Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A stroll through power

or "Powers and Principalities" today

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
-Ephesians 6:12

Let's start with basics.

To be successful, industrialization needs two things:  access to enough feedstock to supply the industrial process and an assured market so the industrial product will be exchanged for a larger monetary return than what was invested.

The purpose of the modern nation-state is to ensure both; and the stability of the state has come to depend on how well it does that.  The state provides enough.  It has to keep enough of its own residents comfortable enough and dependent enough to ensure against social unrest.

Socialist states have tried to get around this - the notion being that "breaking even" instead of increasing return on investment, or investing the surplus in social programs will resolve the problems of "wealth inequality."

They have largely failed, or been marginalized (like Cuba), because they cannot escape two things:  the need for industrial feedstocks and the need for money.  Money's value is determined by market institutions, and the need for money then translates into dependence on market institutions which validate and control currencies and accumulation regimes.

China figured that out, and now Communist China is a capitalist wunderkind, because it has hundreds of millions of people who can be used as cheap labor - increasing return-on-investment, or profit.  China is also engaged in a massive and intentional urbanization project - moving people from he countryside to the cities - which ensures an internal market for monetarily-exchanged goods, because city people need money to survive more than peasants whose production and consumption is often in the same household.

The United States is China's external market; and that will be ensured for some time to come, because cheap products from China lower the cost of living for Americans and provide a buffer within this decades-long American economic crisis.  China, on the other hand, depends on the US, not just as a market, but because China owns around $1.2 trillion in US debt, which is denominated in US dollars, and the devaluation of American currency is the devaluation of Chinese monetary reserves.

Meanwhile, China's industrial ramp-up requires China to go farther and farther afield to procure those industrial feedstocks.  China imports just under $2 trillion a year in goods, a sizable portion in fuels and metal ores, and 34 countries call China their principle trading partner.  Given that these foreign investments give China increasing advantage over the US in a world that is shrinking, that is, where finite amounts of critical industrial materials are being consumed, there is a structural antagonism between the US and China, in spite of the fact that there is also a structural co-dependency described above.

On the other hand, China's urbanization has led to an increased demand for certain foods, which China has been unable to supply - especially a new consumer demand for meat, but also grains - and so China depends on US agribusiness, which is heavily subsidized by the US government to allow agricultural "dumping," or unloading subsidized (and therefore cheaper than the actual cost of production) foodstuffs in other countries.  China recently made a bid to purchase a giant US pork transnational from the US - Smithfield Foods.

This strange embrace is understood by each country's leaders as temporary, and each is involved in a massive, long-term, strategic game to figure out how to retain old advantages, slough off disadvantages, and gain new advantages.  The material bases of the whole game are being consumed.  This creates one form of (somewhat predictable) change.  Less coal.  Less uranium.  Less iron.  Less oil.  Additionally, there are other actors on the world stage who are not wholly predictable - a form of change that can appear as a "black swan," or an unpredictable event with profound consequences.  Each government understands the other government as a long-term adversary,and deals with these changes as best it can.  Advantages and disadvantages can come and go.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
-2 Corinthians 11:14

This accounts for the Obama administration's "Asian pivot" strategy that is moving closer to a Cold War with China.  Given that this strategy is at least an acknowledgement of a loss of US influence in oil-critical Southwest Asia (the "Middle East"), and the black swan of Chavismo in oil-rich Venezuela, Obama's administration has had to put an "energy independence" agenda forward that includes intensified exploitation of tar sands in Canada and the employment of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the US to ensure both the survival of the domestic economy and maintenance of a strategic reserve.

While the US imports an enormous amount of Chinese goods (giant box stores like Walmart or Target would nearly empty their shelves without Chinese goods), the US is still a manufacturing nation (about 12 percent of GDP, just under $2 trillion, and employing 9 percent of the population) which needs industrial feedstock, not to mention vast amounts of energy feedstocks for its automotive fleet and profligate electricity use (for service industries, information technology, security, entertainment, and advertizing).

(The United States has around 260 million motor vehicles, for 300 million people. China has around 70 million for 1.3 billion people.

The US uses 3,886,400,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity.  China uses 4,940,000,000.  But the US uses 1363 per capita.  China uses 397 per capita - about 29 percent of US consumption per person.)

Ten percent of all US manufacturing jobs are in direct production for the Department of Defense, while Defense spending provides 1.5 million active duty military jobs, more than 850,000 part-time jobs to reservists and National Guards, and just under 800,000 civilians in DOD jobs (not counting mercenaries and service contractors in war zones).

