Is this new government going to turn me into an anarchist?

I am in a rather grim mood about our future today. I know people think of me as normally balanced and reasonable. But without any real hope, my reasonability is feeling pretty strained.

 

A year and a half ago, I wrote this article about why I am not an anarchist.

The thrust of it was that I believe that the best argument for a strong Federal government is to provide effective regulation and restraint to those who are destroying the environment. I do not see any other institution that will effectively prevent people from literally trashing the wild places, forests, water supply, oceans, and air. I do not see any other institution with the power to reduce our society’s love affair with producing greenhouse gasses.

With the recent election, I guess it is pretty clear that the new administration and Congress will have no interest in using their power to protect natural areas, curb hazardous practices like fracking, limit or reduce carbon emissions.

I have a growing certainty that we are already past a point of preventing significant effects of climate change, and we keep hurtling down this path to use as much fossil fuels as possible – while we destroy forests and pollute water along the way. Turning away from this path could mitigate, but not prevent climate change – and yet we as a country are determined to ignore the changes needed.

 

I have sometimes said that I am not an anarchist because I don’t have an optimistic view of people’s motives, compassion, or even really about their ability to see what’s best for their own middle-to-long term future. I don’t think that view has really changed. Most people don’t really think about their impact on those around them, the future generations, or the environment.

Unfortunately, my faith in the federal government to protect us from the destructive actions of others is now destroyed. My main reason for supporting the idea of a strong federal government has been flushed down the toilet. Wild areas will be logged and mined with abandon. We’re going to keep getting more electricity from coal and less from wind and solar. The EPA will be slow to enforce whatever regulations are left, and polluters will feel quite free to dump and spew in whatever way benefits their bottom line.

I am still not optimistic about people’s ability to not destroy the environment, but that no longer seems like much of an argument for a strong federal government. It just seems like a recipe for drought, storms, poisoned water, and flooded cities. And no governmental authority is willing to take the action to stop it.

Here are some articles about where we’re headed on the environment:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/11/trump-presidency-a-disaster-for-the-planet-climate-change

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/11/14/13582562/trump-gop-climate-environmental-policy

http://time.com/4564224/donald-trump-climate-change/

Reading List for “John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future”

My talk to The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment was pretty well received today. We had about 15 people, many of whom seemed interested and engaged. Of course there is so much more source material than I could present, so I put together a reading (and watching) list to follow up on some of the issues covered.

 

The Long Descent and Catabolic Collapse

How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse (academic paper that is fairly technical)

http://ecoshock.org/transcripts/greer_on_collapse.pdf

On Catabolic Collapse

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/05/on-catabolic-collapse.html

The Trajectory of Empires

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/02/trajectory-of-empires.html

 

The Myth of Progress

What Progress Means

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/02/what-progress-means.html

This Faith in Progress

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2007/01/this-faith-in-progress_10.html

 

The Steampunk Future

The Steampunk Future

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-steampunk-future.html

The Steampunk Future Revisited

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-steampunk-future-revisited.html

 

Green Wizardry

Seven Sustainable Technologies

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/01/seven-sustainable-technologies.html

 

John Michael Greer – YouTube Playlist created by me

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJF1Nk3eL3u-jokYzVMJG0GJ0Fzze5N0F

 

John Michael Greer books:

The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, 2008

The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World, 2009

The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered, 2011

Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus and the Rapture Is Wrong, 2011

Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, and Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit, 2013

Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress, 2013

Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, 2014

After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age, 2015

Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush: The Best of The Archdruid Report, 2015

Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead, to be released Sept 2016

 

Other resources:

The End of Suburbia (52 minute documentary about Peak Oil and the work of Howard James Kunstler)

https://youtu.be/Q3uvzcY2Xug

A Victorian lifestyle in the spotlight (Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman of Port Townsend, WA)

https://youtu.be/O9S_fIw_7fs

 

Other books:

Muddling Toward Frugality Paperback by Warren Johnson

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows

Rainbook: Resources for Appropriate Technology by Lane deMoll

The Book of the New Alchemist by Nancy Jack Todd

Nostalgia and the Problems of the Past

I don’t recall where I first heard it, but there is an idea that all nostalgia is basically racism. As someone who indulges in various forms of what may be called nostalgia, I took this personally and had to ask myself some serious questions. I dress in neo-Victorian/Steampunk style with several groups of friends. I read a lot of “classics” – set in the 18th and 19th century. I am endlessly fascinated with ancient Rome and love to read about Roman religion and daily life. I listen mostly to classical music and opera, much of which was written over 100 years ago. And yes, I love “period dramas” in film and television with gorgeous costumes and sets from another era.

