The Road Back to the Clear World

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
Where the straight path was lost. *

Only an idiot or a liar would deny climate change or fail to accepts its causes. The idiot can be excused for his ignorance. The liar is in league with the devil to his own, usually monetary, advantage.

The cost of reversing or possibly stopping or at least slowing the causes of climate change would be enormous, hitting nearly everyone, and it would be conditional upon humanity’s very broad willing participation. The cost, and not just the economic cost, of dealing with the effects of climate change unchecked would be catastrophic, and would be unconditional and unremitting upon everyone. One way or the other, world leadership must come together to lead the world like Dante’s Virgil through the depths of the coming Inferno. If they cannot, and surely many will not, do this, we are consigning our children and their children and their children’ children to the very depths of Hell – ultimate environmental collapse.

In our journey, there is a point of no return, a virtual River Styx, beyond which stopping the causes will be pointless, and our efforts will have to turn to salvaging the remains of diminishing life on the planet. So here are the questions:

1.  Do we spend our energies and economies on stopping climate change or preparing for its consequences, and if both, in what ratio? (defining the problem)

2.  Once that is decided, how most effectively and expediently can the world and its leadership be persuaded to undertake and continue the challenge? (planning a solution)

Do your own research. Develop your own conclusions. Act.

Here’s the hard part: We all live on this planet; we are part of its life. It is our only home in an unimaginably large, mostly empty universe, time only runs one way, and nothing out there can guarantee our survival. Self-preservation is the preservation of the whole. There are only winners or losers, not both. We all, every living thing and the planet itself, share responsibility for this home. There are no opt outs.

*  The Comedy of Dante Alighieri, trans. Tom Simone, Focus, Indianapolis, 2007, Canticle One – Inferno, Canto 1, ll. 1-3.

A Letter from Joe

Dear Mr. President,

My wife and I were having a conversation this morning about what we might do after the outbreak of civil war. I just thought I’d write to let you know how much I admire the facility with which your words, and that cute little O shape your mouth makes–like a little horn, have brought this country to its knees, ready to throw itself into war.

However, would you please direct those loyal men who fight for you, young and old, to look elsewhere than our house for violent engagement? We have nothing you want; we’re educated, thoughtful and compassionate people. We aren’t the sort of people you would like to hang out with. We have no land to speak of–just a little city plot with a cozy little bungalow–not even a spare bedroom for a guest, paying or not. Before retirement, we worked in education and public health, causes you might have heard of. They turn no profit of the monetary kind, just happier, healthier people.

Well, I had better let you get back to your golf game. I know your boys will take care of all that nasty work you have ahead of you, suppressing and intimidating democrats. So, here’s hoping you succeed in being the last man standing–alone in the United Graveyard of America. Have a nice day.

With due regards,
Joe Average

The ‘New Far-Left Fascism’?

Let’s see. Go to Wikipedia and look these things up.

Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultra-nationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I, before spreading to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.

Wikipedia

So, under a fascist government, the people are all responsible to the state. Right?

Ed.


Anti-fascism is opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. The anti-fascist movement began in a few European countries in the 1920s, and eventually spread to other countries around the world.

Wikipedia

It was at its most significant shortly before and during World War II, where the Axis powers were opposed by many countries forming the Allies of World War II and dozens of resistance movements worldwide. Anti-fascism has been an element of movements holding many different political positions, including social democratic, nationalist, liberal, conservative, communist, Marxist, trade unionist, anarchist, socialist, republicanist, pacifist and centrist viewpoints.

Wikipedia · Text under CC-BY-SA license

So, that’s pretty clear; over the last hundred years, anti-fascism has meant opposing anything in the “far-right” fascist camp, making anti-fascism to the left of fascism. Right? Fascism’s as far right as you can go; so anything else is to its left..

Ed.


Socialism is a political, social, and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprise as well as the political theories and movements associated with such systems. Social ownership can be public, collective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.

Wikipedia

So, socialism is just about how the people are invested in everything, or at least most things. It’s about sharing the wealth of the state (Ouh, the workers owning Amazon?), but not about how the government is run. Right? So, are the people responsible to the state then, or is the state responsible to the people.

Ed.


Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support free markets, free trade, limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

Wikipedia

So, this sounds a lot like the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the first ten Amendments. But the “limited government, and individual rights” part sounds like 20th Century Republicans, while the “civil rights and human rights” sounds like 21st Century Democrats. It sounds like the government is responsible to the people, but not so much about protecting them from the differences the people see among themselves. Right? Sounds like the Tea Party folks.

