Grappling with One’s Own Straight-jacket: Collapse as Planetary Colonic

or Swimming the Australian Crawl to Oblivion

Those of us in education and working on “causes” – like not just putting a headlock on corporations, but frog-marching them to their own private dungeons – have this bilely reflux when we have to confront the evil doers, you know, the supremacists and global haters.

For me, in a classroom or in a public space, it’s a piece of cake to do a double-fly-over takedown. However, I will admit it is still nauseatingly toxic to have to see them trolling on blog sites, community forums and when they contact my email.

They end up in digital delete boxes or in the middle of the road, screaming, or taunting, but with the same critique: Without Western Civilization, Without the White Man, Without the US of Imperial A, all other cultures and races and ethnic groups would be slinging cassava gruel and defecating in the streets. Just as troubling in the holistic sense, I’ve had a slew of them in college and high school classes, and have met a few in my work as a journalist and while being around professional thugs like military, police and feds.

I’m not saying none were nuanced in their thinking, and maybe fair in their assessment of our role in planetary collapse. In the end, though, I find most racists and white apologists for the corporations and their great gifts to mankind leaky. Nihilistic. Evangelical or just plain hardened working class. Many of the masters of the universe and naysayers are degreed guys and gals, who think they lifted themselves all by themselves into their suburban McMansions and endless Red Bull fun with no help from mama or the great socialist state.

For them, there is no commons, no carrying capacity issue, no universal human or ecological rights; no international courts to abide by; no global vision to hold to advocating something a hell of a lot better than this dog-eat-dog world of the 30 percent looking down on the other strata that leave us middle class, poor, homeless.

Their world is one where homeless people, if smeared on the road by our holy automobiles, should just go to the side of the road, out of their view, maybe under a bunch of hedges, and just curl up like a radial-splayed raccoon and die without anymore drain on the welfare system. Good riddance, and not one centimeter’s worth of skin off the state’s back.

Sink or swim, asshole. And sometimes these yahoos end up just going dark and look to paleolithic man, or farther back, as these cavemen and cavewomen who have zero scruples, zero concern for life outside their family-clan unit, and who are in it all for the calories, fire, cave and sex. These people are dead emotionally and creatively.

These Yankee-Doodle-Dandies and Mason-Dixon-Dudes just know beyond a reasoned doubt that anything to do with culture, diversity, racial fairness, equity, anything like that, well, it speaks to the fact that the white man is being attacked into extinction. Thanks to the Mexicans, Africans, Chinese and Jews.

I can’t make this stuff up, or, well, I won’t try today.

These people have their own personal fax machines and Tweets to almighty Prometheus and Jesus Christ him-her-it-self. Anti-intellectual, anti-liberal arts, anti-real science. They are out there, and for some reason, they think that a majority of poor white trash and poor white working class hate every single word and idea emanating from a newsletter like Dissident Voice.

Given that, I welcome any of those reprobates, those me-myself-and-I armchair Everyman types, to read and huff and puff themselves into a blue-faced coma or frothing seizure. Because, you know, they are part of the problem, really, and not just some ignorance-can-be-cured problem for us.

I bring this up because I have been around some really amazing people – geologists who just finished a book on one of the more amazing geological events of the planet – the Ice Age Floods that changed the very surface of Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Imagine a wall of water 1,000 feet tall, moving at 65 miles an hour, covering entire half-states in 300 feet of water and icebergs. Maybe happening 80 to a hundred times over a five thousand year period.

Think about 20,000 to 15,000 years ago when a lake covering 3,000 square miles in Montana rose over 2,500 feet deep and held one half the volume of water of Lake Michigan from glacial melt. It took a 125 years to fill that lake, and, when an ice-dam failed, it took less than a week to empty.

These geologists and a woman who has been writing science curriculum for over 65 years for both K-12 and college classes, as well as an artist and many people working for a small Sandpoint, Idaho press that publishes these types of books, they all have their minds and hearts immersed into this great Ice Age story. We are talking about people who face those naysayers who hate the very idea of geology making it to the forefront; hate the very idea of real books with real photos still being cranked out by small presses; and hate the idea that schools want to adopt hands-on work to get youth to learn about the world’s natural history.

