Yves here. Many if not most people in America labor under the quaint misapprehension, stoked by the media as well as politicians themselves, that elected officials represent voters, as opposed to moneyed backers and other influential interests. As Thomas Neuburger explains longer form, those who describe these dynamics and their predictable results are often accused of pessimism (and why is pessimism bad?), cynicism, or the Newer Speak formulation, negativity.
As an aside, we are big fans of pessimism. See our 2008 Conference Review article, The Dark Side of Optimism.
By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies
A pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist.”
—Adapted from a line in the BBC series Yes, Minister
The question — Are you optimistic or pessimistic about our climate future? — is a loaded one. If you answer that you’re optimistic, you look like a fool. But pessimism, especially when applied to people’s attitude or personality, is a shame word, a word that subtly says that they’re something “wrong” or “unsunny” about you.
The implication is that this flaw is the source of your outlook, that your pessimism hijacked your brain. It’s never said this nakedly, at least not usually, but the overtone of words like “cynical” and “pessimistic” is clearly pejorative and meant to attack your views as groundless.
“Cynicism” and Democratic Party Politics
The distinction between what some would call “cynicism” and others “realism” is especially vibrant in the twin worlds of left-Democratic politics and climate activism.
In the world of left-Democratic politics, those working to create change from within the political system — people whose constant pressure is truly valuable, even necessary — often look at “they’ll always betray you” or “Lucy and the football” pessimists as detractions to their operation, gloomy Guses who discourage others from participating in the “Move Joe Manchin to the left” efforts they’re engaged in. They seem to assume that if you think the effort is almost impossible, you also think it shouldn’t be attempted — a conclusion that doesn’t follow from the premise.
But it’s a conclusion they often draw. So if you’re one of those who think the Joe Manchins of the world — and the Feinsteins, Pelosis and all the rest — might have evil motives instead of “inexplicable” ones … that thought is sometimes labeled “cynical” as though it’s not also grounded in fact.
But the facts are there for everyone to see. Is it “cynical” to think ill of Joe Manchin for this, or simply realistic?
Leaked Audio of Sen. Joe Manchin Call With Billionaire Donors Provides Rare Glimpse of Dealmaking on Filibuster and Jan. 6 Commission
Manchin urged big-money donors with No Labels to talk to Sen. Roy Blunt about flipping his vote on the commission in order to save the filibuster.
Joe Manchin, in a private call on Monday with a group of major donors, provided a revealing look at his political approach to some of the thorniest issues confronting lawmakers.
The remarks were given on a Zoom teleconference session that was obtained by The Intercept.
The meeting was hosted by the group No Labels, a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans….
The call included several billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them Louis Bacon, chief executive of Moore Capital Management; Kenneth D. Tuchman, founder of global outsourcing company TeleTech; and Howard Marks, the head of Oaktree Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country. The Zoom participant log included a dial-in from Tudor Investment Corporation, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Also present was a roster of heavy-hitting political influencers, including Republican consultant Ron Christie and Lieberman, who serves as a representative of No Labels and now advises corporate interests.
Manchin told the assembled donors that he needed help flipping a handful of Republicans from no to yes on the January 6 commission in order to strip the “far left” of their best argument against the filibuster. The filibuster is a critical priority for the donors on the call, as it bottles up progressive legislation that would hit their bottom lines. [emphasis added]
The article later says — I have no idea why, given the headline — that Manchin showed surprising openness to filibuster “reform.” But his opposition to it is also pretty naked. He hates the “far left” (his words) and wants to use big money donors to influence a Republican’s vote in order to negate the mockery his (cynical?) opponents deploy against his pro-corporate, anti-populist foot-dragging.
Should we call it “cynical” to look at Joe Manchin as an evil man serving naked wealth and his own well-nourished ego, or should we, with a much kindlier, more Manchin-friendly explanation, call him unexplainably confused? To ask, as this writer did, “What the f*ck is wrong with Joe Manchin?” is to claim to not know the answer, even when the answer is written in the news every day he’s in it.
I’m all for insider pressure on Manchin to convince him to “come around.” He needs to feel constant heat from every direction. That heat is critically important. But that’s just one element of the battle. I’m also for those who say, “While that’s going on, let’s do something more forceful — much more forceful.” Like take away, to the greatest extent we can, his wealth and reputation, and let him live a public pariah, to the last minute of his last day, for all the evil he’s done.
Maybe that’s the kind of convincing, the kind that understands his motives, he’ll listen to.
“Pessimism” and the Climate War
In the climate world the pressure to be “optimistic” is similarly present. The argument here, as in the political world, is that “pessimism” discourages climate action. “If you convince people they’re doomed,” the argument goes, “they’ll just give up … and then they will be doomed.”
But what if they’re already “doomed” to some degree? Should we then be asking them to act in ways that make little difference at all, or none?
According to this excellent recent report, for example, “A 5% annual reduction in emissions of a single greenhouse gas [for example, CO2 alone] — from 2020 and based on a middle-road emissions path — has no statistically significant effect on warming for more than two decades, as compared to a no-mitigation pathway.” [emphasis added]
On the other hand, “fast emission cuts are vital to flatten the warming curve.” (Full report PDF here.)
We are not on a “middle road emissions path.” We’re on the full-speed-ahead, no-mitigation pathway. And thanks to all the evil Joe Manchins of the world, we’re going to stay on that path till the rich abandon us.
Or, as one bold candidate for public office recently put it:
While in general I agree, I find the call for general strike as a tactics not thought through. Tactics needs to be situated within a strategy, and I see no strategy here. Also, general strikes are both very hard to organise and hard to keep together once the repression starts. The 1918 Swiss and the 1909 Swedish general strikes are instructive in the challenges a general strike faces and they both had the organisation through labor unions to formulate demands and present a united front.
