll settle for achievement of the lower forecast on the chart above. After all, I appreciate that Mr. Bush has a lot of trouble with numbers.

This is not an unreasonable expectation of a president who used this ludicrous announcement for blatant political purposes. This is the number one issue in the campaign and he needs to be measured on his performance. After all, if he had run an administration that merely kept job growth up with new entrants in the labour force (growing at 150 thousand a month), employment would currently be above 139 million, and the jobless recovery would not be an issue.

The number that Bush uses to talk about jobs, of course, is the fraudulent unemployment rate, which excludes the millions who have simply given up looking for work in the horrendous Bush economy, and also fails to include the millions who are struggling with part-time jobs because Bush is encouraging his big business buddies to outsource and offshore all the full-time jobs. I’ve already written about the fact that the actual unemployment rate is over 8%.

Data is taken from the US Department of Labor statistics.

February 27, 2004

GOOGLE & PORN: PSST, WANNA SEE SOME DIRTY PICTURES AND UP MY HIT COUNT?

Filed under: Using Weblogs and Technology — Dave Pollard @ 10:47
lesbian kissA recent report says that Google, in order to try to beat back growing competition from other search engines (wonder why that might be necessary?), has added a billion pages to what it spiders, from 3.3 to 4.3 billion pages. Most notably, it’s spidering a lot more images — doubling its count to almost a billion. The results are quite bizarre. The Raven, whose wonderful writing ceased a half year ago, has suddenly jumped up in the rankings again, with over two thirds of his 400-some hits per day coming from Google Image searches, virtually all of them clearly in search of porn. The Raven was always discreet and tasteful, but not afraid to lampoon trashy contemporary culture, so his searchers must almost undoubtedly leave disappointed, though slightly better informed.

And Standing Room Only‘s Hugh Elliott, back to his thoughtful and literate blog after a lengthy hiatus, himself laments that his recent surpassing of the 100,000 hit mark was ‘empty and meaningless’ and due mainly to people looking for porn. In fact, since the Google ‘upgrade’, one of Hugh’s pictures, posted a year ago, called ‘porn.jpg’ has, all by itself, upped Hugh’s hit count by close to 700 hits per day. And the picture isn’t even pornographic, and it doesn’t even appear on the first results page when you do an Image Search for ‘porn’! Hugh deserves better. Go visit his blog for some fine writing, and especially check out his fiction archives.

All this explains why, although Google has finally got around to spidering about half my old pages since my blog revamp (and you know who I can thank for that), my hit count has only risen by a measly 50 hits/day.

So here’s an experiment, with four points: See the picture above? Tasteful eh? I dedicate it to Presnit Bush’s outrageous new plan to legitimize discrimination in the US Constitution. Guess what I’ve named the picture? The points:

  1. I’ll change the name of the picture to something untitillating in a few days, and track how much of an impact it makes on my daily hit count and ranking. Prepare for one of my snazzy, heart-breaking charts.
  2. We definitely need some better measures of blog popularity than hit counts. Number of inbound links and RSS feed subscriptions are better, but they only tell part of the story. Hey Radio Userland, how about equipping Radio 9.0 users with an automatic hitmeter, that separates out search engine hits from real hits, and shows a trendline?
  3. There’s too many people out there looking for porn, when they should be reading about all the terrible things going on in the world, and how to fix them. And then going looking for porn to take their minds off it. If you came here looking for porn, GET A LIFE, DUDE, and by the way there are way better ways of finding it than using Google. Do some research! And thanks for coming by and upping my hit count. Bye now.
  4. If the picture offends you, ask yourself why.

Oh, and just for good measure: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ already qualifies as the worst movie ever made. Two relentless hours of torture and brutality, violence purely for shock effect, religious revisionism, anti-Semitism, oceans of blood, manipulative sadism, and more whipping and flogging than Caligula. Have I seen it? Of course not. Waste money on the most inevitably bad movie since that equally wacko religious cultist John Travolta made the almost as awful Battlefield Earth, when the competent critics are unanimous that it is ‘loathsome’? I just want to see what mention of this mindless drivel does to my Google count while I’m attracting the uncreative porn-seekers.

Back to my usual serious posts tomorrow.

February 26, 2004

THE LEARNING ASYLUM

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 13:47
child's pay
I‘ve been corresponding with (Mr.) Jan Eggers of the exceptional blog Dirtgrain. Jan is a teacher who writes often of the frustration of dealing with an education system that is dysfunctional, bureaucratic, co-opted by corporatists, shrugged off by parents as a cheap day-care centre, and, nevertheless, full of teachers who give a damn and want to make a difference. He tells it like it is:

The Learning Asylum, by Jan Eggers

Committed to the learning asylum,
they come in droves to
breathe stale air mocked by
the jetliner noise of ventilation.
Attention trapped–daydreams killed–
by windowless rooms and puke yellow carpets.
Fluorescent headaches pang down,
wilting creative energy.
Stagnant chairs clash with restless limbs,
learning drivel pinning them down.
They forget their place in nature.

Where are poems nourished?
In a snowy forest,
a grimy street corner,
a threshable field–
in an ever changing milieu–
not in the wilting classroom.
So many able poets–
manacled by education.

If we had more fearless, never-say-die, articulate proponents of education reform like Jan, maybe we could really fix the system.

