On the Rails Again: Euro Trains are No Amtrak

Another in the series of occasional rants by the Mad Jubilado.

Over two hundred kilometers per hour? That’s more than 124 mph! Well, we seemed to be going pretty fast.  It was no Shinkansen (the Japanese “Bullet Train”) rocketing the 330 miles from Tocho-Mai Station in Tokyo to Kyoto between 150 and 200 mph. In the U.S., the contrast is striking.  Amtrak passenger trains dare not go over about 65 mph, and with good reason. The European trains are quiet, fast, and comfortable.

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Dutch Tulips

In Tokyo, trains routinely pull up to the platform and stop exactly as scheduled, to the second, after their high-speed runs. Departure times are equally precise. In Europe, they are very close. In the U.S., well, things are different. Here, passenger trains have been relegated to a second-class status, behind the more profitable freight trains. They are not particularly comfortable, fast, or on time. Moving all that coal, oil, and Chinese manufactured consumer goods imported by U.S. corporations, gets first billing. Gotta sell that junk to Americans who have lost their well-paid manufacturing jobs and now work as Walmart greeters or fast food cashiers. That is the priority, not public transportation.

Like so much here, public transportation systems have been ‘privatized,’ leaving the public interest behind. The railroads were created to help stimulate western expansion. The federal government gave wide swaths of land to railroad companies to encourage their development. Huge profits were made not only on the rails themselves but in the many land deals that followed. Private corporate exploitation of the commonwealth continues apace, with little challenge.

Now, the railroad companies act like it is their God-given right to exploit those properties in their own interest, the public be damned. Contrary to the corporate “free market” ideology, most of the magnificent technological developments of the industrial era were subsidized by the public purse. The prime beneficiaries have been the private corporations that took advantage of government largess. Any public benefit was secondary, though there have been many. Unlike Europe, where public infrastructure is valued and maintained, here it is all about the next subsidy or tax break for the corporations and super-rich, to be paid for by squeezing public infrastructure and services ever more tightly as the national debt grows.

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On the Rails to Haarlem

The speed, smooth ride, and quiet on the electric European rail lines got my attention. I don’t remember a more comfortable train ride anywhere else. Then I saw the flat panel display on the forward bulkhead in the rather new passenger car. It displayed the speed in kilometers per hour and the time of arrival at the next station. We were on the TGV, the Euro Rail line, heading from Lyon, France to Haarlem, Netherlands.

The French countryside is a beautiful green in springtime. The tulips are in bloom all across the flat lowlands of Holland. What color! The mix of architecture in passing towns and cities, ranging from medieval to modern, is a bit dissonant in its charm. It is all so lovely to watch through the large windows of our passing train. It is almost as if nothing has changed in the world…but it has.

If there is to be a solution to the converging crises of climate chaos, poverty, resource wars, failed agriculture, mass starvation and forced migrations, it must include transforming public infrastructure to create low-carbon forms of transportation, powered by solar and wind-generated electricity and human energy. Trains, trams, and bicycles must become an essential element of a new life strategy, if we let it. The U.S. is so far behind. We wallow in political fights over false narratives while the planet burns. Making significant progress on issues like public transportation will require a political revolution.

Our Grand Illusions vs. Survival

I was an undergraduate student in anthropology when I saw a remarkable documentary film depicting the lives of the !Kung people. Also known as the San, they lived in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa as hunter-gatherers, still undisturbed by outside forces in 1952-3 when some Harvard ethnographers shot the film. The social structure of the small band met the requirements of that harsh environment in intricate ways. The San people worked very hard to survive yet had plenty of leisure time and seemed quite happy. Later incursions of Europeans seeking diamonds changed all that.

In stark contrast, the victims of America’s “sacrifice zones” such as Camden, New Jersey, and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, live very hard lives in environments devoid of ecosystem resources from which to build a life. They are dependent upon the larger industrial-consumer economy from which they are structurally isolated. The rest of us live in consumer bubbles, where we are equally dependent but allowed to participate. In both cases, people have no direct connection to the land where they live; all relations are indirect, mediated by large national or international institutions over which we have no control.

