The 9/11 Hoax

For some years now, we’ve been hearing about how it must have been a missile not an airliner that struck the Pentagon, how the World Trade Center towers must have come down through a controlled implosion, how they came down at a implausible rate given acceleration due to gravity, and how the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania didn’t leave enough debris. I don’t know the truth of these allegations. I have repeatedly said that many questions are inadequately answered but that inadequate answers do not constitute proof of an inside job.

An actual hoax has been in far plainer sight. A BBC Series, “The Power of Nightmares” (parts 1, 2, and 3) has just come to my attention, which tells the story of neoconservatives and radical Islamists, two groups who employ simplistic good/evil dichotomies. They were second degree allies in repelling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and each took credit for the Soviet Union’s collapse–though the Soviet system in fact collapsed through its own corruption.

When the Soviet Union fell, neoconservatives who believe a unifying mythology of good vs. evil is necessary to hold a society together first demonized Saddam Hussein, but were cast adrift when George H. W. Bush (the elder) declared that military objectives had been achieved following the liberation of Kuwait and refused to continue the invasion. They subsequently focused on Bill Clinton–and failed to impeach him. But then they managed to create al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden, the series claims, never used the term al Qaeda until after the 9/11 attacks. Neoconservatives invented the term, took invented worst case scenarios–the scarier the better–for facts, and created the image of a massive sinister organization surrounding Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. In fact the two, who had utterly failed to incite Islamist uprisings in Algeria and Egypt, had retreated to Afghanistan, virtually alone. bin Laden retained considerable wealth and was able to finance widely scattered terrorist operations.

Having failed in local uprisings, bin Laden and Zawahiri chose a distant foe and declared war on the United States as the insidiously corrupting source of all evil which must be defeated to enable the Islamist uprising they had long dreamed of. Among the projects which bin Laden financed was the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States. Neoconservatives used these attacks to build up the image of al Qaeda as a monolithic face of all evil, which the United States had a unique role–the shining city on the hill–to defeat. This propaganda also helped with al Qaeda recruiting, creating terrorist organizations where none had previously existed.

Neoconservativism has led the human race–on entirely fraudulent evidence–to a war on terror that strongly resembles descriptions of the apocalypse. Politicians, according to the series, benefit–as George W. Bush (the younger) certainly did–from enhanced stature. A frightened populace acquiesced to successive constraints on civil liberties and plumped up ridiculous amounts of money for wars that important respects resemble Vietnam. These wars cannot be won; the relative peace of Iraq has been achieved primarily through ethnic cleansing. Afghanistan would require a far larger force even than General Stanley McChrystal has requested and could then be won only after many years and only if counterinsurgency doctrine succeeds.

All this against an enemy that barely exists. We have killed over a million Iraqis and are killing thousands in Afghanistan. We fight the Taliban when our “real” enemy is al Qaeda, which experts say has less than 100 fighters in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, too, the fight is against the Taliban.

It is true that the Taliban hosted Osama bin Laden when they ruled Afghanistan and that they were cruel to women. But all evidence is that they are only interested in fundamentalist Islamist rule in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a mere assumption that they would “host” al Qaeda again. The so-called terrorists who threaten the United States can operate from anywhere. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh and three other alleged conspirators now face charges for organizing the 9/11 attacks from Germany.

And as Afghan President Hamid Karzai made apparent in approving laws requiring wives to have sex with their husbands, misogyny in Afghanistan is hardly limited to the Taliban. Meanwhile, the war on Afghanistan, like all modern wars, kills and maims more civilians, women and children among them, than Taliban.

But this is not an apocalyptic fight for good against evil. That, as the BBC series makes clear, is a myth for ordinary people. It is about enhancing the role of politicians in society. It is about power.

27 reasons to be thankful?

The Center for American Progress cluttered up my mailbox today with the following thanks. With this, I include a point by point response:

  • We’re thankful President Obama is thinking long and hard about committing more troops and money to Afghanistan.

    Unfortunately, it is now pretty clear that Obama has stopped thinking and will now send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan on a futile mission that makes the United States less safe and costs us money that we simply don’t have.

  • We’re thankful President Bush feels liberated now.

    President Bush is a war criminal and should be in prison. The relative peace in Iraq now is the consequence of ethnic cleansing. It is an understatement to say that there were over one million “excess” deaths among civilians following the invasion of Iraq.

  • We’re (not) thankful Dick Cheney has elected to move from his undisclosed location to the media spotlight.

    As obnoxious as Cheney is, he isn’t the real problem. I just got through reading Richard J. Bernstein’s The Abuse of Evil. Bernstein rightly condemns the good-evil dichotomy that blinds public policy and urges us to take a more nuanced view of those whom we label “terrorists.” That’s good as far as it goes, but the trouble is that we have no compelling answer for these absolutists in our own government who not only hijack foreign policy but health care reform and threaten to take the presidency in 2012.

  • We’re thankful Al Franken has gone from playing self-help guru Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live to helping rape victims receive justice from their employers.

    This was magnificent:

    But we have a problem with corporate influence in politics that is far from limited to binding arbitration for criminal acts. It turns out that it isn’t centrist Democrats, conservative Democrats, or Republicans who object to auditing the Federal Reserve, but liberal Democrats. The Obama administration rushed to bail out banks, but when it comes to people who are out of work, the economic stimulus was bogus and now it seems there are “limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times.” Obama promises a forum on job creation, but the message should not be lost that workers are far less important than banks.

  • We’re thankful for the healing power of beer.

  • Yeah, and I’m drinking a lot more of it lately. Unemployment sucks.

  • We’re thankful there are some on the right who think Glenn Beck is “incoherent,” “mindless,” “erratic,” “bizarre,” and “harmful to the conservative movement.”

    Why? Those few on the right who think the Republican Party has been hijacked by wackos are far outnumbered by the wackos themselves, who think Sarah Palin sounds like them.

  • We’re thankful for long hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

    To be thankful for Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s hypocrisy in an extramarital affair is itself sheer hypocrisy. The only reason for celebrating this is the embarrassment it causes Republicans, which is presumably a political advantage for Democrats.

  • This fails to address the fact that “family values” hypocrisy retains a considerable appeal among voters. It simply isn’t enough for progressives to smirk about self-righteous idiots campaigning against sex. But that seems to be all we ever do about it.

  • We’re thankful Michael Steele understands that he can’t “do policy” and that no one has any reason to trust his “words or actions.”

    Steele attracts particular wrath because as an African-American he appears to betray his race in his role with the Republican Party. But how about Barack Obama’s waffling on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., or his repudiation of his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? But I guess it is okay for African-Americans to betray their race as long as they’re Democrats.

  • We’re (not) thankful for “birthers,” “deathers,” “tenthers,” or “tea baggers.”

    But what are you doing about it? Writing for, Michael Lind has explained how Republicans have “owned [populism] since Nixon.” With all your influence, I don’t see you challenging the others who seem to have bought and paid for a president who ran on a promise of “hope” and of “change.”

  • We’re (not) thankful conservatives believe they love America so much that they can root for our President to fail and for our nation to lose out on hosting the Olympics.

