Friday, October 10, 2014

Check Out This New Report On Psychological Effects of Global Warming

Kevin J. Coyle, JD and Lise Van Susteren, MD,

National Forum and Research Report
February 2012
National Wildlife Federation Climate Education Program
With Support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Copyright © 2011 National Wildlife Federation

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No Existential Risk, Please! Stephen Pinker's Naive Optimism on Climate Change

Here is a Youtube film of a recent (August 2014?) panel discussion on “Existential Risk”—risks to the survival of the human species as a whole. I have transcribed the initial response of Harvard psychologist and popular intellectual Steven Pinker:
"I guess I’m skeptical of existential risk as an important topic, for two reasons. One of them is that there’s a long history, going back to the Book of Revelations—apocalyptic thinking—that always comes up in new guises. Whatever the newest technology is, people always imagine how it could be an existential risk. And the history of apocalyptic predictions is actually kind of amusing in retrospect. In the 1930’s, it was fear that if you combined the poison gas from WWI with airplanes, then you could have the threat of airplanes spreading poison gas over the surface of the Earth and extinguishing humanity—something we don’t really worry about anymore, even though it’s still technologically possible. And when I grew up, there were both scientists and political scientists who said that it was a certainty that the US and the USSR would fight a nuclear war, ending humanity. And that certainty didn’t happen. And then there was polywater, a polymerized form of water that would turn all of the world’s water into thick goo; there were the nanobots that were going to consume every bit of organic matter and smother us in grey goo. The problem with existential threats is they’re very easy to imagine. If you play them out on the stage of your imagination, they often speak more to our anxieties than to credible threats. I guess I’m more worried about sub-existential threats; that is, rather than worry about the very last of the 7.2 billion people on Earth today, I think it’d be bad enough if there’s ten thousand or a hundred thousand or a million who get killed, and we know that there are things that can do that kind of damage and we don’t have to play out farfetched scenarios to imagine that people are going to be dying from hunger and disease and war and genocide. My priority would be these sub-existential threats that are certain—they’re happening every day—and that affect the fortunes of actual people."
This is essentially the same move made repeatedly and incisively by John Michael Greer, in books like Apocalypse Not and at his blog, the Archdruid Report. While there is much to be learned from Greer, his argument about existential risk—that there can be no such thing on humanly meaningful timescales, since people have anticipated it so many times before, without result—seems to me quite fatuous. I recently addressed this in “Collapse Awareness and the Tragic Consciousness (a blogpost at Nature Bats Last):

It is well to point out (Greer, 2009) that apocalyptic claims have always proven erroneous in the past, and they may do so again. But the human past never included environmental stressors that were planet-wide, beyond which there can be no appeal. Fossil aquifers and fossil fuels cannot renew, except on a geological timescale irrelevant to human affairs. Radioactive elements (like nuclear waste, nuclear plant leakages, or the depleted uranium the U.S. shot all over Iraq,) have half-lives in the thousands and even millions of years. Four hundred ppm of CO2 makes for a hell of a greenhouse effect, complete with positive feedback loops; the most dangerous of these is the methane cascade problem. There is no remaining “New World” by which to repeat the surprise of 1492 — the frontier is closed, and the world is round.

Drop a baseball from the top of the Empire State Building, and there will be many opportunities to point out that it is going down and must hit the ground. Each presents a corresponding opportunity to reply that yes, it may be going down, but it hasn’t hit — and that you pessimists have repeatedly claimed that it’s going to hit the ground, yet it still hasn’t, so maybe it never will. So it is with claims of apocalypse.