Image above is from Child’s Pay, the award winning video from MoveOn that CBS refused to show. The video depicts American children working to pay off the staggering and obscene Bush debt. It could also be said to depict the jobs that will be left if actions aren’t taken to end offshoring of American jobs, and if improvements to the education system aren’t made, in contrast to the grossly underfunded, misguided and cynical Bush ‘No Child Left Behind’ program.

PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

Filed under: Working Smarter — Dave Pollard @ 04:55
PKM chart
Since February 1st, David Gurteen, one of the pioneers and brightest thinkers in the field of Knowledge Management, has been busy, to my delight, reinventing the discipline as Personal Knowledge Management (PKM). As readers of my business posts know, that’s what I’ve been advocating for some time. A group of leading KM luminaries has been discussing this all month on the AOK (Association of KnowledgeWork) discussion group, an online community of practice moderated by Jerry Ash. This has been tremendously helpful in enabling me to flesh out my own vision of how PKM could work, the latest rendition of which is diagrammed above.

It’s not as complicated as it looks, and is best explained by taking you through an example of how it would be used.

When you turn on your laptop, what shows up is your ‘virtual’ office: Your workspace, which looks very much like a desktop, and is piled high with pictures of documents and messages, laid out exactly as you last left them. The Workspace Manipulation Tool features a hand as the cursor, and allows you to move and reorganize documents and messages on your virtual desktop, exactly as you would in physical space. But it also allows you to save any precise configuration of documents and messages, and file it away for later use, giving you a ‘clean’ desktop for another project.

Highlighted on the virtual desktop are the current documents and messages that you last looked at. As it turns out, they consist of a report that you’re researching, a web page that you were half finished reading, and a message that you were composing in reply to the web page. When you use the hand-cursor to ‘open’ these documents again, the Document Annotation Tool opens, and the hand cursor turns into a pencil cursor. The Document Annotation Tool converts each open document into a virtual piece of paper: You no longer have to concern yourself with what application was used to create the document, or what format it is in. You simply use the pencil cursor to highlight, add to, delete from, comment on, and cross-reference to other documents, exactly as you would instinctively use a real pencil to make comparable annotations on real paper. The Document Annotation Tool understands what you are doing and invisibly does the heavy lifting to translate your changes commensurately in the document’s ‘native’ application (MS Word, HTML etc.) You can do all your work with this one, simple application. So you scribble in a table in your unfinished message, make editorial changes to your report, and highlight the relevant parts of the web page you were reading. When you go to Save the highlighted web page, up comes the Workspace Manipulation Tool’s hand cursor to let you virtually place it where you want on your desktop, or virtual filing cabinet. You also use the hand cursor to add the web page author’s contact information into your virtual Address Book.

You’re ready to send & save the now-completed message as well, and when you do so, the Workspace Manipulation Tool automatically opens up your Address Book and the Connector tools, which provide the suggested address and a list of possible alternatives, and the suggested medium (in this case e-mail) and alternative media (IM, VoIP telephony etc.) for connection to the identified recipient(s). As always, before the Workspace Management Tool saves and stores a document or message, it asks you who you will ‘permission’ to access, either by subscription or by just-in-time peer-to-peer browsing, that document or message.

Before you complete the research report, you decide to check the day’s news. Your virtual workspace has an inbox with colour-coded documents that have arrived for you, integrating personal e-mail and sources to which you have subscribed. Using the Workspace Manipulation Tool, you set aside the personal messages and open the RSS newsfeeds you subscribe to. The Document Annotation Tool opens, allowing you to make whatever notations you want, and save or send whatever parts of the annotated newsfeeds you wish to. There are no menus or commands to remember — these Personal Content Management Tools are extensions of your hand, and they have the intelligence to understand your intent from how you move the hand and pencil cursors.

One of the items in your newsfeeds was about something that intrigued you — the collection of shot-glasses from cities and establishments all over the world. You open your address book and create a new ‘tab’ for shot-glass collecting. The Network Builder/Expertise Finder tool automatically opens and asks if you would like to identify and add to your address book others interested in or expert in this subject, and you say no, for now. It then asks if you are interested in subscribing to RSS feeds on the subject, and when you say yes, it provides a list of appropriate subscribable sources, with the cost of subscription if applicable. When you make your selections, the Subscriber tool automatically enters your subscriptions, using the personal identity information aggregated in your Metadata. When you go to place the news item about your new hobby in your virtual filing cabinet, you find there is already a matching tab on this subject set up for you ready.

To complete your research report, you need to get some information on UXGA technology, and on a company called Quarx that manufactures a critical component that uses this technology. Using the Workspace Manipulation Tool you open your address book and open a new tab on these subjects, and the Network Builder/Expertise Finder tool again opens automatically. This time you reply ‘yes’, to a search for experts, and the Super Address Book, which spiders everyone’s permissioned content, as translated by the Metadata tools, to identify, rank and qualify both experts and communities of interest, provides a list, ranked by popularity. It turns out one of the people in the San Diego office of your own organization is something of an expert on the subject, so you click on her name to contact first. The Connector tool provides her Virtual Presence video contact information, her Skype and regular phone number, her e-mail and IM address, and others, but notifies you that she is ‘Out of Office’ for a week. Rather than waiting for her return, you select the last option from the Connector tool, ‘Browse Permissioned Content’, and you are connected peer-to-peer to her machine. You find what you need on UXGA, and while you’re at it you subscribe to her RSS feed on High Resolution Imaging technologies.

