Giving Thanks for what?

Giving thanks at Thanksgiving dinner continues as an ingrained ritual. At some holiday tables, those present state in turn what makes them most thankful. At others, the most senior member gives a Thanksgiving prayer. In most cases, that is about as far as reflection on the meaning of this peculiar American holiday goes. Nobody mentions, of course, its historical origins in continental conquest and racist extermination. Only the mythical feast with natives helping colonists to survive is affirmed.

This season of giving thanks, I look at the headlines on Trumpist subservience to the barbarian brutality of a Saudi tyrant. I examine analyses of overwhelming evidence of climate chaos and its accelerating risks to national security and international stability stridently denied by the highest authorities. I struggle to find something of major importance for which I can feel genuine in giving thanks. We live in desperately dangerous if uncomfortably interesting times.

No Thank You

Around the world, I see the rise of authoritarian dictators (Brazil, Philippines, Eastern Europe, etc.) who brag of their history of assassinations and parallel future intentions. No thank you.

In the U.S., we have elected a megalomaniacal narcissistic would-be dictator, who is steadily gaining more power by demagoguery and pandering to the demands of the super-rich. No thank you.

The “administration” released the latest U.S. climate assessment report by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee on Black Friday, hoping to bury it in a no-news day. Drawing on resources of multiple government agencies, the report forecasts massive economic and health costs of growing climate chaos. These are imminent catastrophic consequences if our government continues to deny facts. Meanwhile, the Trumpists pursue a policy of destroying the minor federal efforts so far taken to mitigate catastrophic climate change. No thank you.

Not long before Thanksgiving, I read the brilliant and frightening small book, To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism, by Dutch philosopher Rob Riemen. He describes the current resurgence of fascism in Europe. His list of neo-fascist tendencies strikingly parallels what we observe right here in Trumplandia today. No thank you.

I note the continuing concentration of income and wealth among the 1% of the 1% of the richest Americans and corporations. Its correlation with the destruction of the middle class and the expansion and intensification of poverty among the rest of us is not coincidental. No thank you.

I read of the growing auto-loan debt, credit card debt, corporate debt, and government debt. These threats to economic stability result from extreme income tax cuts for the super-rich and the systematic concentration of wealth and income in recent years. The risk of societal collapse that such greed portends is also extreme. No thank you.

I know that the decline of community in America has a long continuing history that parallels the rise of the corporate state. The currently exploding opioid-addiction epidemic reflects a crescendo in that trend, due to the alienation of American institutions from their claimed purposes. Like mass incarceration, it results from “health care” and “law enforcement” institutions serving themselves, not the public interest. No thank you.

Creating Grounds for Giving Thanks

Of course, the list goes on. Giving thanks inevitably seems to require us to look to our immediate families, friends, and neighbors. All indicators suggest that we must strengthen our local communities to counter the global trends that otherwise seem insurmountable as well as extremely destructive.

Giving thanks will truly mean something when we take back control of our lives by turning away from the oppressive institutions and culture of the global “technosphere.” Politics must become local again and drive decisions that will enhance rather than destroy life on planet Earth. Then giving thanks will have resulted from putting human values ahead of the demands of the machine.

The Democratic Party Needs Only One Platform Priority

Recently, I listened to Cynthia Sharf, the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate expert, summarize the dire situation indicated by the latest scientific findings on a range of

The Burning Planet Calls for Political Revolution Now.

measures of global warming and its extant and rapidly growing disastrous effects. Then I saw posted on the website, Senator Keith Ellison’s Survey seeking priorities from Bernie supporters to aid Ellison’s work on the Democratic Presidential Platform Committee. The struggle within the Democratic Party for how the platform will set policy priorities is no small matter. The Sanders supporters are expected to work hard for inclusion of the key policies Bernie has promoted throughout his campaign, and many hope, beyond his run for the presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” is about changing the political process itself and redirecting the nation to respond to the converging catastrophic crises of our time. Sanders’ proposals are directed to addressing those crises, the most urgent — because it is global and local and affects the entire human population as well as all living earth systems — the Climate Crisis.