I know about the critique about Gene Sharp’s role in the US empire building, but I still think following his game plan is correct. Identify the opponents strenghts and formulate strategy to undermine those strenghts and make the strategy so good that it can be published without the opponent being able to do much with it. Then formulate tactics within the strategy.
This article is a good first step in identifying the opponents and clarifying their role.
Since Gene Sharp has been mentioned, here is a pdf file listing his 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action-
And as far as pessimism is concerned, I always think about that saying-
‘An optimist thinks that we live in the best of all possible worlds.
A pessimist fears that this may be true.’
I don’t understand how a weak general strike will do anything but demoralize those who think one could do any good at this point. Nobody I know even thinks about a strike. It’s another limited social media phenomenon. I hope I’m wrong, but I bet it will further fragment workers, esp rural and urban, rather than unite us.
fjallstrom: “This article is a good first step.” You realize, of course, how this phrase is used in the article?
That was actually unintentional :)
Here I was automatically following the good thing, bad things, good thing formula and instead I end with damning with faint praise. Well, I guess I can’t hide living in the EU (per vlade), ce la vie.
This is my first time commenting, so I want to say as I risk coming in a bit too hot: I greatly appreciate the socio-economic insights from both the posts, analysis and comments I have benefited from on this site. I am also pleased that there is discussion regarding organizing tactics and strategy, prompting this first post.
Regarding: “I know about the critique about Gene Sharp’s role in the US empire building, but I still think following his game plan is correct”
This comes across as knowing half of the story. The essay “Change Agent” from Marcie Smith a couple of years back illustrates the imperial role of Sharpian tactics in foreign regime change which you mention. But, part II of the essay illustrates the US state’s role in developing it as a domestic tactic as well… Away from the organizing strategies and tactics of unions, communists/socialists and the Civil Rights movement roughly pre-1970’s. As a communist and shop steward in my union, I have been very active in organizing and social movements for roughly a decade after becoming politicized during my time in the US Army.
I was consistently frustrated that my union with a great organizing record had lukewarm politics, while the movements I was involved in often had great political analysis, but poor organizing. “Change Agent” was certainly the insight I needed. The vast majority of radical organizing was done under Sharpian tactics, or a politics of spectacle. Meanwhile, my union understood and trained me in the slow, methodical approaches to organizing masses of seemingly apolitical workers. The promotion of Gene Sharp tactics by our ruling class works abroad, yet is futile domestically for the same reasons: the success or failure of these spectacles are contingent upon the imperialist state’s control over the means of violence (police, military, ICE, DHS, etc), funding (IMF/World Bank, NGOs and non-profits, central bank) and communications (media, hollywood, public spaces, ISPs and social media). They can manipulate these mechanisms of control at their convenience and pour water (BLM co-optation and diversion, Colombian general strike) or gasoline (“Labor Shortage!” or recent Cuban protests) as they see fit to bend narratives to their liking.
So, I agree with both the author and fjallstrom to varying degrees. We need a general strike. But we are not prepared for general strike, so other actions must be taken to build to that level. Neuberger is correct that the workers not going back to work is something of a spontaneous strike (not labor shortage), but very few of the participants are filtering their actions regarding their material well-being through the filter of politics against the corrupted relationship of the state, their employers, and their health, housing and income. I am keenly aware of the issues and politics as a hotel worker who has been out of work and had my unemployment pulled. I have organized and protested with a number of workers who, for the first time in their lives, are seeing the callous nature of the state and employers – but very few on the ‘left’ are engaging with these folks because so many on the ‘left’ actually hate the working class. They view them as too crude, racist, liberal, sexist, bougie, homophobic, whatever… That may be correct, but lack of political consciousness in the US is no reason to hate a working class person. I embodied many of these problematics prior to valuable mentorship from numerous people over the years. And almost all of us have problematic people in our lives that we love despite their flaws. What is really at play here is the same thing that drives right-wing xenophobia: fear of the other and an assumption that they’ve had all the same opportunities and contexts in life to learn the same lessons as the ‘woke.’ Our hatred should be reserved for the politically conscious who know precisely what they are doing – whether they be foot-dragging or voting centric unions, corporate masters pushing liberal agendas through their ‘philanthropy’, or climate change denying, war pushing, sociopathic profiteers.
My wife was a kindergarten teacher last year in San Antonio, TX with a newly minted DSA-heavy leadership. In the course of a very long, brutalizing, gaslit and anxious year of hybrid instruction (students were in the classroom by early September) – she was fired by her administration and school district. The union, ostensibly leftists, failed to meaningfully organize before the pandemic, during the school year, or even in the wake of my wife’s termination. They equally too scared and contemptuous of their own membership – mostly because of the false assumptions they make about what their membership considers important. They refuse to meaningfully engage with their membership, therefore they ignorantly confirm their own biases – the membership then views them as alienating and unresponsive (thus useless) and the whole situation calcifies itself because nobody talks to each other. But both are always willing to sit down and complain about the situation to management.
These are all processes that absolutely must change to address the needs that our manifold crises require.
I am doing what I can to connect those dots with my co-workers, but I feel what is needed is many more fellow travelers to get out of the echo chambers of social media ‘communities’, non-profit orgs, paid union staff positions, and so on. The need is to get to work alongside the workers and build the trust with their co-workers that another world is possible and we are the real “change agents.” Not the CHAAZ in Seattle, not the Squad, not the school board, etc. Change is made by broad social movements with clear, engaged and experienced leadership placing immense pressure on the system to meet demands – and mass state violence/repression comes with the territory. It is the evidence that the system is concerned about its legitimacy. How to respond to that violence is frankly beyond my political understanding, but that is what my party leadership is for – they are more experienced and prepared to make those calls.
@Towfiq Al-Thawri,1:50 pm.
Clearly you have done a lot of serious thinking on the issue of organising for real change rather than window-dressing change. I agree that only a broad movement with clear objectives involving workers and their unions as well as many other organisations will be required to overcome the vested interests that are directing us to climate disaster. Honest and effective leadership is essential. The organising needs to be on-going and relentless, with well-targeted actions. This is not easy to do.
