Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ecorealism Part III: Concluding Thoughts

From the front page of the Washington Post, on the question of whether global warming will cause nature to pass beyond a tipping point. Unfortunately now the PR campaign has picked up on the pop-culture notion of the Tipping Point.

Note the rampant conditionality and hyping of these two paragraphs (in bold)

"This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the
United States and abroad, because the answer could determine how drastically countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. While scientists remain uncertain when such a point might occur, many say it is urgent that policymakers cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half over the next 50 years or risk the triggering of changes that would be irreversible.

There are three specific events that these scientists describe as especially worrisome and potentially imminent, although the time frames are a matter of dispute: widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe."

Now its true that I've own selected two pagraphs and this is American newspaper and not a peer-reviewed scientific magazine (like Nature or National Geographic). Still it is instructive I think on the framing of the issue for public consumption and outlook. No evidence cited to support the claims.

Other potential problems: the melting of the Greeland and/or West Antartic ice sheets. Scroll down further in the paragraph and quote: "While both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets as a whole are gaining some mass in their cold interiors because of increasing snowfall, they are losing ice along their peripheries. That indicates that scientists may have underestimated the rate of disintegration they face in the future, Oppenheimer said. Greenland's current net ice loss is equivalent to an annual 0.008 inch sea level rise.
The effects of the collapse of either ice sheet would be "huge," Oppenheimer said. "Once you lost one of these ice sheets, there's really no putting it back for thousands of years, if ever

So the ice sheets are in fact gaining ice in some parts and losing it in others. And again, note the very non-conextualized reference to "putting them back" (that is if they collapse, IF) for "a thousand years, if ever."

And that leads to the topic I want to discuss and conclude my series of posts on this subject: complexity, biocentrism, and the modernist assumptions (and metaphysics) of the environmental movement.

In short I'll be articulating due to the analysis of Alston Chase from In A Dark Wood (sobering read) on the development of environmental thought, legislation, and policy recommendations. His analysis shows that environmentalism that continues to this day to be stuck in patterns of thinking (a worldview) predicated on science of the 1950s and 1960s. As the majority of the scientists and environmental thinkers today are products of that time period and were awakened by seminal works such as Silent Spirng by Rachel Carson (Al Gore officially credits her as opening his mind to the issue), it is not surprising that this is the case.

First, a bit of techincal background. In integral thought, it is said, that an injunction (a practice, experiment, procedure) undertaken highlights a worldspace (an occassion arising with at least the 4 dimensions-perspectives known as the quadrants). Out of the continued undertaking of injunctions, a worldview arises. Certain facts arise only in certain worldspaces.

What are normally refered to in common parlanace as "paradigm shifts" are in fact to due to with worldviews. Very few of us undrertake the paradigms (that is the injunctions) of say quantum physics, ecosystems science, or "open" nonequilibrium complexity studies. But some or all of those become "pop" culture references, invoked to justify a certain worldview, usually political and involving policy recommendations. So for example quantum theory is often invoked to support the notion that the world is inherently unpredictable bc for example quantum theory states that no one can predict both the position and momentum of an electron simultaneously (the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). That is in fact what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, but expanding from the realm of electons movement and speed to human culture, political establishments, etc, is wildly out of place and unhelpful in the extreme.

Just so, mainstream environmentalism, as I will show, took notions from the emerging fields of cybernetics, ecosystems, and physical mathematics, forging a worldview out of those injunctions-experiential worldspaces.

In Marxian terms, the base (the injunction) brings for the superstructure (the worldview). The superstructure congels onto the base after a period of time. Eventually the base (new injunction) has shifted but for a time the old superstructure (worldview, LL) remains. There is then a break between base and superstructure, the superstructure-worldview being outpaced by the new injunctive paradigms.

This disjunction is important because it is the worldview (the superstructure) that in large measure sets the agenda of policy, public opinion, and the media, as shown by the article just cited.

Though it will sesem at first paradoxical, given that most of us think of environmentalism as a more postmodern (or anti-modern) leftist political movement, the fact is that environmental management and public relations side is stilled mired in a modernist worldview with a postmodernist scientific base.

For environmentalism to develop it will always require of course greater and greater precision in injunctions, greater creativity, and better evidence. But also, and less noted, is that right now the injunction (the base) of ecological science is way out ahead of the worldview-politics-PR of the environmental movement.

Without exposing the unconscious patterns (philosophical, historical, social, and political) of the superstructure (worldview) prominent in Env. Thinking, what occurs is that the movement ends up promoting policy based on old, outdated scientific knowledge. The superstructure-policy outlook of the Enviro movement now is based on the science and math of the 50-60s. Not to mention, as I will also show, that the math and science of the 50s-60s had its own philosophical underpinnings, unconscious to itself, which have also been picked up by the Enviro movement.

Here begins the story.

The word ecology was coined by the German biologist and thinker Ernst Haeckel in 1866. The word comes from the Greek words: oikos (living relations) and logos (study of). Oikos can mean "house". As in economics, the study of one's own "house." So ecology came to be an interdisciplinary movement, studying the inter-relation of our house (Planet Earth).

Now, behind the notion of inter-relation stands some ancient philosophical pedigree. Haeckel was deeply influenced by German philosopher Georg Hegel. Hegel's philosophy--way too complex to give even a brief overview--was a meta-systematic work. More important for these purposes was Hegel's view of the State. Hegel promoted the Organic View of the State. The State, in his case the Prussian State, was the primary unit of political reality. The individual was only truly free to the degree that one united to and obeyed the State.

The State was the Whole, of which its subjects were inter-related parts. This view of Politics, stands in stark constrast to the Anglo-American tradition of liberalism, which emphasized the science of atomism. Each individual is separate, in competition, and the "whole" or "communal" is simply a by-product of the primacy of the individual. That view emphasizes democratic procedure, civil rights, constiuttional limits on government, all of which were abhorrent to Hegel.

Now, the view that all of Nature is one Whole, of which everything individual is a part is the "organic" view of nature.

Hegel's view of course sets the stage for both Soviet and Nazi fascism, particularly the latter. I have remarked repetatedly that of the original Far-Right Totalitarian connections to Ecology and Environmental Movements.

Haeckel, the father of ecology, was also a promoter of eugencis and the Volk movemeent in Germany which, Romantically sought a Return to the Native German soil and pre-JudeoChristian Germanic traditions. This was well before Hitler.

The idea that there is one whole of which everything is a part is of coures the marriage of monism and holism philosophically. Haeckel himself believed in one substance (monism) that was the substrate of both physical and spiritual reality. This view of course is derived straight from Hegel and Schelling and the German Idealist Tradition.

In Nonduality, we say that neither the One nor the Many, but rather the One as the Many. Or the One (Monism) and the Many (Atomism) are both dualities/polarities of the Nondual. Both Monism (with Holism) and Atomism are dualistic notions. Sidenote: That is why Eastern Nondual Traditions have wrongly been used to link up with ecological science/primitive wisdom in the Western world. Whoops.

We know they are dualistic because they sccumb to the Dialectic. If everything is one "Whole" (Monistic Holism), then in reality everything turns out to be "Parts." If everyone is just parts (Atomism), then in reality everything is an isolated wholes (Monads as Leibniz called us, like Monism).

The atomistic scientific-political nexus can still be seen in Anglo-American scientists like Daniel Dennet as his notion of the "selfish gene" or even in Darwin, promoting natural selection principally through the mechanism of survival of the fittest (which he got from English economist Malthus).

Another important theme we will see was that ecology went under the then common assumption (early classical modernist worldview) that nature tended towards stability and a perfect balance. This stability and balance was the outcome of preceived uniform patterns of nature the same throughout history---early scientific consciousness was seeped in the notion of the natural law and a teleology of homeostasis and stability. Again, those are not scientific but rather philosophical notions. These notions are the common worldview of the early modernist (orange wave) principally riding formal operational cognition and relativistic (not pluralistic) values structures. More on that in a sec.

So originally ecology laid in the dustbin because of the more metaphysico-spiritualist tendencies of Haeckel. It was not until 1935 that Oxford botanist A.G. Tansley coined the term ecosystem, therby retaining Haeckel's biological organicism without the spiritualist-metaphysical backdrop of Hegel.

The ecosystem was the primary unit of nature. Now notice, the ecosystem is already an abstraction. Even the very notion--an ecosystem privileges a 3rd person (observer) plural perspective. Every moment is an occasion, which has four dimensions (subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective). So ecology is right to point out that individuals can never be understood except in relation to their environment--every individual only arises in inter-individual modes of discourse, politics, economics, and geography.

But to go from saying that individuals can not be understood without context, to saying that the context (environmental, ecosystem) is primary or the real reality is a blunder of the first degree.

Ecosystems are not "discovered" in nature. They only "exist" in the mind of human scientistis. You can not "see" an ecosystem. What can see a forest, a landscape, a desert region, but an ecosystem is the sum of the inter-related activities/connections of all individual members. How does one "see" this with physicla eyes, taste an ecosystem, or smell it?

It is impossible. And this mistake is going to lead environmentalism down the deadend path it still has yet to turn back from today.

During the Second World War, Norbert Wiener, the briliant but erratic MIT mathematician, practiced a new paradigm (injunction). He was specifically interested in the notion of closed feedback loops. He was studying originally anti-anticraft ballistics, machines which would regulate themselves depending on the movement of enemy squadrons. Or think of a thermometer. The thermometer is a closed system and regulates itself up/down depending on the temperature.

The mathematics and science of cybernetics cross-fertilized with ecosystem science. So the ecosystem came to been viewed as a closed-feed back loop that would self-regulate.

