Saturday, December 24, 2016

From Lifeboat Ethics to Global Consciousness

By Greg Guma

For more than half a century humanity has been learning the lesson that "everything is connected." The realization of physical limits to human and material growth, the impact of development and pollution on ecological systems and the atmosphere, the integration of economic systems – no matter what ideology or religion dominates – and the tragic consequences of massive mal-distribution of resources make it obvious that the planet is one organism. 
     But many proposed solutions to such problems aim to "minimize" the losses rather than acknowledge the responsibilities of interdependence. When faced with famines in under-developed nations, Philip Handler, President of the National Academy of Sciences in the 1970s, publicly proposed that we "give them up as hopeless." Assistance that would "barely manage to keep people alive and hungry" could only lead to tragedy later, he advised.
     Although not often voiced so clearly, expressions of "lifeboat ethics" have become more common as humanity grapples with the harsh realities of spaceship earth. Garrett Harden, who coined the term, also provided the basic argument for its implementation.
     "We are all the descendants of thieves," he wrote, "and the world's resources are inequitably distributed. But we must begin the journey to tomorrow from the point where we are today. We cannot remake the past. We cannot safely divide the wealth equitably among all peoples so long as people reproduce at different rates. To do so would guarantee that our grandchildren, and everyone else's grandchildren would have only a ruined world to inhabit."

The Trilateral Commission's EC meets with President Ford in 1974;
to Ford's immediate left, David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

     Until an effective world government is established, Harden argued, a harsh ethic is unavoidable. And the first step? Control of reproduction. To ensure compliance, Paul Erhlich linked population to food in his controversial book The Population Bomb. "We may have to announce," he wrote, "that we will no longer ship food to countries unwilling or unable to bring their population increases under control." Other schemes since then have involved exchanges of needed technology and resources in return for commitments to limit reproduction.
     The thing is, green plants form the basis of food chains, and it takes more green plant production to support citizens of developed countries. In 1980 North Americans used about six times the green plant production of the average Indian. India has begun to catch up since then, but the math remains pretty simple: 500 million more people in developed countries will use up the same amount of green plants as up to three billion in underdeveloped countries.
     Advocating population control in less developed regions without radically changing habits of consumption in highly industrialized countries wouldn't just be unfair. It would be futile.
     Such considerations have nevertheless failed to deter various open conspiracies to create world order from pursuing their grandiose plans. Beginning in the 1970s two of the most prominent were the Trilateral Commission, representing the "new breed" of corporate internationalists, and the Club of Rome. The Commission, which played a prominent role during the Carter presidency and re-emerged in Age of Obama, generated a series of policy proposals based on global power sharing between three poles of economic power – the US, Western Europe, and Asia. According to Samuel Huntington, a prominent trilateral theorist, limits would have to be placed on political democracy, a goal that would require lower public expectations and greater executive power.
     The Club of Rome returned to Plato's ethical aristocracy as a model for its solution to world crises. According to founder Aurelio Peccei, politicians and businessmen are too nearsighted to take a long view of global management. What is needed instead, he argued, is the "civilized traditions of a ruling class," implemented by technocrats, diplomats and government officials, "men of influence" able to see the shape of a post-industrial world. At least he was candid.
     In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush inadvertently helped stimulate public discussion about global management by calling for a "new world order." The term was an unfortunate translation of the Nazi call for "Nie Ordnung," which had set the tone for German expansionism. As the US was staging Gulf War I — then the largest military campaign since World War II – Bush promised that, once Iraq was defeated, the world could turn its attention to peaceful approaches, world law and human rights. But even his "points of light" version of world order depended on a military stick, and it was really just a soft-sell of "one superpower order."
     Some theorists and thinkers suggest that the US can no longer impose its will by economic means, that it is evolving into a mercenary state, underwritten and restrained by economic partners and overseers. If so, the next world order could be an updated version of the Trilateral or Kissinger vision. All such variations serve the interests of political and economic elites, while compressing the individual into the mass.
     Whether power is centered in one superpower or shared by several, it amounts to the same thing: a global State, increasing its domain and mechanizing more aspects of life as it reduces individual sovereignty.
     One slender hope is the slow birth of a new global consciousness, a shift in thinking already underway. The Gaia theory, which grew out of research on the geophysiology of the planet, suggests an alternative, non-mechanistic vision of what it means to be part of a living whole. According to James Lovelock, who was instrumental in developing the idea, the evolution of the material environment and various organisms are part of a single and indivisible process. If that is so, a major task ahead is to recognize, as Elisabet Sahtouris put it, that we are "a body of humanity embedded in, and with much to learn from, our living parent planet, which is all we have to sustain us."
     Or, as William Thompson explained in Passages About Earth, we have reached the end of the line for industrial society. Looking over the edge of history, we are discovering that "it's a spiral and that we have turned and are now facing back in the direction of cosmic mythology." Our old maps "take on a new meaning as they warn us, Here be dragons," he warned. "Ecstasy or economics, madness or sanity, mysticism or science: where ancient dragons live modern categories die."

