Friday, July 14, 2017

What , me worry?

Why is nobody worried? This is the enigma inside a conundrum, the thing historians will one day truly puzzle over. Why did they all just sit there as if nothing was wrong? How was such mass denial possible?

There is the obvious psycho-social pathology that accompanies every instance of collective cultural denial; the disavowal, the ideology, the sublimated and repressed trauma. There is the pervasive anti-intellectualism and religiosity, the supremely confident paranoids with their fantastic meta-conspiracies, and then there is the post post-modern cynicism and nihilism that sees mass extinction as another cartoon or reality tv show. So there is that...

But there is also the tragic failure of The Movement to communicate in a coherent fashion. When Trump says he might or might not re-consider pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, as if he were having trouble deciding which sandwich to order (The reuben would be OK but if I had the meatballs, that would be ok too), it probably reflects their own general ambivalence- it might even sound rational and "balanced"! This is because Movement messaging has been ambivalent, vague, and has too often lost relevance in an attempt to achieve "balance" (not too alarmist, not too casual).

But here's the deal: If you call 911 to report your house on fire, you can't ask the firemen to stop off at the convenience store for a pack of smokes. And expect to be taken seriously. This is the messaging failure of the Movement; they want us to "Do the Math" and understand the unfolding crisis, or catastrophe, or emergency but then they ask us to sign a petition of march holding a sign. Your children's lives are threatened, mass extinction and civilization collapse loom... so you should write a letter to the editor and go to a public utilities commission meeting. The disconnect is not just confusing, it is self-defeating.

This was the problem with the Standing Rock slogan Water Is Life. And all the concern with sovereignty and treaty rights. Or making dust coming off coal trains a big issue. For those trying to get a grip on the actual severity of the crisis this is a signal not to get too worried. We can deal with coal dust, we can deal with Native rights, there are plenty of processes in place, no big emergency. Messaging needs to be consistent and plenty alarming. People need clarity around the scope and scale of the crisis. Honest, clear, consistent messaging.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Another Bill

Every so often we watch Bill Maher do his liberal rants and last night he was all set to confront a Senator from Nebraska who supports Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Accord. So this slick, handsome Harvard grad Senator starts in on a "cost-benefit" analysis, saying we won't get enough cooling for all the lost economic growth. And Maher buys right into the argument, claiming green growth is the next great stage of capitalism and the smart money should get on board.

This was exactly Naomi Klein's point when she wrote : "the Right is right". These conservatives understand that keeping us below 3C degrees of warming means the end of GDP growth. It's the deluded liberals who insist renewable energy and "retrofitting" can keep it all humming along as usual. Maher should instead have agreed with the corporate lackey that there was not enough force in the agreement to really make the changes we need. He should have insisted the Accord be strengthened and fuck the "cost"; what is the "cost" of sea level rise? How many US jobs do we trade for the coral reefs or endangered species or civilizational break-down? Do you want to attach a dollar figure to our children's future?

Neoliberalism has reduced every human interaction to a "cost-benefit" calculation.It is, to quote Wendy Brown from her book Undoing the Demos, "the undermining of democracy through the normative economization of political life and usurpation of homo politicus by homo economicus." Unfortunately, liberals are just as complicit in this project as conservatives, they just believe, wrongly, despite all the mountains of evidence, that we can have "capitalism with a human face".

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

More Bill

If he would stop feeding me these easy lines, I would find someone else to pick on. This time, in an interview on Democracy Now, Bill said: "...weekends are for fighting tyranny." Which is the essential liberal-activist slogan. And sort of how it felt here in Missoula Mt.during Saturday's People's Climate March. For a nice walk with nice people on a nice day we get a crowd of 700. But try to stop a coal train using direct action and you can expect 40, with maybe 5 willing to risk arrest. And again, all around the country, march, listen to speeches, go home. At some point all these expressions of outrage just meld into one another, into an amorphous blob of outrage. A very "dull tool" to use one of Mc Kibben's expressions.

