“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
From an incessant flow of paranoid tweets to bizarre statements about massacres that never happened or secret cameras fitted in microwaves, Donald Trump’s regime has ushered the unhinged spectacle of reality show television right into the Oval Office with stunning success. Were this absurdity to be contained within the confines of a political thriller it might be mildly entertaining. But in the real world, a world in which real civilians are being blown to bits by smart bombs, real children are starving to death, real refugees are being turned back to face certain death, and where the real biosphere is perilously close to the edge of catastrophe, this derangement is utterly terrifying.
Trump is a master at manipulating the corporate media via the manufacture of controversy and melodrama. Of course the irony is that the very same broadcasting behemoths he routinely demonizes provide his unhinged theatrics with non stop coverage which, in turn, has given them unprecedented ratings and profits. But behind the spectacle lurks a far more insidious method to this madness. In a mere three months the Trump regime has managed to replace the heads of institutions like the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with individuals who wish to dismantle them. He has codified racist xenophobia through executive orders which ban Muslims and persecute undocumented immigrants. And through his elevation of white supremacist Steven Bannon to astonishing power, he has animated the latent white nationalist movement.
The Trump regime has also demonstrated its eager willingness to expand the war machine of American Empire, pouring billions of dollars into an already bloated military industrial sector while gutting social and medical services. In this short time Trump’s militarism has empowered the Pentagon and has claimed the lives of scores of men, women and children from Syria, to Yemen, to Iraq, and it is only just ramping up. There is also little to cast doubt on the prospect of wars and military conflicts involving China, North Korea and Iran in the not too distant future given the administration’s unhinged saber rattling and provocation.
His appointment of former ExxonMobil executive, Rex Tillerson, to the State Department signifies a blatant display of the influence of the fossil fuel industry in regard to US foreign and domestic policy. Tillerson presided over the company in the 1970s, a period in which the oil giant launched massive campaigns to deny its own research which confirmed human caused global warming. Trump’s recent executive order related to climate change delivered a blow to reason. It was meant to. His absurdist view that it is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese is a hallmark of his risible ignorance and, remarkably, still has currency in many conspiratorially minded circles. But in this Age of Absurdity facts and the truth itself have become the first victims.
As a resurgent fascism stands poised to sweep over the West we can expect increasing brutality against dissent; and it would be foolish to think the repercussions of this would remain localized. We will be increasingly asked to choose between compliance with monstrous state repression or bold resistance. The protests which have sprung up against the onslaught of misogynistic and xenophobic polices have been encouraging to see, but there are already a slew of laws in the works designed to stifle direct action. And the Democratic Party establishment is not interested, nor is it equipped to offer up any kind of meaningful resistance since it has acquiesced to the demands and interests of Wall Street, corporations and the war industry long ago. Their role has been one of normalizing the ruthless exploits of global capitalism. Indeed, the Clinton and Obama administrations championed the brutality of neoliberal capitalism and weakened civil liberties and gutted social safety nets for the poor while deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and bolstering the imperialistic war machine.
If there is anyone to look to in these dark times for inspiration it would be the ongoing struggles of Black Lives Matter, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), and Standing Rock Sioux which largely began during the previous administration and are international in scope. These movements have endured and weathered police and state intimidation, brutality, violence and arrest; and it is their fortitude and integrity which offers us all a living example of how bold we will need to be in the face of an ever more oppressive tyranny. They were born of the historic struggles of indigenous peoples against colonialism, police brutality and environmental racism. And with the perilous times that lie ahead solidarity with them is needed now more than ever before.
