Friday, June 09, 2006

Beyond Hope
by Derrick Jensen

THE MOST COMMON WORDS I hear spoken by any environmentalists anywhere are, We're fucked. Most of these environmentalists are fighting desperately, using whatever tools they have—or rather whatever legal tools they have, which means whatever tools those in power grant them the right to use, which means whatever tools will be ultimately ineffective—to try to protect some piece of ground, to try to stop the manufacture or release of poisons, to try to stop civilized humans from tormenting some group of plants or animals. Sometimes they're reduced to trying to protect just one tree.

Here's how John Osborn, an extraordinary activist and friend, sums up his reasons for doing the work: "As things become increasingly chaotic, I want to make sure some doors remain open. If grizzly bears are still alive in twenty, thirty, and forty years, they may still be alive in fifty. If they're gone in twenty, they'll be gone forever."

But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We're losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don't care.

Frankly, I don't have much hope. But I think that's a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women's shelters in the '50s and '60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

Does anyone really believe that Weyerhaeuser is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone really believe that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely? If only we get a Democrat in the White House, things will be okay. If only we pass this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. If only we defeat this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. Nonsense. Things will not be okay. They are already not okay, and they're getting worse. Rapidly.
But it isn't only false hopes that keep those who go along enchained. It is hope itself. Hope, we are told, is our beacon in the dark. It is our light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. It is the beam of light that makes its way into our prison cells. It is our reason for persevering, our protection against despair (which must be avoided at all costs). How can we continue if we do not have hope?

We've all been taught that hope in some future condition—like hope in some future heaven—is and must be our refuge in current sorrow. I'm sure you remember the story of Pandora. She was given a tightly sealed box and was told never to open it. But, being curious, she did, and out flew plagues, sorrow, and mischief, probably not in that order. Too late she clamped down the lid. Only one thing remained in the box: hope. Hope, the story goes, was the only good the casket held among many evils, and it remains to this day mankind's sole comfort in misfortune. No mention here of action being a comfort in misfortune, or of actually doing something to alleviate or eliminate one's misfortune.

The more I understand hope, the more I realize that all along it deserved to be in the box with the plagues, sorrow, and mischief; that it serves the needs of those in power as surely as belief in a distant heaven; that hope is really nothing more than a secular way of keeping us in line.

Hope is, in fact, a curse, a bane. I say this not only because of the lovely Buddhist saying "Hope and fear chase each other's tails," not only because hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. I say this because of what hope is.

More or less all of us yammer on more or less endlessly about hope. You wouldn't believe—or maybe you would—how many magazine editors have asked me to write about the apocalypse, then enjoined me to leave readers with a sense of hope. But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last spring, someone asked me to define it. I turned the question back on the audience, and here's the definition we all came up with: hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless.

I'm not, for example, going to say I hope I eat something tomorrow. I just will. I don't hope I take another breath right now, nor that I finish writing this sentence. I just do them. On the other hand, I do hope that the next time I get on a plane, it doesn't crash. To hope for some result means you have given up any agency concerning it. Many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world. By saying that, they've assumed that the destruction will continue, at least in the short term, and they've stepped away from their own ability to participate in stopping it.

I do not hope coho salmon survive. I will do whatever it takes to make sure the dominant culture doesn't drive them extinct. If coho want to leave us because they don't like how they're being treated—and who could blame them?—I will say goodbye, and I will miss them, but if they do not want to leave, I will not allow civilization to kill them off.

When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to "hope" at all. We simply do the work. We make sure salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. We make sure grizzlies survive. We do whatever it takes.

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we're in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to resolve it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins.

PEOPLE SOMETIMES ASK ME, "If things are so bad, why don't you just kill yourself?" The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.

Many people are afraid to feel despair. They fear that if they allow themselves to perceive how desperate our situation really is, they must then be perpetually miserable. They forget that it is possible to feel many things at once. They also forget that despair is an entirely appropriate response to a desperate situation. Many people probably also fear that if they allow themselves to perceive how desperate things are, they may be forced to do something about it.