    But did it ever once occur to you to seriously consider the possibility that there may be more important projects for Obama to be working on than bringing the Olympics to Chicago? One cost that pops into my head would be the carbon he dumped into the atmosphere while flying Air Force One to Copenhagen, but let’s face it. This was just silly.

  • We’re thankful NFL players refused to “bend over and grab the ankles” for Rush Limbaugh.

    But you’re focusing on a personality, a hateful personality for sure, but a personality. I’m more interested in the role football plays in our society, how it contributes to the problems we face. Next to these, Limbaugh is a gnat.

  • We’re thankful six companies have resigned from the Chamber of Commerce due to its denial of climate change science.

    But are you doing enough to challenge an economic ideology that places profits before people? Or do you really think capitalism can be reformed?

  • We’re thankful Falcon “Balloon boy” Heene wasn’t actually in the balloon.

    You were worried about one boy. What about the children who are dying because of the war in Afghanistan that you support?

  • We’re thankful Lt. Dan Choi and Lt. Col Victor Fehrenbach bravely spoke out against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    But what do you have to say about a military mindset that we inculcate in our young from the Brownies and the Cub Scouts on up, with oaths and salutes and uniforms and badges, that insists that everyone should look and behave the same?

  • We’re thankful Shep Smith doesn’t always drink the Fox News kool-aid.

    I think you’re jealous. Fox News has a larger audience than you do. What are you doing about that?

  • We’re thankful more than 80 companies refused to lend their sponsorship to Glenn Beck’s hateful rants.

    You’re thankful for capitalists? What about their relentless war on working people? Where does this rank on your moral scale?

  • We’re thankful there are progressive organizations in D.C. lobbying for a two-state solution in the Middle East.

    But the only lobby on the topic that seems to count is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The United States is not seen as, and should not be seen as even-handed in its dealings with Israel and the Palestinians.

  • We’re (not) thankful for the filibuster.

    Gee, you sounded a little different on this issue in 2005.

  • We’re thankful that more than 20,000 of you stood up to Bill O’Reilly’s harassment machine and called for impeachment hearings against torture advocate Jay Bybee.

    But I guess torture is okay when the Obama administration decides to keep the option even though torture is never necessary.

  • We’re thankful that Iran’s authoritarian rulers live in fear of their own population.

    But what about Honduras, where the Obama administration is now complicit in propping up an illicit regime?

  • We’re thankful we’ll no longer have to listen to nativist rhetoric on CNN and global warming skepticism on ABC News.

    This amounts to more whining about populism. But what are you doing to show working people you have their interests at heart?

  • We’re (not) thankful for bailed out CEOs who think they’re doing “God’s work” by doling out billions in bonuses.

    Is that because they’re an embarrassment to capitalists, to Democrats, or to the Obama administration?

    One thing that should have been clear all along is that Obama is not a progressive. But Democrats know that progressives have no realistic alternative and that they will roll over like they always do. Conservatives have taken over the Republican Party and don’t care if they win power. We need to learn from Conservatives.

  • We’re thankful for the legacy of the Liberal Lion.

    It’s a little hard to imagine what you mean by this. The health care reform package emerging from Congress is nearly worthless.

  • We’re thankful Bill O’Reilly won’t be following us home for Thanksgiving.

    But his audience is a real problem. And while you keep attacking personalities, you never address the fact that their message resonates with a significant part of the population. And you know what? Ours doesn’t.

  • We’re thankful a “wise Latina” sits on the Supreme Court.

    The New York Times renders Sonia Sotomayor’s remarks this way:

    In her speech, Judge Sotomayor questioned the famous notion — often invoked by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her retired Supreme Court colleague, Sandra Day O’Connor — that a wise old man and a wise old woman would reach the same conclusion when deciding cases.

    “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” said Judge Sotomayor, who is now considered to be near the top of President Obama’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees.

    I agree that “a wise old man and a wise old woman” might indeed reach very different conclusions. Feminist theory relies heavily on the notion of partial perspective, that a person’s view of the world is formed from their position in society. That position is affected by race, class, gender, religion, and a whole host of other characteristics by which we distinguish groups of people. And I honestly don’t see how one can refute this. The Times pretty clearly infers it further down in the article:

    Judge Sotomayor has given several speeches about the importance of diversity. But her 2001 remarks at Berkeley, which were published by the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, went further, asserting that judges’ identities will affect legal outcomes.

    “Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences,” she said, for jurists who are women and nonwhite, “our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”

    The problem lies in the actual quotation that “a wise Latina woman . . . would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.” Difference is not the same as superiority. In evaluating Sotomayor’s claim, we should question a privileging of any perspective, be it that of a white male, be it that of a Latina female, be it anybody else’s.

    The value here should not be that “a wise Latina woman” makes a better decision but that her decision reflects an experience historically discounted by the wealthy white males who have nearly monopolized positions of power in society. But conservatives see a racist and sexist remark. And her answer was evasive. According to Time Magazine:

    At the July 14 hearing, the nominee explained that “wise Latina” was her attempt to play off a quote by retired justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who said that “both men and women were equally capable of being wise and fair judges.” Sotomayor said that “my play fell flat. It was bad.” But Sotomayor is just trying to ameliorate her critics without having to make them look… unwise.

    Time insists that she “was trying [to] say that her breadth of experience navigating different worlds might lead her to have greater wisdom on certain topics than her white male counterparts.” Time may be right–but Judge Sotomayor should have been the one to say it.

  • We’re thankful our boss helped rescue imprisoned American journalists in North Korea.

    John Podesta, head of the Center for American Progress, accompanied Bill Clinton in North Korea. Podesta’s role in the Obama transition raises further doubts about the “private” nature of Clinton’s trip. As the Washington Post put it:

    Although the White House and the State Department steadfastly insisted that the former president — the husband of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — was on a “private humanitarian mission,” the trip came about only after weeks of back-channel conversations involving academics, congressional figures, and senior White House and State Department officials, said sources involved in the planning.

    Clinton, Podesta, and Doug Band (that are listed in the article the Center for American Progress cites) and unknown others went on a trip to do what the United States could not officially do. We should be asking why the U.S. cannot officially do what these people did, whose purposes are served by an obvious artifice, and if it is ethical to participate in this way.

  • We’re thankful for our readers and the support you give us.

    Right. Maybe if the system you help to uphold was even a little fair. Instead, as LeAnn Knudsen said at a Sarah Palin book signing, “This hope and change, hope and change, what hope? And if this is change, God help us.”

Survival of the suboptimal

This is a time when a lot comes together. And the United States simply cannot continue as it has. And yet it appears set to do so–or at least to try.

We have an apparent conflict between a dire need for additional stimulus to employ people and a diminishing ability to borrow the money cheaply for that stimulus. (UPDATE: Paul Krugman continues to dispute the latter but none of this even mentions what the Chinese may have told President Obama–and he was about to leave on a trip to, among other places, China, when he first appeared to cave to the deficit hawks.) I call it an apparent conflict because these two priorities are typically set against each other. We can either increase stimulus or we can reduce debt, but we can’t do both.

But the fact is that we cannot sustain our present military power. Our war in Afghanistan is deeply misguided. We have a ridiculous number of military bases around the world and are adding more in the Persian Gulf. We spend ridiculous amounts of money on the military.

