Tag Archives: violence

Nuclear Violence is Why We Are Living in the Anthropocene Age

15 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The short essay below is my contribution to the latest thematic Forum of the Great Transition Initiative. It responds to a beautifully crafted paper by the Founder of GTI under the auspices of the Tellus Institute, Paul Raskin. Paul’s initial paper and a series of fascinating responses can be found at  https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/interrogating-the-anthropocene. GTI has developed a powerful and sophisticated global network for dialogue about achieving a visionary future despite the dark clouds that now fill the sky.]

GTI FORUM 
Violence: Another Existential Crisis 

Contribution to GTI Forum Interrogating the Anthropocene: Truth and Fallacy

Richard Falk February 2021 

As I grasp the essence of the consensus emerging from this discussion of Paul Raskin’s eloquent essay, it is an acceptance of the Anthropocene as a dire warning that the human species is headed for disaster, if not extinction, if its ecological footprint is not greatly reduced in the relatively near future. The GTI perspective adds the indispensable insight that social evolution has many pathways to the future that can be instructively framed as a dramatic narrative enacted as a struggle between forces sustaining the destructive perishing patterns of the currently dominant modernist variants of civilization and those intent on achieving a variety of alternative civilizational constellations that incorporate what Paul calls for at the end of his conjectures: “expanded identity, solidarity, and citizenship.” It is fair to assume that these enlargements move civilizational vectors toward greater appreciations of species destiny along with possibilities of nurturing satisfaction with the experience of human community on a global scale. Such futures imply living with a new contentment based on underlying commonalities while at the same time valuing gender, societal, ethnic, and generational differences and overcoming past abuses.

I regard the GTI community as an ideational vanguard that is carrying forward the work of restorative vision with respect to the organically connected ecological and societal challenges. The hopeful ontological premise is the existence of reservoirs of species potential to turn the negative impacts of human geological agency, which mostly explains the designation of our time as the Anthropocene, into positive forms of social behavior that incorporate ecological and humanistic ethics in ways capable of actualizing variants of the GTI project.

There is also the baffling question of transcendence, which opens the portals of freedom and discovery by uniquely privileging and burdening the human species with freedom, and hence with responsibility to do the right thing. Individually and collectively, we can learn to see properly, and when we do, we have the freedom and responsibility to struggle for a better, and perhaps radically different, future. In this spirit, should the primary endeavor be to redesign capitalist dynamics to avoid destructive ecological effects and mitigate alienating and exploitative impacts on social relations, or should our ways of producing, consuming, and living be reframed to conform more closely to imaginaries of human flourishing? Due to the limited time to avoid irreversible or catastrophic damage, should GTI efforts prioritize “buying time” by settling for modest adjustments, assuming more fundamental change can emerge over longer periods? There exists a “Hegelian Trap” whereby an envisaged future gets confused with an attainable future. The teaching of the Anthropocene is that major ecological adjustments must be made soon—with the crucial sociological feedback being that the looming tragedy is not attributable to the human condition, but rather reflects a civilizational turn, sometimes associated with the turn from hunter-gathering civilizational ascendancy to agriculture and specialization, and reaching its climax by way of “modernity” as emanating from the Industrial Revolution.

Against this background, I find it useful to highlight the role of war, violence, and identity as carried to clarifying extremes by the United States. The US is the world’s leading source of arms sales, maintains black sites in foreign countries used to torture terrorist suspects, manages one of the largest per capita prison populations in the world, possesses the world’s only constitutionally grounded gun culture, and yet is less secure than ever before in its history. And to underscore this disturbing pattern, the most revered advocate of nonviolent struggle in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968.

My sense of the socioeconomic side of predatory capitalism and ecological denialism is this pervasive delusion that weaponry and violence bring “security” to individuals, neighbors, and countries. Even the alarm bells set off by the use of atomic bombs in 1945 did not overcome the deeply entrenched roots of militarism at all levels of social interaction from gun culture to nuclear arsenals. With the passage of time, the possession of nuclear weapons was normalized for the states that prevailed in World War II, and global policy focused on keeping the weaponry away from other states by establishing an anti-proliferation regime, a system of nuclear apartheid that reflects the latest phase of geopolitical primacy as the fallacious basis of stability in world affairs. There are two points interwoven here: the pervasiveness of violence in human experience and the degree to which a nuclear war could parallel eco-catastrophe, threatening the Gaia Equilibrium that led stratigraphers to pronounce our geological age as the Anthropocene.

