Tag Archives: neoliberalism

The Oligarchs, the Liberal Class and a Basket of Deplorables

This past summer when I had a little time on my hands I decided to watch “The Hunger Games” again (yes, I watch and like certain movies out of pop culture and I am not ashamed to admit that).  Suzanne Collins did an amazing job at creating a mirror image of the real world we live in today.   But I think the most accurate is in her representation of the wealthy and vapid citizens of the Capitol of Panem.  To me, it appears to be a reflection of how out of touch the elites of the Liberal class are with the everyday plight of ordinary people.  Their place in a crumbling society does more to protect the excesses of the Oligarchy than champion the rights of the oppressed.   And it is their smug lack of self awareness that may very well do them in.  This is just an analysis, or an observation.  But before I go on I should clarify terms.
capitol-citizens-still-from-the-hunger-gamesI distinguish the Liberal class from leftists in that the latter cannot, in good conscience, ever support the current corporate plutocracy, or its wars for capitalistic imperialism and wanton plunder of the planet for obscene materialistic profit.  And when I use the term Liberal class I am referring to that small group of pundits, celebrities, journalists, socialites, fashion and culture gurus and career politicians within the current order, not people who hold progressive values like women’s and LGBTQ rights or racial equality.   The Liberal class believes in these things also, or at least they say that they do.  But they are unwilling to do anything that would endanger the institutional structures of capitalism that are the primary engines of misogyny, homophobia and racism, because doing so would upend their privileged, elite status.

The Oligarchy is not too unlike that of any other era.  They possess tremendous power and own most of the planet’s material wealth. They are an untouchable class of wealth, albeit usually inherited or ill-gotten, who dominate the entire industrial capitalist scheme.  They are the .001% in a new Gilded Age and they tolerate and even mingle with the Liberal class only because they defend and promote the economic neoliberal order which fills their coffers.  Most revel in an inbred feeling of pseudo-supremacy, and many have a loathsome sociopathic quality to them.  Although they own most of the corporate media, silence is golden to them.   As in all things there are shades and nuances.  No one person is a clone of another.  But there are some things worth generalizing.
the-mellon-family-one-of-americas-richest-photo-by-jamel-toppin-of-forbesThe Liberal class has had the luxury to decry injustice in American society (and the world for that matter) from afar, in plush salons, high end clubs and trendy cafes thanks to their defense of a system that allows for an Oligarchy and aggressive neo-imperialism.  Their answer to social injustice is generally rooted in tepid reforms that do little, or more often resembles a smug, dismissive ridicule common to satirists like Andy Borowitz (1) and narcissistic, billionaire celebrities like George Clooney.

To them protesting misogyny is pushing the agenda of a woman candidate who has shown a remarkable likeness to the late political dominatrix Margaret Thatcher, instead of expressing solidarity with women in Honduras, Haiti or Libya who are being murdered or prostituted as a result of this same powerful woman’s actions.   Protesting homophobia is supporting Caitlyn Jenner, an over paid, over publicized transgendered Republican, rather than whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who has been publicly ridiculed for her sexuality and is languishing in prison for exposing the war crimes of the Empire.  Protesting racism is celebrating the eight year term of the first Black President, even though he has drone bombed innocent civilians, mostly brown and black people afar, excused torturers and war criminals from the previous administration, increased the surveillance state, and prosecuted more whistleblowers (including the aforementioned Manning) than all US Presidents combined.

hillary-clinton-speaks-at-a-lbgt-for-hillary-gala-in-new-york-on-friday-source-smhThe third category I wanted to talk about was recently referred to by Hillary Clinton at a well heeled fundraising gala in New York when she labelled half of Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables.” (2)   This, of course, only deepened the divide even more so in the minds of common people in regions of sacrificed America as sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild so eloquently explains.(3)  They already feel alienated and humiliated with few prospects for a brighter future, but they used this description as a badge of honor.  And although an ugly strain of racist fascism runs deep in a large section of Trump supporters, there are other factors at work that the Liberal class chooses to overlook.

When they are labeled like this, or see memes on social media insulting their intelligence they are more inclined to hate the Liberal class even more so, not alter their opinions and have a “come to Jesus” moment.  They may not be able to explain the source of their misery, but they live with the realities of economic neoliberalism, the most barbaric stage of capitalism, which the Liberal class has allowed by capitulating to the Oligarchs over and over.  And it isn’t only the white working class. When Black Lives Matter activists interrupted Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders speeches they were met with a barrage of vitriol and anger from a cadre of assorted Liberal elites chiding them for being rude (4).  How they compare protesting the modern day lynching of people of color to being ill-mannered to the powerful is a feat of obtuse absurdity.  But this is an illustration of just how disconnected they are to reality.
deplorable-t-shirt-on-etsy

a-homeless-family-asks-for-assistance-source-classism

a-black-lives-matter-activist-silently-protests-hillary-clinton-at-a-funraiser-in-south-carolina-photo-source-salonIn his recent article “The Courtiers and the Tyrants”  veteran journalist and antiwar activist Chris Hedges explained how clueless the liberal class is when it comes to how many ordinary Americans actually see them:

“The Democratic and the professional elites are an easy and often amusing target. One could see them, in another era, prancing at a masked ball at Versailles on the eve of the revolution. They are oblivious to how hated they have become. They do not understand that when they lambast Donald Trump as a disgrace or a bigot they swell his support because they, not Trump, are seen by many Americans as the enemy. But these courtiers did not create the system. They sold themselves to it. And if Americans do not understand how we got here we are never going to find our way out.” (5)

If Hillary Clinton is anointed Empress of the American Empire the Liberal class will sigh in relief.  They can continue to shop at Barney’s, attend well heeled openings at the Guggenheim and complain in acceptable forums, financed by the Oligarchy, about injustice and civil rights. But they will be asked to do little more than this.  The institutions that make society livable and promising will continue to be steadily gutted, privatized and de-valued.   If Trump is somehow able to seize the throne they know their privilege will remain largely in tact, but they will not be so free to express their thoughts except in discretion at private cocktail parties.  Every last institution will be debased in such a way that they offer nothing to the enrichment of humanity, but merely serve as a brutal bulwark for the wealthy against the masses.  The Liberal class also knows how capricious authoritarians can be and that the silent Oligarchy will abandon them in a heartbeat at first sight of a brownshirt.

the-hunger-games-catching-fire-president-snow-played-by-donald-sutherland
donald-trump-photo-credit-newscorpIn Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games” the citizens of the Capitol were completely out of touch with the suffering, brutality, poverty and repression of the other districts.  They lived comfortable, self-obsessed lives snug to the halls of power. They dined and vomited their meals like the ancient Romans did, so that they could keep feasting even while the masses starved. They were easily swayed by sentimentality and distraction. President Snow, the fictional tyrant of Panem, was far more refined and intelligent than the bombastic narcissist Trump, but his rival, President Coin, was no less ruthless and revealed a comparable penchant for blood lust and authoritarianism.

fictional-president-coin-of-the-hunger-games-and-hillary-clinton-photo-credit-rebloggyTo be sure, one would be foolish to reduce current events to a dystopic, scifi novel (or a Hollywood movie) primarily written for teenagers.  And we would be doing a disservice if we ignored nuance and context. But we are at a deep moment in human history. The biosphere is teetering on the edge of collapse thanks to the excesses of the privileged few in the West.  The nuclear menace has never left us.  This is the kind of moment where factors may begin to converge and create the potential for a monumental shift in the dominant paradigm. But this can go either well or very, very badly.  The wave of justified animus toward the ruling establishment is growing in many communities across the nation, black, white and Native American.   But just as this rage could be channeled into progressive social and ecological transformation, it could also lead toward violent fascism.  And the recipe of that includes economic downturn, ecological devastation and social unrest.

As in fictional Panem, the Liberal class of the American Empire is out of touch to the everyday miseries of ordinary working people and prefer to smugly dismiss them as stupid or backward or simply misinformed, while defending the very institutions that contributed to the destruction of civic life and the commons in the first place.  It is unlikely they will wake up in time to avoid the coming fires of revolution. We can only hope that that “basket of deplorables” Hillary Clinton described will be more merciful than the Oligarchs the Liberals have defended all this time.  Speaking of them, they will likely fair better.  They will have slipped away silently into the night long before a single match is lit.

jennifer-lawrence-as-catniss-in-the-hunger-games-photo-still-from-movie
Kenn Orphan 2016

(1) http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/many-in-nation-tired-of-explaining-things-to-idiots

(2)  http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-basket-of-deplorables/

(3) http://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/28/what_drives_trump_supporters_sociologist_arlie

(4) http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/clinton-holds-campaign-speech-in-atlanta-to-discuss-race-throws-out-black-lives-matter-activists-video/

(5) http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_courtiers_and_the_tyrants_20160918

On Presidential Debates, Political Theatre and Shadow Puppets

Tonight’s US Presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be watched by many around the world, but it would be hard to argue that any of them will be watching with hopes for something of substance.  Some of the most important topics facing humanity (and countless other species for that matter) may be touched upon, but not in a way that gives them the respect, attention and the intelligent discourse they deserve.  And most thoughtful people understand that this a farce anyway.  Banal, manufactured outrage will be the main entrée served.  A stale, unoriginal and rehashed dish as the recipe demands.  The questions will be carefully vetted to exclude content offensive to corporate interests.  And no third party candidate, not one, will be permitted into the debate despite the glaring unpopularity of the two selected candidates.  So if any of this is true why would anyone watch it?

 

Here are just four major, existential issues that may or not may not be addressed, and how the two candidates measure up:

Climate change is a verifiable fact accepted by 97% of the scientific community, mass species extinction is accelerating and caused by human activity, and the collapse of the biosphere may be imminent thanks to the rapacious greed of industry, the military industry and consumerism.

Trump incredulously peddles the inane lie that global warming is a hoax made up by China and he would like nothing more than to implement policies that would turn the already beleaguered American landscape into one resembling Xingtai.  He is an obvious human supremacist, wedded to capitalist plunder of the earth.

Clinton has taken boat loads of money from the fossil fuel industry and did her best to promote fracking worldwide via her position as Secretary of State.  Her view of Iraq as a business opportunity also signals that she has no intention of doing anything to alter the current earth destroying economic model.

xingtai-china-photo-by-itv

Police violence against unarmed, black people is rife and blatant as cities are erupting in justified protest.