Having addressed the central point of Pinker’s argument, let’s consider the tone and substance of the remainder. Consider the first example of the “amusing in retrospect” pseudo-existential threats that so troubled our na├»ve predecessors: poison sprayed from planes. During the Vietnam War, the United States denuded Vietnam of some five million acres of forest, causing around 400,000 deaths and 500,000 birth defects for decades after.[1] Monsanto and Dow Chemical Company manufactured most of the herbicidal defoliants used by the US (the most common of which was known as Agent Orange (after the color of the barrels that stored it), totaling over seventy million litres of poisons, notably the amazingly toxic dioxin (Stellman, 2003).[2] Today Monsanto douses agricultural fields with vast amounts of somewhat comparable[3] poisons like Roundup, whose active ingredient glyphosate has been associated with a range of serious health effects.[4] According to Carey Gillam of Reuters, “In 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers.”[5]
Call it agribusiness or sociopathy, this amounts to: spraying poison from planes. While Pinker is obviously correct in observing that the practice has not killed everyone on Earth, he sounds too glib to have considered that fossil-fuel dependent agriculture (of which petrochemical toxins are a crucial part) is in fact an existential threat. The soil of the US and many other countries is no longer a living ecosystem that sustains itself through the natural cycling of nutrients and water among thousands of interdependent species; it has become an inert sponge for inputs of fossil fuels—ammonium nitrate fertilizers from natural gas, pesticides and herbicides from petroleum. These are used with GMO crops whose two commercial merits are, first, their ability to resist (briefly, until the target organisms develop resistance) the expensive weed-killing herbicides Monsanto and Dow manufacture, and second, their engineered sterility, which forces farmers to pay Monsanto for new seed every planting season, or face starvation. The mass suicides of farmers in India are associated with this extractive model of agriculture. It is, in Pinker’s words, one of the “sub-existential threats that are certain—they’re happening every day—and that affect the fortunes of actual people.” But if we leave Monsanto and Cargill and Syngenta and Dow Chemical to their own devices, they will happily compromise the food chain until it fails.

Pinker’s next example is the Cold War: “when I grew up, there were both scientists and political scientists who said that it was a certainty that the US and the USSR would fight a nuclear war, ending humanity. And that certainty didn’t happen.” The fallacy here is the implication that because a nuclear holocaust did not happen, it was never an existential threat. Of course it was. Worse, scholars have come to appreciate just how close we came to annihilation at several points in the Cold War, notably the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis in which President Kennedy’s resolve—his moral courage and psychological maturity—was the only thing between a mad pack of warhawk generals and the missile launch buttons.[6]

Pinker summarizes: “The problem with existential threats is that they’re very easy to imagine. If you play them out on the stage of your imagination, they often speak more to our anxieties than to credible threats.” There are real threats and imaginary ones, just as there are real people as well as fictional characters, real diseases as well as socially constructed syndromes, many real plants and many plastic ones. The rub lies in the ever-present task of properly sorting the real threats from the unreal ones. It may be “amusing” to look back on false positives in the history of threat-assessment, but it would be foolish to neglect current risks on those grounds, as if there were no such thing as a false negative—something which doesn’t look like a threat, but turns out to be one.  Left unchecked, CFCs might well have permanently ruined the ozone layer, exposing most of the biosphere to damaging and potentially lethal ultra-violet and other forms of radiation. Neonicotinoids are a group of agricultural petrochemicals which now threaten to eradicate bees, without whom there is almost no pollination—a potential disaster for the terrestrial food chain. Plankton in the oceans are the basis of the marine food chain; their numbers are down 40% since 1950.[7] Since no human being can live without food, these are existential threats to humanity.

On Pinker’s reasoning, to consider existential risk is to “worry about the very last of the 7.2 billion people on Earth today,” a rhetorical sleight of hand, since (of course) the issue is the 7.2 billion deaths of the whole lot of us, not the individual death of the last remaining member of the species, even though both of these are involved in extinction.

Lastly, we are invited to neglect what the speaker calls “farfetched scenarios.” Here again, there always farfetched scenarios out there, but the interest lies in determining just which scenarios are farfetched. Though concrete facts constrain the social construction of risk perception, it is still a social construct. Such constructs are rich with biases of class privilege and other identity elements. It is part of the culture of Harvard University, and of the One Percent in general, to ignore those who try and call their attention to serious threats; then mock them with scorn, derision, and contempt; and then forget all about the whistleblower once his or her warning has come true.[8] They often announce that absolutely nobody could have predicted the problem, which is an attempt to erase from history whoever did make such a prediction, along with the necessary sacrifices exacted from people who dare to play that role. This happened with Semmelweis and his discovery that thousands of lives are saved when a hospital decides it’s a good idea for surgeons to wash their hands before operating; it happened with Marion King Hubbert’s accurate prediction of the peaking of conventional oil production in the US and in the world as a whole; it happened with Trotsky’s prescient warning that Stalin was going to murder the revolutionary generation of Bolsheviks to consolidate his power; it happened with Michael Ruppert’s warnings in the late 1990’s that the US was headed toward a petro-police state, and so on.