When we consider the sorts of human futures that would transcend the maladies of the present historical circumstances, we cannot get very far without a radical turn against individual and collective forms of violence and warfare. It is relevant to take note of the degree to which violence in every shape and form infuses even entertainment in many civilizational spaces, including even most indigenous communities. China is far from nonviolent, yet its remarkable surge, overcoming the extreme poverty of at least 300,000,000 million Chinese, as well as its expansionist vision of the vast Belt and Road Initiative seems a better platform from which to hope for benign civilizational transcendence.

As earlier observed, there are also obstacles associated with the civilizational modalities that presently control the basic categories of time and space. There is a mismatch between the time horizons of ecological, economic, and security challenges and electoral cycles of accountability. Political, corporate, and financial leaders are viewed by their short-term performance records, and thus tend to under-react to medium- and longer-term threats. In relation to space, the vast differences in wealth and capabilities among states and regions produces inequalities perceived as unjust, and need to be defended and justified by ideologies that fragment of human identity and community. In terms of world order, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and until that ratio can be inverted, Paul Raskin’s imperative of expanded identity, solidarity, and citizenship will fall mostly on deaf ears. We live in a world in which the part is valued more than the whole, and such a political order might have persisted in a pre-Anthropocene worldview, but is now in deep jeopardy.

GTI FORUM 
Violence: Another Existential Crisis 

Contribution to GTI Forum Interrogating the Anthropocene: Truth and Fallacy

 

As I grasp the essence of the consensus emerging from this discussion of Paul Raskin’s eloquent essay, it is an acceptance of the Anthropocene as a dire warning that the human species is headed for disaster, if not extinction, if its ecological footprint is not greatly reduced in the relatively near future. The GTI perspective adds the indispensable insight that social evolution has many pathways to the future that can be instructively framed as a dramatic narrative enacted as a struggle between forces sustaining the destructive perishing patterns of the currently dominant modernist variants of civilization and those intent on achieving a variety of alternative civilizational constellations that incorporate what Paul calls for at the end of his conjectures: “expanded identity, solidarity, and citizenship.” It is fair to assume that these enlargements move civilizational vectors toward greater appreciations of species destiny along with possibilities of nurturing satisfaction with the experience of human community on a global scale. Such futures imply living with a new contentment based on underlying commonalities while at the same time valuing gender, societal, ethnic, and generational differences and overcoming past abuses.

I regard the GTI community as an ideational vanguard that is carrying forward the work of restorative vision with respect to the organically connected ecological and societal challenges. The hopeful ontological premise is the existence of reservoirs of species potential to turn the negative impacts of human geological agency, which mostly explains the designation of our time as the Anthropocene, into positive forms of social behavior that incorporate ecological and humanistic ethics in ways capable of actualizing variants of the GTI project.

There is also the baffling question of transcendence, which opens the portals of freedom and discovery by uniquely privileging and burdening the human species with freedom, and hence with responsibility to do the right thing. Individually and collectively, we can learn to see properly, and when we do, we have the freedom and responsibility to struggle for a better, and perhaps radically different, future. In this spirit, should the primary endeavor be to redesign capitalist dynamics to avoid destructive ecological effects and mitigate alienating and exploitative impacts on social relations, or should our ways of producing, consuming, and living be reframed to conform more closely to imaginaries of human flourishing? Due to the limited time to avoid irreversible or catastrophic damage, should GTI efforts prioritize “buying time” by settling for modest adjustments, assuming more fundamental change can emerge over longer periods? There exists a “Hegelian Trap” whereby an envisaged future gets confused with an attainable future. The teaching of the Anthropocene is that major ecological adjustments must be made soon—with the crucial sociological feedback being that the looming tragedy is not attributable to the human condition, but rather reflects a civilizational turn, sometimes associated with the turn from hunter-gathering civilizational ascendancy to agriculture and specialization, and reaching its climax by way of “modernity” as emanating from the Industrial Revolution.

