Friday, November 9, 2012

Celebrating 10,000 hits!

Thank you to all my readers since 2008!

By riding words that are bridled and reined
Man has quickened
The pace of time's slow clocks:
The speed of his reason has cut through material blocks,
Explored recalcitrant mysteries;
With word-armies...

 - Rabindranath Tagore (from On my birthday – 20)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Elections at the End of the World

(written for The Africa Report)
by Quincy Saul, October 2012

Crises of all kinds are converging on every continent – ecological, social, economic, political, military and more. If they have not visited you yet, they will soon! And here in this gauntlet of world history, the world is watching as the political process of the global superpower self-destructs. Welcome to elections at the end of the world.

Chapter 1: Money
The capitalist society is a democracy in which every penny represents a ballot paper.” Ludwig von Mises

This will be the most expensive election in world history. The numbers are coming in too fast to count, but estimates are already as high as five billion dollars. It's unclear if we will ever know exactly how much money is being spent, because campaign money, following the global trend, has emerged from purgatory into a deregulated wonderland. Like banks before them, electoral institutions have entered a new stage in evolution. Political Action Committees [PACs] have merged to form Super PACs, which have spawned Shadow PACs, and the list goes on. No one knows where all the money is, where it's been, or where it's going. What happened to mortgages is happening to democracy.

There was nothing sudden about this. The US kicked off the millennium already possessing the best democracy money can buy, and since then has simply stayed the course. This course culminated two years ago in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision known as “Citizens United.” In a powerful feat of logic, the Supreme Court deduced that since corporations are people, money is therefore speech. Ergo, corporate spending must have the same legal prerogative and protection as the freedom of speech. So freedom to speak equals freedom to spend. Without a doubt, this is more of the same thing we've been seeing develop for decades—but it is so much more of the same that there has been a qualitative shift. More than 300 Super PACs are registered with the Federal Election Commission. We have moved from measuring elections by the millions, to measuring them by the billions. 
Whose money is this? Ari Berman reports that

In the 2010 election, the one per cent of the one per cent accounted for 25 per cent of all campaign-related donations . . . Or, to be more precise, the .000063 per cent. Those are the 196 individual donors who have provided nearly 80 per cent of the money raised by Super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each . . . In a recent segment of his show, Stephen Colbert noted that half of the money ($67 million) raised by Super PACs in 2011 had come from just 22 people. "That's seven one-millionths of one per cent," or roughly 0.000000071 per cent, Colbert said while spraying a fire extinguisher on his fuming calculator. "So, Occupy Wall Street, you're going to want to change those signs."

Where is this money going? We'll probably never know, but the major media networks are certainly making a tidy bundle from all the campaign advertising. “The media promote the election, the election promotes the media, and advertising competes with democracy” as one unusual commentator observed in the last election cycle. It's a nice round deal that benefits everyone in the 0.000000071%. But unlike some of their shadier transactions, this one probably leaves everyone involved with a clean and even righteous conscience, doing their parts for democracy.
The 2012 election will consume more money than the entire gross domestic product of many smaller Third World countries. The world is ending, so now more than ever the show must go on.

Chapter 2: Spectacle
In this imperfect world, the sovereign citizens of the first and greatest Electronic Democracy . . . exercised once again its free, untrammeled franchise.” Isaac Asimov

Given the price tag, it is guaranteed in advance that the 2012 election will be spectacular. But given the severe limits of the actual political debate, it is also guaranteed to be a massive anti-climax. It is the job of the technicians and consultants to make careers and campaigns by hiding and prolonging this contradiction.

While we have not yet reached the climax of Electronic Democracy as foretold in Isaac Asimov's classic short story “Franchise”, we are on our way. Combine the technological predictions of Asimov with the sociological analysis of Guy Debord's 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle and the result will be something resembling the current 2012 US presidential election. 
To give one only example, take the new “dial metre group” system. Steven hill reports that these are now “a standard feature in virtually every presidential race and other high-profile campaigns,” in which “voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages in a speech,” to help candidates lean how to manipulate their constituencies better:

It's a bizarre and frightening spectacle, this notion of wired humans co-operating in the fashioning of campaign missiles that will be aimed right back at people like themselves via television ads . . . It is a kind of Orwellian group-think that is expertly crafted and staged to induce maximum emotional peaks from viewers, trying to attain a kind of visceral script that will prod, poke and catch their imagination. No wonder former New York Times columnist Frank Rich has called this new-fangled presidential selection process the "Survival of the Fakest" . . . Not surprisingly, McCampaigns have become little more than sales pitches and advertising jingles, using "crafted talk" and "simulated responsiveness" to sell political products . . . So when you get excited over a Barack Obama speech, remember: the mad scientists who work for him are really good at figuring out what you want to hear. And Obama, just like Bill Clinton and George W Bush, is really talented at reading the Teleprompter.

