Saturday, August 23, 2008

Dystopia Now! How bad does it have to get?

Humanity is in crisis, bodily and spiritually. Humans are the direct cause of the current mass extinction. The biosphere is being laid to waste, in new ways all the time, at a quicker rate each passing day. The evidence, from prestigious bodies of scientists, is readily available via our toxic computers and the world wide web. We who are fortunate enough to get these facts ignore the information, dismiss it, or don't act upon it nearly to the degree which we ought. Human caused mass extinction will eventually catch up with our own species.

Despite pockets of affluence, more people around the world are starving today than at any point in human history OR pre-history (both in total numbers and per-capita). Agricultural practices have allowed for a global population boom but they also deplete the capabilities of the soil with each harvest. Deforestation and petro-chemicals only temporarily alleviate the problem by creating more farmland and fertilizers. But these tactics are not a long-term solution by any means and, in fact, make the long term consequences much worse. Unfortunately, these are the most common solutions implemented.

The potential for devastation caused by war has not lessened since the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. More devastating technologies have since been developed and more groups have an easier time gaining access to them. Intelligence agencies designed to prevent it are often complicit in proliferating the technology. Archaic religious wars have reached the age of nuclear weapons and hostilities are just as great as ever. It is only a matter of time before a new Hitler or an evil Ayatollah/Pope gets access to this technological power.

I would make the case connecting the progress of industrialized education with the progress of technological weaponry, but the institution is sacrosanct and scientific progress is presented as both unstoppable and desirable. Consequently, whether that's true or not doesn't matter... too few question or resist it. Most luddites are presented as historically irrelevant, currently misguided, or revered only in the realm of science fiction. Let me just say that primitive children living in the wilderness know as much about the world as children repeating their abc's and multiplication tables.

The prison-industrial complex
is a fast-growing business. Already though, in America, more people are imprisoned in total numbers (and per-capita) than in any other nation. Land of the free indeed.

To the extent that other oppressive regimes exist around the world, they work with each and/or the United States of America. The Peoples Republic of China, for example, is the number one trading partner of the U.S. and both benefit by keeping large portions of their population repressed. Oligarchic powers around the world all benefit from (and desire to keep) large segments of the global population repressed and in poverty. They are able to pit these oppressed people against each other by old religious and nationalistic methods as well as modern media propaganda -- and do you think that the U.S. leaders would really want the Chinese to rise up in liberation to throw off their oppressors? No more than the Chinese oligarchs would want domestic upheaval in the USA.

This all amounts to modern humanity, and all life on earth, being in an unprecedented crisis. Our ethics and morality have only kept up with our technological capabilities insomuch as the more that we could do, we did. And make no mistake, supposedly benign mathematics can have surprising implications towards less noble pursuits -- Einstein should have taught us that (if Alfred Nobel didn't). And who are the esteemed intellectuals of science? Why they are rocket scientists, of course. But the point is that the fruits of benign sciences can plant the seeds of further devastation. This is a point that should not be as readily dismissed as it often is.

What we need is a fundamental break from the technological oligarchy, but this is no small chore. Those in power will not accept this because they don't have to face the common realities of the masses and, even if they knew of our crisis, they may be content to let the world die with them. How unprecedented is it that so many care so little about their children and their subsequent descendants? How much more true must this be for a high-tech war-profiteering arms dealer? We are talking about people who don't really care even about their immediate families -- much less you or any of the other billions of people on this planet!

Momentarily, I will get on to a milder response to the present situation but, what we really need is a revolt against the whole techno-industrial oligarchy. Even if they can't be stopped, even if they wholly intend to take the world with them, basic human dignity demands that we resist and rise up against their efforts. It may be wholly futile, but at what point is your entire lineage essentially dead anyway? In the name of non-violence, some people wouldn't punch someone in the nose to prevent them from launching a nuclear holocaust -- I am not one of those persons. As the most domesticated animal, humans have been bred into passivity or blind servitude, but I suggest you break those mental chains and act for the greater good of not only yourself, but also future generations.