Trump has made heinous statements about Mexicans, Muslims and people of color.  He is unabashedly totalitarian in his outlook and style and has said he thinks more, unquestioned police power is the solution to an already thoroughly corrupted system.

Clinton enthusiastically supported and promoted her husbands racist economic and crime policies which primarily targeted people of color and created the incarceration industrial behemoth that has ballooned the prison population to what it is today.  She supports neoliberal economic polices which decimate poor communities, especially communities of color.  She has also been very tepid in her support of Black Lives Matter.

 

Protesters, marching against the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, hold placards towards members of the New York Police Department on motorbikes in Manhattan, New York, U.S., July 7, 2016. Picture taken July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Bria Webb - RTX2KE8I

Militarism is a growing threat and the nuclear annihilation menace never went away.

Trump’s positions have aligned perfectly with plumping even further an already bloated and smug military industrial complex.  His finger on the proverbial “button” should also keep any sane person awake at night.

Clinton has a trail of bodies following her from wars, coups and interventions she has voted for, championed and supported from Iraq to Libya to Honduras.  The military industrial complex, including profiteers like Lockheed Martin, Grumman and Boeing, are very keen on her and she gets high marks on her foreign policy from war criminals like Henry Kissinger and Bill Kristol.
aleppo-syria-photo-credit-al-jazeera

The divide between the uber wealthy and the rest of us is growing faster than anyone can keep up with.

Both Trump and Clinton travel in circles of the monied, elite class, attending each others weddings and golf dates, buying up real estate and enjoying high priced, celebrity festooned galas honoring their philanthropy. Both are thoroughly entrenched in oligarchy and enjoy enormous wealth plundered via the most brutal form of economic tyranny: neoliberal capitalism. Which thrives on austerity for the poor, privatization of all things public, and de-regulation of industry and labour. It is a scam of the most cruel kind.

A vacant, boarded up house is seen in the once thriving Brush Park neighborhood with the downtown Detroit skyline behind it in Detroit, Michigan March 3, 2013. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder cleared the way for a state takeover of Detroit, declaring that the birthplace of the U.S. automotive industry faces a fiscal emergency and that he has identified a top candidate to assume its management. Friday's declaration by the Republican governor virtually assures that the state of Michigan will assume control of Detroit's books, and eventually decide whether the city should file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES - Tags: CITYSCAPE REAL ESTATE BUSINESS POLITICS) - RTR3EJDQ

 

Tonight the most absurd form of political theatre in a corporate, plutocratic state, the Presidential Debates, will be held with much media fanfare.  Tomorrow conservative blowhards will litter the talkwaves with bizarre conspiracy theories about Hillary’s health or her Benghazi affair.  Liberal pundits will chide anyone on the left that calls out Ms. Clinton’s ultra-conservative, war mongering, Wall Street loving credentials as being a secret Tea Party, Trump supporting misogynist.  Trump’s blustering buffoonery will be lampooned as the notorious ramblings of a pathetically obsolete, yet somehow lovable, casino don.  And the corporate elite class will sit back in plush board rooms and on country club golf carts grinning smugly after giving us masses a dose of innocuous pablum that they hope will at most numb our interest in the political process, or at least disgust us at the sorry state of government.  But we should see it for what it truly is: one more attempt to distract us from their lucrative exploits in fear mongering, division, arms dealing, slave labor economics, third world extortion, and earth destroying for profit.

The value of theatre, as opposed to the Hollywood deception of it being all about entertainment, is to move one’s consciousness.  This will do neither.  It will not ignite a mass movement with the imagination for a just, fair and pristine world suitable for everyone to live in.  Nor will it spark a movement to make actual, measurable, meaningful change.  What it will do without a doubt is produce an infinite glut of social media clickbaits and memes, punchlines for comedians and themes for over the top op-eds expressing artificial outrage at one comment or another.  Context, nuance and critical thought be damned.

So I ask again, if any of this is true why would anyone watch it?

I, for one, am over these shadow puppets on the cave wall.

Kenn Orphan 2016

Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species

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.

This screen shot from a Democracy NOW! video purports to show security dogs used Sept. 3, 2016, to drive back protestors who had overrun the Dakota Access Pipeline worksite north of Cannon Ball, N.D. Images Courtesy Democracy NOW!

indigenous-leaders-from-ecuador-protest-chevrons-deliberate-pollution-of-the-rainforest-photo-from-new-york-timesI 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.

palestinian-protesters-stand-amid-blazes-set-by-settlers-to-their-olive-groves-photo-source-transcend

canadian-paramilitary-forces-attack-indigenous-elsipogtog-mi-kmaq-first-nation-and-local-residents-as-they-blockaded-a-new-brunswick-fracking-exploration-site-photo-from-common-dreams

activists-in-port-harcourt-nigeria-photo-source-earth-first-journalThe 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.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump and Clinton. Getty Images.