Ed.


Left-wing politics supports social equality and egalitarianism, often in opposition to social hierarchy. It typically involves a concern for those in society whom its adherents perceive as disadvantaged relative to others as well as a belief that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished.

Wikipedia

The political terms Left and Right were coined during the French Revolution (1789–1799), referring to the seating arrangement in the French Estates General. Those who sat on the left generally opposed the monarchy and supported the revolution, including the creation of a republic and secularization, while those on the right were supportive of the traditional institutions of the Old Regime.

Wikipedia · Text under CC-BY-SA license

So, that doesn’t sound so awful, and it seems as if leftists would have the state actively support civil rights and human rights as well as individual rights. Right? And the Constitution says that the exercise of one right may not impinge on the rights of another.

Ed.


Okay so what the hell is the president talking about when he “…Warns Of ‘New Far-Left Fascism’ At Mount Rushmore…?” (NPR) He seems to count on people’s inability to understand what they hear as long as it has a good beat and you can dance to it. (Who remembers Dick Clark?) I can’t believe Trump is as ignorant as he assumes his audience to be.

Meanwhile, back in the good old District (not state) of Columbia (not Capital), is Mopey Barr setting up a Putinesque take over of the presidency, based on the extreme emergency of Covid-19? Perhaps we could have Donald Trump as president for life with extreme emergency powers – our own Führer. What’s that brown stuff on your nose Bill?

The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

——————————————————————————-

The classic example of Modernism lies in the line “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” which by extension declares that there is a moral or social “center” from which we have lost hold, spiraling into the darkness of the unknown, ungoverned by any moral core. This is Yeats’ response to the world of the First World War, a war among wealthy, powerful, rather degenerate and often incompetent European monarchies fought by everyone but them.

How appropriate then for our Post-Modernist time when the world is racked by oppression, conflict, discord and violence in a chaos of the Ongoing World War, a war among wealthy, powerful, degenerate and often incompetent world autocracies, many of whom make war on their own subjects.  If there ever was a moral center, it has faded into complete obscurity.

What “rough beast’s” hour is coming around now to save us? How long must we wait for anything to come from without to save us from ourselves?

———————————————

The great lesson of history, well recorded in our Humanities: We have learned nothing from history, except how to repeat it, as this phrase has often coined.

I’m a Yank

I’m a Yank, but I don’t feel any pride, any satisfaction in the winning of the Civil war, only the satisfaction that the slaves were freed and the country was reunited.
It was the sorriest time in our history. We went to war with ourselves. Hating and killing our fellow Americans was the bottom. I can’t admire bragging about winning. I can only be proud that we put ourselves back together, not when we were trying to tear ourselves apart. Good goals were accomplished, but many bad things happened. The cost was horrendous, and worsened by the economic devastation of the South following our bloody victory.
I hardly wonder that a Southern would feel outrage at the pulling down of statues, when our Minnesota Capitol and Washington are adorned with Union soldiers. It must look like 150+ years of gloating—the ultimate poor sportsmanship.
This country has some growing up to do. Arrogant winners make sore loser. Defeat on the battlefield is bad enough. It isn’t necessary to take their honor as well. We were better to the Japanese following WWII than we were to the South after the Civil war. Can’t we show the world we’re better than that?
All the memorials of the war should be honored, but put away. Leave the memorials to the reuniting and the freeing of the slaves. Commemorate the good stuff.

When You Make Your Voting Choice, Consider

Many folks will be trying to convince you to vote one way or another. Here are some ideas about what to listen and ask for, and how to react to what you hear. Persuasion works from three platforms, each a little lower than the least accessible, and each more accessible, but subject to misleading claims. Supporters and candidates will drop a mass of statements in your lap about truth, proof, evidence and facts in their attempt to persuade you to vote in their favor. Be ready.

  1. Rational arguments require the voter to have a broader knowledge base and be more willing to follow a line of reasoning. “This is how it would work.” (critical thinking)
  2. The voice of authority will ask the voter to rely on history and reputation as a matter of trust. “Have I ever lied to you?” (limited thinking)
  3. And the agitator will play on your baser feelings, especially those that lead to physical response. “FIRE!” (no thinking)

None of them however represents truth, though each has a relationship to facts. So let’s talk about that relationship first.

