Interaction Effects: Human and Digital

How do humans communicate, emote, interact, and bond (or not) in the “Age of Digital Devises,” and what’s next? What, if anything, will be required of us in our “digital freedom”?

Often, it seems, the dog trains the master as much as the master trains the dog. Who is in control? Whenever we become involved with another, be it a person, a pet or a tool, certain obligations ensue, even if unconsciously. We have purposes and seek their achievement, but the means often become the end. When does a tool become an addiction? And, who is the dealer? Is this drug not such a thrill anymore? Well, here, I have another more potent.

Remember the PDA? (That’s the Personal Digital Assistant, for you really young ones.) It came along after the cell phone. But back then, a cell phone was still pretty clunky and didn’t do much else but communicate with other phone users. Gradually, the cell phone got smarter and eventually it was able to do just about anything a laptop computer could do, except serve up a large image display. So, why not a tablet, a clumsy marriage of the two? But, oh, it’s new!

So, where are we going with all this? What has anyone actually thought through, except on the sales side? Does anyone actually want to control and integrate her/his entire “digital life”? And what of substance do you want so carefully articulated? Do you really want all things known to your personal “devices” fully synchronized on the corporate “cloud”? Do you know how much electricity those server farms use? To whom does that matter?

Why not throw in the HVAC system with the garage door, your soon to be delivered self-driving car, Netflix account, and washing machine, along with your wearables, smartphones, laptops, and remaining desktops? It’s all out there on Facebook anyway, right? So, flesh out your full submersion into the “internet of things,” and help complete the circle of surveillance and control. But just remember, it won’t be just you who is doing the surveilling.

Texting while driving, eating, studying, working, just about anything ….texting-while-eating

Attaching identity to one’s device(s)…

Smarting the phone…

Computing the World…

Sharing every imaginary importance and all the unbounded unimportances of daily life… and to what end?  “No sé lo que significa,” as we say south of that imaginary WALL of expanded exclusion. Will your devices build bridges to beggars with mobile apps?

They thought radio and TV would ‘corrupt our youth.’ Then came the credit card, the computer, the cell phone, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and all the new wearable devices. Oh, we must not forget the pager and Blackberry! All that digital freedom, and nowhere to go… What is left to do in the actual world? Certainly not find a good job.

The whole sequence of digital-devise development, all the innovations in communication technology – if not content – have massively expanded the quantity of communications. We pay the NSA to store and search that swelling trivialized human database. Searching for tidbits legitimizes surveilling us all. We routinely contribute to increasing the indeterminacy of meaning, while also expanding central control, which, of course, optimizes opportunity for tyranny.

A whole new universe of meaning is emerging out there as we enter the New Great Transformation of how humans must relate to the world and each other if our species is to survive. It is not so surprising that most of us have not yet noticed the urgency of the lives we have digitally forgone.

Is that a fork in the road just ahead, or is it a dead end? Look up from your screen; it’s going to be a wild ride.

PS: I wrote this on my iPhone.

Kleptocracy Rising: The Short Eventful Life of the Corporate State of Trumplandia

Just about every Trumpeted nominee for high office has obvious conflicts of interest with upholding the public trust, no less the United States Constitution. At the core of the problem is their basic attitude toward government itself. They furtively frame their intentions in the most patriotic sounding rhetoric they can muster. However, they are corporatists; they would prefer that corporations run the country, not heaven forbid the people or our representatives. Don’t get me wrong; we have plenty of problems with our “representative democracy” itself.

trump-signing-exec-orders

Trump Orders Greatness

As it is, the corporations pay our legislative representatives to work for them, not for us. We pay their comfortable salaries, generous health insurance and pensions, but the corporations pay for what really counts – the right to write or at least dictate the writing of laws. Corporatists are inherently anti-democratic. They want the government to work in their interests alone, thereby maximizing their power. They used to call that fascism, which is synonymous with corporate tyranny.

Simply put, the Trumpeted nominees oppose the fundamental purposes for which the institutions they want to administer were established. Moreover, their core values directly contradict the very concept of public service. The obvious analogy to these Trumpist Trolls running the government would be putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. They want to eat the hens and tear down the henhouse. Plunder is their preference.

Most entrepreneurs are at least somewhat predatory. They seek opportunities to profit from the conditions around them. In doing so, they often build great companies providing great products to the public, or perhaps to the Defense Department – because it is profitable. Trump’s Trolls are a cut below…

The Trumpeting of Inauthenticity

Predatory corporatists are a different breed. They want a stable system that they can control. They have no interest in producing anything other than greater power for themselves – certainly not the public interest. Nothing is sacred to them, including ethics, other than acquiring more money and power. Only their self-righteousness matches their evil. These highly skilled opportunists are super-predators.