In the twenty seconds following 23:08, Pinker says "If you set climate change as a problem to be solved, as opposed to thinking of it as an apocalypse that we have visited upon ourselves and deserve to be punished for our sinful ways, and our only solution is to completely and radically change our lifestyle and value system. I think that's unlikely to solve the problem. I think thinking of it as a big mess that we've gotten ourselves into and what are the ways that we can get the numbers to match up with reality, I think a solution exists." There it is. Watch the clip. What Pinker disagrees with is this fundamental truth, agreed upon by all reasonable people with whom I am at all acquainted: "our only solution is to completely and radically change our lifestyle and value system."

Seated near Dr. Pinker on the panel was Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (2006) and The Sixth Extinction (2014), giving the panel the gravitas that helps express the nature of our predicament.

Evidence of abrupt and dramatic climate change is nearly everywhere you look: unprecedented high temperatures, storms, floods, droughts, migrations, wildfires, crop failures, species extinctions (as many as 200 per day), sea ice loss and sea level rise, and the triggering of perilous positive feedback loops like the methane releases from both thawing permafrost and the warming ocean floor. While there is meaningful controversy about just how quickly these will converge and just how screwed we really are at this point, everybody knows that exponential growth on a finite planet is the murder of the whole world. Everybody knows about the critical state of the ecosystem without which life is impossible. 

Until I saw this conference footage, I thought even Harvard knew it.

[6] JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. James W. Douglass (Orbis Books, 2008).
[8] John Michael Greer is particularly good on this issue. See “Heading Toward ther Sidewalk” and “Dark Age America: The Senility of the Elites.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

5 Reasons Why Some People Insist on Discussing Collapse, and Even Extinction

1.     Truth-telling. American civilization is an abusive parent who provides more material goods than most, but lies about just how violently he acquired those goods. With hundreds of military bases abroad, American authority is like a Mafioso who brings home big bags of toys and candy with blood all over them, and strictly forbids any discussion of where it all came from.

In such a family, some kids will prefer to keep the stuff and repress their own guilt and terror. This is not just so they can keep the presents! They do it because if they don’t, their Dad’s illusory goodness will disappear; their necessary idealization of him will collapse, and they will be flooded with a painful ambivalence that they are not equipped to process or contain. With more citizens in prison than any other country on Earth, America is also a disciplinarian to be feared by his dependents.

The abusive parent has an addiction: oil. The analogy with alcoholism expresses the links among the addiction, the violence, the hypocrisy, and the deterioration. But the analogy breaks down when we consider that oil doesn’t just drive the bully in charge, it also powers the profligate lifestyle that is all the kids have ever known.

While some kids will need to stay with the abuser’s program, other kids will find a way to speak the truth. This doesn’t just happen because they are older kids (sometimes they aren’t), but because of temperament, or insight, or some external source of support, like a mentor whose values are different (say, Shakespeare), or friendship with a family down the street who live in a far different and better way (say, Denmark or Cuba). Speaking that truth will both risk the wrath of the abusive father, and alienate the kids who are still trying to love him. But in a regime of endless lies and unacknowledged open secrets, speaking the truth can feel so important as to drive us to risk ostracism and punishment. We have to do it.

2.     Orientation. Mammals are wired to orient themselves in their environment, periodically doing threat assessment by scanning the place with open eyes and ears. Think of meerkats on their hind legs, peering at the horizon so they can know what’s coming. Climate change is not a discreet entity that we can track with our eyes, like some leopard who’s in one place at a time and can be present one moment and gone the next. It’s an entirely different sort of threat from the kind we are equipped to find and to confront. But that doesn’t change our nature, part of which is this need to look at what dangers are out there as they approach. It is still absent because the worst of its hardships (e.g., sea level rise in the tens of meters, and temperatures so high the human body can’t thermo-regulate anymore) are yet to come; yet it is also already present as Katrina and Sandy, epic wildfires, droughts, and floods, lethal heat waves, falling crop yields, mass extinctions, sea ice loss, and all the other anomalies of the past ten years. People with a strong orientation drive will continue to assess threats—even those which they are relatively powerless to stop, because what prompts me to orient myself is not only the nature of the threat (in which case I might say, “well, this great white shark is too big for me to stop, so I may as well ignore it”) but my own need to try and protect myself, whether that is possible or not.