So already we have all of the following notions in ecosystems science, philosophical in nature (which would become the pop scientific backdrop for environmentalism):

--Stability of Nature
--Uniformitarianism and Gradualism (The Regularity and Constancy of Laws of Nature over long periods of Time)
--The Whole is the Primary, of which the Parts are Secondary

Environmentalism picked up on the notion of closed-feedback loops and self-regulation of nature to promote the idea of preservationism and wilderness.

This idea, as I noted earlier, has its American roots in Puritan-influenced Pantheism, particulary the kind espoused by John Muir.

Return to Haeckel's monism (via Hegel). Pantheism is a type of monism. The monism of Haeckel and the Idealists was a monism that included both physical and spiritual (transcendent) elements. Pantheism does not--pantheism reduces transcedence (Spirit) to the Immanent (Nature).

Nature in other words is Spirit. So Nature, as Spirit is the Whole, of which we are all the parts. And there you have the strange merger of American religious pantheism with German ecological science. The One Whole in this Case being the Pantheistic God of Nature.

Now, add the closed feedback loops of cybernetics, and wallah--Modern Enviro as Religion, psuedo-science. Nature, as the Primary Unit (the True One) is a closed system (cybernetics) that works through common patterns over long periods of time (gradual uniforimitarianism) bringing about balance.

So, the policy recommendation of course is to leave nature alone and she will bring about stability. The Endangered Species Act, The Northwest Logging-Spotted Owl Controversy, Yellowstone, all of these are the legislative result of this strange merger of European science and homegrown American politic and religion.

Biocentrism, advocated by Arne Naess and his Deep Ecology movement, takes the Ecosystem model a step further--The Primary Unit is the Ecosystem, and therefore given that all individuals are subordinate to the whole, all parts are equal.

This principle is known as biospherical egalitarianism. Biocentrism has actually been deconstructed as excessively "biocentric." The new cutting edge is ecocentrism which believes that not only are ants and huamns equal (biocentrism) but that rocks, minerals and air have the same value as say a child. A rock is as equally valuable as a dolphin. Wow.

In their essence, in a Nondual moment yes, but not relatively no they are not equal and do not therefore share in equal rights. Because they do not have equal responsibilty and equal capacities: rocks don't create ideas and form groups to save humans and dogs.

All these movements came together in a strange way in the US, which as Chase notes, has a poor historical, philosophical, political, historical consciousness. Americans spout out that the whole is greater than the parts, never knowing that such a slogan was used to promote the Third Reich. Recall that Hitler was a Vegetarian and the SS were trained in animal-friendly modes of relation. It is said that the Nazis treaated the Jews like animals. Hardly, for the Nazis to have treated the Jews like animals, it seems, would have been a good thing.

If you want to see the end result of this wilderness, preservation model, based on the faulty notions of Nature as a closed feedback loop see Crichton (Fear, Complexity...)top article. It concerns the destruction of Yellowstone (chronciled in Chase's first masterpeice, Playing God in Yellowstone).

Also common in ecosystem thought is the fuzzy notion of biodiversity. The notion being that communities of many diverse populations helps bring about the mythic stability of nature more than non-diversified ones.

The elk in Yellowstone were becoming extinct, so the park rangers tried to protect them (good start), then their population overshot the mark and Teddy Roosevelt called for their populations to be managed. But given the romantic-pantheistic wilderness backdrop to American environmentalism, this was not pursued. Nature was to be left alone and would regulate herself. Unfortunately what happened (bc the rangers shot all the wolves, how's that for stability?) is the elk exploded, eating all the grass and themselves becoming sickly and diseased, like deer in Michigan.

Nature does not self-regulate. Human and animal activity influences the natural world and vice versa. There is no such thing as a "state of nature." Humans are going to either be involved in helping nature or will be hurting her. There is no neutral position.

And this leads us to the concept of complexity and nonthermodynamics.

With increased technological capacity and scientific innovation, during the 70s,80s,90s, a new science and mathematics emerged: complexity and chaos theories. Names like Prigigone, Bertanalaffy, etc. The injunctions of these sciences-mathematics brings about a higher worldspace than the cybernetics. Complexity injunctions reveal a turquoise worldspace. Cybernetics a (mostly) orange one.

As Clare Graves called orange relativistic because it was the first stage that could envision multiple perspectives simultaneously. As opposed to the prior value system blue (what he called absolutistic) because it had one point of view and one point of view alone--like a dogmatic religious fundamentalist.

Relativistic however, while it could seee other possibilities, typically chooses one and only one and promotes that value universally. Uniformiatarianism, gradualism, stability of nature, preservation, these are all the negative downsides of the orange worldspace. They are the aspects of the relativistic picture that promote a simplified mono-perspective. And this thinking pervades environmentalism.

Too much carbon make the world warmer, the sea levels will rise, etc. Its all too modernist in thought.

Complexity science shows that gradualism is superseded and certain points by massive upheveal known quaintly as "punctuated equilibria." Mass extinctions are common in natural history, nature does not necessarily like biodiversity, and when forests in the NorthWest are not scientifically cultivated (through controlled fires and cutting), they led to more damaging infernos because the old-growth beloved of the romantics typically fall prey to more disease and are less fire resistant (plus leave more dead old wood on the forest floor for tinder).

Complexity theory shows that systems are in fact open as opposed to close in cybernetics. Cybernetic closed systems tend to entropy (The Second Law of Thermodynamics). Non-equilibrium, open structures show a tendency towards greater complexity. There is a teleology to nature (contra Chase, who is a believer in objectivism, my only disagreement with his work): it is towards complexity---again but this truth is only revealed in the higher worldspace.

The partial truths of the orange world remain: we still believe in Natural Laws and the common tendencies of Nature (elliptical orbits for example). It is just that there are also chaotic patterns as well (chaos and stability being mutually dependent concepts of the Relative World).

It is the absolutization of the stability side of the equation that haunts enivronmentalism.

As Crichton notes, we can never predict chaotic change. These tipping points may in fact occur. But we can't predic them---that is why I disagree with the science in the Washington Post Article. Not that there can't be tipping points, there can be, just that we can't predict what is on the other side. Tipping points by the way are based in complexity, chaos, and nonthermodynamic thought.

Because environmentalism is locked into the modernist myth of the Given (that everyone can see ecosystems, but everyone can't. Plants, rocks, and all non-human animals can't. And only humans at formal operational cognition or higher can who take up 3rd person perspectives).

Again following Crichton: complexity science is the base. The superstructure (worldview) ecologically appropriate to the advanced science is not preservationism, wilderness thought, stable ecosystems, biodiversity, but managed chaos.

We are learning how to adapt and channel chaos even though the effects can not be predicted in advance. There is novelty inherent in nature. Biological life, even an ants DNA is more complex than the entire astrophysical universe. Much less the biosphere.

For chaos theory and complexity science properly applied to the biological realm see: Manfred Eigen and Stuart Kauffman.

The choice to leave nature alone and expect stability is a human choice. It is not predicated by nature. The choice to manage chaos is a choice by humans. It is a better choice, though not without flaws. Either way it is a human choice.

What complexity and the study of earth's history tell us is that there is no objective (contra modernist environmentalism) healthy state of nature per se. Nature is not healthy or unhealthy per se, but rather healthy or unhealthy relative (thank you postmodernism) to a speices.

When the meteor crashed that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, it was an unhealthy environment relative to them, but very healthy relative to mammalian life which flourished under the same conditions.

Nature will be fine. We will not destroy her. We could cross a tipping point and a new chaotic complexity would emerge that would not support human life (like the meteors killing the dinosaurs). Nature will still flourish, just without humans.

It is human arrogance to assume we can destroy Nature. It is our arrogance to assume we can control Nature, understand her enough to "leave her alone". It is more humbling to say we can only adapt and manage chaos at thsi point. It is the arrogance of humanism and modernism supposedly jettisoned by enviro, once again proving that by completing denying something in the manifest world (instead of accepting the partial truth and excising the mistakeness), that which had been "shielded" frontally so to speak, ends up creeping in the back door of one's psyche, coloring everything one does.

That is why environmentalism, sadly, being so officially anti-modern is in fact thoroughly modernist. In all the bad ways (Mean Orange Meme).

[Until, possibly the 3rd tier arises on a deep deep scale and some future human worldspace, technology, e.g. biotech and nanotech, could harness and comprehend the deeper underlying forces of chaos-complexity. That is coming anytime soon, at least on the consciousness side of the equation].

The Noosphere transcends and includes the biosphere. Ecosystems theory is, as Wilber says, part of flatland, the denunciation of the graded hierarchy of nature. It is of course its own hierarchy (the whole is greater than the parts), just a mistaken one parading around as a non-hierarchy.

A new enviornmentalism, a new discoursse, a new ecological worldview based not in fear, not in repeating litany of sins (without acknowledging successes), recognition of the number enviro negative indicator (poverty), increased humility, jettisoning of mania surrounding future catastrophes (e.g. The Coming Global Ice Age of the 70s, The Population Bomb, Nuclear Winter, etc.).

That is a future worth striving for, limited though it certainly is. But good nonetheless, really good. Better than everything out there now (on either side of this non-debate).


Check out this piece Roger Federer. If this guy wasn't so low-key, he would be as big a name in sports as say Tiger Woods. The dude is only 24 and has already 7 Grand Slams. And oh by the way, he's 7-0 in Grand Slam Finals.