One of the biggest end users of energy in the United States is the military.   If the Department of Defense were a country, it would rank 34th worldwide in oil consumption alone, right between Iraq and Sweden.  Perhaps "we" are already fighting to get at the oil "we" will need to fight at all.

The US also exports around $10 billion worth of weapons - produced on DOD contracts - abroad, making the US the world's largest weapons exporter.

The US runs around a $550 billion trade deficit now.  That means that the US overall imports $550 billion worth of goods from abroad that it exports.  There are two reasons that this does not damage the US economy, as economists might predict:  the US dollar is the world reserve currency, and devaluation would hurt everyone; and the Department of Defense contracts serve as a surrogate export market for US manufacturers.

In this sense, then, the US economy has become dependent on military spending, in several ways, whether we are at war or not.

But the reality is, to ensure US inputs (consumer goods and feedstocks), the US relies on the force of its military and on the threat that military can wield against others nations and actors.  That force can be indirect, like arming the Saudi state to crack down on its own dissenters and rabble-rousers, or direct force such as the invasion of Iraq.  That's what a state is, a legal monopoly on violence, which doesn't mean violence for its own sake, but violence to ensure stability - the stability of the society governed by that state and the stability of the state apparatus itself.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

-Revelation 12:9

In a capitalist industrial society, that means economic stability within the meshwork of relations that currently constitute the economy, but it also means the stability among the collection of people who exercise the greatest power in the economy.  Given the state's reliance on that economy, the state is also effectively an institution that governs with a strong preference for that class.  Members of that collection of people - the big business class - and members of government's senior management apparatus are often the same people, rotating between the "private" and "public" sectors.

Secretary of the US Treasury, Jacob Lew, worked for Citigroup, a multinational financial corporation.  Sally Jewel, the Secretary of the Interior, is a banker with close ties to oil companies.  Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, was president of an investment bank.  Attorney General Eric Holder represented clients like the National Football League and Merck Pharmaceutical.  Secretary of Labor, Seth Harris, is on the board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.  Sylvia Matthew Burwell, Director of the White House Office of Budget and Management, was president of the Walmart Foundation.

And there are many career politicians, whose careers have been underwritten by big business, as well as big business people who steer clear of the publicity of politics.  But theirs is still a symbiotic relationship.  Each requires the other, and together they form a single "public mind" that goes nameless, to preserve the impression that because government and big business are not identical, they are separate.

It is within this close relation between governance and big business that decisions are made about the preservation of stability - stability of the economy, stability of the society, and stability of the ruling group's power... which all mean stability of the state.  For the latter, challenges on the political front are flanked by the business front; and challenges to the business front are flanked by the state front.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

There can be and have been times when some fractions of big business and-or some fractions of the state have been at odds.  In this case, one side has money and the other has soldiers, which creates a tremendous crisis.  That is why constitutional republics - the state form of the US industrial capitalist state - invests power in three branches of government.  It makes it more difficult for destabilization, for example, if a populist movement suddenly disrupted he electoral system by electing anti-big-business officeholders, the executive branch can still veto legislation, and the judiciary can declare it unconstitutional.

This is handy to prevent popular incursions into ruling group political influence, but it can also slow down the ability of the government to make decisions in other kinds of crisis.  Fast developments require fast reactions, and if there is a cumbersome process to make those decisions, the government has no tactical agility.  This is particularly true of situations calling for the use of violence.

So, over time, we see executive branches, with the cooperation of the legislative and judicial branches, increasing their power to make fast decisions for the use of violent force (and the secrecy that goes with it).  We saw incremental increases in executive impunity throughout the history of this country.  What we also ought to notice is that no new executive has ever rolled back the incremental increases in power from a former executive.  So, effectively, this means increases in Presidential authority to employ violence and secrecy.

Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

-Ephesians 1:21

There are concrete reasons for this, in addition to unity of command as prerequisite for tactical agility.

The presidency is constitutionally indeterminate, making it a protean position.  Each thing a past President has gotten away with becomes precedential (no pun intended) for the next.  The President is surrounded by powerful lawyers (Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice, et al) who will confront challenges to executive power.  The Executive Branch controls the entire administrative apparatus of government, with millions of employees in positions to turn services on and off.  The President is the only person alive with his/her absolute legal access to all classified information.  The President has become a celebrity, with both a cultural mystique and almost guaranteed access to any media outlet.  And the President is the uncontested and absolute Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

President Obama is increasing executive power in the very ways he campaigned against when he was a candidate.  Which brings us to a paradox - that with all that power, the President is also highly constrained and required to put on performances.  As a candidate, he has to put one one kind of performance in order to become the President, where he has to put one a different kind of performance.  The first performance is to win an election; and the second performance is to gain support or acquiescence for what he actually does as President.  Those constraints are based on the primary mission, which is to maintain those forms of stability.