Another question people sometimes ask me is, "If things are so bad, why don't you just party?" Well, the first answer is that I don't really like to party. The second is that I'm already having a great deal of fun. I love my life. I love life. This is true for most activists I know. We are doing what we love, fighting for what (and whom) we love.

I have no patience for those who use our desperate situation as an excuse for inaction. I've learned that if you deprive most of these people of that particular excuse they just find another, then another, then another. The use of this excuse to justify inaction—the use of any excuse to justify inaction—reveals nothing more nor less than an incapacity to love.

At one of my recent talks someone stood up during the Q and A and announced that the only reason people ever become activists is to feel better about themselves. Effectiveness really doesn't matter, he said, and it's egotistical to think it does.

I told him I disagreed.

Doesn't activism make you feel good? he asked.

Of course, I said, but that's not why I do it. If I only want to feel good, I can just masturbate. But I want to accomplish something in the real world.


Because I'm in love. With salmon, with trees outside my window, with baby lampreys living in sandy streambottoms, with slender salamanders crawling through the duff. And if you love, you act to defend your beloved. Of course results matter to you, but they don't determine whether or not you make the effort. You don't simply hope your beloved survives and thrives. You do what it takes. If my love doesn't cause me to protect those I love, it's not love.

A WONDERFUL THING happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn't kill you. It didn't even make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems—you ceased hoping your problems would somehow get solved through the magical assistance of God, the Great Mother, the Sierra Club, valiant tree-sitters, brave salmon, or even the Earth itself—and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.

When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there's a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they—those in power—cannot really touch you anymore. Not through promises, not through threats, not through violence itself. Once you're dead in this way, you can still sing, you can still dance, you can still make love, you can still fight like hell—you can still live because you are still alive, more alive in fact than ever before. You come to realize that when hope died, the you who died with the hope was not you, but was the you who depended on those who exploit you, the you who believed that those who exploit you will somehow stop on their own, the you who believed in the mythologies propagated by those who exploit you in order to facilitate that exploitation. The socially constructed you died. The civilized you died. The manufactured, fabricated, stamped, molded you died. The victim died.

And who is left when that you dies? You are left. Animal you. Naked you. Vulnerable (and invulnerable) you. Mortal you. Survivor you. The you who thinks not what the culture taught you to think but what you think. The you who feels not what the culture taught you to feel but what you feel. The you who is not who the culture taught you to be but who you are. The you who can say yes, the you who can say no. The you who is a part of the land where you live. The you who will fight (or not) to defend your family. The you who will fight (or not) to defend those you love. The you who will fight (or not) to defend the land upon which your life and the lives of those you love depends. The you whose morality is not based on what you have been taught by the culture that is killing the planet, killing you, but on your own animal feelings of love and connection to your family, your friends, your landbase—not to your family as self-identified civilized beings but as animals who require a landbase, animals who are being killed by chemicals, animals who have been formed and deformed to fit the needs of the culture.

When you give up on hope—when you are dead in this way, and by so being are really alive—you make yourself no longer vulnerable to the cooption of rationality and fear that Nazis inflicted on Jews and others, that abusers like my father inflict on their victims, that the dominant culture inflicts on all of us. Or is it rather the case that these exploiters frame physical, social, and emotional circumstances such that victims perceive themselves as having no choice but to inflict this cooption on themselves?

But when you give up on hope, this exploiter/victim relationship is broken. You become like the Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear.

And when you quit relying on hope, and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.

In case you're wondering, that's a very good thing.
Big Brother, Fascism and Bankruptcy

There is so much news and such exciting things going on, I can’t always be sure what I want to spend time blogging about.

President george bush is going to meet with select (hand picked) lawmakers and explain his illegal program to spy on Americans without probable cause, or a search warrant. The records they collect, including phone calling records and recordings of actual phone calls are property of the US Public. They are being kept safe for the government, by private corporations. We can be sure that records will be leaked and sold. Eventually I believe it’s certain that these records will make their way into financial databases, and will be a part of the credit reporting service. Local police departments will likely gain access to this system, and your neighbors working in local government will be able to snoop through these records to find gossip on you and anyone else they find interesting.