SVP mockup

But you still need to find out about Quarx, and your colleague’s content doesn’t help there, so you go back to the list that the Expertise Finder produced and select the Director of Research of Quarx itself from the list. The Connector indicates he is in and available, so the Connector transmits a Conference Request and gets a positive reply. Up pops the Virtual Presence screen, with the smiling face of the Director of Research, as the camera light on your own laptop goes on to confirm he can see you, too. You display a page from your draft report, showing the information you need to complete about Quarx, and the Director replies to most of your questions, but defers on one question citing confidentiality issues. You immediately sidebar an IM message to your boss advising her of this, and are instructed to ask an alternative question, which you do. You get a satisfactory response, thank the Quarx Director, and hang up.

line

I hope this gives you an idea of how this suite of very simple and intuitive software tools could function in a business environment. What I find exciting about the concept is that not only could it dramatically increase knowledge exchange in business, especially between businesses, and hence improve the effectiveness of nearly everyone in the workplace, but the same suite of tools could have almost identical personal application, finally making all the functionality of the laptop accessible to everyone, even the computer-illiterate. It could allow each of us to connect simply with friends and loved ones, and join and build powerful and enriching communities of interest. And it would free us forever from all the complex tools and formats we now need to learn merely to manage a virtual workspace, annotate virtual documents, and communicate virtually with each other.

February 25, 2004

THE WRITING OF T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 09:18
boyle cartoon
It’s been a long time since I’ve added a writer of fiction to my list of authors whose work I search for every time I discover a new bookstore. TC Boyle is The Man. Those of you who know my passion for the writing of Frederick Barthelme know I like my fiction modern, wry, and quirky, and TC fits the bill. Here’s a brief excerpt from his latest short story Chicxulub [the meteorite that hit Earth 65 million years ago]:

The thing that disturbs me about Chicxulub, aside from the fact that it erased the dinosaurs and wrought catastrophic and irreversible change, is the deeper implication that we, and all our works and worries and attachments, are so utterly inconsequential. Death cancels our individuality, we know that, yes, but ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, and the kind goes on, human life and culture succeed us. That, in the absence of God, is what allows us to accept the death of the individual. But when you throw Chicxulub into the mixóor the next Chicxulub, the Chicxulub that could come howling down to obliterate all and everything even as your eyes skim the lines of this pageówhere does that leave us?


This guy is prolific, and I have no idea why I’ve never discovered him before. My fellow Sloggers Rich Pure & Simple and Amy Worms of Endearment Stewart are both TC fans.

And he has something to say about writing, too. Here’s a passage from his wonderful 1999 autobiographical essay This Monkey, My Back:

I can see how my books and stories are tied inextricably, how the themes and obsessionsóthe search for the father, racism, class and community, predetermination versus free will, cultural imperialism, sexual war and sexual truceókeep repeating. I can see this, but only in retrospect. Thatís the beauty of this addictionóyou have to move on, no retirement here, look out ahead, though you canít see where youíre going. First you have nothing, and then, astonishingly, after ripping out your brain and your heart and betraying your friends and ex-lovers and dreaming like a zombie over the page till you canít see or hear or smell or taste, you have something. Something new. Something of value. Something to hold up and admire. And then? Well, youíve got a jones, havenít you? And you start all over again, with nothing.

line

PS: Here are three wonderful explanations of why we write, starting with TC’s:

Writing is a habit, an addiction, as powerful and overmastering an urge as putting a bottle to your lips or a spike in your arm, the impulse to make something out of nothing, — TC Boyle

We write to give order and structure to a chaotic world. — James Baldwin

I write because I wish to know what I think. — Steve Raker

CHRIS BRITT ON BUSH’S NATIONAL GUARD ‘SERVICE’

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard @ 09:15
britt cartoon

February 24, 2004

LIVING OUTSIDE OURSELVES

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 15:35
dan o'neill cartoon
N
ow that I am no longer spending the bulk of my waking hours doing what my boss tells me to do, I’m beginning to entertain some heretical thoughts.

I am beginning to believe that civilization has so warped us that, to a greater or lesser degree, we have all forgotten who we really are. Perhaps some of us never knew. Who are we? We are each our own story, a culture of one. Our story begins at birth with a discovery, an exploration, a connection with the world around us. Whether we are human or animal, we are at first profoundly connected to the rest of the world through our senses. We are filled with wonder. We are incredibly vulnerable, but we are not helpless. It will take several years before the brainwashing of those who have forgotten who they really are convince us that without them, we are helpless. The real truth is that we are brilliantly equipped for survival. Evolution has seen to that.

If we were living outside of our terrible civilization, the first things we would learn would all be through our senses. Our senses are there to give us joy, to make us want to live, and to help us survive and thrive in communion with the rest of life on Earth of which we are a part. As animal babies we immediately start to move around and see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. We do the things that give us sensory pleasure. Our instincts guide us — they tell us to smell our Mother’s breath to learn what is good to eat, and find those things to eat, and, for reasons we don’t really understand, or need to, not to eat other things. And our instincts also tell us when to flee and what to flee from, when to migrate, and when to stay and, if need be, to fight. We learn enough language, depending on our species, to communicate the location of food, our presence, and the presence of danger, and to express ourselves. But most of our time for our whole lives is spent just experiencing sensations and enjoying life.