Despite the fact that as a sociologist I have conducted many surveys and sometimes don’t want to ever see one again, I was both curious and concerned. Bernie’s primary influence on the presidential race and on U.S. policy if HRC is elected, may be initially felt through his supporters on the platform committee. Of course, party platforms don’t necessarily dictate actions, but they at least reflect putative intentions. We must all push HRC as hard as possible to move much further toward a sustainable political position, particularly regarding the CLIMATE CRISIS. Yes, it is a crisis now and we dare not ignore its immediacy any more.

Here are the “topics” Senator Ellison offered as choices to rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, as priorities for the Democratic Presidential Party Platform:

Raising the minimum wage

Civil rights

Making college more affordable

Protecting women’s health care choices

Immigration reform

Protecting and expanding Social Security

Overturning Citizens United

Reducing economic inequality

Wall Street accountability and consumer protection

Common-sense gun reform

Affordable housing

Criminal justice reform



Here are the questions and my responses to the survey:

1st Priority (select topic):   OTHER

Tell us more about your 1st priority below:

It is shocking that the ACTION on the CLIMATE CRISIS is not listed among the above priorities for the Democratic Party Platform. Achieving a stable ecologically balanced relationship to our environment is the MOST CRITICAL human, therefore political, priority going forward. Most of the above topics either 1) can contribute to reducing the human carbon footprint [environmental, social, political, and economic justice all imply transforming the extremely unjust system that is concentrating wealth among the richest and the giant corporations, while squeezing everyone else] by leading to an ecologically balanced low-energy-waste society; or 2) cannot be achieved without also transforming the extractive plunder-capital system to stave off climate destabilization [before it is too late] and avoid the catastrophic convergence of extreme drought and flooding, crop loss, starvation, armed violence, mass migration that makes the current problem look like a picnic, and widespread social destabilization and accelerated ecological disintegration, all leading to massive loss of life.

2nd Priority (select topic):   OTHER

Tell us more about your 1st priority below:

See Priority 1.

Action on all the listed “priorities” must be undertaken in such manner to drastically reduce carbon emissions, now. I cannot emphasize “now” enough. According to the latest scientific findings, as summarized two days ago by Cynthia Scharf, Senior Climate Officer for UN secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, we barely have five years to make radical changes to reduce carbon emissions to near zero or we will have passed the point of no return to climate stability. All measures of climate destabilization are accelerating far faster than predicted. Each IPCC report has underestimated the changes documented in the next report. All political priorities must be framed in this context — we must NOT mistake them for separate competing issues.

3rd Priority (select topic):   OTHER

Tell us more about your 3rd priority below:

See Priority 2.

The climate crisis is NOW. The lag between emissions and climate destabilizing effects deceives us into thinking the crisis is somehow a future event. It is not. In this context it is pointless to rank the important goals you list. They must all be integrated into a policy of extreme carbon-emissions reduction that simultaneously strives for justice implied in those goals while striving to save humanity from joining the Sixth Mass Extinction already underway.  When the bear is chasing you, it is good to be paranoid.

If your top priorities were not listed, or if you’d like to tell us more, please use the space below (optional):

My priority is clear from the above comments. My greatest concern is the luke-warm genuflection of HRC to the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. It is most important that Bernie’s POLITICAL REVOLUTION is taken to every corner of this nation, within and outside of government policy. Only if masses of citizens continue to be mobilized to demand and achieve it, will the U.S. be able to set the gold standard for global climate action. After all, we are the greatest cumulative carbon polluter nation.

Politics being what they are, the greatest chance for significant immediate action is to mobilize people in their own communities to take personal, family, and organized community action to immediately achieve local sustainable life. That means major reductions in corporatist consumption and shifting all purchasing choices to ecologically sustainable products and services. This is what is attempting to do by helping green consumers connect with sustainable vendors of all kinds in their local area.

Local communities around the world are organizing to resist the destruction of extractive capital, replace moribund political hierarchies dominated by corporate industrial and financial interests, and become resilient by taking steps to mitigate their own contributions to carbon emissions and to adapt to the increasingly unstable conditions we will experience, even if we achieve the unlikely but necessary limits to global warming proclaimed by the nations that met in Paris last winter.