The Cultural Problem of the Illusions Complex

Having long since abandoned any sacred or direct relations with the order of Nature, industrial-consumer economies have briefly enriched some, excluded many, but at great peril to all. Their elites have constructed a story of unending progress through industrial expansion. But that story of unnatural ambitions is no longer valid on this finite planet. The foundations of our grand illusions crumble as we seek to build more on top of them. The Great Transformation that launched the industrial age began by “enclosing” traditional communities in England and Scotland to accelerate industrialization and never looked back.

I was fortunate to have grown up experiencing much of nature through involvement with the Boy Scouts, despite living in a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. We learned so much about the natural world beyond the suburban bubble that was a small part of the “Great Acceleration” of fossil-fueled economic expansion of the late 1940s and 1950s. I will never forget those adventuresome days. I understood later experiences of people whose lives were entirely urban partly in those terms. Their lives and beliefs develop entirely within the culture of industrial consumerism, devoid of any sense of the natural world.

Devolution of Education

The education system has not helped much. In college, I believed that education could be the source of solving most of the world’s problems. However, educational institutions, like science itself, developed as part of the modern world built on the foundations of rational humanism that viewed “Man” apart from and meant to dominate Nature.

The Earth seemed an unending source of materials to be plundered at will. The emerging industrial system became the vehicle for exploiting the natural world. Education became a means to prepare workers for obedient contributions to the growth of that system, not a method for cultivating the skills of thinking citizens. In the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, the American education system expanded with the rest of the economy. That growth allowed some slack for faculty to explore learning in diverse ways, partially fulfilling the goals of developing thinking citizens.

From the very beginning of my university career in 1970, for thirty-five years I watched the quality of education in the U.S. decline as corporate economic interests pressured for the university to produce trained workers. Elimination of the progressive income tax system severely constrained public budgets, putting additional pressure on education to operate like a profit-making business instead of a public service.

Education became a commodity delivered like a sack of potatoes. Now we have the sister of the head of the private Blackwater mercenary army heading the U.S. Department of Education, attempting to “privatize” all education for corporate profit. Education today sidelines intellectual development, critical thinking, literature and the arts in favor of training new workers for technical performance in corporate environments. From George Bush’s “no child left behind,” to the privatization of educational institutions, the decline of education in America serves the corporate state, not the people, and sets the stage for the rise of fascism.

The broader attack on the public sector through “privatization,” whether schools or prisons, parallels a range of policy choices favoring corporate control of both politics and the economy that Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” Trained workers, whether on the factory floor or in corporate offices become technical functionaries with little sense of citizenship other than by adherence to the group- think of the “righteous mind,” cultivated by corporate propaganda and economic insecurity.

Dumbing Down the Culture, Anti-Intellectualism, and Social Chao

Culture is the collection of our beliefs. In our marketed consumer culture, efforts to exploit personal anxieties and collective resentments work directly in opposition to “thinking for ourselves.” Fads grow out of people trying to “be different.” Branding manipulates the desire to express our “individuality.” Persuasion works best on imagery and emotion, not on rational thought. The dumbing down of education aids the dumbing down of the culture, leaving more and more people susceptible to commercial advertising and political propaganda. Demagogues express distinctly anti-intellectual beliefs that exploit anxiety and fear while inciting hatred of any group not part of one’s own.

A shrinking job market and diminished incomes deplete the middle class formerly dominated by white male workers who resent the “browning of America.” Techno-toys provide distractions from dwindling prospects for a life with any intellectual content or personal meaning. Hate speech distracts attention from one’s own problems, allowing their projection onto feared groups of others deemed outside the pale. People form their beliefs in groups of like-minded people, not in contemplation of facts or evidence.

Confirmation bias allows “peace of mind” by acknowledging only beliefs consistent with one’s group perspective. Well-documented facts disappear before emotional imagery supported by group identity. When realities are too hard to face, such as loss of status and opportunity, people become more vulnerable to political manipulation. It all blurs together as opportunists tout scapegoats such as minorities, immigrants, Muslims and uppity women as the source of personal losses.

Two hundred years have passed since industrial culture reduced the person o an artificial commodity known as labor and economic individualism severely constrained the viability of communities for increasingly detached individual workers. Individual freedom became the veil hiding alienation and limiting severely the apprehension of reality.

