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.



July 8, 2011

Links for the Month: July 7, 2011

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization's End — Dave Pollard @ 21:59


Aftermath of the recent Missouri tornados

The political and economic fabric of our society continues to unravel, slowly and (usually) quietly. Much of the news of any enduring significance is about unsustainable behaviour run amok: more bailouts and subsidies for rogue megacorporations, the Ponzi scheme of investment in inevitably worthless commodities, securities and properties, the incurring of ever-more unrepayable debts, China’s plan to stave off massive drought and desertification with a water diversion scheme that dwarfs even the Tar Sands in recklessness, cost and ecological devastation, the slow collapse of centralized education, health  and social security systems.

There seem to be some signs that the weary acceptance and self-blame for the ills of our time among citizens has peaked and is beginning to wane, at least here in North America. Most workers have become accustomed to working ever harder for less income and benefits, to being lied to by corporations, media and governments, to getting less and worse service and shoddier products. They have already given up on governments as worth supporting, and are starting to catch on to the worthlessness, rapacity and amorality of corporations despite being subjected to a half-century of relentless pro-corporatist propaganda. As the gap between ultra-rich and everyone-else soars, there seems to be a growing anger in the land.

Particularly among the young, there also seems to be a growing anomie, a giving up on hope for a bright future, on having any control or influence on what happens in the world, a cynicism and thrill-seeking and who-gives-a-fuck resignation. This neo-survivalism has been prevalent in much of the world for decades, especially in struggling nations with relatively high literacy rates (notably Eastern Europe and Latin America). As we begin the Fourth Turning, however, this appears to be becoming a more global, trans-racial, trans-cultural phenomenon. Generation Next is more social and less individualistic than recent generations, which historically has meant a rise in class struggles, tribalism and vulnerability to charismatic (often psychopathic) leaders.

It may be that as our physical climate is becoming more turbulent, so too will our global political climate.

So: Question of the Month: Many national governments are now so bankrupt that their default seems inevitable, while at the same time we are seeing the rise of right-wing parties prepared to simply abandon publicly-funded health, education and social services, and also a growing multi-partisan loathing for endless futile wars. If national governments are no longer wanted (or able) to provide a social security net, or needed as war machines, what good are they? Might we soon see Soviet-style “peaceful collapse” of large federal governments (the breakup of the EC, and perhaps even the US)? What would worldwide Balkanization and tribalization mean for globalization, for peace vs war, for the UN, and for our civilization?

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END

Guerrilla dissent: Vera Bradova calls for a kind of revolution by walking quietly away from industrial civilization. “The job of guerrilla dissenters is not to resist the Leviathan, but to stop feeding it. Our job is not to resist the Powers That Be, but rather to grow another kind of power and another way of life. Because both will be vigorously undermined if done visibly and loudly, guerrilla tactics are called for. It’s as clear-cut as that.”

Bringing Down the Gangster Banks: Ilargi warns us that unless we stop the banks soon, they will squeeze the rest of the economy dry:

The core of the problem here is this: If you believe that we are witnessing a financial crisis, or you’re even still convinced this crisis is over or soon will be, you’re missing the point entirely. As I’ve said for years now, this is not a financial crisis, it’s a political one. And until and unless we solve that political crisis, the financial crisis that is part of it can, will and must, of necessity, only deepen. And at the end of it we will all be left with nothing at all. No shelter or clothes to keep our children warm, and no food to feed them.

The crisis can or may be labeled ‘financial’ in that it expresses itself in ever more dire economic terms. But that’s not where it started, nor is it where the core resides. The core lies in the fact that our economic systems have been hijacked by privately owned financial institutions. Any and all economic activities, whether it’s at an individual, small business or government level, depends 100% on the willingness of private banks to lend into existence the debt that is needed to finance said activities.

The Russian Canary: Time profiles an area of Russia that is literally falling apart, a victim of extreme poverty, unemployment, epidemic alcoholism and drug abuse, and hopelessness. It is becoming uncivilized, and the rest of the country, and the world, may not be so far behind.