The electronic spectacle culminates in the debates. If there weren't so much at stake, this would be some of the best comedy out there. While we pass tipping points for irreversible catastrophic global climate change, the big question is, who will drill more on federal land? Who is the better friend of coal, gas and oil? Who will accelerate genocide by biofuel faster? Who will build more pipelines? Who can more smoothly insert nuclear and renewable energy into the same breath? As usual, it's only the jokers who dare to speak the truth: “Who won? Who cares? You Decide!” reported Rap News.

By now my liberal progressive readers are squirming uncomfortably. We must after all vote for the lesser of two evils (or as Abbie Hoffman put it more accurately, the evil of two lessers). We might not like the Democrat, but the Republican is worse. This masterful feedback-loop is a piece of conditioning against which no argument stands a chance. In spite of the degeneration of the politics and the process, every four years we must beat ourselves over the heads with this time-tested guilt trip. Sure, the most important issues (climate change, war, civil liberties, Wall Street corruption, etc) are not up for discussion. Sure, there has been more continuity than change between the presidencies of Obama and Bush. But nonetheless, we have been conditioned to remember and repeat, we must vote for the Democrat because the Republican is worse. It's a persuasive argument, and it might even be relevant if it mattered. But for the votes to matter, the system has to actually work.

Chapter 3: Theft
It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes.” Joseph Stalin

Elections are stolen in the United States. But the biggest obstacle to democracy is not this theft. It is the inability of US citizens to believe it. It is the extreme hubris, the kind which only a superpower is capable of, which prevents people in the US from recognizing that the system is rigged. If stolen elections are the bombs that threaten the political process, it is the arrogant denial that hits the self-destruct button.

Elections are stolen in two ways, overt and covert. These overlap in various ways, including the way in which they are completely ignored by just about everyone.

The overt theft takes the form of new laws which have been enacted to prevent certain targeted populations from voting. Who are the targets? “[O]nly two states” Greg Palast reports, “. . . have more than 50 percent of eligible Hispanic citizens registered”. Yes, this is a trend:

. . . the majority of registration forms submitted by legal voters of color in California had been rejected . . . despite the federal law requiring states to make voter registration forms available at government offices, in some states like Florida, the papers have been yanked from welfare offices and outlawed in high schools. The number of voting citizens with incomes less than $15,000 has actually declined. Mission Accomplished! In Florida, registration is down by eighty-one thousand in May 2011 compared to May 2008.So get ready for the bottom line: the number of black and Hispanic registered voters in the USA has fallen radically since 2008, by two million in these four years. 
The fact that these new voting laws specifically target poor people of color is not controversial. In fact it is not even controversial that they have been enacted on behalf of Republicans. This overt take-over of the electoral system is completely transparent and unashamed about its intentions. As Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai boasted publicly in June, the new “Voter ID” law will “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
The covert fraud is more complex, but barely less hidden. It takes place on touch-screens, on which more than 90% of all votes are cast. Three private corporations, Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia, control 80% of this electoral system. It is not controversial that these machines are faulty. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office published a report saying that these machines have inherent flaws that “could allow unauthorized personnel to disrupt operations or modify data and programs that are critical to ... the integrity of the voting process." It is also not controversial that the owners and manufacturers of these machines have outspoken political leanings toward the Republican party.

Since Greg Palast's seminal expose of the stealing of the 2000 election, numerous other studies have confirmed that electronic voting is deeply vulnerable to manipulation. There is no shortage of testing and study on this subject, and the results are uniform and conclusive. Watch these videos.
And yet US citizens pretty much refuse to look at this subject. Even following the more-obvious-than-usual fraudulent re-election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker there was no public outcry. Not only do “progressives” fail to challenge a fraudulent process, they don't challenge the stolen result—even when they lose! As a result, the billionaires and ballot bandits who are perpetrating this massive fraud are doing less and less to hide it. Governor Romney has been so bold as to go into the voting machine business himself! If we are all lucky enough to survive a few more election cycles, we might find that Asimov's science fiction is not as far off as we might hope.

Now that we've cleared the air, let's think clearly about all this.