~ ~ ~

A slightly shorter version of this article was posted on my “Diary of a Mad Jubilado” at

The Other Culture War: The Ego and the Commons

Little does he grasp of the larger picture. But “The Donald” has now Trumpeted into official politics the already well established corrupt values embedded in the Era of the Ego. At the same time, he delights in embodying all of the core resentments and prejudices of the dispossessed U.S. white male. This, despite his own inherited privileges of wealth and power.

Of course, it is about so much more than the mere crass expressions of a narcissistic and almost certainly sociopathic personality, in way over his head but undeterred. It is about the much deeper sociopathic nature of the wielding of corporate wealth to control a nation.

Trump exploits the mass culture of the ego that he personifies. He is the impetuous vocal vessel for the deep ideology that serves the financialization of the economy and all its catastrophic consequences. That ideology of personal selfishness as the measure of self-worth is a dominant cultural diversion for many working Americans.

The cult of the ego distracts many people from recognizing the violation of their own interests by a political system that serve wealth, not people. It incites and exploits diverse fears and prejudices indiscriminately, while justifying national economic policies that give to the rich and steal from everyone else.

But then, most presidential candidates are agents (and beneficiaries) of the wealthy, yet claim to be advocates for their victims – think HRC. The apparent exception is Bernie Sanders, whose clear consistent progressive positions Hillary is forced to imitate.

Trump and Sanders have been portrayed in the mass media as both drawing upon the anger and frustration of large segments of working Americans. That is partly true. But there is a huge difference: authenticity.

Trump represents the cult of the ego, the ideology of extreme individualism. He exploits ethnic and class differences for his own political and economic gain. His persona and his practices are profoundly inauthentic. He has no moral center.

Sanders has a decades-long track record of consistently fighting for civil and human rights against prevalent powers and prejudices. Trump’s narcissistic demagoguery plays to the fears and resentments that arise from exclusion and oppression. What most liberals don’t seem to get is that the white working class is oppressed too, if not nearly so severely as Blacks and Latinos.

White working class men have lost privileges from which Blacks and Latinos have been excluded from the start. Sanders’ New Deal type proposals and programs respond to the actual and increasingly extreme inequalities that Trump’s vision of “winners” and “losers” extols. Trump’s is a fetish of pure personal power. “You’re fired!”

The Cult of the Ego has a deep function in keeping individuals bound to a system that exploits them, even at higher levels of material success. The end-game of the endless-growth economic juggernaut involves a very common pathological response to failure. If the inequities of that system make one a victim, the victim is controlled by his/her internalizing the system failure as personal failure.

Belief in one’s own failure as the cause of one’s problems clinches control by the elites. Anger is displaced onto scapegoated minorities. The oldest trick in the book of confidence men is diversion. The more scapegoats can be invoked, the easier it is to pick the pocket of the nation.

The core psychological problem built into plunder capital and its ecological destruction is that classic pattern of psychopathology: denial and projection. Blame poverty on the poor. Never mind so many were once hard working middle class servants of the system. Blame unemployment on the immigrants who take the jobs that citizens refuse to do. Blame outsourcing on “overpaid” American workers, not on the exploitation of Chinese or Mexican workers by globalized corporations. The culpability of the corporate elite is denied; the problems of America are projected onto the victimized populations, especially Blacks, Mexicans, foreigners, and immigrants. Orange may be the new Black, but Muslims are the new “niggers.”

This destructive end-game has seduced a growing proportion of the U.S. population for decades. The so-called “Global Economy” is locked into a death dance with all living earth systems, including the climate and humanity itself. Yet, Sanders’ popularity demonstrates that the people, when given the obvious alternative explanation, recognize the nature of the unfair hierarchy that has exploited them.

The Political Cult of Ego

Trump epitomizes the pathology of denial and projection, both of which are generously scattered within most of his speeches and interviews. The pattern is clear. An embarrassing Trump behavior or incoherent insult is revealed in the press; Trump flatly denies the facts, even if videotaped. Or, he doubles down. Then he projects ‘guilt’ onto, and vilifies those who may question his lies – i.e., the press.