I remember being a rank and file union member in a strike of 100,000 teachers 40 odd years ago. We had thoughtful and honest leadership that would never sell us out. It was a very intense time. The government made threats which the union was initially able to turn to its advantage (an attack on one is an attack on all), but finally legislation that took away 3 years of seniority for each day of continued strike did us in. The government was not re-elected as a result but an even worse one was elected next round! My take: it is difficult to maintain on-going activity when serious threats are made and time goes by. People get tired and move on.
More recently I was a senior staff person in a large private sector union with mostly honest leadership. We represented workers in the tar sands in the province of Alberta in Canada. Through a long process of inclusive policy development the union took a position to demand what amounted to a moratorium on tar sands expansion, with the support of tar sands workers. This required talking to many workers and their local leadership. Our president met with the minister of the environment and I met (with a colleague) with senior people in the prime minister’s office. The government (Liberal Party) was hoping to bring in significant climate friendly policies and the support of workers directly affected would be very significant politically. This was in the early 2000s. But the powers that be behind the government didn’t agree. The party’s candidate for prime minister was rather weak and too intellectual and got no money nor support from effective advisers. In 2005 the Conservatives were elected. The prime minister elect stated that climate change was a conspiracy by the socialist Chinese to undermine the economies of the developed countries. So much for our efforts!
My take: on-going organising that is relentless in its demands is crucial. So is strong and honest leadership that will never give up. And relying on the political process can be problematic.
Anyway, I appreciated your analysis. I share most of it. Good luck to you!
I believe the Liberal leader mentioned by Keith Newman was Stephane Dion — as it turns out, a man rather ahead of his time.
The leader of the Conservatives was Stephen Harper; as nasty a piece of political business as you’re ever likely to encounter in Canada.
Yes, those were the people. It was too bad about Stephane Dion. I rather liked him. He was more thoughtful than a standard politician. I was overly dismissive of his environmental plans because I didn’t think they were ambitious enough. An enviro friend working with him told me I was wrong and she was right, especially compared to what was to come.
Thank you for pointing out that I had indeed missed part two of “Change agent”. For others that has done likewise, here is part two: https://nonsite.org/change-agent-gene-sharps-neoliberal-nonviolence-part-two/
You make a lots of good points.
I think an obstacle for many leftists in embracing a working class identity is a fear of falling (and the distance between fear and hatred is often small). The middle classes are always threading water, and while in theory we may all be paid (ie workers) there is a lot of social status issues and identity tied up here. And unless it is the lived experience it easily becomes slumming. I have no simple solutions, but you are right. People need to be met where they are and organisations need to be based on an actual mutual sharing to represent their members. But didn’t the 19th century socialist and populists have such problems too? Maybe there are solutions from history that can be tried?
On state violence, I have no solutions either, but an observation. Protests turning into revolutions or at least compromises often succeed if the armed agents of the state sent out to crush them either stay home or join the protesters. And the armed agents of the state often operate with a “the protected/those they are protected from” framework. When ordered against those they perceive in the second cathegory, it can make them halt.
Just wanted to say thank you to the editors for posting, and to the commentors for engaging with, my obnoxiously long comment. Again, I find this site and the community that engages with it incredibly valuable. When my hotel job is back, I will be sure to make a meaningful contribution.
And keep my comments shorter in the future
> I know about the critique about Gene Sharp’s role in the US empire building, but I still think following his game plan is correct.
If Sharp’s game plan is founded on the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action, Myanmar is the obvious counterexample; that’s one reason I’m so interested in it, as a natural experiment. Of course, we don’t know the outcome yet, but I would bet that marches, incredibly courageous though they are, and necessary though they may be as a morale building device, will not be sufficient.*
One might also ask whether, when push comes to shove, our elites will behave any better than the Tatmadaw. Certainly the militarization of policing, to pick but one example, would argue not.
NOTE * And if any tankies respond with “Color Revolution,” I’m gonna have to slap them around.
I was thinking of “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, which I found thought-provoking in its demands for mapping the power structure of the state you are opposing and from that formulating overall strategy while building a democratic organisation around it (hey, no pressure!). Interestingly the book claims that you can not count on the outside world to rally to your side, bit of difference between theory and practice there.
I wasn’t aware of the points Towfiq brings up above on how it’s used domestically in the US. I think I should re-read “From Dictatorship to Democracy” with that perspective in mind, my gut feeling is that the general outline can be used anyway.
We know who sponsored those. Not one of them was organic.
Nice tank you got there, champ. This isn’t Eastern Europe. There is a typical media cycle, which starts from images of legitimate grievance (plenty of those in Myanmar), followed by NGOs and Westerner amplification, followed by claims of non-organic from the tankies (who previously evinced no knowledge or interest in the topic whatever). The NGO cycle of corruption is bad, but the tankie one is worse because it denies agency to everyone except American intelligence operatives. Anybody who thinks it takes “outside agitators” to create grievances against the Tatmadaw is a fool. (Not that the ethnic army leadership contains candidates for sainthoodm of course.)
I don’t actually know this to be the case, even in the case of the ones in Eastern Europe. When thousands of people are taking to the streets, are they *all* CIA agents or dupes? Are there really no underlying domestic conditions that would get people out in genuine protest, regardless of whether key string pullers are in the service of Langley?
That said, BLM has made me keenly aware of the degree to which is is actually possible to get large numbers of people, especially enthusiastic young people with nothing else to do, into the streets in support of basically nothing.
Regardless, none of this applies to Myanmar, and everyone who has effectively sided with what is a literal military coup (looking at you, Moon of Alabama) is going to ultimately come out of this looking incredibly bad.
I had some exposure to The Movement for a New Society in the early ’70’s when I was a highschooler. I could never for the life of me figure out how anything they were doing was ever supposed to lead to anything but more of what they were already doing. A few years ago I found out that was probably the point.