“North China is Dying”: The world’s most populous nation is out of water, and it’s trying to stave off collapse by diverting trillions of gallons of water from the south, itself suffering from unprecedented drought. If they can do it, which is dubious, it will buy the world’s largest economy a few more years. And then, endgame.

Peak Debt: Chris Martensen explains how the economy depends on ever-accelerating borrowing, and how current global debt levels, at 5 times annual GDP and many more times annual income, have necessarily peaked. Here’s an excerpt from part 1 (annoyingly, you have to pay for part 2):

Debt-based money systems operate best when they can grow exponentially forever. Of course, nothing can, which means that even without natural limits, such systems are prone to increasingly chaotic behavior, until the money that undergirds them collapses into utter worthlessness, allowing the cycle to begin anew. All economic depressions share the same root cause. Too much credit that does not lead to enhanced future cash flows is extended.  In other words, this means lending without regard for the ability of the loan to repay both the principal and interest from enhanced production; money is loaned for consumption, and poor investment decisions are made. Eventually gravity takes over, debts are defaulted upon, no more borrowers can be found, and the system is rather painfully scrubbed clean… On a pure debt, deficit, and liability basis, the US, much of Europe, and Japan are all well past the point of no return.

Houses of Cards: As US house prices teeter on the edge of another collapse, Americans are abandoning the desire to own their homes. For most Americans, even with interest rates near zero, renting is now a much better option than buying (use the calculator to see if that’s true for your home). And now Canadians are following the US example, borrowing more and more against their homes right before the fall.

LIVING BETTER: THE UNSCHOOLING EDITION

Teachers as Mentors, Working For Students: Salman Khan “calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do “homework” in the classroom with the teacher available to help”. This is a small step towards the shift from teaching to mentoring, and eventually, unschooling. Thanks to Tom Atlee for the link.

US Undergrad Education Hits Rock Bottom: The NYT explains why undergraduate teaching in the US is now essentially worthless — it has become an expensive day-care program for unemployable youths.

It Takes That Long to Break a Child’s Will: From Derrick Jensen (thanks to PS Pirro for the quote): “Even when I was young it seemed to me that most classroom material could be presented and assimilated in four, maybe five, years… I’ve since come to understand the reason school lasts thirteen years.  It takes that long to sufficiently break a child’s will.  It is not easy to disconnect children’s wills, to disconnect them from their own experiences of the world in preparation for the lives of painful employment they will have to endure.  Less time wouldn’t do it, and in fact, those who are especially slow go to college.  For the exceedingly obstinate child there is graduate school.”

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

Professional Climate Sceptic Willie Soon Funded By Big Oil: Soon received $1M from Exxon, Koch Brothers and the API to wage a war of misinformation on climate change.

Canada to Privatize Nuclear Reactor Business AECL: But the debts, ongoing research and financial guarantee costs will be paid for in perpetuity by — guess — the Canadian taxpayers. Another Harper give-away to his corporate buddies.

Bush/Obama War Secretary Robert M. Gates Weary of ‘Wars of Choice': Having presided over the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan wars under two opposing presidents, the leading war-monger, now about to write a book, says he thinks that wars that are not in response to a direct attack are, perhaps, usually a mistake. Duh. Three trillion dollars and thousands of lives too late.

THE WAR ON “ANARCHISTS”

Anarchism is the belief that the world would be better without large centralized authority. Per the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “In broad terms, anarchism is the rejection of coercion and domination in all forms, including that of the priests and the plutocrats…. The anarchist…abominates all forms of authoritarianism, and is the enemy of parasitism, exploitation, and oppression.” Anarchists believe the best form of governance is by non-hierarchical, self-selected, self-regulating small communities. But the media continue to spout the corporatist propaganda and lies of right-wing governments and enforcement agencies, asserting that somehow anarchists are terrorists and believers in violence.

So it is not surprising that a self-styled anarchist would be relentlessly harassed and persecuted for years by Obama’s ever-more powerful police state. Obama’s intrusion into the lives of anyone who dares to dissent from American political orthodoxy is even worse than Bush’s. These two presidents have, through the Patriot Act, quietly dismantled the US Bill of Rights (thanks to Raffi Aftandelian for this link).

