Monday, June 28, 2010

Civilization is not a genetic disease

Mother culture provides several cleverly crafted ways of deflecting questions directed at the validity of her narratives.  Deep questioning of the status quo is a form of insanity.  Those who would question the legitimacy of civilization are clearly in need of psychiatric attention.  Those who would write a blog echoing the suggestion that we need to end civilization intentionally before it crashes on top of us are insane but harmless: the caricature of the lunatic marching in the street with the sign reading “the end is near.”  It’s important that anyone who suggests dismantling the status quo is made to appear crazy and at the same time irrelevant.  Any attempts to engage in rational discourse with civilization’s apologists are met with knee-jerk retorts that assume the form of rational rejoinder: “We need civilization” or “Civilization does more good than harm.”  And from those who acknowledge that civilization has generated some serious problems, we often hear variations on: “With the right changes, we can make the system work” or “Our technology will eventually solve our problems.” Lurking behind all of these is the assumption that civilization is part of what it means to be human, that it is inevitable and thus the problems it creates are unavoidable.

Civilization is not coded in our DNA!   

The fact that industrial civilization exists means that it is compatible with our evolved capacities (at least in the short term); but compatible does not mean inevitable.  Civilization depends on our evolved mnemonic and linguistic faculties and our ability to represent the world symbolically, along with our willingness to engage an artificial world of abstract reified entities.  But that does not make civilization obligatory any more than Nike corporation is a natural outgrowth of bipedal locomotion. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Avoiding Today's Pain, We Ensure Tomorrow's Agony

“It is too late to stop now.  Industrial civilization has developed gargantuan inertia.  Change is painful; the average person will not be willing to accept the pain.  The average person will fight to the death to keep their corporate shackles firmly in place.”

It is true that dismantling civilization is going to be inconceivably painful.  There is no way around that.  It will involve a magnitude of change beyond that of the most devastating natural disaster.  It will involve a disruption in the predictability of daily life currently experienced only by people living in active war zones.  As I write this, the media are reporting on the displaced fishermen and others in the Gulf of Mexico, struggling to come to grips with the loss of their livelihood as oil continues to gush from the ocean floor.  For many of them, the mere loss of connection with industrial civilization, the loss of their role, their place in the gears of the machine, their ability to continue to consume, is devastating to the point of suicide.   Imagine what will happen when civilization itself dissolves.

Wars, natural disasters—or greedy-oil-company-generated disasters, as the case may be—however, are not good models for what will happen as civilization starts to disintegrate.  First, regardless of the magnitude of suffering, wars, earthquakes, and oil spills remain local disturbances.  The global corporate infrastructure is unaffected by localized human or environmental tragedy.  Second, their impact beyond the very short term is largely restricted to the poor and powerless.  This is clearly evident in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and in the wake of hurricane Katrina.  Then there is Somalia and Afghanistan and [insert your impoverished war torn nation of choice here], where the daily loss of human life is not granted even the courtesy of a dismissive shrug in the west.  Also, despite their long lasting impact on the local people and environment, they are nonetheless seen as temporary, ephemeral catastrophes that evaporate into the dark mists of memory after a few news cycles.

The disintegration of industrial civilization will not have a limited local or temporal impact.  And, not only will it not be restricted to the poor and powerless, it will erase entirely the distinction between rich and poor, powerful and powerless.  It will not be the kind of change that leaves any residual hope (or, eventually, desire) for a return to what industrial civilization calls normality.  

To say that dismantling civilization will be painful doesn’t even begin to cover it.  That people will resist is only human nature.  That some will be willing to die fighting for the right to continue live a dehumanizing existence is also human nature—how many slaves have willingly forfeited their lives in service of their masters over the centuries?


When it comes to pain, maybe we have three choices.  We can rip the bandage off as quickly as possible, and endure the intense but transient sting.  Or we can slowly peal it off, stretching the pain out, slicing it into small but manageable pieces.  Or we can let the wound remain under the bandage, festering and septic from lack of exposure to the healing air, until we lose the limb to gangrene. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bomb Your Local Walmart

There is no chance of winning the fight against the corporate machine by playing by the rules because the game itself is designed to assert the interests of corporations over those of human beings. 

Suppose, for example, that you wanted to remove an existing Walmart from your local neighborhood.  Walmarts are extremely difficult pests to exterminate once they have become established.  Because they are so effective at displacing their competition, they quickly become the only neighborhood source of many “essential” consumer products.  They also (marginally) employ a number of local people, which feeds the illusion that they are good for the local economy—despite the fact that the lion’s share of their take is siphoned away from the local economy and exported out of state, and the fact that their displaced competition represented more and better-paying local jobs.  Needless to say, you are not going to remove Walmart by circulating petitions and attending city counsel meetings.

Walmart is clearly not in your best interest—both as an individual human and as a public citizen.  But Walmart is a corporation, and is thus protected as a rightful being by the entire weight of the US legal system and the entire might of US law enforcement, and so unless you are a billionaire you have very little power that you can wield—if you play by the rules.

We need another term.  It’s not terrorism if the target of your violence is incapable of experiencing the human emotion of fear.  It’s not terrorism if you are trying to eliminate something that is itself a source of planet-wide terror.  Emancipationism?  Freedomism? 


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Old Dog Don Quixote

There is a large wind farm going up a few miles down the road from where I live.  The windmills are massive steel structures, perhaps 165 tons each.  And they are transported in large pieces that take up two lanes of highway.  When the farm is completed, there will be literally hundreds of them.  In addition, there is an extensive network of towers being erected to transport the power—hundreds of steel towers and uncountable miles of wire. 

It’s my understanding that steel is fairly energy-intensive to produce.

One web site reports that it costs 30,000 a year to maintain a single windmill, and that they have about a 20-25 year lifespan.  In addition to the energy necessary for maintenance (cost and energy are not equivalent), how much energy does it take to produce the steel, and fabricate, transport, and assemble the parts?  And the wire?  And the towers?  I assume the towers and wire have a finite lifespan as well.

Will a windmill be able to provide enough energy over its lifespan to produce its replacement?  Or will its replacement also be manufactured in coal powered steel mills and transported by diesel powered trucks and assembled with diesel powered cranes (the cranes and trucks also manufactured in coal powered plants)?  

Are wind farms (and solar farms and etc.) a real solution to any of our energy problems?  Or are they just another way of accelerating the rate at which the industrial machine is consuming the planet?  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Big Brother on the Road

OnStar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors, Inc., is billed as an innovative vehicle safety and security system.  It consists of an onboard computer GPS system networked into the car’s systems and equipped with the ability to transmit and receive data.  It can automatically call for help when you have an accident.  It can even make hotel reservations and check your email for you.  If your car is stolen, the system allows the police to pinpoint the location of your car and engage an ignition block preventing the car from starting until they get to the scene.

Interesting.  And this is supposed to make me feel safe.

The OnStar system is (theoretically) capable of providing a permanent record of all the places you have driven your car, the routes you took along with the specific dates and times, should anyone be interested in that information.  But I’m sure no one would ever be interested in that information.  I’m sure that as long as you don’t do or say anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. 

But wait.  Suppose your car isn’t stolen.  Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that you are an activist protesting the corporate status quo, and that someone in a position of power has taken issue with your protestations to the point that they want to have you silenced.  You sense that it is time for you to lay low for awhile, so you get in your car to drive to your sister’s place to hide out for a few weeks.  But for some reason, your car won’t start…