They might even behave worse, given that they have more powerful technology to behave worse with.
when the yellow jackets in france went on a national strike against macron, i said they will not win no matter how hard they try to shut france down, they never completely shut the country down, but they put a pretty good dent in economic activity and tourism, enough so that in the past, a macron type would be gone.
when the farmers in india went on a general strike, i said they can shut the country down, or close to it, modi will yawn just like macron did.
and modi is still there, the strike did not change to much at all.
so what did both actions have in common? why, free trade. free trade has supercharged a world wide oligarchy that supports governments all over the world. both modi and macron can count on internal oligarchs, but its the foreign ones that count the most.
i am sick of reading those who call the immense damage to the worlds civil societies and environments the results of globalization.
that as the article suggests, does not name names.
ask a typical american if they are against globalization, many will say yes. ask them if they are for “FREE TRADE” many will say thats a good thing.
advertizers will tell you the word free sells things.
so lets call it what it is, free trade is freedom from democratic control, and its supercharged a world wide oligarchy of billionaires.
“While that’s going on, let’s do something more forceful — much more forceful.” Like take away, to the greatest extent we can, his wealth and reputation, and let him live a public pariah, to the last minute of his last day, for all the evil he’s done.
Maybe that’s the kind of convincing, the kind that understands his motives, he’ll listen to.“While that’s going on, let’s do something more forceful — much more forceful.” Like take away, to the greatest extent we can, his wealth and reputation, and let him live a public pariah, to the last minute of his last day, for all the evil he’s done.
Maybe that’s the kind of convincing, the kind that understands his motives, he’ll listen to.”
this should be applied to bill clinton and obama immediately, carter and reagan and the bushs have much to blame, but the real carnage happened under bill clinton, and obama bailed out those disastrous policies, then doubled down on them.
the clinton are getting on, but they both should be pariah’s , and america needs to be reminded what they did. but obama is still young, and needs to be hung out to dry for many years to come.
Optimist can’t be pleasantly surprised.
TBH, it’s an American thing (although it’s spreading, unfortunately). As my old boss told me about giving a feedback:
– to an American, talk only about the good things (cf the post for reactions to bad things)
– to a Brit, use the sh!t sandwich – good thing, bad things, good thing.
– to an European, talk only about the bad things (talking about good things will have you tagged as a hypocrite. At most you can mention the good things in passing, as sort of “of course there are these, but let’s talk the important stuff, i.e. the bad stuff”.).
Here in the USA there is no mechanism for peaceful change.
The Political System is broken at a time when a functioning Political system is critical for the survival of most of the populace and the bare functioning of our society.
We’re about to see our homeless population explode due to the lack of financial support of the most vulnerable in the middle of a pandemic, that is the reality
Which of course summons the superb Sorenson-written and JFK-delivered observation that if you make change impossible, then you make revolution inevitable.
Many historic examples, France, Russia, China, but also Iran and Cuba.
Perhaps someone will plan and prepare for when the time is right . . . . to give the armies of the homeless millions of AR-15 assault rifles and billions of rounds of ammunition and detailed user-friendly maps to the rich parts of town.
There were periods of peaceful change in recent history, i.e., increased social programs in Great Britain and the US in the 30’s but the main driver for those changes was the elite’s deep fear of communism taking hold in the masses. We don’t have any such fear drivers to spur the elite at the moment so even with as many protests as we will no doubt have in the future, I too see no mechanism for peaceful change.
The climate change bus left the stop a long time ago – centuries – and is now moving with considerable speed. In order to catch it and slow it down our steps off the curb need to cover much more ground per unit of time than the bus does. Baby steps off the curb ain’t going to cut it.
Sorry to see the word delusion not bandied about. One of my words du jour of late.
The other is Toast. Single word metaphor for all things ‘collapse’ .
As I frequently have to remind my closest peers and family,
“No, I am not depressed, I am negative”.
Words matter. Health INSURANCE is not Heath CARE. etc etc etc (hat tip to Yul Brenner)
I like Bender’s word — we’re ‘bone’.
I partially agree with Tom Stone, though the mechanism is there, there is no way to organize the number of people needed for change. 100 -200 million people at least? The “far right” and “far left” are too busy hating each other to put forth at least 2 or 3 common goals (which for me would be popular control of the monetary system, some kind of national health care plan, and honest environmental improvement). The obvious reason Congress has a perpetual 10% approval rating is because they in effect serve two masters, the people they represent and the money masters that fund them. That 10% approval comes from the reality they side with the money against the people 90% of the time. One important point is this though, in a large Federal republic, even one that would function optimally, there will always be watered down compromise because of the shear number of interests and opinions.
This week has been especially tedious, since with the IPCC release, I see so many more “don’t give in to nihilism!” comments than actual cynical or nihilistic takes.
The punditocracy says we need to maintain “hope”, but fail to account for the complete lack of progress that has happened while they’ve hoped the system will take adequate action to slow climate change.
Hope can just as easily retard action as nihilism, but you’re not allowed to say that in most of America.
If you look at nihilism in late imperial Russia (1800s), they were the ones getting stuff done “with teeth” that were effective, as opposed to what this author suggests very weakly. The nihilists were the ones who accepted the situation and took charge of the negative task, destroying the oppressive system, while the communist revolutionaries picked up the pieces and had a positive program that transformed all of Russia (for good and ill obviously). So really we need to start working on both tasks, but anyone who is opposed to either should get the teeth.
Well, that’s the even more annoying part, isn’t it? The bleakest on the subject of climate are usually the best informed, and certainly have a positive program they would get behind (there are so many easy wins when it comes to carbon emissions, we could march forward for a decade or two before worrying about optimization and hard choices). To describe them as “nihilists” is bullshit mainstream cowardice.
The real nihilists are the ones maintaining the system, and they’re not cool enough to warrant the name!
