Being David Brooks in the Bowels of the Green New Deal

Many consider David Brooks the voice of conservative reason In America. After all, he has even published some almost sociological books on matters of character, family, and progress toward ‘the American dream.’ And, he presents himself as a soft-spoken empathic analyst on the Sunday talk shows and in his New York Times column.

David.Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400Brooks may even entertain a valid point about the craziness of Trump or some of his extreme white nationalist supporters being a bit off target. He always seems to be concerned about protecting basic American values. That is why his entry into the surge of right-wing sniping at the persons and policies behind the congressional Green New Deal (GND) resolution might seem plausible to some. After all, most folks have not read its 14 pages.

Democracy of the GND

Offered up in the House of Representatives, the Green New Deal stands out as a unique document in the history of the Congress. It is a call to the U.S. government and the American people to mobilize on a scale analogous to the mobilization of American society to fight World War II. It is the first statement I have seen from any branch of the federal government that directly confronts the urgency of the crisis of impending climate collapse.

Brooks’ objections come off as almost objective comments on the failures of a few naïveAOC idealists. He fears they would attempt to solve the nation’s and the world’s problems by dictates from newly centralized government authorities. If we are to believe Brooks, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ed Markey, and the dozens of other congressional sponsors must be a bunch of old Stalinists. He claims that “the left” has “embraced elitism” by using the GND to centralize power.

Reactionary Elitism in Freedom’s Clothing

That is not only a complete misrepresentation, but it entirely misses, or should I say dodges, the main point of the Green New Deal. The climate crisis is real and it is now. Only by abandoning the elitism of the corporate Democrats and the plutocratic Republicans can we achieve social and economic justice. Congress can achieve that by initiating a Green New Deal that mitigates many of the disastrous consequences of the neoliberal corporate global economy they have fostered.

They may mouth platitudes of social concern like David Brooks does, but the corporatist right in both parties has always objected to the government doing anything to solve the nation’s problems, claiming “the private sector” can do a much better job. (Just take a look at privatized prisons, education, and the tortuous internment of the children of asylum seekers for an answer to that question.)

When it comes to assessing the potential impact of the Green New Deal, David goes right off the rails. He falls flat into the swamp of corporatist objections to any government involvement in efforts at achieving social progress. After all, that might impinge on his faith in the trajectory of the corporate state and its extreme fantasies of staying the course of business as usual.

Far more importantly, however, Brooks’ character assassination of the GND and its supporters implicitly denies not only the validity but the overriding urgency of the climate crisis we all face, like it or not. Instead, he reverts to the classic redbaiting of the past in his vain attempts to silence the voices of concern with people and planet.

Hopeful Realism vs. Political Climate Denial

How can Brooks characterize a call for community proposals for reducing carbon emissions based on the science and funded by the federal government, as a play for centralized power? Oh, there you have it. Government funding means taxing the rich and the giant corporations since the concentration of wealth leaves everyone else with marginal incomes. The top 100 corporations cause the majority of carbon emissions. And AOC would dare to institute a 70% marginal income tax rate, almost as high as we had in the 1950s, the most prosperous era for everyone in the USA.

For Brooks, the climate crisis is not even an issue. He denies it by omission. Instead, he focuses on political semantics. He dodges the question of whether the GND is “socialist” or not, embarrassed by his fear of the comfortable acceptance of the democratic socialist ideas embedded in the original New Deal. He shapes his inferences about the GND’s broad provisions to fit the terrifying characteristics of a dictatorial socialist state. Never mind that the sponsors of the resolution are all staunch decentralists, social democrats, and plain old fashioned liberals, who are just as concerned with overbearing bureaucracy as David ever was.

David Brooks would rather vilify the new hopeful realists in Congress than face the fact that the corporate state he equates with individual freedom is unsustainable. A New Great Transformation has begun and we need to take charge of our fate within the conditions that our profligate waste has created. The Green New Deal is merely a tiny step forward, or more accurately, a recognition of necessity. Wake up, David.

So Much More than Warming: Misunderstanding Climate Change

The words we use to describe the world tend to “frame” our understandings by bracketing the range of images and meanings that make sense to us. Our reasoning builds on deep emotions. Moral reasoning also rests on an emotional sense of right and wrong and the beliefs and personal relationships we hold dear.

1200px-Global_Temperature_Anomaly.svg

Global Warming ~ Source: Wikipedia

The terms used to describe the effects of human induced emissions of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, are a good case in point. The facts are quite simple, though their implications are very complex. We gradually changed the chemical composition of the atmosphere over the 200 years during which we accelerated the burning of fossil fuels. In doing so, we humans have caused climate patterns to change.

 

The Rise of Civilization…and Danger

So much of what humans do depends on climate conditions that remained relatively stable during “the ascent of man.” The discovery of fire, the invention of cooking, the advent of agriculture and growing populations they supported, all occurred within the Holocene, the geological epoch of stable climate during the past 11,000 years or so. Some scientists now conclude that the Holocene is over and we have entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene, a period when the activities of humans have so disrupted complex Earth systems that the changes will likely last thousands of years.