So yes, I was a bit touchy when many of my interests were all called racist.

A recent poll sparked some particularly topical versions of this question about nostalgia. This piece in the Washington Post by Janell Ross hit some of the themes that I am talking about. Another piece by Kali Holloway of Alternet hit many of the same themes.

The nostalgia part is a poll question asking if American culture had changed for the better or for the worse since the 1950’s. Around half of Americans, and 57% of white Americans believe that American culture has changed for the worse since the 1950’s.

Taken on its own, the ways in which American culture has changed are myriad, and some of these are definitely not for the better. I don’t personally think of the 1950’s as an ideal time by any means, but I can think of a number of ways in which our culture is worse.

Since the 1980’s, news sources no longer have a legal obligation to tell the truth, which has caused a proliferation of opinion sold as news and downright lies in the mass media. Our food culture is dependent on fast food, packaged food, and junk food – packed with sugar and sodium and lacking in many healthy nutrients. Americans cook very little and are not well informed about nutrition. Compared to the 1950’s, the last few decades have shown increasing violence in much of America. It has varied – spiking in the 1980’s, declining somewhat in the 1990’s, and increasing again in recent years.

And this doesn’t even touch on cultural things like taste in music, film or television, where some people’s preferences may run toward those popular in the 1950’s. That is largely personal taste, though.

But there has been obvious and huge improvements in American culture – racial and ethnic discrimination and segregation that was the rule of the land in the 1950’s changed, through the Civil Rights movement, the legal changes of the 1960’s and the gradual, but significant moves of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latin Americans into greater visibility and power in our cultural life. I am not saying that there is true equality – certainly there isn’t – but as an example, African American visibility in politics, media, sports, and many other areas has increased dramatically for the better. There is greater gender equality in employment and in many areas of culture. There has been a dramatic improvement in the legal status and cultural attitudes around LGBTQ people.

So, how the question is answered really depends on what aspects of culture are foremost in the minds of the person answering the question.

Janell Ross links this question to another question on the poll and uses this link to indict white American’s nostalgia. The other question whether discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against other blacks and other minorities. Around 60% of white Americans said yes.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this one. There is no widespread discrimination against white Americans. I think that the American middle and working classes have seen a disintegration of opportunity overall in the past couple decades. Well paid manufacturing jobs are very difficult to come by due to a combination of products being manufactured in other countries and the erosion of the power of labor unions. Median household income has slid downward in the last decade, even as the politicians and media are touting the economic recovery. The stock markets are high and unemployment is down, but the quality and pay of jobs is lower. The recovery has been for the rich and not for the middle or working class. So the pie, so to speak, has been shrinking, and yes the proportion of opportunities for African Americans and other minority groups have improved. But this doesn’t add up to discrimination against whites. It means white Americans are getting a more equitable share of a shrinking set of opportunities.

I have seen this nostalgic link that Janell Ross is making. Even in the mid-1990’s, when I was newly graduated from college and it seemed like 90% of my friends were working at temp jobs with no benefits and no security, I had older people tell me “there was a time when a bright young man like you could write his own ticket, but not anymore.” Implied was that I was a young WHITE man, and that I had to compete with women and people of different racial and ethnic minorities. But I do not long for a time when things would be given to me simply because of my race and sex. That is just discrimination.

So yes, I agree that there’s a kind of racist nostalgia that happens among white Americans. I also see that certain troubling populist politicians are using themes like “make America great again!” play into this and have a racist undercurrent. When Donald Trump is talking about making America great, he’s also calling for a registry of Muslims and calling Mexican immigrants rapists. He is not appealing to some ideal of American pluralism. He’s playing on white American fears of those different from them and linking it to the real experience of loss of economic opportunity.

But I don’t think that nostalgia necessarily comes with that baggage. Janell Ross states something that points to where nostalgia and racism can split and don’t necessarily mean the same thing. She states:

Yes, nearly 60 percent of white Americans believe that life in America before the advent of the cassette tape, the ATM, IVF, the hand-held calculator and the bar code was better than it is today. Apparently life was very good for these Americans, when segregated public facilities were a legal requirement in the South and Southeast and a social norm in many other places. Most people of color could not obtain credit or a loan from most “mainstream” banks.

And here we have a link being made between the technology or fashions of an era and its moral failings. This is a common habit, and it’s completely nonsensical. Somehow cassette tapes and bar codes furthered the cause of racial equality? Of course not. Are poodle skirts and cars with tail fins necessarily linked to segregated drinking fountains? The question is absurd.