Thanks to the convergence of a climate ravaged world and a fragile biosphere that is teetering on collapse and extinction, the global despotism rising today will be unlike anything we have ever seen before. The flames of nationalism and xenophobia will be fanned by fascists who will ride a rising and unfortunate tide of climate chaos. They will use famine, austerity and social unrest and uncertainty to justify brutal authoritarianism, repression and state violence; and they will have no problem employing chicanery, scapegoating and dehumanization to achieve their end. Indeed, their embrace of absurdity, or its pretense, is their strength.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt said: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” The more fascists are permitted to make a mockery of justice, humanity and protection of the living earth, the more easy it will be for them to manipulate the deepest fears and prejudices of the public. They will continue to launch mendacious smears against climate scientists, assault the poor and the most vulnerable, advance racism, expand war and militarism, disparage the press, and promote the inversion of reality to their favor even as the planet burns. And if we continue to allow them to bend the arc of truth we will most assuredly see truth itself begin to die. Our resistance to tyranny begins the day we refuse to allow this to happen on our watch.
Kenn Orphan 2017
To many of us who live near to nature the idea of ghosts is far from fantasy. The concept is neither childish nor macabre. We commune with our ghosts and respect them. They are the embodiment of our lost dreams and elusive joy, and only haunt those who misinterpret their messages. They have no malice, only longing.
Ghosts are the shadows of our psyche. They, like other archetypal figures, represent our lost aspirations both as individuals and as a species. In many indigenous societies it is the ghost who guides us toward emancipation and actualization, not the angel. This is because every one of us can identify with a ghost. Few of us have the piety or inherent detachment necessary to make us an angel. In mythology ghosts can never attain angelic or demonic status. They live outside the rhythm of life like dissonant chords, condemned to only remember loss. And it is in this very quality that we see our selves reflected. In this time of the Great Dying, ghosts call to us more than ever before.
Unsurprisingly, the reductionist cannot understand this embrace of the mystery of transcendence. The intangible is broken down into facile explanations which extinguish imagination and deride wonder. They equate spirit with superstition or magical thinking. Authoritarian and patriarchal religions are much the same and have had a lot to do with this backlash. It is understandable why this is so given their legacy of cruelty, crusades against science and repression of free thought. But even all of that does not make the narrow reductionist perspective a correct one.
Neither science or religion have the final answers to the questions all of us hold deep inside us about life and death, our existence and the existence of this marvelous universe, and the meaning of it all. Throughout history there have been numerous visionaries that have found the courage to step outside their esteemed roles and institutional bias and open their hearts and minds to a greater understanding of who we are. They not only asked questions or sought truth, they yearned for a meaning greater than their societal worldview. A meaning greater than the sum of their parts. The best of them used the arts to express their quest. But art is accessible to all of us. It is the greatest passage way toward understanding.
I think that is why I have appreciated the artist Joan Jonas ever since I encountered her work. She considers rural Nova Scotia, my home, her second home. And I can see why. Outside the city, a place where the songs of ghosts are often mercilessly drowned out by modernity, there are vast stretches of wilderness dotted with sparse communities carved into history and nature like a sculpture. Jonas’ art not only touches on the ghosts of human beings, but of animals and other species, especially the ones who have disappeared forever.
Her and other works of this nature bring up many questions for me. When humans pass into the void will our ghosts roam with them? Are those who have gone on already doing this now? Or will we damn our souls to the mediocrity of pseudo separation and supremacy? Will we listen to the ghosts struggling to teach us? Will we hear their pleas for connection, community and solidarity with one another and the myriad of other species that inhabit this life drenched world?
Truthfully, I do not have the answers for any of these questions. But we are all staring down a gun. This is an unprecedented epoch in the age of homo sapiens. We are witnessing the alarming acceleration of species extinction mostly caused by human activity. With this terrible knowledge we must all choose if we are going to continue to ignore the carnage or face it with courage. Of course awareness alone is not enough. But it is the beginning of transformation. Facing death, ours and that of other living beings, can ignite a fire that can burn away the illusions that fill our modern, congested lives; and rise us out of the din. Illusions that crowd out our capacity for connection and solidarity.