Those of us born into civilization soon start to follow a very different path. As our animal kin’s brains are forming to reflect the memories of sensation and place, ours are forming to reflect the language we our taught. Our sensory exploration and learning is interrupted, from a very young age, for abstract lessons of language. We are taught definitions, that what a thing is, is its word — kitten, puppy, Mommy. Bizarre learning that has no resonance in the three million years of instinctive knowledge wired into our DNA. And then, immediately, we are taught, and taught and taught what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, what is ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’, ‘logical’ and ‘foolish’. And we begin to be judged not on who were are (or, as the lessons proceed, who we used to be), but rather on what we’ve ‘learned’, what we ‘know’, and what we ‘possess’. And we are judged on how our behaviour reflects and reinforces that terrible learning — on our conformity (tellingly, we actually use this word in describing pet training ‘success’). For the rest of our lives we will be taught, and told, what to do, how to do it, and how to behave, learnings that are utterly abstract and disconnected from who we are (or were). We will, as we have been taught and told, fill our lives with arduous, full time work, with fearsome consequences if we ‘fail’ (poverty, being labeled and shunned as a ‘failure’, the shame and terror of not having enough). And finally, we become that abstract other that is our strange learnings and behaviours. We learn to live outside ourselves.

I will leave it to others (at least for now) to pass judgement on why we do this. I am, as usual, more interested in the solution than the definition or cause of the problem.

How can we reconnect with the true self that we leave behind when we take that strange abstract journey into otherhood? How can we remember who we are (or were) before this terrible world stole that identity from us? There are many ways to reacquire some of that subsersive knowledge. If you’re a woman, you’ll probably find it easier than men, because in my experience men are, for the most part, more enthusiastic about abstraction and all its rules, and less attuned to and comfortable with the sensory world.

Probably the easiest way is to spend time outside of civilization. Walk in the forest or the park, unassisted by and as far away from man-made artifacts as possible. Slow down. Stay, or keep doing it, until you feel yourself changing, until your abstract brain gets bored and turns off and your senses take over. Take along an animal friend to show you the way. Look Until You Really See: Move in close, so you divert attention from individual objects and start to see instead colour, texture, shape, shadow, reflection, pattern. Find an unusual perspective from which to look — get down on the ground and look up, look at something through trees, through a microscope, or by candlelight, anything that will let you see things differently from usual. Look at things under unusual conditions — in the fog, at night, right after a heavy rain, just at dawn or dusk. Stimulate your other right-brain senses — get your nose up close to things, listen to birds, or insects, or train whistles, or music. Walk in your bare feet. Walk or bicycle without a pre-determined destination, direction or time limit. Study something — birds at your bird-feeder, time-lapse of a flower over the course of a day or a week, a spider-web, how moving or dimming the lights in a room changes its character, how a bottle looks different when viewed from different angles.

Or turn off the buzz at home. Spend an hour, or an evening, or a day, without the distracting sensory inputs of civilization. Burn candles instead of lights. Turn off the TV and the radio and the PC and spend the time doing something that requires no electricity. Then invite some friends over and do it again. If you can’t get rid of the background urban noise, put on a CD of natural sounds or instrumental music. Or grow something from a seed or seedling. Or meditate, or use some other exercise (ideally, outside) that focuses your mind on the here and now, and makes it still. Or eat a meal (ideally, outside) that consists entirely of natural, organic, uncooked, unprocessed foods.

What other ways have you found to re-connect with who you really are, or were?

It is hard to describe what happens to us when we do regain connection with our true, instinctive selves. It is liberating, warming, exciting, stimulating. But it is also deeply unsettling. It can irrevocably change you, make you dissatisfied with that other you that you had become. It can cause you to question everything you believe, radicalize you (in the true meaning of that word — taking you back to your roots). It can make others afraid of you and angry at you, and even, alas, dissociated from you. Human kind cannot bear very much reality, as Eliot said. It is like getting a day pass from a prison you have lived in all your life, but never realized was a prison because you had nothing to compare it to.

But be careful with this new knowledge, the knowledge of who you were before our well-meaning civilization made you like everbody else. It’s dangerous.

Cartoon is by Dan O’Neill from the 1970 Jefferson Airplane CD ‘Volunteers’.

February 23, 2004

IN DEFENSE OF RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM: A VIRTUAL CONVERSATION

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 14:38
spectrumHere’s a fascinating site: TakingITGlobal is a Toronto-based non-profit group dedicated to “addressing global problems and creating positive change” whose staff consists entirely of young people. This bunch are active in addressing youth organizations and conferences all over the world, advancing a progressive agenda and following up on their talk with action.

I was especially taken with an essay written by one member, 19-year-old Emily Kumpel from Baltimore, who wrote an article entitled In Defense of Radical Environmentalism. Excellent research, full discussion of opposing views, and precise argument in support of a political position that has many, many right-wing organizations screaming “terrorism” and foaming hysterically at the mouth — Google ‘radical environmentalism’ and you’ll unearth ten anti-environment right-wing wacko groups for every Greenpeace or PETA supporter.

Understandably, then, the site doesn’t ask for trouble by providing its intelligent young team’s e-mail addresses. Therefore I can’t write directly to Emily and thank her for her courage and energy in articulating a position that increasingly is the only one that makes sense to me: In a world that even the Pentagon says is headed for imminent eco-tastrophe, where so much of the power and wealth creating the problem is concentrated in a small elite obsessed with the insane and unsustainable pursuit of perpetual growth, we must start to sabotage the system intelligently without causing suffering.

Since I can’t converse with her directly, I thought I’d try something different. Following is a ‘virtual conversation’ consisting of the text of Emily’s essay (in black) and my thoughts and comments (in red):

In Defense of Radical Environmentalism

Are environmental activists justified in destroying human creations through acts of ecoterrorism if it means saving individual parts of the environment, and where, if anywhere, is the line drawn? Is that kind of activism constructive or destructive?