NPR contributes to this dullness with it's special brand of "neutral, objective" climate journalism. A perfect example was the piece they did on "clean coal", or the state of carbon capture and sequestration on Monday's Morning Edition. They report that "two groups usually at odds with one another- environmentalists and coal companies- want carbon capture to succeed." Enter the "environmentalists"- Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, etc..- whose prime mission is saving capitalism from itself. They want us- the tax payers- to fund more research into CCS so coal can make a profit (the industry has already conned the government out of billions for such research, something NPR fails to mention). Also not mentioned is the fact the research to date has only confirmed the absurdity of this project. Magical thinking. But NPR loves the whole working-together-consensus-saves capitalism AND the environment narrative.

Unfortunately,the goals set in the Paris Accords of keeping warming below 2 degrees C are dependent on lots of this magic. Lots of CCS is built into their models because they have no expectation of actually cutting emissions fast enough. Of course this means millions of lives will be deliberately sacrificed for our economy and "jobs" but they will be buried far away. And we will have a wall to keep them out. And entertainment to keep them out of mind.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sorry Bill

Bill Mc Kibben is a dedicated, caring activist thrust into a role he probably would never have chosen so I always feel a twinge of guilt when criticizing him. But with that role comes a giant responsibility and certain crucial choices. (different from the meaningless consumption choices of my last post). As a recognized leader/spokesperson of the climate movement (such as it is), his choice of words, his analysis and proposals have tremendous weight and if he can't take the heat he should get out of the kitchen. He himself acknowledges that shit is getting serious. As Dylan put it: "let us not speak falsely now- the hour's getting late".

Bill published End of Nature in 1989 and started speaking to groups about climate change, even showing up here in Hamilton Mt in 2007. For 28 years he has been explaining the issue and proposing solutions without ever mentioning, or certainly never questioning the ideology of "democratic capitalism". In his latest piece urging people to go to the March on Washington, he uses a cryptic euphemism for our global system of production and exchange. He writes: these marches are "about the machine that has been driving the planet in a dangerous direction for decades, a machine that spans parties, ideologies and continents."

A "machine". An impersonal, mechanical force. This tells us less than nothing, and other than "rage against the machine", gives us nothing to direct our collective force at. Which helps explain why in 28 years the problem has only grown worse. In this article he identifies Trump as "the enemy" and in the past he has identified "the fossil fuel industry" as the enemy, easy enough targets in that simplistic, Hollywood "good guy/ bad guy" sort of way, but actually just smoke and mirrors, like the "greedy Wall Street banksters" or Bill O' Reilly.

He goes on to say the marches are also about a "hope" and a "vision" but who will articulate that vision and through what process was it determined? He says "the week of rallying is the logical extension of the climate justice movement" and that "all the battles currently under way will be on full display as we march...for solar panels,solar panels and more solar panels." Same as its ever been...through Clinton, Bush, Obama ad nauseum. I'm sure there will be plenty of indigenous leaders telling the gathering that NO DAPL carries on. There will be progressive Democrats urging folks to register and vote, even a "candidate training". Write your Congressperson, sign the petition, join the Resistance and Our Revolution, Indivisible, or Rise UP. They will talk about all the jobs and GDP growth we can expect from a greener, kinder gentler capitalism. Hope and Vision.

Even as he goes on in the article to admit that "the fight about the money and mostly lost." Perhaps because "the movement leaders" never had the courage to dig below the superficial layers of "money and power"? (Naomi Klein excepted) Bill confronts the elephant in the room by asking if "marches really matter?" since "Trump holds all the levers of power right now". Which is another simplistic misreading but even if it were true, wouldn't that put to question your plan to "train candidates" for a democracy that is essentially hollowed out?

Towards the end of the piece Bill starts to get real and one senses his frustration and even awareness that he has been flailing, seeing hope instead of the con. He condemns both Obama and Hillary who "followed a script, which was to express alarm but take small steps, a script which has slow-walked us to the edge of hell... winning slowly is the same as losing." Now he wants "action which is actually commensurate with the problem." But you have to first identify the problem to know how to confront it. Klein said the problem isn't carbon, it's capitalism. When will Bill get the message? And the courage to speak it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fewer Choices, Please!

