can’t see the forest

On “Environmental Alarmism”

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Alarm Bell - Flickr (TGBusill)Alarmism is, roughly, the concept embodied in fables such as ‘Chicken Little’ or ‘The Boy Who(m) Cried ‘Wolf.” According to Wikipedia, it is “the production of needless warnings.” I might only add that it can also be viewed as the production of overly severe or unnecessarily urgent warnings, which is usually closer to the perceived truth than pure needlessness.

“Environmental alarmism,” then, would be the idea that those who warn loudly and persistently of the repercussions—past, present, and future—of far-reaching, potentially threatening, and sometimes irreversible human impact on the ecological systems of our planet simply don’t know what they’re talking about. To environmental skeptics, the idea that global warming could be permanently altering the makeup and the functionality of our planet is no more real than Chicken Little’s notion that the sky was falling. And those who decry the genocide of numerous species of plant and animal life through habitat destruction stemming from human activities. . . well, they’re merely crying wolf if you ask conservative think-tanks like the CATO Institute or the National Institute for Public Policy Research.

Of course, Chicken Little’s thesis was not supported by an overwhelming majority of accredited scientists. But we can’t discount the danger that the scientific community might end up being gobbled down by Foxy Loxy in the end, especially since Foxy’s wallet is as bottomless as his gullet. Worse has happened.

I’d like to take a very general (and decidedly unscientific, but scrutable, I believe) look at just a very few of the more prominent and persistent charges blurted by “environmental skeptics” against those who campaign ardently for meaningful work towards a lighter human footprint on the face of our blue-green dustball.

People have been saying that the end is near for thousands of years.

Revelation - Goettlicher OffenbarungQuite right. The idea that the end of time is imminent and other such nonsense is just about as old as recorded history and probably older. We seem to be wired to expect the worst, and it appears to be part of our survival instinct. For a more contemporary example, just think about Y2K. There were hundreds of millions if not billions of tax dollars spent on that trash. The reign of irrationality and fear of the unknown reaped huge profits for apocalyptic suppliers, from Wal-Mart on down to specialists in e-safety and fallout shelters.
What is said, and when, is not nearly as important as why it was said—what the basis for such predictions might be. In the old days, it was superstition, divination. But in our time, the caveats that matter are based on the empirically testable interpretation of data. There’s a wee bit of difference there. This is not to imply that the scientific method and those who apply it are infallible. We know that’s not true. But when there is a broad and persistent consensus among scientists that something is so, and when that consensus is based on observations that make a great deal of common sense in addition to being empirically reliable, we have a situation quite different from the reading of tea leaves or star charts.

Furthermore, at the most basic level, the issue is not so clean-cut as whether or not the end is near. What does that mean exactly, anyway? What do we mean by ‘the end,’ and how far away is ‘near?’ The crux of the matter is not whether Revelation-style apocalypse is here—it’s simply the meaningful acknowledgment that the industrial lifestyles and economies of the first world are fundamentally irresponsible in biological and ecological terms and that there is a great danger in continuing them into even the near future. It’s not that a cataclysm is upon us—it’s that we are needlessly bringing it closer and closer, and that in the face of this knowledge we are making more excuses than amends. We’re pressing the snooze button even as a fire starts in the attic.

There is much debate in the scientific community over the scope and even the very existence of these environmental issues.

Not utterly false, but a highly misleading statement. Healthy debate exists regarding many of the particulars, but not over basic premises and general predictions. And the trend as far as I can see is a decrease in disagreement over even specifics, particularly in terms of the more pressing threats. There is a widespread perception that significant debate exists over these types of environmental issues, chiefly because the tiny minority of dissidents are chihuahua-like. They’re small, usually dubiously accredited and grossly outnumbered, so they bark loudly in the presence of the ‘big dogs.’ Their owners have lots of money, and they realize that consumers and constituents don’t typically have access to peer-reviewed journals. They hound a disproportionate amount of media bandwidth because they can afford to, while more credible entities prefer to spend money on serious research rather than on the politicization of science.

Not to get off on tangents, but that’s also a big part of the nature of the intelligent design ‘movement.’ The only reason such junk science is being discussed at all is because it was dreamt up and propagated by high-powered lawyers and financiers. It’s philosophy, and not even novel philosophy at that—certainly it’s not anything approaching science. Those somewhat credible scientific authorities who back the preposterous idea, while few and far between, aren’t short on banknotes or microphones. They are short on research credentials and peer review, the hallmarks of non-make-believe scholars. They are essentially degreed (and pedigreed) pundits. The same is true of the vast majority of institutionalized environmental skeptics, who are not really skeptics so much as they are obscurists. You only have to consider the source, to follow the money. It’s usually as easy as a Google search or two, or reading the fine print at the bottom of your TV screen. Didn’t you know that’s what TiVo is really for? ;-/

So when these retards get on television or publish newspaper columns, blogs, or hardback nonfiction through which they stammer on about the great raging ‘debate’ on issues like pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, and so on, with publicists and talk show hosts emphatically nodding along with shimmery but unwavering liquid eyes, the impression is created that you’re hearing the opinions of credible scientists who really care about humankind, who are just so sincerely concerned that we don’t get all riled up over nothing doing. What a piping hot tower of equine excrement.

It’s kind of like watching the film What the Bleep Do We Know? I think it’s a cool film and I don’t think that all the ideas are off base, but those people are not scientists—sorry. Sometimes I find myself wishing Ramtha would just go back to Lemuria and sleep off whatever cosmic hangover s/he’s nursing. That lying hag has made enough money since that fateful day in the kitchen. Truth be told, she’d probably appreciate the change of internal scenery. Am I bitter? No offense intended (okay, that’s not true.) The point is: our species is in a vulnerable state of transition in which science and mythology can be easily confused in the mind, and there are entrepreneurs who are well aware of that predicament and of how to take advantage of it. The President of the United States has said on more than one occasion—and I paraphrase—that “we just can’t be too sure that humans are the cause of the global warming problem.” Okay…who is ‘we?’ It certainly isn’t the scientific community. Maybe it’s the citizenry of Crawford, Texas, or maybe—more likely—it’s his cabinet, which reads like a Who’s Who of the energy industry. Literally.

Science will find a way to bridge the gap between our extravagant lifestyles and our limited means. We live in an environment of plenty, not of scarcity. So chill.

Forensic LaboratoryThis is the one that really gets me rolling in the floor. When ‘ordinary people’ voice this sentiment it’s almost admirable, but when the same wealthy a$$holes who try to discredit the findings of science their masters don’t like then turn around and insist that the same ‘golden boys’ of science will see us through it all, well, I just get hysterical. That’s when I have to break out the booze, for real. It’s not an addiction—I need it to curb the trichotillomania.

As in all propaganda, this ‘at first I was afraid, I was petrified … but I Will Survive’ mentality isn’t totally devoid of meaning, purpose, or truth. It is true that we have the technology available to lead sustainable lifestyles. It is true that we live relatively close to a near-eternal nuclear furnace in the sky. If scant little problems like time, entropy, and an astoundingly oppressive social dynamic didn’t exist as pertinent factors, then things would be all cheery, for sure.

When I was a young tyke, my Mom would often accuse me of reacting to her admonitions that I behave and act my age by ‘going to extremes.’ And I did, she was right. Like, if she’d tell me to stop asking her so many questions, I would refuse to talk for the rest of the day. Or if she’d tell me not to slam the doors or run too fast up the stairs, I’d make some great theatre out of trying to do either as gingerly as possible, to the point of ridiculousness.

Well, the ‘skeptics’ are using this particular argument in much the same way, in response to the warnings of scientists and environmentalists that humankind is taking our planet south and not just for the winter. It’s abject cynicism, which always requires elements of truth in order to achieve the desired effects.