Trump appears to be congenitally incapable of recognizing any social blunder or ethical error he has made, and cannot grasp the core dishonesty each represents. He may be able to retain his inherited wealth via sleazy deals and strategic bankruptcies. But he does not understand the social world beyond the requirements of the confidence game. Meanwhile, the corporate media pander to his sensationalist swagger and tiptoe around his direct insults to reporters.

But the point of what should be a national political embarrassment is that it is all taken in stride in the U.S., especially by the corporate mass media. It seems as if such gross egotism and megalomania were simply routine, or even acceptable at all. But that is because it is a core component of the American Cult of the Ego constantly promoted by the corporate media. Republicans issue mild rebukes to Trump’s overtly racist utterances, while invoking party unity to support him anyway. Their hypocrisy is thicker than their submissiveness to the corporate and financial elites. No real conservative could tolerate the Drumph.

Such arrogance as Trump displays is not all that uncommon. It is found throughout the culture, because it is part of the corporate promotion of outlandish images of personal independence and superiority. Those images drive consumer behavior, professional self-importance, and political conceit. They also conveniently distract the population from the growing crises at the end of the industrial era and the ultimate crisis the fossil-fueled economy has caused: climate collapse and all the consequent chaos that has already begun.

In some ways, the assertion of the ego over facts, no matter how strong the evidence, is an icon of U.S. economic culture. Marketing stimulates and exploits the insecurities of the ego by its images of aspirational power and artificial beauty. Winning by any means necessary is extoled. The “art of the deal” is actually the art of being unscrupulous and getting away with it.

In American economic culture, “winning” is a higher value than ethics, fair play, or honesty. “Business ethics” is proudly ridiculed as an oxymoron. It no longer matters how one has accumulated wealth, as long as it is demonstrable. Conscience is not a factor. The dominant question seems to be whether Trump is as wealthy as he claims – as if that would somehow justify everything.

What does the ego have to do with the financialization of the economy? Everything. The greed of the financial elite epitomizes the triumph of the ego. The engine that drives economic growth and capital accumulation is consumer demand. Hedge-fund managers and stock brokers expect quarterly reports to support ever increasing stock prices. This puts a great deal of pressure on management to improve output and efficiency. Yet industrial capacity has long outstripped consumers’ needs. So, false aspirations and desires have to be created to support expanding consumer demand. Status anxiety and the insecure ego, massaged by marketing, drive over-consumption.

Marketing Madness

The business of marketing has been working on this track of culture change for a long time. Edward Bernays ushered in the fields of public relations and advertising on the backs of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Gustave Le Bon’s theories of crowd psychology.[1] He helped Woodrow Wilson with propaganda efforts in World War I. It was clear to Bernays that the people must be manipulated psychologically if leaders were to exert effective control. His concept of the “engineering of consent” still reaches into politics as well as commerce.

The history of American marketing and advertising, not to mention political propaganda, is replete with examples of the influence of Bernays and Walter Lippmann.[2] Bernays was instrumental in the 1920s campaign to get American women to smoke cigarettes by playing to their desire to be less restricted by male enforced rules. The manufacturing of consent during the booming economic bubble leading up to the Great Depression drove lavish consumption, mostly by the new rich. It was surpassed only by the explosive use of The Image in the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of television advertising and the creation of pseudo-events that become “news” in order to promote the growth of many enterprises.[3]

The emergence of the dissatisfied ego and its anxiety became an essential marketing mechanism in an increasingly alienating industrial society. Its manipulation provided vast opportunities to manufacture desires to feed mass consumption. Demonstrating status by one’s purchases was an ideal way to drive consumption to keep pace with the productive capacity of industry.

But the very process of rationalizing production has so suppressed wages and has outsourced so many jobs that the middle class has become impoverished. The result has been to encourage further debt to sustain consumption. Hence, the burden of credit-card debt and the Bankster-engineered housing bubble and financial crash of 2008. The inherent waste of this system of endless economic growth not only feeds unsustainable debt, but drives the climate destabilization that will be its undoing.