3.     Integration. The false story costs a lot. In order to continue believing in it and enjoying its advantages in relative comfort, I have to make and maintain a deep split right down the middle of my psyche (there are other solutions besides this splitting, such as sociopathy, but this essay is about bleedingheart doomers such as myself). To stay happy inside consumerism’s nationalist culture of endless growth on a finite planet, I have to repress not only the giant ethical issues raised above (see # 1), but also the tide of evidence that precisely because of these living arrangements the world is rapidly becoming inhospitable to human life (see # 2). Unless this repression is so complete that I am unaware of it, it will cost me much of my energy and some of my mental health just to maintain it. If I turn toward the truth instead, I will be forced to endure an awareness of it; in return, I will be free of the need to split and compartmentalize and pretend.

4.     Erasure. When I’m confronted with the evidence of possible near-term human extinction (NTHE) from pollution, depletion, and climate change (especially when the story includes methane, not just CO2), part of me indulges in the thought that such an apocalypse would take with it much of what I hate, including illegitimate authoritarian power, militant stupidity, cruel poverty for billions of people, for-profit prisons, torture, and so on. Make it stop. Let it stop. In Scorcese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle is so disgusted with the pervasive crime and depravity of the city, that he fantasizes about a great cleansing: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” The Biblical precedent is Noah’s flood. Like Job or Ecclesiastes, one gets heartsick of entrenched injustice—waste, fraud, and abuse—until the most soothing thought is to have something just smash it all, vaguely hoping for a better outcome in some other time (whether future or past!) or place. For example, whoever feels the obvious emotional reality that elephants are non-human persons (they have self-awareness, love their children, mourn their dead, live by matriarchy, form deep social bonds, weep when sad, play joyfully, communicate, and so on) cannot bear the unbearable knowledge that these people are now being rapidly murdered out of existence. According to some sources, the African Lion population is down 90% since 1980. That stings so bad that I find myself thinking this world is so far gone and so perverse that it should be finished off.  This is a totally irrational thought which I do not endorse, but there it is.

5.     Displacement. Threats make us want to act defensively in the protection of ourselves and those we love. But the state of the whole world is so vast a predicament that I can’t discharge the powerful impulse to “do something” that will fix it. I can take a 99.9% symbolic kind of action and reduce my carbon footprint. But I can’t stop the timber industry from cutting down every last tree; I can’t stop Monsanto from poisoning every inch of ground with patented horrors like Agent Orange (“Roundup”); I can’t bring flood relief to Bangladesh or Biloxi, restore the toxic Gulf of Mexico, undo Fukushima, alkalize the seven oceans, or conjure with a wand the replacement of a century of car culture with a whole new infrastructure of local production, bikes, and handicrafts. The helplessness is overwhelming. So my mere awareness (though from a social point of view, there in nothing “mere” about it) of the dire facts comes to substitute for the impossible improvements I yearn to make. I do make (or try to make, or plan to make) the infinitesimal improvements I can make, but the helplessness is barely diminished. I stop eating beef for a year, but the industry never reduces the size of the factory farms’ herds in response. I cut down on my plastic use, but Somebody keeps on refining petroleum into gasoline and using the byproducts to make cheap plastic. When I reach for the feelings of well-being that would come from an experience of personal agency and instead feel totally powerless, I turn to the only thing left on the shelf: my awareness. I can’t fix reality, but at least I can keep acknowledging it.
      In conclusion, here is a very recent and potent presentation by Jennifer Hynes on the Arctic Methane problem. It may stir up in you some of the thoughts and feelings I've described here. You need not fear that every counselor out there would pathologize-and-diagnose if you came to them for help with these issues. Some would not.

A Moving Cri-de-Couer by Prince Ea

I came across this video on Facebook somewhere. I was moved enough to want to share it with you here. Time to check out more of Mr. Ea's work.