John Michael Greer, one of my favorite bloggers addressed this sort of question recently in a couple blog posts here and here where he brings up how inflamed people become when someone chooses to opt out of some currently popular technology.

Then there are the people whose response to the technology of an older time is to yammer endlessly about whatever bad things happened in those days, even when the bad things in question had nothing to do with the technology and vice versa. People like the couple I discussed in last week’s post, who prefer Victorian furnishings and clothing to their modern equivalents, get this sort of bizarre non sequitur all the time, but variants of it turned up in my inbox last week as well. Here again, there’s some heavy-duty illogic involved. If a technology that was invented and used in the 1850s, say, is permanently tarred with the various social evils of that era, and ought to be rejected because those evils happened, wouldn’t that also mean that the internet is just as indelibly tarred with the social evils of the modern era, and ought to be discarded because bad things are happening in the world today?

John Michael Greer advocates specifically for all of us to step back from our dependence on every new and energy intensive gadget and to learn skills and habits that will help us in a coming period of energy scarcity. I agree with this thinking and I am trying to move my life in this direction (which I am finding a challenge in many ways).

But I also am a fan of taking inspirations from the past and recognizing in a clear-eyed way that we don’t need to adopt the social attitudes and blind spots of prior eras along with their technology or styles. I wrote about that with regard to Steampunk a couple years ago and I firmly believe it today. If we want to learn to bake like our great grandmother or retell grandpa’s stories, that doesn’t mean that we need to agree with the social attitudes of their day. Racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ attitudes, intolerance of those who have different languages or religions – these are all things that don’t deserve our nostalgia and we can leave them in the past.

Be Afraid of What President Trump Could Mean for Democracy

I don’t usually indulge in fearful musings, but in this political season, I have to say that I am seeing a possible future that frightens me.

I have never been a fan of Donald Trump. I don’t like the man. I don’t like the message. I don’t think he deserves any particular respect for using his inherited fortune to create an egomaniacal real estate empire. I don’t think he deserves any respect for his stints on reality TV or the political arena.

His current presidential campaign seems to have tapped into a certain ugly rage and dissatisfaction within the American people who applaud his “honesty” while he calls Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers and uses sexist insults on reporters and opponents.

His indications lately that he would support a registry for Muslims in America and closure of mosques is very troubling. As a member of a minority religion, the idea of this kind of monitoring and exclusion based on religion makes me very uncomfortable. Truly, it should not even be a topic of conversation in this country. We have a guarantee of religious freedom.

But it was the recent incident where he incited and then defended his supporters who beat and kicked a protester who showed up at his rally solidified my opinion that he represents a radical shift in our political climate. He is the kind of bully populist that can easily shift into a downright fascist.

Here are a couple recent opinion pieces that voice the same concern.

Donald Trump’s Alarming skid Toward Outright Fascism

Donald Trump Drifts Closer to Anti-Muslim Fascism

 

I think we are especially at risk today if we elect someone like Donald Trump as President. Normally, there are certain checks and balances built into the American political system to compensate for failures in one or another branch. However, Congress has had some record low approval ratings. For the past few years, approval has hovered between 20% and 10%. A huge majority of Americans disapprove of Congress. And a major reason is that they are, by all measures, quite unproductive and ineffective.

This represents a major vulnerability to our Democratic system. A popular and unscrupulous leader could very well take advantage of this and take over powers from the legislative branch, claiming that they are ineffective and obstructionist (which is not entirely inaccurate). “Why entrust the future of the country to such ineffective leadership?” the argument may follow. “We need a leadership who understands action and decisiveness.”

Of course one of the President’s most important duties is to appoint the Supreme Court and Federal Judges. This represents the other check on the President’s power. Defeating that would mean taking a page out of FDR’s playbook and expanding the court – and therefore appointing all the new justices. Suddenly, the deck is stacked differently and the Supreme Court is a rubber stamp for the President.

 

And so disappears the checks and balances. We will slip toward autocracy.

This is not, I hope, a prediction, but it is a fear. I wish I could say I think this path is unrealistic, but I think this is one possible path that we could take, and it is more and more plausible all the time. If we care at all about the institutions that preserve democratic process, even in its current flawed form, let’s make sure this doesn’t happen.

A Progressive gives up on Progress

Most of my adult life, I have thought of myself as “Progressive”. As I have understood it, Progress in the social/political sense means the increased participation of diverse populations into American political, economic and cultural life; increased income equality; and equal rights for people of all races, sexes, ethnicities, religions, and sexual identities.