The simplest way I know to express the predicament is this: Humankind has become exceedingly intelligent and commensurately manipulative in a very, very short amount of time. In the past, working with humbler tools and smaller amounts of energy, we could afford in a general way to make the same kinds of mistakes which now have potentially devastating consequences when they are repeated and indoctrinated as ‘modern sensibility’. That’s principally why the Chicken Little argument is no longer valid. We used to gamble with quarters, now we play with big-boy chips. Unfortunately for us, our awakening into a common sense which incorporates a realistic worldview and an accurate perspective of our best place therein has lagged far behind our skyrocketing collective IQ and continues to do so because of the tangentially functional but profoundly unnatural hierarchies imposed by our economy and our society, the foundations of which were poured before we came into the kind of fairly circumspect understanding of our planetary situation of which we are now possessed. This has created big problems both for us as evolving beings and for the other lifeforms with whom we share our environment, and it’s going to create more troubles regardless of what happens next week or the week after. But that doesn’t mean we can get up and go to work as if there isn’t a crisis. We must make our livings. We must also survive. They. Aren’t. The. Same. Thing. The clincher, perhaps, is that the hierarchies of our civilization are designed to create extraordinarily high standards of living for the privileged few which control it, and most of these folks will not step down from their managerial trappings willingly even in the face of extinction. Such is the power of power. How soon and how coherently we react—from the bottom up—to correct this discrepancy is now the most direct determinant of our survival not next year but in the coming centuries. Action is critical. Nothing is more important, if not to us personally, then to the unborn generations who are implicitly dependent upon us to do something fast. Anything less would be uncivilized.

You Are HereDear readers, I’m not claiming that there is no place for honest and concerned skepticism in the consideration of matters of such reach, such import. Of course there is. What I do exhort is this: firstly, that you understand that the scientific evidence on the table is excruciatingly indicative that something’s got to give, and that the sociological and anthropological record says that discussing it with your neighbor in earnest and with persistence is just about the noblest thing you can do to help it along; secondly, when you hear voices clamoring that everything is fine, that it’s all going to be okay of its own accord, that global warming is a hoax and that pollution is dandy as Easter candy, please show some discretion in considering the source of such lamentable garbage.Earlier I mentioned the CATO Institute. Not to pick on these guys, but their board members are regularly associated with firms like, say, Phillip Morris. News Corporation. Exxon-Mobil. They are some of the chief attackers of environmentalism, and their attacks are almost always based on political grounds. Not on scientific grounds, because they have none on which to stand. They have only their money and their unparalleled influence with which to arm themselves against the crisis upon whose perpetuity their extravagant existences depend.One of the books I’m sorriest I ever sort-of read is The Skeptical Environmentalist, a critique of ‘alarmism’ by Bjorn Lomborg, whom Time has rated one of the ‘World’s Most 100 Influential People,’ and that’s probably, sadly, true. Mr. Lomborg is an educated individual and he’s likely to be one of the nicest, coolest people you’d ever care to meet. But he’s not an environmentalist. He’s a statistician. His book, while clearly and engagingly crafted, consists almost entirely of technical gobbledygook analyses of often less-than-pertinent data. His book has very little to do with any sort of interpretation free of implicit assumptions, which should be the hallmark of any scientific study. He begins with the assumption that environmentalists are whackjobs (and wouldn’t you know, he used to be one, before he “saw the light”), and so of course that’s where he ends. There really is no need for any of the data he has painstakingly compiled, then, since his interpretation, however studied, is colored with his political purpose from the start. “The Cynical Statistician” would have been a better title, with all due respect.We cannot, must not, politicize the fate of this planet. The most radical, hyperactive, underaccomplished pseudo-environmentalists as well as the most stubborn, self-absorbed, fantasy-wrapped pseudo-conservatives both make this mistake, purposefully or not, and want to drag you along for reasons which often are frighteningly animal in nature. Many are just looking to make a buck by writing or exclaiming anything that will attract credit card numbers.
Zuid-Afrikaner Velt

It is clear that Earth is buckling under the weight of the hugest explosions of population and of technological prowess in its long, peaceful history. To deny this is to deny one’s mirror image. Beyond this basic reality there is little that we know for sure. We could argue all day long, as perhaps we should, about the ramifications of this.

But when it comes to our spherical homeplace in the midst of all that shapeless, mysterious blackness: can we really be too careful? Can there be any such thing as alarmism, particularly with all that is at stake? We might think so from the comfort of our sitting rooms or offices, after a hearty meal and a cold beer. Tomorrow’s children, though, not yet even in the womb, might strongly disagree if they had the chance to speak up before their times.

An ounce of perception is worth a ton of allure.


18 Responses

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  1. peoplesgeography said, on 11/3/06 at 3:39 am

    A superb post.

  2. tellitlikeitis said, on 11/4/06 at 10:49 pm

    Thank you.

  3. peoplesgeography said, on 11/5/06 at 6:12 am

    Apologies, in postcard one-liner mode. Kind of like. your. moment. of greatness. post. Excuse the response not doing justice to your great post, the thesis writing is sucking all my writing energies, but hey, ’tis an ongoing conversation, right?

    Curt, I share your pessimism on this one, but also caught something earlier today about the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) casting doubt on the fish stock depletion within forty years estimate as outlandish – and they’re not given to denial – they said something to the effect that it would be highly unlikely to happen unless governmments were wildly negligent and wasteful rather than exercising some prudence. So some rays of hope there.

    I don’t know, we can only do our darndest, and if ecological overshoot is going to happen, its going to happen. I’ve resigned myself to trying to enjoy life in the meantime rather than feeling the fear I once felt.

    Fear is the great mind-killer, as Frank Herbert once wrote. We must not fear. Of course, that’s not a license for inaction either, but we must not fear.

  4. pickin said, on 11/5/06 at 4:38 pm

    Every snowstorm, hurricane, deluge or drought generates headlines, horror movies and television specials, demanding action to avoid imminent climate catastrophe. Skeptics are pilloried, labeled “climate criminals,” and threatened with “Nuremberg-style war crimes trials.”
    Britain’s Royal Society has demanded that ExxonMobil stop funding researchers who say global warming is primarily the result of natural forces. Meanwhile, scientist James Hansen received $250,000 from Teresa Heinz-Kerry for insisting that warming is due to humans, and “socially responsible” investor services refuse to list or recommend corporations they deem insufficiently sensitive on the subject.
    Not surprisingly, companies from Wal-Mart to BP, GE and JP Morgan have brought climate activists into their board rooms, lobbied Congress for climate and ethanol legislation, and retooled to produce new product lines intended to boost tax subsidies, favorable PR and profits.
    But are these actions socially responsible or in the best interests of society as a whole?
    Asserting “the science is settled” ignores the debate that still rages. Proclaiming that “climate change is real” ignores Earth’s constant, natural warming and cooling.
    Vikings raised crops and cattle in Greenland 1000 years ago, while Britons grew grapes in England. Four hundred years later, the Vikings were frozen out, Europe was gripped in a Little Ice Age, and priests performed exorcisms on advancing Swiss glaciers. The globe warmed in 1850-1940, cooled for the next 35 years, then warmed slightly again.
    Detroit experienced six snowstorms in April 1868, frosts in August 1869, a 98-degree heat wave in June 1874, and ice-free lakes in January 1877. Wisconsin’s record high of 114 degrees F in July 1936 was followed five years later by a record July low of 46. In 1980, five years after Newsweek’s “new little ice age” cover story, Washington, DC endured 67 days above 90 degrees.
    Studies by National Academy of Sciences, NOAA, Danish and other scientists continue to raise inconvenient truths that question and contradict catastrophic climate change theories, computer models and assertions. The “hockey stick” temperature graph (which claimed 1990-2000 was the hottest decade in 1000 years) was shown to be invalid; the Southern Hemisphere has not warmed in the past 25 years; the US is yet to be hit by a major hurricane in 2006; interior Greenland and Antarctica are gaining ice mass, not losing it; and Gulf Stream circulation has not slowed, as claimed in 2005.
    Other recent studies conclude the sun’s radiant heat and cosmic ray levels affect planetary warming and cloud formation more strongly than acknowledged by climate alarmists. That’s logical. Why would natural forces that caused climate change and bizarre weather in past centuries suddenly stop working?
    Why would we assume (as many climate models do) that energy, transportation and pollution control technologies will suddenly stagnate at 2000 levels, after the amazing advances of the previous century? And can we afford the Quixotic attempt to stall or prevent future climate change?
    Just the current Kyoto Protocol could cost the world up to $1 trillion per year, in regulatory bills, higher energy costs and lost productivity. That’s several times more than the price tag for providing the world with clean drinking water and sanitation – which would prevent millions of deaths annually from intestinal diseases.
    Over 2 billion of the Earth’s citizens still do not have electricity, to provide basic necessities such as lights, refrigeration and modern hospitals. Instead they breathe polluted smoke from wood and dung fires, and die by the millions from lung diseases. But opposition to fossil fuel power plants, in the name of preventing climate change, ensures that these “indigenous” lifestyles, diseases and deaths will