An Insight from Miguel D. Lewis

Monday, January 6, 2014

Energy, Guilt, Catastrophe

 “This age is both comic and tragic. Tragic, because it is perishing; comic, because it continues.”
Energy is a category within the science of nature, or physics. It refers to "the capacity to effectuate change" (E. Hecht, 2013). Like all such abstractions, the word began with a concrete sense that became abstracted over time. “Energy” is a composite from Ancient Greek, whose first syllable means “in,” while the second means “work.” In terms of “ordinary language” (Austin, 1961), energy is whatever invisible force pervades a process of work, without which it could not be done; it is also that unperformed work hidden inside an object, person, or state of affairs, which is then liberated by some kind of activity. En-ergy is the work inside something, or the powerful something inside of a work process. Abstraction has widened the scope of the term to the point where it can mean almost anything, and this is most obvious in New Age discourse, where “energy” is a ubiquitous word whose metaphoricity is always indeterminate: nobody knows what it refers to, so it can do jobs that can’t be done by other terms that are more clearly understood (Greer, 200).            
The categories of scarcity and abundance have been connected to the concept of energy from the Beginning: in Genesis, Adam and Eve are forced out of the abundant Garden of Eden and into a world of scarcity and labor. This myth, as many anthropologists have argued (e.g., Brody, 2002; Thompson, 1981), is a description of the advent of agriculture and the end of foraging as the central regime of human subsistence. Hunting and gathering, goes the claim, afforded people far more leisure and limited their appetites to what they could carry; whereas farming both bound people to their local fields and allowed the accumulation of agricultural surpluses which could be traded for other goods and services. These goods required storage, which required fortification and guard labor; soon enough, the more people a community could produce, the more crops it could grow and the more wealth it could amass and protect from competitors. With enough wealth, a community could launch an imperial project of raiding its neighbors, annexing their territory, and assimilating or slaughtering their populations. All that food production and all that soldiering require large populations, so the reproductive capacity of women tends to get commandeered by the state, embodied in the fathers and husbands who depend on it (Lerner, 1986).
This shift away from hunter-gatherer culture has long been understood as a disaster in gender relations; Friedrich Engels (1884) famously called it “the world historical defeat of the female sex.” As Stone (1976, p.199) notes, Genesis 3:17 suggests that the advent of hard labor was caused by the mistaken practice of listening to women: “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life…” In the Garden of Eden, energy scarcity and social inequality were non-issues; they arise together, as a consequence of eating a forbidden fruit so potent that a single bite changes the world forever. The abundance in Eden was absolute, not quantitative; no measurements were made; nature was a seamless relational matrix, not a planetary stockroom loaded with catalogued “resources” awaiting exploitation (Heidegger, 1954). If the ancient and medieval worlds were afflicted by energy scarcity and a dependence on the muscle power of humans and other domesticated animals, the advent of fossil fuels brought an abundance that seemed absolute but was in fact quantitative, measurable, and all-too finite. As the literature of Peak Oil has articulated (Heinberg, 2003), the emergence of fossil fuels was so profoundly impressive and transformative that, like the bitten apple in Eden, it suddenly changed the whole world, producing a culture of boundless optimism (Peale, 1952), manic ambition (Whybrow, 2006), and “the civil religion of progress” (Greer, 2013). Modernity is this falsely infinite abundance, together with the ideological lubricant by which criteria of race, class, and gender entitle a colonial class of resource extractors, disenfranchising several billion persons at home and abroad who can directly access neither the means of production nor the sources of that fossil energy which drives production, distribution, and exchange. Only after a century of life under that worldview—that modernity of cheap energy, endless capital accumulation, and ideologically grounded inequality—did it become noticeable that its ultimate driver was neither “technology” nor “innovation,” but energy, in the form of fossil fuels.  Technology and innovation are endlessly touted in American public discourse because they are products of human virtue, whose importance flatters our narcissism. Fossil energy, by contrast, is a natural endowment of the planet (mostly from two episodes of vast algal blooming, 90 million and 150 million years ago) which we merely extract and consume, remaining powerless to replace those depleted fuels, and powerless to sequester the pollution we produce in burning them. We did not make oil; we can’t replace it; we can’t clean up after it; we can’t stop using it.  Along one vector, fossil energy provides us with unprecedented godlike power; along these other vectors, it delivers us over to overwhelming feelings of helplessness, rather like an addiction to heroin or methamphetamine.
While the discipline of English uses “early modern” as a term for the European civilization of the sixteenth century, what we regard as contemporary is a form of the modern in which energy is cheap and abundant (Heinberg, 2003); infinite material wealth is pursued for its own sake (Weber, 1905); and life is increasingly subject to what Max Weber called “rationalization,” a process of measurement and calculation that tends to homogenize, systematize, and disenchant whatever it subsumes.  For historians like Bauman (1989) and Rubenstein (1975), the Nazi Holocaust represents the heart of modernity, since it combines mechanized technology (which requires cheap and abundant energy) with pseudoscientific racist ideology and bureaucratic organization, both of which can be seen as forms of Weberian rationalization. If the taint of Original Sin once marked humanity as fallen exiles from an Earthly Paradise, this reading of the Holocaust as modernity’s essence marks contemporary people as fallen exiles from the eighteenth century Enlightenment and its utopian social hopes. The essence of our times is also the nadir of human behavior.