Each and every time I speak with folk like these scientists and creative artists and educators, they repeat how the constant attack by religious zealots or by anti-intellectuals of the tea party-libertarian-white supremacist variety gets tiring, old. It’s to the point where young people have no idea about real history and have no idea what an ice age is, and really have no passion around learning about how the physical-chemical-biological-planetary worlds work.

We can’t blame Johnny or Juanita or the schools, really. Blame what it is to be an America, a know-it-all, a person glued to liberal-hate TV and sucked into the cult of personality-missing billionaires serving them their daily supply of junk food, junk entertainment, junk sports, junk religion, and plain old combustible, consumable junk.

Talking and writing about books, for these anti-intellectuals, have zero bottom line appeal, and “what’s in it for me” just never gets satiated for them.

Life 101 is Not an App for that Smart Phone

We live in strange times, when smart and caring and far-thinking people are on the planet in many more numbers than ever before …. Yet we have a new age of climate tipping points in a world of people who believe the rapture is near and hope that their god has all the rules down to prevent heathens and atheists and scientists and gays and uppity people of color from ever cluttering their heaven.

For them, there is no climate change, or, if they do believe the science, they many times take it upon themselves to opt out or cop out. They become the detritus of the modern consumer-fueled age.

Climate of man. The anthropocene era. Homo sapiens petrolerus. The weather makers.

We have to hand it to these writers and thinkers looking out the windshield of speeding time, and postulating what it all means, and how we will manage in a world without ice.

The list is growing daily. You know that group – writers of climate change, natural history, sustainability, tipping points, peak oil-soil-water-strategic metals-food – Peak Everything, collapse, the economies of scale, both human and planetary.

We sort of lump them all together, from Jared Diamond, to Elizabeth Kolbert, Peter Ward, David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, James Lovelock, James Hansen, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, and the list goes on and on, almost endless. Hell, how many even know about Derrick Jensen and his work, Deep Green Resistance, co-authored by Lierre Keith and Aric McBay?

Writing about and discussing anything tied to sustainability unleashes these polarities of passion and persistent paranoia. In the end, how we view our race of animal, Homo sapiens economicus, depends how one looks at the very clear statement by Turkish Sufi master Abdulhamit Cakmut:

The world exists to serve people, because man is the most honorable of all creatures. There are cycles in life. From the seed comes the tree, from the tree comes the fruit we eat, and we give back as humans. Everything is meant to serve man. If people are gone from this cycle, nature itself will be over.

This is near the end of Alan Weisman’s The World without Us, a 2007 thought experiment that takes us through various places around the world, touched by man, and others, well, a bit more rural or wild. With the premise that some sort of rapture or human-ending virus or tele-porting magic happens and the world ends up population-free in an instant.

The book is not about all those religious and philosophical practices, like the Muslim dervish of Cakmut – “the recognition that everything, from atoms to our galaxy, whirls in cycles, including nature as it continually regenerates – at least until now,” Weisman writes.

This Sufi warns Weisman of calamity, the end time. “We see the signs. Harmony is broken. The good are outnumbered. There is more injustice, exploitation, corruption, pollution. We are facing it now.”

While we enter the next round of delusion coming up – Rio+20 Climate Summit – it’s clear that we have failed collectively at the basic premise of taking care of the planet analogy to nourishing and building our bodies: “We take care of our bodies to live a longer life. We should do the same for the world. If we cherish it, make it last as long as possible, we can postpone judgment day,” says the Sufi.

Interesting mystical stuff, but the reality in The World Without Us might be a lot closer to James Lovelock’s, the Gaia theorist, who also adds prophesies to the mix by saying that unless things change soon, “we’d better stash essential human knowledge at the poles in a medium that doesn’t require electricity.”

Funny stuff, the founder of Earth First!, Dave Foreman, who headed up the guerrillas who had pretty much given up on humans deserving a place in the ecosystem, now directs a think tank on restorative and conservation biology called The Rewilding Institute.