As if that were not enough, most of these Trumpists are corporate crooks or shills, with an occasional congressional bribe-taker or self-dealer thrown in. Of course, their outlook fits perfectly with that of their new boss. Their Trumpery is nearly transparent. I need not go into much detail here; they are all over the nomination-hearings news. The shortest way to summarize this attempted robbery of the commonwealth is this:

trumpery-dictionary-definition

Trumpery Defined

In each case, one form or another of the protection of the public from corporate predators is now under direct attack by the corporate kleptocracy itself, by Trump assigning activist predators the task of blatantly taking over – in order to disempower or destroy them – the institutions that were put in place to protect us from them. An anti-environmental activist will oversee environmental protection. A billionaire fundamentalist privatizer will oversee public education. The long-term CEO of Exxon-Mobile, poised to cut deals for petroleum profits at the expense of the health of the people and planet, will run the State Department. Rick Perry is to head the Department of Energy, which, although he could not remember its name at the time, he wanted to abolish, until nominated to direct it. The list goes on.

From One Great Transformation to Another

In 1944, Karl Polanyi explained in his now classic economic history of the rise of industrial capitalism, that the industrial revolution constituted a Great Transformation of society. A fundamental transformation of the relationship between society and economic activity was central to the process of industrialization.

Industrial capitalists invested large amounts in building factories in towns and cities. Industrial capital financed the “enclosure” of small traditional farms in the British Isles, combining them into larger tracts for the new industrialized agricultural operations, much of which would produce wool and other products for export. They simply evicted people who had worked the land for many generations under relations of mutual obligation with their land owners. People would have to buy the food they had formerly produced for themselves. The enclosures destroyed landed communities, their culture and traditions, along with their means of livelihood. Seeking new work to survive forced them to migrate near the new factories. This transformed society and caused great suffering along with increased production.

Polanyi pointed out that from the beginning, governments made efforts to protect society and its people from the damaging effects of predatory capital, beginning with the British poor laws. Later, in the U.S., the classic defense of the people against predatory capital was the New Deal and its legal protections from destructive speculation by the financial elites, which had crashed both the stock market and the economy with it. Those protections lasted until repealed by corporatist politicians like Clinton and Bush, who brought in Wall Street executives to run the U.S. Treasury and direct government economic policy. When it all collapsed in the Great Recession of 2008, their first and only impulse was to bail out the banks and other financial manipulators, not their victims, who were mere citizens.

It took a couple of centuries of the growth of industrial capital, but now we are at the culmination of the first Great Transformation, even as we feel the beginnings of a New Great Transformation that we have yet to properly recognize no less try to control. The system of predatory extractive capital driving an industrial-consumer society has reached its peak. Its sources of power are beginning to fade as resources deplete and the climate destabilizes. The industrial-consumer economy will either fade away or go out with a flash, in an accelerated race for what’s left of the planet’s resources, leaving its accumulated electronic funny-money increasingly worthless.

The Narcissist and the Other

It is perversely fitting, though tragic, that a narcissistic sociopathic predatory capitalist with pretentions of royalty should take the helm of the political system at this critical juncture in history. In the U.S., politics once formed the bulwark of protection of citizens and their land from the damage caused by the predations of extractive-industrial capital. That is what the New Deal, the poverty programs and the environmental protection laws were all about. However, the ascendancy of Trump and his Trolls does suggest that the financialized system of predatory corporate economic growth will more likely go out in a flash than simply fade away.

As Polanyi pointed out, economic activity had always conformed to cultural norms until the industrial revolution inverted the relationship between economy and society. Human values constrained economic behavior until the industrial revolution. The rule of industrial capital over society has grown stronger ever since. Now, the predatory economic system dominates even more powerfully, distorting culture and suppressing human rights. The corporate state compels society to fit its interests and its illusion of endless growth and power, bolstered by the fake science of mainstream economics. The utopian dreams of neoliberal economic theory, promoted in academia and the mass media, and funded by corporate benefactors, have penetrated the thinking of many people today. Such are the dreams of narcissistic sociopathy.

In the eyes of the Great Narcissist, we are all the Other; we are the Muslim, we are the immigrant, we are the racial or gender minority, we are the presumptively dangerous refugee, we are the Other America, we are the evil journalist who would dare to challenge “alternative facts.” We are all the Stranger, the Outsider, because we are merely the people. Remember, narcissism involves lack of empathy. Insensitivity to the needs of others breeds paranoia.

But a New Great Transformation has already begun. The damage done by the omnipresent economic machine has already reached proportions that make the continuation of that leviathan impossible beyond just a few more decades. Climate destabilization, along with financial crises, armed conflicts around the world, crop failures, droughts, floods, forced migrations of a magnitude unimagined by the xenophobic anti-refugee Trumpeteers of today, will bring it all down rather soon. Either the New Great Transformation will produce a new form of ecological human communities or it will spiral down into chaos and societal collapse. Right now, the odds are not looking good.

All the immigrant hating, racist, sexist, homophobic, disability-ridiculing, xenophobic, misogynistic, violence-encouraging demagoguery, we have seen before. It did not end well then and with the addition of the perverse denial of global warming and its imminent catastrophic consequences made into public policy, it will not end well now. Unless, of course, citizens everywhere rise up as they have in recent days at airports across the U.S. in outrage against persecutory anti-immigrant policies of disturbingly indecent and unconstitutional character.

The current kleptocracy will not likely survive very long. But will chaos and societal collapse be its legacy? Only if we let it.

The “Jobs” Illusion(s) and the Work We Must Do

Politicians love to talk about “job creation.” They wallow in social illusion in order to appear to care about the economic future of the people and the nation. At the same time, they pander to the interests of job destruction, whether through automation, international outsourcing, or simply unlivable wages. At the same time, they facilitate the financialization of an empty uber-economy, producing vast sums of phantom wealth for their benefactors on Wall Street.

