Sunday, January 29, 2012

First Nation versus the machine

I have been watching the Canadian pipeline battle with keen interest.  I don’t have much in the way of hope for a good long-term outcome when it comes to the environmental issues.  The corporate oil parasites are determined to suck the marrow out of the tar sands eventually whether this one pipeline gets built or not, especially now that China is firmly attached to the teat. But I do have some hope with regard to the insurrectionary potential: the stage is set for a potent indigenous uprising if this particular project is forced through.  We could be looking at the initial flicker of a future wildfire that could eventually spread south.

The corporate media seems determined to frame the indigenous opposition to having a giant toxic enema shoved up their ancestral forests in terms of a clash of cultural interests.  It’s a case of modern progressive civilization versus a bunch of tradition-worshiping “aboriginal bands.”

Let’s be clear, this issue has nothing to do with a difference of perspective between two cultures, the “moderns” versus the “primitives,” or even the colonizers versus the aboriginals. Oil corporations are not a feature of anybody’s “culture.”  Oil corporations are grease-coated planet-killing gears in the global machine, and modern capitalist global industrial civilization is not a kind of culture.

Culture is a way of talking about the meaning-rich organizational frameworks for the thoughts, activities, and interactive relationships that develop in groups of people over time.  Civilization is not a particular kind of human culture, or some broad amalgam of cultural practices.  Calling modern industrial civilization a kind of culture because, like culture, it offers a meaning-rich organizational framework for our thoughts and activities is like calling a nuclear missile a kind of packhorse because it allows us to transport things over a distance.  And I balk at calling civilization a meta-culture for reasons that should be already apparent.  Civilization does not serve as some kind of organizing principle for the coordination of disparate cultural traditions; it destroys them, eliminates them, and reduces any residual traces to superficialities of dress, diet, or speech.  Civilization is at best a quasi-culture.  Civilization is a machine that eventually makes all culture into a hollow shell, a superfluous appendage.  Culture, true culture, is anathema to civilization.

All cultures evolve in response to the demands and opportunities of specific environments.  That is, in essence, the purpose and function of culture: to facilitate environmental adaptation.  But civilization is not just a product of cultural evolution.  Civilization is the implementation of a pervasive and infiltrating mechanical power hierarchy that seeks to replace the need for culture.  Civilization doesn’t adapt to the environment.  Civilization is a way of altering the environment, forcing the environment to change according to the whims of those at the top of the power hierarchy—for the singular purpose of supporting the continued expansion of the power hierarchy itself.

Oil pipelines are not about cultural progress.  They are about power.  And when the people finally rise up against the corporate machine, it will not be as a clash of cultures, two self-interested groups of people vying for control over resources.  It will be a revolt of the oppressed against an inhuman oppressor—a slave revolt in which the master’s arrogant and effete wife (i.e., Corporate sycophants in the government) will finally get what she deserves. 

Hold tight to your petticoat Mr. Harper.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Corpora-genic climate change

There may be a kernel of relevance to the spurious claims of those monkey-brained global warming deniers. You know who I’m talking about: those morons who claim that global warming is just natural climate variation, or that climate scientists are faking the data because of a massive socialist conspiracy to undermine consumer capitalism—those prosimian dolts who deny the anthropogenic part of anthropogenic climate change.

Maybe they are partly right.

Not about global warming being just natural variation or about the scientist conspiracy, but about their claim that the ominous and accelerating greenhouse-gas-induced temperature rise isn’t being caused by humans. At least not by biological humans.

There are seven billion of us on the planet right now. But the CO2 from the lungs of even seven hundred billion people is not sufficient to have a substantial impact on global temperatures. It’s not the mere presence of a lot of humans that is causing the problem. It’s how their behavior is being channeled. It’s what those humans are being compelled to do.   

Our individual planet-corrosive activities are being organized and directed by forces that are not within our individual power to control. We are not voluntary participants. Our participation is induced psychologically and coerced physically. The global ecological catastrophe is not being caused by me and you, Joe Smith and Zhou Wang. It is being caused by the collective actions of several billion Joe Smiths and Zhou Wangs as organized and directed by the global corporate machine. 

It’s not people, it’s Wal-Mart and Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobile and BP and China National Petroleum and Toyota Motors and Monsanto and Bank of America and Citigroup and Verizon Communications and Neslte and Siemens and Panasonic and Wells Fargo—and let’s not leave out the number one corporate greenhouse gas emitter on the planet: the US Military.

(Cue Mitt Romney: “Corporations are people my friend.”)