    Opposition to hydroelectric projects (damming rivers) and nuclear power (radioactive wastes) likewise perpetuates endemic Third World poverty. So would a new European Union proposal to tax imports from China, India and other poor countries that are exempt from the Kyoto Protocol, because this gives them an “unfair trade advantage” over EU countries that are struggling to meet their Kyoto #1 commitments.
    UK Climate Change Minister Ian Pearson insists that climate change “is one of the most pressing issues facing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.” And environmental zealots blame malaria rates on climate change, to deflect charges that their opposition to insecticides is killing African babies.
    Elsewhere, government and private studies calculate that the Protocol would cost the United States up to $348 billion in 2012. The average American family of four would pay an extra $2,700 annually for energy and consumer goods, and in US minority communities, the climate treaty would destroy 1.3 million jobs and “substantially affect” standards of living.
    Yet, even perfect compliance with Kyoto would result in Earth’s temperature being only 0.2 degrees F less by 2050 than under a business-as-usual scenario. Assuming humans really are the culprits, actually controlling theoretical global temperature increases would require 40 Kyoto treaties – each one more restrictive, each one expanding government control over housing, transportation, heating, cooling and manufacturing decisions.
    The real danger is that we will handcuff economies and hammer poor families, to promote solutions which won’t solve a problem that the evidence increasingly suggests is moderate, manageable and primarily natural in origin.
    The real catastrophe is that we are already using overwrought claims about a climate cataclysm to justify depriving Earth’s most impoverished citizens of electricity and other modern technologies that would make their lives infinitely better.
    Real ethics and social responsibility would weigh these costs and benefits, foster robust debate about every aspect of climate change, ensure continued technological advancement, and give a seat at the decision table to the real stakeholders: not climate alarmists – but those who have to live with the consequences of decisions that affect their access to energy, health, hope, opportunity and prosperity.

  5. Curtis said, on 11/5/06 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you, Pickin’, for highlighting the other side of the issue. There are a number of points you have raised with which I could not more profoundly disagree, but that is the point of why we are here and I thank you for voicing them.
    It has always been my feeling that when we speak of climate change, of pollution, and of human effects on the ecology of Earth more broadly and inclusively, we are bound to discuss socioeconomic inequality in tandem.
    This is because the majority of the negative impact does not originate with a majority of the populace of our planet, but with a minority centered in the United States, Europe, and now East Asia. This minority enjoys a standard of living many degrees of magnitude more rich and more comfortable, but also less sustainable, than that experienced by the great majority of the Earth’s people.
    It seems to me that you are arguing, at least partially, that what we ought to do is find a way to raise the living standard of the dispossessed majority to equal that of the opulent minority. My point is that, at the population levels we are now experiencing and will experience in the future, that is wholly and fantastically impossible. In my own interpretation, that is what the evidence suggests.
    There is nothing in the historical record with which we can compare the massive population explosion that has resulted from the Industrial Revolution. This boom can be directly linked to greater access to more efficient, but finite, energy resources.
    Whether we’re discussing food, or mechanical energy, or raw materials for construction, or what have you, the predicament does not appear at present to be one of scarcity. The key words are at present, mindful of the fact that population is increasing exponentially all the while. It is one of unfair distribution, a corrupt system which is the product of a sort of infantile colonial-nationalist mindset fostered among the world’s powerful which has yet to exercise an ability to envision the world as a unified whole, a Starship Earth, so to speak, for purposes of resolving issues like these. These issues, I fear, will continue to seem insurmountable as long as this mindset prevails.
    So “environmental alarmists” blowing horns for their own sakes are no friends of mine, nor of Earth’s, as far as I can tell. The real calamities are socioeconomic in nature. The rape and pillaging of Earth’s ecology and resources is but the grossest and most terrible symptom of that illness, and it is my thinking that when we begin to discuss the issues in this light, the circumstances almost immediately gain a sense of clarity and lose much of the confusion and menace with which “alarmists” are wont to associate.
    In order to work towards better conditions for the world’s hungry, thirsty, sick, and needy—which is also to work towards greater political stability and equality—there must be real and sustained sacrifice from those of us whom live in luxury, and it must be guided by the state, unimaginable as that seems to us today. The neoliberal market machine, which operates quite sensibly within its own framework of institutional lunacy, cannot cure this basic quandary, try as it might, because profit margins must narrow, not increase, unless we are to endure a pandemic with blood on our patriotic hands.

  6. Cicero in NY said, on 11/5/06 at 6:04 pm

    Wow. Curtis, you are one caring, intelligent, misguided socialist – who loves good ole hillbilly jazz as much as I do.

    I ran into you online while looking up a Thomas Jefferson quote about government not taking the bread it has earned from the mouth of labor. You ignored Tommy’s key qualifying word, “government” and went right on to abuse his magnificent statement against too much government and pretend that it supports socialism, the system where the government controls the “well being” of their children (it’s citizens) from cradle to grave. Socialism is the antithesis of everything for which Jefferson stood.

    You ignore socialism’s plethora of failures to match capitalism’s ability to elevate human existence beyond burning dung and suffering, and are oblivious to its total dearth of successes. (If you think socialist Europe is a “success”, I remind you that it is only a plane ticket away!!)

    I happen to be a voluntary socialist myself, otherwise known as a Christian libertarian. I abhor the excesses of capitalism and the lack of spiritual development in western culture, but see the answer as a return to voluntary spiritual relationships under a severely limited federal government (as in the Constitution). I disagree with your contention that we are unable to help the poverty stricken people in the world – we can, but casting aside socialism and helping them learn to embrace freedom and individual responsibility, just like we did in the pioneer days.

    The beauty of the Constitution is that the founders studied human nature and attempted to limit the power of the fedgov because they knew that humans would always be drawn towards the power, like moths to a light, and that it would be abused. (The corporate thieves are in bed with the corrupt politicians in the demorepublicratian party, which is another reason to limit the power of the fedgov to its proper role of protecting us from the crimes they commit.) The founders knew our entire Judeo Christian tradition taught that it is not right to use force on each other to make each other obey the laws of the universe and take care of each other and live wisely. God (Jehova, the universe, the power that be, whatever) created Adam and Eve free to sin and suffer the consequences or free to abide by the law and reap the bountiful harvest. Christ agreed, and never tried to set up a socialist welfare program. The Constitution follows these guidelines and prevents the FEDERAL government from using force to set up socialist security, foreign welfare to socialist nations, the socialist national endowment for the arts, etc. This is because it is morally wrong to use force even for a “good” thing. (I’ll not re-broach the point about how poorly governments have been able to do such otherwise noble things anyway.)

    Anyway, kudos on a thought provoking website! I’ll use it with my high school students to explore how misguided warm fuzzy intentions can be when propelled by a powerful intellect. My wife and I keep a small, libertarian school afloat to save the brightest and most creative and most challenged students from falling through the multitude of cracks in our socialist education system. It’s a fight because of the coercion used to force all of our parents to pay for the socialist education system first, and then “allow” them the “freedom” to pay a second time for a private school. Of course this leaves the poor and lower middle classes, our clientele, up the proverbial creek without the legendary libertarian paddle, but, as the socialists would say, ….