Political Economy of Job Loss

Many of the jobs lost in recent decades in the U.S. are due to mobile corporate capital seeking to exploit immobile pools of desperate labor in any country where wages are cheapest. The international trade agreements the pandering politicians promote, enable the mobility of corporate capital seeking to exploit cheap labor abroad. They override worker protections as well as restrictions on environmental pollution. Above all, they nullify national sovereignty over such matters of domestic policy by ceding authority to international corporate tribunals. As with other job losses due to automated production, we often hear that “those jobs are never coming back.”

One of the core values held by corporations has always been to reduce the costs of labor and materials in order to increase profits. Nobody should be surprised at that. It is an almost natural part of doing business. However, achieving business success does not require a corporation to refuse its employees a livable wage. Consider Walmart and Costco. Walmart grew to be one of the largest most profitable corporations in the world by squeezing the wages of its employees to the point where many are on food stamps. (Its purchasing power allows it to squeeze its suppliers with similar ruthlessness.) In effect, the American taxpayer is subsidizing Walmart’s profits. Costco, on the other hand, pays its employees a living wage with benefits. The difference in energy and cheerfulness between Walmart and Costco employees is obvious to anyone who visits both stores.

What Infrastructure?

Politicians also like to trumpet our need to “rebuild the nation’s infrastructure,” primarily its decaying roads and bridges. Trump emphasizes the need to modernize U.S. airports. I suppose he wants executive lounges at our international airports to emulate the decadent opulence of Trump Towers.

old-bridge

Old Infrastructure,  Paradigm Lost.

The hard-to-imagine “president elect” offers programs that would subsidize the construction industry work already ongoing, rather than directly fund new public infrastructure and infrastructure repair.

Rarely mentioned are dilapidated schools or poor teacher pay. Politicians love to characterize teachers as overpaid, lazy, and arrogant. Nevertheless, the education of America’s youth is one of the most important forms of infrastructure I can imagine. In other industrialized nations, especially in northern Europe, teachers are highly respected and well paid. Their focus is on the well being of students. Student learning consequently rises far above that common in the U.S. Should we be surprised? Education, if the heavy administrative overburden were eliminated, could be a relatively carbon neutral investment in the future.

Enter climate change. The heating of the earth’s atmosphere due to ever-growing emissions from two hundred years of burning fossil fuels continues producing now obvious catastrophic consequences. Yet political resistance and denial prevail. We ignore much of our own participation in the production of carbon emissions due to a number of complex social psychological forces.[1] The politics of short-term economic interests encourage denial and ignorance in attempting to continue on the path of fossil-fueled affluence. It follows from facing the hard facts of climate disruption that a new great transformation of the entire global economy is necessary. That is the most massive transformation of infrastructure imaginable. It is a leap into the relatively unknown. By comparison, the current talk of “rebuilding America’s infrastructure” seems as trivial as it is misguided. It seriously misses the mark when it comes to the infrastructure work that we must do.

The Climate Crisis and the Work We Must Do

Right off the bat, we might ask why such a benign sounding term as “climate change” has dominated any discussion. First, it was global warming. Then Senator Inhofe held up a snowball in Washington, D.C., as if that proved that global warming was a hoax. Gradually climate change became the dominant term. When I had used the term “climate disruption” a couple of years ago, a Sierra Club activist told that they too preferred “disruption” because “change” did not convey well the reality of climate impacts. I now prefer “climate destabilization,” which seems an even more accurate way to describe the effects of industrial civilization on climate systems. The new world of unstable climate systems requires a new paradigm. “Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure” merely affirms the old paradigm.

IMG_1768

Wind Turbines in Holland, 2016

The science is undeniable, yet politicians routinely deny it in favor of providing political cover for the economic interests of their biggest donors. Those donors, of course, are the very corporations that extract and emit the carbon that warms the atmosphere and destabilizes global climate systems. The same politicians favor reducing corporate taxes and the taxes on the highest incomes, as if the income tax system were somehow abusing those powerful special interests.

The share of taxes paid by the largest corporations and the super-rich has steadily declined ever since the 1950s. Back then, taxes on corporations and the very rich were much higher, the economy was robust, and the national debt was small. In fact, the power elites get away with not paying anything near their “fair share,” as the nation’s infrastructure crumbles and the national debt grows.

Meanwhile, as politicians cling to their old paradigm and its corruption, the nation’s most urgent infrastructure need goes almost entirely unnoticed, rarely mentioned, and routinely denied. Yet, the facts require us to take action now to re-stabilize the climate systems upon which human life depends. We cannot afford not to take drastic action now. We must redirect the nation’s wealth to transform the economy from carbon excess to carbon neutral and to recapture carbon. We must be rapidly reduce net carbon emissions to less than zero by re-establishing ecological systems of carbon storage – tropical forests, for example – not by industrial illusions of “geo-engineering” symptom suppression while denying the root problem.