Obama became president in 2008 for a reason worth celebrating: a mass movement of new voters outnumbered the extent of legally and illegally purged votes. Can we expect a similar outcome in 2012? 
It's not about what we believe or feel; this is about numbers. For instance, in Indiana, 72 thousand African Americans are likely to be prevented from voting this year. “Coincidentally,” reports Palast, “that’s three times Barack Obama’s victory margin in that state in 2008. Coincidentally.” This is the kind of math that will decide the election. Not polls. (As usual, The Onion came closer to the truth than most of the “real” news, reporting that “this year's election will almost certainly be decided by a small handful of swing corporations.”)

Over the last four years, Obama's support has fallen drastically. There are many reasons why, but it includes the fact that he has done almost nothing to distinguish his administration from George W. Bush's. Many new voters supported Obama because they hoped he would stop foreign wars, protect the environment, or preserve civil liberties. Over the last four years he has given them every reason to feel used and betrayed. So it is no surprise that we do not see the outpouring of support for Obama that we did four years ago. 
The question is not who will win, because no one wins or loses in a rigged system. The question is whether Obama's supporters will once again outnumber the purged votes; whether the mobilization will be greater than the fraud. Since Obama's support has decreased while the fraud (overt and covert) has increased, the evidence points in a clear direction. Romney is not going to win this election, any more than Bush won in 2000 or 2004. But he is very likely going to be declared president. In fact it might as well be declared in advance.

The Final Chapter: “Progressives” on Trial
What is the lesson for the rest of the world, held hostage as an audience to this election? Is this massive fraud the climax of the development model that the US is supposed to represent, the model which Africa, Asia and Latin America are supposed to look forward to? 
In the US, the real question for everyone is not about the lesser of two evils. It is what are the citizens of the superpower going to do about their self-destructing political system? 
In 2008, self-defined “progressives” united around the slogan of “change we can believe in,” and in retrospect that's what we all got. Forget about change that these progressives can't believe! What is revealed in the US today is a severely limited politics, and more deeply, a severely limited imagination. 
One of the foremost “progressive” magazines in the US, The Nation, is full of examples. Neither there nor in any other “progressive” publication will you find any discussion of the most important fact about this election—that it has already been stolen. In an editorial of its latest issue titled “Why Obama?” (October 22, 2012) The Nation admits that “it is impossible to imagine any progress . . . with a Romney administration in power.” This is a powerful self-condemnation of progressive politics and imagination. It is tantamount to admitting that progressives cannot imagine any progress whatsoever.

No matter what we think of Obama, Deepak Bhargava writes in the cover article, “it is crucial that we lean into this election without ambivalence.” No matter the cost to country or conscience, we who are about to vote, salute you! On the high-voltage gate leading to the polling stations of this election, a sign reads: “abandon all politics, ye who enter.” Drink the Diebold Kool-Aid: Voting will make you free. 
All of these kind-hearted liberals should know better. But they don't, and that is the sad fact of the matter. There are too many questions that they are not ready to ask. Only Ai-Jen Poo, to her credit, had the sense to state clearly the explosive potential of these end times. “[T]here is a broader base for an economic justice movement than ever before,” she writes:

Regardless of election outcomes, this may be the greatest opportunity for us to unite in generations. To seize the opportunity, we must pay attention to the connective tissue needed to build and hold a broad movement together... We should be organizing as many actions as possible to take place immediately after the election.

But who is going to organize like this? Will it be the same progressives that have been apologizing for the Obama administration for the last four years? Unlikely. Glenn Greenwald has compiled some important statistics about the politics of these progressives:

53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — support keeping Guantanamo Bay open . . . 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones . . . Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35.

Without a doubt, many progressives will come out into the streets to protest Obama's war and police state, once they become Romney's. But with the enemies we have, who needs friends like these?

What's really at stake here is a political class unfit to rule, and a civil society unfit to replace it. These are the conditions for imperial decline, clothed in the best hubris that money can buy. The voices of reason and compassion are more than ever buried, not only by fear and hatred, but—what is almost worse—under equally suffocating progressive nonsense.

And if enough people vote for Obama to outweigh the voter fraud, what will we have to celebrate? There is no solace in any possible outcome of this exorbitant farce. We can only hope that revolutionaries start getting their act together.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On the Transit of Venus and Human Civilization

by Quincy Saul, June 5, 2012

Today we will witness the transit of Venus. As we observe this seemingly small orb moving monumentally and magnificently across the sun, we may have a moment to reflect on the transit of human civilization as well. When Venus next passes between us and the sun, it will be the year 2133. What civilization will witness its next transit?