The immediate danger facing the environment and the human cause of this destruction are clear to many activists around the globe. Also acknowledged is that something must be done. However, there are many different types of environmentalists out there with a wide range of tactics and philosophies used to justify their actions and guide them in their defense of the wild. One movement of extreme environmental activism has been dubbed ìecoterrorismî or ìecotageî. Ecoterrorism is defined in the dictionary as ìterrorism or sabotage committed in the name of environmental causes, î while these groups themselves describe it as non-violent direct action. According to the FBI, eco-terrorism is ìthe use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.î David Foreman, the founder of a self-described ìradicalî environmental group Earth First!, asserts that, ìWe can have big wilderness, and we can reintroduce extirpated species, but unless the fact that there are way too many people on the earth is dealt with, unless the idea that the world is a resource for us to use is dealt with, unless humans can find their way home again, then the problems will continue.î

Foreman’s position is my own.  In dealing with environmental issues, the Bush regime and the FBI twist the language to suit their own right-wing political agenda. ‘Terrorism’ and ‘sabotage’ are not at all the same thing. Terrorism, as the term suggests, involves filling people with fear for political purposes. Sabotage involves damaging infrastructure in a precise way to achieve a precise end. Radical environmentalists may define themselves as saboteurs, but anyone who would define himself as an ecoterrorist would make me suspicious — terrorism of any kind is anathema to and condemned by even the most radical environmental groups (if you don’t believe read their websites, linked below). [In the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I have replaced the word 'ecoterrorism' with 'radical environmentalism' in a few places in Emily's essay where I think the latter term is more appropriate, since that is, after all, the term she uses in the title of the essay.]

Many radical environmentalists ascribe to what is known as deep ecology, and their actions address the immediate need to protect what is left ñ preventing, for example, the logging of a particular forest or the death of a single whale ñ as well as suggesting a change in the fundamental way we think of ourselves and of our place in nature. As Foreman explained, ìÖwe had to offer a fundamental challenge to Western civilization.î The groupís motto is ìNo compromise in defense of Mother Earth.î

Just for clarity, deep ecology is not in itself a radical environmental philosophy, but rather an integrative one, which sees the whole planet as a single self-organizing system, a single organism. It’s not a large jump, of course, to then see any act that inflicts suffering to animals or damages the natural ecosystem as an attack against this single organism, an attack which must be repulsed, by radical means if necessary.

Earth First! uses ìconfrontation, guerrilla theater, direct action and civil disobedience to fight for wild places and life processes.î While they do not actually ìcondone or condemn monkey wrenching, ecotage, or other forms of property destruction,î they do provide a network for activists to discuss creative ways of opposing environmental destruction. According to Bill McKibben, ìEarth First! and the few other groups like it have a purpose, and that purpose is defense of the wild, the natural, the nonhuman.î However, there is a line between civil disobedience and non-violent direct action in that the latter includes monkey wrenching and criminal destruction of property. Other groups, such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which broke off from Earth First! when others wanted to ìmainstreamî the group, and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are well known for their acts of ecotage. According to the FBI, the ELF and the ALF are ìserious terrorist threat(s).î Tactics include disabling logging machinery, placing activists in front of whaling ships, destroying airstrips, spiking trees, and arson.

See the right-wing language spin by the FBI here? Disabling logging machinery, blocking whaling ships, and spiking trees aren’t terrorism, they’re activism.  Even the admitted actions of the ELF and ALF (read their websites before you condemn them or buy half the crap that’s written about them) — which include setting fire to an SUV dealership and a high-rise under construction in a wilderness area — are designed to reduce ecological damage and animal suffering, not to frighten people and alienate them from the movements’ goals.

How do these environmentalists justify destroying human creations for the sake of a single living thing or small forest? This movement finds its defense in deep ecology and ecocentric ethics, major religions and new age philosophy, and, sometimes, conventional wisdom.

In defense of radical environmentalism, I will put forward these actions that are dictated by the Earth Liberation Front Guidelines, which are as follows: ì1. To inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment. 2. To reveal and educate the public on the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it. 3. To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.î

The central goal behind radical environmentalist beliefs is to shift the focus away from humans and onto the entire ecosystem. McKibben describes Earth First! as ìone of the purest examples of putting the rest of creation ahead of exclusively human needs.î Changing the anthropocentric view of the environment is the heart of many environmental philosophies. However, these philosophies often dictate only how we think, not our actions. Radical environmentalists take this to heart and use traditionally drastic measures to accomplish their goals.

First, we as humans are not superior and therefore either all living things should be treated the same, or the whole of the community should come before the good of the individual. The first is a biotic view of ecology, incorporating Albert Schweitzerís notion of a ìreverence for life.î In resolving conflicts between man and nature, he suggests this order: 1. self-defense 2. proportionality 3. minimum wrong 4. distributive justice 5. restitutive justice. Radical environmentalists protect the life of both living beings and natural systems from human destruction when the human destruction is a function of our wants, not our needs. In Colorado, for example, radical environmentalists committed an incredibly costly act of ecotage, burning five buildings at the Vail Ski Resort in 1998. The ski resort was constructed despite the outcries of the public and environmentalists, as the company clear-cut what was supposed to remain untouched wilderness. While human property was destroyed, no humans or other living things were harmed. ìThey ask, why is more ski terrain, miles of roads, bathrooms and a warming house more important than the habitat of creatures man has already pushed to the brink of extinction?î This protection by ecotage ñ while extreme by many standards ñ is justified by Schweitzerís system. Humans had no claim to self-defense, the proportional gain for our species was not enough, there was no way to do a minimum wrong, and there is so little land left that there is no fair way to make up the destruction in another area. And, if we accept that all life should be respected and cared for, then we should do all we can to protect life from human destruction.

