Geoffrey Holland – A very sobering assessment to be sure. It’s clear, as a human species, before we can adequately respond to our collective dilemma, we must reach a tipping point in understanding, and find a common commitment beyond that. The key is education, but the current political climate favors rote learning and ‘one size fits all’ standardized testing over the fostering of creativity and critical thinking. Television programming, particularly in recent decades, is less about being informative and more about programming that amounts to mind numbing empty calories. The mass media – newspapers, magazines, television broadcasters, and radio – has been captured and largely made feckless by a handful of conglomerates that put the interests of their advertisers ahead of their viewers. At the root of this is the sell out of our political system to Wall Street bankers, self absorbed billionaires, and gigantic, profit obsessed transnational businesses. Their game is denial, obfuscation, and the blunting of reality in favor of big profits and ‘business as usual’. Any solution to the unprecedented, global scale, cultural maelstrom in which we are trapped must start with a reordering of our economic and political systems, so that they serve the common good. Would you agree with this, and if so, what is the best course for us to follow to remake our cultural institutions so they reflect political transparency, economic fairness, and proper stewardship of the biosphere?
Michael Tobias – That is an ambitious new order of thinking and action you are calling for. Indeed, several new constitutional amendments and/or rewrites. You are essentially taking on the circumstances of the Declaration of Independence, and the frailties of the Continental Congress and asking for all of us to press the “refresher button,” so to speak.
And not just the U.S. Constitution, obviously. Anyone familiar with America’s 27 Amendments, especially the first ten of them from September 25th, 1789, knows that our politics are essentially focused on procedural matters; matters of freedom, of voting, of who gets what within the system, up until the most recent Amendment, number 27, which, to quote, “Delays laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until after the next election of representatives.” (Ratified May 7, 1992). Proposed 203 years earlier, in essence this amendment – given as much importance as, say, the abolition of slavery – prohibits the Congress from giving out raises mid-term. I imagine most Americans were more interested in the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Endeavor on that day. My point is, the Constitution may have obviously helped concretize our revolution under George III. But was it a document for all time? Probably not. The 40 male signatories representing Thirteen colonies, 23 of those men veterans of the Revolutionary War, some of them quite possibly in the throes of likely post-traumatic stress syndrome from the punishing war, with not a clue just how large North America was, only scanty population or biodiversity data; these forbears of our political system had no idea whatsoever how many rivers flowed, how many lakes and mountain ranges there were across the land they proposed to legislate. Nor the extent of animal abuse and poaching occurring right under their noses, which was no priority on their part. Not to mention the whole debacle of divided states and slavery.
It was not much better when Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Purchase, although he had some idea that a veritable land-grab was in progress and the U.S. Government had better start engendering the geographical preconditions to serve a demographic avalanche. But today, as with every other nation, democratic, non-democratic (roughly half of the nations are democracies at this time), there is no simple formula, to be sure, for re-constituting economic and political realities. The Saudi King can dole out billions of dollars to undermine criticism of human rights abuses. North Korean leadership simply has those who fall out of favor, or doze off during meetings, executed. Indeed, there are different approaches to governing the masses. But until there is true chaos, as occurred during the French Revolution, we are unlikely to recognize new shapes and forms of viable governance. It is as if until the forensic teams arrive on scene, we don’t know what we’re dealing with. But this matter of justice is more than a series of splashes on a Jackson Pollock canvas. We cannot experiment with the future of life when it is so clearly vested in our hands, right now, as environmental citizens with the power of a vote; the megatonnage lodged in each and every conscience.
Whilst the political lead-up to November 2016 promises to be amusing, given the chaos within the GOP, that said, there is nothing humorous about what is at stake in the world. News junkies, many of whom are friends of mine, get all agitated over 30 minutes of incendiary coverage, while another hundred species have gone extinct. As I type out these words, the same is occurring. And by tomorrow morning (it is late at night, presently) another approximately 115,000 people will be born, mostly into poverty; and by this time tomorrow night, eight billion 219 million + vertebrates (mostly marine creatures – fish, but also well over 2.7 billion terrestrial vertebrates) will have been killed by our species, in addition to another 200,000 acres of rain forest destroyed. These are broad statistical aggregates drawn from several dozen up-to-date, scientific and government websites that track such specifics and pack within their data crunching, varying levels of confidence, but ascertainable trends, make no mistake. What such statistics must necessarily teach us is that we cannot rely on our economists or politicians to change systems that are feeble and defiant at all costs. Einstein said it more eloquently: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
That’s why the first Rio summit in 1992 was really more about NGO’s and NGI’s (Non-Governmental Individuals) than it was about governments. Thoreau said, in so many words, that his parents – while sending him to study economics at Harvard – drove themselves into irretrievable debt. Thoreau, who would sell pencils part-time for a threadbare living, while spending those two+ years at Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, saw America with astonishingly clear eyes.
Now remember, while Thoreau was busy observing nature and writing The Highland Light and the famed Maine Woods, just ten years after his glorious Walden, the Sand Creek massacre by 700 U.S. Government militia of 70-163 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in Colorado Territory, two-thirds women and children, the whole village described by posterity as “peaceful” took place. At that very moment of infamy in November of 1864, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was being drafted, and would soon be ratified, only to leave out any rights for Native Americans. It would take much more than Abraham Lincoln to do right by those millions of individuals and their tens-of-thousands of years of sublime culture, and those lands they called their ancestral and spiritual homes.