And while President Obama drags out a decision almost certain to increase our involvement in Afghanistan, people are losing their homes, former vice presidential candidate and political bimbo of the decade Sarah Palin is looking like a presidential contender in 2012 in part because the White House has been far too cozy with the banks and far too slow to address unemployment, big corporations continue to export jobs and cut payrolls, and we apparently can’t even pass a decent health care plan that would put U.S. residents on par with the rest of the developed world.

It’s all rather suboptimal, according to Thomas Friedman, who worries that “a great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power.”

I think it’s worse than that. Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States, points out that the U.S. has never really handled problems of class well, that the elite have consistently grudgingly conceded just enough to just enough people to avoid or contain insurrections. They don’t seem to be figuring this out this time. And the people who most believed in the mythology of the U.S. are the ones feeling most betrayed. The Republicans, always more hawkish than Democrats, and under whom budget deficits have skyrocketed while workers got progressively worse deals, are the ones best exploiting the rage. As one mother waiting with her children to see Palin put it, “This hope and change, hope and change, what hope? And if this is change, God help us.” And Republicans don’t even seem to be seeking election.

I don’t know how this is going to play out. Survival instincts should dictate a new course. I don’t see any sign that that’s on tap.

Your tax dollars support the Catholic Church

The controversy over Health Care Reform’s impact on women’s access to abortion heated up a notch today when Providence, Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin acknowledged Representative Patrick J. Kennedy’s claim that the bishop had forbidden him from receiving communion “because of his advocacy of abortion rights.” (CORRECTION: Tobin claims he asked but did not forbid Kennedy from receiving communion.) For all us non-Catholics, Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit scholar at the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, explained to the Providence Journal:

that withholding Communion is not as grave a penalty as excommunication, which separates a Catholic from all the sacraments. If a bishop denies Communion to a Catholic, he or she ‘is still a Catholic,’ Father Reese said. Indeed, he said ‘it would take a canon lawyer’ to say whether a Catholic denied Communion in his own diocese would be free to receive Communion elsewhere.

But I gather it’s pretty grave.

I now turn to a story in the St. Petersburg Times from 2004 at the First Baptist Church of College Hill, near Tampa, Florida. At the last minute, a political forum was moved from an historically black church to a public library. According to reporter David Karp, “That afternoon, the pastor had received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service asking about political activity at the church, a stop for many Democrats running for office.”

Now back to the story of Bishop Tobin and Representative Kennedy, where “in 2004, a large majority of bishops ‘tried to persuade the minority not to . . . us[e] Communion as a weapon,’ Father Reese said, but the conference could not come to a consensus view on the issue.”

So the Roman Catholic Church seeks to influence the political process and . . . the IRS does nothing. A black church hosts a “visit by then-gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno” and, two years later, gets a letter from the IRS. This in the midst of a presidential campaign:

The Bush campaign has courted evangelical Christians, including asking for church mailing lists in some states. Democrat John Kerry has campaigned at black churches and invoked his faith in speeches. In July, Kerry’s running mate stumped at a black church in Orlando.

IRS Publication 1828, page 7, states in no uncertain terms:

I suppose it is possible to quibble over the meaning of “substantial” in the part about “not devot[ing] a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation.” But Representative Kennedy is a Congressman. And “[bishops’ conference] spokeswoman [Deirdre] McQuade said the bishops conference could not give a count of how many times bishops have actually denied Communion to government officials.” It apparently doesn’t happen very often, but

For Catholics, the debate could scarcely be more visceral. The church holds that abortion is a taking of human life that is intrinsically evil. Exclusion from the Holy Eucharist — bread that the faithful believe to have been transformed into the body of Christ — is a rare and serious penalty to impose on any Catholic.

(UPDATE: According to the Associated Press, “Only a few U.S. bishops have said they would deny Communion to a Catholic lawmaker who supports policies that violate church teaching. A larger number of prelates have publicly asked a Catholic politician to voluntarily abstain from the sacrament.”)

The Church has been rather active politically, not just advocating California’s proposition 8 banning same sex marriage but doing so in San Francisco’s Castro District where the message would not be well received.

So apparently a black church better be careful about which politicians it hosts. But the Catholic Church can blatantly campaign against abortion and same sex marriage with impunity. So too, apparently, can the Mormon Church.

The Catholic and Mormon churches are both extremely hierarchical, repressive churches. For them, women are inferior, sex is bad, homosexual sex is even worse, and abortion is murder. They would like legislation passed to this effect. And that’s all okay with the IRS, which not only uses your tax dollars to collect more of your tax dollars, but apparently uses them to not collect from certain religious organizations that rely on infrastructure, law enforcement, and other government services like anyone else but which infringe on separation between church and state.

The difference between Democrats and Republicans

It was in 2005 that I finally read the 2004 Democratic Party campaign platform, a statement of the Party’s values, when I concluded there was no significant difference between the parties. The positions expressed in that document were, to me, indistinguishable from Republican positions.

At some point I found Gore Vidal’s famous line about the United States having a single party system with two right wings, and I’ve been citing it ever since.

Events this year now force me to the realization that there is a difference between the two parties–which I have been referring to as factions to underline their similarity. Simply put, the Republicans now predominate only in the South. Their expression of their desire for power no longer entails electoral success. If we are to assume that they still seek power (and the alternative seems incomprehensible), then we must conclude that Republicans seek power through an uprising–presumably violent or through the threat of violence.

This is not an endorsement of the Democrats. The economic stimulus has produced far fewer jobs than claimed and Obama has only recently come around to the recognition that something might be done. So far, that something consists of no concrete action.

The only action taken to address anything remotely relating to U.S. economic pain has been a bailout for the banks which has produced little, if any lending for small businesses. Meanwhile corporations continue to lay people off and to export jobs just as fast as they can.

The Obama administration decries all this but does nothing, insisting that things would be worse without the stimulus. The trouble with such a claim is that we do not have access to an alternative universe where the stimulus didn’t occur and where we can see the outcome. It is an unverifiable claim, supported only by economists.

What we do know is that we’re about $1.5 trillion deeper in national debt for a bailout and a stimulus that as far as can be known, have only further enriched the rich.

Meanwhile, we’ve had much fury over a plan purportedly to raise U.S. health care system performance to developed world standards–the World Health Organization ranks health care in the U.S. as the world’s most expensive, but 37th in overall performance, and 72nd in level of health–but reaffirms abstinence-only sexuality education and offers a nearly worthless public option that will likely serve those who can’t find insurance elsewhere and cost more.

The difference between the parties is that the Democrats bend over backwards to accommodate the Republicans. Republicans feel no obligation whatsoever to compromise; rather they provoke an uprising and offer little pretence that they seek power through electoral means. So the Democrats bend further.

I’m guessing the conventional wisdom on this is that Republicans think they can show Democrats to be ineffective. Republicans will not need to argue that their policies are better than those of Democrats, only that they can actually get something done. This will entail arguing that Republicans have a plan, when Democrats can accuse them of only being the “Party of No.”

I think this grants the party of George W. Bush and of Ronald Reagan far too much intelligence. You have to go all the way back to Dwight D. Eisenhower to find a Republican President with any discernible intelligence. Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter have all been clearly intelligent presidents.

