Dystopia, Utopia, or Drift?

Looking forward into the future is no easy task. It is hard to decide what to believe will happen next, and nearly impossible to predict a few years or decades down the line. So many variables, so many viewpoints, so many things are just not the same as we had expected them to turn out today. Now, the unexpected has become the rule, and a lot of us do not like the profound discomfort that causes. So, how can we look beyond today’s surprises and expect to see what is coming soon, much less later.

Of course, we live in a culture whose faith in “progress” is both deep and profoundly flawed. Maybe we just have an embedded optimism gene, but I think not. We do have a history of amazing good fortune, at least for some, and a trajectory of economic growth that seems unbounded. But it does seem to be reaching its limits. The die-hards still project their faith in technology and “free markets” to pull any rabbit out of the hat if the need arises. I used to see no end to the potential for new technology in every realm, but no more.

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Utopia may be more distant than we think.

Technology, after all, is a highly political matter. It is not just what’s possible, and that is not just anything we want. It is also about what someone pays for. Utopian dreams have become ever more expensive to realize, because there are limits.

For a while at the end of the twentieth century, the study of the future became quite popular. So called “Futurists” forecasted all manner of good things and a few possible trouble spots down the line and into the twenty first century – that would be now. We do not seem to hear so much from futurists these days. Or am I just not listening anymore?

As it turns out, although nobody knows for sure, everyone has an opinion about the future. Yet so many feel no need to base their opinions on facts or trends observed. In fact, most of the time opinions are not fact-based. Facts are what people selectively use to bolster their opinions, ignoring any facts that happen not to be consistent with closely held beliefs. Psychologists call that syndrome “confirmation bias.”

As things have developed in recent years, I have paid more and more attention to how confirmation bias interferes with rational thought and distorts public policy. Politicians face increasingly complex international, ecological, economic, climate, social, and just about every other kind of problem imaginable. Yet, they miserably fail to address these critical issues because they completely fail to “get it” and act in the public interest. But there is much more to it than confirmation bias, which is, for politicians at least, a convenient vehicle to carry them to the deepest levels of corruption.

If facts do not favor a political cynic’s position, well, they can just trot out “alternative facts,” conjured solely from the politics of the moment. Why? Because, they base their decisions not on rational analysis of the situation in context of the public interest, but on personal self interest in gaining wealth and power for themselves. (Now, that is a rather blanket statement about politicians and it is not true of many politicians, just the majority.)

Sarah Chayes has written a book called Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. It focuses mostly on what she discovered from many years of direct experience in working with citizens in nations such as Afghanistan, and as a defense official trying to get the higher ups to see the futility of both military and diplomatic efforts that produced both corruption and terrorism out of the impossible positions such policies put people in.

I think Chayes’ work is highly applicable to the situation within the United States of America as well. Her on-the-ground work shows clearly how shortsighted officials corrupt social and political systems. Such highfliers focus more on their political careers than on the realities their work ought to address.

The result is denial, corruption, and failure to achieve the progress that U.S. mainstream economics and politics always claims but increasingly rarely achieves. As the last vestiges of democracy fall to the Corporate State, drift becomes Dystopia.

Trapped by Finance Capital: Business as Usual While Planet Burns. Part I: Control

Despite the absurd antics of a few fossil-shills in the U.S. Congress, most Americans now recognize the urgency of taking strong actions to mitigate the rapidly growing climate crisis. Mitigation has to mean stopping the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere and oceans so that the damage to ecosystems that is well underway can be slowed. It means bringing earth systems back into balance and relative stability. That is a tall order, which is unfortunately still treated by politicians as just another policy choice. The real choice is between mitigating climate chaos and the extinction of Homo sapiens.[1]

Without huge reductions in total carbon emissions (to near zero), human populations around the world will not be able to adapt to destabilized climate conditions. Growing climate disruptions are already threatening food production and diverse human habitats. Even the World Bank, ordinarily a promoter of fossil-fuel driven international development, has recognized the imminent dangers of continued global warming. But finance capital (the money investment banks and corporations use to finance capital extraction/production projects), whether on Wall Street, in Geneva, or even in Beijing, marches to its own drummer – business as usual.

Whatever rhetoric politicians may deploy trumpeting “personal freedom,” or “free markets,” or “free enterprise,” the locus of control of national and international economies is found in the central banks, large investment banks, and hedge funds around the world. For a very long time, the ideologists of “free market” economics have been able to successfully conflate “democracy” with the control of markets by Finance Capital. When these propagandists demand no public control over finance capital, they usually invoke “personal freedom” or “innovation” by “small business” – and investment needed by the “job creators.”

Political decisions are routinely made in the interests of the largest financial institutions in the world. Because of the creation and flow of money and debt is largely controlled by these powerful institutions, both corporate investment planning and government fiscal planning are almost always consistent with the interests of finance capital. We tend to think of the Federal Reserve as a government institution. It is certainly federally chartered. But it was given the power to create money and allocate government debt in the interests of its member banks – which own it.

Say what you will about the ideals of “democracy” or a “representative government,” it is the giant financial institutions that control the economy, not presidents, not Congress. Interests of finance capital and the fossil fuel corporations are closely aligned. Their actions confirm that. Corporate consolidation in various economic sectors facilitates implicit coordination and control. You do not need a back-room conspiracy when the interests and affiliations of large institutions are integrated.

The economic interests of General Electric, for example, control a large segment of the mass media communications sector. Owning Comcast cable, NBC, Universal Pictures, and Focus Features, helps frame the public consciousness. Content control helps align public beliefs and biases with corporate and financial interests, instilling fear about terror, a putative necessity for perpetual war, and the “threat” of immigration. All these contribute to its bottom line. GE is but one example. Need I mention Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp properties, such as the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and the New York Post? Or the media content controlled by Viacom, Time Warner, Disney, and CBS? GE also manages a large segment of government military and “security” spending, along with a few other “defense” contractors. A mere six media giants control about ninety percent of what we watch, listen to, and read about the world. Most media content is highly consistent with the interests of finance capital.

This institutional structure keeps finance capital in a very comfortable political position. Making big-money-now is the core goal of finance capital. That does not leave much, if any, room for public responsibility. Business as usual for finance capital is to invest in more and more fossil-fuel driven economic growth. It is quite amazing when one thinks about men who manage the world’s largest financial institutions just not getting the threat to human existence that their continued climate-destabilizing practices ensure.

Or do they? Recent revelations about Exxon’s executive “leadership” knowing a great deal about the dangers of global warming posed by continued carbon emissions in the late 1970s reveal a human capability for evil on a planetary scale. With that knowledge, Exxon [2] promoted the lies of “climate denial” contributing to decades of delay on serious climate action. The scale of the ensuing chaos is so great that it is hard to fathom.

Part II of this 3-part series will deal with the planetary chaos that results from the distortions of the role of finance capital in controlling the economy today.
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[1] Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer, “Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction.” Science Advances. 19 Jun 2015: Vol. 1, no. 5, e1400253. Accessed at http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253
[2] See also investigative reports in the Los Angeles Times, “What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic,” by Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust (Oct. 9, 2015). Accessed at http://graphics.latimes.com/exxon-arctic/ . See also, Inside Climate News, “Exxon: The Road Not Taken.” Accessed at: http://insideclimatenews.org/news/22102015/Exxon-Sowed-Doubt-about-Climate-Science-for-Decades-by-Stressing-Uncertainty