He cannot do anything that would disrupt the economic status quo; he must do anything necessary to maintain the economic status quo.  He cannot do anything to reduce American power; he must do whatever is necessary to maintain American power.  He cannot do anything that would stimulate popular interference in either the economy or governance; he must do everything necessary to maintain economy and governance without popular interference.  Constraint and power.

The reason there is little appreciable difference between, say, a Bush administration, run by a layabout, silver-spoon fool, and an Obama administration, run by a very smart lawyer who came from middle-class origins, is that they operated from the same constraints and power, which is nested in the same international and national context, albeit a context that is shifting with time (one of those somewhat predictable change-processes, in search of the next black swan).  Bush had a black swan, on September 11, 2001, through which he flew to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Southwest Asia, with an unsuccessful attempt to install an obedient government there where the US could establish permanent military bases; and which Obama has shifted from Mesopotamia to other largely Islamic regions with more bearing on he "Asian pivot," with even less success than Bush.  (Here's a bet right now:  US forces will be expelled to the last troop in Afghanistan, just as they were in Iraq, against Obama's wishes.)

Each of these men used the Global War on Terrorism as a pretext for amplifying domestic executive power, as well as breaking international law.  There are no authorities with sufficient power or independence from the United States to hold it accountable to international law (one of the problems with international law); and there has been little popular resistance to advancing domestic executive authority, because many of the same people who opposed these actions when they were committed by Republicans have fallen silent when Democrats did the same thing, or even come to apologize for Democratic actions that in every meaningful way resemble those of Republicans under Bush.

The two-party system in the United States gives the appearance of choice during elections, when there is one kind of performance from a candidate, even as there are few differences in action by sitting executives, who are now performing under the constraint-power imperatives for stability.  The appearance of choice in rhetoric conceals the limitation of choice in action.

The works well because - as Psychological Operations teaches us - it uses "echo" and "drift."

Echo is saying the same things over and over in a concentrated period, during which people come to assimilate them.  To this day, I can remember the song from an ad jingle when I was a kid - "You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent."  Echo.  "Hope.  Change."  "Weapons of Mass Destruction."

Drift is when it is no longer useful or positively embarrassing.  Then you let long periods of time pass until other notions and slogans can clutter up the public mind and the older, now embarrassing notion is diffused away, while new echoes emerge.  Drift sometimes requires "urgent interjection."  Sometimes, they just come up.  Kim and Kanye.  Gay Boy Scouts.  War in Syria (this interjection may have consequences).  NSA?  drift.. drift... drift.... drift..... drift....................... drift... (go away, go away, don't come back another day...)

Oh look, more stuff about Michael Jackson's doctor.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

-1 Corinthians 15:24

The disadvantage of the American system, compared for example to the Chinese, is that because the two parties do actually compete for the levers of power - they are the institutional vehicles to achieve that - the average attention span of any administration is technically four years, and de facto about two years because the latter two years of any administration are already focused on the party winning the next round of elections (and members of the House are elected every two years).  The Chinese system is different, insulated against radical shifts in policy and capable of pursuing longer-term strategies.  So China enjoys a strategic advantage over the US in arenas of capitalist competition.

If they want to choke a bank for a while, they needn't ask the bank's permission to do it.

Remember, early on, I said, "To be successful, industrialization needs two things:  access to enough feedstock to supply the industrial process and an assured market so the industrial product will be exchanged for a larger monetary return than what was invested."

Now we can begin to see what geographer David Harvey as the contradiction between national political power and international capital (his term for the body of dominant capitalists).  National power is circumscribed (with some limited imperial exceptions) by geographically defined boundaries.  Capital is not any longer.  And yet, capitalists require the power of the state to ensure accumulation regimes.

If China produces for the United States to consume, then industrial inputs for Walmart's profits have to go to China, and market absorption for China's production depends on shoppers in the US.  When the US economy collapsed in 2008-9, China lost 30 million jobs!  (China created 27 million jobs again within 9 months, but these workers built cities that haven't yet been occupied.)  Latin America, which now has substantial trade with China, provided a great deal for material for China, and it's regional economy has grown at 8 percent with this massive Chinese urbanization project.