Defending Society from Its Grand Illusions

Numerous attempts to protect society from the damage caused by free-market economies have occurred throughout the industrial era, with mixed but discouraging results.

The English poor laws and the American New Deal offered temporary palliatives without addressing the underlying problem. The revolutions in Russia and Eastern Europe, China, and Cuba replaced the tyranny of capital with political totalitarianism. Western “democracies” substituted growth and the “McDonaldization” of consumerism for the resolution of social problems.

The grand illusions of multinational dominance over societies have gone global, right when the impacts on the entire Earth System approach tipping points toward collapse. The crises of ecosystem and climate, caused by pushing the limits of economic growth, continue to deepen. The limits to growth are physical, not ideological. Yet, corporate controlled media and political institutions perpetuate ideological illusions that threaten our very survival. Nevertheless, growing numbers of people realize that something is very wrong.

Creative Destruction of Our Grand Illusions for Survival

Here’s the thing. A New Great Transformation of humanity’s relations with planet Earth upon us. If we continue to ignore the deep changes humans have triggered, leading us into the unknowns of the Anthropocene, we will lose all control of our fate. Our grand illusions support a headlong rush to planetary chaos and potentially human extinction. Survival – never mind the “good life” – will depend on whether humans are up to the revolutionary task of paying the debt we have incurred to the planet and finding new ways to live in harmony with the Earth System we have already changed so radically.

Eve Ensler Said It Best

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Eve Ensler  [photo: Getty]

This was Eve Ensler’s response in Time Magazine to the women who support the elevation of an alcoholic misogynist plutocratic predator to the highest court in the land. The struggle continues, though it seems, has just begun.

A Letter to White Women Who Support Brett Kavanaugh

By Eve Ensler, TIME

05 October 18

n Oct. 2, I watched the President of the United States mock a woman who had recounted the trauma of being sexually assaulted in front of the world, on live television. And as he did so, a recent poll rattled around my head. The survey found that, while white men regularly supported Kavanaugh the most, white women also did so significantly more than Hispanic or black people overall. For example, 45% of white women said Kavanaugh should be confirmed, compared to 30% of Hispanic people and 11% of black people. Like so much of these recent weeks, it made me reflect. But even more so, it made me want to write to those women. Not lecture them. Not denigrate them. Just simply to speak to them directly and to try to explain my feelings. This is what I wrote:

Dear white women who support Brett Kavanaugh,

Last night when I saw Donald Trump mock Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I couldn’t help focusing on the women behind him who cheered and laughed. I felt like I was falling into a familiar nightmare. It compelled me to reach out to you.

When I was a child my father sexually abused and beat me. My mother did not protect me. She sided with my father, just like these women sided with Donald Trump, and I understand why. She sided with him because he was the breadwinner. She sided with him because of her need to survive. She sided with him because the reality of what was happening in front of her was so terrible, it was easier not to see.

She sided with him because she was brought up never to question a man. She was taught to serve men and make men happy. She was trained not to believe women. It was only much later, after my father died, that she was able to acknowledge the truth of my childhood and to ask for my forgiveness. It was only then, too late, that she was able to see how she had sacrificed her daughter for security and comfort. She used those words. I was her “sacrifice.”

Some people when they look at this video of women laughing at Dr. Ford, will see callousness. I see distancing. I see denial. I have worked on ending violence against women for 20 years. I have traveled this country many times. I have sat with women of all ages and political persuasions. I remember the first performances of my play The Vagina Monologues in Oklahoma City, when half the women in the audience came up to tell me they had been raped or battered. Most of them whispered it to me, and often I was the first and only person they had told. Until that moment, they had found a way to normalize it. Expect it. Accept it. Deny it.

I don’t believe you want to have to choose your sons and your husbands over your daughters. I don’t believe you want the pain that was inflicted on us inflicted on future generations.

I know the risk many of you take in coming out to say you believe a woman over a man. It means you might then have to recognize and believe your own experience. If one out of three women in the world have been raped or beaten, it must mean some of you have had this experience. To believe another woman means having to touch into the pain and fear and sorrow and rage of your own experience and that sometimes feels unbearable. I know because it took me years to come out of my own denial and to break with my perpetrator, my father. To speak the truth that risked upending the comfort of my very carefully constructed life. But I can tell you that living a lie is living half a life. It was only after telling my story that I knew happiness and freedom.