Enclosing the Commons and the New Culture War

The old Culture Wars were about liberal and conservative values related to standards of individual behavior, mostly in public. There always was a tension between traditional values of conservative personal behavior and the “American Individualism” that is proclaimed the essence of American mass culture. Traditional inhibitions and prejudices against sexual deviation and ethnic groups other than the mythic “Real Americans” – white Anglo-Saxon Protestants – drove resentment of social and demographic change.

That tension continues to play out in the 2016 election cycle, though not directly recognized in debates. The resentments and fears encouraged and aggravated by Donald Trump are themselves misdirected anger at a system that excludes the population from genuine participation. The financialization of the economy has been realized by squeezing the economic participation of as many people as possible, via wage suppression, employment outsourcing, and increased prices. It also involves the confiscation of the nation’s wealth – the commonwealth – by expanding the debt-driven economy.

The foreclosures have not only confiscated the homes of millions of Americans, while the Fed and Treasury conspired to bail out the banks that caused the crash. The same Wall Street financial elite that funds the payday loan extortionists have been rapidly buying up foreclosed homes across the nation. The essential elements of the economy itself have been “enclosed” by the super-rich with the assistance of the lobbied congress. Unlike central banks in other countries, the Fed has not required bailed-out banks to help out victimized home owners. These “winners” get a free ride while the economic culture’s “losers” are vilified for taking on too much debt.

The new culture war has only just begun. It is reflected in the widespread recognition that the population is being exploited in new ways and to new extremes. People know that the wealth of the nation is being enclosed by the corporate state. It is reflected in the surging popularity of the only presidential candidate to characterize it accurately, as well as in the rise of the narcissistic demagogue.

Trump exploits the diffuse fear, anger, and resentment of the mostly white male base of the Tea Party dominated Republican base. In stark contrast, Sanders points to the institutional sources of the destruction of democracy by the impoverishment of both the political process and the population. Clinton attempts to play to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party by promising vague “liberal” policies, while staying the course of the corporate state.

The new culture war is being fought over control of the disposition of the material assets of the nation, “the commons.” Political control of the environment and natural resources that feed the economic growth system determine everyday lives of the American people.  The threat to public health and the viability of communities by plunder capital has reached a tipping point. Resistance to that threat takes the form of a battle for community control of “the commons” versus the economic elitism exercised by authority of the corporate state.

Bernie Sanders calls for a “political revolution” to democratize the political process. He would reestablish the controls over plunder capitalism that had been put in place by the New Deal after the Great Depression. But the new culture war is also about crass individualism (as a cover for corporate exploitation) versus community interdependence.

The Sanders presidential candidacy has at least brought the new culture war to the forefront of political discussion. But that was always a long shot, even as his popularity surged, due to the undemocratic hierarchy of the Democratic Party. Whether HRC or The Donald capture the presidency, the real battle will be fought in communities all across the nation.

The reassertion of community sovereignty will be a crucial factor, but not only in the new culture war. It will determine whether the climate crisis that is upon us can be mitigated. Municipalities are way ahead of federal politics in responding to the climate crisis. The corporate state is AWOL. Even Bernie’s political revolution would take time to be fully realized. The planet is out of time.

Neither the corporate-statist nor the narcissistic wildcard are particularly interested in the compelling evidence of climate science. Their urgencies are all about personal political power. The battles of the new culture war will be waged in communities everywhere to take the extreme climate actions that can save the people and the planet. They will be fought on the ground, far more than in corporate board rooms or Senate chambers.

[1] Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928). New York: lg Publishing, 2004.

[2] Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922).

[3] Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image or What Happened to the American Dream (New York: Atheneum, 1962) remains strikingly relevant after more than half a century.

Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Disruption, Climate Crisis, or Catastrophic Climate Destabilization: What Shall We Call It and Why?

What’s in a word? Or phrase? Well, a lot sometimes. In the case of anthropogenic alteration of the complex ecological and climate systems, it all started with “global warming.” It was a simple and accurate term. The emissions of primarily carbon dioxide by the steady increases in burning of fossil fuels throughout the industrial era have warmed the atmosphere. “Greenhouse gases” have caused the retention of heat; it is that simple. But the earth systems and the effects of warming on them are extremely complex. No word or phrase, it seems, is adequate to convey the full complexity of the problem or point to a clear path to a solution.