Anthropogenic global warming is a misnomer.  We need a different term.  Civiliza-geneic (civilization-caused) is a bit of a mouthful.  Maybe “corpora-genic” (corporation caused)?  Naw, that’s too easily confused with “copro-genic” (shit-caused). 

Then again…

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black carbon and white lies

I wonder, is the attempt to direct the focus on so-called black carbon a way to shuck some of the burden from the shoulders of large-scale corporate industry and onto the backs of the world’s poor?  It’s not a fossil-fueled global system based on industrial agriculture and the mass-production and consumption of automobiles, smart phones, and military weapons that is causing global warming. It’s those damn dung-burning Asian rice farmers.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bend over and take it up the pipeline

Carping on an article in the Ottawa [Corporate] Citizen entitled “A lot of drama for a pipeline” [jeers from Old Dog appear in brackets]:

The Northern Gateway pipeline is all about dirty oil and big money trying to destroy the environment to make a buck, some environmental and aboriginal groups say. Or maybe it's about foreign-funded environmentalists with a "radical ideological agenda" who want to cripple Canada's economy, as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver maintains.

That's sure a lot of drama for a pipeline, and what is expected to be a two-year-long approval hearing is just getting underway.

[Start by presenting the two sides as extreme positions espoused by persons with obvious agendas, and then imply that you are going to be much more level-headed: an overused rhetorical ploy.  And the title suggests that it is silly to get all up in arms about a feature of the global machine as prosaic as an oil pipeline.]

It will be the task of a three person National Energy Board panel to sift through more than 4,000 submissions looking for facts or cogent arguments regarding the proposal for a 1,172-kilometre pipeline to carry oil sands bitumen from Alberta through northern B.C. to the port of Kitimat.

The economic and financial case for the pipeline is clear.

[Throw some numbers in to establish an aura of technical authority. Then establish an economic frame for discussion while removing from consideration any question regarding the legitimacy of economic motives. Oh, and what does it mean to say that the economic and financial case is clear?  Clear for whom?  The economic and financial case for most forms of criminal theft is also clear.]

Canada has a valuable resource in the oil sands, but only if it can get that resource to markets.

[The natural world and all of its features are “resources,” neutral content to be used by those in power to enhance and extend that power.]

With the Americans leery of a new pipeline, major oil companies want a way to reach Asian customers.

[Those Americans are a skittish bunch, after all.  So why is it again that the “wants” of powerful corporations have any relevance?  Also notice the sentence did not say major “Canadian” oil companies.]

A University of Calgary report estimates the pipeline could add $131 billion to Canada's gross domestic product over 15 years. That's a lot of jobs and a lot of tax dollars.

[Two assumptions here: (1) that the transient “jobs and tax dollars” generated by the oil pipeline are somehow more relevant than the more permanent loss in “jobs and tax dollars” that will accompany irreparable destruction of forest and waterways, and (2) that an economic frame is the only relevant way of evaluating the issue in the first place.]

Many environmental and aboriginal groups say the pipeline will destroy rivers, forests, communities, and that oil spills will be inevitable. It's an emotional argument, but one with broad popular appeal.

[Any human worthy to be called a member of the species should have an emotional response to the destruction of rivers and forest communities, but it is not an emotional argument to cite the empirically-verifiable and inevitable destruction of natural systems!  The implication is that functioning natural systems are important for only aesthetic reasons and environmentalists are all a bunch of irrational soft-hearted pussies.  And about those aboriginal groups: sovereignty over ancestral lands is surely something more than just an emotional issue.]  

It will be difficult to quantify the actual risk involved.

[Only in terms of who shoulders the economic burden when the inevitable happens.  There is a plethora of hard (quantified) data about the wide-ranging environmental devastation caused by existing pipelines, but because we are limiting our discussion to economic considerations, those data don’t count.]

The pipeline company is offering every precaution to avoid a maritime spill, but one can never entirely guard against human error, and the chosen route involves navigation through difficult waters.
And pipeline leaks are always possible.

[Interesting.  The company is “offering” every precaution as if such precaution comes from the kindness of their heart.  Accidents will happen.  History shows that they are GARANTEED to happen.  But because we cannot predict them ahead of time, they cannot be factored into an economic cost-benefit analysis.]

The environmentalists have a point of view that deserves to be heard, and they will fight a good fight, but a new pipeline will be built, and it should be. The benefits to Canada's economy are too large to be trumped by risk speculation.