I know the risk others of you face who have witnessed those you love suffer the traumatic after-effects of violence and those who worry for both your sons and daughters that may someday face this violence

I write to you because we need you, the way I once needed my mother. We need you to stand with women who are breaking the silence in spite of their terror and shame. I believe inside the bodies of some of those women who laughed at that rally were other impulses and feelings they weren’t expressing.

Here is why I believe you should take this stand with me. Violence against women destroys our souls. It annihilates our sense of self. It numbs us. It separates us from our bodies. It is the tool used to keep us second-class citizens. And if we don’t address it, it can lead to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating and suicide. It makes us believe we are not worthy of happiness.

It took my mother 40 years to see what her denial has done and to apologize to me. I don’t think you want to apologize to your daughters forty years from now. Stop the ascension of a man who is angry, aggressive, and vengeful and could very well be a sexual assaulter. Time is short. Call your senators. Stop laughing and start fighting.

With all my love,

Eve

Whitewashing the Predatory Patriarchy Cover-up

Even if a couple of Republican senators were to revolt and vote against confirming the nomination of Brent Kavanagh to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, the “culture war” over the subjugation of women would escalate. How could it not? A Predatory Patriarchy still rules the nation.

Kavanagh at hearingKavanagh rightly called his confirmation hearing a joke (or was it a circus?) but for all the wrong reasons. His behavior reflected classic alcoholic denial/projection as he aggressively attacked and dodged legitimate questions. It also reflected his powerfully self-indulgent sense of entitlement to yet another among many privileges in his patrician life.

No Laughing Matter

But who was laughing? Certainly not Senator Grassley, who chairs the judicial committee, as he struggled to retain old-white-men privileges for the committee’s majority in ramrodding through the alcoholic misogynous serial predator’s confirmation. Certainly not Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who struggled to perform her civic duty in a deeply hostile environment dominated by predatory patricians seething with disrespect for a woman who would dare stand up and tell her story of Kavanagh’s attempted rape. Her courage befuddled the patriarchs of “the beltway,” who were not laughing. The event most deeply seared into her memory was her assailant and his accomplice laughing, finding their abuse of a fifteen-year-old girl so hilarious.

I remember as a teenager, young men who laughed as they tormented a small animal or bullied another kid on the athletic field or hallway. Torturing others was somehow funny to them. Kavanagh appeared bemused as he attacked Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota when she asked him about his drinking behavior, demanding to know if she had ever blacked out from excessive drinking. Of course, not all ritual degradation is physically violent. But Kavanagh’s attempts to belittle and patronize his questioners, particularly the women, was certainly verbally violent. I was particularly impressed with the unbending Kamala Harris when he persisted in dodging her direct questions.

Congressional Cover-up

As the hearing proceeded, various media quoted growing numbers of potential witnesses who contradicted Kavanagh’s dissembling and evading questions about serial belligerent drunkenness and sexual aggression by him and his friends. Some offered sworn affidavits; almost all but Mark Judge were willing for the Committee or the FBI to interview them under oath. The pressure to have the FBI re-open the background investigation of this nominee to the nation’s highest court.

Finally, Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, walked out of the hearing signaling his friend, Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware, to join him in an anteroom. They agreed on a compromise. As a condition for Flake to vote to refer the nomination to the full Senate, the FBI would be allowed one week to interview corroborating witnesses and new accusers, if the President authorized the reopening of the background investigation.

Whitewashing the Cover-up

As always, Trump sent contradictory signals, claiming publicly that the FBI would have full reign, while the scope of the investigation appeared to be severely restricted. Neither Blasey Ford nor Kavanagh was interviewed and the FBI gave numerous other witnesses given the runaround. The FBI submitted a “report” of the investigation to the Committee halfway through the week authorized for the investigation. It appeared that they followed no leads, so there was not much to report. Mitch McConnell proclaimed that a thorough FBI investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, and immediately called for a vote to confirm by that Saturday.

The predatory patriarchy duly whitewashed the cover-up.