He's a helpful graphic showing the all time winner's list. He's already tied for 9, and with one more title will tie Andre Agassi in 6th place. Petey Sampras holds the men's singles record with 14. The only question it seems now is whether Roger can be the greatest of all time.
In other news, apropos of envrionmentalism, see the lead story in today's NYTimes. The story is about a prominent NASA scientist who claims he was censored by the Bush administration for speaking publicly about the reality of global warming and the need for the reduction of burning of carbon-based fossilized fuels.
Now, probably a couple things to sort out here. You have to dig in the article a bit, but you discover that, for example: "White House officials were interested in his findings showing that cleaning up soot, which also warms the atmosphere, was an effective and far easier first step than curbing carbon dioxide." How often have you heard the line that we should start cleaning up soot to stop global warming?
On a sidenote, some scientists believe that reducing smog has actually lead to an increase in surface temperature. Smog apparently blocks and diffuses incoming solar rays, and now since the developed world has the cleanest air since pre-industrial times, more rays are beaming in directly, unobscured by the cleaner air.
Second, its the NYTimes, which means it is inherently anti-Bush. I'm not pr0-Bush by any stretch, not by a long shot. But the NYTimes unfortunately is daily growing more and more exclusively deconstructist--at least Maureen Dowd is good at it I guess. I still read Tommy Friedman and David Brooks' op-eds, but otherwise the paper is going downhill I think. It relishes in negativity and gives an overly dismal view of the world.
Third, you'll also learn by digging in the article that Hansen in a public forum said that he was going to vote for John Kerry. Now, he's a citizen and he can vote for whoever he likes, and certainly he is free to express his opinion, but given that's his pockets are lined with the money of us taxpayers, I wonder how appropriate such a thing is to say. Given that he was ostenibly at the public forum to give his scientific findings. Its a fuzzy line from scientific research to making policy recommendations and political statements--he is an expert on one and not likely on the other.
Obviously the idea that the Bush administration tried to silence him however is not surprising. They've done that repeatedly with everybody. That's how Karl Rove operates.
Unforuntaely I am no longer amazed by the short-sightedness of just about anyone in our world, especially on both sides of this debate--the enviros and the industrios. The thinking is so linear/black&white. Carbon: bad, Carbon make warm, less carbon=good.
And given the naivety of such a view, the whole otherwise important issue of environementalism is tossed out the window by people like Bush.
And lastly, on a note of humor. Give props though to the NYTimes for running this book review by the great Garrison Keiler. The book in question is by a Frenchman traveling and scouring America. And Keiler blows him to bits. This might be my favorite punch:
You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
Now, in all fairness, slicing and dicing the French these days is easier than the women at the American brothel our froggie author attended. Still, Keiler does a masterful job.
I have this theory, its probably a tad prejudiced, but its served me well in life. It goes like this: Rich white people with too much time on their hands are usually wrong about alotta s--t. (Not all s--t, just alottta of it).
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
Avec M. Levy (The Author in Question)
The Environmental Movement
The Editorial Board of the NYTimes (There might be some non-white people on that).
And that list was just culled from the articles cited.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Interlude on Ecorealism: Global Warming Heating Up

Was thinking of doing a pro-con post on Global Warming, but the issues are way too complex, beyond my scope, and (honestly) way too vitrolic to be worth the time.

For a direct response to Crichton on Global Warming, check out these two articles.

I'm sympathetic, as I noted earlier, to many of the issues raised by Crichton. I would say that global warming is probably occurring, but as Lomborg notes, it will only hurt the poor. Can't stress that enough, environmental issues are a subset of poverty and not the reverse. [The biosphere is within the noosphere. Nature is in us, not we are in Nature. Of course too much of the pro-Global Warming opinion assumes that everything will remain the same for the next 50-100 yrs, other than more people wanting oil and a middle class lifestyle. As the models suggest, Everything else being equal, we would probably see a 2 degree Celsius temperature upgrade in the next 100 yrs. BUT EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE EQUAL.]

Al Gore has a new movie out on Global Warming, premiering at Sundance. I'm afraid it is going to be more of the same Litany of sins and coming apocalypse.

Al was/is a big proponent of things like and so-called people power, democratic anti-establishment movements (it probably cost him the 2000 election). One inconsistency I see is the branding of the environmental movement as a true grass roots democratic change agent. In some ways, it of course is. But it does not have the majority of Americans on board with the project. One of my favorites was the survey done in California (serious blue state) where people were asked, were they in favor of the environment (yes, something well 80%). Then asked immediately if anyone would make sacrifices--stop driving their SUV, turn off their AC in the summer--basically the same percentage resopnded no.

I'm not criticizing such democratic, usually liberal-leaning movements. It is a free country and I'm glad to see people organize, petition the government, work to change public opinion, and take an active role in our society.

What bothers me is that, given the environmental movement does not as of yet have any deep grounding, strong majority in the American populace, it resorts to scare tactics, ad hominem assaults (as on Crichton, which whether he is right or not, I find no evidence to suggest he is in bed with the oil industry or some Bush goon or gleeful at the thought of environmental degradation--all of that is profoundly sad and counterproductive....if he's wrong, show's he wrong, don't attack him personally. For proof of this check the comments section under the blog posts. The posts themselves are pretty even handed and stick to factual/counterfactual claims.).

And most distressing of all is the love affair between the fatalistic medium of too much environmental thought and the sensational, catastrophe-loving media (both television and film). Catastrophes are sexy and sell. Global meltdown and ecological disaster is extremely sexy. Its particularly attractive to celebrities who can do television specials, promote films, all the while blaming governments, corporations, and conservative parties, while never actually doing anything positive for the environment. Particularly when the arrive to fundraising events in stretch limousines (what kinda gas mileage those get?).

In terms of the mythic religion-environmentalism link, I feel like I'm on a ground where I know somethign about the subject. Particulary, as someone who has gone through seminary training, I know quite a lot about the use of shame, guilt, and fear as tactics to encite human beings to action.

And there is no getting around one simple fact: those tactics do not work. Certain individuals--in a serious minority--may get the message but the majority are simply paralyzed.

Fear does not work as a motivator. Fear of a coming global ecological calamity will not spur human beings to action. Aside from the question whether global warming is pure hype (or more likely: true but seriously over-hyped), it might instructive to recall the great quotation: The medium is the message.

The medium of fear, coming calamity and collective guilt, in other words, has become the message. And once that has happened, I can tell you that such sensationalized environmentalism is re-playing Western Christian pathologies.

I can tell you that those innumerable sermons on how guilty we should all feel continue to this day--at some point, after thousands of these maybe someone would realize they have been less than effective, to put it mildly.

Environmentalism only has about 40 years of this guilt and fear-mongering under its belt. [We could say a little longer, given that the original global warming "scare" took place in the 1930s!!!].

And Crichton is certainly right on this point--the pattern of over-inflating possible catastrophes and focusing on possible dramatic cataclysms. See also the Easterbrook article in Wired. You are still so much more likely to die from an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, psychological stress accumulated over years, smoking, dangerous behavior (like drinking and driving), etc. then you are from chemicals in your food, the polar ice caps melting, a future global Ice Age (at least for the next 1,000-2,000 yrs. when we would be scheduled for the next one), or Al-Qaeda.

Environmentalism because it has not had the population support---hint: if you constantly have to rave about how your movement is gaining popular support, then you're in trouble. Hamas wasn't going around lauding how they signed up 500 new people, they were too busy signing up 1500 more at the same time--it has resorted to the courts and the media, trying to create a panic-scenario and thereby hopefully override the traditional give-and-take, slow, methodical game that is politics (from the so-called "democratic" movements, hence the inconsistency I see).

The historic Environmental Legislation passed during the 1970s, God forbid mostly under the Nixon and Ford Administrations, (e.g. EPA, Clean Air and Water Act, Endangered Species Act) are great contributions and yet have major flaws in them. Flaws that 30+ yrs. later it is tim to do something about.

Here's a good one, relevant to the whole NSA wiretapping issue: The Congress was keen during the 70s to shift power back to the legislature away from the executive, seeing what Nixon had done. So the Environmental Legislation passed during the Ford (and Carter) years has extensive checks on the Executive (and thereby the EPA as an arm of the Executive branch). These provisions hurt the EPA today--they are more harmful than helpful. Now whatever the comparisons between Nixon and Bush, and the fear of rising executive authority, it does not seem likely that Bush&Co. would use Environmental Legislation to extend their reach. The Laws break violations into so many subsets and require individual action for each redress sought, that both environmental and corporate groups can sue over each miniscule stipulation of the law, leading to delay, huge wastes of money, etc.

But given that the environmental movement (as connected to the Democratic party generally) has lost the popular support it had during the 70s, in light of the Cultural Shift rightward during the last 3 decades, then environmentalists end up supporting old-legislation and attempting to stop any reform of the law (even well informed and productive reform) because they know they won't be able to re-pass new legislation under the current political climate.

If they sought to deconstruct the pro-environmental legislation in order to re-construct newer, more effective ones, they are afraid--not without reason---that they will end up losing the whole package instead and replace it with de-regulation. While I wouldn't foresee total de-regulation, there could be some rollbacks. The question though is whether, in such a case, we would be rollingback helpful or harmful legislation. The environmental lobbyists do not raise such issues--and the pro-corporate ones are only too happy to play that game for their own usually twisted agendas. Ugh.

Hence the opt-out, mostly, of the democratic process on the part of environmentalism. At least on a federal level. Because that would require in part the tough work of compromise, hitting the circuit, and local effort required. And when is Robert Redford going to head to a fly-over state (other than maybe Madison, Wisconsin) to argue his case?

When we check the memetic data, the implication is: If you want environmentalism to reach the American populace it has to be framed in terms of national security. And global catastrophe in the future and the ice caps are melting, sorry is not national security. I bring this up, again, because Al Gore lost an election (perhaps illegally) to man and a party who beat the Democrats (legally) everytime on the issue of national security.

Karl Rove: The Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. The Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview. This doesn't make them traitors, just wrong. [Karl reading some more Wilber, with the worldview reference.]

If the Democrats plan to run in 2006 on Bush broke law, he's wiretapping you, there's a culture of corruption in Washington, etc, they will lose.

Thomas Friedman, nerdy though he is in many a way, is the only one who keeps beating this drum that environmentalism is a national security issue. Are Missourians likely to be attacked by Osama? Of course not. But image is reality.