It’s a proposition that is all bundled up in hope. What Derrick Jensen splayed in a 2006 piece, “Beyond Hope,” where he called on people to stop hoping Obama does the right thing or that Exxon does the correct thing, or that by hoping hard enough, the salmon will come back.

Here’s the end of that piece by Jensen:

When you give up on hope—when you are dead in this way, and by so being are really alive—you make yourself no longer vulnerable to the cooption of rationality and fear that Nazis inflicted on Jews and others, that abusers like my father inflict on their victims, that the dominant culture inflicts on all of us. Or is it rather the case that these exploiters frame physical, social, and emotional circumstances such that victims perceive themselves as having no choice but to inflict this cooption on themselves?

But when you give up on hope, this exploiter/victim relationship is broken. You become like the Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear.

And when you quit relying on hope, and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.

In case you’re wondering, that’s a very good thing.

World War III – War of Ideas

We’ll get back to Jensen, but first, the Weisman book: He starts it off in Rio Conambu, 2004. Tributary of the upper Amazon River. The family is speaking Quicha and the almost-vanished language, Zapara. They are drinking chicha, sour beer from cassava pulp and fermented with the saliva of the women.

The Zapra are barely creeping into the Stone Age. Once 200,000 strong, but something far away happened early in the 1900s – Henry Ford started mass producing automobiles so the demand for inflatable tubes and tires generated that European claim of their ancestral land holding rubber trees where the European businessmen with swords, crosses, and steel seized laborers to tap them. The evangelized Quicha from earlier invasions of Spanish missionaries helped chain those “heathens.” Zapara women and girls, taken as breeders or sex slaves, were raped to death.

This three-page opening is eye-opening for some DV readers I’ve “tangled with” lately who have trolled the Internet, used some IT algorithm to find key words they just hunt for, and ended up on my pieces and then emailing me with their retrograde, prune-shaped thinking patterns of racism and hate and anti-teacher/anti-intellectual bombast.

The Zapara had to hide from the rubber genocide, and they were officially declared extinct by the Ecuadoran government in the 1970s. In 1999 a Peruvian Zapara shaman was found walking in the Ecuadoran jungle. “He had come, he said, to finally meet his relatives.”

Now, they are mostly tipsy, and the men walk for days without finding tapirs or even quail. The have resorted to shooting spider monkeys. Weisman follows Ana Maria, who pushes away the monkey flesh stew offered her – flesh formerly taboo. “When we’re down to eating our ancestors,” she asked, “what is left?”

Weisman puts the earth through an experiment – would it be different if we vanished? “Nature has been through worse losses before, and refilled empty niches…. With our passing, might some lost contribution of ours leave the planet a bit more impoverished? Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge sign of relief, the world without us would miss us?”

It’s a “cool” book in many ways, because it is an experiment of what might happen to all that we have created and jiggered and morphed, and what might happen in the rewilding process. Here’s how the book breaks down:

Part I

1. a lingering scent of Eden; 2. unbuilding our home; 3. the city without us; 4. the world just before us; 5. the lost menagerie; the African paradox

Part II

7. what falls apart; 8. what lasts; 9. polymers are forever; 10. the petro patch; 11. the world without farms

Part III

12. the fate of ancient and modern wonders of the world; 13. the world without war; 14. wings without us; 15. hot legacy; 16. our geologic record

Part IV

17. where do we do we go from here?; 18. art beyond us; 19. the sea cradle

So Weisman ventures to see what we have done to the world with our own deserved title of “invasive species geological, biological, atmospheric strafing machine eater.” What happens is easily imagined when it comes to dams, farms, nuclear power plants, all those guts by the thousands of miles running underneath Houston to keep going the petro/petro-chemical profits rolling and raw materials for goods we all rush to Wal-mart to buy.

The book looks at bridges, a place like Houston with thousands of miles of petro-chemical pipes under the ancient swamp. He looks at what might happen to our cities of steel and glass. He looks at bridges, even the overbuilt Brooklyn Bridge, and what would happen if man disappeared. We’re talking thaw-freeze cycles, bird shit eroding rivets, and other stresses toppling the bridge.