    Well, they never do have an intelligent answer for me on that one!

  7. Curtis said, on 11/5/06 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for coming by, Cicero, and I appreciate your opinion.
    Maybe I did give the impression that Jefferson was a socialist–it certainly wasn’t my intention, since it would be one hell of an anachronism, and thanks for calling my attention to it and for raising a quite salient point that I’d be amiss not to consider.
    Would you clarify what you mean by ‘socialism,’ though? Because I don’t know of an example from which you could draw such conclusions other than Stalinist or Maoist communism, neither of which would be my cup of tea/bowl of borscht and neither of which subscribed to anything approaching a Marxist ideal beyond revolutionary pamphlets before totalitarian corruption set in. Then again, maybe I don’t want to get into that argument too heavily just yet, because there really aren’t any examples from which I can draw yet, either! I guess they call that ‘idealism.’
    I might also clarify by indicating that I’m an advocate for participatory democracy all the way. My biggest pet peeve in government, perhaps, is the failure of democracy as yet to take advantage of technology to allow all citizens to participate actively in government, to do away with what I view to be an utterly protectionist framework in preservation of the wealth of the wealthy. To me, in this regard, American democracy continues to be an abject failure.
    You don’t need to remind me that Europe is but a plane ride away. I’ve been there several times. But what I want to know is: since when do we encourage the expatriation of dissidents? Is that the libertarian ethic?
    Great comment. Thank you!

  8. Cicero in NY said, on 11/7/06 at 11:36 pm

    Glad to bounce thoughts around – wish I had more time to get into more depth, but our socialist education system imposes on me daily and it’s all I can do in the 60 – 70 hours a week I put in to keep my free school going, so I’m a bit sensitive to the issue. (Tuition is not free, but it’s far too low to provide adequate staff to give my wife and I a break.) I didn’t mean to imply you had to go to Europe; but I do feel that if people like socialism then they have that option.

    Great question to define the terms we use – many dialogues go awry because the participants holding so many unconscious assumptions and use words they erroneously assume the other(s) use in the same context they use them. I think deeply and comprehensively (and often) and struggle with brevity because I write slowly. It would take me hours to give you the thoughtful reply I’d like to, and because I never have the time, I often don’t bother trying to respond in situations like this, which frustrates me because most people, frankly, don’t give a damn, and I know you do. And I appreciate that a lot. So pardon if I ramble and don’t take the time to go back and edit and polish.

    I define socialism as a group or groups of people using force to get everyone to pay for their ideas on what society should be like. They usually vote first and think that if 51% of the people approve it, they are justified to put a gun in the hand of the gov’t and enpower them to enforce the majority’s will, as if mobocracy made stealing right. The goals are always noble sounding, from educating kids to feeding starving people overseas to ensuring people save for retiremnt to ensring the rich do what God commands and share with the poor. The iron fist of gov’t is often gloved in velvet, and the gun stays in the back pocket. But try not paying your school tax long enough, and refusing to surrender your home when they come to collect it. The gun will come out if you stand your ground, which is exactly why most people give in long before it comes to that. That’s socialism.

    I am emphatically non-religious (I’m a recovering Catholic) and can easily assume argue the following positions from the perspective of a Buddhist or agnostic – in fact, almost anything except atheist, because I define “God” loosely as some force (being??) in the universe that set the laws of right and wrong in motion, because I firmly believe right and wrong exist even if we cannot always discern how to apply them in particular case, and since right and wrong clearly exist independently of humanity, I conclude that “God” exists. But I find it very comfortable to speak in the language of Christ (though not in a dogmatic, religious sense).

    God’s law is written in my heart, and it commands me to be conscious of the needs of my brothers and sisters on our planet. Indeed, anyone who really follows the Judeo-Christian God western civilization is built upon cannot ignore poverty of the spirit or flesh. Socialism had, and still has, an extreme spiritual allure for me; the living, vibrant, community spirit our school is designed to foster is, in essence, the very carrot at the end of the proverbial stick that people who really believe in Marxism and socialism (as opposed to people who use it as a pretense for political power) are drawn by. I believe that the dream of socialism awakens deeply planted spiritual seeds and is a sign that a leap in consciousness has taken place in the individual mind. The person has recognized that we are in fact all united on the living vine of life, and that as brothers and sisters on this planet we have an obligation to treat each other in a loving, compassionate manner.

    The critical difference, and I believe socialism’s fatal flaw, is that socialists are conceited or ignorant enough to believe that they are so wise that they are justified in breaking the most basic laws of human nature – using force to steal what does not belong to them. They cloak the use of force behind an array of government agencies and provide endless, eloquent justifications that are all variations on a single theme: somebody is suffering and somebody has to do something.

    I don’t know anyone who disagrees with socialists that may people are suffering and that we are all duty bound to do what we can to help. I encourage people to join me in voluntarily practice in their personal lives the loving, sharing lifestyle that draws people to socialism. But I abhor socialism. Christ never advocated petitioning Rome to get a gov’t social security or welfare program going. I will never condone using the coercive force of government to impose my spiritual standards on anyone. I will speak for hours about my vision of education if you’ll listen. I will try to convince you that my favorite charities deserve your money. I will encourage you to send donations to my favorite developing nation or my personal pick for the foreign “civil war of the month” most worth supporting. But I will not use the force of government to take a penny of your hard earned (or even totally unearned, inherited) dollars to fund any of them. Nor will I hide behind the curtain in a voting booth and elect someone to do it in my name. And I do not appreciate you stealing my money to fund your concept of education or your favorite charity or your favorite foreign hot spot. The fact that the stealing is sanctioned by 51% of the population and carried out by the government through taxation appeases me not in the least. Theft is theft even if committed by the majority against the minority under the banner of good intentions. (Read a marvelous little book called The Law by Fredrick Bastiat.)

    The fallacy inherent with socialism (and it’s twin incarnation, modern democracy) is that it thinks if government micro-manages our lives, then all the chips can be evenly distributed and Eden can be re-created. It assumes most people aren’t compassionate enough to help others voluntarily. So after stealing about half of every dollar we earn, wasting the majority of what they’ve stolen, and spending a good bit of what’s left on legitimate expenses, they redistribute the pittance left to those in genuine need.

    Anyone who professes any of the Judeo-Christian faiths (most of America) believes God Himself refused to force us to always act wisely and choose correctly. (Garden of Eden story.) Instead He allowed us to make mistakes and learn from them. How sweet the taste of understanding when bought at such a bitter price! We need to rest assured that His spiritual laws govern our souls’ incarnations just as certainly as His physical laws govern our bodies. Nobody is immune to them. Gravity does not require our comprehension of it to act on us, but until we learn to live in harmony with it, we risk great suffering. I believe the same is true with the spiritual laws. Live right and reap the bounty; live unconsciously and suffer the effects.

    How could those people, whose God they must admit refused to force His precious human creations to obey Him, feel that they are so wise that they are justified in forcing each other to share their wealth?

    These spiritual laws have profoundly affected my family. Every time my wife and I have come to a crossroads in life, an INDIVIDUAL has entered our lives, voluntarily offering exactly the opportunity we needed.

    Government is by its nature a corrupting force that, in business matters, has no motive for efficiency. It is a necessary evil that has already gone far beyond the limits so carefully placed upon it by the Constitution. We were warned over and over about it.

    We must look within our own selves to graft ourselves back on the eternal vine of life and tune into harmony with God’s spiritual laws; they govern our souls incarnations as we leapfrog through the centuries on our tiny precious orb as it hurtles through the boondocks of the firmament; those spiritual laws operate on our souls with the same certainty as His physical laws. We must each take responsibility for our own life and always seek to help others in need. We must be discerning when we see injustice and plant seeds of understanding without judging. Choose to tune yourself to His ways and allow his subtle breezes to nudge your spirit along His path and you will surely enjoy blessings so great that “our eye hath not seen nor our ear heard” their beauty. Choose to ignore His will and suffer the consequences. And in the end we can only serve one master, so we all will eventually choose.