For better or worse, national security is the number issue. It could be argued that it was during the Cold War, and that the Clinton years were nothing but a nice anamoly. Either way here we are. By purchasing oil and paying taxes you are funding both sides in the War on Terror, which for the military-industrial complex is the greatest boon imaginable.

Important to remember, that for now, the US does not receive the bulk of its oil from the Middle East--contrary to popular opinion. Our share of imported Middle Eastern oil is actually between 10-20%. Our oil money does prop up a nice Venezeulan dictator named Chavez. But in the future maybe our percentage of Middle Eastern oil goes up. What is already the case is that China receives the bulk of its oil from Iran--wonder why our the People's Republic isn't so hot on the idea of economic sanctions against the Ayatollahs?

How bout this for a grand vision worthy of a big dreamer like Bush--a US, EU, and Chinese mega-project to move to a hydrogen economy? It would strategically link China with the US, even more so than now, and allow everybody to get out of the Middle East oil business.

If global warming is occurring, and it is in some measure due to the burning of fossil fuels, and let's for the moment assume that to be the case (generally speaking I would say I "believe" that statement, although I believe the possible consequences are extremely overblown and that they are far more important environmental not to mention political concerns at the moment), there are only two things that are going to counter this trend: Conservation and increased technological efficiency.

On the latter, we should note that human technology is evolutionarily moving to a carbon-free future whether Kyoto gets passed or not, whether the Sierra Club makes another doomsday prediction, or Al Gore stars in Global Warming II: This Time Its for Real. The erotic arrow of Kosmic Evolution has moved us from wood (10 atoms carbon to 1 atom hydrogen) to Coal (1-2 Carbon/1 atom hydrogen), to oil (1 carbon/2 hydrogen), to natural gas (1 Carbon/4 hydrogen).
A future hydrogen economy, being a totally de-carbonized technology, which when burned produces water. Which in turn could either A)Be purified and made cheaply accessible to the indigent and/or B)Used to create futher power.

The evolutionary record shows emergent, qualitative leaps and that will be the next one--most likely with carbon/natural gas/hydrogen combos in between. Now, humanity has made these leaps in the past (hunter-gatherer to agricultural to industurial to informational) and I believe it will make the next one. Will it do so in a perfectly smooth manner. Doubt it.

But it will happen and the sooner governments actually put some serious capital into R&D, and the environmental groups lobby harder for this--although that is beginning to occur in spates--then it will be up to industry and corporations--the scourge of the planet I know--that will do it.

Right now we already have the technology to massively increase fuel-efficiency in cars, even with oil (which remember, in post-industrial nations do give off 99% less pollution than they did only 40 years ago, these same emission standards sadly do no exist in the developing world because any capital must be spent either on paying off bribes, paying off loans to the World Bank/IMF (bribes by a legitimate name), security, or in some cases infrastructure.

The other green-house reducer is conservation. And again, we come back to the issue that conservation is actually an issue of wealth, paradoxical as it sounds at first. Think of it analogically: in the wealthy countries a hundred years ago to be portlly was a sign of wealth. Only the rich could afford meat diets and luxuries (and didn't have to work their asses off all day long) to enable them to be overweight. In the developed world it is now the reverse. To be thin is to be correlated with wealth. It is the poor who suffer the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in this country, particularly among the African American community.

Just so with environmentalism. Initially things get a little worse with industrialization, then a lot better. The developing world is still in the worse part--at least the countries/populations that are in fact industrializing. So in China pollution is much worse now than 200 years ago. But the capital is increasing to the point that perhaps within the next few decades the flip scenario will occur--as it did in Western Europe, US from the 70s until today--things will get better. Not oonly then will the average population live a materially better lifestyle but the environment will be cleaner. A win, win.

To be very conservation minded, requires greater wealth in this country. The poor are forced to shop at places like Walmart; they do not have the luxury to make deicions based environmental impact, labor practices in other countries, etc. Only rich people can--and sadly most of the stuff they buy, branded as organic, green, environmental friendly, free-trade, etc. is just that...PR and label branding. The actual positive impact in large cases of that sector of society is the feelin of having bought environmentally-economically conscious.

Again, I'm not saying such buying tendencies are awful inherently, it is just an aspect of materialism and assuaging one's conscience. The only thing I can take issue with is when such well-off individuals react with horror to say the idea of electrifying the developing world. Such a person then will rattle off, in environmental orthodoxy, that the population is already too large, the amount of fossil fuels burned will increase global warming, the space/habitation for all these increasingly wealthy people will destroy more habitat and cause an increase in species extinction.

All of which are wrong. Factually. Increased economic standing is correlated--on the whole--with: DECREASED population and pollution; INCREASED air, water quality and forest cover; and therefore INCREASED plant and animal numbers.

Again, when economic and technological increase outpaces cultural change (as will happen), then there are temporary bulges--in population, pollution, etc. Temporary. And after the momentum shifts culturally, then the population-pollution issue not only declines, it declines to a point lower than it was prior to the bulge.

The point, again, is simply that rich people do not have a right to say that others should stay in poverty because of mistaken righteousness concerning the environment.

We must create win:win mentalities. The environment-human justice debate is not a zero-sum game, where gains for one (say the human) must come at the price of the other (the environment). Sometimes there will be local-regional trade offs, there is no perfection here. But on the large scale, create a win:win (non-zero sum game) scenario and the momentum shifts entirely.

Fear does not work as a motivator. You must tell people how inherently dignified they are, and how inherently wonderful the earth is, and it is a call for them to be responsible memebers, responsible grown children of this Earth and of God. Then people wake up and act appropriately.

Both technological innovation and conservation are worthy goals and they are plenty of reasons to promote/support them that are NOT in a way connected to global warming.

The reduction of Co2 in the atmosphere is an important issue whether or not it is related to global warming.

The medium is the message. At some point we need to learn.

But in the end, I'm hopeful that will happen. Probably will take a major setback or two sadly, but at some point it will happen. Future generations we'll, I imagine, look back on this with so much tragi-comedy. The tragic element being how we wasted so much time, capital, and effort on what in the end will likely turn out to be something--just not nearly as important as so much else. The comedy being the chuckles they will get by looking back on our blindspots and tunnel-vision.

Crichton is again right on this point: nothing is more sobering than reading accounts of the mass hysteria-widespread fears of the past and how many actually came to pass, while the actual catastrophes that do occur were very rarely--if ever--predicted and when they were, those who did the predicting were labeled as "liars, cheats, scoundrels, imbeciles" and the like.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ecorealism: Part II Mythic Environmentalism

Following up on themes raised in Environmentalism as Religion on Michael Crichton's website.

For background on the series of related articles concerning environmentalism for the 21st century, Crichton gives autobiographical references in the first essay on the same page linked above (the essay entitled: Fear, Complexity, Environmental Management in the 21st century). Crichton details how he had originally planned to write another of his techno science-thrillers on global catastrophe. So he studied what he unreflectively had been told was one of the greatest calamities in history--the nuclear explosion at Cherynobl. His research led him down a road he did not imagine taking, one that disabused of so many unreflective notions he had around the environmental issue. Cherynobl was a horribly tragic event, replete with government corruption and human malfeasance, but the effect on collective human psyche was more damaging. 56 died at Chernobyl. Roughly 4100 died at the also tragic explosion at the Indian reactor at Bhopal. Those were preventable deaths.

So are the 40,000 (that's 40,000!!!) who die every day---EVERY DAY--from malnutrition, water borne illness (like diarrhea), and poor ventilation. Most of those deaths are to children. Those are preventable deaths as well.

Cherynobl by the way, after the so-called experts predicted it would be a grisly omage to death, never to return to health, is now seeing a remarkable explosion of plant and animal life. Nature, it seems, is a far stronge gal than we humans tend to imagine.

So anyway, the essay is a short piece entitled Environmentalism as a Religion.

Now this is a fairly loaded issue, but there are some general comments worth making that will help set frame the picture.

The first and in my mind the most important is that the stages of human consciousness are universal. That is, for example, using Spiral Dynamics, every human being goes through a beige, purple, red, blue, orange, green (although a person can stop at any of those waves).

The specific charge that environementalism is a new religion, is basically a charge that non-traditional religious believers (many of whom are atheist or unconcerned with the existence or non-existence of a divinity) predominantly manifest their blue (mythic believer) wave through environmentalism, unconsciously repeating the traditional Christian theological drama.

Jung called the existence of these mythic-level quasi-universal patterned perpsectives archetypes. These archetypes recur over and over again--often without conscious understanding--throughout dreams, literature, politics, and philosophies.

The Western Christian archetype is sourced in the notion of a Fall. More specifically Western Christianity believes not only in a Fall (Eastern Orthodox Christianity believed in this) but in the darker, more sinister notion of Original Sin. Crichton covers both under the general heading of the Fall. For the purposes of this discussion, since in Western theology and spirituality Original Sin=The Fall, it doesn't much matter.

Others have noticed this similarity, but it bears repeating.

The typical environmental doomsday scenario goes something like this:

Humanity used to live in a perfect past. Lived in ecological harmony, everything was unified and wonderful. Then humans came to study nature as an object and gain knowledge of her, leading to an explusion from this state of blissful unicity. After the expulsion, life was filled with turmoil, pain, and longing for the perfect days lost. This path of "industrialization" is heading inexorably to a final catacylsmic reckoning.

Now that story of of course is the story of the Fall. We lived in Eden, ate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, fell from the Garden, have toiled in sweat, misery and blood for all time since and have become so enmehsed in our prideful rejection that we are slated for a final judgment at Armaggedon.
Keep in mind that Rabbinic Judaism never put much emphasis on the story of Adam and Eve, and never created an elaborate theology of a Fall, Sin, and Redemption. That is a purely Christian reading of the text---surprise surprise then that environmentalism grew out of Christian descended individuals (even if again they themselves did not practice, believe, and/or identify themselves as such. Rachel Carson, John Muir, etc. Gentiles not Jews.