Deniers distort the uncertainty about the exact location of particular individual effects of global warming. They falsely claim that scientists do not really know whether climate change is real and/or “man-made.” The science of CO2 is long standing, never challenged until it became politically expedient to do so. The global climate system is extremely complex, making it far more difficult to predict an individual weather event than to document the overall trend of increasingly extreme weather, rising seas, and melting glaciers. They use variations in weather to deny the overall trend of increasingly severe droughts, floods, and storms that already disrupt climate cycles and agricultural production.

The short-term economic interests of the most powerful institutions and individuals in the nation prevail. In fact, we need institutional support to build out carbon neutral infrastructure rapidly. It has become extremely urgent, yet political decision makers largely ignore the issue. If ever a massive “jobs program” were possible, we could easily create it by executing a national economic policy of replacing all fossil-fuel based energy systems with new carbon-neutral systems of energy production and use.

Think of it. Stop production of all fossil-fuel burning cars. Build out a national network of electric vehicle charging stations while ramping up electric car production. Require all consumer products to be carbon-neutral, with temporary exceptions where life and health require them. Replace all coal and natural gas burning plants with solar and wind electricity generating systems, which are already more cost effective. Stop all natural gas and oil fracking operations; their total carbon pollution rivals that of coal.

Job losses? Well, they would be trivial in the oil industry compared to the job creation involved in the transformation to carbon neutral energy production and use. Yes, many people would have to change occupations, move to another location, and re-tool some skills. But that has always accompanied economic change. Are we not that resilient?

Continuing on our current path of carbon emissions will lead to a 4-degree Centigrade increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels in the next several decades. That will be extremely catastrophic, resulting in societal collapse and may well also lead to human extinction. The UN agreements set a 2-degree limit, while acknowledging that 1.5 degrees is probably necessary. The actual “commitments” of the signing nations did not even reach the 2-degree Celsius target. The only conclusion I can reach from all this is that the people, where we live, must mobilize ourselves and begin the work that we must do. We must also pressure the institutions that are now obstacles to redirect their destructive policies toward the well being of people and planet. This is beginning to happen at places like Standing Rock, where the destructive forces of extractive capital directly threaten people. We must all find our own Standing Rock. Social movements create their own jobs. So little time, so much to do.

___________

[1] George, Marshall, Don’t Even Think About It: why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) provides a wealth of information on the scientific basis for understanding the tendency to ignore or deny the overwhelming facts of climate disruption and its catastrophic consequences for the future of humanity.

What is Wrong with Economic Growth?

I read a report in Forbes Magazine on the sluggish character of the current recovery from the 2008 financial crash, which lamented its exceptionally weak economic growth. Apparently, we continue slogging along in the weakest recovery since 1949. Since the Great Recession technically ended in 2009, average GDP growth has averaged only 2.1%. In the September 13, 2016 issue, Forbes staff writer Rich Kalgaard reports that the current “expansion” is more constrained than any similar period since 1949. Why is this, and what is the meaning and importance of such a slow recovery?

0816_karlgaard-gdp-chart_1200

Kalgaard offers “three clues” as to why post-recession expansions have steadily gone downhill, if erratically, for over a half century. He blames the fact that “the rest of the world has caught up to the U.S.” He claims that the U.S. abandonment of the gold standard in 1971, is part of the problem. Finally, he offers that routine corporate allegation that “the explosion in federal regulation” has stifled economic growth. He is wrong on all three counts.

Such claims by any writer attached to Forbes should not surprise us. Explanations for economic woes from corporate utopian dreamers will always blame the federal government for poor performance of the economy. They will also project causes of slow growth onto some outside force – certainly never to corporate malfeasance or distortions of the “free markets” they worship. Never will the internal flawed logic of extractive capital or the phantom financialization of the economy come into question.

The Great Transformation

In 1944, Karl Polanyi exquisitely explained the origins and the utopian illusion of free market capitalism in his book The Great Transformation. That great transformation of human societies was what we call the industrial revolution. He also forecast the inevitable damage to society caused by the inherent flaws in the unregulated market system no longer embedded in society. The logic of its economic theory, which emerged as the intellectual justification for today’s global political economy, was deeply flawed.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, diverse societies have attempted to protect themselves from the damage done by market liberalism (the theory that if left to their own devices, markets will “self-regulate” and somehow produce the best result for society). The classical economists of the eighteenth century, such as Adam Smith, believed in two ideas that just never panned out in real economies.

First, they assumed that all human behavior is “rational.” That is, people will always act in economically rational ways, seeking their own best economic advantage in all their behavior. In fact, many exigencies and values in everyday life influence behavior. Economic advantage is just not the only important thing in life.

Second, the classical economists believed that markets would “regulate” themselves if allowed to do so, resulting in the best outcome for all. Adam Smith’s metaphor, the “invisible hand,” captured the essence of that belief.  Economic elites have both exploited and distorted it ever since. Due to the economic and political power of corporate and financial elites, the academic field of economics has retained those theories under the guise of pseudo-scientific analytics. All the while, “free-market” economies have failed to live up the theories of economists. Yet those theories continue to dominate economic thinking.

Utopian Dreams and Corporate Control

The theories that have controlled economics throughout the industrial era have held to these failed assumptions for centuries now, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. We now call such theories “neo-classical” economics, “neo-liberal” economics, or just plain “mainstream” economics. Despite their failings, the propaganda of the corporate media continues to glorify them as the scientific answer to all our economic problems. Corporations today routinely fight for regulations that favor their growing power, all the while claiming to seek less regulation of the markets they try to control. They never consider the social control of markets, for the benefit of society rather than for that of economic elites, as an option.