    Politically, it seems the only choice for us is our present course of allowing the demorepublicratians to spend and regulate us into slavery or privatize and eliminate much of our present government, and work in our communities to solve the gnarly problems of poverty and other human issues.

    I am slowly resolving a deep quandary I struggled with for the past 20 years studying the principles our Republic (not democracy) is founded on. I still have good friends from my old socialist daze (sic). How could people who seem spiritually aware and who definitely have the best intentions favor an ideology that would place even more power to control individual lives in the hands of government? Recognizing the absurdity of using the
    Demopublican system that created the maze of bureaucracy and taxes we endure to improve the situation, I acknowledged a libertarian philosophy (as exemplified in the constitution and not the current political party) was the most expedient vehicle to return us to sanity. (Though the political party today isn’t a bad start compared to what we have today; I rest assured that a multi-party system will provide the forum for intelligent compromise and prevent some of the parties basic platforms from being carried to the extreme.)

    All faiths teach us to help our fellow man. Yet look back to the story of creation. God created us free. He offered us a garden paradise, yet endowed us with free will so that we could choose to ignore his laws. What joy could come from children who only love Him because He forces them to?

    The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution acknowledge God grants each man equality of opportunity, the freedom to put his talents and initiative to work. They do not promise equality of outcome; no man made institution can rearrange the world so that the fruits of mankind’s labors are equally divided. The differences in our spirit and intellect and creativity and work ethic ensure a wide variety of outcomes.

    Whew. Sorry to rant.

    Your pet peeve in government, the failure of democracy as yet to take advantage of technology to allow all citizens to participate actively in government, seems to have the goal of confiscating the wealth of the wealthy. It seems as if you are saying that if the workers of the world unite, we can redisribute it. If this is true, I am diametrically opposed to you, though I fear for the souls of many wealthy Americans if their hearts are as spiritually bankrupt as their bank accounts are rich. It’s like my deep grief for our culture in general, from the processed garbage we put into our bodies and minds (fast food and mainstream media) to our pathetic education system. But gov’t has little room to justifyably step in unless there is fraud or coercion. (There are salient arguments to be made in this direction, particularly with regards to large multinational corps, but I’d always err on the sideof too much libert over too much gov’t.) Plus America, despite the gross dispaity between the rich and poor,, has done more for the poor than any nation ever in history – we have redefined what “poor” means. Many of our poor people live with more material comfort, safety, and health than the richest of kings of only a few generations ago. And this was not because of anything gov’t did, it was because of what gov’t was PREVENTED from doing. The limits placed upon government unleashed more human ingenuity and creativity than the planet had ever seen, and we lead the world from the horse to Voyager 2 and triple bypass surgury.

    Gotta’ go. But first, back to the environment topic, did you see the article in today’s NY Slimes? They admit that there are plenty of climate specialists who debate the degree of, the cause, and the prognosis of Global Warming. I don’t know how to link to it and I deleted my online edition of the paper today. I did a search in Google to provide a link, but came up empty, which seems odd. Should I post the article, either the two page condensed version I’ll use for my Current Events class, or the entire 4 or 5 page piece? (Those “pages” are 12 point Word pages, not NY Times pages, of course.) Here’s the title in case you have more luck. (I’m going to try to track down a hard copy in case some Global Warming consirators took it offline!! (half kidding!!):

    In Ancient Fossils, Seeds of a New Debate on Warming
    NY Times November 7, 2006 By WILLIAM J. BROAD


  9. Cicero in NY said, on 11/7/06 at 11:53 pm

    Found the link to the article:

    Sorry about some mispelling in my last post – trouble with spellcheck! Also, thanks for your thoughtful consideration of my input about Jefferson.

  10. peoplesgeography said, on 11/8/06 at 12:37 am

    Interesting article!

    If I may, a very brief cyberspace interjection as I know Cicero that your thoughtful comments were directed to Curt for his response.

    I’ll take the opportunity to weigh in now, while I can, as “free” time doesn’t always come in the requisite chunks necessary to be able to write a decent response, as you well noted Cicero, and look forward to stepping back and observing the dialogue between your good selves.

    Your explanation, Cicero, about what you took socialism to mean was very helpful. It cleared up a lot for me! I for one do envisage something different when the term is used, confirming your wise observation that often “participants hold so many unconscious assumptions and use words they erroneously assume the other(s) use in the same context they use them.”

    As I understand it, the tyranny of the majority one can sometimes find in “democracies” is not a exclusive feature of socialism — ‘mobocracy’ can be found in many societies and systems. One of many things that I’ve admired about the American system is the vaunted checks and balances provided by the judiciary branch, (depending upon your political bent, here too the Supreme Court can be stacked with partisan appointments and open to abuse, but leaving that aside for now) but it has often crucially been the author of powerful political changes that, left to a crude “majority vote” of a community at the time, would not have passed. I’m thinking of such landmark decisions as “Brown vs Board of Education” to cite but one, historical, example.

    Not that I’m saying this is a prescription for not trusting the innate wisdom of ‘ordinary’ people to be mature enough to decide for themselves, simply that mob rule and racist xenophobic hysteria and mistrust can happen in the best of societies (I’ll stay safe and cite another historical example here – we might recall that Weimar Germany was perhaps the most legally democratic society before fascism took hold there).

    And grassroots democracy and folk wisdom is yet another feature of the American landscape I happen to admire, and forms part of my research as I am looking in part at the ideas of community of people like Robert Putnam. (I am not an American, as you may have gathered).

    When you first commented I was initially endeavouring to find time to weigh in about your association of socialism with Europe. The EU has actually enacted — and enshrined in its Constitution — the principle of subsidiarity — the idea that what can be done well by a smaller organisation at a more grassroots level should not be done by larger and more complex organization (kind of a principle of devolution of power, and recognition of the agency and efficacy of wisdom at the human rather than large organisational, state scale).

    You may be interested to know, if you haven’t already come across it, that this concept has its origins in Catholic social thought! My sympathies, I too am a lapsed (recovering, as you memorably put it) Catholic :)

    Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your thought-provoking comments and for indulging me this interjection. Over to the Curt-Man ;)

    PS. My thoughts are with you all for the mid-terms!