Just a few thoughts, before I head outside to plant fall veggie seeds. And ten Eastern hazelnut trees. (Bought in the county bare root sale last spring and potted for the summer.)
I just finished reading through the excellent comments on yesterday’s IPCC report article. And, read through Thomas’ article, suggesting action, e.g., a General Strike.
So, put me in the ‘realist’ group. As in, pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, kind of group. The group that believes humans have placed the earth in mortal peril though our thoughtless actions and belief systems. The group that believes we can not look to the governing / ruling class and their belief systems that got us into this mess, to extract us. The group that believes the currently wealthy and powerful will never give up their positions, their loot, their power, willingly.
The evidence piles up daily that the majority of our government representatives work for the corporate interests, who love us only for our learned habits of profligate consumerism that earn them enormous profits. And, for our increasing necessity to work for pitifully low wages, insuring that we will become debt slaves to rapacious financial corporations.
This situation puts most of us in the unenviable position of living in ‘occupied territory.’ Of being in opposition to the class that has most of the wealth, money and land, and all of the armed forces. We’re the rag-tag ‘insurgents.’ Or we will be, when we stop being the compliant, subservient underclass, aka Deplorables.
We are, or will soon be, in a state of asymmetric warfare. And, ‘we’ are a bunch of groups, right, left, religious, conservative, hating each other, but all feeling dispossed, beat upon, ignored, and all facing wildfires, floods, drought, mudslides, job loss, illness, eviction, homelessness.
Really, at this point, I don’t know if it is ‘realist’ to think that Government, as presently constituted, is incapable of solving the Problem, or if it is ‘despair’ talking. I do see, as one scenario, a fracturing, a breaking into smaller, regional or ideological, units. Because the center cannot hold. And the centrifugal forces of rage and despair will spin us out into factions, further fractionated by ideological differences, if we allow them to keep dividing us, rather than seeking out common interests.
Perversely, going ‘local’ may save us as a species and give the planet some breathing space. It will also result in suffering and death for thousands. I do believe that the suffering should be shared equally; the billionaires of this world, having contributed the most towards breakdown, should not be spared.
That’s where the ‘asymetric warfare’ comes in. We’re a ragtag army, but we know the opposition has weak points. They need us to make their stuff (and someone has to make the robots that will replace the humans who make stuff), they need us to transport their stuff, and they need us to buy their stuff (and robots don’t use Amazon Prime!) They also need us to care for them; deliver their meals, drive them around, clean their houses and wipe their kids’ snotty noses.
” The group that believes humans have placed the earth in mortal peril though our thoughtless actions and belief systems.”
The Earth’s not in peril, we are. And if autoxenocide is the goal, well, global industrial capitalism is doing a fine job. We are certainly destroying ecosystems and species at a staggering rate, but the ants, cockroaches, plants, and whatever else evolves after we are gone will be just fine. And the molten core and crust ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
This view is the height of anthropocentrism, i.e. identifying the Earth as us/ours, which is part of the problem. Most people who say it are just repeating old 70s lines and are well intentioned, but I do think it’s important to correct the vocabulary (and ontology).
All the rest of your post is filled with cogent points. :)
You are right, NoFreeWill, The earth as a big ball of rock surrounding a molten core is undoubtedly gonna be ok.
The planet, viewed as MotherEarth, the giver and sustainer of life, both material and spiritual; human life and the lives of all our relatives …. winged, crawling, four-footed, as well as the lives of trees (communicating through their interconnected root systems) and grasses and forbs, her arteries of great rivers and streams flowing all interconnected with the great oceans, her mountain peaks …. all human-built ‘works of art’ and all architecture pale in comparison to this majesty.
Yeah, the planet will survive, but Earth may be destroyed. And we, του ανθρώπου, will be holding the smoking gun.
I used to believe that need for us to ”buy their stuff” would somehow stop the madness of ever increasing wealth inequality. That, surely, sooner or later, we’d get some kind of new deal-ish program going because if we couldn’t afford to buy their stuff they couldn’t keep getting richer. But I no longer think that matters. No one is getting rich making stuff. They make money making money. Amozon’s sales were not the path to Bezos’ riches. Gates didn’t get rich selling computers. Musk isn’t getting rich selling cars. The list goes on. FIRE is what enriches them. There are two economies, the one making the rich richer, the same one most of us can’t afford to participate in unless we’re lucky enough to have some pension investments. For the rest, you know, us mopes – there is the buy and sell stuff economy. The rich don’t give a shit how much anything costs – if they need it, they can pay for it. Their investments are what matters. I dunno what solves this thing. But you can label me pessimistic and cynical – I started losing my optimism after 9/11 and Bush’s wars and totally lost it after briefly believing that Obama was going to fix things after the 2008 crash. God how ashamed I am that I was taken in by that con artist. I am completely and totally pessimistic these days. I see no sign of anyone with any power anywhere who cares to change things.
The system has a thousand kneecaps. It can’t protect them all. There is a tire iron for every kneecap and a kneecap for every tire iron.
> I do see, as one scenario, a fracturing, a breaking into smaller, regional or ideological, units.
I can’t remember the name of the Archdruid’s series on America’s breakup, which I found very plausible at the time (and it was the Great Lakes Republic, if I have that right, that I would have wanted to live in). But somebody (I think the Swift on Security account?) raised the unsettling question of how we are going to manufacture anything if all the documentation is now digital, and there’s a digital collapse as well (as there would be; no reason to think the server farms would survive). And the books and the skills are gone. How far into the past would the rollback go? The 1600s, say, before the steam engine and manufacturing? Unsettling….
Go long second-hand books, I guess…. And make sure the libraries don’t burn.