Just a slice of the complexity, but you see here that two national sovereigns are involved in the production-consumption cycle, if profits are to be made, as well as national sovereigns who supply feedstocks.  For the time being, all sovereigns understand that they all require adequate inputs going to China; and all agree that anything that might disrupt the process must be externalized (like environmental damage).

The default position of power, then, to reconcile and coordinate the interests of states with the interests of capital are transnational financial institutions.  It is this reality that gives the United States is special power over all the other national sovereigns.  The United States - the political entity, the state - retains unique control over international finance, and everyone has come to depend on its currency.

Concomitantly, other sovereigns - with the exception of those who are treated like enemies of the US -will not object very strenuously (if at all) if the US uses morally questionable means to secure what is necessary to maintain political, economic, and cultural stability.  The dominant economic groups in each state that are interwoven with the political classes share all the vulnerabilities of the United States.  They don't have similar vulnerabilities.  They share the same vulnerabilities.  If the US goes under, they are all up Shit Creek with wads of useless dollars.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

-Hebrews 12:1-4

This stroll through present-day worldly power is not intended as a primer on US-China relations, even though that is a very important relation to understand.

China and the United States, for example, are both constrained by business cycles, which are also short-sighted (like American elections), and driven to short-sightedness by temporal competition.

As this is composed, China is trying with great difficulty to manage a liquidity crisis, aka a "credit crunch," in which is the discovery (often over and over again) that growth-economics can be sustained neither on unsustainable material inputs nor on credit as an alternative to fuel.

The inter-relation of these two national economies and the conflicts and contradictions between these two nation-states are emblematic of the crisis, but that very crisis envelops virtually all human societies today. 

The reason that "credit cannot substitute for fuel" is discovered, then forgotten within days, then rediscovered, is that this cannot be honestly explained without exposing the entire system to lethal skepticism, based on the concomitant discovery that what we are actually doing is in many respects suicidally stupid.

If growth economics proves suicidally stupid (which has been proven almost to a certainty), then the justifications used by those who govern - directly or indirectly - are false, and we have to reconsider whether we will continue to obey those authorities.

As a Christian, I believe I am required to submit to the authorities, but I am not required to obey them or to co-sign their stupidity.  No the same thing, submission and obedience.  This was the model of our founder, brother, priest, prophet, and king:  disobeying then submitting to authority.  Then we knew, didn't we, whose was the true face of secular power.  It nailed him to a cross, and then the thing behind the mask was revealed.  (Luke 10:18)

I have a lot of questions I'm asking myself right now, about being Christian through a period that seems to be approaching swiftly.

The Perfect Storm

And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

-Colossians 1:20

Satan appears to be busy right now.  He will try us by much misery.  He will accuse.  He will offer temptations.

I am not being apocalyptic (except in the sense of revealing... ) when I say these secular trends are converging.  They are, and a short period of committed study will prove it to anyone who approaches the subject in good faith.  Our current civilization is about to enter a very rocky impasse.  Billions of people are in it already.  Billions.

Everyone in this process has been dragged out on the financial limb (short term) as well as an environmental limb (mid-term), which is bringing a perfect storm within two to three decades.

The first point to be reiterated is that the accumulation of wealth through money - through something called economic "growth" - can only be seen optimistically if we ignore two things:  first, feedstocks are not infinite; and second, growth economics does things to undermine its own material basis.  In the first case, we pretend we can go on as we have forever.  In the second, we pretend that economics and natural science are not connected.

These dissociative disorders are the result of ideology - a collection of widely-accepted and inter-associated ideas that simultaneously conceal a form of reality while reproducing that same reality.

For the first problem, that feedstocks are not infinite, we have the ideology of radical technological optimism.  For the second problem, that growth undermines itself by destroying its material basis, we have the ideology of denial.

Ideology 1 example:  Someone will come up with something that replaces oil, gas, and coal for energy production.  (They won't.  None of these is interchangeable, and there is no new magic to "make" more.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics bows to no one.)

Ideology 2 example:  Climate change is natural; and genetically modified organisms pose no danger, etc.  Denying what should be obvious from the preponderance of research and testing.