  11. Curtis said, on 11/8/06 at 5:00 am

    First of all, I want to thank both of you for your comments. For me there could hardly be a more stimulating honor than to have such educated and articulate persons taking such interest in these discussions. I thank you both for your interest and for your time—without being presumptuous, I have a feeling that, as it happens, I am presently possessed of more free time than either of you but I have “been there” and will (happily) “be there” once again fairly soon. My most immediate thoughts about my impending return to university have been the expense of it in dollars, and to come up with those dollars while keeping half a mind on one’s studies is a challenge large enough for Sisyphus but fortunately far more fruitful. So, again, I thank you with the greatest humility and the most profound respect.
    Cicero, I have one rule at my website: don’t apologize for ranting, particularly when your ranting is as thoughtful as what I’ve read here! We can overlook it just this once (a quick dash through both the matter and the manner of my posts from the last week will amply demonstrate my hunger for meaning. “Cats that Look Like Hitler?” Come on, now. Well, I thought it was cute, anyway.) I address this to you because Ann surely realizes it by now (why she flatters me by hanging around here, I’m quite sure I’ve no idea, but I’m certainly glad that she does.) So more of the same is always welcome as your schedule and sanity allow. And thanks for being considerate.
    I’m often terse, short-winded, and not very thoughtful both in my posts and in my responses to commentary from readers. Such was the case with my response to your first comment. Part of that has to do with time and state management, at which I seem to be getting better with the years.
    First, I’d like to make an observation or two about the NY Times article on greenhouse gases and global warming, an article which I was pleased to read with great and sincere interest. Wm. Broad is a Pulitzer-winning science journalist and whatever he has to say I am careful to take seriously when I come across it. The man has no questionable allegiances or affiliations which I can see, at any rate.
    The point that solar phenomena are responsible for shifts in climate is a prudent one. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are only one of a number of factors which can influence climate. Giegengack is right to point this out, but there are some caveats which I feel are missing, and I don’t feel that the frame of reference of the debate discussed in the article, while deserving of consideration among those far more knowledgeable in the earth sciences than myself, is the most pertinent to the situation at hand. I learned much that I didn’t know, but all things considered I can’t say that my opinion is much changed. I’ll tell you why, for what it’s worth.
    The greenhouse mechanism is one which acts not on short time-scales but on very long ones. Radiative phenomena, intra- or intersolar either one, act upon the atmosphere more or less at light speed and they are transient because our planet passes in and out of their influences as a function of its course through the galaxy. A rough but credible analogy is to think of the greenhouse effect as a sort of central heating of the house that is Earth, with CO2 and similarly constituted gases as a sort of broken and nonresponsive thermostat. As our solar system travels through the galaxy it of course encounters different environments in which radiative influences will become more and less pronounced with little perceivable pattern. These energies interact with our planet to cause disturbances and disruptions in temperature and even in composition of the substances of which the world is made. A greenhouse gas decline over a few thousand years will tend to cause a gradual decrease in temperature over the course of the next several tens of thousands of years, at least. The effects of radiation upon climate, as I understand them, are both more intense and more brief in duration. So if CO2 is the thermostat, and if we find it’s been set comfortably, a sudden burst of gamma activity might be akin to someone starting a bonfire in the fireplace and thereby ruining our plans for a nice night in. The principal cause of heat in the house, then, appears for the moment to be the fire–but when the fire dies out, the broken thermostat carries on without having shut off and, over the largest timescales, there is in the end not very much of a net effect which the burst of energy in the hearth has created save the discomfort we might have felt from it immediately. I’m sure this manufactured example is simpler than what we find in reality, but the salient principle is that greenhouse gases, as Berner and Yapp seem to be pointing out, are a much more patient and persistent control of climate than cosmic radiation. Veizer et al. could very well prove that cosmic radiation is a major factor at present–that there’s a fire in the hearth right now–but I would predict with utmost confidence that no amount of observations to that end, however fruitful, could significantly show any sort of long-scale mediation of the rather clearly understood mechanism of the slow, churning actions of CO2 and company on ecological conditions.
    What I find most alarming in this article, particularly coming from someone as well-versed and experienced as Broad, is his failure to highlight the inconsistency of comparing the human impact on atmospheric composition with the impact of natural processes leading into the Phanerozoic. I am no climatologist, but the absurdity of this is apparent even to me–let me see if I can explain myself sensibly.
    Never at any point in the modern period has there been a doubt, insofar as I am aware, that carbon dioxide levels 550 million years ago were much higher than they are today. The most ridiculous oversight I find is the omission of any mention that carbon dioxide displaces free oxygen, which is precisely why, as Broad points out (but does not connect), the efficiency of greenhouse gases to trap heat plateaus once a certain concentration is reached. It’s because there’s practically no more free oxygen left at that point! There is no at all reliable source which is infusing the Earth with “new” oxygen. Plants produce it from CO2, which comes from human and geological processes. This is an important part of why plants wholly dominated the earth before the arrival of complex life. They don’t need anything more than negligible amounts of oxygen–it’s a trivial byproduct of their respiration so far as they would be concerned. But animal life requires it.
    During the very ancient time in which CO2 levels dwarfed what we are familiar with at present, plant life flourished in such a manner as would be difficult for us to imagine. Consequently so much oxygen was produced that things began to spontaneously combust all over the planet. Only then, as plant life diminished and increased ozonation allowed the unimpeded development of DNA, was a comfortable CO2-to-oxygen balance very carefully and gradually reached so as to allow the evolution of more complex lifeforms. To speak of the CO2 plateau is to evoke a state of ecological conditions which could hardly be conducive to the survival of worms, much less mammals, for lack of free oxygen to breathe. I fail to see the major relevance to the debate on the human impact on climate. The debate is not purposeless in any way, but I can’t imagine how any scientist would propose to model future conditions on these kinds of studies which, for all intents and purposes and thanks to our friend entropy, are of the history of quite a different planet than the one in which we live! If you take the question of animal survival out of the picture, then the argument is quite vibrant. So there is new knowledge to be had, I’ve no doubt, which I should think is why the UN plans to do a little rewriting. My point, if I am being at all clear, is that it’s not going to change the big picture very much if at all.
    Looking at the atmospheric data from the polar ice sheets, we can see that the whole history of humanity has taken place during a CO2 and temperature upswing. This complicates things further. The reason that the greenhouse mechanism operates in such a slow and shallow manner, as far as we know, is that the geologic and/or cosmic influences which have shaped CO2 levels have occurred in a very gradual way over large timescales. Yet, in the wink of the past two hundred years, humankind has put more CO2 into the atmosphere than has accumulated over the course of the past 400,000 years at least. The warming trend that we are now experiencing quite subtly may have nothing to do with human industry at all as yet, because the temperature changes resulting from those activities will not fully manifest for hundreds to thousands of years yet. So it is not accurate to say, as many environmentalists are wont to do, that we can cut emissions to stop the hurricanes. Most fundamentally, the status seems to me to be that we simply don’t know what we’re doing to the atmosphere but we know the intensity of our activity is quite unprecedented since the dawn of complex life, plants be damned and this leads to the conclusion that maybe we ought to be much more freaking careful–in fact, observation shows that we’re scrambling more for justifications than for answers. So I have described to some small and probably inadequate degree my problems with both enviro-fundamentalists and determined skeptics.
    To sum up: the question being bounced in this article is one that is of value to climatologists, but it is an academic question which, as far as the scientific consensus is concerned for now to the best of my knowledge, bears little on the problem of the massive spike in CO2 levels our industries have created in a painfully short time, for which there is no historical analog whatsoever. To show the effects of CO2 change in the pre- or early Phanerozoic is to discuss climate change in a world in which human survival was a non-issue. The knowledge will help to shape more realistic models, which is definitely a good thing. Much of that is far above my head. There is a great deal of confusion in the popular discussion of climate change over both the timescales over which CO2 acts to change temperature and the differences between CO2’s role in the biosphere way back then and now, and Broad, whatever else he’s done, hasn’t helped a bit to clarify that or even to point it out. His bosses, after all, want to sell papers above all other considerations. So it’s understandable from their point of view.
    I’ll close on this topic by attempting to clarify something which I can see that I haven’t made sufficiently plain in any of my numerous writings on this topic: just as you, Cicero, would prefer to err on the side of less government than of more, so I would drastically prefer to err on the side of more caution than less as far as our only habitat is concerned. This is why I busy myself with lampooning environmental skeptics, not because I necessarily believe that the activists are at all educated in what they’re talking about in all cases. The problem is that to be what I would consider sufficiently cautious at this far-gone point down the line seems to require a drastic adjustment in our social conceptions of health, prosperity, propriety, and order. It requires a quite total (and above all voluntary abandonment of the idea that human beings can ever be either masters of one another or of their planet. It requires a heartfelt subscription to the notion that we must be servants of both, an ideal to which all tenable faiths would purport to pursue but of which our infinitely flexible propensity for hermeneutics seems to be quite getting in the way over, and over, and over again.