He also looks at the first Indigenous peoples, around 13,325 years ago, the Clovis people. Paul Martin, who looks for all those clues in The Desert Laboratory in southern Arizona, is also highlighted in a chapter. His Blitzkrieg extinction theory looks at the the explosion of extinctions starting about 13,000 years ago. Fascinating stuff. “It’s pretty simple. When people got out of Africa and Asia and reached other parts of the world, all hell broke loose,” Martin tells Weisman.

The idea is if Homo sapiens had never evolved, “North America would have three times as many animals over one ton as Africa today,” Martin says.

Attack on Higher Education by the Consumer-high Corporatists

Short and sweet, Weisman’s book is worth the read. Plenty on history, and plenty on man’s settlement patterns and resource extraction modes to support a world without us that would eventually go back to something very different than before man ended up as flotsam and walking seed spreaders crisscrossing the planet.

While the Mannahatta Project looks at what the original Manhattan forest might look like, but interestingly enough, most of the flora is invasive, ornamentals from other countries, and others that were unintended products of ships and crates of imported fruits, vegetables and grains.

“The ecosystem here will be a human artifact that will persist in our absence, a cosmopolitan botanical mixture that would never have occurred without us.”

This book analysis takes me back to the basic theme of what the hell we are doing attacking education, gutting it, making fools of ourselves in the name of goods and services delivered next-day by the cretins of the Amazon.com and Walmart variety. Here’s how dumb we are – gutting education and turning it into a private money machine for rotten people who know zilch about education, the whole person, the whole shooting match. Those privatizers want to turn it all into an on-line delivery system of stale, testable, easy-to-learn stuff you can pick up at home while having both your computer screens open and the speaker volume turned up.

So, Eugene Kiver, 30-plus years teaching geology at Eastern Washington University, and his student, Bruce Bjornstad, a geologist at Hanford, at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, wrote this book, On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods – The Northern Reaches. A project of passion and love, and, one incubated because they both went to schools, state schools, land grand universities. The degrees, the interest in geology, and the books would never have been written, I GUARANTEE it, if these two had never had a chance at real schools, real breathing teachers, real guides into geological space, real peers coxing them on.

Ideas, books, dreams, significant discourse, and the push-pull of thinking beings just can’t be matched at Target or at some call center, or even in a rarefied place like a surgical unit in some for-profit hospital. Thinkers and doers and creators just are not coming from the ranks of board rooms and CEO management classes out there, in the consumer-propped world.

So, get this: a University of Washington professor, John Marzluff, and his equal, artist and bird guy, Tony Angell, presented to 400 people the basis of their new book, Gifts of the Crow at Town Hall, in Seattle.

This book explores so much about crows (and ravens, black birds, stellar jays, magpies) that the crowd was astounded by the bird’s lack of a bird brain. Crows remember faces for life, even after one run-in. Not only can they get food out of a tube using a tool, they know how and do bend the tool to get the morsels. They have funeral gatherings for fellow deceased buddies. They wind surf in thermals by grabbing pieces of surfboard-shaped pine bark and hang eight (only eight, not ten). One crow, after two years with a human host, was given up to a zoo. That crow lived five years there, and, after the fifth year, the previous human host showed up for the first time, and when the human poked in at the window where that crow was, the crow said, “Hi Bob.”

Yep, never said that before in his human-hosted life. Just heard it for two years when buddies greeted the human host.

So, Marzluff with his PhD and petering out grants and dwindling state support, does all this work on crows for the greater good of knowledge, not for some Saran-wrapped next-day-shipping product to fulfill those seratonin rushes our evolved consumer human seem to desire.

It’s why Weisman looks at the proposition of what happens to the world if we go. He interviews so many of those same sort of “crow guys” – people who are products of education, formal and on-the-fly and on-the-scene. We need Weisman, Paul Martin, and guys like Peter Ward whose Under a Green Sky blows some holes in the Alvarez theory of dinosaurs’ extinction vis-a-vis meteorites. For this UW professor, Ward gives us the climate change evidence, both paleobiologic and geologic, as well as chemical.