Over time, the government will find it necessary to release these recordings and records to the public under the FISA act. This will occur after administration changes when a new set of politicians sees the value in using these records to embarrass their opponents.

On the National Animal Identification System front, I’ve become recently aware of this marvelous Short Film by Chris Oakley. I’ve read industry articles that describe how using Radio Frequency Identifiers in the livestock industry, is a way to develop the technology, the tools and prove the safety of the system, for use with humans.

The idea being, that people will no longer need identification or carry credit cards to make purchases. When you walk into a store, your entry time will be recorded. As you wander about the store, your motions will be tracked and analyzed by marketing software that will help the store own better place products they want you to buy, to help you spend more. When you cash out, the register software will know you by your RFID, and the purchase will happen electronically, without the need for cash, credit cards or a wallet. Eventually, if you don’t have an RFID, you won’t be able to buy things. You won’t be sold food.

They plan to put this technology into cars, so that the car can recognize everyone in it and record the time spent in the car. The car won’t need keys, because it will know who is allowed to use it. With built in digital cell phone technology and GPS, your movements can be recorded all through your lifetime. Your home appliances will also recognize you and will customize their settings to your liking. When you walk in and out of the house your movements will be tracked so that the house can configure itself to your needs, readjusting thermostats and setting answering systems automatically.

But I’m too worried about these advances over the long term. These things require a wealthy society and continued technological and energy growth. I don’t think we’re going to make it that far.

Financially, our monetary system run amok and I believe this train is running out of track. It is so screwed up, it will take decades to fix, if Congress, the Senate, Presidency and the Supreme Court all agreed it needed to be fixed.

Right now, world oil production and by extension world energy production is quivering on a plateau. Is this the peak? I think so. And I think it is, because I believe that there are no super giant fields that can stand up to higher rates of sustained depletion.

If we are not at peak, we're certainly on a shoulder near the peak. And that means no significant production increases. No more growth.

No energy growth means, no industry growth. So now we're in an industry reshuffling phase.

And how does the finance industry deal with no growth? Well, they panic and create lots of money. Raw numbers mean profits, right? Print more money, and obviously you have more money.

The US government is dealing with the same price inflation the rest of us are. And inflation in simple terms is an increase in the money supply. To put it in perspective though, think of it as an increase in the supply of money as compared to goods and services. If the money supply rises at the rate that goods and services increase in volume, we see no price changes. If the money supply grows faster, then we have more money per goods or service and thus rising prices.

So the US government is dealing with inflation, by borrowing and thus creating more money. This leads to rises in prices, which leads to the need of the government to create more money to buy stuff with. This puts the US government in direct competition with private industry.

And the US government can’t stop. First, the corporations feeding off of it have powerful lobbies that own both political parties. They will not allow their hand puppets to change these policies. Secondly, the US government would have to stop increasing spending. A new way of looking at budget reductions would have to take hold. Right now, a budget reduction is a reduction in the rate that the budget is increased. We need to go the other direction; we need to have a budget that is smaller every year.

This would reduce the government’s competition with private industry. It would reduce the need for the government to be an economy unto itself. It would reduce price inflation so that people do see their monetary value diluted, month by month. People could save in safe financial instruments and not worry that inflation will make their savings worthless.

But this won’t happen. We will stay on course, stoking the boiler, going ever faster until the US Economy can no longer compete with the US government and the dollar becomes worthless.

So though the RFID, NSA spying and all the rest is really scary fascist stuff, being implemented right now, in the long run, these policies are taking the US on the same course the USSR took. And that’s right into bankruptcy.

Hang on! You can put a bag over your head if you like, but it won’t help.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Greenspan sounds alarm on oil supply

Published: June 7, 2006
WASHINGTON Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, offered a grim view on Wednesday of the world's rising vulnerability to high crude oil prices, saying he was skeptical that oil producers could pump enough crude to meet future demand.