Oil Executives. Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThe 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.

protectors-of-the-water-north-dakota-source-bbc

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 14: Ferguson activists march through downtown during a protest on March 14, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis and the nearby town of Ferguson have experienced many protests, which have often been violent, since the death of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August. On Wednesday evening two police officers were shot while they were securing the Ferguson police station during a protest. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in BrazilThe 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.

a-native-american-woman-sits-on-a-bluff-in-north-dakota-at-the-pipeline-protest-source-the-guardianKenn Orphan 2016

The Future Belongs to You

Recently, I’ve seen calls from the Democratic Party, and many of their supporters, for progressives and the Left in general to “unite” behind Hillary Clinton. This is nothing new for those of us who have been around a few elections cycles; but for millennials this is becoming a lesson in how this sham of a democracy works. You see, the Democratic Party elite have been lurching toward the right for decades.  They may be progressive when it comes to social issues for political reasons, like LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights, but they, along with their Republican counterparts, have forged an unbreakable bond forged in the gilded towers of the elite.  It is called oligarchy.  And there is not a shard of light between them when it comes to wealth, war and the preservation of empire.
The Trumps and Clintons show the face of oligarchy. Photo from New York Times.The reality is that the vast majority of the American public does not vote in any of its shows, er, elections. Maybe they are apathetic, maybe they see it for the farce it is. But in any case they have checked out of the political process allowing the corporate, wealth class to take hold of all power in this country.  The result, of course, is a plutocracy where the police are militarized, prisons are over flowing, the environment is imperiled and the wars of plunder are unending.

The call to unite from Party officials, campaign public relations and Hillary herself may be desperate, it may be cynical, or it may be a sincere rallying call for some, but it is not unique in the least. And it requires absolutely no real commitment to social, economic and environmental justice from those who are calling for it. It seems they can easily give a pass to Hillary’s war mongering, or undying love of neoliberal capitalism, or her promotion of fracking and the funding she gets from the fossil fuel and private prison industry.  They can overlook her support from Wall Street and multinational corporations too.  And they expect everyone else to do the same.

But in the past week we have seen some Hillary supporters shut down Bernie Sanders Facebook pages by posting porn and other objectionable things on them; and we have learned that a pro-Hillary super pac is funding social media trolls to attack anyone who dares criticize the bloody queen of chaos.  Grant it, there has been some of this on both sides, but the Clinton campaign has been far better funded; and this is what makes these calls of unity the supreme insult on top of injury for many people.

Occupy Movement protestor. Source Gawker.But there is hope. I have faith in millennials who have taken to the streets and organized. Whether it be Black Lives Matter or Climate Change activism or BDS, the energy for change is unmistakable. They have shamed my generation. They have shown us that “reform” is just a code word for the status quo and that revolution lies outside the two party hegemony, not within it. If they keep up their agitation of the establishment they may just topple this empire of lies, corruption and death. And in a time of looming climate chaos, we need this more urgently and soon.

But don’t wait for Gen Xers to help you out.  With some notable exceptions, most of us have eased into comfy armchairs and will not take to the streets unless it is to go for a latte. The future belongs to you, and I’ll be right there in the streets with you.

Activism among millennials. Photo from Photo Stock.Kenn Orphan 2016

Earth Day and the Phantoms of a Pathological Culture

I must start with a confession.  I have always been troubled by the concept of Earth Day.  I understand its origin and why it came to be, but as an environmentalist I see it as window dressing an unfolding disaster of monumental proportions.  It’s not that it is useless.  Raising awareness is never useless.  But over the years it has morphed from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it.  It also has the effect of neutralizing public outrage at the dire state our world is in.  It spreads an all too pervasive “feel goodism” to a situation that is truly existential, not only for countless other species on the planet but for our own.

Corporate Greenwashing, by Pete Dolack via Climate and CapitalismIn our time, the powerful have crafted enormous facades of pomp and ceremony extolling their efforts.  Their conferences and consortiums serve as a distraction from their business as usual pillage, and a placation of our collective angst against the backdrop of a gathering storm.  But each year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future.  One rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species collapse.

Reocrd breaking Houston floods, April 2016, photo via Traci Siler.The economic model that dominates the world is incapable of grappling with our dire predicament.  It simply does not possess any sense of ethical obligation, even when it comes to its own species.  It has become imperative for us to shake free from this paradigm of self destructive failure and begin the process of true community building.  We can talk about the benefits of permaculture and a gift economy, but in order to reach this we need to do something that the Western world routinely scoffs at and ridicules.  We must take a long, hard and urgent look into the underpinnings of our entire way of life and the pathology that is industrialized civilization itself.  We must look into our soul.

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forests. Photographer Peter EssickWe can start with natural landscapes.  They are the contours of the soul.  And they have been, and continue to be, brutalized and decimated, or replaced by concrete, glass and steel.  The effect this has had on our species is collective alienation and crushing despair.  Modern mega-cities are emblematic of this tremendous disconnect from reality.  They are scratched onto the land with feverish disregard for nature as well as for their inhabitants.  They create an illusion that we are separate from nature, divorced from its power except when confronted by a storm, earthquake, volcano, flood or heatwave.  Western science and religion, in whatever form it takes, reinforces the myth of separateness from the natural world, and otherizes the myriad of species we share this planet with.