The consequences of the great transformation that subordinated society to its economic elites, as Polanyi predicted, continue to plague us today. Only this time the economic crisis converges with the climate crisis leading to global destabilization of access to resources, disrupted production and distribution of food, and escalating conflicts worldwide, all amplified by climate destabilization.

The utopian dream of endless economic growth may be the world’s greatest social illusion. However, it is also an imaginary vision that sustained itself in the centuries since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, despite repeatedly failing the test of time. Never have “free markets” operated without causing serious social damage. In each case, society has tried to protect itself from the excesses and destruction of speculative capital, with varying success.

Overcoming Illusion

In cases such as the poor laws in industrializing England or the New Deal responding to the economic and social collapse of the Great Depression, political responses protected the people from the damage caused by unregulated markets. In cases such as the communist revolutions in Russia and China, the abolishment of free markets led to their replacement by cumbersome command economies that ultimately resulted in a state capitalism unable to respond to the damage caused by its bureaucratic control of markets.

Corporatist attempts to explain the flaws of the market system, like Kalgaard’s, implicitly assume the success of a failure. Their blaming of government and outside forces disrupts any attempt to protect society from the failures of a market system in desperate need of overhaul. Promoters of the corporate economic status quo like Kalgaard demonize as “wasteful spending” or simply “socialism,” any political attempt to require the economy to serve human society rather than only itself. They are mere corollaries to the failed neo-liberal economic utopianism promoted by global power elites for their own shortsighted gain. Some serious re-thinking is in order.

Olympic Teamwork and the Ugly American

biles-raisman-lochte

I have never been much for ceremony. Neither Michael Phelps leading the U.S. team into the Olympic Stadium nor the pomp and circumstance of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics interested me. I marveled at both the individual and team efforts, especially those of the Brazilian and the U.S. teams. As always, Olympic performances do not fail to impress.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team was particularly astonishing, and not only for their individual talent and skills. Gymnastics seems to represent pure generic physical talent and skill. Yet there is a very important mental factor. I grew up near the beaches of Southern California and played volleyball there myself as a teenager. Naturally, the beach volleyball competition drew my attention. Each team has only two players; the indoor variety involved plays by the larger teams that are more complex.

I was amazed when I heard a commentator describe Michael Phelps’ unique physical characteristics. Wingspan wider than his body height, lung capacity several times larger than the average person, huge hands, a long torso and double-jointed limbs, all contributed to the success of his drive to win. His superior performance became less surprising. Yet, there is much more to Olympic performance than physicality.

A Special Kind of Olympic Teamwork

Something very special about the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team drew my attention. The “Final Five” were a team in the truest sense of the word. Gymnastics is an individual sport. Whether on the uneven parallel bars, floor exercises, etc., it is all about the perfection of individual performance. The team called themselves the Final Five because their world-famous team coordinator, Martha Karolyi, was to retire after the 2016 Olympics, making them her last of many Olympic successes. Their “team spirit” was exceptional. Simone Biles talent reigned supreme. Yet her teammate Aly Raisman performed her role as team captain as superbly as her own spectacular comeback performance.

The mutual aid and support of the five young women who work so well together reminded me of the total commitment and training of the Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatic teams, whose individual performances and mutual coordination constitute life-or-death challenges every time they fly. I saw a documentary once depicting the level of precision piloting, interpersonal coordination, rigorous physical training, and individual discipline required for the Thunderbirds’ achievements in formation flying. They have to do extreme physical training in the gym in order to handle the extreme g-forces their maneuvers entail. The level of individual commitment and mutual trust is almost inconceivable to a non-pilot or even an ordinary pilot. But it is not about the flying itself; it is about the almost unbelievable level of coordination and self-control needed to accomplish their mission. Very similar qualities were quite evident in Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and their teammates.

The Ugly American Exposed

Enter Ryan Lochte and friends. As one commentator put it, his performance represented the worst stereotype of the “Ugly American” during his night on the town with his teammates in Rio de Janeiro. It reflected the unfortunate reality of, as the commentator said, the attitude that, “Anything goes south of the equator” for white wealth and privilege. It is not just that some athletes partied most of the night in town after the high stress of competition. That would not be unusual or outrageous in itself.

After urinating in public and vandalizing property at a gas station in Rio, Lochte and his white-privileged friends figuratively urinated on the brown people of Brazil. Exercising their sense of self-importance and privilege, he and his teammates lied about their vandalism. A security guard at the gas station had confronted them demanding that they pay for the damage they had done. Exercising their sense of privilege, they denied their own culpability and projected it onto the security guard. They falsely claimed to police that someone impersonating a police officer had robbed them.

Later, on reflection, Lochte exacerbated his culpability in response to Matt Lauer’s softball questions in a televised interview after his return to the U.S. He gave pathetic partial excuses, claiming he had “over-exaggerated” what had happened. Say what? His “apology” did not really extend beyond excusing his behavior by reference to his drunkenness. The Ugly American plunders the world, then blames his victims and claims he did not really mean to do any harm. The U.S. media meanwhile ponders the financial cost of his losses of corporate product endorsements. Give me a break.