Since the 1940s, U.S. consumers have shown an uncanny ability to shoulder rising energy prices, but consumers' immunity to oil price shocks was running out, Greenspan said.

"The United States, especially, has been able to absorb the huge implicit tax of rising oil prices so far," Greenspan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his first congressional testimony since leaving the U.S. central bank earlier this year. "However, recent data indicate we may finally be experiencing some impact."

Greenspan was appointed Fed chairman by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, and served until Jan. 31 of this year.
Lawmakers would occasionally call on Greenspan to speak on energy issues when he was chairman, but his views were still highly sought on Capitol Hill.

Since 2004, crude oil prices have doubled. Since the start of 2002, the cost of a barrel of oil has soared by $50.
Crude oil prices have stubbornly stayed above $70 a barrel despite OPEC and other world producers pumping to capacity. Prices are still within striking distance of the $75.35 a barrel record set in U.S. futures in April.

Greenspan warned that a big oil price increase could spur "a significant contraction in the economy."
Greenspan said that few of the world's dominant producers, aside from Saudi Arabia, see the danger that rising crude oil prices pose to the economy, and to their sustained ability to sell oil.

Saudi Arabia is the only country with enough untapped reserves to meet future short-term energy crunches, and has unveiled a $50 billion plan to lift output capacity by 1.5 million barrels per day by 2009.

Greenspan said while U.S. businesses had so far been able to improve productivity to compensate for costly energy, households were suffering from higher gasoline prices.

"Current oil prices over time should lower to some extent our worrisome dependence on petroleum," said Greenspan, who now runs a private consultancy. "Still higher oil prices will inevitably move vehicle transportation to hybrids, and despite the inconvenience, plug-in hybrids."

Greenspan warned that the buffer between supply and demand was extraordinarily thin and that price spikes were a risk.
"The balance of world oil supply and demand has become so precarious that even small acts of sabotage or local insurrection have a significant impact on oil prices," he said, adding that global refining capacity was still too limited.

Strong euro causes concern
Finance ministers from France, Spain and Luxembourg said Wednesday that they were growing more concerned that the euro's appreciation might sap the European economic expansion, Bloomberg News reported from Luxembourg.

"It is not a type of level we would like, but we have been living with a strong euro for a while," the Spanish economy minister, Pedro Solbes, said at a meeting of European Union finance chiefs.

The euro's 8 percent advance against the U.S. dollar this year risks removing a prop from the $10 trillion economy by making exports more expensive, just as the European Central Bank prepares a possible interest rate increase on Thursday for a third time in six months.

Earlier this week, the euro reached a 13-month high point of $1.2979. It was trading at $1.2799 late in New York on Wednesday. About 40 percent of the euro region's gross domestic product stems from shipments abroad.

Thermodynamics and Money
Peter Huber, 10.31.05, 12:00 AM ET
In his day M. King Hubbert was a great geologist who spent his life studying the planet's deposits of oil and gas. But as he got older, he simply lost it. His "peak oil" theory--which many people are citing these days--is a case study in junk economics.

Hubbert was born in 1903. By 1949 he had concluded that the fossil-fuel era was going to end, and quite soon. Global production would peak around 2000, he predicted, and would decline inexorably thereafter. By 1980 the aging Hubbert was certain that the impending crisis "was unique to both human and geologic history.... You can only use oil once. You can only use metals once. Soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered." Indeed we would soon be forced to abandon our entire "monetary culture," replacing it with an accounting tied to "matter-energy" constraints. An editor of Geophysics magazine summarized Hubbert's views in 1983: "The science of matter-energy and the historic system of finance are incompatible."

Today this same nonsense is often dressed up with numbers in an analysis that's dubbed "energy return on energy invested" (Eroei). According to this theory it can never make sense to burn two units of energy in order to extract one unit of energy. The Eroei crowd concedes, for example, that the world has centuries' worth of junk oil in shale and tar sands--but they can also prove it's irrelevant. It takes more energy to cook this kind of oil out of the dirt, they argue, than you end up with in the recovered oil. And a negative Eroei can only mean energy bankruptcy. The more such energy investments we make, the faster things will grind to a halt.

