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What We Must Do

Mill and power plant, Oregon City. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The Warming Planet

“The United Nations released an exceptionally bleak report today, which warns that, at the current pace of greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius (almost 7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.”

– The United Nations Environment Programme report, Nov. 2019

“Somehow, against all logic, we have adopted a collective faith in the willingness of ruling governments and corporations to do the right thing. Carbon footprints will be drastically reduced thanks to a combination of market stratagems and technological magic. While greenhouse mitigation seamlessly advances, the ruling forces can return to what they do best – indulge their religion of endless accumulation and growth.”

– Carl Boggs

We humans must breathe oxygen, eat enough calories to stay alive, and drink water. And as Bob Dylan reminds us, we need shelter from the storm, or, a fire to warm us after the storm if we have no shelter. The first three are now jeopardized as Earth’s temperatures rise, threatening us with droughts, floods, and toxic air.

Let’s call these the facts, not narratives told to a targeted audience from a certain perspective, but facts. We do not live in all the facts but in worlds of facts, by which I mean humans engage in a “worlding” of feelings/passions and facts, reasons and facts, imagination and facts, responses to facts, as well as total unawareness of facts. Sometimes “worlding” is such that facts play no part as indisputable but rather as always disputable.

If we now conclude that “worlding” is a kind of unfortunate thing humans do and that’s it’s too bad we can’t all live in accordance to or congruent with the facts, we need to re-read Book Three of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels where Gulliver encounters a society where words are eschewed:“[M]any of the most learned and wise adhere to the new scheme of expressing themselves by things; which has only this inconvenience attending it, that if a man’s business be very great, and of various kinds, he must be obliged, in proportion, to carry a greater bundle of things upon his back, unless he can afford one or two strong servants to attend him.” Merely pointing to this or that to circumvent the processes of “worlding” and thus fashion universal understanding is an absurdity that Swift enjoys describing.

Our often-screwy mediation of “the things themselves” wherein each of us insists things speak for themselves and we’re the ones who hear what they are saying makes our human “worlding” what human history shows it to be. “Mehr Licht” (“more light”) are said to be Goethe’s last words, as I suppose the wreckage of human history passed before his dying eyes.

Both individuals and cultures live within various worlding bubbles, thus transmuting even absolute necessities into what is palpable within those bubbles, those mediated zones. Thus, you may have no fear of what an increase of temperature by 2040 will do to you personally because, say, you’re a member of the Dividend Class and anticipate being on some Olympian remove where the perils of global warming will not affect you. You may even be anticipating turning such catastrophe into a winning situation for yourself, as savvy market players tend to do.

And yet, outside that bubble of yours, it’s 2040, a date that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates will bring a worsening of food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs. The planet is fast becoming uninhabitable, for humans for sure. And right now, regardless of what happy world you’re in, Greta Thunberg, at age 16, has so much greater concern regarding perils her and all those young now may face in their lifetimes. We can presume, that at such an age she is probably not positioned where the Dividend Recipient class are regarding weighing the deleterious effects of The Green New Deal on her portfolio.

The unconcern of the Dividend Class is equaled by the unconcern of those wage earners whose lives are already filled with bleak horizons, such as another class of necessities: mortgage and rental costs, medical costs, tuition debts, unemployment, and all the shaky employment anxieties of the “sharing” and “gig” economies.

In short, there are wild fires burning now and more to come but the fires that at least 40% of the population face have all to do with lack of a sustaining income now, today, day to day, month to month. That economic plight draws the focus from what does seem to be a far-off plight of global warming. We see also that the Olympian focus of the Dividend Class not only removes them from doing what we must do regarding global warming but, more perniciously yet, their focus on ever increasing investment returns presumes that doing anything about global warming, by anyone, is an investment risk.

What we must do regarding the threat of global warming has much to do with what we must do regarding a dangerous divide in economic well-being, a divide we have been structuring since Reagan.

II.

“At Chicago, the prevailing view of inequality was that it wasn’t a bad thing – it spurred people to work harder and become more self-reliant and self-disciplined.”

– Liaquat Ahamed, “Widening Gyre,” The New Yorker, September 2, 2019

Rational choice theory and the efficient market hypothesis were grounded in assumptions that any philosophy grad student could deconstruct.

But that never happened and the idea of a self-correcting mechanism if markets were totally free and the idea that self-interest made you rational and you were rational if you followed self-interest have never left the corridors of academe in the U.S. This is a foundational problem if you believe that we are now in a spot where either Donald J. Trump will rule as he wishes, or a one chamber oversight will restrain him, because our educational system has failed.

Failures to educate a discerning citizenry able to “keep our republic” is unfortunately our foundational problem, unfortunate because what must be done to keep our republic has not and is not being done in the classroom. We stopped teaching Civics and history and are rapidly moving from written words to videos. We relegated every course of study except STEM courses to the margins of knowing. We forgot that knowledge could not be held to be simply and only an economic good.

Despite this memory loss, the top 20% on the economic ladder do pursue knowledge as only an economic good and their pursuit goes on in the rich corridors of pre-kindergarten to university and beyond. The remaining 80% have a diminished yearning as both their own inner resources and those afforded to them are extinguishing, like a candle in the wind.

What Bernie Sanders call a “political revolution” and Elizabeth Warren calls a deep, structural change are both directed toward repair of those conditions wherein the three richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country, a country where about a fifth have zero or negative net worth.