When perspectives (which are probabilty waves of finding a certain set of actions, beliefs, emotions within a fluid worldspace) become formalized through long-term tetra-prehensive unification (constant patterning moment by moment throughout evolution), these perspectives become quasi-universal structures of consciousness. This structure-stages are molded by and manifest according to the unique cultural, psychological, historical, economic, ecological, and sociological factors relevant to the person(s). group(s) invovled. But the permanent features of the deep structure, precede the birth of any and every individual.

They must travel this path. They must bring this aspect of themselves into conscious integration.

Otherwise it becomes, in terms of the amber (blue) mythic membership wave, a dogmatic ideology, unopen to verification (or disverification) by evidence outside its own concentric cirlces of legitimacy.

And indeed, and sadly, environmentalism (in parts) does manifest this tendency. This tendency is especially promient in Western Europe and so-called Euro-America (liberal bicoastal, US establishments that look to Canada, W.Europe, and Australia as a marker for social-cultural views, usually, but not always lighting up a secularist green postmodern probabilty wave).

Western Europeans are post-Christian. They no longer practice Christianity, no longer find it a source of legitimation or guidance in this world. They are not, however, nor could they ever be, post-blue. Not in the sense that there is no growth beyond blue--of course there is--but post-blue as post-mythic in the sense that they can ever be done with development through this important phase of human development.

The same goes for Gens X & Y in North America, particularly in the so-called blue states.

When this aspect of development is not consciously engaged--recognizing its strengths, overcoming its failings--it becomes unconscious and poisons a movement's own better intentions. In this case environmentalism.

As Crichton notes, the environmental equivalent of salvation is sustainability. If you ask people if they are in favor of sustainability, they will answer yes. Sounds great. Who wants growth that is out of control, cancerous? But probe a little deeper, even with an environmentalist, and you are likely to find not much depth or complexity to the notion.

Sustainable development. What kind or kinds of development are sustainable and which are not?
A better notion philosophically and morally, I believe, is that the obligation is development for the greatest depth and the greatest span. Sure, this "maximal" notion of development (as opposed to more cautious sustainable one) is bound to make mistakes. But sustainable development is mostly an arid abstraction.

Its like asking most Christians what they mean by salvation. Considering it is lauded as such an important topic, you would expect an erudite response, but more likely going to get a very fuzzy answer. Usually the answer comes in the negative. Salvation is having sin abolished. Or better self-referential: Salvation is being saved.

Sustainability is being sustainable. Sustainable development is development that is not unsustainable.

I also had to chuckle at Crichton noting that organic food are like the Eucharist of the Environmental Religion. They are the source of "Communion" with this Sustainability.

Who said the proper pole on which to define development is sustainable or not? Sustainability is, as Crichton notes, actually a very "conservative" notion. Just like the words "conserv-ation" and "preserv-ation". Helpful to recall at this point that environmentalism pre-Rachel Carson was mostly a rich, white male, aristocratic establishment in the US (think Aldo Leopold).

When development is cordoned into a polarity between sustainable and unsustainable, then of course any "rational" person is going to vote for sustainable. Who wants to be in favor of sin, I mean unsustainability?

Conservation, preservation, sustainable, all point to a deeply embedded, and I believe very unexamined, conservative thought pattern. Now, conservativism isn't inherently wrong. There is plenty to conserve, plenty worth preserving. Plenty worth sustaining.

But all those notions are missing an element of expansion, of growth. What about a Flowering, an Explosion, a Bounty? What about Flowering Development? Bountiful development....strange words maybe, but see how it shifts the psychic weight?

It shifts the discussion away from a scarcity model (which has the word SCARE in it).

All of this conservatism and scarcity, I can tell you, is 1.a product of experience but 2. and almost never described a product of the Western Christian mythic overlay to this whole disucssion.
Scarcity models come (mythically at least) from a Fallen Worldview. What is true of the Fall is that no actions in this world will ever be complete, will ever be perfect. We will never in live in a world without injustice, oppression, and hatred. But that is different than believing that everywhere we turn nothing but sin (excuse me unsustainable industrialization) is rife. It is far too simplistic of a notion which either allows people to naively assume: A) things will just keep getting better (because its so Fallen, it has nowhere to go but up); B)things are doomed from now on--and if you are rich or lower middle-class, too bad for the f'in poor, buildup the walls, lock your doors, and hang on to every scrap you can; C)adhere to naive revolutionary ideals--everything is so Fallen, all we have to do is overthrown the system and then the New Order of Perfection will begin.
This is what happens when a religion (and by extension the spiritual worldview of a culture descended therefrom) denies nonduality (Indistinct Union). We have to understand the polarities of the world. Falleness, if you like, has to do with the Absolute/Relative Divide: the Relative will never transform into the Absolute. It already is essentially the Absolute. But relatively, certain things get better (actually better), other things are neglected and get worse.
Certain things get better which cause new possible things to go wrong--as Wilber says atoms don't get cancer, people do. Certain things get better and this highlights injustice-poverty prevalent before just not noticed. Most of the economic-cultural-political injustice of the world is of this time. During the agrarian premodern world, everyone suffered. A lot. There was no hope of social expansion. Even the couldn't stave off bacterial infections. So some people in this world live in amazing wealth (the middle class of the US even by historical standards lives better than the wealthiest monarch of the Middle Ages) and are fortunate to live in free, civil societies. Its not inherently that those who are not afforded these advantages have been wronged necessarily by those who do. Its not necessarily that things have gotten worse for these poor. Its just that the gap now highlights the disparity. And the poor can see this gap for themselves on their makeshift TVs. And this highlighting and making conscious of the gap does make the situation worse. But notice that it has happened as an unintended (negative) consequence of a good action. So should the solution be to get rid of all the TVs of the poor, zap their brains Men in Black-style and force those who have been blessed in this world to return to utter degradation?
That would certainly eliminate the problem of hope unfulfilled fueling despair, humiliation, and
rage among say young men of the Middle East, but the cure would be worse than the disease.
That is the dialectic of progress spoken of by Habermas, a concept that drives directly at the heart of the absolutization of the Fall mentality. It drives at the heart of the revolutionary naivety (and eventual totalitarianism) of both the Left and Right. It drives at the heart of apathy, naive utopian capitalistic idealism.
And environmentalism unforunately, for most of its member, has not grasped the dialectic of progress. Even Sustainable Development is not Salvation-the Relative world will never be PERFECTED since it is already, always PERFECT. It does not need salvation, essentially. It needs healing and justice. And those are relative virtues. And this so-called "sustainable" development initiative, if put into place and done properly, would certainly alleviate many ills curently existing. It won't penetrate perfectly into all sectors of all societies, and therefore will only continue to expose the growing gaps between the developed, free societies and the undeveloped, corrupt, lawless ones. And then the new level of wealth and health and freedom brought by sustainable development will engender its own serious of problems that do not currently plague us, worse in nature and scope than ones we currently face.
Again, this is how the relative world happens. So much of environmentalism, as in all else in life--environmentalism is probably no more prone to this than any other religion--is a romantic notion of nostalgia and rage against the Relative Path.
Whether that Rage is the Western psyche's rage against relativity--wanting to see it go up in apocalypse or end in some perfected state of the future (some technotopia free of death&disesase, the classless state of Marx, the Millenium, whatever). Or the Eastern psyche's "rage" (or denunciation) of the relative world as Maya, Illusion, simply a Game to be seen through.
Environmentalism, in its mythic and romantic-magical manifestations, gets lost in all these flaws. They are in the end spiritual deadends. But without the deep understanding of the relative process (the dialectic), what else is there to expect?
When certain environments get cleaner, like the US and Western Europe, it reinforces the disparity in environmentally degraded areas--North Kora, Andean South America, China, Sub-Saharan Africa. Were those areas ever environmentally untouched? Of course not. Not since homo sapiens anyway--and unless you plan on killing our entire species off, better get used to the notion....which incidentally would indeed prove that we are the most "un-natural" of all species, for what species would destroy itself to let other ones live?
If we are going to focus show much attention on the negative impact of the human species on earth it needs to be historically accurate--humans have been helping and hurting nature forever. And also, we need not just the Litany of Environmental Destruction, but the Opposing Recitation of Things that are getting better.
Outside of that widescope, caring and yet discretionary view (dialectical), then the rest is so charged with irrational emotionalism, mythicism, and egotism its hard to make heads of tails of the situation. Which is why most people dont, are paralyzed by environmental jingoistic journalism, and don't do anything.

As I'll show in the article on Environmental Management in the 21st century and in the review of ideas from In a Dark Wood, environmentalism is not only hampered by overly amber mythic perspectives but also by immature, modernist perpspectives (e.g. The Balance of Nature, Biocentrism, and Linear, Static Formal Operational Cognitive Processes).

Ini other words, simplfying enormously, the difficulties occur, when envionrmentalism uses policy recommendations arising in the orange worldspace undergirded by a strong, defensive blue (premodern) posture and overlayed with an anti-capitalist green (postmodern deconstructist) tenor. Whereas the science of today is turquoise.

Although, following the Spiral down, there as well purple and red environmental movements--the notion of the noble savage living in ecological purity, ecomasculinism, ecotage (like Earth First!), ecofeminism and Goddess worship (when promoted as a return to a maternalistic past where humans lived in harmony with the earth viewed as a Great Mother). And lastly the green (environmental, not postmodern) wing of the Nazi Party. Whenever someone mentions that foreign species (of say plants are animals) need to be eradicated to bring back the purity of the land, think of what that would mean analogically with human beings. A gas chamber.