Eroei calculations now litter the energy policy debate. Time and again they're wheeled out to explain why one form of energy just can't win--tar sands, shale, corn, wood, wind, you name it. Even quite serious journals--Science, for example--have published pieces along these lines. Energy-based books of account have just got to show a profit. In the real world, however, investors don't care a fig whether they earn positive Eroei. What they care about is dollar return on dollar invested. And the two aren't the same--nowhere close--because different forms of energy command wildly different prices. Invest ten units of 10-cent energy to capture one unit of $10 energy and you lose energy but gain dollars, and Wall Street will fund you from here to Alberta.

As it happens, the people extracting oil out of tar sands today use gas from the fields themselves to power their refineries. There's gas, too, under what has been called Alberta's "trillion- barrel tar pit," but it's cheap because there's no pipeline to deliver it to where it would be worth more. As an alternative to gas, Total S.A., the French oil giant, is thinking about building a nuclear power plant to supply heat to melt and crack the tar. But nuclear reactors extract only a minuscule fraction of the energy locked up in the nuclei of uranium atoms; all the rest gets discarded as "waste." On Eroei logic, uranium would never be used to generate either electricity or heat. But per unit of raw stored energy, uranium is a thousand times cheaper than oil.

Greens touting the virtues of biomass as a source of energy rarely note that almost all of it is used by lumber mills burning branches and sawdust on site. No one cares how much energy the sun "invested" to grow all that waste wood. And every electric power plant, whatever it's fueled with, runs a huge Eroei deficit, transforming five units of cheap, raw heat into two units of electrical energy. But it all works out because the market values the energy in electricity at about 30 times the energy in coal.

The economic value of energy just doesn't depend very strongly on raw energy content as conventionally measured in British thermal units. Instead it's determined mainly by the distance between the BTUs and where you need them, and how densely the BTUs are packed into pounds of stuff you've got to move, and by the quality of the technology at hand to move, concentrate, refine and burn those BTUs, and by how your neighbors feel about carbon, uranium and windmills. In this entropic universe we occupy, the production of one unit of high-grade energy always requires more than one unit of low-grade energy at the outset. There are no exceptions. Put another way, Eroei--a sophomoric form of thermodynamic accounting--is always negative and always irrelevant. "Matter-energy" constraints count for nothing. The "monetary culture" still rules. Thermodynamics And Money

Peter Huber is executive vice president of ICx Technologies, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute and coauthor of The Bottomless Well (Basic Books, January 2005). Visit his home page at

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Published on Monday, June 5, 2006 by
The Bushite Regime and the Collapse of Civilizations
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

Collapse Happens

From Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, Americans of today should learn one main thing: that a civilization whose leadership chooses a wrong-headed course on the basis of defective ways of thinking can destroy itself.

America’s present leadership has sought to cultivate our fears-- and indeed we should be afraid. But our fear should be directed much less toward the terrorists against whom our leaders have made their much-heralded war than toward the possible disasters toward which these leaders themselves are taking us.

We should not delude ourselves, in our complacency, that history can give us nothing worse than gasoline at $5 a gallon, or too many people in our midst who do not speak our language.

No, we should recognize that our civilization, mighty as it now is, is not immune from the kind of catastrophe that, as Collapse shows, obliterated the societies of the Norse on Greenland and of the inhabitants of Easter Island.

Indeed, with today’s America –as the dominant nation in this much more shrunken and interdependent world—the catastrophes with which we should be most concerned could entail the collapse not only of our own society but of the entire civilized system of humankind.

For there are two great threats that now endanger the human species at our point in history: 1) environmental catastrophe as the result of reckless human activity in the biosphere; and 2) the perpetuation of the system of war –of might makes right rather than law—in the intersocietal system in an era when weapons of mass destruction are spreading among nations.

