Passivity in the face of calamity

As a species, we are probably doomed, possibly to be extinct within 100 years.[1] This is not much consolation for the planet, as we are taking so many other species with us, having plowed into the earth’s sixth major extinction event.[2] This is the result of a system of social organization that with the exception of some indigenous peoples still on the fringes of society, most of us have either adopted or had forced upon us beginning with the Neolithic, an authoritarian system of social organization that can only maintain itself through expansion, requiring ever more resources on a finite planet.[3]

Through our continued acquiescence to this system of social organization, we put the elites where they are, in positions of political, economic, and military power over us, that they exploit in economic systems of exchange that inherently favor whomever has the greater power to say no.[4] In turn, they devalue us with a so-called “free” market that assigns totalizing, artificial, reductive, and quantitative (money) values to each of us. I am unemployable, therefore worthless. Traditionally female gender role care-giving positions such as child care workers, many convalescent home workers, and even school teachers are worth a pittance.  But a CEO makes millions and is worth infinitely more.[5]

What does this have to do with merit? Merit is the rationale, the assumption of the rich that they are entitled to their positions and entitled to judge the worthiness of the rest of us. In fact, meritocracy is not meritocracy at all but rather a means by which the rich and powerful protect their positions of power and privilege over the rest of us.[6] And they protect this power and privilege even at the expense of our survival.

Our society and system of social organization are unsustainable in multiple and interconnected ways,[7] but our only response to radically increasing social inequality and environmental devastation has been protest, which has inspired talk but changed little. Elites do not see themselves as answerable to the people and have historically resented any implication that they are.[8] Instead, they see the people as a threat, a threat to be spied upon.[9]

Accordingly, protest draws an increasingly militarized police response. This appears to have little to do with officer safety, and everything to do with treating unarmed civilians, especially protesters on the left, as the enemy.[10]

The message is clear: If you are concerned for human survival, let alone for the planetary ecosystem, you are the enemy. If you are concerned for social justice, you are the enemy. If you are even just minding your own business, you may very well be the enemy. If you are fortunate, you will be ignored. If you are unfortunate, you will bear the full weight of a state response that sides with corporations over human beings.[11]

In stark contrast, Cliven Bundy and his pals were armed when they drove off the Bureau of Land Management but have not been arrested.[12] They have since set up armed checkpoints on roads near his property, threatened further violence, and still not been arrested.[13] And right wing militia have been  intimidating and shooting at federal workers but generally not arrested.[14]

This message is also clear: Gun nuts and right wing militia are not the enemy. Only people on the left are the enemy.

After a series of postings about how this country has probably become fascist, how people are indeed worse off than when Obama took office, and on the futility of voting,[15] my friends have mostly—not entirely, but mostly—shut up about voting. But I still do not see anything like what needs to happen happening.

This, ultimately, is why we now seem likely to go extinct. We are confronted with multiple existential threats but we will not do what it takes to survive. The vast majority of us will not even go vegan,[16] even though this is probably the easiest and single most effective thing an individual can do to help the environment.[17] Our system of social organization, as flawed as it is, as repressive as it is, and as violent as it is, has succeeded in reducing us from citizens to consumers. For our acquiescence to elite inaction, we become as responsible as the elites for a failure to act. And even as it becomes clear that an anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist revolution is an essential response to climate change, let alone other environmental catastrophes, let alone social inequality, we are passive in the face of calamity.[18]