Against this background, I find it useful to highlight the role of war, violence, and identity as carried to clarifying extremes by the United States. The US is the world’s leading source of arms sales, maintains black sites in foreign countries used to torture terrorist suspects, manages one of the largest per capita prison populations in the world, possesses the world’s only constitutionally grounded gun culture, and yet is less secure than ever before in its history. And to underscore this disturbing pattern, the most revered advocate of nonviolent struggle in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968.

My sense of the socioeconomic side of predatory capitalism and ecological denialism is this pervasive delusion that weaponry and violence bring “security” to individuals, neighbors, and countries. Even the alarm bells set off by the use of atomic bombs in 1945 did not overcome the deeply entrenched roots of militarism at all levels of social interaction from gun culture to nuclear arsenals. With the passage of time, the possession of nuclear weapons was normalized for the states that prevailed in World War II, and global policy focused on keeping the weaponry away from other states by establishing an anti-proliferation regime, a system of nuclear apartheid that reflects the latest phase of geopolitical primacy as the fallacious basis of stability in world affairs. There are two points interwoven here: the pervasiveness of violence in human experience and the degree to which a nuclear war could parallel eco-catastrophe, threatening the Gaia Equilibrium that led stratigraphers to pronounce our geological age as the Anthropocene.

When we consider the sorts of human futures that would transcend the maladies of the present historical circumstances, we cannot get very far without a radical turn against individual and collective forms of violence and warfare. It is relevant to take note of the degree to which violence in every shape and form infuses even entertainment in many civilizational spaces, including even most indigenous communities. China is far from nonviolent, yet its remarkable surge, overcoming the extreme poverty of at least 300,000,000 million Chinese, as well as its expansionist vision of the vast Belt and Road Initiative seems a better platform from which to hope for benign civilizational transcendence.

As earlier observed, there are also obstacles associated with the civilizational modalities that presently control the basic categories of time and space. There is a mismatch between the time horizons of ecological, economic, and security challenges and electoral cycles of accountability. Political, corporate, and financial leaders are viewed by their short-term performance records, and thus tend to under-react to medium- and longer-term threats. In relation to space, the vast differences in wealth and capabilities among states and regions produces inequalities perceived as unjust, and need to be defended and justified by ideologies that fragment of human identity and community. In terms of world order, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and until that ratio can be inverted, Paul Raskin’s imperative of expanded identity, solidarity, and citizenship will fall mostly on deaf ears. We live in a world in which the part is valued more than the whole, and such a political order might have persisted in a pre-Anthropocene worldview, but is now in deep jeopardy.

Interrogating the Arizona Killings from a Safe Distance

11 Jan


I spent a year in Sweden a few years after the assassination of Olaf Palme in 1986, the controversial former prime minister of the country who at the time of his death was serving as a member of the Swedish cabinet. He was assassinated while walking with his wife back to their apartment in the historic part of the city after attending a nearby movie. It was a shocking event in a Sweden that had prided itself on moderateness in politics and the avoidance of involvement in the wars of the twentieth century. A local drifter, with a history of alcoholism, was charged and convicted of the crime, but many doubts persisted, including on the part of Ms. Palme who analogized her situation to that of Coretta King who never believed the official version of her martyred husband’s death.

I had a particular interest in this national traumatic event as my reason for being in Sweden was a result of an invitation to be the Olaf Palme Professor, a rotating academic post given each year to a foreign scholar, established by the Swedish Parliament as a memorial to their former leader. (after the Social Democratic Party lost political control in Sweden this professorship was promptly defunded, partly because Palme was unloved by conservatives and partly because of a neoliberal dislike for public support of such activities)

In the course of my year traveling around Sweden I often asked those whom I met what was their view of the assassination, and what I discovered was that the responses told me more about them than it did about the public event. Some thought it was a dissident faction in the Swedish security forces long angered by Palme’s neutralist policies, some believed it was resentment caused by Palme’s alleged engineering of Swedish arms sales to both sides in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, some believed it was the CIA in revenge for Palme’s neutralism during the Cold War, some believed it could have criminals in the pay of business tycoons tired of paying high taxes needed to maintain the Swedish maximalist version of a welfare state, and there were other theories as well. What was common to all of these explanations was the lack of evidence that might connect the dots. What people believed happened flowed from their worldview rather than the facts of the event—a distrust of the state, especially its secret operations, or a strong conviction that special interests hidden from view were behind prominent public events of this character.