The self-entitled political ruling class has once again raped justice and democracy. We are all Dr. Christine Blasey Ford now.

Mind of a Rapist

Rape is a violent crime of domination. Violence, of course, is the ultimate act of domination. We tend to see violence as an act of physical force leading to either physical injury or death, and it often is. But violence can also take on more subtle forms.

Not all domination directly entails physical force. Some forms of dominance involve mental violence. Spousal abuse, as well as sexual harassment, can take social psychological forms involving no physical act. Some forms of abuse consist mainly of “degradation rituals.” Trump is a master of ritual degradation.

Domination often comes under the “color of authority,” whether physically violent or not. When abusers lead large organizations, the result is often institutionalized degradation of whole populations or vulnerable communities. Elites often subject whole classes of victims to exploitation for profit. So-called “authorities” too often exhibit sociopathic tendencies in their “enforcement” of rules, regulations, or laws.

Sociopathy Empowered

Rapists, like all sociopaths, seek to exercise power by any means necessary to control and exploit their victims. Many power-seekers use their aggression to gain social, economic, or political power. It is not surprising, therefore, that a greater percentage of people in positions of authority are sociopaths than in the general population. Bullies typically begin their abuse at an early age.

Whether he is drunk or not, a seventeen-year-old who attempts to rape a fifteen-year-old exhibits sociopathic behavior; he is a rapist. We should not dismiss such bullying as a mere youthful indiscretion. Instead, attempted rape reflects a deep personality disorder that is not likely to change in adulthood.

However, many sociopaths disguise their lack of empathy within aggressive acts once they become executives, jurists, or politicians who have great power over others. Sophisticated bullies often disguise their ruthless exercise of power as the mere execution of legal principals. We can find bullies in all economic classes, of course. But those who rise within economic and political elites pose a far greater danger to society than any street hustler.

Most experts on sociopathy/psychopathy agree that it is not a curable condition. While sociopaths learn to appear to conform to social norms of civility and even kindness, they actually have little or no empathy for others. Some more severe cases engage in ruthless Trumpery and, while they demand absolute loyalty from their associates, they do not hesitate to “throw them under the bus” if that is convenient. We have too many examples of that emanating from the highest political office in the land.

Many sociopaths adapt to their social surroundings by deploying a practiced charm. As a result, they become quite successful, especially if they went to elite prep schools and universities. In such higher social strata, they develop connections with the sons and daughters of other well-connected families, which they use throughout their careers.

The Career Rapist

It is not unusual for men from wealthy families, who have a need to dominate others, to occupy high offices. Such men often cling to a set of political beliefs that reflect their obsessive desire to dominate, disparage, and dismiss the rights of vulnerable minority peoples. They often advocate for laws that oppress minorities (and women) even further. Too often, they have successful careers.

Sociopaths just do not feel whole if they fail to dominate others from groups they see as weaker and therefore undeserving of respect or rights. That is why fascists are also racists and racists have authoritarian personalities so similar to those of fascists. Nor is it particularly surprising that sociopaths, who usually also display elements of narcissism, express their need to dominate by one form of sexual predation or another. Executive power affords so many opportunities for sexual harassment in male-dominated organizations.

Rape of Democracy

170px-Brett_Michael_Kavanaugh_(2004)Many abusers avoid public exposure for decades. A few, when subject to close scrutiny, such as in a vetting process when nominated for high office, say, Supreme Court justice may be finally exposed. That sends an already corrupt “advise and consent” process into a tailspin with politicians running in all directions for cover.

The accuser is doubly victimized when political allies of the “closet predator” dismiss the claims of a female victim, by using various forms of sexist derision and patronizing innuendo, all while feigning the concern for “giving her a fair hearing.” Anita Hill was the classic victim of such sociopathic politics.

Entrenched politicians see it all as “just politics.” Since many politicians have sociopathic tendencies themselves, those who are allies of the perpetrator rally to his defense using every available discounting and delegitimizing technique they can muster.

In the political realm, when all this happens, another unacknowledged victim of rape is Democracy herself.

Aesthetics Abandoned

One of the many drawbacks of living in the intermediated world of industrial consumerism is that we have pretty much abandoned aesthetics. Form and function are mostly industrial products too. Marketing psychology drives them, like almost everything else.