The same symbolic system that conceived Original Sin—derived by Iranaeus and later by Augustine from the Letters of Paul—later developed the idea that it was this sin from which humanity required the redemption offered by Christ. But Christ was killed by human beings, a sacrifice understood to have exemplified his ethics, where the victim gives good in exchange for the evils of his assailants (e.g., Matthew 5:44). So goes Luke 23:34: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Traditional Christian anti-Judaism holds “the Jews” responsible for the death of Jesus (Farmer, 1999), whereas the political realities on the ground seem to implicate the Roman administration (Crossan, 1996).  Matthew 25:40 seems to universalize, or render collective, the guilt for the Crucifixion: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” The Holocaust raises similar questions about concentric circles of guilt and responsibility, implicating first those individuals –some of whom were executed at Nuremberg, whereas others were welcomed to America by the Central Intelligence Agency for their anti-Soviet abilities (Simpson, 1989) – whose active participation was concrete (Arendt, 1963); then, the German people who supported the Nazi regime (Goldhagen, 1996); and finally, all of “modern” mankind, since we are all subject to the same forces that produced the Nazis and their atrocities (Rubenstein, 1975).  Indeed, Stanley Milgram’s famous “peer shock administration” experiments of 1963 (codified in his 1974 book Obedience to Authority) helped to establish the universality of the capacity for behaviors like torture, as Hannah Arednt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963) had done for mass-murder, slavery and genocide.
This issue of collective guilt (Branscomb, 2004) has been kindled anew by the advent of catastrophic climate change. Concrete responsibility seems concentrated among policymakers and corporate officers whose decisions directly result in particular instances of resource extraction and pollution (Jensen, 2011), but a collective guilt afflicts everyone who has ever benefitted from the consumption of those resources. This is easily (and often) quantified by statistics showing per capita energy use, with the United States among the most energy-profligate of existing nations. Climate negotiations are routinely deadlocked by this logic of quantified responsibility, since the major interests represented at the table are nation-states (whose representatives generally want carbon restrictions to be proportional, either to fuels already burned by “developed” states, or to fuels set to be burned by “developing” ones) and fossil fuel corporations (whose representatives generally want the talks to fail). There seems to be a parallel between the burning of fuels for electricity, and the entailment of responsibility for climate change: most of the liberated energy is lost as heat at the burn site, but the rest is exported by transmission lines to millions of end users—as the most concrete responsibility lies with the fuel corporations themselves, who then export a more attenuated form of that responsibility to millions of beneficiaries of the oil, gas, and coal they have expropriated. To press this strange analogy further, note that the heat generated at the power plant is not employed for any purpose (except at “cogeneration” plants, which use their heat for desalination or for municipal hot water), but lost locally as waste; similarly, the responsibility generated at ExxonMobil headquarters is not experienced as guilt (which might be converted into remedial action), but transmuted into its opposite—entitlement, as the remorseless zeal for more wealth—via the defense mechanism known as reaction formation (Czander, 2008).    
Psychoanalysis emerged in the heyday of commercial fossil-fuels, when animal muscle power was replaced by coal-fired steam engines, followed by the liquid fuel internal combustion engine, and the eventual electrification of urban and rural landscapes. In the posthumously published 1895 “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” Freud’s model of the mind was informed by his studies with Helmholz and Brucke (Sulloway, 1979), whose Berlin Physicalist Society held that “no other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the organism” (du Bois-Reymond, 1842, cited in Sulloway, p. 14).  For Freud, the psychic representative of this “physical chemical force” was drive, and the “Project for a Scientific Psychology” is an effort to explain emotional life in terms of an economy of drives within the organism. Though this physicalism of the early Freud is easy to exaggerate (Mills, 2012), he does seem to have emphasized the individual mind as an embodied but somewhat isolated unit—at least compared to his successors in the object relations school. It may be fair to say that Freudian drive theory remained hegemonic in the United States for most of the twentieth century, waning only in the aftermath of President Carter’s national conversation about the new energy scarcity. It is as if modernity’s American citizen were a Freudian subject, an isolated mind with its own tank of libido, seated in the driver’s seat of an isolated Studebaker with its own gas tank, seeking its fortune. The new talk of “renewable energy,” chiefly solar and wind power, imagined energy no longer as a stably stored resource lying ready in the ground, but as a relationship arising within a cosmic system; the wind and the sunshine flow through the universe, and those who would make use of them must join in those larger processes of circulation, interposing their energy-gathering equipment into the existing system of wild, active forces. Correspondingly, the subject of relational psychoanalysis (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983) is part of, and even constituted by, a web of relationships that constitute an environing field—like the photosphere of the Sun or the atmosphere of the Earth, tapped into by PV cells and wind turbines, respectively.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