It might be that the Republicans really don’t have a plan. They might just place their faith in corporations, the military, and evangelical Protestants and figure they can always find a job. But this would underestimate the lure of power. Politicians almost always can find better paying jobs in the private sector where they can live their lives quietly and in prosperity. They’re politicians, opening their private lives and those of their families to merciless and unbearable scrutiny, because they hunger for power and the limelight.

So yes, I now accept there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Evangelical Protestants are dissatisfied with the political process in part because they are strongest in the same region, the South, where Republicans are strongest. And the Republicans are weak everywhere else. That means they either need a viable strategy to recapture popular appeal (that would be the heretofore mentioned conventional wisdom) or they are seeking power through other means.

Looking for Superman

In the stack of newspapers this morning, the section containing the comics was on top. In Bizarro, a now old and pudgy Clark Kent ponders donating his old Superman costume to the Salvation Army. He doesn’t use it any more, doesn’t jump over tall buildings or fly faster than a speeding bullet to the rescue of some helpless (always white, usually female or below voting age) person or people.

Superman is one representative of a paradigm well known to media scholars. It divides the world into a false dichotomy of good and evil. If not in retirement, Superman would surely have stopped the 9/11 attacks, stopped that bridge from collapsing in Minneapolis, flown into Afghanistan’s mountains and extracted Osama bin Laden. He’d do something about Iran’s nuclear program and be pulling double duty stopping those bad missiles launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Superheroes were heirs to Cowboys in the old Cowboy and Indian movies–where Cowboys were good and Indians were evil (except of course for the Lone Ranger’s subservient sidekick, Tonto). It is an appeal to a simpler life, without the complexity of shades of grey, or any need to understand one’s counterparts. And above all, we are safe, because someone will come to our rescue.

The United States is in transition from being the world’s sole remaining superpower to simply having the most outrageously expensive military on the planet. It will surely maintain that military and, at least if conventional wisdom holds, continue to pursue an impossible war in Afghanistan, while the rest of the country simply crumbles. The war on Afghanistan and the war on Iraq are two examples of at best dubious military adventures, intended in part to spread so-called democratic capitalism–the U.S. notion of progress–around the world. Neither of them have been successful. But even when the world’s most powerful military is so astonishingly ineffective, we do not question the money we spend on it and we are in denial that it is broken. And Osama bin Laden, alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, remains at large.

It is a disillusioning time. While most commentators I see agree on the need for the financial system bailout that has in fact done no good, they seem to agree it was mishandled and a cause for resentment that our government sees rescuing banks as more urgent than keeping ordinary people employed so they can feed, clothe, and shelter their families. In power, the Democrats have proven everything bad that Conservatives have ever said about government.

In short, the world isn’t what we’ve been told it is. The country isn’t what we’ve been told it is. The only part of the pattern we’re accustomed to that has held is that the rich have come out of this richer than ever before. And the rest of us have gotten poorer. We’re being thrown out of our homes and out of the “American Dream.” The forces that beset us are beyond our control, we need help, and there’s none in sight.

It is a time for Superman. And that’s a very scary thing. Because even if Superman were real, he couldn’t make the world into that simplistic contest between good and evil. Reality is a little harder to deal with than that. But we’ve been trained for decades to believe in the illusion. We may well grasp for that illusion and find ourselves with a Hitler.

The South may rise again

I accumulated much of my CD collection long before things turned really hard for me, before I returned to school, and found out what was really going on. So yeah, I have some Lynard Skynard albums.

I was listening to my collection at random tonight and up came a combination Lynard Skynard played in concert that juxtaposed Dixie and Sweet Home Alabama. They announced it with a boast that the South would rise again “tonight.”

Sweet Home Alabama is an answer to Neil Young’s Southern Man (also a part of my collection). “Watergate does not trouble me,” the singer sings. “Does your conscience bother you?” Young had referred to the outright bigotry of an archetypal Southern white male. The history of that bigotry includes a slavery more brutal and dehumanizing than that practiced almost anywhere else, lynching, the death penalty (particularly as practiced in Texas), Jim Crow laws, school segregation, residual discrimination, media coverage and the political response to Hurricane Katrina, and white supremacist groups we rarely think of when we speak of “terrorism.”

Of course the present includes thirty death threats against President Barack Obama each day, police harassment and murders, a racist judicial system, and the Town Hell madness.

Such instances are far from exclusive to the South. Recently I was driving down the streets of Santa Rosa, California, and saw a pickup truck driving the other way with an oversize Confederate flag flying from its bed.

Lynard Skynard attempted to answer Neil Young’s accusation of racism with a reference to Richard Nixon, who like Neil Young, comes from California. But this is no answer to the decades of a particularly vicious racism which was largely centered in the South. Support for the Republican faction that has been behind the at least partly racist Tea Party and Town Hell insanity seems strongest in the South, with the rest of the country dismayed by the sheer nonsense that has gone on.

Lynard Skynard is simply one more example of white denial. We’re supposed to be in a “postracial” society, and the White House desperately and implausibly seeks to avoid accusing its opponents of racism. But the reality is inescapable.

As a country, the United States needs to ask itself if indeed the South is rising again. The South lost the Civil War, but won the Reconstruction, and has had an arguably disproportionate grip on U.S. politics ever since. Now it seems increasingly like it is the South against nearly everyone else, electorally and in a survey.

And Republican voters are more likely to want ideologically “pure candidates” even if that means electoral failure. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) revealed that his is not a strategy to achieve power through electoral means when he said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

The “freedom” DeMint speaks of is for the wealthy to exploit everyone else and for African Americans to “mind their place.” Republican strategy is now not about freedom in any rational sense of the word nor is it about getting elected. If we understand politicians as having an unhealthy relationship with power, then we have ask what these Republicans’ strategy to attain power is. The South may indeed rise again. And the rest of us won’t like how it does it.

From the Brick Wall of Individualism to a Collective Consciousness: Changing Obstinacy to Survival

There is an assumption that government is a necessary if regrettable fact of life. We need laws and a system to punish wrongdoers. We need some form of economic safety net so that people are not compelled to rob or steal in order to eat. We need a military to protect us from foreign invasions. We need infrastructure development for those projects—roads, sewers, water systems, hospitals, and schools—which we cannot leave to private enterprise or to individual efforts. We need an alternative to armed duels for dispute resolution.

There is another assumption that capitalism is the best way to allocate goods, that capitalism can assure everyone an opportunity to succeed while ensuring that all can contribute. We need rational markets to correctly set the value of goods and services, to raise capital for enterprises which create jobs. We need a certain inequality as an incentive for people to improve themselves, to work harder, to contribute in ways which society values.
But it is these systems—these hierarchies—which conflated with the military to form a “power elite . . . composed of men of similar origin and education, of similar career and style of life, [whose] unity may be said to rest upon the fact that they are of similar social type, and to lead to the fact of their easy intermingling” (Mills, 1958/2005, p. 141) that have fared poorly in what one might assume to be the most elementary task of all: ensuring human survival. Indeed, the record is so abysmal that it is possible to argue not only that the planet would be better off without us but that we should stop breeding and voluntarily go extinct (Huang, July 10, 2006).