Why is Venus particularly significant to Earthlings? Our first close look at Venus came between 1990 and 1994 when the Magellan spacecraft mapped the entire surface from orbit. We found the only other planet in the solar system with a complex, evolving climate. Similar in size and composition, Venus and Earth are more alike than any other two planets in the solar system. About one billion years ago, Venus may have been much more similar to Earth. “Yet they have developed into radically different worlds,” the Scientific American summarized.

The climate of Venus climate is hot – hot enough that rocks glow. The surface temperature is about 460 degrees Celsius, and the air pressure on the surface is nearly 100 times what it is on earth. Scientists speculate that Venus once had oceans that boiled completely into the atmosphere. They extrapolate that the exceptionally hot climate of Venus was caused by a run-away greenhouse effect, pushed over the threshold by volcanic activity.

As we watch Venus crossing the sun today, we may take a moment to consider what implications Venus has for us as we come to grips with our own global warming on Earth. The escalation of global climate change has made the issue of a runaway greenhouse effect perhaps the single most urgent issue in the world today. Many have warned that if something is not done soon to radically reverse the warming, Earth may wind up like Venus.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) categorizes the concept of runaway global climactic change into two types. “Type one thresholds” are caused by “smooth”, linear changes, like the gradual addition of carbon particulate matter to the atmosphere. “Type two thresholds” are non-linear changes brought on by the process of climate change itself; feedback loops that increase climate change regardless of human activity. The IPCC, as Christian Parenti writes, “operates on the basis of consensus, [therefore] its conclusions are quite conservative, and its reports lag years behind the latest scientific developments. [It] represents the lowest common denominator of fully accepted conclusions from the scientific mainstream.” (p5) Consequently, the IPCC does not believe that type 2 thresholds can be caused by human activity. “For instance, a “runaway greenhouse effect”—analogous to Venus-- appears to have virtually no chance of being induced by anthropogenic activities,” a 2004 IPCC report concludes. Many climate scientists agree; John Houghton writes that there “is no possiblity of [Venus's] runaway greenhouse conditions occurring on the Earth.”

But not all share this optimism. Climate scientist James Hansen did his PhD on Venus' atmosphere and climate in 1967. His studies of the climate of Venus led him to become interested in the issue of the greenhouse effect and climate change on Earth, and he has since become one of the foremost educators on the subject. He now advocates for a radical, immediate and global reorganization of all economic activity to prevent the growing threat of a runaway greenhouse gas effect on Earth, which has earned the name “the Venus syndrome.”

In a now-famous lecture at the American Geophysical Union in 2008, Hansen gave a presentation where he said in no uncertain terms:

Now the danger that we face is the Venus syndrome. There is no escape from the Venus Syndrome. Venus will never have oceans again. Given the solar constant that we have today, how large a forcing must be maintained to cause runaway global warming? ...What is different about the human-made forcing is the rapidity at which we are increasing it, on the time scale of a century or a few centuries. It does not provide enough time for negative feedbacks, such as changes in the weathering rate, to be a major factor. There is also a danger that humans could cause the release of methane hydrates, perhaps more rapidly than in some of the cases in the geologic record. In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale (a.k.a. oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty.”

After a year of reflection, in his 2009 book, “The Storms of My Grandchildren,” he continues on this theme, now more explicitly:

"The paleoclimate record does not provide a case with a climate forcing of the magnitude and speed that will occur if fossil fuels are all burned. Models are nowhere near the stage at which they can predict reliably when major ice sheet disintegration will begin. Nor can we say how close we are to methane hydrate instability. But these are questions of when, not if. If we burn all the fossil fuels, the ice sheets almost surely will melt entirely, with the final sea level rise about 75 meters (250 feet), with most of that possibly occurring within a time scale of centuries. Methane hydrates are likely to be more extensive and vulnerable now than they were in the early Cenozoic. It is difficult to imagine how the methane clathrates could survive, once the ocean has had time to warm. In that event a PETM-like warming [Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum] could be added on top of the fossil fuel warming. After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently? While that is difficult to say based on present information, I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty."