To an Actor

What was the most thrilling role you ever played? Your best experience acting? How often does that experience come to mind as you ask yourself what you’re doing with your life? It’s easy to get obsessed with the business side of the art, since that’s what allows you to keep on acting. Chasing after fame and fortune can be quite pragmatic, but it can also be vainglorious. Generally it’s the people who cherish their experiences on stage and/or in front of the camera who have good outcomes, whether those look “successful” or not. Those who are hypnotized by the grandiose rewards of success (perhaps especially in acting) tend to berate themselves for not having it yet; when and if they do achieve it, they tend to be the people who go nuts (they “decompensate”) doing cocaine in hotel rooms, alone, or with hangers-on. Those who remember the art and their experience of it—both the acting and the camaraderie of being in a troupe or a cast—tend to cope better with lack of outward success (since the aspect that really matters to them is the one they already do have), and, if things go well, they can tolerate success without losing hold of themselves.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Open Letter To KMO of the C-Realm Podcast Regarding Episode 379

Dear KMO,
I’m a C-Realm listener who admires the work you do, and I was somewhat taken aback by the recent (9/11/13) interview with Tom Barbalet. On the assumption that you have the time and energy to read listener comments about your broadcast, I’d like to share my thoughts. I hasten to mention that I have no doubts about your intellectual honesty and remain grateful for your excellent work.
Episode 275 of the C-Realm Podcast featured my friend Mark Robinowitz, whose unique contribution has been to differentiate among the various kinds of dissenting hypotheses regarding 9/11. A page on his website condenses that work into a single chart that can be viewed at a glance (click to enlarge):
Having interviewed Mark, you’re probably well aware of this chart and the point it makes—yet Episode 379 shows little evidence of that awareness. Instead, it pillories the explanations listed here as “probably not true” and “disinformation that discredits,” as though they were the best the 9/11 Truth movement had to offer.
I was pleased to hear you acknowledge that the intelligence community does indeed deliberately mislead the public about its violent and unconstitutional activities, so I need not refer you to the abundant documentation (e.g., CIA document #1035-960 RE: “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report,” easily available online in both transcript and facsimile). Such documents launched the phrase “conspiracy theory” as a tool of disinformation, one that has proven remarkably effective. Only people of courage, like yourself, can persist in espousing dissident hypotheses in the face of officially encouraged mockery, contempt, and stigma.
I was also pleased to hear your guest say he no longer uses the phrase “conspiracy theory,” but disappointed at its very frequent occurrence in the interview.
The word “narrative” has its uses and its limits. You made fine use of it in criticizing lazy writers who have embraced a story without thinking it through. But your use of the word is so broad that it tars everyone with the same brush. Surely we live in a world that includes evidence, criteria, hypothesis, inference, and critique—not merely a postmodern welter of competing “narratives.”
You asked your guest about the collapse of WTC-7, but he never addressed the question. You asked him about Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, and he discussed the hazardous ignorance of physics and engineering that makes for a bad architect. He ignored the engineers in the organization, which seemed egregious.
Apparently the focus of episode 379 was the vocal population within 9/11 Truth—a largely failed movement which I believe has run its course—who militate for a given narrative without adequate reasoning and research. Yes, their behavior is sociologically interesting in its own right. But to speak as if they represent the entire movement is, it seems to me, ethically perilous and misleading in ways you must not have intended. I hope I haven’t misunderstood you or mischaracterized episode 379.
I edited Michael C. Ruppert’s book Crossing the Rubicon: the Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. It makes a case for Dick Cheney’s central role in the attacks, based on means, motive and opportunity. If this bestseller were vulnerable to discredit, it would likely have drawn a libel lawsuit from Cheney’s associates—but there has been no such suit, nor any rebuttal that I know of. Crossing the Rubicon is widely praised for its sustained attention to context and motives (which Mr. Barbalet imagines have been ignored), including Peak Oil, geopolitics, narcotraffic, money-laundering, war profits, and political power.