This is an excerpt from Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey. Greg Guma's second novel, Dons of Time, was published in October 2013 by Fomite Press.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Partners, Standards and Climate Change: Burlington's Winding Road

As Bernie Sanders flirted with the possibility of running for president in 2012, residents of Burlington, the city where he made his first electoral breakthrough, questioned the approach he and a local successor were taking to military contractor Lockheed Martin. Mayor Bob Kiss had signed an agreement with Lockheed for a local partnership to work on climate change, while Sanders arranged for Sandia Labs, a Lockheed subsidiary, to open an energy research lab at the university.

Then suddenly, on Sept. 2, 2011, the defense contractor backed out of the deal signed with Kiss in an e-mail message to the Burlington Free Press. Why the change? A few weeks earlier, after months of local debate, Burlington’s City Council had voted in favor of community standards for proposed climate-change partnerships, prompted by the agreement Kiss had signed. The resolution called for standards which, if followed, could limit or exclude working agreements with weapons manufacturers and polluters.

Rob Fuller, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said in a statement, "While several projects showed promise initially and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other, we were unable to develop a mutually beneficial implementation plan. Therefore Lockheed Martin has decided to conclude the current collaboration."

It read a bit like a Dear John, and a silent nod to public pressure. Dozens of residents had testified during public meetings, all but a few opposing the deal. Kiss nevertheless called the standards "bad public policy” and a “restrictive and regressive approach.” In a veto message, he said the policy may even have contributed to Lockheed’s decision to pull out of the Burlington agreement.

A Progressive recruited to run for mayor in 2006, Kiss found support for his opposition to community standards from Republicans and Democrats on the council, including future mayoral candidate Kurt Wright, who questioned whether such standards represented local opinion. In the end, the vote was  8-6, more than a majority but not enough to override the mayor's veto. The question of setting standards or criteria for public-private partnerships remains open.

Since then, greenhouse gas emissions have increased in Burlington by around 7 percent.  Emissions traceable to city government activity rose 15 percent in three years, while the community’s emissions went up 6 percent. The city's official goal is a 20 percent decrease overall by 2020.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas. Local emissions from that source increased by almost 25 percent between 2007 and 2010. Of total community emissions about half come from transportation. Thus, a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by residents and commuters would have the biggest impact on meeting the city's emissions reduction target.

Burlington’s City Council formed a Climate Protection Task Force more than 15 years ago. A resolution passed in 1998 proposed to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels. An 18-month process subsequently led to the city’s first Climate Action Plan, adopted in May 2000.

A 2007 inventory showed that Burlington generated 397,272.4 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). Based on that, local goals were set -- a 20 percent reduction by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. This would require an annual 2 percent decrease. Unfortunately, the "action" since then has been in the opposite direction.

In 2009 Burlington used American Recovery Act funds to hire Spring Hill Solutions, a clean energy consulting firm, to prioritize more than 200 “mitigation actions” generated by a community process. The resulting plan was supposed to be a framework for measuring and reducing greenhouse emissions and other climate change impacts. There is no evidence that idea has been implemented.

According to the plan, three approaches offer the greatest potential for both carbon reductions and cost savings:

- Requiring any new commercial construction to follow performance guidelines that reduce energy use by at least 20 percent

- The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which provides property owners with help making energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements

-- Reducing the number of miles driven by residents by combining trips, telecommuting, carpooling and using alternatives to the automobile

Originally posted on December 10, 2014 

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Trump Effect: Excuses for Bad Behavior

Falling for Successful Psychopaths

(tap photo for 2016 video satire: Trump vs. Sanders) 
Also Check Out: The Paranoid Style: From Reagan to Trump
It CAN Happen Here: Meet Friendly Fascism

Why are millions fascinated, often even seduced, by people whose behavior actually points to pathology? Perhaps we are wired to be attracted by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths, people so focused on their own central role in whatever takes place that the rest of us are sucked into their reality.

Think about entering a portal and emerging into the head of Donald Trump. What could that level of self-absorption be like? Begin by imagining a complete lack of empathy, one of the tell-tale signs of the psychopath.

Is Trump a psychopath? Well, he does score well on a 20 item checklist. And are there more around us than we think? Not just serial killers and the violent type, but successful, powerful psychopaths who will do anything to win and affect our lives in profound ways?