    This brings me to the issue of wealth. The reason I’m glad you brought up my comment about Jefferson is that, as you aptly point out and as Ann has acknowledged, I’ve engaged in some fuzzy terminology in discussing my views on government, economy, and social order. I could address this most directly by observing that I frequently forget what the hell I’m talking about.
    What I have habitually referred to as socialism, probably erroneously, is a conception for which I am quite sure there is no precedent at the scales of population and infrastructural complexity with which we’re dealing today. We’ll call it Curtisian Socialism—no, we most assuredly won’t. Damn it. For now I’ll not call it anything specific. But I will say that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the infringement of government as we understand it upon personal or civil liberties. It is more akin to a complete overhaul of the notion of what liberty is, not as oppressively and dogmatically defined by any person or any thing but as necessary to form a proper relationship between one’s self as an individual and one’s deference to the breathing whole. Even our cells know how to do this, and when they ‘forget,’ they become cancer. “Go to the Volvox, ye sluggard, and consider its ways.” Not you personally at all, friend—I’m just saying.
    It is my firm belief a posteriori that virtually all of the ideological and organizational institutions of mankind from the dawn of the species forward have been created and promulgated sans any sort of realistic understanding of the machinery of our habitat and of the gravity or the quality in general of our interactions with it. We learn as we go. This does not mean that we’ve not been constructive, that we’ve nothing of which to be proud. But the pride comes before the fall.
    In the early days before the nation-state or even the city-state I believe that mankind was more close to this sort of understanding than at any time since. To understand anything of the workings of nature, it was necessary for us to be constantly under the threat of extermination at its hand.
    Shielding ourselves from this cacophony enabled us to develop great works. We would never have arrived at our present level of development without so doing, and the behavior seems to have been more or less instinctive. We can be proud of what we have accomplished. But the shelter we built had too many mirrors and too few windows. I hope and I choose to believe, however presumptuous it may be, that every human being realizes we have nonetheless been constructing a Tower of Babel all the while.
    The paradox seems to me to be that all of this technological tomfoolery was the sine qua non for our development of an understanding of ourselves and of our environment which would allow us to secure an existence with any sort of perpetuity. But we have continued to use this prowess to serve ourselves at ever greater peril…we call it human nature because it is the only thing we have ever known, and we quite perversely practice it as the role of government to subjugate this “human nature” but in reality it is up to us to define human nature and I believe that nothing has done as much harm to the healthy development of our self-concept than the ideals of the Enlightenment, whatever necessary wonders they might have facilitated in the short-term.
    Our conception of wealth as I understand it is the accumulation of symbolic value which we can freely spend. Build that tower. But nothing is ever spent freely. The game then becomes to externalize, always to displace real costs. That is what capitalism is really about, I rest assured. The Native Americans knew it and they were destroyed almost without thought. I hardly need to explain the process which led to such preposterous and yet highly malleable ideas, nor the mentality which perpetuates them.
    So I do not seek to redistribute wealth so much as I would wish to redefine it. I do not wish to oppress, but to sincerely liberate in a manner to which the Constitution of the United States or of any other nation speaks nothing because the authors did not know why or how. I sense, Cicero, perhaps odiously incorrectly, that you place the sanctity of the individual liberty above the sanctity of the servitude to the whole—that this kind of servitude is only acceptable so long as it does not infringe on one’s capacity to externalize the real costs of doing as one pleases. Please don’t take it personally—I fall victim to it each and every day. I think this facility to be a product of a good education along the old lines. And, man, I’m not here to judge whether such a worldview is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in any concrete sense because I don’t think that’s possible from our vantage point. And I only use the phrase ‘fall victim’ because that’s how I see and feel the experience—others might as credibly call it virtue rather than vice. What I mean to say is that I don’t think it’s any way to teach our children to live, out of necessity and the responsibility for having tasted of that bitter forbidden fruit, and that I think it becomes more true and more consequential with every passing generation. This is not meant to be an assault in any shape or form. My contention is that an absolute balance between the two modes of being must be found and taken up voluntarily by every member of the human race individually if we are to properly respect the marvel of our existence in such a way as to preserve the liberty not of ourselves so much as of our great-grandchildren. For some of us this ethic will seem more of a sacrifice than an improvement—but how else can we account for a quadrupling of the Earth’s human populace in but a tiny segment of the duration of our existence. War? Disease? Prayer? And I contend that this will never be possible so long as there exist wholly defensive entities such as nations, which ultimately serve only to guard that which has always, or virtually always been ill-begotten, until the sensibility of the individual—as Ann has said, the efficacy of wisdom at the human scale—rises to meet this challenge and take social organization and justice in hand with no more fanfare than a nod. On that occasion, should I find myself living in a treehouse, gathering berries, and hunting rabbits with sticks, I think I should be so painfully free as to wail at the thought of it.
    Well, this is a grand hyperbole. It is not necessary to return to Eden in order to live in the spirit of it.
    Qui verbum Dei contempserunt, eis ausferetur etiam verbum hominis. They that have despised the word of God, from them shall the word of man likewise be taken. This is what God said when he looked upon Babel, although I’m quite sure he didn’t use Latin. Forgive me–it just sounds properly ominous that way.
    Until each one of us—and none so painfully and with such complete reversal of orientation as myself—is fully committed to a life in the service of gratitude to that mysterious source we shall perhaps never identify, I cannot see how any of our works will unite us. The kinds of false liberty waxed about in Enlightenment pamphlets and government charters—with the sole alternative falsely proposed to be having someone else dictate our boundaries to us—will forever have us speaking different tongues.
    Only the capacity we have developed to communicate with one another across oceans of water and of culture, it is my feeling, will enable us to achieve such an earthy goal. But this capacity is hardly being used to its fullest.
    Many would say that my idea is gibberishly radical, hopelessly romantic. I say with forthright seriousness that it is the status quo which is gibberishly radical and hopelessly romantic. I am willing to concede that speaking such things could be like the task of Sisyphus—maybe nothing will come of it but fatigue and hot air while others bask in the reflections of their gold for as long as they can. But so, as far as I can see, is the whole of our collective existence until we turn the Tower into a Temple wherein we might worship something, anything other than ourselves.
    I do not forecast that the affair will be easy, nor that there is some pattern along which we are logically to proceed. I would prefer to keep the role of state as transparent as possible until it disintegrates altogether. I heartily recommend that everyone learn as much as possible about the little green algae called Volvox.

  12. Cicero in NY said, on 11/12/06 at 2:07 pm

    Hey, guys (gals?), we could start a Mutual Admiration Society, paying dues by telling each other how great we are. But if I can’t apologize for ranting, then PeoplesGeography can’t thank us for allowing such fineinterjections. Seriously, evoking such responses from each other is what it’s all about; this type of intelligent dialogue is all too rare. People tend to talk and read in circles that support their knee jerk instincts, but it’s much healthier for all to seek out alternate views, playing Devil’s Advocate and exploring assumptions to try and establish some sort of objective view on the issues.

    Our founders had a great distrust of democracy; there are loads of great quotes on this topic. They saw democracy as two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s on the menu. They gave us a republic, where, when the two wolves and sheep elect representatives to vote, the law eliminates lamb from the menu, and the sheep is armed. Democracy is the major force but the rule of law is supposed to severely limit the ability of the majority to take advantage of the minority, especially on the federal level (states have wide leeway to experiment socially). Contrary to the way it actually operates today, the Constitution confines the fedgov to specific powers; if it is not specifically granted to it, it’s not supposed to do it.

    I’m leery but hopeful about the concept of subsidiary in the EU. It is very much in line with the principles enshrined in our Constitution. If the power isn’t specifically granted to the fedgov , it is left to the states and or people respectively. The power was supposed to be as local as possible – the family, the church or other voluntary organization, the town, county, and state as necessary. I thought, but could be wrong, that the EU was based more on the French Revolution, where people have a right to education, a job, health care, etc. That’s all very nice and seems to resonate with all the spiritual laws of the universe, but if I have a right to an education, someone has the duty to provide it, and someone has to force someone to do so. Coercion is inherent in such idealism. All men were “created” equal does not imply that all are going to achieve equally, whether due to misfortune or a lack of wisdom or intelligence. Voluntary charity was the answer, not forced government programs. Even if they worked as well as private solutions (a tough case to make), it would still be against the basic laws of the universe to force each other to save or to force each other to donate money to help the poor.