The ghosts that roam among us should not to be feared. They are merely the refracted reflections of our missed opportunities, wars of conquest, folly, misplaced rage, scorned wonder and repressed joy. They are, in truth, us. But they have an urgent story to tell; and if we ignore or dismiss them it will be at our own peril.
Kenn Orphan 2017
Title art piece for this essay is Japanese Ghosts, Katsushika Hokusai: Phoenix, 1835.
An interview with artist Joan Jonas:
Perhaps you can commiserate. I keep having this recurring thought. I am perched on a branch above a flooding stream. The muddy waters below me churn and swell. The winds howl around me. Torrents of rain beat down on my head. Others clamber up the tree near me. I reach out a hand only to watch them pulled away into the dark waters. Then the branch on which I sit begins to crack and I realize I am in free fall. It is a helpless and desperate feeling. It is the end of the world… the end of my world.
No, this recurring feeling I have had is not about the circus unfolding in Washington DC. It is rooted in our collective predicament as a species. I have said this several times before, but I believe more and more that we are at a place in human history where the status quo of almost everything is about to shift and the American political landscape is only one piece of this dire reality. It is true that no one can predict the future with certainty, but it it is also true that many of us have a pretty good idea of where we are all heading.
In case you were off world and missed it, let me break it down: the climate is rapidly transforming in real time before our eyes. Ice sheets in Antarctica, frozen for millions of years, are disintegrating rapidly and collapsing in a months time. Massive wildfires and intractable drought on each continent have become a year round reality. Biblical floods are a terrifying, new normal. Soil depletion is widespread; and the integrity of biomass is greatly degraded and imperiled. The planet’s oceans are acidifying with dead zones growing exponentially in size each year. What we are witness to is the Sixth Mass Extinction, a human caused disaster that is sweeping over us like a tsunami. In its insurmountable wake it is taking with it the earth’s largest living organism, a being visible from orbit, the Great Barrier Reef. Petrifying it in a blanket of stark, white death.
Within mere decades many, if not most, of the coastal areas of the world will be inundated. Drought is poised to cause widespread famine and disease will follow close behind. Of course the poorest of the poor who have always suffered the most will suffer exponentially in the years to come. A refugee crisis not seen before in human history is on the horizon, but Westerners should not kid themselves. We are all in the same sinking spaceship; and at some point this global catastrophe will leave no one untouched.
The companion to this appears to be a collective lunacy among world leaders and the most powerful. Armed to the teeth with life extinguishing nukes, they seem to have reduced our collective, existential predicament to a joust between failing empires. They are bolstering a renewed, reactionary authoritarianism and stoking base prejudices among the masses. The melting Arctic sea does not alarm them. On the contrary, it presents them with new opportunities for exploitation of ever dwindling and harder to reach oil reserves, the earth’s poisonous primordial blood. They look at the coming collapse with shrugged shoulders while they fill their coffers with coin. And make no mistake, they will not cease this destruction voluntarily. In the end the failing systems of the earth’s biosphere and climate and the impossible equation of infinite growth on a planet with finite resources will put a stop to their unhinged folly. But what price will we all have to pay for their madness?
And how, then, can we make sense of our predicament? How do we live lives of dignity, purpose and meaning in the midst of a free fall of civilization and the biosphere? I think it begins with disengaging from the dominant narrative of a profoundly sick culture. It is a narrative which reinforces separation from nature and the universe itself. It is a message center which controls how we see the world and all of its inhabitants. It objectifies, commodifies and nullifies the inherent worth of all living things and replaces them with absurd facsimiles of life which end up both mocking and crushing the soul and polluting the verdant earth. It is a culture responsible for war, poverty and avarice; and it is blind to its own imminent demise.