I see the Vail action as a desperate one, and I’m not sure it accomplished anything more than sending a message that when all the political, legal and economic chips are stacked against them, and radical environmentalists are left with only one final resort — symbolic action — they will take it.

This is the point at which I become ambivalent about radical action, in defense of any fundamental belief and even in the face of an outrageous wrong. I still cling to the fundamental belief, summarized in Jon Schell’s book The Unconquerable World, that non-violence is always the better way, because (a) the Vail arson undoubtedly alienated more people than it won over, and (b) this action did not prevent or rectify the damage that had been done. In other words (as much as I hate to use this phrase, the principle by which the neocons operate) the ends didn’t justify the means. If the Vail action had actually ‘worked’ — if the builders had consequently, because of  massive public outcry or personal epiphany, conceded the ski resort was a mistake, dismantled it and preserved it as wilderness forever (as if that was going to happen) — then there might have been some justification for the act. Sabotage is, after all, an act of war. And being a pacifist (not inconsistent with being an activist), I believe war is the last resort. As Schell puts it:

Lovers of freedom, of social justice, disarmers, peacekeepers, civil disobeyers, democrats, civil rights activists and defenders of the environment, legions in a single multiform cause…[wage] a revolution against violence — loosely coordinated, flexible, based on common principles and a common goal rather than a common blueprint — [that] would encompass a multitude of specific plans, including ones for disarmament, conventional as well as nuclear; democratization and human rights; advancement of international law; reform of the UN; local and regional peacekeeping and peacemaking; and social and ecological programs that form the indispensable content of a program of non-violent change. To neglect the last of these would be to neglect the lesson that campaigns of non-cooperation are empty without constructive programs. Justice for the poor (victims of “structural violence”) and rescue of the abused environment of the earth (victims of human violence done to other living creatures) are indispensable goals.


If I give up hope that Schell’s pacifist manifesto can work, and lose my idealism, then I am moving into the territory of extremism, and acknowledging that, when all else fails, the ends sometimes do justify the means. That is the same argument made by extremists of the opposite political stripe — the Bush regime’s lying, destroying a nation, bankrupting the American economy, wrecking the UN and America’s reputation worldwide, and killing and injuring tens of thousands of troops and civilians to get rid of one man they personally didn’t like. It’s the same argument that religious wackos use to justify bombing abortion clinics.

This is a line I won’t cross lightly. There is no way back from the resultant abyss. And unlike those who have always romanticized war and extremism as martyrdom, I recognize it as something much nastier, and only to be taken when the inevitable result of inaction is much worse than taking extreme action. And if and when I ever cross that line I’m damned well going to do it right — sabotaging the system intelligently without causing any more suffering than absolutely necessary (like nature does in similar extreme situations), to bring about massive and immediate change. If the means are that ugly, the ends better be damned beautiful.

In one of the most well known defenses of environmentalism, Aldo Leopold says that, ìA thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.î We have an obligation to uphold the stability of the system. Radical environmentalism serves to protect the biotic community using methods that, while destroying human creations, still do not benefit the community. Human creations are not included as a part of this biotic community, and most methods of ecotage in the environmental movement serve to protect wild areas from human expansion. Any infringement by humans into this area would disrupt our ecosystemís integrity, stability, and beauty; therefore, it is wrong. Radical acts are consequently right because they protect those values.

The land ethic view of environmental philosophy incorporates both living and nonliving entities, and it puts the stability of the community above individual lives. In this belief, humans have no superiority in nature, and we, as humans, are responsible for righting our wrongs ñ for example, reintroducing species to an area if we caused their extinction. The strongest criticism of this approach is also the strongest support for ecotage; it ìcondones sacrificing the good of individuals to the good of the whole,î which is indeed just what the movement is doing. Bill McKibben also suggests that ìindividual suffering ñ animal or human ñ might be less important than the suffering of species, ecosystems, the planet.î

The FBI considers these radical organizations to be domestic terrorist groups, and many mainstream environmentalists working to protect the same wilderness areas are opposed to monkey wrenching and other acts of sabotage. Environmentalists, politicians, business leaders, and the public alike have all brought up many arguments against the use of ecotage. Some argue that we as humans are a part of nature and our evolution has led us to superiority over the rest of the environment. Therefore we should be in control of the environment, letting our own natural evolution take its course. By downsizing our lives to preserve the environment we are going against the natural course of things

Radical environmentalists reply that we are addicted to consumerism as well as growth and expansion. Just because that is the way it has always been does not mean that it is right; evolution changes things. Perhaps our evolution is not in taking control of the earth, but in learning to stop our growing and settle down. In “Ecological Literacy”, Orr states that economic growth is the target of our society because growth is ìthe normal state of things.î However, our natural resources are finite, and can only hold so many people and offer so much, therefore, economic growth has to stop at some point as well. People do things because that’s just the way it is and how it’s always been . ìAnd we donut want to change,î McKibben suggests. ìJim wants to log as he always has. I want to be able to drive as I always have and go on living in the large house I live in and so on.î As a result we have begun to decline as human beings by staying the same, because material goods are no longer fulfilling and there is no more meaningful work left to be done. The cultural sickness dubbed ìaffluenzaî is used to describe our addiction to material goods and the absurdity of it all. Ecotage aims in part to contribute to reducing our lifestyles and the material goods and lifestyles within.