Those have already been covered extensively by others, particularly by Wilber in SES (what he calls pre-trans fallacy, the mistake of postmodern writers to believe anything non-rational is inherently trans-rational, when in fact much of what is non-rational is pre-rational).

But I'd like to take the discussion to a further stage, returning to the notion of Christianity and Enviornmentalism.

As I have mentioned on this blog (see Two Truths of Christianity) there is bifurcation between the American Christian experience and that of Western Continental Europe (and actually Eastern Europe, Near East for that matter).

The split occurs because the US is a predominantly Calvinist (Puritan) derived experience, whereas the European consciousness is molded by the Catholic tradition. And for all intensive purposes, Scandanavia and North Germany, being Lutheran, fall into the same category.

Calvinism is a distinct, radial re-interpretation of Christianity. I should out myself at this point, given that I am not a big fan of the Calvinist trip. I was raised in the Catholic Tradition, so my allegainces lie there.

But there are of course great aspects to Calvinism. In some ways Calvin himself was not very different from the traditional medieval Catholic world (Luther certainly was not).

The most important doctrine in Calvin's thought was not double predestination, as most believe, but the grandeur and majesty of God's glory.

Double predestination, as the name implies, is the stated belief that a person is either born going to heaven or hell and there is nothing that individual can do to sway the decision one way or another.

Now techincally, as I argue, this is Augustine's teaching whether we like it or not. Catholic Christianity officially endorsed the teaching but hedged the bets on it. Lutheranism too. Faith, in all the Western Churches, is a theological virtue--that is by grace alone through faith. Faith is the sign of salvation, ergo God chooses the saved. Back to that in a moment.

But again, the main teaching is the majesty and absolute transcendence of God. What separated Calvin was his growing rationalism about religion. He sought to do away with "supernatural" beliefs like that the Eucharist is the body of Christ, the angels, the saints, and miracles.

God was so absolute, so majestic, his glory was seen in the perfect revolutions of the spheres (whoops, that later turned out to be false). There is a tendency in Calvinism towards a cold, ethereal beauty of utter transcendence. Not the emotionally connected, heavenly court of Catholicism. Nor the transcendence in weakness, the beauty of the infant in the crib, the lovely lord of the Cross as in Luther.

This beautiful, majestic, almost icy-God is the God of the rigid determniism of double predestination.

He is also the God of the natural laws of creation (again no supernatural here).

So Calvinism, as we see is setting the stage for deism and the modern loss of the sense of the sacred.

Now, since Calvinism wanted to throw away the Fathers of the Church, Sacramental Devotion, the tradition, it veered towards a renewed interest in the Old Testament, read in a more literal, historical way (or what was considered at the time, literal and historical, which of course also turned out to be wrong, but that's another story).

Calvinism especially become interested in the stories of Joshua, Judges, and the conquest of the land of Canaan. The interest in these "Historical" books of the Old Testament, led to an intense focus on the notion of covenant and its attendant concept of blessing.

Blessing is an immensely important notion in Calvinist theology. As God told Abraham, "I will bless you."

Now the majority of humans can not live with the utter detachment concerning their everlasting fate that Calvin seemed (genuinely) to have possesed. For him the notion of double predestination was meant as a great relief. IF there was nothing you could do either way, why worry? But in reality it led to increased anxiety.

Catholicism teaches that grace is a product of God alone but that good works are the sign of God's grace. So Catholics, particularly in the Middle Ages, went about trying to do good works (or buying the equivalent) to prove to themselves, God, and others (presumably) that they were in fact saved.

Calvinism devolved into the notion that prosperity--particularly monetary--was the sure sign of God's choice of predestination. So, of course, Calvinists went about trying to become wealthy to prove to themselves, God, and others that they were saved. [That in a nutshell, is the short short version of Max Weber's thesis on the Protestant--meaning Calvinist--Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).

So notice these themes they will return in a very interesting way: blessing and cosmic dualism.

Now, as I was saying, when the intermediary forces of the angels, Mary, saints, mysticism, and the sacraments are wiped away, the Calvinist is left with in a void. A dark, often frightening void. This void is ruled by the iron logic of double predestination. There are no intermediaries ot petition, no good works to "earn" salvation, no merits. There is nothing left bu the mysterium tremendus, the awful majestic God of Glory. There is only relation between the Soul and its Creator.

Whem tramscendence, in the form of the so-called supernatural (what I would call the intermediate realm) is destroyed, than, as I said we are on the road to deism, theism--as the idea that God is totally separate and other from the world, and eventually its cousin atheism.

Less noticed is that when heaven is dissolved, the notion that God is Found in Nature easily shifts to God is Nature. This is known of course as Pantheism.

And Puritan theology in New England of the 18th century was pantheistically obsessed. The Two Great Fathers of American Environmentalism, if you will, are Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, both sons of this Puritan pantheist strain.

When there is no heavenly spirit, then Spirit can easily be relegated solely to the material plane. This pantheism, particularly in Muir celebrated a notion of wildness and "naturalness." Nature was to be left untouched because it was Divine. We can not overlook the tendency in certain environmental quarters to see all destruction of Nature as inherently diabolical and catastrophic. If Spirit is nothing other than Nature, one is bound to think this. That Nature has destroyed her own and herself multiple times, that Nature is in every mometn both creative and destructive, seems lost in this view. What was to Muir "natural" and the temple of his pantheistic prasise was itself only one of many iterations of that same landscape. How was it that what he viewed--which itself was strongly influenced by the presence of Native Americans who practiced an early form of land management (consisting of burning trees and killing large game mammals some to extinction)--normative? Other than becuase of his mythic romantic pantheistic belief?

Was Spirit inherently the essence of what vieweed? Of course. Is it still, even with all the ugly industrial buildup--yes. Spirit is Unconditional Love, not the Conditional Love of what is claimed to be "natural" and "wild" and Nature's True Glory.

Notice something else, the American landscape was itself therefore projected into the two themes of Calvinist (as refracted often through deistic and pantheistic lenses): blessing and comsic dualism.

The landscape of America was considered the New Eden. Americans considered themsleves the "New Jews", America the New Zion. It was to America, the land of Eden, the new Canaan, that God had sent the New Jews, known as the Settlers--the SAVED. The Indians were the Hitties, Jebusites, and Canaanites of this land, and God ordered the New Jews to exterminate them just as he had to the old ones. Canaan was their blessing, their promise for the taking.

This view of course is known as Manifest Destiny. That Manifest Destiny would birth both the industrial "sin" decried by the environmental movement and the environmental movement itself shows the inherently mythic-modern constuct of the movement, at least in teh United States.

As Paul Tillich noted, in the Enlightenment, there was both an increased emphasis on rationality (industrialization, scientific progress, technological innovation) and Emotionalism. Tillich cites the common practice of excessive weeping in public in Europe during the classical modenr period. When the transcendent was lost, then the emotional life is no longer tied to its Source in the Divine. Again--there is no real emotional connection to the utterly other God of Calvin.

The emotional ducts, therefore, welled up to the Earth, the body, sensuality, and the arts. The Romantic movement, like fundamentalism in this regard, is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. It is a attempt at re-fashioning the modern world. But it is one that is bulldozed--literally and figuratively--by the more rationalist-techno-economic-scientific-secular mindframe. And ultimately it can not overcome it because it suffers from the same inherent disease.

The other great Calvinist theme: Cosmic Dualism.

The other great theme in early American literature of course is the darkness of the forest. Hawthrone's works are filled with this: Goodman Brown comes to mind. The forest is the place of witchcraft, covens, Indian savage rites, sexual excess, debauchery, death, primitivism.

There is no recognition of one's sinfulness when one is blessed and the chosen. The evil is external.

Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that the American soul is defined by the wilderness. Surely this is an overstatement, but the basic point is true. The Widlerness signifies the love-hate dualims of the American mindframe. The Wild is the Beautiful, the Sacred, the site of lovely deer grazing on the grass, listening to the sweet birds sing their hymns. But it is also the dark, ferocious land of the grizzly, the coyote, and the wolf, stalking their prey, ready at the wait to end life viciously.

The Wildneress as Site of Evil and Irrationality is the Flip Side of the Cosmic Dualism.

Next, I'll explore a little more deeply--with the help of In a Dark Wood, the history and underpinnings of the uniqueness of the American environmental movement (as opposed to its Continental European cousin) pursuant to the theme of American Puritan theology vs. European Catholic theology.

While it is important to show the distinction, and this disinction does still have importance and can still be seen, the environmental movement through electronic linkage is breaking down the barriers between the Atlantic, and overall I think this differnece is becoming less and less important. Still, I think it is definitely worth investigating, if only for learning how a new environmentalism would learn to speak to the mythemes of America. Because the more American environmentalists adopt the language of (Catholic-sourced) European environmentalist, they are adopting a very different worldview, one that will not have as a strong a resonance in Red State USA.

Hamas on Rye

This is it. This is historic.

Hamas has perhaps won an outright majority in the Palestinian elections--if so it could rule alone.

This outcome is the direct consequence of neoconservatism and the Bush presidency. Bush is a direct link to Hamas, a group it labels as terrorist in charge of the Palestinian territories. Right next to Israel our biggest ally in the Near East. Wow. The Bushies of course are going to be apes*&! over it, but it flows from the president's inaugural address. The Arab world is in the midst of a profound demographic shift with a huge percentage of the populace under 30. This is very much the case in Palestine. This generation of Arabs (and Iranians too for that matter) have been brought up with a deeply religious worldview.

Mahmoud Abbas is the last incarnation of the old secularist, pan-Arab nationalists of the 50s,60s, and 70s. He is presiding over the death of this movement. Arafat is gone, Hussein dethroned for Shi'ite clerics. Only Bashar Assad hangs on by the slimest of threads.