Diverse commercial and political interests present a pre-formed world to us on the flat digital screens of our many “devices,” from smartphones to laptops. Most of the time some “middleman,” either an institution or a technology, mediates between the person and her/his perception of the world and action toward it. The various institutional purveyors of images and text mediate (shape and frame) these forms to fit their needs by selling us some product or promoting some idea, project, or political strategy.

Alienated Beauty

“Beauty” is presented to “the eye of the beholder” pre-defined by an intermediary, or it may be lost entirely in the forms of intermediated function. We see little that is directly in front of us in its natural form. More and more control is no longer direct. Beauty is subordinated to control.

I have recently become much more aware of the importance of the fact that we live in an intermediated world. The sense that so-called “self-driving” cars fit in some inevitable path of progress is an iconic cultural indicator of the dominance of intermediation and the subordination of aesthetics to system control. The implications are many and in some cases profound, sometimes even deadly. Here is one example.

Increasingly Intermediated Aviation

In aviation, pilots now benefit from a plethora of real-time digital information and images on “Primary Flight Displays” (flat-panel screens) in the cockpit, including navigational data and even moving maps with three-dimensional terrain depiction. Pilots enter flight plans into a GPS (Global Positioning System), which links them to map data and current weather data regularly updated and depicted on a screen during the flight. The screen displays the current position and actual track of the aircraft over land including any deviation from the flight plan, in real time. These displays do have a certain aesthetic appeal.

Airliner above clowdsThe GPS transmits both flight-plan and current position data to the autopilot, which signals servos that control ailerons, rudder, and elevators, thereby directing the aircraft along the designated route. The pilot is reduced to a technician who programs the automated systems that actually fly the aircraft on a flight path determined mostly by the airline and the FAA.

That is the epitome of intermediation. The airline pilot is left with little to do but manage and monitor the system that flies the airplane. He does make judgments and may request from Air Traffic Control a deviation in altitude or direction to avoid thunderstorms or turbulence. Both the system-generated situational data and the flight systems intermediate between data, the actor, and the action.

Such complex systems diminish human control and the beauty of flying. No wonder so many airline pilots own old-fashioned biplanes or small experimental aircraft they fly when off duty. They miss the direct experience of flying lost in their professional work.  stearman-640x300Flying a Stearman PT-17/N2S Biplane is a Direct Experience

The complexity and power of intricate automated systems really are quite amazing. However, the separation of human action from direct experience has its downside. In the case of flying, airline pilots who often have the latest complex automated systems in their airliners can get “rusty” in the hands-on skills of directly flying the aircraft.

The problem arises when some system falters, whether due to mechanical or electronic failure or due to extreme weather. Over-reliance on automated systems in some instances has caused pilots to misread direct signs of an emergency, causing fatal crashes. Similar downsides occur in countless other areas of modern life.

Aesthetics is Experience

What about aesthetics in all this? Well, it is all about direct perception. The image is not the thing itself. The map is not the land. Maps, of course, provide guides to navigating the land, but the distinction is important. We can appreciate the beauty of the product of a fine cartographer.

We can even build some beauty into maps generated by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) using “big data.” We can even revel in the beauty and technical prowess of an automotive moving map display depicting our travel on unfamiliar roads as it leads us on the quickest route to our destination in unknown territory.

I have not nearly as much fun with the GPS in my pickup truck as I do with the one in my little airplane. In aircraft, most GPS units are far more complex, powerful, and expensive than those assisting automotive navigation. But the primary aesthetic experience, to the extent that there is one, is in the actual travel itself. Driving through a redwood forest in Northern California or flying over Monument Valley in Utah provides a direct experience of natural beauty. So does flying among puffy white clouds after a storm. Most pilots fly because they love the aesthetic experience.

However, our overreliance on technologies and institutions that mediate the relations between us and our world can cause us to crash, either literally or figuratively. We do have a tendency to see the map as the terrain itself. It is, after all, a substitute for looking out the window.

Too many people too often rely on biased interpretations of life presented to them by powerful institutions through technologies of so-called smart devices. They uncritically accept the intermediation of their life experiences through imagery specifically designed to manipulate their behavior, either for marketing or for political purposes. Perception and aesthetic interpretation increasingly alienate us from direct experience of life itself.