I mention the book because it deliberately eschews issues of physical evidence (as does Mark Robinowitz), precisely the issues studied by the above-mentioned organization of architects and engineers. It does this because physical evidence is notoriously plastic; one expert witness contradicts another, and the custody chain of the evidence is usually in doubt, making it vulnerable to tampering. From my perspective, then, Architects & Engineers is a straw man, whether its work is excellent or poor. There is a mountain of evidence that is not of this sort, and to many reasonable people it establishes beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of persons within the government and its corporate sponsors. Episode 379 mentions none of it.
I appreciated your audio excerpt from Hill and Knowlton’s long-discredited disinformation regarding Iraq and Kuwait, since it showed your audience that authorities do lie; that these lies are often exposed; and that this exposure rarely changes the policy outcome or prevents the violence which those lies were intended to facilitate.
Mr. Barbalet rightly drew attention to the appalling human toll of American foreign policy and its horrific legacy of death, bereavement, mutilation, cultural destruction, and deception. Unfortunately, he also suggested that whoever is persuaded of U.S. involvement in 9/11 also neglects this history of American violence at home and abroad; that to hold a dissident hypothesis regarding this particular episode of violence somehow entails the lazy, passive racism that remains indifferent to the horrors of U.S. intervention in scores of countries the world over. This absurd claim is dispelled by a look at the work of Peter Dale Scott, or Michel Chossudovsky, or Michael Ruppert, or Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, or Gore Vidal, et cetera.
James Howard Kunstler, in whose books and podcasts I have usually found both wit and wisdom, routinely deploys a strategy similar to that of Mr. Barbalet: he disavows “conspiracy theory” because it has been stigmatized as the domain of fools, wing-nuts, and profiteers, but he endorses some of the very claims which that phrase is usually intended to rule out. Because the CIA has been so successful in shaping public perceptions, intelligent people of goodwill like JHK often share the engineered but bogus assumptions launched in the CIA’s own documents, such as #1035-960, cited above:
“Our ploy should point out, as applicable, that the critics are: (I) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (II) politically interested, (III) financially interested, (IV) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (V) infatuated with their own theories.”
Stigma can be a heavy price to pay for political insight, not least in its effect on the size of one’s audience. I sympathize with the impulse to avoid incurring it. But it is disingenuous to do as Kunstler so often does, dispelling stigma with a breezy contempt for his fellow dissidents while in the same breath employing the insights of the same people he has just dismissed: “I’m allergic to conspiracy theories, but…” Marginalized as “wackos,” other people are left to pay the price—the risks and the contempt and the derision—for insights and observations that Kunstler repeats because they happen to be correct. See, for example, KunstlerCast episode 152, “Is Peak OilA Conspiracy Theory?” Note that in The Geography of Nowhere (1994), and elsewhere, Kunstler illuminates the documented conspiracy of General Motors, Ford, and Firestone to buy up and destroy the electrical public transportation systems of 45 American cities.
Of course some hypotheses are indeed implausible—e.g., no planes hit the towers, or driver William Greer shot JFK, or we never landed the Apollo 11 on the moon—and not everyone who holds them is a sophisticated liar. Some people are actually persuaded of this sort of proposition that I dismiss as either disinformation or fantasy. I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to dissociate himself or herself from such hypotheses and their advocates. But it plays into the CIA’s hands to wear one’s own sophistication with arrogance. That said, I reiterate my admiration for Mr. Kunstler.
Finally, your guest often referred to “the 9/11 Truther Movement.” To me, that little suffix (“-er”) is offensive. Republicans do something similar when they contemn “Democrat policies” instead of “Democratic policies.” The distinction looks small enough that no one mentions it for fear of pettiness, but it is actually a clever subterfuge that focuses attention on the people—ad hominem—rather than the policies or the hypotheses that are at issue.
In closing, I very much appreciate your work, the generally excellent C-Realm Podcast. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss these issues with you further.


Jamey Hecht, PhD