The “climate deniers” early on attacked the concept of global warming, claiming various forms of “evidence” to the contrary. Many such claims were absurdly irrelevant. Nevertheless, “Global warming” was an easy target. It was so general that specific instances of unusually cold weather in particular places were argued to refute the idea. For the uninformed, that made sense, although the obvious variability of weather from year to year and place to place meant that the claim didn’t pass logical muster. But demagoguery is not bounded by logic. As long as one didn’t get into the specifics of how the planet is warming and the variability of conditions the added heat produced, then the concept was an easy propaganda target.

Then environmentalists and the media shifted to using “climate change” as the generic term to refer to the complex changes that are disrupting previously relatively stable weather patterns around the globe. The new term had two contradictory effects. First, it was even more general, failing to indicate anything in particular, especially temperature change. It was probably meant by some to disarm critics (deniers) by not mentioning warming and thereby avoiding non-heating contrary specifics. I think it was also meant to be “not so alarmist.” Such watering down of an idea is akin to the big failure of the big environmental groups when they wasted decades of environmental action by trying to “work within the system” by aligning themselves with big polluters and achieving small symbolic changes in exchange for big donations. They were effectively co-opted.


I began using the term “climate disruption” in conversations and in working with various environmental groups locally a few years ago. I remember once an official of the Sierra Club asked me where I got that term. I simply said that I thought it more accurate and pointed to the nature of the problem. He reported that the Sierra Club had recently begun using that term for much the same reason. I also have used the term “climate crisis” because it conveys the urgency of the rapidly growing risks of not taking major actions to counter the disruptive effects of global warming such as extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts.

The idea of climate destabilization is very close to climate disruption in meaning and effect. But it conveys another important element in our consciousness of the problem (or the lack thereof). We humans (especially in the U.S.) seem to have very short historical memories. We have had many decades of essentially very stable climatic conditions, punctuated by the occasional 100-year storm, hurricane, or tsunami. We have come to expect stability. Not only that, but we have come to depend on stable climates for our vastly expanded industrial agriculture as well as diverse other industrial activities. Climate destabilization is changing all that.


However, the crisis of climate change, aside from the many complexities that no single phrase can capture, has become so acute that none of these terms seems adequate. I have read some authors who refer to catastrophic changes that are beginning to appear around the planet. One important example is Christian Parenti’s book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Parenti talks of the “catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence, and climate change.” He reviews examples of the growing chaos that results from the convergence of these factors that is well underway in places like Northwest Kenya, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, as well as the slums and deserts of Brazil and Mexico. The point to be remembered, of course, is that these catastrophic effects of climate disruption will not be limited to the more geographically vulnerable regions where they began. As the disruptions intensify, their effects will encompass the entire planet. The only chance we have, Parenti points out, is to entirely transform the energy economy to heal capitalism’s “metabolic rift” with nature.

Catastrophy or Creativity

Paul Cienfuegos, a regional leader in the Community Rights movement, prefers to call the problem, “catastrophic climate destabilization.” That describes our likely prospects. We must recognize the catastrophic consequences of climate destabilization and their inevitable spread, as Parenti describes. Then we might be able to muster the collective will to launch the massive social reorganization necessary to at least have a chance to exclude ourselves from the “sixth mass extinction.” Cienfuegos advocates “local governance,” achieved by municipalities and other local entities. The strategy is to pass ordinances to stop environmentally destructive actions ordinarily condoned by regulatory agencies that are largely controlled by corporate polluters.

Rapid growth of national and international movements to divest from fossil-fuel related corporations, protect indigenous environments, and reassert native and local sovereignty will be essential. The weakest links in the chain of actions necessary to avoid full-on catastrophic climate destabilization are corporations and governments. Powerful social movements must force them to change. Otherwise, prevarication and avoidance of action by national governments and international corporate and financial powers will lead to humans joining the sixth mass extinction.