The Doomsday Clock, originally devised to reflect the distance humanity stands from nuclear self-destruction, now stands at five minutes to midnight (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 2007). If we value our species, rather than seek its extinction, it is pressing that we should find what it will take to adjust our priorities and to act accordingly. My work in the Transformative Studies program at California Institute for Integral Studies towards a doctoral degree is intended to address the large question of how to ensure the survival of humanity in a way that we are welcome on this earth rather than a burden upon it. This essay reflects my initial explorations as I approach the end of my first semester in this program. It will therefore review the problems, my approach, and some of the material I have been exploring since entering the program.

There is considerable question as to how humanity can continue to feed itself and where the species will find the natural resources needed to sustain life and lifestyle. Thomas et al. (2004) estimate that climate change may doom up to a quarter of species in certain ecosystems, particularly scrublands and temperate forests, to extinction by 2050. In 2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that agriculture, as currently practiced, introduces large quantities of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere; that as cropland goes out of production, sequestered carbon will be released into the atmosphere; and that climate change will impact the distribution of arable land and and growing conditions. While the organization forecast an increase in the amount of land suitable for raising crops and was optimistic about the effects of technological improvement (apparently including the genetic engineering the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists identifies as a threat), it acknowledged considerable uncertainty and it further acknowledged that developing nations faced increased food insecurity (pp. 78-81). Projections of global warming and its effects have grown more dire since (Boutin, October 17, 2005, Eilperin, September 25, 2009; Reilly, March 17, 2009) and the diversion of crop land from food production to biofuel production, commodities speculation, and structural adjustment that makes agriculture uneconomic in poor countries and favors corporate farming have already combined to produce a food crisis, particularly in the developing world (Bello & Baviera, 2009).

Traditional science, having been culturally associated with a eurocentric image of progress (McCarthy, 1996/2006, pp. 85-86; Slater, 2009, pp.69-70; Sztompka, 1993/1999, pp. 26, 28), seems more harmful than helpful: Piotr Sztompka lists the results: “the Nazi Holocaust and Stalin’s Gulags, two world wars, well over 100 million killed in global and local conflicts, widespread unemployment and poverty, famines and epidemics, drug addiction and crime, ecological destruction and depletion of resources, tyrannies and dictatorships of all brands from fascism to communism, and, last but not least, the ever present possibilities of nuclear annihilation and global environmental catastrophe” (p. 33). McCarthy cites “increasing dangers and risks of medical and technological developments: nuclear and chemical warfare, the environmental and chemical sources of pollution and disease, such destructive accidents to nature as oil spills, the hazards that accompany new medical treatments and surgeries” (p. 90). Finally, to forestall famine, we would genetically engineer crops; and to avoid changing our lifestyles to mitigate global warming, we would pursue a geoengineered solution (Huyghe, 1996; Pusztai, 2001; see also Slater, pp. 120-121).

Questions about food security, particularly in developing countries, and environmental quality accompany a projected rise in the world’s population to anywhere from nine to twelve billion people by 2050. Much of that growth will occur in less developed countries (Population Reference Bureau, 2009) and a number of developing countries, including some with food security issues, have largely Islamic populations (Basri, November 10, 2009) and may exacerbate a long history of conflict between the West and Islam which already conflates issues of religion, “terrorism,” militarism, and nuclear weapons. Discourse in the West on “terrorism” too often refers to Islamic armed groups: right wing militias and white supremacist groups employing similar tactics within the United States are rarely mentioned in the “Global War on Terror;” nearly as rare is mention of tactics used by the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan purportedly against Taliban and al Qaeda targets that routinely kill multitudes of civilians (Rodriguez, November 1, 2009; see also Slater, 2009, p. 129). The war and a “hostile image” of Islam in a right/wrong dichotomy serve another purpose: just as it formerly used Communism, the West now uses Islam (Küng, pp. 3-6; see also Slater, pp. 138-139) to support the propaganda of a “seemingly permanent military threat” that privileges a militaristic worldview (Mills, 1958/2005, p. 141). This in turn rationalizes exorbitant military spending that exceeds the sum of the next highest spending nineteen countries combined (U.S. Department of State, 2005).

The West fears that Iran seeks to acquire nuclear weapons and that Pakistani nuclear weapons may fall into terrorist or extremist hands. Among the top military spenders, Iran appears in twentieth place; though not present in the top twenty, Pakistan would join fifteen other countries in that group that are at least nominally United States allies, including Islamic nations Saudi Arabia, ranking ninth, and Turkey, ranking seventeenth (Albright & Shire, 2009; Hersh, November 16, 2009; U.S. Department of State, 2005). But in an overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East, no U.S. ally is as close as Israel, the one country in the region which is not only not dominated by Muslims but which stands accused of practicing apartheid against them (Carter, 2006; Laor, November 9, 2009) and which actually possesses nuclear weapons (Arms Control Association, n.d.; Fernandez, August 30, 2009). This is not a situation where food shortages attributed to the West’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to help.

But at least in the United States, of this list, mainstream news selects only Iran’s nuclear weapons program and a Palestinian “threat” to Israel as causes for concern. A severe recession which began in the U.S. in December 2007 has called attention to discrepancies between rich and poor, to untoward relationships between corporations—particularly financial institutions—and government, and to an apparent lack of concern for the unemployed (Dowd, November 11, 2009; MacGillis, November 7, 2009; National Bureau of Economic Research, December, 2008; Rich, November 7, 2009). And the H1N1 “swine” flu and a series of food-borne salmonella outbreaks have raised questions about the safety of a food production system intended to maximize yield (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 15, 2009; Keim, May 1, 2009; Rabadan, April 28, 2009). Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (2009) reports that “about 2.6 billion people – half the developing world – lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine and 1.1 billion people has no access to any type of improved drinking source of water,” elevating risks of a number of often lethal sanitation related illnesses.

Though at present the mainstream media pays considerable attention to an economic recession widely described as the worst since the Great Depression, Morin and Kern (1999) more generally criticize the global economic system for a series of crises. They also take aim most profoundly at capitalist economic ideology for having substituted greed for generosity (pp. 48-49). Classical economists are coming under fire for focusing on money rather than on energy in an argument suggesting that economics should pay more attention to the laws of thermodynamics (Gronewald, October 23, 2009). Morin and Kern also point to an ecological crisis—now often overlooked with a recent focus on climate change—of nuclear power plant accidents, floods, drought, air pollution, water pollution, soil and groundwater contamination, soil erosion, and urbanization (pp. 50-51).

Religion, too, shoulders blame for much misery; the theologian Hans Küng (1990/2001) acknowledges:

There is no disputing that in negative, destructive terms [religions] have made and still make an enormous contribution. So much struggle, bloody conflicts, indeed ‘religious wars’ are to be held to their account; so many economic, political and military conflicts have been partly started, partly coloured, inspired and legitimated by religions – and this also goes for the two world wars. (p. 73)

Yet the Armageddon humanity faces is largely secular; the crises we face may often be colored by religious bigotry but are fundamentally secular problems of war mentality, of resource allocation, and of environmental stewardship. The United Nations Development Program has estimated that, in New York Times reporting, “the additional cost of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for all women, adequate food for all and clean water and safe sewers for all is roughly $40 billion a year – or less than 4 percent of the combined wealth of the 225 richest people in the world” (Crossette, September 27, 1998; see also United Nations Development Program, 1994, p. 7). We have not been spending that $40 billion that way. Instead, as of 2007, the U.S. was reportedly spending $10 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan (Scherer, January 16, 2007).