We are faced today with a world-systemic enemy which challenges us all on an existential level. Volcanoes pushed Venus over the threshold of runaway climate change. Our equivalent on Earth is a global economic system built on the design of the cancer cell -- endless and infinite growth. Despite the global economic downturn in 2010, the figures are now in that it was the most carbon-intensive year in human history. There is no longer any secret that this world-system is ecocidal, that it will not rest, that if given the chance it will burn all the oil, gas, coal, tar sands and tar shale in what Michael Klare calls a “race for what's left.” The system will either be buried forever or it will bury us forever. Where will we be in 2133 when Venus again crosses between the earth and the sun? What transit will human civilization have made between now and then?

Astronomers are currently looking for the transits of planets on far-away stars. In the same way that we observe the transit of Venus, they are looking for blips on the surface of these distant stars, and in a short time they have cataloged hundreds of foreign planets. We are told over and over about this amazing search for life on other planets, the search for a planet like Earth. But we must ask, why are we looking for other planets like Earth while we destroy the one that we are a part of? What mass psychological condition does this express? As we stare into the transit, it stares back at us.

Where will our planet be in 2133? If an alien species today found the Earth by observing its transit across our sun, and began to travel a hundred years to investigate, what would they find here when they arrive? A blue-green biosphere, or two Venuses, one with the ruins of an intelligent civilization that destroyed its home planet?

In most mythology, Venus is the woman, the goddess, associated with love, beauty and fertility. So here is a final thing to think about while we watch the transit of Venus today. Representing the cosmic feminine, Venus will be silhouetted against the face of the mythically male sun god. Perhaps what we need most of all in the transit of human civilization which is upon us, is a return to the wisdom of women. 


Perhaps Venus can save us from the Venus syndrome. In the face of the greatest imaginable catastrophe, we may heed the wisdom of Grace Paley: “women are not so afraid to be afraid, therefore they are better suited to confront the system.”

And as ecofeminist Leigh Brownhill wrote to me,

as for the astrological significance, i can only guess that love will show it's power, silhouetted against that fiery ball of light known as our sun, and bring us a reminder that love persists and will continue to orbit our universe despite its seeming insignificance in the face of the everyday fires of life.”

As we observe Venus today, we should feel a profound and thrilling connection to the cosmos and its immense majestic splendor. And we should also feel a deep existential commitment to our own planet, still alive and beautiful, but in desperate and in deadly danger.


Global Climate Change on Venus; March 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Bullock, Grinspoon

IPCC Expert Meeting on the Science to Address UNFCCC Article 2 including Key Vulnerabilities, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 18-20 May 2004

Houghton, J. (May 4, 2005). "Global Warming". Rep. Prog. Phys. 68 (6): 1343–1403. Bibcode 2005RPPh...68.1343H. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/68/6/R02. Retrieved August 26, 2009.

Jim Hansen : Climate Threat to the Planet: Implications for Energy Policy and Intergenerational Justice, December 17, 2008 , Bjerknes Lecture, American Geophysical Union , San Francisco, California 
Storms of my Grandchildren, by James Hansen, Bloomsbury USA, December 2009

Tropic of Chaos, Climate change and the new geography of violence, by Christian Parenti, Nation Books, New York, 2011

The Race For What's Left, The global scramble for the world's last resources, by Michael Klare, Metropolitan Books, NY, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Future We Have

(And the Presence We Need)
at Rio+20

by Quincy Saul
Spring 2012

(This article first appeared on The Africa Report.)

The world system is in universal crisis but a salvage operation appears to be underway. The latest exercise in PR for human civilization, as we know it, will be launched in a few months at the Rio+20 world summit on sustainable development. It commemorates 20 years since the first world conference on this subject in 1992.

While all indications of socio-political unraveling and ecological collapse accelerate beyond the most pessimistic predictions, hopes that the meeting in Rio will turn things around are staggeringly high.

The UN document "The Future We Want", prepared to inspire unity for Rio, is a shining example of these hopes. It highlights many noble and laudable goals. Unfortunately, the document and the hopes it represents are completely delusional. As John Robinson says, "we live in our heads. We live in storyland".

The fact that 20 years of humanitarian and environmental rhetoric has presided over one of the most brutal and destructive periods in human history cannot be acknowledged, as this would raise too many uncomfortable questions. So, instead, the rhetoric is simply amplified. Workers, women, indigenous, and even "rights of nature" are put to work in this document to inspire us into submission to the delusional hope that reality can be spun as easily as words.

