by Jeffrey Strahl
I begin with a short biography to give readers some understanding of why I see things the way I do. I grew up in New York, where I received a degree in mechanical engineering from the City University of New York. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in early 1970 to take a job, and I still live there, with most of my time spent living in Berkeley. I was a very conservative and conformist person when I started working for Bechtel, the giant multinational construction firm, assigned to the division designing and supervising the construction of nuclear power plants. It took me just a few months to be totally disgusted by both the nature of corporate culture and nuclear power. Simultaneously I faced a close call regarding induction into the armed forces, which were still engaged in Vietnam. These experiences, plus my increased engagement with the counterculture still prevalent in Berkeley led to a rapid personal transformation, and to my being laid off from my job as a recession deepened and Bechtel supervisors grew disenchanted with an employee whose looks and views changed right before their eyes.
I subsequently applied to law school at Berkeley and was admitted, with the notion of using my technical background and legal education to pursue environmental law. At the time I started school in autumn of 1972, I also started going to Grateful Dead shows, further exploring the alternative route, and in addition came upon anarchist politics. By the middle of my second year, I came to realize that the environmental crisis which had been manifesting itself even to the mainstream for several years could not be dealt with by new laws and regulations, or new shopping habits, but required the elimination of capitalism. I also had become conscious of the still-continuing pacification program directed at the 1960s insurgency, be it by COINTELPRO and direct police repression, or by media efforts to convince the public that “the ’60s are over” and that conformity and a “New Age” of self-indulgence were now what’s in. I dropped out of law school, but kept the job I had began on campus to support myself, tutoring students in math and statistics. I ended up sticking with that job for almost 37 years (until my retirement in 2009), becoming for all practical purposes the instructor for many students in the second-year calculus classes that form the mathematical foundation for engineering and physical sciences. In the meantime, my politics developed further, incorporating Marx’s analysis of capital, the surrealist/situationist analysis of modern mass culture, a critique of the mechanistic materialist paradigm that has dominated science for centuries, a critique informed by process philosophy (see here and here), and other ideas that have come up.
The world today faces three deadly crises. They can be analyzed separately but are interconnected and feed back and forth in major ways. I won’t go into too much detail, as a lot more can be found in the readings I will reference.
The first is the global economic crisis. I’m tackling it first because it has manifested itself the longest. It has little to do with greedy banksters and speculators, inadequate regulations and corrupt regulators, monopolies, or the restricted ability of “the masses” to consume. It is a crisis rooted in the very structure of global capitalism. It first appeared in a global form on the world stage in the early 1910s, and led to WWI. That war did not provide a long respite, and so the crisis reappeared globally by 1930, leading to WWII. The massive destruction of much of the industrial world’s fixed capital in that war, and the need to reconstruct all that, formed the foundation of what appeared to be a postwar boom, aided by a reconfiguration of the world economy under US domination and with coordinating institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, massive expansion of debt, unprecedented consumerism, vast military spending via the creation of the military-industrial complex, and the increased incorporation of the non-industrial world into the global empire, often facilitated by military force. But by 1970, the fundamental crisis had begun to reemerge. It has been staved off by even more massive exponential debt expansion, by globalization which has facilitated the driving of wages and working conditions downward all over the world, and by hi-tech innovations. However, all these countermeasures have by now turned into factors which exacerbate the crisis. The collapse of 2007-8 has not been overcome. In fact, signs of worsening arise daily, such as indications Europe is entering a new Great Depression. There is no reason whatsoever why the crisis now will not lead to another global war, and already we see the emergence of currency/trade wars, just as occurred before each of the Twentieth Century’s two global conflicts. We even see renewed discussions of “winnable” nuclear wars. For more extensive readings, I recommend this series of articles, all by Jack Straw: “The American Left Doesn’t Get Capitalism,”
“Michael Hudson and Webster Tarpley Disseminate Disinformation,”
and “Occupy Should Target and Destroy the Ruling Money Fetish.” I also recommend a very fundamental analysis of capitalism, Sander’s “A Crisis of Value.”
One short note: readers should not confuse Marx’s analysis of capitalism with the state capitalist monstrosities of the former USSR and allied states, with state ownership of capitalist enterprises, or even with workers’ ownership of such enterprises. His analysis isn’t another school of “economics,” like the Austrian or Keynesian schools. Nor is it based upon competition and other conditions specific to Nineteenth Century industrial capitalism. It uses a single global capital as its starting point. Hopefully the suggested readings will do away with such confusion.
The Ecological Crisis needs little introduction to readers of Nature Bats Last. While climate collapse is the most obvious facet, there are others, such as the destruction of habitats and ensuing, accelerating collapses of ecosystems and species extinctions, the acidification of the oceans, and the spreading of chemical poisons and pollutants of all sorts, including GMOs and nano-materials. I would like to refer readers to a couple of older articles, “The Sick Planet” by Guy Debord from 1970, and “In the Wake of the Exxon Valdez: World Capitalism and Global Ecocide” by Will Guest from 1989. These articles demonstrate how the problem has been festering and worsening while some people warned us.