In Canada, we witnessed last year a colossally expensive orchestrated event at the G20 meeting in Toronto: Undercover cops dressed up in masks and black hoods and trashed stores and cars and then disappeared as the “official” police stood idly by, watching, with no confrontation and no arrests. Shortly thereafter, the cops, many of them imported from the US, waded into quiet protest demonstrations and beat and arrested thousands of innocent people. The victims were labelled “anarchists” and the staged damages and massive arrests were used to vindicate the staggering cost of policing the corporatist G20 event and the thuggery of the police. A year later, despite mountains of damning evidence, no police have been charged for this fraud.

Not surprising then, that when violence broke out after the hockey playoffs in Vancouver last month, the riots were called premeditated and blamed by police on “organized anarchists”. The truth is much more complex, and hard to find, as the mainstream media, as always, only reported what the police and governments told them. If you’re interested, here are a few links that suggest what really happened: Not a staged event this time, but not “anarchists” either:

The sad, painful truth about the Vancouver rioters’ true identities
Embarrassing (Posthegemony blog)
Aftermath of “Canucks Riot” (Vancouver Media Co-op)
Understanding Vancouver’s ‘Hockey Riot’ (The Nation)

FUN AND INSPIRATION

Photographer “Blamethemonkey” explains how post-processing can turn a mediocre photo, left (this one of Belem Tower, Portugal, at sunrise) into an award-winning one (right). See more or learn how he did it.

Journal Peer Review: A Worthless Waste of Time and Money: A recent meta-research study (ironically, a peer-reviewed one) concludes that peer review of scientific journals produces no improvement in quality, stifles controversy and innovation, wastes time and costs a prohibitive amount. With the Internet, the authors say, such review is obsolete; better to publish everything and let post-publication peer review separate the good from the bad. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Coal Cares: A hilarious takeoff on greenwashing by the coal industry.

How we came to misunderstand dogs: A refreshing new book shows that “showing the dog you’re the alpha” is a mean and ludicrous strategy for getting along with companion animals. Bravo for love and positive reinforcement!

Apple cloud vs. Google cloud: The philosophical differences: An important report in TechRepublic explains that Apple wants the Web to operate like nature (effective, redundant, inefficient, with sync’d copies of stuff in several places) while Google wants it to run like a machine (efficient, dependent on everyone being online always, and hence fragile and in the long run less effective). Google needs to understand that always-on high-speed Internet isn’t available to everyone, and isn’t wanted by many. Apple has it right, this time.

Mac vs PC: A Psychographic Profile: An entertaining study of the preferences and personalities of self-identified “Mac” versus “PC” people.

The Eaglets of Hornby Island – Eagle Cam: It’s the time of year to look in on the little ones (they’re about 6 weeks old) again.

Werewolf: A Mind Game: Rules for an intriguing collaborative/competitive “party” game of group psychology (an evening’s fun for groups of 7-20). Thanks to Geoff Brown for the link.

Love’s a Game: My newest favourite song by the British group The Magic Numbers. Great composition, guitar work and harmonies. Reminds me a bit of the Stones’ great hit Almost Hear You Sigh.

THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

Sipress Amazing Race

Cartoon by David Sipress in The New Yorker

From Dear Sugar, the amazing advice columnist for Rumpus magazine, on deciding whether or not to start a family (the advice works as well for any momentous decision you face) Thanks to Tree for the link:

What don’t you know? Make a list. Write down everything you don’t know about your future life—which is everything, of course—but use your imagination. What are the thoughts and images that come to mind when you picture yourself at twice the age you are now? What springs forth if you imagine the 82 year-old self who opted to “keep enjoying the same life” and what when you picture the 82 year-old self with a thirty-nine year old son or daughter? Write down “same life” and “son or daughter” and underneath each make another list of the things you think those experiences would give to and take from you and then ponder which entries on your list might cancel each other out. Would the temporary loss of a considerable portion your personal freedom in middle age be significantly neutralized by the experience of loving someone more powerfully than you ever have? Would the achy uncertainty of never having been anyone’s father be defused by the glorious reality that you got to live your life relatively unconstrained by the needs of another? What is a good life? Write “good life” and list everything that you associate with a good life then rank them in order of importance. Have the most meaningful things in your life come to you as a result of ease or struggle? What scares you about sacrifice? What scares you about not sacrificing?