Facts are by definition real and present. They are not proven by evidence; they are evidence. Facts are accessible to anyone with functioning senses. Glass is hard. Water at room temperature is a liquid. These are not disputable. Right?

Fact Evidence

Not all evidence is factual however. If a person’s fingerprint is found on a murder weapon (fact) that indicates that that person held the (otherwise determined) murder weapon (evidence), but that does not make indisputable that that person actually committed the murder; it’s not proof.

Evidence Fact

A proof is an evidentially sustained conclusion. Proofs are reached by logically arranging factual and circumstantial evidence to a conclusion. Such an arrangement is called a “logic,” and when there are different possible logics, leading to different possible conclusions, any one conclusion cannot be considered an indisputable proof. Furthermore, one might reasonably guess that the more pieces of evidence needed to x_Jay's Oakreach a conclusion would suggest more possible arrangements of that evidence with more possible conclusions. And one would be correct. So does a proof lead to a truth?

Truth is a thorny issue. Is telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” possible? Putting aside Truth, as in the ultimate, divine truth about everything, truth is very simply a belief. If I feel a piece of glass and it feels hard, then I would believe that the hardness of glass is a truth. Of course, if I melt it down and blow it into a vase, I would find that it isn’t always hard. If I mix gelatin into hot water and cool it to room temperature, I might find it is no longer a liquid, but now a colloid. If I can’t count on facts being factual all the time, however will I be able to reach a proof I can accept as truth?

Evidence Proof

Proof Truth

Truth is a matter of what I believe it to be. I guess I’ll just have to have faith to get to the truth. Faith is accepting the unprovable as true. My faith and therefore my truth is mine alone.

Belief Truth

Undertaking actions then, such as voting, based on someone else’s truth is risky. If someone tells you they have the truth, and she or he wants you to accept that truth, you must remember that that “truth” may be believed but it is not provable, whether it’s really true or not. Even when someone tells you what she or he believes, you must still take his or her word for it or not. You can never really know. All evidence of belief and therefore “truth” must be highly circumstantial. The more “evidence,” necessarily circumstantial, that a person provides in support of a truth, the more you need to question that truth. Could such evidence even lead to a reasonable proof? Has that person really accepted that truth himself or herself, or is she or he really just trying to get you to accept it for some other purpose? If more evidence only makes any conclusion more debatable, what effect does more evidence have on the unprovable validity of someone else’s professed belief? How’s your faith in that? Now to the vote.

In choosing who or what to vote for, immediately dismiss any claims involving the word “truth.” Look for factual information that you can see or hear yourself, arranged in a reasonable logic that you can understand, and to a conclusion that weighs well against values and condition you support – Yes, align it with your truth. That’s still not enough.

You have to decide then if the proposition or candidate you “like” can actually get enough support to make that agreeable conclusion a reality. Beside aligning your vote to the most issues of yours that are supported, you must decide if enough of other voters’ issues are supported to have a hope of election. That will require looking more broadly at the whole campaign, all the candidates and issues, and many other societal factors that will impinge on the election.

In a statewide election, issues in one area may not be well supported in other areas. In any election, are their other candidates that support most or the most important of the issues you support? In rank choice voting, you’re asked for your alternative, compromise choices up front. Are there hot topic issues in the public eye that might influence voters? These can often be completely unrelated to the competencies necessary for the role to be played in governing. Such things as ethnicity, race, gender and religion are particularly common “false” factors in voting choices. Is the best outcome

  1. voting for the best candidate,
  2. getting the best alternative candidate elected or
  3. keeping the worst choice from getting elected?

Most of all, avoid the temptation to vote for something or someone because that’s what or whom you were told to vote for. Be wary. If you haven’t been worked up enough to do something constructive, how will it help you to have someone get you all worked up to do something destructive?

And finally, if you want to vote for someone because that candidate is just like you, then write your own name in. You’re probably just as qualified as he or she is.

 

What if our government actually listened?

A Yale history professor’s powerful, 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today:

1. Do not obey in advance.

Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution.

Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics.

When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.

Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language.

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out.

Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate.

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk.

This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.

Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state.

The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.

Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life.

Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries.

Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed.

If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can.

If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot.