The former is fantasy well fed; the latter are assertions that require a good deal of chicanery (like retail science) to support.  Both are immensely popular.  The former is taught in schools as part of the state's formation of citizens.  The latter is disseminated by extremely well-financed public relations experts.  (More on them below)

In fact, the US state recognizes that both are untrue, and it is currently taking measures to prepare for the worst - for securing state power in the face of disruptions that will happen when energy and other feedstocks are steadily diminished and when climate change and other anthropogenic disasters manifest themselves.

Documents released with the latest NSA treasure trove show that there are plans to implement martial law (under a more benign name) if and when these disruptions occur.

The reason they are preparing for the worst is that the current political economy is locked into its own inertia.  It quite simply does not have the capacity to change itself, barring some moral epiphany among the entire dominant class.  Don't count on that.

It cannot happen electorally, nor can it happen through incremental economic policies.  Nor will it happen through something akin to a social revolution, though social revolutions are certainly under way, with more on the way.

As this is written, there are uprisings in Brazil, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt is still a pressure cooker.

Failed growth economics is shrinkage, that is, a shrinkage of power, and in a globalized system like today, the centers of power - Wall Street and its international allies, and the polity of the United States - are in a process of exporting the fallout from shrinkage as far away as they politically can from the centers, with an eye to preserving the centers (and even some hope that a stable growth center can find a new way to initiate another cycle of accumulation).

The above uprisings are caused more than anything by economics, though hard times in manufactured scarcity open other social fault lines as well.

What the US has, aside from the financial center of the universe in New York, is unparalleled military power, with an unparalleled ability to project that power swiftly and far from its shores.  And even as that is demonstrably true, this edifice has cracked in the last decade with the defeat of the United States in Iraq and the impending defeat of the US in Afghanistan.  In two years, the US will be out of Afghanistan; and the Taliban will still be there (they are an ethnic formation from there, Pashtuns).

In other words, meta-political power in our day and age is strong, stable, and weakening.  However it finally unravels, and however long that unraveling takes, the consequences will become more painful for more people as they are pushed further from the centers and farther into the margins during the period of general shrinkage (as in opposite of "growth") - which we are in now.

Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

-Colossians 2:15

But there are three other catastrophes in the wings that will not have political-economic self-interest at the top to apply the brakes with some finesse, and which will not be altered by mass uprisings:  fuel shortages, climate destabilization, and the horrendous damage being done to our environments by industrial agriculture.  These are all related, each exacerbating the other; and none of these will be pushed further down the calendar in a bureaucrat's office.  They are physical phenomena, now occurring on a scale that is immune to management schedules and strategies.

Two of these crises are directly related:  increasing  fuel demands against a shrinking physical reservoir of fossil hydrocarbons and anthropogenic climate destabilization.  Now, at first glance there seems cause for optimism of a sort in that with less fossil fuel to burn, atmospheric carbon emissions will decrease.  But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and in the race to the bottom for fossil energy there is a corresponding race to the top by carbon emission.  When the data get crunched on these two races, it is demoralizingly obvious that carbon-emission's endgame will precede the supply endgame, leaving us with the worst of all possible worlds.  We will have all the bad stuff from global warming while we go through all the pain of an epoch-changing fossil powerdown.

Even with radical fantasy changes in policy (the kind that now inevitably generate their own and more powerful opposition), we have already passed several points of no return on climate, and again relatedly, what we did when we burned all those hydrocarbons has also passed some points of return in nature apart from just climate.  Topsoil loss, deforestation, aquifer exhaustion, damming of major watercourses, acid rain, oceanic dieoffs, species extinction... these are every one proceeding at breakneck speed past one grievous benchmark after another.

We are now killing off the world's bees.  We rely on then to pollinate about a third of what we eat, but we can't predict the scope of tangential dieoffs of other species with the loss of the same flora.  Bee extinction could lead to a massive human dieoff as well.  Neonicotinoid insecticides is killing them, but so is an artificial diet for kept hives, and so are a number of other environmental hazards.

Seen in the light of these trajectories, the pain of a structural economic collapse seems almost worth it if it slows down the other three runaway trains.  These trains are all fueled by money, centralization, and abject dependence.  The disembedding power of money, the centralization of both political and economic control through layer upon endless layer of impersonality,  and our individual specialization (also called deskilling) in an overspecialized society where money is necessary for survival, these are the hoodoo elixir that has us sleepwalking into dystopia.

Later on, I hope to describe how re-generalization of the individual can be the project of communities that allows communities to reduce dependence on money, which hypothetically leaves people co-located with power, but not nearly so much dependent on it.  Like that Christian idea that we are in the world, but not of the world.  That we are to be counter-cultural.