So there you are on the floor, your gigantic white piece of paper with things written all over it like a ship’s sail, and maybe you don’t have clarity still, maybe you don’t know what to do, but you feel something, don’t you? The sketches of your real life and your sister life are right there before you and you get to decide what to do. One is the life you’ll have, the other is the one you won’t. Switch them around in your head and see how it feels. Which affects you on a visceral level? Which won’t let you go? Which is ruled by fear? Which is ruled by desire? Which makes you want to close your eyes and jump and which makes you want to turn and run?

From me, a thought that came to me today (in the bath — hot water is wonderful for stimulating the mind and imagination):

Corporations treat citizens (“customers”) exactly the way circus owners treat “their” “wild” animals – as beasts to be trained to obey.

From Derrick Jensen et al. in their new book Deep Green Resistance:

This is the moment when you will have to decide. Do you want to be part of a serious effort to save this planet? Not a serious effort at collective delusion, not a serious effort to feel better, not a serious effort to save you and yours. But an actual strategy to stop the destruction of everything worth loving. If your answer feels as imperative as instinct, then you already know it’s long past time to fight. After that, the only question left is: how? And despite everything you’ve been told by the Eichmanns of despair, that question has an answer. They have insisted that there is no answer, but that’s the lie of cowards. Every system of power can be fought—they’re only human in the end, not supernatural, not sent by god. Industrial civilization is in fact more vulnerable than past empires, dependent as it is on such a fragile infrastructure of pipelines and overhead wires, on binary bits of data encoding its lifeblood of capital. If we would let ourselves think it, a workable strategy is obvious, and in fact is not very different from the actions of partisan resisters across history.

So, will you think it—that one word: resistance? Will you notice that they’ve come for our kin of polar bears and black terns, who are right now being herded into the cattle cars of industrial civilization? Will you join the others who are yearning to action? The train can be derailed, the tracks ripped up, the bridge blown down. There is no metaphor here, as any General Officer could tell us. There is a planet being murdered, and there are also targets that, if taken out relentlessly, could stop it. So think “resistance” with all your aching heart, a word that must become our promise to what is left of this planet. Gather the others: you already know them. The brave, smart, militant, and, most of all, serious, and together take aim. Do it carefully, but do it.

Then fire for all your worth.

From Jonathan Franzen’s recent brilliant, lovely commencement speech (read it all!):

Finally, in the mid-1990s, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about the environment. There was nothing meaningful that I personally could do to save the planet, and I wanted to get on with devoting myself to the things I loved. I still tried to keep my carbon footprint small, but that was as far as I could go without falling back into rage and despair.

BUT then a funny thing happened to me. It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it’s very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool. But little by little, in spite of myself, I developed this passion, and although one-half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love.

And so, yes, I kept a meticulous list of the birds I’d seen, and, yes, I went to inordinate lengths to see new species. But, no less important, whenever I looked at a bird, any bird, even a pigeon or a robin, I could feel my heart overflow with love. And love, as I’ve been trying to say today, is where our troubles begin.

Because now, not merely liking nature but loving a specific and vital part of it, I had no choice but to start worrying about the environment again. The news on that front was no better than when I’d decided to quit worrying about it — was considerably worse, in fact — but now those threatened forests and wetlands and oceans weren’t just pretty scenes for me to enjoy. They were the home of animals I loved.

And here’s where a curious paradox emerged. My anger and pain and despair about the planet were only increased by my concern for wild birds, and yet, as I began to get involved in bird conservation and learned more about the many threats that birds face, it became easier, not harder, to live with my anger and despair and pain.

How does this happen? I think, for one thing, that my love of birds became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed. Instead of continuing to drift forward through my life as a global citizen, liking and disliking and withholding my commitment for some later date, I was forced to confront a self that I had to either straight-up accept or flat-out reject.

Which is what love will do to a person. Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

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