In less dramatic terms, we must push the precautionary principle as far and as hard as it will go! The current wikipedia definition will suffice:

The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. But in some legal systems, as the European Union Law, the precautionary principle is also a general principle of law. This means that it is compulsory. The principle aims to provide guidance for protecting public health and the environment in the face of uncertain risks, stating that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone measures where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to public health or the environment.

There are many definitions of the precautionary principle. Precaution is caution in advance, or ‘caution practised in the context of uncertainty’. All definitions have two key elements.

1. an expression of a need by decision-makers to anticipate harm before it occurs. Within this element lies an implicit reversal of the onus of proof: under the precautionary principle it is the responsibility of an activity proponent to establish that the proposed activity will not (or is very unlikely to) result in significant harm.
2. the establishment of an obligation, if the level of harm may be high, for action to prevent or minimise such harm even when the absence of scientific certainty makes it difficult to predict the likelihood of harm occurring, or the level of harm should it occur. The need for control measures increases with both the level of possible harm and the degree of uncertainty

Full implementation of the Precautionary Principle is just a start of the epic project which humanity must commence with. Not only must we work to prevent the implementation of new potentially devastating technologies, but we must stymie the usage of several ubiquitous technologies which already cause great amounts of destruction. Even simple projects protecting local green spaces are useful endeavors. Horticultural gardening to prevent the need for so much industrial agriculture (and processing) is a simple step which not only works towards these ends, but it is also a pleasant activity which can considerably help preserve financial resources. The list goes on, but moving away from the industrial cycle of consumption is key.

Again, however, we are faced with the problem of power dynamics. As a twist of Margaret Meade's famous statement about activism... I like to point out, "It only takes small group of committed individuals to do a great amount of environmental and social harm." Those who have demonstrated their commitment to environmental destruction and promote policies of war must be stopped. The key is consciousness of our own complicity within the destructive systems and an honest effort to move away from such practices -- without that we are less than human. But you are not on the same scale of a Hitler if you fight back against a rapist and using a tissue is not the same as enthusiastically encouraging the destruction of the rain forests. It is foolish not to consider intent or scale when thinking about such matters. Violence in self-defense (or in defense of others, or in defense of the environment) is not the same as aggressive violence for the purposes of greed and destruction. Do not let people convince you that saying a hurtful word is the same as the President, on national television, encouraging war. Yes, we are all sinners and are flawed, but some of us are just human while others are absolutely diabolic.

Preemptively, in terms of my own personal computer use, I like to say, for example, "The best uses for the tools of destruction are against the other tools of destruction." I hope that makes sense to some people.

Finally, I'd like to take a moment and talk about suppression and repression of radical environmentalists. In the past it was the communists/socialists who were seen as the preeminent threat to big business interests, but now it is the radical environmentalists (who often have a more anarchistic stance). The "red scare" has become the "green scare" and the tactics used previously are being used again. Before 9/11 it was the Earth Liberation Front that was considered by the U.S. government as the #1 domestic terrorist threat. This despite the fact that no one was ever physically harmed in an action claimed by that group. This despite the fact that the KKK still exists and neo-nazi's still flourish. This despite the fact that the police forces in this nation still kill innocent people every day.

So take this as a warning... if you want to struggle against the state's interests, even if you organize in the most peaceful ways, the state will take notice. Resistance is needed, but you must fully consider the consequences of even your most trivial participation in such activities.

With any luck, someday the value system of techno-industrialization civilization will be completely turned on its head. We will have peace and not war. Freedom and not constant surveillance by our so-called leaders. Conservation and sustainability rather than unhindered environmental degradation. But we must work and struggle for these things if we truly want change. It won't come from above, not from god or a politician. We must take it upon ourselves to bring about this the reality or it's not going to manifest. It is our responsibility. It is our duty as human beings.

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