But first I need to continue with the bad news so no one is confused that I might be proposing something utopian.  Quite the contrary, our children and grandchildren will live through this historic phase-shift, and we will learn to do without a great many things we now think we cannot do without.  That is never easy, unless it is understood as Christian mission, as one possible form of discipleship.  Well, it is still no easy, but at least what we do makes sense and is to the greater glory of God.  It will require the de-institutionalization and re-localization of love.

One major reason for this - a practical reason - is that climate change will dis-articulate all current systems.  That is, when chronic drought affects a former high-yielding agricultural area, that region's extra-territorial relations - formerly based on export for cash of food products - will all change.  These kinds of shifts will become so profound and so ubiquitous that - in effect - all existing relations will be severed or altered in every conceivable field of human endeavor worldwide.

Weather patterns will be disrupted.  This has already begun.  Floods, droughts, fires, and super-storms will become more frequent and unexpected.   Disease vectors will migrate with rising temperatures.  Bioregions will become something different than they have been, e.g., the Pacific Northwest rain forests, which are what they are because of average rainfall, will become other than what they are when that average drops (as it is now).  Ice will melt, is melting, and sea levels are rising.

In North Carolina, scientific projections of sea level rise are up to two meters in this century, which in this low-lying coastal region means millions of acres of prime real estate under water.  The response recently of the North Carolina General Assembly was to introduce a bill that would outlaw the presentation of any data that projected rises above eight inches before the state's law-making body.  This is actually an example of what we said above:  that some things "cannot be honestly explained without exposing the entire system to lethal skepticism."
The first meter of SLR would flood 17% of Bangladesh, displacing tens of millions of people, and reducing its rice-farming land by 50 percent. Globally, it would create more than 100 million environmental refugees and inundate over 13,000 square miles of this country. Southern Louisiana and South Florida would inevitably be abandoned, especially in the face of a steadily increasing number of killer super-hurricanes (see “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer — and it’s going to get much worse“).  link

Then there is oceanic acidification and its effects on ocean life, including fisheries.

As levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increase, the oceans absorb some of that CO2, which increases the acidity of seawater. Since the Industrial Revolution began in the early 1700s, the acidity of the oceans has increased about 25 percent, according to the EPA.

Because acids dissolve calcium carbonate, seawater that's more acidic has a deleterious effect on organisms with shells made of calcium carbonate, such as corals, mollusks, shellfish and plankton.
If current ocean acidification trends continue, coral reefs are expected to become increasingly rare in areas where they are now common, including most U.S. waters, the EPA reports.  link
One half of all plant species will become extinct by century's end on our current trajectory, as will one third of all remaining animal species.

The most direct impact on humans will be food security, which will become non-existent.  Fish stocks will fall.  Drought will claim more regions, and that topsoil will be blown away as dust.  Floods will contaminate soil with urban effluvia, and so forth.  But this news gets worse when we look at how food is produced now.

Modern farming not only consumes fuel that produces greenhouse gases; it actually releases large amounts of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.  Chisel-plowing increases greenhouse gas emissions from farmed fields to two times the level emitted from no-till fields.  Moldboard plows release 40 percent more greenhouse gases then no-till farming methods.  Livestock produced for meat convert what they eat into methane gas - ruminant livestock produces around 8,000,000 metric tons a year, or 28 percent of global methane emission.

Fossil fuel consumption for ag?  Agriculture in the US consumes 17 percent of the total - and of the agricultural total, 31 percent of it for inorganic fertilizer, 19 percent for field machinery, 16 percent transportation, 13 percent irrigation, and so forth.

The systems that produce the world's food supply are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Vast amounts of oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilisers and pesticides, and as cheap and readily available energy at all stages of food production: from planting, irrigation, feeding and harvesting, through to processing, distribution and packaging. In addition, fossil fuels are essential in the construction and the repair of equipment and infrastructure needed to facilitate this industry, including farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads. The industrial food supply system is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gases.

Ironically, the food industry is at serious risk from global warming caused by these greenhouse gases, through the disruption of the predictable climactic cycles on which agriculture depends. But global warming can have the more pronounced and immediate effect of exacerbating existing environmental threats to agriculture, many of which are caused by industrial agriculture itself. Environmental degradation, water shortages, salination, soil erosion, pests, disease and desertification all pose serious threats to our food supply, and are made worse by climate change. But many of the conventional ways used to overcome these environmental problems further increase the consumption of finite oil and gas reserves. Thus the cycle of oil dependence and environmental degradation continues.