This age we live in reinforces alienation, denial, apathy and despair by hapless design. If we are to reclaim our humanity and our place in this rapidly deteriorating world we must return to that most childlike of qualities: imagination. We need to find the courage to place ourselves unashamedly into that dream time of imagining a world of connection with all that lives and the sense of wonder that comes with it. We need to give ourselves permission to pry open the cultural locks that have constrained our soul in a prison of lies, and reject anything that devalues us or separates us from the other. Perhaps then we can really begin to live the life we were all intended to live on this life drenched planet, even if we are in the last great epoch of our species.
A growing number of scientists argue, and with compelling empirical evidence, that a free fall of the biosphere is already under way. If this is true it will inevitably lead to the breakdown of complex societal systems and social order. The increase in relentless storms, droughts, famines and disease will accompany the rise of authoritarianism, racist xenophobia and militaristic nationalism around the globe. Truthfully, we are already seeing much of this happening today. In fact, much of the world now deals with this uncertain brutality and barbarism. But in the dark days that lie ahead no one will be spared the painful choices such a convergence will bring.
Many of us who have lived relatively calm lives in more affluent or stable societies will be increasingly asked to take uncomfortable stands that billions in poorer countries encounter daily. These stands can result in the loss of social status, jobs or even relationships. Many of us may endure unjust hearings, inquisitions or trials, or even face state or mob violence if we speak out against social hatred, defy repression, break unethical or inhuman laws, or provide shelter, sustenance or sanctuary to the foreigner, or the migrant, or the persecuted. It will not always be straightforward and certainly not easy. In the end. however, it has always come down to a fundamental choice between the better part of our humanity or in its rejection. We must all find this part and grapple with these troubling things sooner or later, but for me the choice is a clear one.
Kenn Orphan 2017
Since Donald Trump began his ascendancy toward the throne of American Empire last week I have been increasingly puzzled by the level of astonishment I have noted from a wide spectrum of people. I mean really, is the rise of Trump that much of a shock to people? It makes me think that most of the confounded have not been across the American continent in recent times and still hold fast to some sentimental flotsam of Disneyfied Main Streets as being hard truths. I drove across the country, north, south and middle, with my sister in the process of helping her move this past year. Trump’s rise is not a surprise to me, and it is not an enigma. It is the logical end of economic neoliberalism, the final and most brutal form of capitalism, in living, albeit orange-tinted, color.
As we drove I saw the economic malaise, demoralization and ecological degradation in town after town in the heartland caused by neoliberal policies championed by Democrat administrations. Of course, the Republicans are the main political nest of capitalist robber barons, but the Democrats, once the party of working people (or so they claimed) promised something better. Instead, they abandoned the working class by throwing unions to the wolves and embracing Wall Street banksters and corporate hucksters wholeheartedly.
The result of this was obvious. Still holding a bucolic beauty, vast swaths of the nation have been sacrificed and hold an alienated landscape laden with misery where the core of each town is littered by payday loan shops, liquor stores, thrift stores and pawn brokers. The church in these communities is frequently maligned and ridiculed by the wealthy, coastal, urban elite. But, while it is often misguided and many times promotes a fevered bigotry, it is the primary refuge for many abandoned and downtrodden people, providing food, clothing and emotional support. If a town is “lucky” it is bisected by an interstate which automatically inserts a corporate colony of banal mediocrity. It is a familiar formula of disenfranchisement in ones own home, with a McDonalds, an Olive Garden and a Cracker Barrel flanked by a Chevron and a Quality Inn. I say “lucky” because these are usually the only places for viable employment in such townships.
Economic neoliberalism is a vague and elusive term for most people. But it can be summed up in three words: privitization, austerity and deregulation. These three words can also be vague, and that may be by design. But it isn’t too difficult to dissect:
-Privitization means taking the commons, that which belongs to all people, that which is public, that which is sacred, and dividing it among a handful of wealthy investors.
-Austerity means taking the common wealth, that which has been accumulated by the hard work of the people, and dividing it among a handful of wealthy investors.