[There it is.  It’s a simple case of corporate money versus the environment.  Notice how the environmentalist argument has been reduced to “risk speculation,” a financial term.  Because the discussion has been framed entirely in economic rather than biological (or sociological, or psychological, or historical, or…) terms, there can be only one possible conclusion. No matter what the environmentalists say or do, the economic framing ensures they have already lost the fight.  From a global economic perspective, there is no scenario in which the corporate world loses if the pipeline is built.  If it breaks, leaks, or leads to a “maritime spill,” corporations will make money in the clean-up.]

What the NEB panel, the public and our political leaders should be focusing on is whether the Northern Gateway plan is the best. A company called Kinder Morgan already has a pipeline from Alberta to B.C. and hopes to expand it in the same corridor. Increasing its capacity could offer less risk and controversy.

[A lobotomized chimpanzee can reason better than this moron.]

Every form of oil extraction and transportation has risks, but there is a strong case for a new pipeline to the west. The pipeline's political supporters would best serve their cause by putting the risks in context, not by calling their opponents names.

[The case is strong only if you assume that the “wants” of international corporations are primary, that indigenous peoples are nonentities, that nature is composed of inert matter to be extracted and modified regardless of any potential impact on ecological systems, and that short-term economic and financial interests are the only ones that matter.  OK, so let’s put the risks in context.  But instead of a corporate-economic context, let’s use a real context, one based on the reality of the natural world rather than on the exploitation games of the global machine.  Let’s use a bear context.  Or a salmon context.  Or an authentic human context.]

Monday, January 9, 2012

Three perennial criticisms of AP

The “it’s too late now” argument 

There are two forms in which this critique typically manifests.  One form is the claim that technological innovation is an irreversible inertial process: once we have attained a given state of technological advancement, the ratchet of knowledge resets and we can’t go back to a simpler time.  The second form is the claim that we are too far into population overshoot to revert to subsistence lifestyles, and to do so would require a massive human die-off. 

The first claim is an empirical question.  And history is replete with counter-examples, including cases in which entire civilizations were abandoned as the people readopted more primitive ways of living. 

The second claim assumes that the transition away from global civilization has to be instantaneous.  It also ignores the ultimate unsustainability of our situation.  If civilization is allowed to continue, a massive human die-off is a foregone conclusion.  It’s what happens to any population that dramatically overshoots carrying capacity.  Unless we attempt an intentional transition away from global techno-culture, we’re playing Russian roulette with very few empty chambers.  Will it be (maybe) 5 or 6 billion people today or (quite likely) 12 billion people in a few decades?  And how much suffering and death will continue to occur in the interim if we do nothing?  

The “baby with the bathwater” argument

According to this line of attack, reverting to more primitive life-ways would mean abandoning clearly beneficial technology—especially medical technology. 

The erroneous inference here is that modern medical technology actually provides benefits that exceed the costs incurred by the industrial infrastructure that serves as a necessary precondition for modern medicine’s existence in the first place. 

The bathwater is rendered further baby-less by the fact that most modern medical technology is presently being applied to the treatment of diseases that are caused by the products of industrial civilization; diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, erectile dysfunction, obesity, and pandemic contagions were not well represented in the Pleistocene. 

In addition, the loss of modern medical technology (and other supposed beneficial technologies) would go entirely unnoticed by the majority of people alive today because they have little or no access to it to begin with.     

Life sucked in the Paleolithic

The third perennial criticism, a close cousin of the “baby with the bathwater” argument, is the claim that life in primitive foraging society was inferior to what we have today.  I call this the Hobbesian critique, the belief that uncivilized life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

This is perhaps the most difficult of the three common criticisms of AP to counter.  But only because it is hard to navigate the sheer ignorance it implies.  Countering this claim involves confronting the progressive delusion and plowing through a lifetime of exposure to pro-civ brainwashing and corporate propaganda, and perhaps educating the person about some basic facts of life in existing foraging cultures. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Victim etiquette

A question for Miss Manners

If someone stabs me with a knife, and then offers to help stop the bleeding, should I thank him for the bandage?

A primitivist friend of mine has been diagnosed with cancer.  Someone suggested that his choice to enlist the tools of modern medical science to combat the disease means that he is not really as anti-civ as he claims.  Chemotherapy is, after all, a product of civilization.  He should be thankful that he is living within the protective embrace of industrial technology.  

Sure.  But it was the toxic residue of industrial technology that made him sick in the first place.  Although cancer has probably always been a part of the human condition, the carcinogenic effects of civilization’s detritus are well documented.  The odds are extremely high that my friend’s disease is as much a product of civilization as the chemo he will use to fight it. 

I say take the bandage with a smile.

Then turn the knife around.