Yet we continue to frame our understanding of the changing climate conditions brought on by the industrial era in very strange ways, which stem from our emotional attachments to the past and current course of economic growth. We identify with the utopian dreams of economists who project endless growth of resource use and energy expenditures in a finite world. Such illusions directly conflict with the facts resulting from diverse scientific research findings. The current trends in resource depletion and global warming have already destabilized many of the living Earth systems that we depend upon to survive. Clive Hamilton illuminates these forces in his book, Defiant Earth. Those trends are accelerating as political ‘authorities’ around the world bicker over what reductions in carbon emissions are necessary and who is responsible to achieve them.

Utopian Dreams and Political Power

In the U.S., political debates rage on. Now we have a federal political administration, riddled with Trumpery, which denies the facts of science in order to further its aims to consolidate political power and to enrich the rich ever more. Yet, we all live on the same planet. Even though the initial damage caused by global warming has already begun to affect the most vulnerable populations, ultimately everyone is at risk, even the super-rich. Everything is moving faster than expected.

Scientists frame the processes that are changing the conditions on the planet in ways that reflect the best available data. Unfortunately, the facts challenge long held assumptions about the ability of humans to control nature. Yet, people identify with those who have achieved ‘success’ in the past, before we reached the natural limits of economic growth.

Social Illusion or Hopeful Realism

Propaganda encourages people’s emotions to align with the interests of those who bribe politicians through campaign contributions, personal “expenses,” and various lobbying strategies. As political scientists have demonstrated, most of what passes as “legislation,” consists of actions that favor the economic interests of the rich and powerful, both individuals and corporations. What the public wants or believes in pretty much does not count, except for pandering to the misunderstandings of reality that politicians encourage among their “base.”

So, what about “global warming,” or the current analgesic, “climate change”? Only when deteriorating conditions sufficiently infuse enough people with fear and anger, will direct political action, both locally nationally, take place. Will it be too late? Nobody knows. We can only find hope in realism.

Economics of Happiness vs. Corporate Globalization

I just watched the condensed version of the award winning film, “The Economics of Happiness.” It is available on the Local Futures website. It confirms just about all the research findings on climate change, globalization, poverty, pollution, violence, and a host of other issues I have followed for the past decade while writing my forthcoming book, At the Edge of Illusion: Preparing for the New Great Transformation.

The book is in the last stages of editing before submission for publication. So, given the complexities of the publishing industry it is not likely to be released until the end of the year — assuming everything goes well. Meanwhile, I will be renovating this website and include some excerpts from the book in a new section of pages.

Part of the research I’ve been engaged in while writing the book involves trying to understand the idea of progress as it has evolved in the industrial age and how that relates to actual human happiness. As it turns out, genuine happines — as compared with the momentary exhiliration that might result from buying some new product — is found most consistently among people who live in just a few places in the world. Those places,  called “Blue Zones,” those few places in the world where the special circumstances just seem to produce contentment, and where most of the world’s centenarians live. They have completely avoided globalization…so far.

In contrast, most of us live in cities and suburbs where we are increasingly isolated from real face-to-face relationships that are not mediated by complex institutional requirements imposed upon our time and our minds. Our relations are increasingly mediated by complex economic and institutional requirements that leave little room for direct human relationships with other persons — as themselves.

Our emotional, personal, interpersonal, and thereby cultural lives become entangled with a process of “intermediation” by layers of social complexity. This is embodied by corporate state taken as a whole, the essence of what Chris Hedges calls “The Empire of Illusion.” The globalized economic-growth leviathon is the “technosphere” that Dmitry Orlov argues we must shrink to improve the declining odds for human survival.

Sheldon Wolin refers to the larger political-economic structure of the corporate state in which we live as the “inverted totalitarianism” of Democracy, Incorporated. An essential element of complex civilizations is the “intermediation” of endless layers of social complexity between people who would otherwise simply exchange one valued good or service for another — or just socialize face to face.

Joseph Tainter’s 1988 classic, The Collapse of Complex Civilizations, attributes the collapse of complex societies throughout history to such complexities. John Michael Greer predicts a Dark Age America resulting from the convergence of climate change, economic crises and cultural collapse, the beginnings of which we already experience. He predicts a process of “disintermediation” of economic activity over the coming several hundred years, accompanied by major population decline, leading to a new feudal period.

I think ecological, climate, and societal collapse will unfold much faster than Greer expects, unless drastic climate action and radical societal re-organization can be initiated very soon. Many others, of course, comfortably assume that economic growth and technological innovation can get us out of any fix. They are dead wrong.

Michael.E.Mann

Michael E. Mann

Jon Foley, in a conversation with Michael Mann on the occasion of Mann’s receipt of the seventh annual Stephen Schneider Award, said that in contrast to such blind optimism, “Hope is where you role up your sleeves and get to work.” That is the kind of Hopeful Realism I like to hear.