In a way, this process of reflection is natural, even inevitable, but it leads to faulty conclusions. We tend to process information against the background of our general worldview and understanding, and we do this all the time as an efficient way of coping with the complexity of the world combined with our lack of time or inclination to reach conclusions by independent investigation. The problem arises when we confuse this means of interpreting our experience with an effort to provide an explanation of a contested public event. There are, to be sure, conspiracies that promote unacknowledged goals, and enjoy the benefit of government protection. We don’t require WikiLeaks to remind us not to trust governments, even our own, and others that seem in most respects to be democratic and law-abiding. And we also by now should know that governments (ab)use their authority to treat awkward knowledge as a matter of state secrets, and criminalize those who are brave enough to believe that the citizenry needs to know the crimes that their government is committing with their trust and their tax dollars.

The arguments swirling around the 9/11 attacks are emblematic of these issues. What fuels suspicions of conspiracy is the reluctance to address the sort of awkward gaps and contradictions in the official explanations that David Ray Griffin(and other devoted scholars of high integrity) have been documenting in book after book ever since his authoritative The New Pearl Harbor in 2004 (updated in 2008). What may be more distressing than the apparent cover up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an al Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials. Is this silence a manifestation of fear or cooption, or part of an equally disturbing filter of self-censorship? Whatever it is, the result is the withering away of a participatory citizenry and the erosion of legitimate constitutional government. The forms persist, but the content is missing.

This brings me to the Arizona shootings, victimizing both persons apparently targeted for their political views and random people who happened to be there for one reason or another, innocently paying their respects to a congresswoman meeting constituents outside a Tucson supermarket. As with the Palme assassination, the most insistent immediate responses come from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, both proceeding on presuppositions rather than awaiting evidence.

On one side are those who say that right-wing hate speech and affection for guns were clearly responsible, while Tea Party ultra-conservatives and their friends reaffirm their rights of free speech, denying that there is any connection between denouncing their adversaries in the political process and the violent acts of a deranged individual seemingly acting on his own.  If we want to be responsible in our assessments, we must restrain our political predispositions, and get the evidence. Let us remember that what seems most disturbing about the 9/11 controversy is the widespread aversion by government and media to the evidence that suggests, at the very least, the need for an independent investigation that proceeds with no holds barred.

Such an investigation would contrast with the official ‘9/11 Commission’ that proceeded with most holds barred.  What has been already disturbing about the Arizona incident are these rival rushes to judgment without bothering with evidence. Such public irresponsibility polarizes political discourse, making conversation and serious debate irrelevant.

There is one more issue raised, with typical candor and innocence, by the filmmaker, Michael Moore. If a Muslim group has published a list of twenty political leaders in this country, and put crosshairs of a gun behind their pictures, is there any doubt that the Arizona events would be treated as the work of a terrorist,, and the group that had pre-identified such targets would be immediately outlawed as a terrorist organization. Many of us, myself included, fervently hoped, upon hearing the news of the shootings, that the perpetrator of this violence was neither a Muslim nor a Hispanic, especially an illegal immigrant. Why? Because we justly feared the kind of horrifying backlash that would have been probably generated by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly,  Sarah Palin, and their legion of allies. Now that the apparent perpetrator is a young white American, the talk from the hate mongers, agains without bothering with evidence, is of mental disorder and sociopathology. This is faith-based pre-Enlightenment ‘knowledge.’

What must we learn from all of this? Don’t connect dots without evidence. Don’t turn away as soon as the words ‘conspiracy theory’ are uttered, especially if the evidence does point away from what the power-wielders want us to believe. Don’t link individual wrongdoing, however horrific, to wider religious and ethnic identities. We will perish as a species if we don’t learn soon to live together better on our beautiful, globalizing, and imperiled planet.