This would be an absurd situation if it were not so lethal. Yet in the United States, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency on a platform of “change” and of Democrats to putative control of Congress has resulted in a conservative uprising with racist overtones and with guns on display outside Obama speech venues while public opinion surveys indicate public dissatisfaction with Congress and progressives compare Obama’s policies to those of his predecessor (Associated Press, August 17, 2009; Coates, August 7, 2009; Klein, November 4, 2009; Koppelman, September 16, 2009; Krugman, November 9, 2009; MacAskill, September 16, 2009; Millhiser, August 25, 2009; Newport, October 6, 2009; Pugh, September 18, 2009; Robinson, August 7, 2009; Swanson, September 1, 2009). The principal controversy is about a plan to raise U.S. health care system performance to developed world standards—the World Health Organization (2000) ranks health care in the U.S. as the world’s most expensive, but 37th in overall performance, and 72nd in level of health (p. 155).

The failure of sense on health care, despite considerable public support (Bloomberg, September 16, 2009; Sack & Connelly, June 20, 2009; SurveyUSA, August 20, 2009), bodes ill for progress on climate change, where a plurality of U.S. public opinion can best be described as in denial (Begley, August 13, 2007). Many countries’ political leaders agree on the urgency of an agreement to reduce global warming, but they have failed to reach an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions limits and on the financing developing countries need to do their part (Luce & Brown, November 15, 2009; Rosenthal, October 14, 2009). Rarely mentioned is that Russia and the U.S. retain vast arsenals of nuclear weapons (Arms Control Association, n.d.); failing to explain who it needs “a credible deterrent” against or how such a deterrent would actually deter, the U.S. may modernize its stockpile (Barnes, October 29, 2008).

When priorities seem askew, helpful questions to ask include who has which priorities, whose priorities will predominate, and why their priorities will prevail over those of others. Framed in such a way, it becomes clear in a paradigm of hierarchy, that priorities selected by the powerful will predominate. And what we are seeing is that rescuing banks is more immediately important than remedying threats to human survival. This is a stark contrast from the anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s (1902/2006) understanding of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” He thought “the fittest are not the physically strongest, nor the cunningest, but those who learn to combine so as mutually to support each other, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community” (p. 2).

Apart from the crises of the present, what does hierarchy do for humanity? Rianne Eisler (1987/1995) divides “the great surface diversity of human culture [into] two basic models,” a dominator model and a partnership model; she suggests that humanity survived and even prospered until the last five to seven thousand years (pp. xxiii, 43-44) in a “direction . . . toward partnership.” Then, “following a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption” (p. xvii) the West “veered off into a bloody five-thousand-year dominator detour” (p. xxiii). Slater (2009), whose corresponding models are the Controller and Integrator consciousnesses, puts the lifespan of Controller consciousness at eight thousand years out of twenty thousand years of human existence (p. 12). Either way, we are to infer that humans do not require hierarchy or a dominator/Controller consciousness to survive, at least in earlier times with much smaller populations. Instead, our present conundrum is a consequence of a sort of barbarian conquest. Eisler describes an uncertain beginning to this dominator takeover; evidence of disruption appears in Middle Eastern Neolithic and in Old European cultures beginning about seven thousand years ago (pp. 43-44). “We have nothing to go by but speculation on how these nomad bands grew in numbers and in ferocity and over what span of time” (p. 43), she writes.

These last five to eight thousand years have subordinated large proportions of humanity, introduced untold suffering, and led us to the brink of self-destruction. Edgar Morin and Anne Kern (1999) point to the violent life cycles of states and empires, to wars, imperialism, violent insurrections, and endless contests for power, but also to monuments, technology, and the arts, to advances in communication, to commerce, and only rarely to “pity and compassion” (p. 2). Eisler’s (1987/1995) description of “a period of chaos and almost total cultural disruption” ( p. xvii) also describes the present, which Philip Slater (2009) believes to have begun in the tumult of the 1960s (pp. 6-7). But when Slater writes that “the sixties innovators were long on visibility but short on numbers” (p. 6), he could as easily be writing about subversions, strikes, riots, rebellions, and insurrections of various sorts that have occurred throughout U.S. history and which place today’s violence against foreclosures in a context of a long history (Thill, November 9, 2009; Zinn, 2003/2005).

Slater (2009) points to an increasing pace of change largely associated with technological advance, associating it with an improvement in the ability of left wing activists to spread their consciousness and to link up with each other (pp. 1, 7). Technology also offers this capability to Controllers, so it seems reasonable and even indisputable to expect that technology will eventually substantively effect governance in ways that go beyond expanded invasions of privacy (Privacy International, December 28, 2007). I can not say left wing activists have succeeded in using technology to effect substantial change yet. While Iranian protests against an apparently fraudulent election have demonstrated that technology can be used to challenge the status quo (Morozov, June 17, 2009) and while political activists of all stripes have increased their reliance on the web, what we are seeing so far is little more than a substitution of faster technology with larger storage capacity and increased ease of access for older, more restrictive forms of technology. At this writing, and despite numerous promises of world peace through greater understanding, the only definitive political change associated with a march of technological advance that began with writing and the printing press has been a phenomenal increase in the ability of fewer and fewer people to reach and thus to exercise influence or control over ever dramatically larger populations over ever larger swathes of territory (Carey, 1988/1992). There can be little doubt that the present social order is under pressure, but the outcome of this complex situation may fall in the category of emergent phenomena, meaning that it would be unpredictable from an examination of its components (Mazlish, 1998/2007, pp. 73-74).

The possibility of an emergent outcome raises questions about a dichotomy between the a strong hierarchy in a dominator/Controller model and a weak or nonexistent hierarchy in a partnership/Integrative model. It may be wishful thinking to assume that the outcome of transformation will be a society based on the latter. Eisler suggests that “modern totalitarianism is the logical culmination for a cultural evolution based on the dominator model of social organization” (p. 180). She thus posits the possibility that what emerges from Slater’s chrysalis will be even more authoritarian than what we already have. “Human evolution is now at a crossroads,” Eisler writes. “Stripped to its essentials, the central human task is how to organize society to promote the survival of our species and the development of our unique potentials” (p. 186). Other possibilities could be that violent revolution replaces one set of thugs with another, reconstructing dominator/Controller order with different faces in a similar social structure, or that change might occur perhaps temporarily along less authoritarian lines. Given such uncertainty, it seems hard to argue with Eisler when she quotes Erwin Laszlo writing that we “cannot leave the selection of the next step in the evolution of human society and culture to chance. We must plan for it, consciously and purposefully” (p. 187).