There are different kinds of Progress that we are taught to believe in. There’s technological progress, but in many ways that’s a kind of myth. Research and knowledge in certain areas certainly has increased. Certain kinds of technology are very useful, but so much of what we consider technological progress is over-hyped planned obsolescence. The economic reality that allows those of us in the developed world to access these technologies is a fragile one. In most cases, no money means no technology, and in America, household income is dropping. Our infrastructure is crumbling in much of the United States and investment in updating it doesn’t keep up, in large part because of economic crises and political deadlock. What progress we do have, in the sense of technology that improves the lives of most people, could backslide very easily. And as our technological world progresses, we often lose older, more resilient technologies. There is also the problem that we pollute and destroy the natural resources and natural places that sustain life on this planet.

With the issues of social progress mentioned above, late 20th century did bring some legal measures toward the goals of equality for people of different races, sexes, ethnicities, religions and sexual identities, but income inequality is greater than ever, racial tensions are high, many democratic institutions have eroded. When it comes to racial issues, our country has gone in tides – ending slavery establishing the Reconstruction South, but then the development of Jim Crow laws and the KKK. The Civil Rights movement and the legal gains of the 1960s and 1970s have been eroded by the economic inequality, prejudice in the American justice system.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” LGBTQ activists, particularly the same-sex marriage activists often say that supporting the cause is being “on the right side of history”. Both of these show a belief in the inevitability of progressive social change.

I am increasingly convinced that there is really no such thing as Progress – at least not in the sense of an inevitable social flow toward equality and justice. It’s a comforting idea. But I really don’t think history backs it up. I believe in change. I don’t believe in the inevitability of anything aside from change. I’ve become fairly convinced of some of John Michael Greer’s theories about the ecological nature of changes in human history.

I was watching Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews on PBS, specifically the 3rd episode, which tells the story of dramatic social progress in Germany and Austria in the 19th century. They went from profoundly marginalized and persecuted minority to the center of cultural and financial life in central Europe. It was a startling and dramatic transformation in social position, and it persisted for several generations. Many people still held the age-old prejudices, though, and when crises hit, Jews were often targeted as scapegoats. This peaked in the 1930s and 1940s, when Jews were systematically identified, dispossessed of their property, imprisoned, enslaved and killed. In 150 years, the pendulum had swung in one direction and the absolute opposite direction. He said “German Jews had made the greatest leap that any minority has experienced in modern history.” And yet, we all know that for that great leap, there was a terrifying backlash.

A dizzying progress is going on right now for LGBTQ people in the modern day Americas, Western Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The narrative is in some ways parallel to that of the 19th century Jews in central Europe. There have been dramatic improvements, including the recent legalization of same-sex marriages in many places. Since the 1970’s, there have been great leaps forward. Many places have protections for LGB (and sometimes T) from getting fired from a job or thrown out of their own based on sexual orientation. Anti-Hate Crime legislation has been passed. Public opinion in most places is much more accepting of LGBTQ people in all areas of society.

Like the Jews in Germany and Austria, LGBTQ people are increasingly part of the mainstream. In business, in media, in a multitude of professions LGBTQ people are increasingly visible. Same-sex weddings are an economic engine, even adoption and parenting by same-sex families is becoming increasingly accepted. But that could all change. People in their teens and twenties today are accepting of LGBTQ people. A generation or two from now could be completely different. And hard times can mean that people look for scapegoats.

It’s interesting that many of the stereotypes and stories told about LGBTQ people are strikingly similar to what was said about the Jews in Europe. One such story people believe is that all gay people are wealthy (even though the statistics don’t back this up).

“The Gay Wealth Myth Again” from Daily Kos

“The Myth of Gay Affluence” from The Atlantic

“Are Gay Men Really Rich” by Freakonomics Radio

There is also the idea that there’s a “gay mafia” or that gays control the media (in particular). Here Bill Maher seems to be making a joke, but the kind of “it’s funny because it’s true” comment, but then the group has an uncomfortable silence on this topic.

The ideas of a wealthy, powerful Jewish conspiracy that have been the bread and butter of anti-Semitism for over a century, and seem to have been copied onto the new group to inspire fear – the rich and powerful gay mafia.

Just to be clear – by pointing out the parallel, I am not predicting that the United States will certainly swing back into a Fascist or Nazi style future where minority groups will be subject to mass extermination (although I can’t say that I would rule that out). I am also not saying that Progressive goals are worthless. But I think it’s a mistake to think that once a fight toward equality is won that it has been won forever. Legal protections don’t mean social acceptance. The openness of one generation on an issue doesn’t guarantee that their grandchildren will feel the same way. Hard times – war, economic crunches, ecological crises, shortages, etc. – will cause the seeds of distrust and intolerance to grow.