And with respect to both of these threats, the present American regime has been driving our civilization toward the abyss.

The Environmental Threat

Human beings have become so much bigger a bull in the ecological china shop –so many more people, within an industrial civilization with so much larger an impact, wielding new technology whose repercussions are so uncertain—that it is unclear whether civilization can adjust its ways of dealing with the earth in time to avoid environmental catastrophe.

For all our technological development, human life still entirely depends on the health of the larger biosphere. But America’s present rulers act as if they either do not understand, or do not care about, this basic reality.

This Bushite regime has not only failed to advance the already troublingly slow human adaptation to this new challenge. It has actively worked to turn back what progress this nation, and the wider global society, have made toward meeting that challenge.

At home, it has turned environmental policy over to the corporate industrial giants whose ecological impact is most urgently in need of regulation. It has actively abetted those vested interests that seek to sow confusion in the public mind with the promulgation of pseudo-science, so that the people will not be able to see clearly the true nature of the choices we face. And they ridicule as inconsequential and un-American the ethic of resource conservation.

And meanwhile, on the global level, the Bushites have scuttled the agreement the international community had managed to put together as a collective response to our mounting collective problem of climate change, and have offered nothing in its stead.

In recent decades, a much deeper understanding has emerged concerning the synergies by which all the various elements of the biosphere work together to maintain the viability of the earth’s living systems. But the Bushites either care more about short-term profit than about long-term viability, or they lack the flexibility of mind to understand that ways of thinking that served adequately in earlier eras will likely prove disastrous under our present, changed conditions.

These rulers, and the greedy forces whom they serve, persist in seeing the relationship with nature not in terms of synergy and sustainability but in terms of dominance and exploitation. It seems as though the only games they know are “win-lose” games.

But as Gregory Bateson wrote years ago, “No animal can win against its environment for long.”

Whether out of ignorance or indifference, like those who guided many of those societies that failed to avert collapse in earlier times, these Bushites persist stubbornly on their short-sighted course while the signs of impending disaster grow steadily more visible. They choose simply not to deal with that “inconvenient truth” to which the melting of the arctic ice and the growing severity of hurricanes are pointing.

And precious time for humankind to adapt and to change directions is being squandered.

The Threat of War in an Age of WMDs

The second major challenge to humankind has been visible since the invention of nuclear weapons more than sixty years ago.

War had always been a nightmarish part of the history of civilization, one of the Four Horeseman of the Apocalypse. But with the emergence of weapons of such vast destructiveness, war began to become unthinkable.

After millennia during which civilized societies –in the absence of any just order in the international system-- have habitually resorted to war to resolve their conflicts, the leaders of the most powerful nations were challenged to change long-established ways of thinking and acting.

For two generations, the possibility that the Cold War might become a hot one threatened the continuation of human life as we know it. But humankind managed to navigate successfully that unprecedentedly dangerous historical passage. Yet great dangers remain.

In the generations since World War II and the dawn of the nuclear age, the nations of the world have attempted to supplant the anarchy of the international system with forms of order that provide non-violent means to resolve conflict and that supplant the age-old disorder of “might makes right.” The United Nations Charter and the system of international law and of treaties are components of this effort to create an international system where law and justice, rather than raw power, can govern.

While the Cold War –with its imposition onto the whole world of the dynamic of conflict—greatly retarded progress toward the rule of law, the end of the Cold War created a historic opportunity. And the first two post-cold-war American administrations (the first Bush, and Clinton), albeit to a very limited degree, did help the world move in the direction of greater international order.

The Bushites, however, saw the post-cold-war era as an opportunity of an altogether different sort.

With their lust for power, their infatuation with dominance, their concept of life in terms of win-lose games, the Bushites saw America’s having emerged as the world’s only superpower as an opportunity to lead humankind not forward toward an international order but rather backward deeper into the old disorder where raw power rules.

If you’ve got the might, they seem to figure, why shouldn’t might make right?

Coming into office with a doctrine of extending American hegemony over the entire planet, the Bushites have proceeded to shred many of the most constructive elements of the international order their predecessors had helped to create.