The UN document decries in heartfelt terms the poverty and crisis that defines the world today. In this it is very effective at generating our sympathies. But as Oscar Wilde noted a long time ago, "it is easier to have sympathy with suffering than with thought." Where sympathy with suffering may inspire a superficial unity, thought forces us to inquire into the sources of suffering. If real unity is our goal, thought and not pity will have to guide us. Otherwise we will wind up with a kind of unity which, to paraphrase Nietzsche, may appear deep but is not even superficial.

If the UN document is any indication, superficial unity will be the name of the game for Rio+20. The poverty and ecological disasters of the last 20 years are defined here as anomalous "setbacks" and "interrelated crises." Never mind that it has been well and widely known and recognized since the 19th century that poverty and crisis are normal, predictable conditions of the capitalist mode of production. This of course cannot be mentioned. So instead we must resort to the clinically insane hope that voluntary actions on the part of the 1% will somehow transform the fundamental dynamics of the last several centuries.

Buried in the politically correct rhetoric is a barbaric kernel: "We welcome the outcome of COP17 at Durban and look forward to the urgent implementation of all the agreements reached." For those who haven't been paying attention, this outcome and these agreements ensure that no action to reduce carbon emissions will be taken until 2020. The result is premeditated genocide against the global South. Perhaps the UN cronies who wrote about the future they want should stroll down memory lane, and read the UN reports from the recent past about the consequences of these "welcome outcomes."

Increasingly we must resort to clinical psychiatric terminology to describe the mindset that characterizes this kind of thinking and behavior. How can we describe these high hopes for Rio, other than as delusional and schizophrenic? "We don't live in the real world, but live only in the world we imagine," says David Maggs.

Even FOX news seems to know better than the UN when it comes to Rio+20, describing it as "something like a global Green Woodstock, this time enhanced on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube."

Unfortunately, the conference in Rio is not just a joke. The principal goal of the global 1% in Rio will be to marry biodiversity, sustainability and all things green to capitalism, through the framework of the "Green Economy". Their goal is to renegotiate the principles of sustainable development to include big business and Wall Street as leaders. Given the lack of organized opposition, they are likely to succeed in these predictably catastrophic goals.

Regardless of the future we want, this is the future we have. Unless – and this is our only hope – a force from outside the ruling consensus shatters the illusion that there is any hope for this world system, and begins to organize itself around systemic alternatives.

This is the presence we need – not in symbolic protests and rallies – but in a revolutionary mass uprising. This uprising must both bury capitalism and fertilize a system capable of preserving biodiversity and democracy. I would call this ecosocialism, but the task of defining a sane civilization requires an international struggle. Unfortunately this is not what is on the table for Rio+20.

A few of those who are going to Rio in June know this, and they are going to build alliances and networks, preparing for the global united front against capitalism, which is humanity's and nature's only hope. But until these revolutionaries stop chasing the 1% around the world to their sham conferences and build their own autonomous bases of resistance and production, the future we really need will remain an opposite but mirror image of the delusional hopes for Rio+20.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Coming Supersession

Reflections on the Situationist Legacy

"The workers in the advanced countries have done all they could, or intended, to do -- which was always something short of a revolution."
-Oliver Cox

Over 40 years have passed since the Situationist International prophesied the Decline and Fall of the "Spectacular" Commodity Economy, which they saw prefigured in the riots of Watts. Looking back, many their assertions are sharp, timely, and resonant. The essay could be reprinted with little alteration about the 2011 riots in London. But riots have been small. By and large society has stayed loyal to the spectacle. The "developed" world has failed to generate its own negation.

The Situationist alchemy derived the imaginative semantics of the revolution of everyday life from the mechanistic syntax of consumer affluence. Theirs was one of the most advanced efforts within the consumer world to break from objective and subjective conditions and make a leap forwards in human evolution. But it failed.

Today the spectacle is more widespread and more deeply insidious than ever before. Billions still pay the externalized price for this poisonous affluence, like they did before, with poverty and crushed aspirations. And those whose sins they die for have collectively, cumulatively, effectively made their choice. Survival is preferred to life.

Instead of leaving the 20th century, we are living the 20th century 2.0. Look at the metropoles, old and new, from Shenzhen to Manhattan. Like a hot potato or a sub-prime mortgage, the center cannot hold or be held. Conditions -- the elusive objective phenomena that conditioning has succeeded in obscuring definitively -- are in free fall. Everything points to catastrophe, yet the spectacle still grows stronger.

You can see, in the glazed eyes and minds of the metropoles, that they have made their choice. Humanism or no humanism, titillation trumps the totality. Let the billions be damned.

