Why we won’t respond to climate change

I let a passenger down yesterday.

I’m going through a particularly rocky transition at the moment, with woefully inadequate financial resources, so I’m back doing the Uber and Lyft thing, which pays abysmally, but in a weird way manages to keep me barely afloat. I was in the East Bay yesterday, initially to get my car inspected so I could resume doing this so-called ‘ridesharing’ driving, but then to make what money I could—fast.

One of my passengers in Berkeley was a physicist. Like a lot of people in the Bay Area, she’s unhappy with what all that has been happening in the world, particularly with Donald Trump in power. Somehow we got onto the topic of climate change.

I have downloaded and archived the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report[1] but not yet reviewed it—it looks like a pretty dense read. She hadn’t read it either but was meaning to. So we’re both relying mostly on headlines in mass media about the report which, it appears from those headlines, is pretty much in line with what I’ve been saying, privately at least, for years.[2] This is pretty much that we have a very short time to accomplish massive social change to avert catastrophe.

I said I had all but given up paying attention because it was so clear we would not respond.

She asked if this was because 1) we would not believe climate change science, 2) policies would not be based on the science, or 3) people would cheat on any regulations that were imposed. I admired her list. Honestly, I couldn’t have come up with it myself. I said, all of the above.

None of her listed reasons for our failure are good reasons. They are venal reasons and I think they are true reasons. Taken together, they amount to one—only one—damning indictment of who we are as a species.

I recalled what Joel Federman had said to me in the first year of my Ph.D. program (probably in 2012) when I asked him about whether humans were fundamentally good or evil. He replied that humans fundamentally have a range of potential to be either or both or, most likely, anywhere in between.

I would layer onto Federman’s suggestion that this range is substantially constrained and influenced by our (insane[3]) society. Which is to say that an adequate response to climate change will involve social change, not just in the usual senses of power relationships, including those we have with non-human animals and the environment, but of our culture itself. This reaches where vegetarian ecofeminism leads: Our entire attitude about how we treat everyone and everything around us must change from one of domination and exploitation to one of harmony, cooperation, and compassion.

Which brings us back to the problem I began confronting in my first Ph.D. program (the one I had to withdraw from before getting into the one that I ultimately completed). This is about how we change our species, really, to be what we desperately need to be.

I’ve never found an answer to that question. There are multiple problems, beginning with that of persuading a diverse multicultural population of over 7 billion people and including how we avoid replacing one set of thugs (the ones currently in power) with another.[4] And what I have concluded is that societies don’t change, certainly not within the time frame we face with climate change, except organically, that is, by their own growth and development,[5] or through extreme violence.

My passenger had been hoping for reason for optimism. I couldn’t offer it to her.

  1. [1]Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5 °C (draft), June 4, 2018, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
  2. [2]This is based in part on a combination of my understanding of General Systems Theory with Fred Pearce, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate change (Boston: Beacon, 2007). Also see David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/03/06/we-have-found-enemy-and-he-us-and-our-system-social-organization
  3. [3]Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (1956; repr., Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2010).
  4. [4]From an anarchist perspective, the problem of replacing one set of thugs with another is most vividly how Marxist-Leninism failed: See Emma Goldman, “There Is No Communism in Russia,” in Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, ed. Alix Kates Shulman, 3rd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity, 1998), 405-420. As with the Soviet Union, violent revolution has consistently failed, even when it ever attempted, to eliminate authoritarianism. Rather, it may produce structural changes and it may change who is in power, but not the authoritarian relationship itself.
  5. [5]I read somewhere that culture is not something kept under glass in a museum case, but rather something alive, developing and growing. It changes as the people of each new generation reinterpret its traditions. I have been kicking myself ever since for having failed to highlight that passage. My searches for it have failed.

Emily Yoffe asks if “anyone still take[s] both sexual assault and due process seriously.” She certainly doesn’t.

I am not going to delve very deeply into debates over the statistics about how many women are raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed. Let’s just stipulate that there are many such cases, that incidents of this nature can be considered ubiquitous, and that many more offenses occur than are reported to police or otherwise come to light. Continue reading “Emily Yoffe asks if “anyone still take[s] both sexual assault and due process seriously.” She certainly doesn’t.”