Mexico City. Source Stock Footage.When European explorers set out to “discover” the world most did not do so as observers.  They unmoored their ships and set sail in search of gold and other “precious” metals.  In the process they decimated indigenous societies and imposed their world view on where ever they landed.  They justified all of this madness through a perverted form of patriarchal religion which augmented a hierarchical system of domination and class that persists to this day.  This paradigm still informs the current global economic system, neoliberal capitalism, which commodifies every thing and everyone in the known universe, and transforms them into exploitable, consumable or disposable products.

mindless consumerism Philosophers StoneThe truth is that materialism corrupts the very nature of the human soul. It deadens the tendrils of empathy and compassion that have evolved to give meaning to our existence.  And it creates an insatiable void needing to be filled by elusive and meaningless junk, which is eventually discarded once the novelty wears off.  It is the reason landfills are bursting their confines. It is the reason the world’s oceans have become a toxic soup where plastic refuse is fast out weighing fish and other wildlife.  It is behind the rising global temperatures and changing climate. It is the cause of stagnation, addiction and ennui within the general public. It is the reason for every war and conflict; and why our species, along with every other one on this planet, is facing extinction.

Landfill, photo from Stock Footage.To be sure, we cannot expect the dominant culture to bring about any positive or substantive change.  It cannot.  Not now, not ever.  It reflects the pathology that industrial civilization is at its heart.  Its “solution” to the looming ecological collapse is to spruce up its image to the “consumer” by taking small, meaningless actions that momentarily sooth our conscience at the moment we are consuming their product.  At its very core it is a cancer that must grow rapaciously regardless of the terminal malignancy it inflicts upon the living planet and the weakest of our species.  And, as I have noted before, a cancer cannot be “reformed.”  It must be extracted or eradicated, or the condition will lead to nothing other than death.

But we need not be plugged into this matrix of delusion and absurdity.  We need not play the cruel game of mindless consumption of sentient beings housed in torturous concentration camps, or gadgets crafted in suicidal sweatshops that promise a better life, or entertainment that dehumanizes us or others, or trends that celebrate avarice, militarism and violence.  That choice is still left to us.  And our agency lies in us realizing this and beginning a transformation that connects us to each other and to the living, yet besieged and battered planet on which we all depend.

IMG_2560I have another confession.  I am not a preacher.  I loath those who connive or badger or guilt people into altering their lives.  I am one of you.  I was born into this theater of the absurd, bathed from conception in petroleum, the primordial life blood of industrial civilization.  I have been dazzled by the spectacle and I have consumed far more than I have ever had a right to.  So I am taking this journey with you because none of us, not one, can do it alone.  We cannot face the phantoms of our pathological culture in isolation and think we will emerge on the other side unscathed, intact and whole.  One thing I am certain of is that the future of humanity, perhaps nearer than anyone of us could fathom, is destined to be full of misery and strife.  In truth it already is for the vast majority of us and countless species we are not even aware of.  But if there is any solace to be found it begins in our refusal to be willing participants in the unfolding ecocide, and the recognition of ourselves in each other and every other life form we are surrounded by.

The only way I can honor Earth Day is to grieve all that has been lost, and to refuse to participate in the ongoing destruction.  It only has meaning to me if it is not externalized as a commodity with a catchy jingle, and is the beginning of the end for the pathological mindset that has gotten us to where we are now and the collective death knell that lies before us.  Maybe the best way to “celebrate” it is in realizing that we need a new community with a natural soul, unseparated from this world.  Because in its absence it is nothing more than a mechanical set of empty routines.  And a soul without a community has no meaning at all, and is adrift in a universe where love cannot penetrate.

Kenn Orphan  2016

#earthday  #climatechange  #capitalism  #ecocide  #consumerism

The Illusion of American Democracy

hillary-clinton-for-warI have always been fascinated by the capacity of people to block out facts that either trouble them or do not align with their preconceived beliefs about the world. This is most evident when it comes to religion and politics. And we can see it clearly in the dog and pony show that is the 2016 American Presidential campaign.  Trump supporters lovingly embrace a disconnect from reality partly due to entrenched racism and xenophobia, but mostly because of a deep sense of disenfranchisement and humiliation. However Clinton supporters on the other side are just as much, if not more, deluded in their blind devotion to the bloody queen of chaos.

Even though Ms. Clinton, and her philandering husband, have expressed their undying love for Wall Street time and time again, and are firmly embedded in the 1% elite, they believe she is for working people. Even though she was against marriage equality until as late as 2013, they think she supports the LGBTQ community. Even though she championed and still defends a right wing coup in Honduras which has led to the murders of scores of indigenous, environmental and LGBTQ activists, they think she supports universal human rights. Even though she pushed the US and NATO into decimating Libya, voted to decimate Iraq in a war based solely on lies and has consistently pushed for attacking Syria and Iran, they believe she will be the most level headed when it comes to foreign policy. Even though she has accepted boat loads of money from the fossil fuel industry, they believe she will defend environmental regulations and address climate change with urgency. Even though she and her husband carved up Haiti for neoliberal capitalistic profit through their notorious foundation, they believe she is for the underdog.  Even though she has accepted truck loads of money from the private prison industry, they believe she will work to end the racist policies that imprison millions of Americans for non-violent offenses. Even though she attacked whistleblower Edward Snowden for allegedly helping terrorists when he revealed  nefarious government malfeasance, they believe she will enforce transparency.   Even though she defended her husband’s economic policies which adversely effected women of color, they think she is a feminist who will champion the rights of all women.

It is cognitive dissonance on a grand scale.