"The more I looked, the less real America became, and the less real it became, the stronger it got," reflected Mason Lang, in Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. The spectacle has become practically (if not truly) hermetically sealed, in some kind of closed, self-referential, and ever expanding phase space. Finance is its posterchild and proof. The cybernetic state has long since arisen, on the trembling boundaries of cause and effect.

The possibilities for situations of autonomy, desire, and playfulness remain, but we have lost the battle to save the spectacle from itself. Tidal waves, earthquakes, economic collapses and mass extinctions have not slowed the window shopping for a minute on Park Avenue. No matter how many of us start choosing love over the garbage disposal machine, it is now too late; no magnitude of revolution can reverse the cumulative choices of our past.

The original Situationist program -- leaving the 20th century -- must, in their terms, be superseded.

The billions excluded from this nightmarish paradise of the apogee of the spectacular commodity economy have seen more than metropolitan myopia could. They know the spectacle has no future, and consequently begin to suspect that we in its society have no future. As Jose Dolores told William Walker in Gillo Pontecorvo's film Burn, “Ingles! Remember what you said: civilization belongs to the whites. But what civilization? And 'til when?”

Time itself has no future measured in the centuries that this dying civilization has imposed on it. Chief Seattle said it long ago: "Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival."

The SI advised whites to join with the blacks of Watts: "Whites who cast off their role have no chance unless they link their struggle more and more the blacks' struggle, uncovering his real and coherent reasons and supporting them until the end."
We must make a still greater supersession; join with those outside this system and this century.

We lost the battle of life against survival, the battle of love against the garbage disposal unit, we failed to seize control of the new techniques of conditioning. The SI spirit is as relevant as ever, their tactics so fresh and unsurpassed that we should be ashamed of ourselves. Dialectics can still break bricks, but time has run down. The spectacular commodity economy and the spectacular survival of its citizens will be shattered not by armed joy, but by ecological crisis, the bare life of mass migrations, and the totalitarianism which is the last if lengthy gasp of every totality.

The coming supersession is upon us. If and when we make the SI praxis our own -- that the priority of the revolutionary movement is the transformation of everyday life -- it will have a new meaning, qualitatively beyond its original.

They warned us that "it's not just the cops, it's the geometry." Now we must comprehend that it's not just the geometry, but the ecology. "It's the planet, stupid."

No longer can we imagine everyone with their own cathedral. Capitalist abundance will die in the clutches of its erstwhile masters because it is fundamentally eco-cidal. The real revolutionary movement will never touch it.


We must still escape survival and return to life. But life itself, playful or not, is going to include a new kind of survival. The cybernetic commune of cathedrals, of which the Situationists dreamed, is an ecological impossibility, and also an objective enemy to the excluded colonies for whom it isn't an option.

The next Situationist supersession must come full circle, from fighting a survival that is a spiritual suicide, to embracing a new kind of survival that is a spiritual liberation. To make subsistence playful and passionate.

First nation peoples all over the world like Chief Seattle, held in contempt by Manifest Destiny on the Left and the Right, prophesied the rise and the fall of the society of the spectacle: "The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste." The fall is coming, it has already begun. It comes just as the Situationists surmised, "gradually at first, and then, suddenly."

The original Situationist weapon was to derive revolution from abundance (life from survival). In the future our theoretical armory must be retooled to derive emancipation from scarcity: a new kind of life from a new kind of survival.

Or else we may choose to wait, agitating the window shoppers and detourning the last gasps of illusion, until the shadow of a tidal wave or the abyss of an earthquake finally arrives over and under us. The billions be damned or not, they are the only hope. Do we share it?

Hampshire College, April 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Live from Durban, South Africa!

Dear readers,

I recently returned from Durban, South Africa, where I was reporting on the most recent United Nations conference on climate change, known as COP17. I was there as a part of a delegation of an organization called Ecosocialist Horizons.

While in Durban, I wrote a series of reports and compiled a multimedia web page of diverse perspectives and coverage, all of which can be found on the Ecosocialist Horizons website. All the reports are compiled on this page.

Since we are now reaching a tipping point for irreversible global climate change, what happened in Durban will be remembered as a pivotal moment for the entire world. While representatives of governments deliberated about how to mitigate global warming without challenging its fundamental causes, grassroots organizers from around the world gathered to determine a shared course of struggle from below. In Durban, the whole world was watching the old order dying and the new world struggling to be born.

If you are looking for a comprehensive account of what happened in Durban, look no further! Spread the word!

Ecosocialist Horizons!