When Bush declared that US foreign policy would be predicated on building democracy worldwide, particularly in the Near East, this is what is going to happen. Democratically, one person=one vote, open elections means that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq dominates there and Hamas wins in Palestine. If Egypt had truly democratic elections, the Muslim Brotherhood would prevail. In Pakistan, God only knows. Saudi Arabia, the list goes on and on.

The reason the US is so dismayed and confused by the reults of its efforts is that only Muslim groups, often with very conservative social-gender-religious views, has any connection to the people on the streets. There is no goverment assistance-social welfare in the Middle East. Only Muslim charity groups, groups like Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, reach out to the poor through healthcare, education, monetary asssitance. These social welfare vehicles are part and parcel of the Muslim teaching of justice. They also of course are a wonderful way to reach the young and indoctrinate them into their ethnocentric, mythic worldview.

As I've said repeatedly on this blog, the major downside of the necon-Bush project is that it confuses democracy with rule of law. They believed Chalabi and Allawi would do well in Iraq (oops), assumed Fatah would continue its hold in the Territories--wrong again it appears.

What it will hopefully do, to the surprise of the conservatives, is integrate these groups into politics and slowly but surely force them to promote the rule of law.

Hopefully Hamas will be brought into the political sphere. This is the only positive outcome that can occur. Hamas for the future of its people must have the courage to integrate its militias into a legitimate police-defense appartus of the Palestinian territories and--the biggest of all--renounce its claim to perpetual revolution against Israel. It must finally recognize Israel as a state.

Fatah and Arafat never had the support to do such a thing. If Hamas did, it would be the ultimate Nixon goes to China.

The linkage between Islam and democracy (and hopefully, rule of law) is the only great movement left now. The autocracies of a Mubarak or the Saudi Royal Family have failed. The nationalism of Arafat and Hussein destroyed human beings across the board.

If Hamas does not grow up and grow up fast, then Israel may re-elect the far-right (Netanyahu). Kadima, the centrist party of Sharon, was the only hope for Israel. The construction of the security wall and the detachment from Palestine, and the eventual, God willing, withdraw from large sections of the West Bank, is their only hope. None of this liberal nonsense about peace and reconciliation will do. Until the Palestinian authorities officially recognize the state of Israel and let go of the notion of the right of return for the refugees (and what an "UNTIL" that is), there will be no peace. Until Israel withdraws and forces the Palestinians to govern themselves and criticize their own officials, then Israel will always be the scapegoat. Until that happens, there will be no peace.

It will be fascinating to watch Hamas. For it fails, who will be left? What movement would arise to carry the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people? Will they despair and absent from the ballot box? Will there be civil war within the Palestinian territories?

There is hope now. But so much has to fall into place on both sides, with so many hoping to see it disintegrate. And without Sharon--this is the turning point. Israeli politics can not be the same without Sharon and Palestinian life has changed forever. What emerges within the next few months will decide whether a new opening for peace emerges or sadly, the darkest hour yet in this crisis.

God help us.
As Daniel Patrick Moinyhan said, the enduring conservative truth is that culture matters most. The enduring liberal truth is that government can re-shape culture.
It is strange in a way that the conservatives do not comprehend that it is culture that decides the voting in the Middle East. That groups that promote (for their own, if no one else) freedom and healing would also be so religiously righteous, so fixed in their beliefs, so premodern in their outlook. Given that the base of the Republican party is made up of so many who share such similar beliefs.
But then each conservative group believes itself unique, and is too busy proclaiming and advancing its unique agenda that it has no time to realize how common the claim to uniqueness really is.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ecorealism Part I: A New Environmentalism

What currently is the greatest environmental threat to the planet?

Global Warming?
Greenhouse Gases?
Species Extinction?
Loss of the Rainforest?
Pesticides in your food?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and yes wrong.

The greatest environemental threat to the planet is poverty. Poverty.

The greatest environmental degradation in the world comes from developing countries. It comes in the form unsafe drinking water/sanitation and polluted air. According to Gregg Easterbrook

All told, the number of children under the age of five who die each year in the developing world from gross air pollution and unsafe drinking water—two causes of death essentially eliminated in the West—is larger than the number of deaths at all ages from all causes each year in the United States and the European Union combined.

All ages from all causes. More deaths of children under five from bad air and water than all deaths of all ages in the US and EU combined.

How often have we heard that statistic announced in evironmental debate?

As part of research for a book-idea I'm working on, I spent the last week reading a slew of bokos and articles on environmentalism.

Like most middle class Americans, if surveyed I would say I'm environmentally-conscious, concerned about the environement, etc. I also found to my dismay that I had bought into a great deal of the common enviro thinking found in society. Reading through these books and articles has forced a major shift in my mind, even my emotions, toward the question of environmentalism. I would say that I am now both more hopeful about the future of the planet and more pesissmistic about the current state of enviromentalism than ever before.

In keeping with the general integral-influenced frame of the blog, I will on occassion, as is my custom, make use of Wilberian and Spiral terminology. Mostly though I will focus on the concrete issues raised in these writings.

The works I will be focusing on are:

Gregg Easterbrook: A Moment on the Earth(1995). See also his more recent writings on environmentalism (including the one linked earlier) courtesy the Brookings Institute** plus this impressive piece from Wired on why we humans are so enamored by environmental-csomic catastrophes scenarios, leaving us ignorant of the current actual threats to society.

The series of speehces by Michael Crichton focusing on environementalism, global warming, the politics of scientific consensus, the little known history of horrible scientific prediction, and the hijacking of environemtnalism by media-obbsessed, fund-seeking, media savvy, lobbyists.

Wilfred Beckerman Through Green Colored Glasses: Environmentalism Reconsidered

Alston Chase In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology. Chase is a philospher (of the objectivist sort) and conservationist. His first work, Playing God in Yellowstone, detailed the wrongheaded view of nature that has underpinned US policy on wilderness preservation, leading to the degradation of Yellowstone.

Though they are differently focused, one thing all of these share in common is a self-critical environmentalism. That is, all these men (and yes those are all men, if you want an accomplished female voice in this crowd see Marian Chertow, I'll be picking her book up fron the library in a day or two) are genuinely concerned for the environment (and as well shall see human beings) but do not fall into the party-line group-think that unfortunately dominates so much of the environmental scene, its lobbyists, research agendas, and political organizations.

The one book, perhaps the momst controversial (with the exception of A Moment on the Earth), which I still hope to get my hands on soon is Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. If you want to judge for yourself whether certain strands of environmentalism now function as a neo-dogmatic orthodoxy (as I believe is certainly the case), watch the interview clips on his website, especially when he is on British television. British television of course is widely acknowledged to be extremely salacious, ignorant, and gossipmongering, perhaps even more so (if that's possible, how do you measure infinite against infinite?) than the US media scene. Watch how viscerally he is attacked, for simply stating that the bulk of the money that should rightly be used for environmental protection should go to the development of the 3rd world, so they can both escape from poverty and clean up their environment? Working under the assumption that poor people are not especially likely to be much concerned about how much CO2 is in the atmosphere when they are too busy trying to eat and protect their children. Watch the "heretic" face the Inquisition and get crucified. Its brual psychologically speaking. Just to warn you. I give the guy serious cred just for how well he comports himself in the face of such irrationality.

I recommend anyone seriously interested in the past, present, and future of environmentalism to give these books a read. And if readers know of any other good sources of information, please let me know.

Chase's book is the most philosophical and focuses on the famous battle between loggers and preservationists in the Northwest US, centered on the forests and the protection of the spotted owl. His work goes into incredible depth tracking how the development of the idea of Biocentrism [Note: This is a Wikipedia link, so don't take it for too much, although I think its more or less accurate. The word does not exist interestingly in the Merriam Webster online dictionary]. I will devote a fruther entry simply to this work. Chase details how through the legal and philosophical battles of the Northwest Logging-Forest Battle, biocentrism came to be drafted into US law.

Crichton is focused more on global warming and the political manipulation of the idea of "scientific consensus". A former favorite of the Hollywood scene, his book State of Fear is his first with no plans of cinematic portrayal. He has been outed as a supposed sympathizer of the Bush administration and Oil industry for questioning aspects of global warming science (or perhaps pseudoscience). State of Fear chronciles domestic eco-terrorism in the United States. Recall that the largest domestic terrorist threat does not come in the form of al-Qaeda but from Eco-Terrorism.

Gregg Easterbook, a self-described liberal (left-center politically) always attacked in an ad hominem fashion for his "optimistism" regarding the environment. He made seemingly startling predictions about the strength of nature to rebound and continue on (mostly) unharmed by human civilization. One example. He recounts in the work how he publicly predicted that after the Exxon Valdez disaster that in ten years "the sound will be so close to its former state that it will be impossible to determine where the spill occurred without resorting to navigation charts." In fact he was wrong. It only took 3 years for his prediction to come true. In fact, in an interview conducted with a local researcher Dennis Lees, that his (Lee's) "greatest concern about Prince William Sound was not wildlife loss, which he considered bad but a one-time effect; Lee's concern was that the cleanup did more damage than the spill (p.56)." That's right, the cleanup. Not excusing the arrogance and criminal negligence of the Exxon establishment. They deserved to pay millions in lawsuits, but with the media-blitz attention too many vessels were sent into the Sound. Exxon, to clean up their PR problem, used hot water to clean up the oil, which did clean up the oil, but also killed the microbial life on which the ecosystem depended.

Easterbrook's book is filled with such deconstructions of typical left and right thinking, environmental and pro-industrial. It is an extremely level headed book, avoiding the emotional ploys, cynicism, and doomsaying predictions of the more high profile environmental names (names like Paul Ehrlich, Bill McKibben, etc.). It is one of the most profound books I"ve read in a long, long time.

I'll be exploring this larger theme from many different angles in multiple posts.