Last, but far from least, the world faces an increasing shortage of resources which are vital for both human survival and, even more, the very functioning of the global advanced industrial system, in particular the energy supplied by fossil fuels. Peak Oil comes to mind readily, but we also face Peak Soil, Peak Water, and many other vital peaks. Regardless of industry/media propaganda, the shale shell games will make little if any difference. We have just started seeing the effects of what will be growing shortages. Readers who are still not sure should read sites such as Resilience and Culture Change. I recommend a couple of articles on the inability of “renewables” to power a growth-requiring capitalist global economy (or for that matter any system requiring the maintenance of modern industry), “Searching for a Miracle” by Richard Heinberg, and Ted Trainer’s “Can the World Run on Renewables, Nuclear Energy and Geo-Sequestration? The Negative Case,” which has a link to his full paper. Short pieces on this topic can be found at The Energy Skeptic site.
These three crises feed back and forth. Global warming increases pressures upon dwindling clean water sources, and requires more expenses on the part of states which are already facing severe budget constraints. The economic crisis makes investment in renewables increasingly problematic. Peak Oil means the costs of producing oil are such that gas prices have to climb to where they start choking off other spending. And so on. In addition, there are sub-crises being spun by the major ones which take on lives of their own, such as the accelerating disintegration of the fiber which holds society together due to the near-universal use of cell phones and other wireless devices, which drive people into self-absorption bubbles, detached from the physical reality around them. Clearly, there is no way out which preserves capitalism. Indeed, there is no way to preserve industrial society and the population levels it has enabled, levels which are far beyond the capacity of the planet to support. We would not be in this situation were it not for the emergence of and global conquest by capitalism and its growth imperative, but more needs to be shed than just the capitalist mode of production. Near-term extinction appears to be almost inevitable. To me, the main question right now is whether the extinction will come first from a new global war, or from runaway climate destabilization. The US government is consciously preparing for the future by reinforcing its military/police state apparatus. Part of these preparations have included the execution of false-flag terrorist attacks. This is the only way to understand 9/11 in context. See here and here.
Yet this conclusion does not mean that people should stop resisting the pressures to conform and to go along with futile steps intended to maintain what is totally unmaintainable, and increasingly so even in the short term. There are those who offer “New Age” psycho-babble to the effect that resistance is futile and that we should focus on ourselves and on coming to terms with death and go gently into the good night. In my book however, a failure to resist amounts to complicity with the accelerating destruction. It is as much an aspect of counterinsurgency as are the various repression efforts of the control apparatus. This is true even if the odds of failure are just about certain, indeed even more so.
When you see a rape and do nothing, you are guilty too. When you see genocide and do nothing, because you claim you feel powerless, you are a participant. This is what global society determined regarding how Germans behaved during WWII. A few brave ones, e.g., the White Rose Society, resisted the Nazi regime, odds be damned. The others turned their heads and pretended to not know. People within the concentration camps also counseled that “resistance is futile.” Most of those who listened to them died sooner than they otherwise would have.
It would not occur to a mouse in the mouth of a cat to stop resisting. There is after all a thing called the survival instinct. Just as they have to be taught to be killing soldiers in an organized armed force, a behavior which is far more akin to sheep being herded than to an animal fighting for its food or survival. People have to be taught to not resist. Resistance is what living things and living systems do in the face of attempts to do them in. Our resistance is not just about us as individuals, or even us as a species, but us as members of the global ecosystem, an entity which like the Tao is everything and nothing, a sum of its parts which is more than a sum. We owe it to all the other members to do what we can on behalf of the whole. See Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid and Lynn Margulis’s The Symbiotic Planet for useful antidotes to the mainstream’s junk notions that the dominant motif of life is selfish competition.
Some folks counsel for us to give in, to reject making a stand, and to counter “bad vibes” with “joy.” Such notions given the present situation show to me people who are in a privileged position in global society, coasting on top of terrain anchored upon slave mines in Africa and South America, sweatshops in Bangladesh and China (and even in North America) as well as on massive ecocide. People in those situations do not engage in discussions whether resistance is appropriate. They have to resist just to survive day to day. Please spare us talk of how “we are all equally at fault,” “it’s just human nature,” and “we need to all come together and recognize our common humanity,” or false hopes that the ruling elites will somehow do the right thing. There is no one “we.” There is the vast majority of ordinary humans on one hand, and a tiny segment of ruling elites who are psychopaths and sociopaths, determined to keep their system going and their social power intact no matter what, who have made and continue to make the essential decisions which have led to the current situation of near-term extinction. The current holocaust, currently in its early stages, will affect all of humanity and the bulk of the ecosystem, putting the Nazi version to shame. Passivity is complicity. Silence is consent.
Prattling about how resistance is futile and how we’re better to retreat into passive contemplation and getting those around us to passively accept it all is exactly what the mass media do day in and day out. Let’s not pretend that it’s anything but another form of pacification. Our predicament is like that of someone who is tied up in a boat which is rapidly approaching a large waterfall. If this person could get untied and jump off, they are highly likely to be swept up by the current and go over anyway. But how many people would simply not even try? I intend to go on with my resistance, be it in public acts of defiance, conveying information through writing and talking, or helping out with my neighborhood collective native plant garden, pacification efforts be damned.
There is a new ad at the top of the CLASSIFIEDS section, courtesy of a couple in the Pacific Northwest. View it here.
McPherson was interviewed by Gary Null for the Progressive Commentary Hour on Tuesday, 13 May 2013. The result is embedded below, and I begin shortly after the 43-minute mark.
Mike Sosebee’s film is available on DVD. For information about purchasing a copy, click here.
McPherson is embarking on a speaking tour today, and will be in eastern New York and southeastern Pennsylvania for the next few days. Details are posted and will be updated often at the “Coming events” tab.