Dear readers,
Over the last several months I am honored to have helped co-found a new organization called Ecosocialist Horizons. Check out our website! You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Please take a moment to help spread the word! "Now's the time," as Charles Parker knew!

The following text is from our site:

What is Ecosocialism?
Ecosocialism is a vision of a transformed society in harmony with nature, and the development of practices that can attain it. It is directed toward alternatives to all socially and ecologically destructive systems, such as patriarchy, racism, and the fossil-fuel based economy. It is based on a perspective that regards other species and natural ecosystems as valuable in themselves and as partners in a common destiny.

Ecosocialism shares with traditional socialism a passion for justice. It shares the conviction that capitalism has been a deadly detour for humanity. We understand capitalism to be a class society based on infinite expansion, through the exploitation of labor and the ransacking of nature. Ecosocialists are also guided by the life-ways of indigenous peoples whose economies are embedded in a classless society in fundamental unity with nature. We draw upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest science, and will do what can be done to bring a new society, beyond capitalism, into existence.

We recognize that ecosocialism on a global scale is a long way from being realized. But it is on the horizon: far off, yet rising; indefinite yet vital, a terrain to be mapped, explored, and brought into existence. Our mission is to facilitate a global movement toward the ecosocialist horizon. The whole future depends upon it.

Looking Backward and Thinking Forward

A Post-Mortem on COP17 in Durban, South Africa
by Quincy Saul

This article first appeared on The Africa Report

Many hoped that the legacy of COP17 in South Africa would be truth and reconciliation. But as the dust settles, it is looking more and more like global apartheid.

Business as usual has prevailed in Durban, and it may go down in history as the greatest crime in the history of the world -- a crime against humanity and a crime against nature. The last opportunity to stabilise global warming under two degrees celsius has been squandered: the UNFCCC decided in Durban to make no binding agreement on reducing emissions until 2020. The result is that hundreds of millions have been effectively condemned to death by the end of the century.

It was tempting to hope that the representatives of the world governments would have done the right thing, and terrifying that not a single one spoke truth to power. But it is wrong to blame the individual negotiators. More was at stake than their political careers.An entire economic system was on trial in Durban, and it was the uncompromising defense of this system that inexorably led the talks to conclude in premeditated genocide.

What was really at stake in Durban was not politics, but a system whose growth is almost 100 percent correlated to greenhouse gas emissions. In spite of the global economic crisis, this system produced more greenhouse gas in 2010 than any previous year. Therefore, whether or not we have a philosophical commitment to capitalism is not scientifically relevant. To prevent catastrophic climate change, economic planning is necessary on every scale -- it is not a question of opinion, but of empirical fact. However, the UNFCCC has virtually ignored this necessity, and their chief accomplishment has been to enshrine voluntarism on the part of big polluters as the answer to climate change. The process, in other words, is beyond bankrupt.

It is now scientifically too late to salvage the UNFCCC process. The only real question has thus become, how can we build an international mass movement capable of transforming the system within the necessary time frame to prevent catastrophic irreversible climate change? We need a greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2015, which gives us three years to mobilise enough people to make that possible. How many is that? My estimate is one billion. But how can we organise on this unprecedented scale?

The solution, as suggested by the old Situationist slogan, is to kill the COP in our heads. Instead of chasing the big polluters around the world, we should do as Amilcar Cabral advised, and "return to the source." We should follow the practical and theoretical precedent set in the climate talks in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010. Read all about it! Another world is possible, but it will not be born from the womb of the UNFCCC process, either on the inside or the outside. Another world requires an autonomous base from which to struggle internationally for climate justice.

Everyone from Nick Stern to Kumi Naidoo agrees that what is needed is "political will." But this vague slogan, repeated like a mantra by commentators across the political spectrum, is almost meaningless. It is a substitute for both a solution and for a perspective capable of perceiving a genuine solution. To delink economic development from greenhouse gas emissions will take much more than political will. Transforming the system is not a political career or the project of an international meeting, but a life's work. What we need is not political will to fight within a system that is bankrupt and genocidal, but an existential commitment by individuals, organisations and movements, to struggle for a radical change in human civilisation.

I would join thousands all over the world in advocating for this radical change to be guided by the ideas of ecosocialism; towards a transformed humanity in harmony with nature. The vision of ecosocialism is a global united front against the global capitalist dirty-energy regime, and the construction and coordination of productive bases of self-reliance that are the soil and will become the blossoms of the future ecologically rational human civilisation.