Damn it, Rondi! I’m a doctor, not a medical doctor!

Note: I am, of course, borrowing my title from the original Star Trek’s Doctor “Bones” McCoy, who in various adventures reprimanded his captain with the line, “Damn it, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a [fill in the blank]!” I particularly recall a case, in the episode “The Devil in the Dark” involving a silicon-based life form called a horta, injured before the Enterprise crew figured out that she was an intelligent life form and how to communicate with her, that had been trying to protect her eggs from Federation miners. In it, that blank was filled with “bricklayer.”[1]

So this morning, I saw that the Wall Street Journal carried an op-ed lampooning the use of the honorific “Doctor” with the author claiming, “I am fortunate to spend a lot of time in Italy, where very nearly everyone is a doctor—a lowly bachelor’s degree will do.” Context here is important: As Ms. Rondi Adamson notes, “during the [Brett] Kavanaugh confirmation madness[,] Christine Blasey Ford was scrupulously referred to by media and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as ‘Dr. Ford.’ Failure to comply was frowned upon.”[2] And we should note that the opinion pages of the Journal were as friendly toward Kavanaugh as those of the National Review and the Daily Standard. Which is to say, very friendly indeed, and utterly dismissive of any questions of Kavanaugh’s alleged sex offenses. Continue reading “Damn it, Rondi! I’m a doctor, not a medical doctor!”

  1. [1]Star Trek, episode 26, “The Devil in the Dark,” directed by Joseph Pevney, written by Gene L. Coon, featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, aired March 9, 1967, on NBC.
  2. [2]Rondi Adamson, “Is There a Doctorate in the House?” Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-there-a-doctorate-in-the-house-1539298906

A single set of values

One of the things that stood out to me when I was reading Benedict Anderson’s  Imagined Communities was a point he made about how minority languages and customs must be suppressed in the name of national unity.[1] An interesting point, I thought, explaining some of the tensions we see around the world: China with Tibet, India with non-Hindus, the Rwanda genocide, and well, the list goes on.

I didn’t see the point as applying so well within the United States. But it does. Continue reading “A single set of values”

  1. [1]Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006).

Getting out the vote

In the wake of probable sex offender Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court,

Both Republicans and Democrats insisted that the tumult would motivate their voters to turn out for the Nov. 6 election — with both sides citing the anti-Kavanaugh protests that have roiled Capitol Hill and far beyond as a sign of change to come.”[1]

And indeed, the corresponding campaign, at least on the Democratic Party—the same party whose coronation of Hillary Clinton in 2014 and insistence on her nomination in 2016 led directly to Donald Trump’s election—side fills my Twitter feed. Continue reading “Getting out the vote”

  1. [1]Jennifer Haberkorn, “Senate narrowly approves Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court, cementing conservative majority,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-kavanaugh-confirmed-20181006-story.html

Means to toxic ends

At this writing, it appears increasingly likely that a probable—even if only marginally probable—sex offender, Brett Kavanaugh,[1] will be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.[2] This will occur in the wake of a woefully deficient FBI report on its investigation of some allegations against Kavanaugh[3] and as Kavanaugh’s supporters engage in ad hominem attacks against his accusers.[4] Continue reading “Means to toxic ends”