    I would prefer to err on the side of less government than of more, and I also wholeheartedly concur that we must “drastically prefer to err on the side of more caution than less as far as our only habitat is concerned.” But signing the Kyoto treaty based on the science available seems foolish to me, given the questions about the science and the enormous costs. The Economist newspaper (those Brits – it’s a magazine!!) recently pointed out that there is only “X” amount of resources to try to improve life for the majority of people on the planet living in abject poverty, and that for every billion we spend on Kyoto for dubious future returns on our expenditure, people are starving and going without the most basic of human needs, so that at some point the money reaps immensely more beneficial rewards spent differently.

    I’m glad that you distance yourself from “infringement of government as we understand it upon personal or civil liberties” (though I realize the line is not easy to draw, as our liberties have limits that are not easy to define in practice). I am also glad that I am not alone is searching for words that adequately describe what I feel. I think we all are commanded by the universe to live as Christ taught us to live, which is very much in line with socialism except for the use of force. I practice voluntary socialism every day of my life. But that contradictory, because socialism inherently embodies the use of force. It allows society to force its collective will on the individual.

    You are very close to describing where I draw the line between the individual and the whole of society. I place the sanctity of the individual liberty above the FORCED sanctity of the servitude to the whole. You agree with this when you speak of the balance being “found and taken up VOLUNTARILY by every member of the human race individually” (emphasis added).

    I agree it’s often difficult or impossible to judge worldview is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in any concrete sense, but we can look to simple principles – it’s wrong to use force on each other except to protect our own individual liberty – as a guide. But, as you hit on when you noted that there are external costs to doing as one pleases, it is not always easy to draw the line. A person’s actions may not directly and immediately effect others, but the web of life is intricate, and individual actions have consequences that ripple out and effect others indirectly. So there is certainly a time for government to step in.

    Corporations are one example. I am not a typical “corporations are evil, greedy entities ruining our planet” guy; in fact, I tend to want to give them wide leeway. But they, especially the huge multinationals, wield awesome power that must be balanced. I do not blindly blame Wal-Mart or McDonalds for our collective appetite for a (slave labor made) bargain or our addiction to sugar ladened, processed food any more than I blame government for our willingness to endure mass production, assembly line socialist education. If people ate, shopped, and lived more wisely and refused to accept processed food and government education, especially when micro-managed from D.C., these tumors would wither and die. And we need the vital tool of government to protect ourselves from their abuses. The tough part is how to empower the government to do so in such a way as not to give it so much power that it can be turned on us.

    I, too, worry about our great-grandchildren. But I worry far more about the abuses of too much government power than of global warming. To the degree global warming is real, we will respond, if not nearly as quickly and ideally as you or I would hope. And the corporations may need to be dragged kicking and screaming at times, but to the degree that people live consciously enough in their individual lives, the profit motive will be more in line with our higher desires and they won’t have to be dragged at all. But when you give the government too much power (or they take it), human nature inevitably results in abuses that stagger the mind (communism killed about one hundred million last century).

    Back to our grandchildren and abuse by government. They will be paying the bill for one huge scam perpetuated on generations of Americans. We have allowed private bankers (the Federal Reserve banks – they are not “federal” and there are no “reserves”) to create fiat money out of thin air and paper, lend it to our government, and charge you and I perpetual interest (unlike our mortgages, we never pay off the principle on the fedgov debt). And we have allowed the fedgov to tax and spend and waste and regulate and run all over the planet toppling sheeple governments and imposing “our” will, all while forcing us to pay private bankers for the privilege.
    Ponder this investment: The Federal Reserve banks, with authorization from Congress, spent a few thousand dollars to print just one of the many millions of dollars they printed back in 1956. They then lent it to the government and charged them 3% annual interest. Because the fedgov never repays the principle on our debt, only the interest – it’s not like a typical loan, which is eventually whittled down – they collect $30,000 a year for perpetuity. If it cost $3,000 to print the bills, they earned ten times their total investment in the first year! And they continued earning ten times their total initial investment every year after that forever, without investing another dime. Talk about an investment! It’s 50 years later and we are still paying them that $30,000 interest every year. And every penny comes out of my pocket and yours. Now multiply that many times over for several generations. Makes the Enron scam-meisters look like schoolyard criminals!

    Think about the word inflation. How would you define it? Most people, even intelligent adults, would say it’s an increase in prices. (My high school class did a survey and confirmed this.) Having such a concept in our collective unconscious minds goes a long way towards keeping us sheeple. It is akin to defining rain as wet streets, when in fact wet streets are the RESULT of rain.

    What is inflation? Prices can rise or fall in any one geographic area or in any economic sector of a society for a variety of reasons, but check any old or decent, modern dictionary. Inflation is an increase in the monetary supply, which causes higher prices. An increase in monetary supply is like adding water to soup. You get more soup, but each cup has less nutritional value, so you need more of it. When the amount of dollars is increased, you need more of them to buy the same goods. So when you hear Allen Greenspan and all the talking heads ramble in endless circles about wages and unemployment and the consumer price index and exports and this or that piece of this great, complex economic puzzle, think of the great and mighty Wizard of Oz, and remember the little man behind the curtain, pulling levers to keep the illusion going. Inflation is an increase in the supply of money. Congress and their cohorts in the private banking cartel decide how much money gets creates. It’s fiat (“by decree”) money, and the persons who create it are siphoning off our wealth. And they couldn’t do it without being in bed with the government. And the government couldn’t do it if we didn’t allow them to.

    I have a collection of articles and original material on the topic that stretches back to the very creation of the Federal Reserve beast, including a 1932 article from the Saturday Evening Post written by one of the conspirators (his word) that tricked America into agreeing to it. (As most megalomaniacs, he felt noble, so sure in his vision of how the mighty wealth and power structure they were creating would be wielded that he justified the chicanery. I can email excerpts if anyone wants – zap me at .)

    I wholeheartedly agree with your realization that we will not be united until each one of us is fully committed to a life in the service of gratitude to that “mysterious source.” It is precisely this that inspires me to keep trying to help people see that government is far too often part of the problem, a club powered by ignorance and greed that is wielded against the individual (though I’ll stress again that I recognize the need for balance – remember that the Federalists were arguing FOR a stronger central government; yet to embrace their vision today is to be be a radical constitutionalist or libertarian; only a handful of republicrats even pretend to want to limit the fedgov’s power and influence over us. They just want to weild the totalitarian power in different ways than the demopublican half of the party that rules us.)

    As far as your hopelessly romantic radical gibberishly, it might perk your spirits up to know that I firmly believe we are pushing the same rock, and that I believe if we can endure the fatigue and not succumb to depression and hopelessness, the process is what makes us strong enough to survive the next stage in our development. I suspect that there are no ultimate solutions in this life, but that if we learn the lessons and fight the good fight, if we have the strength to look the truth in the eye and see the failings of humanity and governments and manage to accept it and yet keep pushing the rock, then we earn a passing grade and get promoted. Meanwhile, there are so many facets of endless wonder, boundless joy and inspiring compassion to focus on and draw strength from to not shut our eyes to the pain, sufferring, and dark side of humanity. The spiritual gold endures, and it is what I seek.

    If any of you folks are ever in the New York area, please stop in and see our school. We’re about an hour north of the city. It’s called Crossroads School. We have a website, though it’s under construction and some links don’t work: . Soon we should have links to pictures of us in action.

  13. peoplesgeography said, on 11/14/06 at 3:08 am

    Good luck with all the school Cicero and great to read to read your considered response. There was a lot in there but I particularly took to your political economy of the non-federal non-reserve Federal Reserve (a misnomer if ever there was one, as you point out). I remember the day I discovered it consisted of privately owned banks and how fiat currency works, as you well described so well. Shocker!!

  14. Ethanol said, on 1/14/07 at 4:02 pm

    *wonders how cold it\’s going to get today*

  15. College Wild Parties said, on 8/5/07 at 5:11 am

    College Wild Parties

    College Wild Parties

  16. Fist Bang said, on 8/5/07 at 2:18 pm

    Fist Bang

    Fist Bang

  17. sink said, on 8/14/07 at 10:48 pm

    very helpful, thanks!

  18. gjg said, on 9/28/07 at 1:35 pm

    O, super project.y

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