But how should “we . . . plan for [the end of dominator society], consciously and purposefully” (Laszlo, 1985, quoted in Eisler, 1987/2005, p. 187)? First, evidence does not support the assumption that experts make better decisions, but rather that groups make better decisions explicitly “when the naïve, ignorant point of view is present” (Slater, 2009, p. 177). Second, if I oppose hierarchy and authoritarianism, then it follows that I cannot prescribe the shape that society should take; for to do so would be to assert my (illegitimate) authority. Indeed, Slater criticizes “many on the left . . . [who] see themselves as godlike architects who stand outside a static world and try to mold it. They construct a mental blue print of change and attack all who fail to meet its specifications” (pp. 183-184). Such change is, he writes, “monolithic, coercive, and top-down” (p. 184). But, in an alternative approach, I can share ideas which we may discuss (Gordon, 2008, pp. 7-8). I can be a “participant[,] exerting influence on a changing entity that includes [me]” (Slater, p. 184). I may say, let us see what we can work out together. And what we implement should be the outcome of a process “based on non-hierarchical structures, horizontal coordination among autonomous groups, open access, direct participation, consensus-based decision making, and the ideal of the free and open circulation of information” (Juris, 2008, quoted in Gordon, p. 15). Or, as Slater writes, “Integrative-induced change is heterogeneous, spontaneous, and grassroots” (p. 184). And yet, having done this, we must remain vigilant against a risk “that patterns of hierarchy and exploitation may always re-emerge, even in societies oriented against them” (Gordon, p. 44).

The threat that authoritarianism may reappear should not be diminished. A considerable portion of the population appears to lean in a conservative, authoritarian, dominator/Controller direction and may continue to do so even after any transformation. Slater (2009) argues that “social systems are held in place by contradictions” (p. 184); he insists that Integrators must work with their opponents, i.e. capitalists (pp. 186-187). Bradford Keeney (1983) argues for the substitution of complementarity for contradiction in our view of these distinctions (p. 111). But it is hard to see how any transformation to a partnership/Integrative model can integrate conservative theorist Richard Weaver’s “tyrannizing image,” which he defined as

a center which commands all things, and this center is open to imaginative but not logical discovery. It is a focus of value, a law of relationships, an inspiriting vision. By its nature it sets up rankings and orders; to be near it is to be higher; to be far from it in the sense of not feeling its attraction is to be lower. (Weaver, 1964, quoted in Foss, Foss, & Trapp, 2002, p. 162)

Weaver’s tyrannizing image establishes a central ideology guarded by a coercive hierarchy based on allegiance to that ideology. George Lakoff (2002), a self-described liberal, explains that conservativism assumes “that the exercise of authority [entailing reward and punishment] is itself moral” (p. 67) and explicates the hierarchy of “natural order:” the god of Abraham is superior to people, adults are superior to children, men are superior to women, and people are superior to nature (p. 81). Moreover,

The Strict Father [conservative] moral system itself is right and good; it could not possibly be wrong and still function as a moral system with a strict right-wrong dichotomy. Opponents of the moral system itself are therefore wrong; and if they try to overthrow the moral system, they will be engaging in an immoral act. The moral system itself must be defended above all. (Lakoff, 2002, pp. 97-98).

T. S. Eliot (1948/1962) similarly understood culture as hierarchical but constructed it differently from Weaver, as a value judgment on attainment and as enabling people to specialize in crafts (p. 22). He saw attainment in various crafts as a unifying force through an appreciation shared by the community (p. 24). One of these crafts is an elite to rule through inherited privilege (pp. 35, 47). But where Weaver’s tyrannizing image leaves little room for diverse views, Eliot values diversity as enriching a culture (pp. 57-58). The difference appears to be in that Weaver ranked—following Plato—an ideal knowledge, a truth-with-a-capital-T two levels over the ordinary knowledge of human experience (Foss et al., 2002, pp. 160-161). Weaver’s tyrannizing image derives its authority from this ideal knowledge, while Eliot offers the possibility that a dominator/Controller culture may adapt to new information. Neither Weaver nor Eliot offer the possibility of participation in a partnership/Integrative model. But where Slater (2009) argues that “Control Culture and Integrative Culture are [now] too equally balanced for either to tolerate the values of the other” (p. 37), he advocates accommodation of Control Culture through dialogue (pp. 186-187).

But this is further evidence that in its extreme form, hierarchy is not just a social structure for a self-interested elite seeking to sustain the status quo, even to the severe detriment of the greater portion of humanity. It is, rather, an existential threat to humanity. Intolerance towards diversity means that two cultures, say a fundamentalist Islam-dominated society and a conservative Christian-dominated society, each with its own tyrannizing image, cannot reconcile themselves to each other’s presence. Any right-wrong dichotomy, where “I” am right, an other is wrong, and where it is moral for me to exercise authority to enforce my view upon that other, justifies an apocalyptic—possibly nuclear—war against that other. Consequently, any people who continue to favor hierarchical social order following a transformation to an egalitarian order can be expected to use violence to achieve power.

Change will therefore require 1) a defense against dominator/Controller holdouts, and 2) widespread persuasion on such a scale as to marginalize holdouts and to minimize the need for that defense. One possibility might be through a spiritual movement adopted by major religions. Eisler (1987/2005) points out that dominators co-opted neolithic religious symbols to support an androcratic (male-ruled) worldview, but where an obvious line of inquiry might be on a role for religion in transformation, she barely follows up, contrasting the eschatological views of evangelical Protestant politicians with a contemporary revival of life-affirming spirituality (pp. 187-188). There may be good reason for this: the vast majority of major world religions are authoritarian. While in their original Axial Age forms, these religions not only devalued but actively challenged doctrine, preferring to emphasize empathy, compassion, and ethical behavior (Armstrong, 2006), as societies grew and the Axial Age came to an end, spirituality turned authoritarian. Socrates saw hope only if “real philosophers” ruled (Armstrong, p. 313). Plato advocated genetic engineering in his authoritarian and theocratic Republic (Armstrong, pp. 321, 324-325) in a vision Karen Armstrong condemns as “coercive, intolerant, and punitive” (p. 325). Aristotle saw women as “a defective form of humanity” (p. 327). The Chinese turned to law and order to end the constant warring of a multitude of kingdoms (p. 331); Legalists there advocated a standard model of behavior, enforced with “draconian punishments and a rigorous penal code” (p. 332). The Bhagavad Gita argues for war (Armstrong, pp. 362-366), and a caste system developed in India (p. 375). The Judeo-Christian-Muslim line of spirituality scarcely needs mentioning. Of the major religions, only Taoism might be said to be anarchist (Ames, 1983), but in China, it came to “seem impractical” (Armstrong, p. 371).

Converting the entire world’s population to Taoism may seem unlikely, but Küng (1990/2001) argues that religion alone commands the authority to “provide the foundation for an ethic which is practicable for larger straits of the population and which is above all unconditional and generally binding” (p. 42). The transformation Eisler advocates is arising among the people (pp. 188-189) but Küng relies on authority and has been prominent in efforts to unite the world’s religions in issuing a global ethic (Küng, 1990/2001; Küng & Kuschel, 1993). The resulting Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions is egalitarian and affirmative of human rights and dignity (reproduced in Küng & Kuschel, 1993, pp. 17-39); it can be interpreted in a way which is substantially consistent with Eisler’s gylanic consciousness and it might be seen as an early step in social transformation.