Camaraderie of a Higher Order

It is hard to imagine Lochte’s and his fellow swimmers’ behavior in the home of their hosts having been much sleazier. The contrast with the women of the U.S. Gymnastics Team could not be greater. Its members represent not just the best of athletic performance, but also the best human values of self-discipline and mutual aid.

Simone and AlyThe positive energy and mutual support of the women of the U.S. Gymnastics Team were a remarkable sight. In a sense, they represent far more than a superb athletic achievement. Even more important, they symbolize what humans are capable of when they put their minds, bodies, talent, and skills to the test. These women stepped up, took the challenge before them, and did what they had to do to meet that challenge together.

These are exactly the qualities that we need most to pull off the Next Great Transformation of human economy from environmental plunder to ecological harmony. Too much in the behavior of the Lochte gang reflect the widespread U.S. culture of corporate greed, self-righteousness, and individual self-aggrandizement. Lochte’s false contrition reflected a total lack of compassion. Simone, Aly, and their teammates have shown a higher order of respect and camaraderie, capable of great things, capable of achievements greater than we could have imagined.

Today, as a society we face challenges that require social changes so deep they too are hard to imagine. As a nation and as a species we face the necessity of making changes that go far beyond what might seem to be the limits of our capabilities. Just as on the gymnastics floor, no guarantees assure success. Far too many of us are complacent or indifferent to the damage we have done to our home – the planet.

In thinking of what lies ahead and the level of social mobilization needed to deal with the climate crisis, I often think of the economic and social transformation U.S. society accomplished through collective effort in order to fight and win World War II. The level of effort and social mobilization necessary to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophic consequences will be far greater. In that effort, we will all need to behave like a Simone Biles or an Aly Raisman.

The Charlatan, the Huckster, and the Fate of the Planet

The Narcissistic Billionaire Sociopath vs. the Corrupt Corporate Crony

I once believed in the idea of progress. I did not think of progress as an inevitable march of humanity toward a better life; it was not the illusion of happiness through chemistry and consumerism, as the corporate elite would have us believe. I thought that with greater knowledge, people could act more rationally.

At the onset of my career as a college professor, I thought, we could surely do better if everyone were just more educated and understood the nature of the physical and social worlds. Then people would vote for the candidates who had the best ideas to create progress through enlightened policies. I held to that belief for quite a while, as I watched the U.S. education system deteriorate for thirty-five years. I retired no longer an optimist, but as a stubbornly hopeful realist. Back then, I was sure I would have died of old age before any major devastation from global warming would affect many people.

That was then and this is now. The world has changed so much yet remained the same. The immediate effects of climate destabilization are upon us, yet ignorance prevails. Trump’s Tropes play directly to the most ignorant forms of fear and resentment. The last half century of corporate-cash driven social policies carried out by the corporate state has deeply dumbed down and impoverished much of the population.

False Politics and the Corporate State

I have a feeling that Hillary Clinton harbors a genuine set of humanistic concerns for people and families everywhere. But I doubt that such sympathies will overcome her financial obligations to the giant institutions of the corporate state. Her claims of liberal policies and empathy for the victims of the corporate state she supports ring hollow. The liberal political class is dead in all but name and muted slogans.

The so-called conservative political class is in disarray. Its corporatist elites have played the racist scapegoating card to the ignorant resentments of the declining white middle and working classes to the limit. The Republicans have pandered to Tea Party racists and xenophobes for so long that they have lost control to a megalomaniacal narcissistic neo-fascist sociopath. The prospect for an American fascist state is no longer speculation; it is just as real as the likelihood that the neo-liberal (free-market) economic policies that favor corporations over people will continue.

The corporate elite, which funds most “liberal” and “conservative” candidates, seeks stability and predictability. Neither of these political styles veers far from the established political-economic orthodoxy. The continued hegemony of the financial, military, and industrial power elites depends on the continued subservience of the political class to its corporate benefactors.

The power elites support conventional liberalism and conservatism because both are good cover stories for maintaining control over the public and private institutions of the corporate state. That is why both Republicans and Democrats in congress agree to vote for legislation such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and similar so-called free trade deals. They have no problem giving away national sovereignty to multinational corporations as long as they get to feed at the lobbyist’s trough.

Meanwhile, the charade of national political elections pits political personalities against one another in mock combat of ideas that carefully avoid addressing the great global crises of our time. No candidate other than Bernie Sanders even mentions the emerging catastrophic climate collapse. Bernie, however, does not detail the crisis or offer specific actions commensurate with the urgency of the crisis. Well, Hillary vaguely alludes to it, but no more. Climate denial is, of course, one of Trump’s Tropes.

This 2016 election cycle, however, is a little different. We must question Chris Hedges’ contention that it really does not matter whether the Charlatan or the Huckster wins the presidency, because of the apparent extreme danger of a man who has no center. Narcissists and sociopaths do not have policies; they merely seek social power and personal recognition. They are inherently dangerous because they have no human empathy. Yet, the counter argument that the Huckster will continue to serve the short-term corporate financial interests at the expense of the public interest in avoiding climate collapse, also has merit.