Industrial agriculture and the systems of food supply are also responsible for the erosion of communities throughout the world. This social degradation is compounded by trade rules and policies, by the profit driven mindset of the industry, and by the lack of knowledge of the faults of the current systems and the possibilities of alternatives. But the globalisation and corporate control that seriously threaten society and the stability of our environment are only possible because cheap energy is used to replace labour and allows the distance between producer and consumer to be extended.  link
A kind of loose truism among those who look at links between burning fossil hydrocarbons in support of agricultural enterprises and the caloric content of the food itself:  For every calorie of food, there were ten calories of fossil fuel burned.

[W]hen iceberg lettuce is imported to the UK from the USA by plane, the energy ratio is only 0.00786. In other words 127 calories of energy (aviation fuel) are needed to transport 1 calorie of lettuce across the Atlantic. If the energy consumed during lettuce cultivation, packaging, refrigeration, distribution in the UK and shopping by car was included, the energy needed would be even higher. Similarly, 97 calories of transport energy are needed to import 1 calorie of asparagus by plane from Chile, and 66 units of energy are consumed when flying 1 unit of carrot energy from South Africa.   link
But the real humdinger issue for industrial agriculture is water.  Fresh groundwater is disappearing and being poisoned at a staggering rate, with grave consequences already in train.  In the case of modern agriculture, two processes contribute very substantially to poisoning and depletion:  irrigation and chemicals used on crops.

Agricultural irrigation is the single greatest cause of aquifer depletion, that is, ground water reservoirs being emptied out faster than they can recharge through percolation from the surface.  The interesting thing about this is that it is a self-correcting problem.  Eventually, the aquifers will be so overdrawn that agriculture will not be able to continue on the current mass monocropping model.  The bad news is that the same water will be unavailable for drinking, bathing, and so forth.

Pesticides and herbicides leech into the soil, and are then carried by runoff into watercourses.  Fertilizers do the same thing, but instead of poisoning the water, fertilizers introduce high quantities of nitrogen, which promotes eutrophication - outgrowths of algae that then die off, de-oxygenating the water and creating "dead zones," which result in massive fish kills as well as outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria.

There is an irony here similar to military operations to secure oil for military operations, and that is the need for energy sources for agriculture that now compete with or destroy that same agriculture.

In the United States, oil and gas is now being mined by a technique called hydraulic fracturing (fracking), in which sand and water are shot down through a wellbore to fracture subterranean rock, releasing gas and oil deposits.  Water is used for the fracturing, and after the seams are fractured, adjacent ground water comes into contact with the oil, gas, and chemicals used in the process.  So aquifers are stressed and polluted in the same process.  This has also put fracking into competition with industrial agriculture for ground water.

The belief that fracking has resolved the issue of peak energy is fallacious.  It has kicked the problem down the road a bit, but not very far.  The average fracking well peaks and declines in about a year and a half, meaning our current "boom" created by 493,000 wells will peter out within a few years, even as fewer viable fracking points are discovered.

The exception to agricultural as he principle stress on aquifers is also fossil-fuel related.  In the Middle East, agriculture is extremely irrigation intensive, which has drawn down aquifers; but in large oil fields, like those in Saudi Arabia, water is also pumped into the margins of declining oil fields to raise the extraction pressure.  This process is called water injection, and the water that is used is totally contaminated, and therefore lost for generations to come.

Agriculture also contributes most significantly to deforestation, which accelerates global warming, promotes soil erosion, reduces biodiversity, promotes flooding, further pollutes oceans, and places additional stress on ground water.

Forests are felled to expand industrial agricultural production, especially meat.  Half of the mature forests are gone, and by 2030, the world will have about 10 percent remaining.

What we can see when we observe the interactions between finance, food, force, fuel, and climate destabilization is that human society is being led into an iatrogenic impasse.  Iatrogenesis is a medical term for being made ill or being injured by some aspect of actual medical treatment.  You go to the hospital, and catch an infection there.  Iatrogenesis.  When the cure is as bad or worse than what is being "treated," the ill effects are iatrogenic.  We are in the midst of an age when we are technologically and culturally iatrogenic.

We create problems with technology, which was brought into existence by and for money, that we are forced to resolve with more technology that is brought into existence by and for money.  These layers upon layers of technology are now consuming the social world, the natural world, and the personhood of human beings.