‘I can’t remember the name of the Archdruid’s series on America’s breakup’
There are two books of his that deal with a break up – “Twilight’s last Gleaming’ and “Retrotopia” – but it is the later that you are thinking about with the Lakeland Republic-
And digital documentation is worse than you think as after a few decades, you will be lucky if it has not been corrupted to the point of becoming unreadable. The fate of the BBC Domesday Project is also very instructive here-
About ten years ago, I started buying second-hand ‘how-to’ books. Tattered copies on ‘bee-keeping’ and ‘diseases of chickens’ and ‘encyclopedias of hand tools.’ Plus, organic farming and gardening tomes and herbals. Email me if you have a sick chicken!
(I was an avid reader of the Archdruid’s posts.)
“How far into the past would the rollback go?”
We do have an analogy for that with what happened to Britannia after the Romans pulled out.
Definitely buy those books, but make sure the technology in those books doesn’t depend on electricity because that system will be the first to go if we have a digital collapse!
There are hobby groups maintaining little specimens of pre-digital technology. Sometimes even whole little petting zoos of pre-digital technology. Such groups should be encourage. If one has interest and aptitude, one might even join such groups.
Those who can, might buy and learn to use little specimens of pre-digital technology while the industrial civilization which makes them still exists and is still making them. For example, here is a place where you can still buy yourself a pet steam engine and pet steam engine parts and even some expertise as to what to do with your pet steam engine and the tricks you can teach it to perform.
And in broader general, a place like old legacy editions of The Whole Earth Catalog might give clues as to what technologies to buy, learn and use now in order to ready for the crash of the civilization which created them.
As to Asymmetric warfare we have a shitload of veterans from our forever wars who have had hands on experience in the sandbox.
I wonder how many of those will be among the newly homeless?
And the fragility of our systems is underestimated by almost every one, especially the “Smartest Guys in the room” who think that between total information awareness and a militarized police that they can control what’s coming.
If you want a historical parallel look at the “Western District” of the US Circa 1854-1862, “Wild Bill ” Hickock’s autobiography gives several vivid examples.
All it takes to cause a few Billions in damage and a few hundred deaths is one strike anywhere match….
And if someone with “Mad Hacking Skilz” gets pissed off they could take down the grid.
It takes the active cooperation of the populace to make things work, if that falls apart society falls apart.
No one with Mad Hacking Skilz can take down the grid. A nation state with a large team of folks with skilz and a long term plan might be able to do something, but not an individual, or an impromptu group. I say this with over 20 years of cybersecurity experience and several of those years working with NERC-CIP, the regulations affecting transmission grid security. Most of what you hear about grid insecurity is military-industrial-complex FUD trying to drum up business since electricity is highly regulated and ultimately it is the ratepayers and not the capitalists who have to pay for boondoggles. As a matter of fact, the capitalists make money off of the boondoggles.
Unless by hacking you mean physical attacks. The grid is vulnerable to physical attacks that could be carried out by small teams, especially during heat waves, cold snaps or other grid stressing events. There is plenty of literature on this, and recent attempts to build walls around substations are only good at stopping the last attack on a substation that was with rifles and not anything that might go over the walls.
Guess i’m a bit of a doomer, coming off of 401 years of practice since the Battle of White Mountain didn’t go our way…
So i’m slumbering in my hammock at the backpackers camp tucked away from motorized campers when in my dream we get hit by either a CME attack or a repeat of the 1859 Carrington Event, which knocks out everything electric, as in you ain’t going nowhere.
Yosemite Valley is amazingly scenic but its also about 50 miles to get to the closest store selling food if on foot on the road, and in my miasma paradise turned into a death trap for most, but not yours truly.
Always wanted to do the John Muir Trail-what a perfect escape route, and finished it although famished by dawn’s early light, when I woke up into the reality of the situation and we had breakfast & bloody marys @ the Ahwhanee about 10 minutes walk away.
Defenestration is a neglected tactic which we should revive.
My take, alas original and never on a hit BBC show: A pessimist is merely an optimist with a deeper dataset.
General strike anyone? Link:
Even better, October 15 is on a Friday. So, give yourselves a three-day weekend!
Please do a story about Professor Mahoney of Stanford (SEIPR) re medical bills.
Hopium is a hell of a drug.
“Realists” will always say “That’s not politically possible at this point”, as if that were a killer argument. I remember a time during the Obama administration when Hillary as Sec State went to an international climate conference to inform them that the US would be the main holdout on some sort of action almost everyone else had agreed to. (Basically she was relaying a message from McConnell in the Senate). When she returned she was met by a delegation of angry environmentalists, and she sneered at them because of their lack of political realism.
She did not seem to have any awareness of what needed to be done or about the weightiness of the issue. To her environmentalists were just another interest group in the mix to be balanced against the others, on a par with almond growers and suburban housewives and feminists and militarists and and crime victims and cancer victims etc. etc. etc. . No idea that the environment is a universal interest and not a particular interest.
ANd also no awareness that at this moment, the US is one of the international bad guys and would go down in history that way, and that she was wearing a black hat after going to the conference to represent the climate villains.
And finally, she had not faced a realist quetion (of a different type of realism): What happens if what needs to be done is politically impossible? What if the political system fails or does harm?
She hadn’t finished the next Clinton Global Initiative
planningshakedown phase and still had holdouts to blackmail, suborn or otherwise conversate.
All of today’s well-organized, well financed formal institutions (law, the Constitution, the political system, finance, the media, the corporate world, the military, the intelligence forces, the State) are biased toward maximum economic activity and give almost a free hand to property-owners, and for this reason are environmentally destructive. Environmental destruction is well organized and well financed, and someone who wants to have a prosperous career destroying the environment will have a wealth of choices. By contrast, environmentalism for most is at best a sort of hobby or charity sideline unrelated to their actual livelihood, and the forces of environmental protection are ragtag, scattered and underfunded. And someone who wants to devote their life to protecting the environment faces a lifetime of poverty, sacrifice, and often physical threat (and the continual temptation of cooptation).