Orr warns against social traps that ìdraw their victims into certain patterns of behavior with promises of immediate rewards and then confronts them with consequences that the victims would rather avoid.î By this definition, destruction of the environment and working to preserve nature within the system is a long-term social trap while sabotage is not, as it promotes long term sustainability. Orr also suggests that the current Westphalian system of political organization is no longer practical in a global society, and one solution might be a re-spiritualizing of the masses to change the way we think. Deep ecology, the philosophy that most radical environmentalists associate themselves with, also encourages this change of mass opinion. Leopold also suggests that just because things can be done doesn’t mean that they should be done, and offers a replacement of the current world view with an organic view, based on a religious or spiritual change.

Leopold’s view is therefore fundamentally similar to Schell’s. This moderate view is one which, I think, most of us want to believe in. The point at which we part company is whether this moderate view is still tenable in 2004.

Schmookler in “Out of Weakness” says civilization has engendered a “sick consciousness” which must be replaced with “a consciousness of a very different sort”. The ingredients he proposes for this state of consciousness include humility, tolerance, transcendence, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. McKibben further emphasizes that our future generations are reliant on our care of the environment and we have an obligation to them. The United Nations report “Our Common Future”, claims that, ìwe act as we do because we can get away with it.î

Others, especially more traditional environmentalists, argue that extreme action is simply not pragmatic in the society in which we live. According to this argument, radical environmentalism ignores the culture and the political system we work in, and we cannot just disregard that. They argue that radicals make it hard for other environmental activists working from within the system because they lose respect for all other environmental causes. In our current political system, there are so many things that are going on in voter’s minds and environmentalism is only one of many. Equating environmentalism with extremism is not going to help gain any votes.

Amen. But this creates two problems. The first is that the right wing, with the help of the compliant mass media oligopoly, dwells only on the actions of environmental extremists, to distract public attention from their own extremist actions. In fact, they falsely ascribe things (like the California wildfires) to radical environmentalists in a cynical attempt to discredit environmentalists of all stripes. The second problem is that, as long as we hold out hope that a new ‘state of consciousness’ will emerge to help us deal with eco-tastrophe, the longer we’ll be lulled into inaction and the harder the problems will be to solve once we do act. And if it is already too late, or if we conclude later that it’s too late, then we still won’t act, and the consequences of that are too horrific to imagine.

However, according to an ABC reporter who investigated the ecotage movement, environmental extremists have exhausted all of the traditional options before turning to destruction. ìÖthough there are many many environmental groups out there who use traditional approaches like lobbying Congress and protesting timber sales, ELF regards mainstream groups as sell-outs, and corporate puppetsÖthey saw these techniques fail time and time again to stop the march of industry on nature.î The Earth First! website asks readers if they are tired of, ìnamby-pamby environmental groupsî and ìoverpaid corporate environmentalists who suck up to bureaucrats and industry.î Radical environmentalists are not looking to uphold the system and work within it, but are instead looking to change people’s attitudes and see radical actions as the only way to both protect the immediate needs of the environment and drastically inspire a change of attitude. These acts probably do make environmentalists as a whole lose credibility in the political and economic world, though radical environmentalists argue that the political, economic, and moral world we currently live in is what itself needs to be changed and working within the system will not accomplish that.

Radical environmentalism does challenge the way we think about the system and many activistsí view of how to work within the system. Yet their methods have proven effective in saving individual wild lands and living beings.

Another argument against radical environmentalism is that even though many activists say that they aren’t harming human lives, destruction of property is destroying people’s jobs and is therefore destroying livelihoods. A contributor to Nature magazine described Earth First!’s methods as showing a îdeep insensitivity to human suffering.î One of the newer arguments against ecotage in the post September 11th United States is that if foreign terrorism is not acceptable, then domestic terrorism like ecotage is not acceptable either. Some environmentalists are even accused of ìenvironmental fascism.î

Ecotage is not terrorism. But that is the label that right-wingers put on environmental activism of all stripes. In the climate of fear that the Bush regime has whipped up, it’s convenient and easy to do, especially in a country ‘dumbed down’ by the media. Fascism, however, is an integrated totalitarian corporate and government state that imposes its elite will on everyone else. Mussolini’s word for fascism was, in fact, ‘corporatism’. So the term ‘environmental fascism’ is a non-sequitur.

But many also recognize that the environmental destruction that humans are creating because of our view of the earth as a resource for our own use is threatening our health and that of our children. Richard Falk calls for tougher strategies in order to produce results, suggesting that we, ìengage concrete sources of resistance, including human depravity and greedÖmoral concern is serious only if it includes active participation in ongoing struggles against injustice and suffering.î McKibben says of deep ecology’s reductionist approach, ìÖthey are extreme solutions, but we live in an extreme time…If industrial civilization is ending nature, it is not utter silliness to talk about ending ñ or, at least, transforming ñ industrial civilization,î and that ìthe thinking is more radical than the action.î Many actions we collectively take, such as the nuclear arms buildup and our cultural obsession with fast food and Coca-Cola, are all considered irrational, yet we do it. So why not radical environmentalism? Links have been made between slavery and today’s exploitation of natural resources such as fossil fuels and animals. Radical actions ended slavery, and radicalism powered the civil rights movement, native independence, and many other great progressive moves throughout history. So why not radical environmentalism? Nature is dying, according to McKibben, and he urges us to give the end of nature our best fight. ìWe are different from the rest of the natural order, for the single reason that we possess the possibility of self-restraint, of choosing some other way.î

And the suggestions to crack down on ecoterrorism post 9-11 have not worked. Richard Berman, the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, asked Congress to block funding to radical environmentalist groups, much like it did to the Al Qaeda network. He asked that their nonprofit status be taken away, or that groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that have supposedly given support to radical environmentalist groups in the past be reprimanded in some way. However, this proposal did not gain much support. So far, the ELF and ALF members have been very effective in avoiding the authorities because they are so decentralized and act within cells of one to several members. Funding does not seem to be a key issue for these groups.