As of today, Hillary Clinton is the projected winner of New York and, by proxy, the Democratic nomination. Not very remarkable given that the plutocracy selected her to be the executive director of Plunder the Planet, Inc. a long time ago. And it shouldn’t be surprising that it matters little what the masses think to the corporate aristocracy.  They hate Trump because he is too erratic and, frankly, too stupid. They despise Cruz because he is a religious nut case. They fear Sanders because he may be radicalized even further toward the left. But they adore Hillary because they know she will have their back. Her allegiances are clear to anyone who really wants to see them.

One thing is for sure, Hillary’s win will be a hollow victory, and she knows this full well. She has only gotten this far by pandering to Wall Street, Hollywood A-listers, the fossil fuel industry, and a pro-Israel, right wing billionaire for years, not from common people interested in real social justice and change. But this is of little consolation, especially to the people who will undoubtedly suffer greatly under her policies of militarism and support for right wing, apartheid and repressive regimes around the world.

America is a dying, but well armed, empire.  And historically, empires drown themselves in farce, fiction and mythology as they collapse.  A Clinton presidency will ensure the illusion of American democracy will continue to sputter forward for at least a few more years. But illusions are like junk food, they will never sate the demands of reality.  And I feel nothing but sadness and dread when I think about the continuing massacres, coups, interventions and wars which are now all but assured on a planet spiraling mindlessly into ecocide.

Kenn Orphan 2016

An All American Fascism

The resurgence of white nationalism in mainstream American politics has left many nonplussed and baffled.  White power flags, tattoos and symbols have made a stunning comeback, and they are coupled with threats, violence and Nazi salutes at huge rallies in support of presidential candidate, and front runner, Donald Trump.  At a recent event one supporter shouted at a protester “go to fucking Auschwitz,” and in a rally held last month an audience member unabashedly asked the candidate how “we are going to get rid of” Muslims.  Mr. Trump did nothing to condemn this overtly racist point of view.  This is a phenomenon that should not be downplayed or dismissed as an anomaly.  Indeed, it is representative of a much larger and far more dangerous feature of American society itself.

There has always been a persistent strain of fascism in this country, one that has been poised to sweep in to power the kind of charismatic authoritarian of the Hitler/Mussolini stripe.  This is no more visually apparent than within Trump’s base. Stripped of agency and laden with humiliation, Trump supporters are the very emblem of an unforgiving vengeance within the disenfranchised mob.  Torches and pitchforks aside, these demoralized masses are more than ready to pounce on the last vestiges of an anemic, American civil society already weakened by the barbarity of neoliberal (free market) capitalism and plutocratic despotism.  And with environmental catastrophe and economic meltdown ever looming, this so called “fringe” may just succeed in doing the unthinkable.

Trump Fascism. David Horsey, Los Angeles TimesWith the obvious implosion of the Republican Party underway many Americans hold fast to the myth that the Democrats will save them from this unfolding nightmare.  The truth, however, is that they will painfully prolong the inevitable.  No matter how much they would like to paint it otherwise, they are just as much the party of the aristocratic class as the Republicans. They represent their interests, albeit in a less obnoxious manner than their conservative counterparts. But the effect is the same.  Their aim is to preserve the status quo that is steadily demolishing any chance of a viable future for coming generations.  Indeed, their plunder may usher this present generation into a dystopia only imagined in science fiction.

Their star candidate, Hillary Clinton, has a long, bloody history of supporting right wing coups and wars that decimated sovereign societies.  Unsurprisingly, her mentor is none other than the preeminent war criminal Henry Kissinger. And she has all but vowed to aggressively provoke a nuclear armed Russia and attack Iran on behalf of her Israeli benefactors.  But what is perhaps more troubling is her allegiance to the 1% of Wall Street, evidenced by her exorbitant speech fees at well heeled engagements and her condemnation of the Occupy Movement which sought to hold banks and corporate robber barons accountable for their malfeasance.  If she seizes power in the coming election we can be assured of an acceleration of plutocracy, not its reverse.

Hillary Clinton Banks Wall Street. Image source unknown.To be sure, the only real change in American policy has come from grassroots mass movements which upended the comfortable privilege of the aristocratic elite.  Whether demanding the end of the Vietnam War or equal rights for Black Americans, the power of social change has always stemmed from direct action from below, never from above.  But we are in new territory now and the outlook is uncertain. Fascism is undeterred by reason or reform.  It is their antithesis.  It festers in the dark corners of social hatred ever in search of a new scapegoat, and it thrives in an environment where there are fewer options for advancement or hope.  It replaces cooperation and rational debate with violent ridicule and meaningless, nationalistic jingoism.

We should not expect to see a fascism that mimics that of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain.  This fascism is uniquely American in its flare.  Years of unfettered worship of all things military and an undying celebration of capitalism have furnished the masses with a disdain for the sustaining institutions that define a liberal democracy.  And the indifference of the liberal elite to the suffering of working people has stoked an animus that is palpable.  They will not endure sanctimonious preaching from the left on the deeply held virtues of tolerance and inclusion for much longer.  And this is largely due to being mercilessly thrown to the side for corporate privilege.  Their ranks are fed up and they are rising.