Losing Aesthetic Experience

Navigational equipment is just one of many examples of the intermediation of human action by powerful technology. Many other examples reflect similar conditions and outcomes, at least as many driven by institutional dynamics as by technology itself. In most cases, the technology or institution provides some useful function while diminishing our control.

So, don’t get me wrong; I’m not giving up my GPS. Some complex actions are not possible without intermediation. Yet, intermediation is a game changer in the evolution of human action and in the ability of humanity to mitigate or adapt to the planetary changes that the growth of intermediation has caused. We live in a system of our own making that largely controls us and is fast destroying the world on which we depend.

The same processes increasingly occur within complex institutions, whether corporations to government agencies. In more and more areas of human interaction, goals and actions are increasingly intermediated by complex procedures, paperwork, “red tape,” technical requirements, and bureaucratic obstacles, than ever before. The resulting loss of human control over action and events suppresses aesthetics as it destroys the world on which it depends.

Individual Climate Ethics and Global Change

Can we do it ourselves? If we recycle everything and take shorter showers, install some solar panels, buy low-emissions products, etc., etc., can we avoid climate catastrophe? Sorry. Absolutely not.

The problem runs much deeper than that – it involves the entire Earth System. The climate crisis is endemic to industrial civilization itself. That means, in some sense, everything must change. But how can change adequate to this global crisis be accomplished? That is the big unacknowledged question. I have heard many emissions reduction targets (you know, 20% reduction by 2030, etc. – they mean nothing).

Words and Inaction

Such proclamations are abstract; they say nothing about how such minimal gestures toward necessity would be accomplished. Yet we are awash in data on every kind of emission from every kind of economic activity and every form of ecological and climate disturbance. Emissions reductions proclamations and agreements are nothing more than fantasy.

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Species extinctions are accelerating with increasing more intense Droughts and other forms of  Climate Chaos

Hundreds of species go extinct every day now. The sixth great mass extinction is well underway. New car sales are booming, yet in the past five years, the share of electric vehicles has never exceeded 1%. So many ecological fronts on which destabilization is accelerating make it nearly impossible to keep up, no less mount the planetary-scale changes required of us to make an actual difference.

Euphemisms avoid confronting difficult decisions. The good news is that new capacity in renewable energy production is growing faster than new fossil-fuel capacity, despite Trumpist coal hawking. But to have a chance at slowing weather weirding and global climate chaos, we need to stop all new fossil-fueled energy production — a mind-boggling prospect. Yet, we actually need to use less energy by taking serious, even drastic conservation measures.

Individual Action

One of the most important factors for those of us who already take climate-disruption danger seriously is that we not fall into the complacency of doing something personal and feeling that we have done our part and that is that. Individual action by those who are aware and care will never be enough. Your withdrawal from profligate consumerism, or even going off the grid, while admirable and necessary, remains a typically American form of ethical individualism It may oppose the collective anti-moralism of collective consumerism. However, it will not solve our collective problem of the headlong rush of the industrial leviathan, the technosphere that continues its spread of carbon into the atmosphere. Only mass mobilization for major energy-use reduction has a chance of being enough.

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Consumer Identity

The current momentum of the economic growth machine alone – even if we assume some moderate level of individual withdrawal from the consumerist culture – will be enough to take the climate well past the tipping point of no return to climate stability. The change we need is deeply systemic, and that will not happen until a social movement much broader than the Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” can mobilize people on a vast scale.

Collective Action

Only mass mobilization can overcome the force the economic as well as political momentum, and allow us to transform the extractive industrial economy into an ecological society. This is where transforming the consumer culture becomes paramount. The more we can demonstrate low-carbon consumer minimalism and vastly reduce energy consumption while restoring local ecosystems, the faster social change can help re-stabilize climate and avert total disaster.

We need to replace all carbon-based consumer products and services with consumer minimalism, now. That will involve some constraints we are not used to, but there is no time to waste. I discussed this in more detail at TheHopefulRealist.com, especially in my Feb 24, 2016 post. We must all do what we can do and join any effort we can in our local communities to make the changes that will help turn the larger system away from its path to extinction.