-Deregulation means taking the laws and statutes designed to protect the commons and their precious resources like air and water or protect the health and safety of workers, and watering them down or dismantling them to make it easier to privatize and impose austerity so as to accumulate even more wealth for a handful of wealthy investors.
You see, it was the sold-out Democratic Party and Liberal Class elites who, in their slavish service to Wall Street neoliberalism, ignored the plight of non-urban, working class people. They were expendable. “Deplorable,” if you will. And in promoting an establishment oligarch, one with a long career of pandering to Wall Street and war mongering on behalf of corporate interests, through party chicanery and outright deception they only succeeded in enraging the base of their own party and alienating further these people whose livelihoods and institutions were gutted and sacrificed on the altar of Wall Street greed.
Now some may ask how does this explain the racism? Or the xenophobia? Or the misogyny?
Let me tell you a short story…
In its rush to dismantle the commons which were intended to benefit All of the people, a relatively small group of very wealthy people decided to gut or make redundant all of the institutions that did not serve the purpose of creating capital (wealth) for them. Colleges and universities became apprenticeships for industry and training schools for obtaining jobs only. Critical thinking and study for the betterment of all society was not seen as useful for wealth accumulation for this handful of wealthy investors. (Has anyone applied for university recently? Or graduated with a degree in the arts or humanities? Or didn’t graduate yet has a student loan to repay nonetheless? Debt is enormous and options for repaying them few. Neoliberalism does not countenance a thoughtful or enlightened electorate. It only seeks cogs for its machine, no others need apply). But I digress.
All this in turn enabled the unchecked growth of a militarized police/prison/surveillance state which incarcerates and persecutes scores of non-violent debtors or drug offenders, mostly young, mostly Black or Brown, but many white, rural and poor. And this system then marks them unfit for employment or for voting rights often for the duration of their entire lives. When so many people are feeling alienated and disenfranchised from the society in which they were supposed to belong is it any wonder why racism and misogyny persists and is growing?
Neoliberalism also fueled the US imperialistic war machine which lined the pockets of profiteers and fueled a rapacious, xenophobic aggression. This is the same machine which bamboozles young men and women with scant economic or educational opportunities into “defending US interests” – code words for being cannon fodder, a term buried by the ruling elite, or mercenaries for neo-imperialistic corporate power (see Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, the Balkans, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and on and on and on). Of course militaristic jingoism is nothing new in the US. It has played well for decades at nearly every single sporting event getting slicker with more techno flash every time. With jets tearing the sky into shards over packed stadiums festooned with red, white and blue everything, crowds of young, disenfranchised white, straight males are encouraged to buy into the lie that bombing brown people elsewhere to smithereens will somehow defend their homeland. The organized murder game is often their only option for employment or educational advancement. But sadly most are forgotten when they return to the homeland damaged or in need.
With scant opportunities and permanent debt enslavement these “deplorables,” as the vanquished Hillary Clinton dismissively painted them, have become easy prey for the chicanery of slick snake oil salesmen like Trump, et al. If, and most likely when, these masses begin to realize they have been duped yet again, and this time by someone whom they thought was one of their own, their rage will be nothing less than terrifying. With climate change poised to wreak untold havoc and misery on the biosphere and the economy we should all find this beyond sobering.
I say all of this not to dismiss the fears of many people, especially people of color, immigrants, women and Muslims. These feelings of fear many have are justified, but all of this is not due to the rise of an unabashed racist to the throne of the American Empire. This is the very nature of American imperialism without the veneer of polite, Liberal class parlance to cloak it. The notion that the United States was ever a pluralistic, multicultural society is a myth not founded in reality. Indeed, it would be ludicrous to suggest that any nation formed via the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and built from the forced and coerced labor of other ethnic and racial groups could somehow transform itself into a different animal. It is time to jettison these fallacious ideas while we still have time.