In the early months of this administration, it rejected and abrogated treaties. It treated its traditional friends around the world with careless disdain and disregard. It used the attacks of 9/11 as an opportunity to advance a doctrine of preventive war, in which the United States entitled itself to attack any nation that it judged might in the future constitute a threat to the United States.

And then, of course, it used that same traumatic 9/11 experience as an excuse to employ that doctrine in invading Iraq –contrary to the expressed will of the international community, on the basis of assertions that quickly proved false, and without any serious attempt to provide legal justifications for what may reasonably be regarded as an imperialist war of aggression.

The results of such conduct on the part of the world’s leading nation have been the increased barbarization and splintering of the world system.

The degree of tension and animosity between Islam and the West has been exacerbated. The bonds of alliance and allegiance among the world’s industrial democracies have attenuated. The other nations of the world, seeing America less as a leader to be trusted and more as a threat to their security, have begun banding together as an anti-American counter-weight.

The festering mess in Iraq provides a continual reminder of how brute force and violence are the historic means by which great powers have imposed their will on lesser powers.

Whatever vision may have been arising of a better era for humankind, for a displacement of the system of war, has now been blown away by the winds unleashed by the Bushite regime in its ambition to extend its power.

How able humankind may be to revive its aspirations and dreams for progress toward a world in which justice trumps power, rather than vice versa, remains to be seen.

Choices and Destiny in the Future of Our Civilization

One of the most vivid images in Diamond’s book, Collapse, involves the island of Hispanola. This is the island whose eastern half consists of the Dominican Republic while the western half is the nation of Haiti.

From the air, one can see the border, the Dominican side being largely forested and the Haiti side being practically stripped bare. Same island, but the historical difference in the governance of the two halves shows how nations choose their fates. And the divergent fates of the forests mirrors the fates of the peoples.

The poor, afflicted people of Haiti can just look at the other side of their island to behold a palpable image of a better course things might have taken had the powers in their society made different choices.

Now in America, under the Bushite regime, our history has taken a Haiti-like turn toward disaster. But for us, when it comes to envisioning how much better our course might have been, there is no equivalent of the Dominican Republic to give us a palpable embodiment of “it might have been” had the tally of votes in Florida in 2000 gone the other way.

Envision it we must, however. For perhaps this better, alternative future is not just an “it might have been” but remains an “it still might be.”

This regime has greased the skids of our civilization’s plunge into environmental upheaval, but the extent of the disorder and our readiness to cope with it are not yet beyond our capacity to effect.

The Bushites have inflicted profound damage on the international order, as well as on the standing of the United States to lead in its mending, but here too the possibilities for choosing a more constructive course and working to repair the damage remain open.

The first step in repairing all this damage, however, is for the American people to recognize how profoundly wrong –how deeply destructive—have been the choices of the current ruling regime in America on those two vital challenges on which the future of human civilization depends.

Andrew Bard Schmookler's website,, is devoted to understanding the roots of America’s present moral crisis and the means by which the urgent challenge of this dangerous moment can be met. Dr. Schmookler is also the author of such books as The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (SUNY Press) and Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America’s Moral Divide (M.I.T. Press). He also conducts regular talk-radio conversations in both red and blue states. Email to:
Published on Tuesday, June 6, 2006 by
The Essence of Marriage
by Bill C. Davis

The regurgitated offensive on June 5, 2006 against same-sex marriage misses the essence of the word and the reality that it claims to be defending.

If marriage itself is to be defended in the Constitution then there must be an amendment against pre-nuptial agreements. A pre-nuptial agreement is a clear and direct assault against the essence of marriage - which by real definition is a lifelong union between two human-beings. The vow which defines the union in a universally recognized moment of commitment contains - must contain - the phrase, "til death do us part."

If anything offends the sanctity of marriage it is the oft used and legal practice of pre-nuptials which more than hints at the outset that there is a chance this vow will not be honored. If today's charge of the light brigade wants to defend the essence and honor of marriage, then they must criminalize pre-nuptials.