While radical environmentalists describe themselves as subscribers to deep ecology, I find that the strongest arguments to justify their actions instead come from a mixture of many environmental philosophies. Indeed, based on any view of the environment that puts the emphasis away from humans, I find it hard not to support the use of radical environmentalism to prevent destruction.

Yet I also feel myself so entrenched in this system of the way it has always been that I find it hard to advocate acts of sabotage against the political and economic structure of our world. I think that acts of ecotage are entirely justified and are, indeed, both necessary and effective, yet I cannot imagine myself being able to actually commit acts of ecotage. Looking at radical animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I entirely disagree with most of their tactics, and yet, it was their tactics that caused me to become vegan. Like many supporters of ìextremeî environmental activists, I may disagree with the destructive and damaging nature of such tactics, yet I cannot argue with their effectiveness.

PETA is an interesting paradox. As I’ve reported before, they have moved beyond the position of avoiding alienating the very people they would like to persuade, to a position that sees moderates as simply part of the problem. By being provocative, even outrageous, their goal is to radicalize enough moderate environmentalists to mobilize large-scale action — legal, political, social and ecotage — for animal rights. The fact that for every radical environmentalist they create, they drive three moderates away from their cause doesn’t bother them, since in their view the moderates weren’t helping the cause anyway. Again, it’s an end justifies the means philosophy. It troubles me, as it does Emily, but I can’t argue with its effectiveness either. PETA has one of the largest memberships of any environmental group and they got there by generating buzz and heat for their ideas.

Although I’m not a member of PETA, I find their position more defensible than that of another environmental extremist camp I call the Environmental Survivalists. This movement has its roots in Malthusian times, and its members believe that, yes, eco-tastrophe is near, but only the prepared will survive when the rest perish. So their answer is essentially ‘fuck everyone else, I’m going to build a cache of food and water and hide out until everyone else kills themselves’. They live at that strange point where the political spectrum curves back upon itself and the left-wing neo-primitivists (those who retreated to the hills with Ehrlich after The Population Bomb was printed, and those that are doing so again today in some environmental groups I’m associated with) become indistinguishable from the right-wing salvationists (the religious cults, anarcho-libertarians and militias arming themselves for the coming Armageddon). These groups spout forth the fatalism of the Unabomber. I hope I never feel the situation is that hopeless.

So where does this leave us? Most of us are perched on the cliff illustrated in the diagram above, sometimes getting close to the edge but unwilling to make the leap from radicalism to extremism. I believe the most intelligent approach to take right now is to hedge our bets. We need to be active in support of environmental causes and principles, working alongside moderates. We need to encourage and give the philosophy that Schell and Leopold espouse a chance to take hold, and that probably means avoiding actions that will tend to alienate moderates, especially if they ‘don’t justify the means’.  But at the same time, we need a Plan B in the likely event that this won’t work in time. We need to develop a concerted and focused program of sabotage that will bring about radical environmental change quickly and effectively with an absolute minimum of suffering.  I have no idea what that would entail, but I’m quite sure that a lot of people are working on it, and human ingenuity knows no bounds. There are probably already ideas out there on how we can sabotage pipelines, refineries and hydro dams without damaging the environment further in the process. There are probably already ideas out there on how we can sabotage factory farms without causing even more suffering to the animals imprisoned in them. There are probably already ideas out there on how we can reduce human fertility quickly in a non-discriminatory way, without causing suffering to those already alive, and without also reducing the fertility of other closely-related species. I’m sure nature is already developing the next human poxvirus to help the cause.

Thanks, Emily, for your excellent essay. Peace, everyone.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” (Buckminster Fuller)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

February 22, 2004

SALSA ANYONE?

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 11:39
salsa
Yesterday my wife and I, and a group of our neighbours, started Latin dancing lessons. Our instructor, Albert Gomez, has won a number of awards and has trained the actors and actresses in some recent dance movies. He’s a patient and incredibly skilled teacher. It’s a lot of fun, and unlike the impression you get from ‘latin ballroom’ competitions, isn’t that hard, and needn’t be taken that seriously.

It’s the perfect cure for the winter blues, and the stress of worrying about this terrible world. And if I can learn (I’m the world’s most uncoordinated person), anyone can. Albert coordinates trips to Latin American countries with several affiliated studios and dance clubs across North America. If you live in the Toronto area and are interested in learning more, here’s a link to his main Toronto website.

I’ve had a passion for Latin, and especially Afro-Cuban, music most of my life, and dancing will give me a chance to learn more about this music as well. Three groups I just discovered yesterday were Los Adolescentes, DLG, and La Sonora Carruseles. Anyone else out there a fan of this kind of music, and if so which artists are your favourites?

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