It’s the main message here – how do we wrestle out of this consumer-driven drivel without the minds of people mucking about in the arts, languages, sciences, humanities, et al? Boeing won’t produce innovation. Starbucks won’t get us into a climate change adaptation mode. Westinghouse and Toyota are not running think tanks with any greater good and glory for all mankind.

It’s profit, and dirty money laundering.

Back-and-forth these One Percenters go, and nobody knows where the bottle will stop spinning.

I’ll end on Derrick Jensen, who also wrote, The End Game. The reason ending on him is important ties into the critiques we need in this time of imperial America and transnational big oil.

Only zero emissions can prevent a warmer planet,” one pair of climatologists declared.4 Or James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, who states bluntly that global warming has passed the tipping point, carbon offsetting is a joke, and that “individual lifestyle adjustments” are “a deluded fantasy.”5 It’s all true. And self–evident. “Simple living” should start with simple observation: if burning fossil fuels will kill the planet, then stop burning them.

But that conclusion, in all its stark clarity, is not the one anyone’s drawing, from the policy makers to the environmental groups. When they start offering solutions is the exact moment when they stop telling the truth, inconvenient or otherwise. Google “global warming solutions.” The first paid sponsor, www.CampaignEarth.org, urges “No doom and gloom!! When was the last time depression got you really motivated? We’re here to inspire realistic action steps and stories of success.” By “realistic” they don’t mean solutions that actually match the scale of the problem. They mean the usual consumer choices—cloth shopping bags, travel mugs, and misguided dietary advice—which will do exactly nothing to disrupt the troika of industrialization, capitalism, and patriarchy that is skinning the planet alive. But since these actions also won’t disrupt anyone’s life, they’re declared both realistic and a success.

The next site offers the ever–crucial Global Warming Bracelets and, more importantly, Flip Flops. Polar bears everywhere are weeping with relief. The site’s Take Action page includes the usual buying light bulbs, inflating tires, filling dishwashers, shortening showers, and rearranging the deck chairs.

The first non–commercial site is the Union of Concerned Scientists. As one might expect, there’s no explanation points but instead a statement that “[t]he burning of fossil fuel (oil, coal, and natural gas) alone counts for about 75 percent of annual CO2 emissions.” This is followed by a list of Five Sensible Steps. Step #1 is—no, not stop burning fossil fuel—but “Make Better Cars and SUVs.” Never mind that the automobile itself is the pollution, with its demands—for space, for speed, for fuel—in complete opposition to the needs of both a viable human community and a living planet. Like all the others, the scientists refuse to call industrial civilization into question. We can have a living planet and the consumption that’s killing the planet, can’t we?

So who is going to look at this shell game, this flimflam of eco-pornography and greenwashing marketing other than the Jensens of the world, and Derrick gets his traction going at colleges and universities. He’s not invited to GE boardrooms or the stockholder meetings of General Dynamics or Valero Oil. Who else will look at the facts of a society that is insane, one that relies on non-renewable everything to continue down a road of constant growth? Who is going to call that spade a spade, one of Whole Foods’ vice presidents?

Who the hell is going to see that rage and anger and despair are evolved traits, and that healing and lifestylism and political games on TV? Who the hell is going to allow for that lucid moment from the film Network?– I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?

Not the middle management of Bank of America. Not the privates and corporals in the US military thrown into wars for the profit-empire’s oil-gas stratagem. Maybe our last hope is education – if we can wrestle and pummel the privatizers and the faux liberals who cannot understand that every breathing moment on earth is a battle of atoms, DNA, evolution, cranial chemicals, and birth aftershock.

Jensen:

This culture leaves us ill–prepared to face the crisis of planetary biocide that greets us daily with its own grim dawn. The facts are not conducive to an open–hearted state of wonder. To confront the truth as adults, not as faux–children, requires an adult fortitude and courage, grounded in our adult responsibilities to the world. It requires those things because the situation is horrific and living with that knowledge will hurt. Meanwhile, I have been to workshops where global warming is treated as an opportunity for personal growth, and no one but me sees a problem with that.

Paul Kirk has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. Read other articles by Paul.