The neo-liberal economics of the Chicago School viewed any level of inequality as not a bad thing but rather as an incentive to work harder, become self-reliant and self-disciplined. This sounds ludicrously comical now, but it has served to transform an inevitable evil of their “efficient market” bullshit into a good thing, a process not of immiserating many but of building character.

This claptrap met a need to preempt and then destroy all attempts to stop the axiomatic movement of the free reign liberalization of capital markets to sequester more and more capital in fewer and fewer hands. When a story is told that mogul wealth doesn’t matter in our elections, that story comes from a worlding in which money walks and bullshit talks. What we see, on the contrary, is that money talks loudly in this once aspiring egalitarian democracy fallen now into a plutarchy in which money is speech and entitled to be heard to the full measure of its pockets.

Unless the Dividend Class’s grip on the politics that can mitigate global warming ends, and the economics that brought that class into being ends, we can expect that the vital necessities of human existence will remain jeopardized.

III.

Cyberspace

“[D]esigned to make outrage contagious.”

– Mark Zuckerberg’s alibi for Facebook’s existence is that he was making the world more open and connected.

Behind that beatitude, he made a lot of money along the way, some 74.7 billion dollars. As we can now easily observe on online and offline channels and platforms, what opened was the Tower of Babel, or, if Freud still floats in your head, the doors to the Id.

Although our offline lives no longer go on in Mister Roger’s neighborhood, our neighbors being mostly in cyberspace, online civility is Darwinian red in tooth and claw. The civility in the streets is better only if less noisy.

Those who violate your opinions must be crushed and destroyed. Partisans of absurd views join to create a massive presence online. Passions lay reason aside and anger grounded in ignorance creates an overall confusion that prevents doing what must be done to alter the paths to autocracy and human toxification of this planet.

President Trump and Twitter present us with a chicken/egg what came first puzzle.

What we do know is that if Trump didn’t have a direct line to his constituency via social media, most especially Twitter, he’d have to appear 24/7 on Fox & Friends, or spend a whole lot more time shouting at the Press on the White House lawn, or become an avid blogger, or write op-ed pieces for The New York Times, or do a lot more travelling around holding Bund rallies, or become an “Influencer” on podcasts.

It is true that Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, managed to disseminate the Nazi creed successfully through the analog mediums of radio and film, but it’s not these mediums or library research that feeds the Alt-right and neo-Nazi on the rise globally. Its online presence is promoted by trolls and activists conducting harassment campaigns, conspiracy theories and links that forge a chain of disinformation, hate, slander, and violence.

Whether or not there is a rational counter weight presence in cyberspace to all irrationalities cannot be known. But we do know that it is easier for the factions of unruly passions to attract an audience than, say, the 448 pages of the Mueller report.

This is sharply expressed in a recent Atlantic article: “[C]itizens are now more connected to one another, in ways that increase public performance and foster moral grandstanding, on platforms that have been designed to make outrage contagious, all while focusing people’s minds on immediate conflicts and untested ideas, untethered from traditions, knowledge, and values that previously exerted a stabilizing effect. This, we believe, is why many Americans – and citizens of many other countries, too – experience democracy as a place where everything is going haywire.” (“Why It Feels Like Everything is Going Haywire,” September 201)

This is the sort of milieu, a super active Petri dish, in which an aspiring autocrat can grow, precisely the breeding ground for Donald Trump.

It was James Madison’s view that the country could not be enflamed by the factious and autocratic because the size of the country made such contamination impossible. “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States . . . in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.” “Federalist No. 10” He could not imagine that real space would be displaced by cyberspace, a space less, timeless domain in which all voices, like atoms, collide unaffected by any offline order of things. Neither could he imagine that we would abandon the real world for such a realm.

At this moment, an offline order of things – the Constitutional power of the House of Representatives to impeach – is being mocked and ignored by a president who has thus far successfully undermined the credibility of the 16 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community, the State Department, the powers of the Congress and the legacy press. He has successfully brought the Justice Department, the Attorney General, and all leaders of departments as well as The Senate and the Republican Party to kowtow to his autocratic will.

Such success, thus far, gives him no reason to believe that the Constitutional powers of the House will obstruct him, confident that a Senate trial will not convict him. A Senate trial may indeed, given the haywire climate, turn the House’s actions into a partisan, witch hunt hoax, extending the shadow of guilt from Trump to Schiff and the Biden’s. And the most telling result of the Mueller report may be that that too was a hoax and the entire bogus investigation led by Hillary Clinton, who will finally be jailed by a re-elected Trump.

In our haywire world, the accused will indict and convict the accuser; trials will be turned against those who conduct the trials; investigations will result in the investigation of the investigators; Congressional oversight will give way to executive privilege; democracy turn to autocracy.

At this moment, President Trump is removing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, his own personal research into human caused global warming leading him to conclude that this is a hoax.

We are running out of time in our responses to global warming, but we are being led by a man who has no personal fear of such and who has not the courage to adopt policies which will injure the Dividend Class.

The Green New Deal sponsored by Markey and Ocasio-Cortez is a working template for what we need to do regarding both climate and wealth divide.

If we could move toward worker owned businesses and cooperatives, the strongest able to provide starter capital for new businesses, we could bypass the stranglehold of banks and the stock market.

As far as the chaos caused by our chatter in cyberspace is concerned, we need to spend a great deal less time in cyber worlds and more time in face to face real world.

We cannot leave the technocrats behind social media to assume positions in which they are establishing societal conditions and responses that should be left to the judicial and legislative branches of government duly elected.

An anarchic cyberspace is comparable to an anarchic market rule, both excluding human reason from their domains, both destroying those conditions within which we all become fully aware of what we must do.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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