Two Kinds of Political Deceit 

The Charlatan plays to the ignorance fostered by climate-denial, birther, and racist propaganda, while the Huckster gives faint lip service to liberal environmental and social justice concerns while serving the financial and corporate elites. Both exhibit war-mongering tendencies. Neither represents the public interest in seeking peace, community, or climate stability.

The problem with the Obama state department was not that Hillary caused the Benghazi disaster; rather, it was that they both fostered repeated militarist interventions seeking “regime change” without a scintilla of sensibility for what might come after. They use the resulting chaos, such as the rise of ISIS, to excuse further interventions. Who benefits from all this? The arms manufacturers and dealers do, as well as the fossil-fuel industry, and their congressional cronies.

The Charlatan-billionaire’s ignorance of international affairs matches his racist scapegoating and political bullying. But what does that matter if a sociopath has the codes enabling a nuclear strike anywhere in the world? We are living through as very messy time, so far. Part of the reason for that is the rigged electoral system, which normally allows only candidates from the two-party corporatist political establishment to run for office. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, in very different ways, disrupted that “normal” political process.

Popular Progressivism Disallowed

For decades, Bernie caucused with the Democrats; a life-long Vermont independent from Brooklyn, he was one of them in all but name and moral stature. His liberalism was true and consistent, unlike the establishment Democrats whose consistent corporatist voting records belied their public protestations of concern for the people. Bernie was able to mount a near successful primary campaign by directly expressing and appealing to the real concerns of the people. His populist social-democratic programs were explicit, essentially the kind of FDR progressivism that has always been popular because of its focus on the well-being of the people. That is why he was able to draw millions of small donations via social media. His honest unpolished “Grampa Bernie” persona became his unconstructed charisma.

The contrast between the corporate media patronizing of sensationalistic Trump Tropes and his racist xenophobia, and their treatment, or should I say avoidance, of Bernie Sanders, was profound. The corporate media gave the billionaire bully billions of dollars in free television exposure, while carefully excluding the “democratic socialist” from coverage. It was an uphill battle for Bernie all the way. The Democratic National Committee had to let Bernie run in the primaries because he had worked with Democrats in the congress for decades. But the DNC had its own corporate candidate and did whatever it could to defeat him while claiming neutrality. It is remarkable that against all those odds, he came so close to victory.

Held back severely at the beginning of the race and torpedoed throughout, Sanders came closer to winning than anyone expected. In a fair race, without the DNC dirty tricks and media blackout, he surely would have won the nomination. But what is fair about normal politics in the U.S.A.?

The tragedy of the charlatan and the Huckster is not that the Democratic Party establishment unfairly defeated Bernie Sanders. Nor is it that a narcissistic sociopath was able to take over the Republican Party to the shock and dismay of both corporatists and extreme fundamentalists.  It is that the American people and the population of the planet are now put at grave risk by the inverted totalitarian of the corporate state, whether Charlatan or Huckster resides in the White House. The “choice” is now between short-term financial interests of the corporate state and the pure demagoguery of a neofascist would-be dictator. The contrast of each with the social mobilization necessary to save the people and the planet from complete climate collapse will differ, but in either case is gravely profound.

The Irony of Crisis and Opportunity

Sometimes irony offers a vision of opportunity. If we are aware of the tragic outcome of a contradiction between the intention and the effects of an action, we may escape tragedy. That awareness may provide a chance for something far better than the original intent. Ignoring such contradictions, we risk disaster and may never notice the opportunity they bring.

Dramatic irony can be traced back to the Greek classics. That is because the ancient Greeks had such a good grasp of the human condition. Human folly often results from continuing down a path our mistaken ideas dictate despite overwhelming evidence that it will lead to tragic consequences.

Today, we rush headlong into multiple converging crises. Power elites have institutionalized and marketed as “normal” the ironies of modern and post-modern life. Individual tragic outcomes of poor choices continue to unfold. However, the very culture of industrial society has embedded a deeper irony in the dominant institutions that shape our thought and control our lives.

We take the imaginary elements of mass consumerism as elemental, natural, and real. The propaganda that drives consumer “lifestyles” has succeeded. The irony of chasing an image of “individualism” by falling victim to mass advertising escapes most consumers. The opportunities to escape the treadmill of lower wages, consumerism, and debt, usually pass by unnoticed. They are not part of the culture, so we do not recognize them.

The Crises of Illusion

A key premise of the industrial economy that drives mass culture is that the answer to every economic problem is more economic growth. To get a sense of the general understanding of its role, I set up a “Google Alert” on “economic growth.” As a result, I get several “alerts” every day, each reporting dozens of media stories whose topic is economic growth. It is a popular topic in the mass media everywhere. I received far fewer alerts on the topic of “climate crisis.”

The almost universally central issue in such stories involves how economic growth can be stimulated, maintained, or increased. Stories about economic growth from all around the world, each assume that economic growth is the engine of human progress. I have yet to find a story via Google Alerts that poses economic growth as a problem for the future of humanity. Of course, I can find such stories by going to climate change websites or a growing number of books on the end of economic growth on a finite planet. Does anyone read books?

Therein lies the irony. The financial structure industrial economies of the world require continued growth in order to service growing debt and return profit on capital. Where there has been “room to grow,” that has worked out pretty well. However, some serious contradictions in that system and their irony are visible to those willing to look. Growth on a finite planet must have a finite limit.