Indeed, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and several viable reports that suggest that there has been an uptick in white nationalist aggression. But truthfully, the culture of hypermasculine, white supremacism has always simmered under the surface of American society. Keep in mind how the United States was founded. Who was enslaved? Who was dispossessed of their land? Keep in mind that lynchings via white mobs and the forced internment of Japanese Americans by the US government were not so long ago. In times of economic upset, social unrest, war and ecological crises this Lernaean Hydra, surreptitious in the best of times, emerges with gusto and especially so under a charismatic leader.
Is Trump that leader? Perhaps. I honestly don’t know. And I would not be so presumptuous to assume he and his minions are not capable of the most unimaginable horror, especially since he has not failed to surprise or even shock so many thus far. But his rise should not come as any surprise to anyone who dares to take an honest look at the American experiment. This not the first time that the tide of fascism has washed over American shores. It has been here all along, and many of us have been sleeping while it was nourished by the neoliberal economic policies that hollowed out what was left of the commons, relegated millions to the margins of Empire, decimated entire nations in never ending wars of plunder, and made way for a vengeful and terrifying barbarism. Trump’s rise is not an anomaly. It is, indeed, the fulfilment of a long, despicable legacy that persists. And until we begin to face that monstrous fact, and ditch the failing political structures which aided this legacy, he and his ilk will also persist until there is nothing left to save.
Kenn Orphan 2016
I get the anger, the rage. I really do. Trump is vile and the aggressive racist and misogynistic culture he emboldens must be vehemently opposed. Pence may be even worse with his religious right nuttery. But I am forced to wonder if most of these Trump protestors would have stood with me when I protested with Occupy Wall Street? Or when people in passing cars hurled threats and middle fingers at me when I protested Israel’s murderous onslaught of Gaza supported by the US? Or when I marched for transgender equality amidst rising violence in America against that community?
I cannot help but wonder where many (if not most) of these people were when when the sitting President boasted about being “really good at killing people” or having a “Tuesday Kill List” or deporting more undocumented people or prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other US president? Or when his Secretary of State (the vanquished Hillary Clinton) pushed to decimate Libya and ghoulishly celebrated its leader being sodomized with a knife in the street by a mob? Or when Chelsea Manning was being mercilessly persecuted for exposing war crimes by the same administration? Where were most of them when the US backed the rightwing coup in Honduras or the CIA backed coup in Ukraine? Were these things simply not unjust enough because they happened under Democratic administrations?
Are these same angry people uniting with Standing Rock Sioux? or Black Lives Matter? Certainly some are. But do the vast majority of them really want a representative democracy and the end of corporatocracy? Or do most merely hope for maintaining a miserable status quo and a facsimile of democracy designed and manufactured by the ruling duopoly and mainstream media?
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad to see that people are awakening to activism. And I stand firmly against the brownshirt intimidation and violence emboldened by this frightful new day. But the weak as dishwater American Liberal class needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and their complacency at and complicity in the monstrous crimes of the ruling duopoly. And they need to do it quickly instead of pontificating on how stupid everyone else is for not standing behind their awful selection for leadership. The current protests only communicate a clear message to the reactionary right that the Liberal class only cares about electing a big “D” into office.
When this becomes a protest against militaristic aggression, capitalist plunder, apartheid, systemic racism, suppression of indigenous rights, ecological devastation and Empire itself, and not merely about the outrage of having a dimwitted narcissistic proto-fascist in the Oval Office instead of a war mongering corporatist I will join them with gusto.
Let me know when that happens.
Kenn Orphan 2016
This morning I woke up to a flurry of grief and panic on my newsfeed. The unlikely became likely and my prediction about the oligarchy sweeping their Queen of Wall Street Wars into power did not come to pass. Instead, a racist, misogynistic megalomaniac ascended the throne of the American Empire. When the mourning period is over perhaps the Liberal Class will take a good, hard look at the reasons for this without going to the all too easy standbys e.g. third party voters ruined it, or this is the fault of the radical left (of which I am a part) who criticized Clinton instead of supporting her, or some inane conspiracy theory regarding Russian interference.
