It’s an Orwellian world, in ways even Orwell could hardly fathom. If you believe the United States is a free country, think about this: How many times have you been scanned by a “security” camera today?
George Orwell was a brilliant, prescient writer. This post sprinkles in a few of my favorite quotes from him. With respect to the ongoing collapse of civilization, here’s a nice one to start with: “People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”
My translation: Denial runs deep in the Empire.
I have my own personal example of ignoring grossly obvious facts and, worse yet, censoring the messenger. Of course, I’m the messenger in this tragic tale.
The story begins a couple months ago, when Chris Jones asked me to give a presentation at workshop organized by the Desert Managers Group (DMG) Laughlin, Nevada in early April. Specifically, he asked me to speak about biological invasions, climate change, and fire regimes. Chris is an associate agent in Arizona Cooperative Extension, which means he is a faculty member at the University of Arizona with the Extension equivalent of tenure.
No problem, I told him. As a bonus, I’ll even throw in some information about peak oil, because peak oil informs every aspect of life on Earth. I steered Chris to a blog entry about peak oil and runaway greenhouse. I pointed out that my role is to restate the obvious: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” And even, apparently, unintelligent ones such as myself. I gave Chris an opportunity to un-invite me.
No dice, he says. We need to hear this.
A couple weeks later, Chris came to Tucson to hear me speak at a campus “Focus the Nation” event. I presented peak oil as our final viable solution for stopping runaway greenhouse. My outlook couldn’t have been more stark. Afterward, I told him I’d take a similar approach in Laughlin, and I gave him another chance to un-invite me.
No dice, he says. We need to hear this.
Laughlin was dismal, by the way. In fact, it changed my entire world view. I had long given up on heaven and hell. But if there’s a Laughlin, there must be a heaven, too.
My presentation was the keynote address for the second day of the workshop. It was stunningly well received, and it generated discussion that lasted for the duration of the workshop. I was all the buzz. And you know how I love that.
The keynote speaker for the first day failed to show up, although she did give a few hours’ notice. Even though she didn’t make it, her abstract and presentation both appear on the conference website. On the other hand, I’ve been edited out of the website. It’s not just that my abstract and presentation aren’t there: I’m not there. It’s as if I was not invited. Check out the online program, and note the conspicuous gap on Thursday, 10 April between 8:15 and 8:50 a.m. That’s me.
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
I contacted Chris Jones via email with this message: “Is this situation as embarrassing to you as it should be? I’ve clearly been edited out of the workshop. Any change you can edit me back in? Thanks.”
In truly spineless fashion, Chris responded thusly: “I’m sorry Guy, but I do believe some of the program sponsors did take offense and DMG chose to edit your presentation out. I have no control over the Desert Managers Group.”
My level of irritation and amusement on the rise, I responded with this message: “Wow. It’s 1984. Thanks for passing along my concern. If any of the program sponsors have sufficient backbone to tell me their names, I’d love to contact them directly.”
Then I spoke to Chris’s supervisor, Jim Christenson, on the telephone. He was backpedaling so fast he nearly fell over. He just kept saying he has no control over the “.gov” website. We didn’t edit you, he said, again and again, until I think he believed it himself. Jim even gave me the name of an individual he believed responsible for the censorship: Gerry Hillier (I’ve no clue who he is, or what he does). He’s not a member of the Desert Managers Group, according to their online directory.
I’ve received no response from Chris. To be fair, it’s only been a day since I asked for the names of the people pulling his strings. During that time, I sent him another message: “After speaking with Jim Christenson about this issue, I’ve decided I would really like to know which of the sponsor(s), if any, made the decision to censor the website. I’d also like to know who gave the program sponsors the authority to censor a .gov website. Help? Thanks, in advance.”
I suspect Chris thinks we should separate politics from science and management. In reaching this over-reaching conclusion, he fails to recognize the inseparable nature of these enterprises: “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”
I do not expect to hear from the Chris Jones, because I suspect he’s too spineless to tackle this seemingly minor issue. He could have challenged the sponsor(s), if they exist, about the issue of censorship, which, when stated in honest terms, suddenly doesn’t seem so minor. His status protects him, and he could even quote Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” He could put a clever university spin on it: “If tenure means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” He could even point out how silly it is to edit a website seen by about ten people, most of them disinterested in the workshop or lost in cyberspace. If he were really heroic, he could take a lesson from me and use hyperbole to advance the cause of freedom: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” But no. Chris is a product of empire, a toe-the-line, follow the masses, don’t-stir-the-pot kind of guy.
I agree with nearly everything Orwell wrote. But not this line, at least not for Chris Jones and his ilk, who continue to shovel coal on the runaway train even as it’s headed for a sacred cow in the middle of the tracks: “When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.”
But I take heart, knowing the bloated cow of economic growth grows ever closer, ever more dangerous (and ever more odorous) with each turn of the imperial wheels: “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”
Like I often say: That problem’s going to take care of itself.