So count me on the pessimistic side of realism
The people who want to destroy the world didn’t fall from Mars. They’re mostly just ordinary people who want stuff and more stuff. Some of them want power, but by and large it’s just stuff. If you get rid of the ones who are now in charge, you’ll get another set like the first. Power corrupts, and it corrupts really fast. I don’t see how we can change that. What we could maybe do is make things a little less miserable in the remaining few years before things get really bad. That can be done locally without Joe Manchin’s consent, or even with it: give food to the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, call the cops off, and so forth. You could do that. Others are.
That’s why I objected to the 1% meme. The average and even the below average American lives pretty high by global / historical standards.
You mean to say we are better off than beggars on the streets of Calcutta or Delhi or Mexico City or the favelas of Brazil? I feel cold comfort in that.
The middle classes of many nations would be regarded as poor in the US..
Not when it comes to peer nations that’s for sure.
The middle classes of most of the 200+ nations in the world.
Compared to citizens of “peer nations”, Americans are not well off. Just look at medicare. But America and its peer natures amount to less than 25% of the worlds [population.
And yet there’s many parts of America worse off than most 3rd world countries poor people. And while some in the middle/upper middle are complicit, most people have little power, if any, over the political-economic system they were born into, so blaming them doesn’t help.
The top 9/10% is more accurate, as an article linked here pointed out, it’s a tale of two Americas, and it really is them vs. us and they are winning. And Americans are less happy than Mexicans, who are objectively less well off on most markers, but happier since what really matters is
and not how much land or bacon or monster trucks you have.
> That’s why I objected to the 1% meme
It’s fractal. And it’s a mistake to confuse “living high” with either wealth or power.
By “living high” I meant consuming a lot and having lots of stuff, which is the colloquial meaning. I was not making any statement about what life is really all about or what real happiness is. I was also not blaming the average American for the state of the world. I was just saying that it’s not just the 1% who will end up consuming less in an environmentally healthy world. Many people will, and they may end up happier and healthier, but their consumption levels will be less in many different areas. And for someone who feels they need the highlevel of consumption, it won’t be win-win.
Let’s not use the following terms to describe the corrupt politicians:
Centrists and Moderates – these guys are really corporatists. They never help the people but take turns in being the ones that the Democrats conveniently blame. A Centrist doesn’t say “give me only half the bribe”. The Moderate doesn’t say “Oh, just make sure you only give a litlle bit”
Lobbyist – A corporate employee who provides the bribes to the legislators. BTW, he doesn’t hang out in the lobby. He resides in the offices of the legislators, passes out the mullah, throws parties and sometimes supplies call girls.
If we start with the right terminology, maybe we can begin to change things. We need to follow these crooks 24×7 and expose all their shady activities. Then we can get them to change.
BTW, the corrupt politicians don’t serve two masters. Let’s be clear – they don’t represent the people of their district.
Politicians represent the actual government to the populace. They aren’t the actual government, but mediators and public faces or front men.
Out of the 535 Congressmen / Senators, maybe 30 have some real power, but only because of their outside connections and positions within the Congressional pecking order.
The two George Bushes did have some real power, though Dubya was a lightweight. George the First was always well-connected in the world of real power outside the elected government. So was Cheney. James A. Baker III is almost unknown, but he was a real behind the scenes power.
A single Congressman represents 1/435 of 1/2 (of Congress) of 1/3 (3 branches of government), That comes to 1/2610 of the public face of government. But the majority are much less important than that even formally. And a lot of the real powers are behind the scenes.
The UK lashed out and placed the blame on the EU because no one had the faintest idea what the real problem was.
Free markets, free trade and EU membership will bring us all prosperity.
Did you mean ten years of austerity?
Obviously something had gone badly wrong.
“Try and pretend it never happened” the Remainers
Oh dear, they are not going to get very far that way.
You need to place the blame somewhere and then explain how you’ll fix it.
The Conservatives blamed it on the EU and everything would be fine after Brexit.
This is where the trouble starts, because the EU wasn’t actually the problem.
You can’t just say the status quo is fine, when it isn’t.
Liberals really need to start putting a bit more effort in to find out what is causing today’s problems.
Populists just have to find a scapegoat, and say they have found the problem.
Trump just had to find some scapegoats to blame and the next thing you know he was the President of the US.
Anyone know what the real problem is?
It’s called Japanification and its caused by leaving the debt in place after a financial crisis.
free trade creates debt. ask anyone who has lost a job due to free trade. debts become un-payable for most.
please do not tell me that we can help the losers of free trade, because that has been stated for many decades, maybe longer, and the losers who are in the billions(both sides of the trade lose except for the wealthy)have never been helped in any meaningful way.
and if there are so many losers, its obvious it does not work.
dean baker did some good work on the losers from 2000 on wards, he stated that most of the job losses were prior to 2008, and laid the blame where it belonged, free trade with china.
economic bubbles almost always pop. they are unsustainable. but what if the pop in 2008 was not because of the deregulation which super charged the bubble, but so many millions losing high paying jobs could no longer pay there bills, and walla, it popped.
it would have eventually popped we know that, but the debts become un-payable for millions under free trade.
I think there will come a time when everyone will be primed for a general strike that lasts until things change: the changes in climate will bring that time about; we just don’t know when all the epicentres will be everywhere, all at the same time.
This post proposes a general strike as means to yank Government’s leash away from the hands of Big Money. I believe we are too much fear and debt laden to organize such broad action. A few days of strike might send a message but it would take months to drive that message home. How many are ready to endure that kind of commitment? Myanmar is in turmoil, and engaged in large scale protests and strikes. I suspect there are other less publicized actions against the military that took over the Government. Are we ready to go to the same extremes? I doubt it. I also believe it would be unwise.
Asymmetric warfare is indeed what is called for. The problem I see is too much focus on the Humankind who have cast their lots with Big Money. Big Money is not a person or persons. Big Money is most tolerant of human costs. An effective asymmetric warfare must target profits — not people. Given the fragile infrastructures of our economy and the heavy reliance on the web and on computer systems … we live in a target rich environment.