Rather, it was the photographic Rembrandt of his era, Native American ethnographer Edward Curtis who, with the publication of his twenty-volume The North American Indian (1906-1930) would finally see justice from Washington, DC aimed at the 80+ tribes Curtis photographed. In other words, it took an artist and a President working in tandem – and eventually Congress – that would ultimately help save indigenous peoples from extinction in this country.
We cannot re-order our economic and political systems until those two interdependent engines of illimitable pain and distress are humbled – economics and politics. Out of ruins has always arisen something at least partly new, though even this notion is prone to a word you trenchantly employed, namely, “obfuscation,” given how clearly history demonstrates the maxim that old habits die grudgingly.
Despite the fact so many philosophical adages remind us that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, genocides and ecocides that call upon the human conscience to demand, as in the case of the Holocaust, “Never Again,” “We will never forget,” the unbelievable truth is that violence continues. Perhaps violence that cannot be compared with Auschwitz and the many other “camps” – a more grotesque and unimaginable saga of evil in modern history than words can possibly hope to describe. Indeed, never has a cluster of nations ever plunged willingly into such depravity. But a terrible evil, nevertheless, namely, our slaughter of other animals, populations, and habitat.
Certainly, there has been no lack of efforts to achieve greater fairness for all, whether in the work of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, or of the anti-war reformer John Wilkes, who endeavored at great personal sacrifice, for the “natural reason” movement and the Society for the Defense of the Bill of Rights (1769). From the Luddites to Move to Amend, we have seen good people and whole communities of like-minded individuals trying hard to find methods, popular votes, actionable causes and steady-of-hand research in order to better break down the barriers that exclude and/or divide the 99% of people from all those life-lines and essentials that have been consolidated in the form of power and privilege for the few. In some countries, it comes down to a few families, royal dynasties, or percentage, as you rightly indicated, of billionaires. These imbalances represent ecological perturbations, given how vast and grossly inordinate the influence of our one species in the natural order.When we calculate, even in broadest strokes, the concurrent cruelty that has become the modus operandi of human societies, all those facts and figures corresponding to the human induced Anthropocene, in addition to the probably three trillion vertebrates humans kill every year, it is quite difficult to fathom what geo-political and economic systems might work – so that they are working with, not against, nature – amid a human population heading rapidly towards 8, 9+ billion of us. This is, as I have indicated earlier, a totally unprecedented madness.
Post-Apocalyptic drama has been the stock-in-trade of that feverish collective imagination that sees no end to this continuing pattern of inequality, inequity and economic disarray. Our additional burden, certainly since the earliest indications of the Industrial Revolution, is what Marxist ideology also came to recognize with respect to the imbalanced ownership – ownership of any kind – of private property and the ravages of materialism. I would recommend John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology, Materialism, and Nature (2000), among many other works that have sought to pry open the dysfunctional ties between human need and human greed, as recorded in the ideologies of the last 175 years or so. Gandhi, Thoreau, so many in their path, have attempted to make sense, at their moments in time, of the complex and too frequent grievous crises all around them that pivoted upon the fundamental lack of fairness between most people, not to mention people and other species.
Today, we are indeed distracted by a mob of media. There is the compounding sense that too much is happening too fast for even the most sanguine, multi-tasking level of brilliance to encompass it all with nobility, whilst setting a fine, sustainable example and maintaining some sense of humor. The rash of second-by-second news absorbs our cravings in a very sick manner, it seems to me. We are overwhelmed by bad news, obviously, and good news is increasingly difficult to ensure. Yet, we are looking for examples that can liberate humanity from its appalling and escalating impact on the planet. In this conundrum we are as in a dark tunnel, but also enjoy the endless possibilities that are real, in the many templates of dramatic new discoveries in science, engineering, and technology. Such developments are vastly outpacing the evolution of new political and economic systems. This represents a peculiar, and possibly unstoppable dilemma.
In the democratic nation of Bhutan, Gross National Happiness, as opposed to Gross National Product has been developed in government circles at a level that is far greater than a mere lovely-sounding mantra, and it has caught on with increasing traction throughout the world. But, if you place Bhutan under a microscope, there are issues (See, for example, the essay, “Animal Rights in Bhutan.” , or, “The Last Shangri_La?”)
In nation after nation, there are similar contradictory situations, as with Bhutan, from Suriname, or Denmark, to “clean green” New Zealand, to little San Marino or Andorra. Wherever there are people, there is human nature, which translates into some level of conflict. Yet, in those aforementioned six countries are spectacular examples of ecological governance from which the rest of all nations can take away some valuable lessons, whether in the realm of family planning, animal and habitat protections, or the distributions of goods and services and social welfare nets at various levels.
So, I can only conclude by suggesting we keep trying, with vigilance, and a sense of faith in the genuine possibilities of humanity. We do have what it takes, in my opinion, to ultimately get it right. But time is of the essence.
This dialogue first appeared May, 2015 in three parts in Geoffrey Holland’s blog and is re-published here in full with his permission. Please view the original here- http://www.ecstatictruthpdx.blogspot.com.
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