The paradox is in a need for authority to replace authority with no authority. If we see what might perhaps be a successor document to the Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions as a model for authority divesting itself, then we must also understand that the adoption, imposition, and enforcement of such a document are themselves authoritarian acts. Authority is needed to supersede itself but has an inherent interest in the status quo and would therefore be acting against its own interests. If we could rely upon authority to do this, humanity might be facing solutions rather than inaction on the threats to its existence. It is conceivable, if implausible given structures like the Roman Catholic Church, that spiritual authorities might do this. It is harder to imagine that the elite in any other hierarchy would. Transformation is unlikely to be pure. While anarchists seek to avoid “taking power” (Gordon, 2008, p. 55), “social transformation will also likely involve some forms of non-defensive coercion, against owners for example” (p.68).

Spirituality thus seems a likely starting point for transformation. In a dominator/Controller view, Plato conceived of truth as transcendent, according to that “which [is] eternal and beyond the shifting confusion and imperfection of the physical plane” (Tarnas, 1991, p. 8). In this view, an objective reality exists but those things we experience are mere approximations of that reality. Weaver’s tyrannizing ideology makes sense from this perspective. As Richard Tarnas explains, “since the Forms endure, while their concrete expressions come and go, the Forms can be said to be immortal, and therefore similar to gods” (p. 9). But ideas more recently in fashion, and certainly not attributable to anarchists like Peter Kropotkin or Emma Goldman, are that knowledge is relative and subjective (McCarthy, 1996/2006, p. 87) and that culture is pluralistic rather than totalitarian (p. 88). If indeed there is not one truth but many, if indeed the idea of a “grand narrative” is incoherent (pp. 88-89), then the idea of an entire world undergoing an essentially monolithic transformation to an essentially monolithic end loses plausibility. But what may also lose plausibility is the notion of a single world order or even an order prevailing over any great number of people which presumes and seeks to impose a single “objective reality” or which seeks to preserve the status quo. Reality may come to be seen for what it is: anarchic. And transformation might take the shape of a revelation of that anarchic reality. If so, it would turn out that Taoists, seen as “impractical” (Armstrong, p. 371), have something relevant to offer after all:

Returning is the motion of the Tao.

Yielding is the way of the Tao. (Lao Tsu, trans. 1972/1997, chap. 40)

Eisler (1987/1995) recalls the imagery of “the serpent that sheds its skin in periodic renewal” as a symbol whose meaning was reversed to take on a Satanic association in the dominator worldview (p. 187). She points out that “men [in contrast to women] . . . often tend to see their human need for affiliation as ‘an impediment’ or ‘a danger’” (p. 189). Skin, hide, and armor plating are all defenses against impediments and dangers. Conservatives see “life [as] difficult and the world [as] fundamentally dangerous” (Lakoff, 2002, p. 65). But what distinguishes us from animals is a need for “a higher level of ‘growth’ or ‘actualization’” (Eisler, p. 190). For snakes to grow, they must shed their skins. And each of us have our own skins to shed.

The human situation is dire. And it is evident that the dominator/Controller way of ordering the world cannot be reconciled with survival of the species. Change will clearly not be easy; Slater (2009) observes that “we’ve been steeped for so long in this cultural system that many people assume its customs and norms are locked in our DNA” (p. 12). And yet it is also hard to imagine that change is not coming; the crises are now so overwhelming that humanity is faced with a choice: change or die. In the face of doomsday, an emergent outcome is possible. What would be preferable is an partnership/Integrative outcome, one which this essay suggests might be achieved through spiritual leaders leading the people to a recognition of reality not as monolithic but as relative, manifold, and anarchic. Following this path, spiritual leaders could withdraw their blessings from secular European governments with which they partnered in the Middle Ages. They could then divest themselves of their own authority, advising people to cooperate to ensure the survival of the species.

There are obvious questions. How can hierarchies as entrenched as the Roman Catholic church be persuaded to abandon authoritarianism? How do we raise the values of empathy and compassion above the value of individual gain which so many in authority have recommended for so long? How do we do this in time to avoid the worst effects of climate change? What do we do with the legacy of nuclear weapons? If we understand any system of exchange as privileging the parties most able to say no, how do we establish systems for people to get the things they need in places where their production is impossible or ill-advised? In short, how do we remake the world with a far larger population than what it had the last time partnership/Integrative ideas were tried?

Much must be left to people to work out together, rather than prescribed in advance. For that prescription, that grand plan, would itself be authoritarian. This transformation is a leap of faith. But if I may abuse an analogy of people having to leap out the windows of a burning building, placing faith in the nets firefighters have stretched below them, we are those people and we are also the firefighters below. We must rescue ourselves or be consumed.


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A really weird assumption

Writing for the New York Times, Charles Blow points to a likely Republican resurgence in 2010. Midterm elections usually result in setbacks for the faction in the White House, but as Blow puts it, President Obama’s “agenda has been hamstrung by a perfect storm of politics: the Republicans’ surprisingly effective obstructionist strategy, a Democratic caucus riddled with conservative sympathizers and a president encircled by crises and crippled by caution.” Blow also points to a low priority assigned to job creation.

Partly because I’m unemployed myself, and partly because a decent job is a human right, I’m inclined to place a rather high priority on job creation. But as Paul Krugman explains, the United States doesn’t “really have a jobs policy: we have a G.D.P. policy. The theory is that by stimulating overall spending we can make G.D.P. grow faster, and this will induce companies to stop firing and resume hiring.”

The Economic Policy Institute states flatly, “the private sector is unable to create jobs in the numbers the United States needs to obtain a robust, full economic recovery.” And Obama is, at best, just barely beginning to figure that out.

I’m old enough to remember presidential candidate Walter Mondale asking his opponent, Gary Hart, “Where’s the Beef?” Robert Ellman asked the same question of Barack Obama nearly three years ago. My guess is that a lot of people will be asking that question of the Democrats next year.

It won’t just be the jobs picture that means that Obama will likely be unable to count on the help he found getting himself elected in 2008. Progressive discontent arises from a broad range of issues. But the jobs picture just about guarantees that the working class will overwhelmingly vote Republican.

This, for me, is an astonishing turnaround. I still think right wing strategy is not an electoral strategy but a coup strategy. Republican Senator Jim DeMint has been quoted saying, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

Given his understanding of “freedom,” that is, for wealthy whites to exploit everyone else, and for blacks to stay in “their place,” and his understanding of limited government being to protect the rich and no one else, that’s a pretty scary set of beliefs, but at least he has them. By contrast, it’s hard to argue that Obama stands for anything. The Democratic faction clearly doesn’t stand for the people who voted for it. And therefore, by any rational electoral reasoning, it no longer deserves their votes.

The trouble with this logic lies in a Republican-Democrat dichotomy. If Democrats aren’t doing the job–and clearly they aren’t–it is assumed that Republicans, who particularly since Ronald Reagan have been the faction of deregulation that created the current financial crisis, who particularly since Ronald Reagan have done everything they can to widen the gap between rich and poor, will. That’s a really weird assumption.

Unfortunately, it is the one I think will prevail next year.

Where do these people come from?

Just so you know what we’re all supposed to be absolutely outraged about, I received a promotion from the Washington Times for Carly Fiorina’s Senate campaign. In part, it reads:

Dear Fellow Conservative,

A shocking video was just brought to my attention.

Barbara Boxer, a woman who relishes in her reputation as one of the Senate’s most liberal members, disrespectfully demanded a Brigadier General refer to her as “Senator” instead of “ma’am” during a recent Senate hearing.

I’m outraged. Absolutely outraged.