  1. [1]Lin Edwards, “Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist,”, June 23, 2010,; Cheryl Jones, “Frank Fenner sees no hope for humans,” Australian, June 16, 2010,
  2. [2]Dahr Jamail, “Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice? Scientists Consider Extinction,” TomDispatch, December 17, 2013,; Igor Matutinovié, “An Institutional Approach to Sustainability: Historical Interplay of Worldviews, Institutions and Technology,” Journal of Economic Issues 41, no. 4 (December 2007): 1109-1137; Carl N. McDaniel and David N. Borton, “Increased Human Energy Use Causes Biological Diversity Loss and Undermines Prospects for Sustainability,” BioScience 52, no. 10 (2002): 929-936, doi: 10.1641/0006-3568(2002)052[0929:IHEUCB]2.0.CO;2
  3. [3]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008).
  4. [4]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
  5. [5]Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2007).
  6. [6]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1956; repr., New York: Oxford University, 2000).
  7. [7]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,
  8. [8]Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991).
  9. [9]David Benfell, “We are the enemy,” Not Housebroken, March 23, 2014,
  10. [10]Matt Apuzzo, “War Gear Flows to Police Departments,” New York Times, June 8, 2014,; Radley Balko, “‘Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book’: The new warrior cop is out of control,” Salon, July 7, 2013,; Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz, “Local police stockpile high-tech, combat-ready gear,” Center for Investigative Reporting, December 21, 2011,; David Benfell, “The legitimacy of a brute,” Not Housebroken, August 29, 2014,; Daniel J. Bier, “Overkill: Militarizing America,” Freeman, September 15, 2014,; Center for Investigative Reporting, “Military Equipment for Local Police,” June 9, 2014,; Democracy Now!, “From Dorner to Waco to MOVE Bombing, A Look at Growing Militarization of Domestic Policing,” February 15, 2013,; Justin Elliott, “How the feds fueled the militarization of police,” Salon, December 24, 2011,; Henry A. Giroux, “Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability,” Truthout, April 8, 2014,; J. David Goodman, “Lesson for the Police: Be Careful What You Tweet For,” New York Times, April 22, 2014,; Matthew Harwood, “To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents,” TomDispatch, August 14, 2014,; Caitlin MacNeal, “#myNYPD Backlash Spreads To Other Cities,” Talking Points Memo, April 23, 2014,; Natasha Lennard, “Militarization creep: Texas cops get army tanks,” Salon, September 30, 2013,; Dara Lind, “Why the feds are putting grenade launchers in the hands of local cops,” Vox, June 9, 2014,; Chase Madar, “The Over-Policing of America: Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy,” TomDispatch, December 8, 2013,; Jed Morey, “U.S. Military ‘Power Grab’ Goes Into Effect,” Long Island Press, May 14, 2013,; Eric Nicholson, “Dallas County Now Has Its Very Own Bulletproof, ‘Mine-Protected’ Military SUV,” Dallas Observer, September 27, 2013,; Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” New York Times, November 4, 2012,; William Rivers Pitt, “Weaponized Cops and the Future of Freedom,” Truthout, April 25, 2014,; Jeffrey Rosen, “Do You Have the Right to Remain Silent? The Obama administration’s radical view of Miranda rights was in place well before Boston,” New Republic, April 21, 2013,; Bruce Schneier, review of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko, Schneier on Security, August 13, 2013,; Michael Virtanen, “Spoils of war: Police getting leftover Iraq trucks,” Associated Press, November 24, 2013,; Naomi Wolf, “The coming drone attack on America,” Guardian, December 21, 2012,
  11. [11]Lee Adler, “Still 1.4 Million Fewer Full-Time Jobs Than in 2008,” Naked Capitalism, September 9, 2014,; Henry A. Giroux, “Neoliberalism’s War on Democracy,” Truthout, April 26, 2014,; David B. Grusky, “4 Myths About Poverty,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 2014,; Elias Isquith, “‘Bloodiest thing the world has seen’: David Cay Johnston on inequality’s looming disaster,” Salon, May 22, 2014,; Paul Krugman, “Free to Be Hungry,” New York Times, September 22, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted,” New York Times, September 26, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Rage of the Privileged,” New York Times, September 26, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Springtime for Bankers,” New York Times, May 18, 2014,; Paul Krugman, “Does He Pass the Test?” review of Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, by Timothy F. Geithner, New York Review of Books, July 10, 2014,; Eric L. Lewis, “Who Are ‘We the People’?” New York Times, October 4, 2014,; Bill Moyers, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way,” October 9, 2014,; Robert Reich, “Tim Geithner and the Wall Street Bailout Redux,” May 13, 2014,; Mark Thoma, “Why Have Policymakers Abandoned the Working Class?” Fiscal Times, September 30, 2014,
  12. [12]Associated Press, “Nevada cattle roundup halted amid safety concerns,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 2014,; Southern Poverty Law Center, “SPLC report: Bundy ranch standoff was highly coordinated, reflecting threat of larger far-right militia movement,” July 10, 2014,; Laura Zuckerman, “Nevada cattle rancher calls on local sheriffs to join his cause,” Planet Ark, April 15, 2014,
  13. [13]Travis Gettys, “Cliven Bundy threatens violence against federal agents as Sean Hannity eggs him on,” Raw Story, April 16, 2014,; Manu Raju, “Police investigating Cliven Bundy-related threats to Harry Reid,” Politico, April 28, 2014,
  14. [14]Caitlin Dickson, “The Cliven Bundy Copycat Militia Movement,” Daily Beast, July 10, 2014,; Caitlin MacNeal, “BLM Staffer Confronted By Armed Men On Utah Highway,” Talking Points Memo, May 8, 2014,; Rick Perlstein, “Gun nuts are terrorizing America: The watershed moment everyone missed,” Salon, June 23, 2014,; April M. Short, “Why Do Tea Partiers Get to Parade Around Armed, While Peaceful Protests Are Met With Tanks?” Alternet, September 23, 2014,
  15. [15]David Benfell, “Gleefully profiting from vast misery,” Not Housebroken, September 21, 2014,; David Benfell, “System justification and the 2014 election,” Not Housebroken, September 24, 2014,; David Benfell, “Yes, the U.S. is probably a fascist country,” Not Housebroken, September 25, 2014,; David Benfell, “Yes, people are worse off than when Obama took office, Not Housebroken,” September 30, 2014,; David Benfell, “Please stop bugging me with your insanity,” Not Housebroken, October 3, 2014,
  16. [16]Frank Newport, “In U.S., 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians,” Gallup, July 26, 2012,; Vegetarian Resource Group, “How Many Adults Are Vegan in the U.S.?” December 5, 2011,
  17. [17]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,; David Benfell, “Animal Liberation: A Way Forward,” November 30, 2013,
  18. [18]Democracy Now! “‘We Have to Consume Less’: Scientists Call For Radical Economic Overhaul to Avert Climate Crisis,” November 21, 2013,; Tim Donovan, “Thanks for killing the planet, boomers!” Salon, December 2, 2013,; Tom Engelhardt, “Ending the World the Human Way: Climate Change as the Anti-News,” TomDispatch, February 2, 2014,; Henry A. Giroux, “Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability,” Truthout, April 8, 2014,; Henry A. Giroux, “Neoliberalism’s War on Democracy,” Truthout, April 26, 2014,; Naomi Klein, “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” Nation, November 9, 2011,; Naomi Klein, “How science is telling us all to revolt,” New Statesman, October 29, 2013,; David Korten, “After The Meltdown: Economic Redesign for the 21st Century,” Tikkun, 23, no. 6 (2008): 33,; George Monbiot, “Dead Zone,” January 6, 2014,; Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970); Anup Shah, “Consumption and Consumerism,” Global Issues, March 6, 2011,; Anup Shah, “Creating the Consumer,” Global Issues, May 14, 2003,; Wen Stephenson, “From Occupy to Climate Justice,” Nation, February 6, 2014,

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