The [current] president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

This article was originally published as a Facebook post by Timothy Snyder, the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

Listen, Talk, Vote

It is an election year for Minnesota. Much is at stake.
Midterm elections don’t usually draw much voter turnout. When the state economy seems to be doing well, voters may think that not voting returns the status quo. These conditions favor the opposition, whose turnouts produce stunning defeats and are followed by dramatic reversals.
Minnesota stands out as a great place to live, for now. The governor’s efforts to hold off the forces of capital side pressure have preserved many gains for Minnesotans. That could come undone in November. There is a fragile and unreliable balance in power.
If the effects of an international trade war sharply depress the equity markets and the economy, pensions and other retirement savings could be similarly depressed and under renewed threat from the investment industry. Losses in farm exports could put further demands on our state’s resources. Meanwhile, prices for consumer goods as well as medical costs and inflation could rise. Social Security and Medicare are already under threat from blossoming Federal debt and the prevailing “everyone for her/himself” attitude in Washington.
We can anticipate debates around gun sentiment and actual education needs upping that piece of the next budget, while the 2017 budget standoff gets revisited attention. The #MeToo movement will rightly demand some actions. Meanwhile, other gender rights agendas lie right beneath the surface. And there will be water quality problems and climate change effects that are unpredictable but seemingly inevitable. Actions taken will have long-lasting outcomes.
Voting in November could not be any more important. Your everyday lives are far more impacted by state controlled factors than any other. Every candidate must be asked about all of the above points, and their answers must be clear and their positions firm. That’s how you must decide your votes.
If you’ve read this far, you were already committed to voting. Now commit to getting family and friends to do likewise. Find out where candidates are on the issues and get yourself and others to the polls in November. Every day you should think about what’s important in your life that the State of Minnesota affects in some way. Listen to what others are saying about these things and talk with them about why you feel as you do. Then every day, tell someone to vote in November.

Never a Truer Word

Things are not going well with the world. I have recently pondered the overwhelming, perhaps overshadowing, general sense of dysfunction, this decay of civility we now endure. It blares out of politics, economies, technologies and even organized religions. It erodes our quality of life, our access to necessities, our feelings of safety, our sense of humanity. As is natural, we strike out at the things that threaten us, usually people whom we are predisposed not to like. And we declare our injuries, real and anticipated, demanding justice, yet accepting revenge which is more tangible.

Even when justice and/or revenge is achieved, the sense of impending doom remains and seems to envelope us in a vague fog of unknowing. A place of victimization and powerlessness becomes the abode of tens of millions, even hundreds of millions. Much of what we hear when we listen are the screams of rage and fear. Reality is cracking.

There is a churning cloud of words and images hovering behind, around and over people, a cloud so unstable and so filled with threat, yet so impervious to any efforts to quell it or fend it off, that it can only be called the Darkness. It is as if the Void and the Chaos that were banished in Creation have truly crept back in, not from the starry heavens, offended by arrogant space venturers, but from the inner depths of the very people whom it afflicts.

It is as if malignant insecurity, buried under the nurturing soil of civilization is reaching up from its grave to fuel the chaos of misinformation, accusation, incrimination and virulent conflict that surrounds us. Nothing is as it seems; everything is confuted with evil forces reckoning to destroy each of us, isolated and confused. Yet, it is from within ourselves that this malignancy originates; it is our own internal dysfunctions, made manifest and fed on by parasites of power, that have created the Darkness that threatens us. We feed the turmoil we dread.

Walt Kelly’s words have never been more true, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” (Pogo, 1971)

Pogo quote

 

Our common enemy is conflict

During the Viet Nam War, it was clear that the demonstrations, while they did not create the divide in positions, did amplify it. There we were in a Wagnerian opera, screaming across our mystic gulf with suspended disbelief. Our “rightness” and their “wrongness” were absolute and diametrically opposed.

This division, which had many less than desirable collateral effects, subsided with the revelations of the Watergate cover up, a pathetic collapse of one camp. Among other issues, such as that in the Guardian article herewith (“Protesting Trump’s immigration policy? You might be accidentally helping him.”), the resistance, a high energy expense, must be maintained until one side or the other fades. Then the remaining side must pull back as well. Attempting to overwhelm the weakened camp, as the Republicans seem to be attempting, simply reinvigorates the insurgency.

The only true victors will be those who, when the opportunity, arises will attempt to put us back on a track of collaborative problem solving, and effectively sideline the zero-sum, single issue activists. No one can win until we all stop trying. Our common enemy is conflict.

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