But I want to make it clear before some of I do some intellectual slaying, that I believe deep down the majority of people who are looking to help the environment do so out of good intentions, though whose views are not always well rounded. There are a few, a slim minority, of those, as in any movement, who for whatever reasons in their own life--abuse, neglect, betrayal--use a political movement as a means to exact revenge, who deep down have the wrong motivations for being involved (in this example in environmental issues, but the same goes sadly for peace, justice, and human rights movements as well). Those are individuals who need compassion and acceptance. Then there are always the again minority who abuse the better intentions of many and use any mechanism they can for their own aggradizement--financial, political, or otherwise--who warp any and all issues under the mantle of righteousness for their own self-centered agendas. And none of us are immune from that tendency, but again for the most part this is not the central motivator or issue for most individuals involved.

Moreover, I want to make clear, that no matter what I may think about the self-critical nature lacking currently in the environmental movement, its mistakes and excesses (past and on going), it has been on, the whole, a great gift to the human race. It has left a permanent legacy that all educated, concerned poeple must keep in mind in our decisions. And for that I express my gratitude for bringing awareness into areas of life otherwise opaque and closed off.

That being said, it is important to remember that there are no free rides, and no movement, however well intentioned, can employ an aura of righteouenss to prevent (proper, healthy, justified) criticism both from within and without. To cloack oneself in such a philosophically and morally vaccinated mantle is idolatrous and in the end only damages our best desires, actions, and hopes for the better.

The Environmental Movement is oh so young. It is, as it were, in its adolescence. High idealism mixed with immaturity, self-obsession, and inflated sense of self-importance. It is time to grow out of this adolescence into an adult ecological mindset.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Chinese Economic Fire Drill

aka: From Communism to Capitalism in Two Easy Decades.

Before I went to see Munich, watched PBS Documentary China in the Red on Frontline. [Incidentally, Frontline, probably best described politically-socially as center-left is, I think, the best such show on television. NOW, particularly during the Bush years and since the departure of Bill Moyers has become increasingly just left-wing, as I see it. Frontline is more balanced, informative, and entertaining].

The Documentary covers different aspects of the late 1990s Chinese economic scene, refracted through the lens of a multiple characters--a rising Chinese middle class entrepreneur; a long-time office assistant at a state-run company in danger of losing her job; other workers at the state-run plant losing their jobs; farmers in villages shifting to a market economy; the mayor of a northern industrial city racked by the closures of inefficient, debt-ridden, state-run corporations, and so on.

Very interesting piece. Focuses especially on the transition from the state-controlled communist regime with its (in theory) lifetime job appointments and basic healthcare coverage to the individualist, no-holds-barred run of capitalism.

I think they could have done a better job of exploring exactly how well the State-system came through on lifetime job appointments and the other claimed benefits of communism. One factory manager says that the state would send him workers whether he needed them or not. There is a scene where during the early 90s as the factory has lost contracts, workers are just standing around. One woman (honestly) says, back then, if I wanted to do my work I did. If I didn't, I didn't.

As readers of this blog know, I am not anti-capitalist nor anti-liberal democracy. But on the other hand, I am not some naive capitalist dreamer. Nor a unilaterally, mythic pro-American.

As I have said before, they are the worst forms of economics and government---until you look at all the alternatives. They are the best of the worst in a way. Very darkly, the lesser of all other evils.

I live in a good world but so many standards. I can go out to the movies, like I did yesterday. Travel in a car (rickety albeit) on paved roads and normalized traffic patterns. I can watch a movie that criticizes (in part) the American government in America, then come home at write about it on this blog and not fear any reprisals to me or my loved ones.

These are all good things but they have come at a price. They come at the price, as I see everyday where I work, of the brutality of trying to make it in the capitalist world. I see this mega-corportation I work for (who will remain nameless) shift responsibility and become nearly cannibalistic at times in swallowing its own. You see the Unions, having lost so much influence and credibility try with all their might to simply hold onto what they have already gained, which in turn become abused by workers who play the system--never doing one bit of work more than is "required". One might say, why should they? They are being exploited (let's assume) and abused by the company who doesn't care about them, so why put in the effort?

I work in a section where there is basically no supervision. The guys I work with have all been around for years and are hard-workers. Ok--I'll give a hint, I load brown cardboard packages into cars that deliver these packages to homes and businesses. We work hard. There is a certain pride I take in that--they are good guys, very little bitching and moaning, no backstabbing, no Union vs. non-Union animosity. All these type of things happen in the main section where the loaders are supervised constantly. Its a chicken and egg kidna thing--do we not need supervisors because we do a good job or because there is no supervision does that force us to self-organize and achieve our goal? Conversely, do the supervised, act like children because they are supervised or do they act like children hence they require supervision.

Who knows. Anyway the point is, "exploited" is quite a sliding scale. There is of course exploitation and shady business practices I see everyday, just as there are all across the US, but we are making more money than the Chinese field workers brought into the cities who work 14 hour days and make (by our standards) literally nickels and dimes.

What I'm ancedotally describing is the vast, pervasive dark side of the capitalist-liberal democracy-modern project: namely meaninglessness. By separating out values from the public sphere, except criminal actions, the world becomes devoid of meaning.

But the alternatives, as I said, are worse. Look at the imperial mythic religious regimes. Value-laden in the public sphere, just one very specific set of values and anyone who does not adhere to those values is liable to be tortured, ostracized, or killed.

In Communism and Facism you have the state made transcendent. All other forms of transcendent are squashed. You can not have liberal thought in such a context because liberalism brings with it the inherent proviso that people are free to choose as they desire and many, either by dint of circumstances or consciously, will choose to segregate themselves from any projects any sense of common good. Or will participate but only in very specific, local, often single-issue pet projects. These projects, however good and well-intentioned, therefore are not really in a way critical of the market process of commodification. Volunteerism becomes simply another materiality, spiritual practice is commodified, bought and sold on the market.

In the documentary, the dying mother of the middle-class aspiring businessman (who himself work 14-16 hour days) talks about how she gave her entire life to the factory and the State, and now that she is dying of cancer, they won't pay for her medical expenses.

The son of the secretarial woman, on the brink of joblessness, has been raised with liberal, capitalist values not the traditional Communist cum Confuncian traditional Chinese values his mother says are "5,000 years old."

Once expression and libertarianism are given free reign, many will never develop beyond egocentric or ethnocentric, local drives.

Its a big mess. Obviously the state can not be transcendent. It is an idolatry against the higher self, the inherent dignity of all individuals. And we see what happens when those systems have taken control--mass genocide. Interestingly, as I promise I'm getting around to it, socialist bloc countries (Eastern Europe-China) were ecological apocalypses. By not being able to create efficient product and produce wealth, communist countries maintained earlier, more primitive, more polluting forms of technology. It is only now, in market-economy China that environmentalism (as detailed by Thomas Friedman) is starting to take root.

So environmentally, politically, and socially this modern system is currently without peer. But that does not make absolve it of its innumerable sins and failings. The transition from agrarian to industrial is brutal. It was in our country and continues to be in others going through the process now.

While the capitalist transition is brutal and leaves its own forms of destruction not seen on the farms, every farmer interviewed in the documentary all said that their children must get an education and leave the countryside. None of them wanted their children to have to go through the vicissitudes of their life. That to me is an extremely telling point. For while such farmers can not be considered to be experts on urban life and its dark sides, they certainly are well versed in their own problems.

Jacob Hacker, from New America has a short but excellent piece on the death of the worker pension health-care system in America. America, as opposed to the more state-welfare systems of Scandanavia, Western Europe, and Canada, has been predicated more out of industry. Fortunately, due to the union we still receive full medical and dental, even for part-time employees where I work. The one thing the union deserve much credit for.

America is a unique coutnry and due to its military spending and cultural values has not gone for higher taxes and state healthcare as have the Europeans. Still, as Hacker notes, for all the talk of the inefficiencies and burdens of the Euro Model (and God knows, there are) we are, in the US actually paying more per capita for healthcare than all other post-industrial nations and are getting significantly worse care than all others. It would be one thing to put in the least amount of money and get the least amount out; its quite another to put the most in, least out.

The Euro-model of course is plagued by the fact of declining birthrates and gerentologizing of society. The US birthrate, due to immigrantion, manages to just above retention and will in fact continue to increase.

The question of ageing and the State's responsibilities in society are a huge mess. Clearly we can not go back to a pre-welfare libertarian model out of the 19th century or China now--with millions now unemployed and simply scrapping by (or not) however they do.

But the Welfare State as it was conceived in its heights is now dying a horrible death. The US budget will continue to be eaten up by Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. It is not a solvent system. And Bush's plan, however ignorant it was (and it was), was only a very cosmetic change. The Dems are so beholden to special interests and left-wing conservative movements (left-wingers who exist mostly to "conserve" gains already occurred, like the NYC Transit workers strike) that any talk of reforming the system is labeled as right-wing, cruel, and lacking in compassion. The right-wing, is of course, actually filled with economic libertarians who believe that the market is Divine, being without sin.

Pope John Paul II after the Fall of the Soviet Bloc, said basically one down, one to go. By which he meant, communism was now dead, it is now capitalism that must be demolished. He said this, in response, to an American priest Richard John Neuhaus (editor of the conservative First Things), who interpreted one his encyclicals to say that the Pope was on board with American neo-liberal market economy. Quite a response actually.

I dream of a possible future beyond capitalism not less than it. But what that is, is way beyond me. Maybe its just a dream. It would have to find a balance between the more atomistic Angl0-American model and the holistic (and hence possibly fascist-communist totalitarian) Hegelian Continental model.

There are very good ideas out there (see The Radical Middle and Matt Miller) for some very common-sense, creative solutions to America problems, mostly domestic. But let's say that world comes about, it will still be deeply painful and filled with much anomie and meaninglessness.

Until then we live in this world doing the best that can be done under the circumstances.