The earth has limits and we are reaching them. Yet, economists such as Julian Simon claimed for decades that technical innovations, resource substitution, and free markets could overcome any such limits.They were believed, and many still hold to such magical thinking.

Growth did not happen so much from internal innovations in technology and economy as it did from exploitation of others. Technology did assist Western exploration and domination of the rest of the world through colonialism, then imperialism. Both provided the material and human resources to foster Western growth. Gunpowder, sailing ships, and the sextant helped get things started. The oppression of native peoples around the world continued for centuries under the guise of assisting in their development. In fact, the Western colonial and imperial nations were extracting their natural resources and exploiting their labor. That continues today, to the exhaustion of both.

Finally, present day regimes of neo-liberal international finance foist “structural adjustment” nations it has forced into debt, to assure their continued financial subordination and exploitation. The whole history of the economically “advanced” nations involves extraction of resources and domination of populations for expansion of economic control of the world. The economic growth of the West, touted for its cultural superiority, succeeded only by oppressing people in other parts of the world. Smug neoclassical economic ideologues bury such facts behind their pseudo-scientific theories that do not stand up to empirical observation.

The global consequences of the system and illusions of economic growth are emerging as a “catastrophic convergence” of multiple global crises.  Growing problems of poverty, resource depletion, financial collapse, resource wars, refugee migration, and of course, climate destabilization all result from the juggernaut of extractive capital and the industrial growth it feeds. The contradictions of the global system of extractive capital are far more complex than Karl Marx could have imagined, but they do contain the seeds of its destruction. We must find ways to make that destruction creative.

Irony and Opportunity

Of course, everlasting economic growth is as much an illusion as a “perpetual motion machine.” Most people recognize the absurdity of a frictionless machine that can run forever without external inputs of energy. However, the ideology of endless economic growth as the source of human progress is a deeply entrenched imaginary in our economic culture. The corporate controlled mass media reinforce the image of “growth is good” daily and hourly.

Nevertheless, the earth is a relatively closed system with one external energy input – the sun. It is also a highly complex array of living earth systems we call ecologies and their living subsystems. Each is interdependent with the others. We humans are a once-small but dangerously overgrown part of that complex. We increasingly disrupt the stability of all the relations between complex ecological systems we barely understand yet need for our own survival.

The deepest irony of human experience resides in the effects of economic growth on the very systems it relies on for its energy and material resources – inputs that keep it going. We live on a small planet and we are not going anywhere, despite fantasies of escaping earth’s problems by space travel. Our problems and their solutions must be faced right here.

The profound irony of our hugely successful trajectory of economic growth is that its failure results from its temporary success. We have achieved, by application of fossil-fuel based energy to technological innovation in production, massive global economic growth. However, that growth in energy/materials extraction consumption, and waste, is disrupting the very earth systems that have sustained it.

Yet, the very same crises forced upon us by our perpetual extractive growth economy, now offer several windows of opportunity. We can solve those crises and save humanity by transforming our relationship to the living earth systems upon which our survival depends. However, that will require abandoning the very perpetual-growth system we convinced ourselves is necessary and inevitable – the endless-growth machine of extractive capital.

Another level of irony is involved. The global crises we created by trying to control our environment can only be averted by “creative destruction” of the system we accept as inevitable. A New Great Transformation of the human systems of economy and technology will happen. However, for human survival, both economy and technology must align with the natural requirements of our environment.

The irony of that opportunity presents a path to a new viable and sustainable relationship to the world we inhabit. To avoid our own species extinction as global climate and ecologies destabilize we must rapidly integrate human activity with the requirements for sustaining our living environment. Only then, living earth systems may re-stabilize. Otherwise, the New Great Transformation will be one of our extinction.

Ironically, the ever-increasing efficiency of industrial production has excluded many from participating in the rewards of the growth economy. Yet the sustainable system we need would do just the opposite. Our understanding of “rewards” must change as we face our condition. Only a vastly more equitable distribution of wealth can be made compatible with the stability of living earth systems.

In The New Great Transformation, we must rely on energy inputs other than fossil fuel, nuclear power, and so-called “bio-fuels.” Conversion to a new ecological economy will inevitably involve much more human energy inputs (work) than are found in the dying growth economy powered by energy stored in the earth. It will also draw upon capturing the boundless ongoing energy inputs of the sun. That new configuration will provide the valuable jobs that the stagnating automated production processes of the economic growth machine have taken away.

The opportunities we face lay in uncharted waters. Yet, take them we must. If not taken, these opportunities will surely disappear, leading humanity to join so many other species in the sixth great extinction now underway. Our crisis is our opportunity. Our greatest challenge offers the greatest opportunity ever for humanity. We must take it or die.

The New Great Transformation of humanity will be one of either complete disaster or a development unprecedented in all of human history. If we act correctly and quickly, we may be able to achieve a new ecological society, even among the ruins of the dying industrial leviathan. We have the knowledge, but can we organize it in effective collective action? We must take this opportunity even though, as is now inevitable, we must go through a period of immense chaos and pain. If we do not, we simply will not survive. Out of chaos can come great creativity. That is what we need now.