The hard truth is that the Liberal Class sold out to corporatocracy and became fully invested in the neoliberal economic order, the last and most brutal form of capitalism, decades ago. In doing this they became drunk on their sanctimonious laurels while huge swaths of the nation languished, trade deals disenfranchised the working class and the social safety nets and public institutions were gutted. And yes, that all happened under Democratic leadership. They did not oppose the corruption within their own ranks and, as a result, became distrusted and reviled.
If the Liberal Class cannot see that “lesser evilism” is a failed tactic now, they never will. Hillary Clinton was one of the most detested candidates in Democratic National Convention history, but that did not stop DNC elites like Debbie Wasserman Schultz from propelling her into the spotlight through outright chicanery. To add insult to injury the DNC ridiculed, alienated and marginalized its base, including young voters and Bernie Sanders supporters. It is the Liberal elite who are to blame for this monumental loss. Only someone as reviled as Clinton could lose to a buffoon like Trump. Whether or not they will ever see this, however, is doubtful.
But we must move on from all of this, and quickly. The coming Trump Regime will probably increase misery for Muslims, Latinos and Black and Brown communities,as well as for the press and whistleblowers. They have all suffered greatly under corporate Democrats. President Obama’s deportation record, prosecution and persecution of whistleblowers, and drone bombing history are a testament to this. But Trump’s racist demagoguery has emboldened a whole host of latent frightening actors, from white nationalists to wannabe brown shirts, who now have a mandate to unleash an even more malicious culture of terror. We must stand in solidarity with people of color, immigrants and other minorities, and protect them wherever we see injustice. And we must also passionately defend independent journalism. Deregulation of industry is also certain since it is clear he has no regard for the natural environment or safety in the workplace. This is what makes environmental activism more vital than ever before.
Now comes the struggle to move beyond. We are facing the greatest challenges we have ever faced as a species. With increasing frequency, climate change, military aggression and biosphere collapse stand ever poised for utter calamity and sheer devastation. But the corporate controlled, war profiteering Democratic Party was unwilling to rise up to meet these monumental, existential crises with integrity and gusto. It sided with Wall Street and war profiteers. It has rightly been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let’s leave it there.
It is urgent that we build a new movement of real progressives, disillusioned liberals and leftist radicals like myself while there is still time left to do so. It is also time for Liberal Class elites to smack the smugness off their faces and build bridges of solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock Sioux and Palestinian rights activists and Pipeline obstructionists and prison rights advocates and a whole host of radicals who have been working hard against the injustices of Empire. The establishment politicians and ruling duopoly failed them, we must not.
The day after the period of mourning is over I hope you will join me. There is much work to be done and the time is quickening.
Kenn Orphan 2016
The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself. To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself. The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond. These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.
I believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies. Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time. These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright. But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.
One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society. It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition. It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression. It is against aggression and wars of conquest. It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit. It commodifies everything, living and non. It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence. It is the way of Empire.
The language of Empire is duplicitous. It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions. It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism. It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse. But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.
In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement. They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels. They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance. They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings. They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment. And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.
The war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth. And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire. It is literally about life and death. We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow. We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry. We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable. We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year. And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves. When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy. We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests. But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.
The powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next. It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand. This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story. It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out. If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine. We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach. This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not. But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.
Some have said that America is in its “1934 moment” referring to Europe prior to the second World War. This may be an over exaggeration since history does not repeat itself exactly, but it does reflect and rehash old forms more often than not. And with the earth’s climate growing more chaotic and resources beginning to dwindle this is a recipe of the most horrifying kind. I hope that this is not so, but hope can be a capricious ghost distracting us with empty platitudes and leading us down a path to dangerous inaction. We need more than hope now. We need courage and cooperation. We need community building based on our relationship to the earth and social understanding that shuns the barriers that prevent dialogue. And we need it fast, because the streets of summer are becoming hot with the anger of the disenfranchised and red with the blood of innocents; and the scheming wolf of fascism is an opportunist always lurking at America’s gates ready to pounce.