  1. [1]Benjamin Wittes, “I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him,” Atlantic, October 2, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/why-i-wouldnt-confirm-brett-kavanaugh/571936/
  2. [2]Seung Min Kim and John Wagner, “Kavanaugh moves closer to Senate confirmation as GOP argues FBI report exonerates the judge,” Washington Post, October 4, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senators-prepare-to-review-fbi-report-on-kavanaugh-after-early-morning-arrival/2018/10/04/394dbaf8-c7be-11e8-b2b5-79270f9cce17_story.html; John Wagner and Seung Min Kim, “Key Republicans signal satisfaction with FBI report, increasing confirmation odds for Kavanaugh,” Washington Post, October 4, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senators-prepare-to-review-fbi-report-on-kavanaugh-after-early-morning-arrival/2018/10/04/394dbaf8-c7be-11e8-b2b5-79270f9cce17_story.html
  3. [3]Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, “The F.B.I. Probe Ignored Testimonies from Former Classmates of Kavanaugh,” New Yorker, October 3, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/will-the-fbi-ignore-testimonies-from-kavanaughs-former-classmates; John Wagner and Seung Min Kim, “Grassley, White House stand by Kavanaugh as Senate reviews FBI report,” Washington Post, October 4, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senators-prepare-to-review-fbi-report-on-kavanaugh-after-early-morning-arrival/2018/10/04/394dbaf8-c7be-11e8-b2b5-79270f9cce17_story.html
  4. [4]Sean Sullivan and Gabriel Pogrund, “Adopting Trumpian strategy, Republicans level personal attacks against Kavanaugh accusers,” Washington Post, October 3, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/republicans-level-personal-attacks-against-kavanaugh-accusers/2018/10/03/6a8a250a-c739-11e8-b1ed-1d2d65b86d0c_story.html

Innocent until proven guilty

I would think that if you are going to grant somebody a lifetime position with as much power as that of a Supreme Court Justice, you would want that person to be beyond reproach. Instead, Republicans seem determined to ram through Brett Kavanaugh on a standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As I noted in my last post, “innocent until proven guilty” is a standard unavailable to the poor.[1] Indeed, we blame the poor for being poor,[2] the homeless for being homeless.[3] And I strongly doubt women who have come forward to accuse men of rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, only to find themselves accused and slut-shamed, feel that the standard has applied to them. Continue reading “Innocent until proven guilty”

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Clarity on Brett Kavanaugh,” Not Housebroken, September 24, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/09/24/clarity-on-brett-kavanaugh/
  2. [2]Kristina Cooke, David Rohde, and Ryan McNeill, “The Undeserving Poor,” Atlantic, December 20, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/the-undeserving-poor/266507/; Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Henry A. Giroux, “Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability,” Truthout, April 8, 2014, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/22958-neoliberalism-and-the-machinery-of-disposability; Michael B. Katz, “How America abandoned its ‘undeserving’ poor,” Salon, December 21, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/21/how_america_abandoned_its_undeserving_poor; Lucy Mangan, “If you don’t understand how people fall into poverty, you’re probably a sociopath,” Guardian, January 24, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/24/if-you-dont-understand-poverty-youre-a-sociopath; Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  3. [3]Gary Blasi, “The 1% wants to ban sleeping in cars – because it hurts their ‘quality of life’,” Guardian, April 15, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/15/ban-sleeping-in-cars-homeless-silicon-valley; Tana Ganeva, “5 shocking ways America abuses its homeless,” Salon, September 13, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/09/13/5_shocking_ways_america_abuses_its_homeless_partner/; Alastair Gee, “Low-income workers who live in RVs are being ‘chased out’ of Silicon Valley streets,” Guardian, June 29, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/29/low-income-workers-rvs-palo-alto-california-homeless;  Rich Gutierrez and Leslie Patron, “Displacing the Unprofitable and Undesirable in California’s San Jose,” Truthdig, April 22, 2017, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/displacing_unprofitable_undesirable_in_san_joses_fountain_alley_20170419; Monica Potts, “Dispossessed in the Land of Dreams,” New Republic, December 13, 2018, https://newrepublic.com/article/124476/dispossessed-land-dreams; Stephanie Thomson, “We shouldn’t treat the homeless like criminals,” Guardian, August 25, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/25/we-shouldnt-treat-the-homeless-like-criminals; Emily Alpert Reyes, “As businesses cite blight, overnight RV parking bans on L.A. streets grow — and the homeless scramble,” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-rv-homeless-20180317-story.html; David Whiting, “11,000 sign petition to clear homeless from Santa Ana River Trail; state of emergency considered,” Orange County Register, August 31, 2017, http://www.ocregister.com/2017/08/31/11000-sign-petition-to-clear-homeless-from-santa-ana-river-trail-state-of-emergency-considered/