The checklist, a way to help identify potential psychopaths among us, was developed by Bob Hare, a prison psychologist who conducted remarkable experiments and eventually codified his findings. Jon Ronson provides an excellent history and analysis in his book, The Psychopath Test.

November, 2015: Forecasting the Trump Era
On Burlington Radio

Here’s the basic list, a collection of tendencies and an analytical tool to spot those who might be functioning psychopaths. The last two items relate specifically to criminals, but you don't have to be caught to have "criminal versatility." Keep in mind that having mild tendencies doesn’t make you a psychopath. But a high score – more than 30 on Hare’s 40 point scale – should be a warning sign. Personally, I give Trump high marks:
1.Glibness, superficial charm
2.Grandiose sense of self-worth
3.Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
4.Pathological lying
5.Conning, manipulative
6.Lack of remorse or guilt
7.Shallow affect
8.Callous, lack of empathy
9.Parasitic lifestyle
10.Poor behavioral control
11.Promiscuous sexual behavior
12.Early behavior problems
13.Lack of realistic long-term goals
16.Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17.Many short-term marital relationships
18.Juvenile delinquency
19.Revocation of conditional release
20.Criminal versatility

In his book, Ronson follows the trail of research about psychopaths, gets to know a few, and sees how they have affected society. For example, he tracks down Toto Constant, former leader of Haitian death squads backed by the CIA, who was given asylum in the US but restricted to Queens. Although the guy was basically in hiding, he still thought he was beloved in Haiti (#2), took no responsibility for his crimes (#16), and badly imitated strong emotions. Since psychopaths don’t experience emotions the same as other people (#7), they often compensate through imitation. But not all are excellent actors. Constant even thought he would someday be called back to “help” Haiti again (#13).

Psychopaths could be the reason the world seems so screwed up. If so, humanity’s tragic flaw may be that a few bad apples – people whose amygdalas don’t fire the right signals to their central nervous systems – really can spoil the whole barrel. Prime examples include the corporate psychopaths who trashed capitalism a few years back. To dig into that group check out Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Bob Hare and Paul Babiak. Examining these financial terrorists, you might well conclude that the conspiracy theory about shape-shifting lizards who secretly rule the world isn’t so far off. After all, psychopaths are often social shape-shifters.

So, the question is: Do psychopaths run the country and maybe the world? Among recent presidents Nixon, Bush 2 and Clinton could qualify. The masters of the universe at places like Goldman Sachs are solid choices. And it only takes a few to destabilize a financial system, poison a community or destroy a business. Yet some studies suggest that, percentage-wise, there are more potential psychopaths among CEOs, directors and supervisors than in the general population, or even in prisons.

Who hasn’t known a business type who was borderline, a mercurial tyrant subject to fits of rage and impulsive acts? Or followed a public figure who was charming but also irresponsible, manipulative and self-aggrandizing? The tell-tale signs of the psychopath are often ignored or excused.

In his book, Ronson recalls a meeting with businessman Al Dunlop, a ruthless executive famous for his apparent joy in firing people. Together they go through Hare's psychopath checklist and Dunlop simply redefines many of the traits as aspects of leadership. Impulsiveness becomes quick analysis. Grandiose sense of self-worth? Absolutely, you have to believe in yourself, says Dunlop. Manipulative? Hey, that’s just leadership. Inability to feel deep emotions? Emotions are mostly nonsense, he says. And not feeling remorse frees you up to do great things.

Donald Trump would likely have a similar response if confronted with his own psychopathic tendencies. And they don't disqualify him from becoming president. 

Warren Harding, the Ohio senator who became president in 1920, carried on a 15-year affair both before and during his presidency. The "other woman," Nan Britton, gave birth to a son. This was shortly after the end of World War I. People were disillusioned with Woodrow Wilson, and Democrats deserted the party to give Harding the biggest landslide in US history, 60 percent of the vote. 

That year Eugene Debs, who was in federal prison at the time, got his best turnout. Less than three years later, in the middle of a “goodwill” tour,” Harding dropped dead suddenly in San Francisco. He was replaced in August 1923 by Calvin Coolidge, a native Vermonter and Massachusetts governor who had been picked for vice-president in the original smoke-filled room. Not a big improvement.

Harding provided his own epitaph in advance. “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here,” he once admitted. That self-awareness suggests, despite his shortcomings, that at least he wasn’t a psychopath.

The point: if Harding could become president, why not Trump? Just think of the huge, "sensational" controversies and pathological behavior we will get to witness. Bad behavior, after all, is pure catnip for millions of "infotainment" consumers. When will we get enough?

Updated from an original radio broadcast in May 2011