Capitalism's brainwashed sycophants never tire of explaining how to really be free, you need endless choices. For example, to have quality healthcare, you need hundreds of insurance plans to choose from. Or the latest scam, to undo Dodd-Frank they are calling it the CHOICE Act (Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors and Entrepreneurs) (no really) which will allow you to choose between an endless range of financial advisors, from those with a smattering of ethics to those totally devoid of any ethics. Don't you feel more free already?

This is the Gospel according to WalMart; as consumers (that is what your species-being is reduced to) you are at your "freest" when confronting aisle after warehouse aisle of product choices. True emancipation, the purest liberty, is infinite consumption choices. It is what the Founding Fathers started a revolution for and what our soldiers have fought and died for through endless wars.

Reverence for this gospel transcends both the trivial boundaries of political party and less trivial ones of race and class. It is ubiquitous amongst our fellow homo economicus.But my argument here is that too many choices are just as oppressive as too few and that what is obscured is the market ideology and "political rationality" contained in freedom of choice. What I want is to spend less of my time having to choose. Shopping, that is comparing price and quality, eats into my precious leisure time making me less free. It imposes its obligation constantly and the truth of the matter is, you don't know the worth or value of what you are trading your labour power for. You can spend a week of your life researching every health insurance plan on earth and still end up with shit because the insurance market for health is shit.

Spend a week of your life researching the ethical standards of financial consultants and you will still be investing/risking your life's energy in someone's unsustainable debt to make some gambler rich and probably degrade the planet. Which you are free to do, just not really free.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Black Lives Matter

But white people's money matters more. I just returned from Portland, a progressive bastion if ever there was one, and Black Lives Matter signs are seen in the windows of homes and businesses everywhere you go. It's a fine sentiment but the harsh reality is that despite the "raised awareness", real estate prices have gone mad, hipsters are taking over traditionally black neighborhoods and resentment is on the rise. Gentrification is the mirror image of the white flight and urban decay seen in rust-belt cities by-passed by the tech boom and gig economy.

The irony is that those who support diversity and multiculturalism and even affirmative action are inadvertently undermining all of those values as they flock to hip enclaves and bring their uber-bougie tastes and fat paychecks (or trust funds or whatever) with them. The Alberta Street hip strip boasts high-end pet massage, chic "organic" boutiques, bike shops and line-out-the-door French eatries but it is almost all white. Mixed in are the Weird Portland emblems like avant garde movie houses and artist collectives. The black hair salons, quick loans and soul food joints have moved 8 blocks north and the Mexican grocery has been bought out. There were lots of "help wanted" signs in windows but making ends meet as a waitress or clerk ain't easy. Nothing weird about that.

Things are a little tense at ML King Elementary, where my grand kids go to school. But money talks and the Market decides who lives where. MLK knew there was more than one way to segregate people, more than one Jim Crow.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


The new rallying cry for lifestyle anarchists is "Antifa" , as in anti-fascist, where they can get their bad-ass militancy on and lots of media attention, and if lucky, a few proud scars. If they hear some alt-right speaker like Milo whats his name or supposed-racist like Charles Murray ( has any of them, has any body at all, actually read The Bell Curve?) has been invited to a campus to speak or are organizing a march somewhere, the Antifa gets to break out their black hoodies and skinny jeans and bandannas and confront them. Crank up the Stones' Street Fighting Man and form a "bloc" to prevent people from exercising their right to free speech. Brilliant.

Yes we are powerless in today's world and yes it sucks but these theatrical displays of knucklehead machismo play perfectly into the hands of the right-wing, and besides, wasn't it the radical labor movement that led the struggle for free speech in the first place? If they really think they are on the front lines of preventing the next Franco or Mussolini, they have been watching too much television and not reading near enough history. I just hope they aren't chanting : this is what democracy looks like! C'mon people...words/speech are not the problem.

which brings me to the upcoming protests: Earth Day and May Day. I am an environmentalist and I labor but I am obviously struggling with the movements that are supposed to be struggling for change. One thing Micah White has correct is that these one-off marches have become tragically boring and useless. Old leftists going into the attic to dig around for the old signs with the old slogans. I want to show solidarity but I want to see some recognition that, like the antifa crowd, they need to sit down and do some re-thinking.