Trump woos working class, white Americans. Photo Darren McCollester, Getty ImagesOne thing is certain. A toxic brew of economic malaise and ecological decimation is simmering ever closer to the boiling point.  Alternatives to this horrifying future do exist within movements like Black Lives Matter, indigenous rights and climate justice; but if we do not face the dire outcome of this poisonous concoction with demands for revolutionary change soon, it may spill over faster than anyone can imagine.  And in its wake it will drown the civil rights and liberties that had been hard fought for, yet utterly taken for granted, in smoldering ruins.

Kenn Orphan 2016

 

The Logical End of Barbarity

It’s true. Donald Trump is a frightening character to watch; and his ties to white nationalism and appeals to mob violence are downright chilling. But he has been successful, unwittingly or not, at one thing: lampooning the sham of the American political establishment. For decades the political landscape has been defined by the condescension of its aristocratic elite. And their apathy at growing income disparity and indifference to the suffering of common people are why he is so popular. But as the elite attempt to distance themselves from him it is worth considering some facts.

In the case of Donald Trump, his rise is anything but shocking for those who have kept a keen eye on the trajectory of the collective psyche of the American elite.  He is the atrocious id to their inflated ego.  He has emerged from an ideology of exceptionalism that is firmly rooted in a narcissistic obsession with arrogance, vulgarity and ruthlessness.  His machinations are not foreign to their culture, not in the least.  His casual racism, misogyny and intimidation are all defining features of American policies, both foreign and domestic.  And he delights in the same cruelty that defines American economics, neoliberal capitalism, its last and most monstrous form.  In short, despite their protestations, he is one of them.

But with all of his bombastic flourishes, chauvinism and horrifying endorsements of torture, increased militarism and building of walls along the border, Trump cannot claim the dubious distinction of having had real influence or actually committing any of those crimes.  He was never a senator or the Secretary of State.  He never held an office that had such power.  The same cannot be said of his rivals on both sides of the aisle.

Trump did not take millions of dollars from the industries that profit from America’s endless wars of aggression.  He did not have the power to push for the invasion of Afghanistan, or Iraq or Libya that killed or damaged young American lives, slaughtered and displaced untold thousands of innocent civilians and left entire societies decimated.   He did not stand in an illegal Israeli settlement and pledge an undying commitment to an apartheid state that actually does have a “wall of separation,” or defend a bloodthirsty dictator in Egypt, or covertly support military coups that installed a right wing government in Honduras or a neo-Nazi friendly government in Ukraine.  He did not throw his support behind policies that gutted crucial social welfare programs, or encouraged police impunity and grew the prison industrial complex through unfair laws, both of which disproportionately targeted poor people of color.  He did not sign on to sweeping international trade agreements that benefited Wall Street and multi-national corporations and smashed labor rights, endangered child workers and polluted ecosystems.

If Donald Trump is successful in his bid for President it will not be due to his uniqueness, but due to his skill at reflecting the true nature of the American political, media and business establishment.  As President he would undoubtedly fill the murderous shoes of his predecessors with gusto.  But do not be fooled by the false outrage of the ruling elite at his antics.  They are not really disgusted by what he says, only that he has boastfully put words to their thoughts and actions.   He is the logical end to all of their barbarity.  And they are merely fearful that his odious bravado may shatter the illusion of their piety, once and for all.

 

Kenn Orphan  2016

The Seeds of Empathy

In the days following the horrific attacks in Paris, which claimed the lives of over 100 civilians and injured hundreds more, I returned to the United States from Europe after a long visit with family and friends. I was not in Paris this time, but I did spend time in France.  I, like so many others, have a connection with the ‘City of Light’ so this tragedy struck me in a visceral way. Whenever something like this happens there is shock accompanied by despair. But I am reminded that despite how abhorrent this incident was, there is a big world outside Western borders that suffers this each and every day and on a much larger scale. And its misery is mostly due to our willful ignorance and our leaders penchant for division, aggression and plunder.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: Mourners gather in front of the Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon restaurants on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

To the powerful of the world irony is something reserved for satirists. It is easily dismissed. Hypocrisy is not in their vocabulary either. In response to the attacks French President Francois Hollande said “France is at war.” This statement is astonishing given the country’s long history of colonialism and recent events in its foreign policy.

One might ask Mr. Hollande what the assault on Libya that left thousands dead and demolished one of the richest nations in Africa was if it was not war? Or the continued military aid to Saudi Arabia and Israel which have mercilessly slaughtered thousands in Yemen and Gaza in the last two years alone? Or France and NATO’s relentless bombing of Syria over the past few years which has done nothing but create unimaginable suffering in what once was a jewel in the Middle-East’s crown?

Syria before and after the war. Source News Items.

Unsurprisingly, in the United States political opportunists have used the tragedy in Paris to ramp up anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric. Incredulously, these are the same ones who drone on endlessly each year about the non-existent “war on Christmas” on a holiday which commemorates a Middle-Eastern family seeking refuge from terror over 2000 years ago. But they cannot be bothered by such irony either, nor can they take any responsibility for a legacy of American imperialistic plunder that has fostered constant misery for millions of people daily around the world. By all accounts, crippling sanctions and the invasion of Iraq, a war based upon lies, spawned the creation of ISIS. But now it is being talked about as if it sprang out of nowhere.