But … I am too old to take any actions beyond trying to find refuge for my children. At this moment, I find growing interest in learning the mining arts from the 19th Century and before. Humankind may again need to seek refuge in the like of caves. Mushroom and fungi growing are becoming of greater interest than gardening and permaculture. Past a certain temperature many plants — some of them food plants — do not do well, even when bathed in cool waters.
What if you were just thrown into the world, given a random genetic and environmental hand, and expected to survive but were largely powerless to change anything. . . even if you ended up being King?
Would that be pessimism or the human condition? You pretty much have a giant machine that is constantly running, at best it can be nudged in a slightly different direction. It will go until it collapses on its own weight, and once it collapses, all the old institutions won’t matter. Washington politicians are just part of the parasite load on the machine, they are no more likely to solve the “problem” of “capitalism” than fleas will solve the problem of dogs. Just buy some of AOC’s new merc and shut up.
Our first and most lethal mistake is to set a budget based on the unproven effectiveness of money itself, not based on the improvement of society and the environment, and then to make our impoverished fiscal reality fit into it. What a laugh. We pretend like the pie is only so big and no bigger (when the reality is that we, you and me, we are the pie). So when it comes to controlling the money and the economy we just hand over the dash board to the “big donors” – and nobody ever points out the reality that the economy has nothing to do with money or budgets but with the things we accomplish for the benefit of the planet and society. The one thing that “big donors” want above all else is a safety net; they don’t wanna lose altitude ever. I propose we buy them out. (The useless ones we can just tax out of existence.) A social takeover only of organizations that can be put to good use as soon as profiteering is out of the picture. We can make them an offer; give them enough time to get their affairs in order (as former profiteers and extortionists) and then wish them well and goodbye. If the rules against profiteering are good enough we will have no problem maintaining a functioning economy, one that functions for society and the environment. Too commie? What if it’s a democratic movement? Of course before all this can happen we need a good government medical and jobs guarantee program so poor people can no longer be exploited. That is the very first priority for good ol’ Joe. A general national strike would then certainly serve to bring this point home loud and clear.
and with so much stimulus bleeding offshore, money cannot be kept here doing the work of multiplying.
as keynes said, if you are perplexed at why poverty is exploding and inequality is exploding, perhaps you better look at the polices that you embrace:) free traders build slums.
National Self-Sufficiency” The Yale Review, Vol. 22, no. 4 (June 1933) , he already highlighted the problems created by free trade.
“I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel–these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national. ”
“Thus for a complexity of reasons, which I cannot elaborate in this place, economic internationalism embracing the free movement of capital and of loanable funds as well as of traded goods may condemn my own country for a generation to come to a much lower degree of material prosperity than could be attained under a different system.”
C’mon, lighten up people. Here’s an alternative framing on climate change. Two possibilities:
1. It’s real. If so, we’re screwed. The story is about emerging markets who show no signs of willingness to accept lower living standards to improve climate conditions. The only alternative is massive wealth transfers from DMs to EMs, something there is zero political appetite for.
2. It’s not real or it’s overblown.
Either way, what’s the point of getting depressed or angry?
Aha! The ‘what, me worry?’ option must be added to ‘optimism, pessimism, realism.’
Just reading The Rising Tide by John Barry, a fascinating history of the 1927 Mississippi flood. The politicians of that time would fit right into today’s crowd: corrupt, power hungry, etc. Add the Ku Klux Klan fomenting racial hatred and Christian values at gunpoint and it doesn’t seem like we’ve progressed at all. Color me a pessimist.
This flood was the result of 6 months of heavy rain over the entire Mississippi valley, which touches on 30 some states. If that happened today we would blame climate change. I love history. It always sheds light on current events.
Look, I believe that small Thorium molten salt fission reactors can provide cheap, affordable energy that can power the world, and that most “nuclear waste” can be reprocessed into fuel, meaning we can have safe affordable green energy. Further, I think it will happen in East Asia, because those countries are serious, understand they need to continue modernization for their governments to survive, and they don’t have a lot of entrenched NIMBY-style road blocks in place like the developed world. If it happens, the developed world will copy and obviously Africa and other regions as well.
The problem, of course, is that the full infrastructure can’t probably be in place until mid-21st century, and your going to have a lot of fossil fuels and more greenhouse gases in the mean time, so the planet will keep warming and at a faster rate. Further, even assuming the above, you are still going to have plenty of carbon being emitted in production processes, etc., but on the whole, I am optimistic that this will be solvable by mid-century, the real question is whether we have that long. However, I don’t see how political leaders can make it possible any faster than that realistically. I know some of the green crowd believe that modern consumer people will suddenly start living like monks and we can just eat rice and live in cardboard boxes to reduce our carbon foot print, but I don’t think that is realistic given human nature. If you look at the former Soviet Bloc countries, they couldn’t wait to get their hands of American jeans and consumer items, it went from “dialectical materialist” to hard-core “materialist” in less than 5 years.
Maybe what’s realistic politically and what’s realistic in terms of climate don’t overlap, as I said above. In that case there’s no hope. Your snotty caricature of the “green crowd” does not make me think better of you, and you give no reasons for your optimism except fission reactors, but even given that you admit that it may probably be too late.
I apologize for the tone. I said “some”. I think reversing the industrial revolution per Uncle Ted or the quest for “radical downsizing” is not realistic. Look at how much crap Carter got for telling people to lower the thermostat to 70 degrees and wearing a sweater. It can’t be accomplished without serious coercion, and you have a hard time selling a North Korean-style system except to the hard core Alt-Right folks.
There may be individuals or communities who are ready for downsizing and downscaling, maybe even radically so. They should find eachother and help eachother find a graceful way down.
If they can make it down, they can use their downscaling as a weapon to undermine the enemyconomy around them so thoroughly as to default-force downsizing and downscaling upon the society around them.