And should we even discuss divorce on a day like today? If today's cavalry coming to the rescue of marriage were serious they would not only propose a constitutional amendment against divorce but they would institute a kind of homeland security force headed up by Tony Perkins that would fight the national epidemic of divorce. If they're serious about marriage that's what they would be busy doing today. But they aren't serious.

Marriage is being treated like a country club - a place that will be soiled by the entry of certain kinds of people. The argument frames gay people as people with an inherent aberration they refuse to acknowledge as such and one they refuse to fix.

In fact it is a human reality - a real human reality. The desire for union is a common and transcendent urge and one that government and society are compelled to satisfy for all citizens.

Marriage is a poetic, legal and social construct which in recent human history in most Western societies has been the logical conclusion of intense romantic love. They aren't arranged - they are not a structure for eugenics - they are not, in its intent, motivated by property or money. When it's observed that someone married another person for his or her money, the implication is clear that it is not a marriage of heart and soul, which by the observation itself is saying that heart and soul are the reasons people should get married. To want to be joined in every way - in the eyes of all people and systems is a sane, responsible and human pursuit.

This initiative today is not a defense of marriage. It's an absurd and unnecessary defense of heterosexuality which no one is attacking. These kinds of battles are often external manifestations of inner conflicts. The thought that homosexuality could be fully sanctioned on a legal and constitutional level doesn't put the fear of God in today's light brigade. It puts a different kind and perhaps personal fear into them. Fred Phelps who protests the funerals of soldiers based on America's tolerance for homosexuality is not a social architect. He is clearly acting out an internal demon the way J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohen exorcised theirs.

One has to wonder about today's marriage "defenders." It satisfies something deep and dark in this light brigade to keep marriage off limits to gay people and to keep gay, if not evil and dirty, constitutionally second class at best. But as with most of this regime the limp lather of today has little to do with the essence of what it claims to be defending.

Bill C. Davis is a playwright.

Published on Monday, June 5, 2006 by
Preserving the Sanctity of Marriage
by Missy Comley Beattie

Pandering to his faithful, core, conservative base, George Bush is again talking sanctity of marriage. Sanctity, of course, means holy. Thus, sanctity of marriage translates to holiness of matrimony. It sounds perfectly wonderful—as perfectly wonderful as sanctity of life. And we all remember Bush’s rush from Crawford to DC in an attempt to save Terri Schiavo because he values all life—believes in its holiness. Except, of course, when that ethic involves the lives of Iraqi men, women, and children. Better add Iranian and Afghan to the column of expendables.

The president does like the word sanctity though. It puts him in touch with his moral certitude and further ingratiates him with those who believe that he is ordained by God to lead us through the minefields of global terrorism—and that other hot potato he loves to mash and trash, same-sex marriage.

In his weekly radio address, George W. called upon Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, banning gay marriage. The president said that marriage “cannot be cut off from it cultural, religious, and natural roots.” Further, Bush opined that marriage is “the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith.”

Yet, according to David Popenoe, co-author of an annual report, The State of Our Unions, by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, “Nearly 50 percent of all marriages are projected to end in divorce or permanent separation.”

Seems the “human institution” which Bush assigns superlatives isn’t really the most enduring at all.

In fact, Popenoe informs us that the “United States has the weakest families in the Western world because we have the highest divorce rate.” And co-author of the report, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, explains that there’s more acceptance “of alternatives to marriage such as unwed parenthood and cohabitation.” This revelation won’t go down well with those in the president’s circle of friends.

If George Bush believes it’s necessary to safeguard the sanctity of marriage by denying gay couples the opportunity and right to legal wedlock, then, he, first, should preserve heterosexual marriage by any means possible to ensure its very endurance. In other words, the president must call upon Congress to ban divorce itself to protect, once and for all, this most “important human institution.”

If the president really doesn’t want to cut off marriage from its “cultural, religious, and natural roots (what does he mean by natural roots?), he’d better make certain that divorce is not an option.