Fear mongering and demonization of Syrian refugees in the media. Source Fox News.The propaganda of politicians and the mainstream media, which revel in beating the drums of nationalistic xenophobia, is ubiquitous these days. And their selective grief and outrage encourages a largely misinformed public to ignore the long list of Western backed atrocities that have caused the refugee crisis to begin with. For instance, just weeks ago the US military bombed a Doctors Without Borders run hospital in Afghanistan, burning patients to death in their beds and incinerating doctors and staff alike. But critical coverage of this was scant in the mainstream press. The same applies to grief. On the same day as the attacks in Paris suicide bombers killed scores in Beirut, but media coverage of this tragedy was dwarfed by the enormous attention that has been paid to Paris.

A relative of Samer Huhu, who was killed in a twin bombing attack in Beirut, waves his portrait. Source Associated Press.For the rest of us there is a choice. We can ignore the enormous costs of imperialism and neoliberal capitalism and believe the lies of the war profiteers; or we can choose a path toward shared humanity that sees no boundaries of worthiness when it comes to suffering. We can also oppose the political and economic order that is rapidly destroying fragile ecosystems and that perpetuates alienation and misery in most of the world.

Solidarity with those suffering in Paris is to be commended; and there is no shame in expressing it publicly. But if we do not come to realize soon that we must seed the fields of empathy for all who suffer needlessly on this ever smaller and beleaguered planet, I fear we will doom ourselves and our children to a world of perpetual savagery or even, possibly, end civilization itself once and for all.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Hoping for Clemency

     Travel anywhere across the “developed world” and you can find them. Featureless monoliths of concrete, glass and steel jutting out from soulless landscapes that house human cogs in a metaphorical machine. The cold emptiness of their facades tell us exactly who built them and what matters to them. Spoiler alert: it ain’t us or the planet we all depend upon.

Stock photo of corporate monoliths.These indifferent fortresses belie a dying civilization. They sit atop the mass graves of once vibrant meadows and forests scraped off the land, and wetlands that were brimming with life, now drained of their water. How easily they mask our insecurities. Many, if not most, of us in this society still support the idea that it is justified to be charged rent to live on the planet of our birth. And many cling to the hope that they will rise above their station to a place of success in this moribund spectacle the powerful have crafted. These phallic monuments to the ego stand as sentries, guarding the lies of empire and defending the insatiable demands of consumer capitalism.

Corporate slavery. Artist Unknown.Success in this suicidal fantasy is defined by the accumulation of imaginary numerals and the acquisition of objects, or property, or even people and other living beings. There is no self imposed limit to its expansion. It is ravenous and pays no attention to consumption except in its encouragement. But the natural earth on which all of this is derived is beginning to crumble under our feet. And this culture of self absorbed, self-medicated misery is beginning to unravel before our eyes along with it.

celebrity couples Art by Daiana FeuerThe response of a society to its impending demise is in accordance with how it was formed, who leads it, what it cares about, and what has kept it going. Ours has been built through conquest, industrialization and war, and upon the backs of billions of human beings not fortunate enough to be born into its higher ranks, and a myriad of species slated for exploitation or eradication. It is led by sociopaths who care only for their vapid self-importance and meaningless lifestyles. And its heart beats with the constant infusion of new blood. Whether that blood be of the earth or of other living beings is of no consequence to it.

Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of Capitalism. Source Street Art, Open Democracy.This kind of society is incapable of responding to suffering with empathy. It cannot be reasoned with. It knows only distraction, violence, control, mania and alienation. And as its foundations disintegrate, it will become even more brutal and detached from reality. It will cast the weakest, the foreigner, and most vulnerable as scapegoats for its malfeasance and failure; and in the end no one will be spared its fury. Once a person of conscience begins to realize that they live in an empire that has savaged the planet and destroyed dozens of societies the world over, it becomes impossible to be swayed by puerile patriotic sentimentality. The misery this machine has caused, and continues to cause, blots out any feeling of pride.

US imperialism-militarism. Photo Source- Institute for Policy Research and Development.But the American Empire, and industrial civilization itself, appear to be destined to meet their end sometime within this century. It has reached its upper limit and the earth is beginning to answer to its folly with unmatched rage. Think this is hyperbole? We now know with certainty that the seas will rise and swallow cities whole, and drought will expand to bleach fields like bones in the sun. It has already started in many places. Beaches are eroding, wells are running dry, and people are beginning to flee.

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forestsAll of this leaves us with few choices, but not without hope. The question is, what do we hope for? Is it the status quo, keeping the privileged few of the planet in the current state of relative comfort while the rest of the planet languishes in abject misery? Or is it for the salvation of technology to somehow sweep all of our over-indulgences and careless extravagances away? Or is it for some business, religious or political leader to rise up and answer all of our problems miraculously, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat? In the quickness of time, none of these options are viable.

Devolution. Photo credit, CollapseofIndustrialCivilization.com.There was a time when our ancestors understood that they were merely one species in a chorus of billions, who all had a birthright to this world. But that ended when some decided that our dominance and luxury were more important than a living planet. Now countless species are going extinct from our excesses and recklessness each day, and we are beginning to realize that we are not so powerful as to not be one of them at some point in the future. One way or another the earth will choose for us. We can only hope that she can forgive us for our blindness, and bestow on us a mercy that we rejected for our own human family and scores of other species that have had the misfortune of crossing our path.

Mother Earth. A painting by Jeness Cortez Perlmutter.May clemency smile upon us.

Kenn Orphan 2015