The latter has been commodified along with the rest, and it is commodified consciousness that serves as the veil over the nasty inner workings of present-day power.

Public Relations

Contemporary moral experience... has a paradoxical character.  For each of us is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of us also becomes engaged by modes of practice, aesthetic and bureaucratic, which involve us in manipulative relationships with others.  Seeking to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated by others; seeking to incarnate our own principles and standpoint in the world of practice, we find no way open to us to do so except by directing towards others those very manipulative modes of relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case.

-Alasdair MacIntyre
Total honest precludes manipulation.  By manipulation I mean "exerting shrewd or devious influence especially for one's own advantage."  It is not the same thing as honest persuasion.  Honesty in persuasion presupposes that nothing pertinent and known (like disadvantages to the other) is concealed, and that nothing untrue or intentionally incomplete is added.

In Christian history, the most infamous case of public relations was the campaign for the Crusades, which included inciting Christians to murder Jews.  But modern "public relations," with is elliptical name,  is principally designed for two similar things:  propaganda and sales.  Moreover, modern public relations is more and more carefully designed using sophisticated techniques of psychological manipulation.  In earlier times, this was seen as a form of fraud; but now it has been legitimated as a career field in a society that has no moral compass whatsoever.  That is, in modern liberal society, there is no effective distinction drawn between manipulative and non-manipulative relations.

That is why this topic is particularly relevant to Christians.

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'  But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

-Matthew 5:33-37
A name everyone should know is Edward Bernays  (1891-1995).  He is the Godfather of modern public relations.

A disciple of Gustave Le Bon, the French social psychologist; also of Wilfred Trotter, the English neurosurgeon who combined a study of the herd behavior of animals, i.e., wolves, sheep, and bees, with social psychology; and of his uncle, one of the most significant figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Sigmund Freud, the "father" of psychoanalysis.

But Bernays was a little like a Malcolm Ian (of Jurassic Park - the film) pronouncement:

I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here, it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it.
Bernays combined what he could from the insights of these other scientists, not with an eye to furthering a practice (scientific research, e.g.), but with the intent to use those insights to exercise a devious kind of control over other people - to grasp for and protect power, and to make a lot of money.

Not surprisingly, Bernays was preceded by P.T. Barnum as a cultural archetype, the Circus King himself, promoter, flim-flam man, showman - a kind of field student of crowd behavior and manipulation - who wrote self-help books with titles like The Art of Money-Getting (for which he, of course, got money).  This was an age of boosterism, jingoism, and hucksterism.  All these involved cheerleading for money-makers.



Freud's sister, Anna, was Edward's mother.  Bernays was a journalist until he took a job with the Woodrow Wilson administration.

Wilson, sworn in by an active member of the Ku Klux Klan, had narrowly won his reelection on the slogan, "He kept us out of war," (meaning World War I).

Meanwhile, the nation's big bankers, upon seeing that there was a chance the Germans and Turks might win (and they would lose repayment of their sizable war loans to the Allies), prevailed on Wilson to enter the Doughboys into the poisonous fray of the European trench war.

Wilson needed someone who could sell this idea to the public, which had little desire to meddle by arms in Europe.

That person was Bernays.

Bernays politics were that of genteel reaction.  The public, opined Bernays, was thoughtless and unreliable.  I may agree with that in many respects, but Bernays comes to a different conclusion than me.  He concludes that the solution to thoughtless unreliability and even thoughtful unreliability was to systematically indoctrinate the public for the purpose of rendering the public docile as it was led by more enlightened people like himself.

His working group in the Wilson administration was called the Committee on Public Information, a name that is as elliptical as "public relations" in its studied neutrality.

He named his science of propaganda "the engineering of consent."  He was actually quite proud of this.

In the 1920s, alas when the war was over, he moved into the private sector and mounted a successful public relations campaign to get more women smoking... this was a demand-production campaign for the tobacco companies.  Their market needed opening up.  By 1929, Lucky Strike was sponsoring an astroturf "feminist" campaign for women to "light the torches of freedom," and after that period, smoking became widely socially acceptable.

Bernays' most famous book was entitled simply, Propaganda.

Since then, the public relations industry has served government and business through propaganda and advertizing.  It is now a multidisciplinary course of study, subdisciplines correlating to tactics:

And here is where we can begin to ask particular questions about the link between how we think and technology (communications infrastructure structures communications, no?).  Communications, yet another bloodless replacement for speaking, listening, communing, and a bloodless practice to go with it! ...

TO BE Continued...

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