Kenn Orphan 2016
The other day I had the misfortune of coming across Donnie Swaggart on a channel surf. He is the son of the disgraced, fire and brimstone televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. I never thought anyone could be more horrifying of a preacher than Jimmy, but his son appears to have successfully surpassed his father in being a completely repugnant and hate-filled lunatic. It seems the progeny of televangelists strive to excel at medievalism and vitriol. One look at Franklin Graham should confirm this to almost anyone.
I ran across the blustering extremist Chuck Hagee on another day and had to question my own ears. His sermon sounded more like a war room briefing for Dr. Evil in an Austin Power’s movie. He “educated” his congregation, with the measured cadence of a a traveling snake oil salesman, on Iran’s nefarious plans somehow known only to him. He warned his followers of the perils of not “blessing” the state of Israel even though this smacks of idolatry, a grave sin in his religion. But the camera panned out to his megachurch filled with saucer eyed congregants applauding when he talked about bombing the Islamic Republic in a pre-emtive strike. My skin literally crawled.
The same was true of Donnie Swaggart’s tele-church. Applause and “praise the Lord’s” rang out after each screaming rant against Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, or marriage equality and transgender people, or “abortion” doctors and “lukewarm Christians” and all I could do is feel a deep sense of grief and dread. Is this emblematic of a dying empire? Are they a foreboding sign of the Dark Ages we stand poised to enter given our planetary trajectory towards ecocide and climate chaos? With a bombastic egotist, proud of his racism and misogyny, running for the highest office in the nation against a promoter of military aggression and defender of the corporate plutocracy, could this portend a dystopic landscape in the not too distant future?
As the Mayan civilization died their leaders became even more fevered in their bloodlust for scapegoats. Human sacrifice was amplified to frantically stave off the ravages of crop failure and drought. Life in the cities became a living hell for many. And in ancient Rome the plutocracy became more obsessed with bread and circuses to distract demoralized masses from their misery as they feasted on whatever remained in their dying empire. The megacity of the 21st century appears to be setting itself up for similar horrors but on a global scale, with those on the margins of empire suffering the greatest and most immediate pain. And in the midst of this I see preachers like Swaggart, Graham and Hagee gleefully celebrating apocalypse and ushering in a new era of “Inquisition” where anyone “otherized” is fair game for scapegoating. It would be unfair and inaccurate to paint all evangelicals with a broad brush, but it is a fair conclusion that after each coming drought or flood certain zealots, like the aforementioned televangelists, will jump up to point a finger of blame at the refugee, or those who oppose war, or the gender non-conforming person, or the immigrant, or the socialist, or the woman wearing a hijab. This is not so far fetched a scenario when one considers that one front runner in US Presidential elections spews racist xenophobia to cheering crowds and a sycophantic media, and the other has a long history of warmongering and reactionary policies.
Americans have a remarkable capacity to think theirs is a society that is exceptional even with mountains of history to demonstrate otherwise. And they have been fed a steady diet of pablum to sate any thirst or longing for knowledge about the world in which they are a part of. Consumerism is the real religion of America, and it is the greatest threat to all life on the planet. How, then, will they react when their world begins to disintegrate in this new epoch of ecocide and the Anthropocene? When climate change becomes the unbearable reality? When the infrastructure that is taken for granted begins to fail? History has dark lessons to teach us on how that might very well look. If allowed, those who peddle fear and those who revel in authoritarianism will marry each other at the first winds of peril.
And with daily reports of temperature records being broken, drought and crop failure expanding, the oceans dying and fresh water waning, I cannot help but fear that those winds are beginning to blow in earnest. If they are, God help us all.
Kenn Orphan 2016