Clarity on Brett Kavanaugh

Lindsey Graham ought to be ashamed of himself:

“What am I supposed to do, go and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” [Christine Blasey] Ford’s allegations that [Brett] Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in the early 1980s would be too thin to hold up in court, Graham said. “I don’t know when it happened, I don’t know where it happened, and everybody named in regard to being there said it didn’t happen. I’m just being honest: Unless there’s something more, no, I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this.”[1]

We are not talking about “ruin[ing] this guy’s life.” We are talking about confirming a possible sex offender,[2] who enjoys the protections the rich and powerful afford to each other,[3] to the highest court in the land, where he would, for better or for worse, participate in decisions affecting hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading “Clarity on Brett Kavanaugh”

  1. [1]Karoun Demirjian, Amy Gardner, and Seung Min Kim, “Senate Judiciary panel’s top Democrat calls for delay in Kavanaugh hearing after new allegation,” Washington Post, September 23, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/as-hearing-on-kavanaugh-assault-allegations-loom-senators-seem-unwilling-to-budge/2018/09/23/99f3fd3e-bf37-11e8-90c9-23f963eea204_story.html
  2. [2]Emma Brown, “California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault,” Washington Post, September 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/california-professor-writer-of-confidential-brett-kavanaugh-letter-speaks-out-about-her-allegation-of-sexual-assault/2018/09/16/46982194-b846-11e8-94eb-3bd52dfe917b_story.html; Karoun Demirjian, Amy Gardner, and Seung Min Kim, “Senate Judiciary panel’s top Democrat calls for delay in Kavanaugh hearing after new allegation,” Washington Post, September 23, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/as-hearing-on-kavanaugh-assault-allegations-loom-senators-seem-unwilling-to-budge/2018/09/23/99f3fd3e-bf37-11e8-90c9-23f963eea204_story.html; Deanna Paul, “A former sex-crimes prosecutor analyzed Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. Here’s her take,” Washington Post, September 18, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/09/18/former-sex-crimes-prosecutor-analyzed-fords-allegations-against-kavanaugh-heres-her-take/
  3. [3]Eliot A. Cohen, “The Crisis of the American Elites,” Atlantic, September 23, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/the-crisis-of-the-american-elites/571060/; Emily Witt, “The Boys’ Club That Protects Brett Kavanaugh,” New Yorker, September 22, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-boys-club-that-protects-brett-kavanaugh

The morality of polarization

So Donald Trump bragged about being able to grab a woman “by the pussy”[1] (he dismisses this as “locker room talk”[2]), almost certainly had an affair with an adult film star,[3] and went on to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court who now stands credibly accused of attempted rape at a drunken party in his teen-aged years.[4] Continue reading “The morality of polarization”

  1. [1]Jeff Stein, “Here’s what happens if Trump drops out,” Vox, October 8, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/10/8/13211050/what-happens-trump-dropout
  2. [2]British Broadcasting Corporation, “US election: Trump says obscene remarks were ‘locker room talk,’” October 10, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37604151
  3. [3]Anderson Cooper, “Stormy Daniels describes her alleged affair with Donald Trump,” CBS News, March 26, 2018, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stormy-daniels-describes-her-alleged-affair-with-donald-trump-60-minutes-interview/
  4. [4]Emma Brown, “California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault,” Washington Post, September 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/california-professor-writer-of-confidential-brett-kavanaugh-letter-speaks-out-about-her-allegation-of-sexual-assault/2018/09/16/46982194-b846-11e8-94eb-3bd52dfe917b_story.html; Deanna Paul, “A former sex-crimes prosecutor analyzed Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. Here’s her take,” Washington Post, September 18, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/09/18/former-sex-crimes-prosecutor-analyzed-fords-allegations-against-kavanaugh-heres-her-take/

Epistemology as inquiry

One of the things we need to remember about philosophy—this was in the introductory class I had at American River College back in the late 1970s— is that philosophy does not answer questions but rather poses and explores them.

This is a crucial point: When you have decided you know the answer, you cease to question it. And then it ceases to be a topic of inquiry or even a philosophical topic. Continue reading “Epistemology as inquiry”