Monday, October 3, 2022

#277 / Mansion

 

The Wall Street Journal has a special section, appearing in its Friday editions, that it calls, "Mansion." The picture above appeared in the "Mansion" section of The Journal on Friday, August 19, 2022. It depicts a home owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, located in North Palm Beach
 
For those in the market for this kind of a place, The Journal tells us that Ellison was offering the property for sale at $145 million. A year earlier, Ellison bought the property for $80 million. Thus, Ellison was anticipating a rather tidy gain on his investment of $65 million, which is about an 80% increase in value in just one year.
 
The Ellison home pictured looks like a pretty nice place to live doesn't it? In fact, though, The Journal suggests that Ellison's $145 million North Palm Beach property is actually a "tear down." 
 
Located in the Seminole Landing gated community, the North Palm Beach property sits on about 8.5 acres, including a privately owned beach and dune, with over 520 feet of ocean frontage, according to the listing agents. It is one of the largest oceanfront plots in Palm Beach County, and one of a handful of Florida properties where someone could land and take off in a helicopter, according to Adam McPherson of Douglas Elliman, one of the listing agents. The Tuscan-style house has seven bedrooms, a home theater and a wine room. The property also includes a tennis court.

While the existing home has “good bones,” Mr. McPherson said most buyers will likely want to expand the house or raze it and build a larger home from scratch (emphasis added).
 
On August 18th, The Journal featured another "Mansion," this one a New York apartment owned by Janet Jackson. Jackson's apartment was sold for $8.8 million, a far cry from Ellison's $145 million. Moreover, Jackson had owned the property for twenty-five years, having purchased it in 1998 for $2.8 million. Jackson realized a 214% increase in value - but that's only an increase in value of 8.6% per year. Still, a pretty decent return on her investment. No bank could have given an investor that kind of interest.



Just to be fair, as we talk about "Mansions," here's a picture of some lower-end housing in Santa Cruz, California. Regular readers of this blog will perhaps remember that I have published pictures of this particular housing development before:
 


If we are, in fact, "in this together," as I repeatedly claim, then the kind of wealth inequality that is illuminated by these photos is a profound indication that we need to rearrange the economic, social, and political realities that have brought us to our current situation. 

Unfortunately, you are not going to read about how we might do that in The Wall Street Journal. Consider some other sources!

 

Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/larry-ellison-lists-florida-estate-for-145-million-11660661937
(2) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/janet-jackson-sells-new-york-apartment-for-8-8-million-11660839787
(3) - Gary Patton personal photo
 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

#276 / A Collection Of Fragile Individuals

 

That's David Graeber, shown with a cup of coffee, climbing up the stairs in Amsterdam, in 2015. Wikipedia identifies Graeber as "an American anthropologist and anarchist activist." He died, unexpectedly, in September 2020.
 
Graeber's most recent book, written with David Wengrow, became a sensation when it was published, posthumously, in 2021. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity received rave reviews, with The New York Times saying:
 
The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society. This is a monumental book of formidable intellectual range, animated by curiosity, moral vision, and a faith in the power of direct action.
 
Recently, Jacobin Magazine published a very brief essay by Graeber, written just shortly before he died. I am providing the entire text of Graeber's essay below, which focuses on "what life and politics could look like after the COVID-19 pandemic."
 
Here is the the line that stood out to me:
 
We are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another...
 
We are, aren't we? "Fragile individuals" but "in this together." We will survive only if we succeed in "taking care of one another."

So, let's start working on that - on dealing with the traumatizing terrors of our current situation by finding out how we can, truly, "take care of one another." Graeber has some suggestions!

Like the bumpersticker said: "Love Thy Neighbor. (No Exceptions)."
 
 
oooOOOooo
 

After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep
 
By David Graeber

At some point in the next few months, the crisis will be declared over, and we will be able to return to our “nonessential” jobs. For many, this will be like waking from a dream.

The media and political classes will definitely encourage us to think of it this way. This is what happened after the 2008 financial crash. There was a brief moment of questioning. (What is “finance,” anyway? Isn’t it just other people’s debts? What is money? Is it just debt, too? What’s debt? Isn’t it just a promise? If money and debt are just a collection of promises we make to each other, then couldn’t we just as easily make different ones?) The window was almost instantly shut by those insisting we shut up, stop thinking, and get back to work, or at least start looking for it.

Last time, most of us fell for it. This time, it is critical that we do not.

Because, in reality, the crisis we just experienced was waking from a dream, a confrontation with the actual reality of human life, which is that we are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another, and that those who do the lion’s share of this care work that keeps us alive are overtaxed, underpaid, and daily humiliated, and that a very large proportion of the population don’t do anything at all but spin fantasies, extract rents, and generally get in the way of those who are making, fixing, moving, and transporting things, or tending to the needs of other living beings. It is imperative that we not slip back into a reality where all this makes some sort of inexplicable sense, the way senseless things so often do in dreams.

How about this: Why don’t we stop treating it as entirely normal that the more obviously one’s work benefits others, the less one is likely to be paid for it; or insisting that financial markets are the best way to direct long-term investment even as they are propelling us to destroy most life on Earth?

Why not instead, once the current emergency is declared over, actually remember what we’ve learned: that if “the economy” means anything, it is the way we provide each other with what we need to be alive (in every sense of the term), that what we call “the market” is largely just a way of tabulating the aggregate desires of rich people, most of whom are at least slightly pathological, and the most powerful of whom were already completing the designs for the bunkers they plan to escape to if we continue to be foolish enough to believe their minions’ lectures that we were all, collectively, too lacking in basic common sense do anything about oncoming catastrophes.

This time around, can we please just ignore them?

Most of the work we’re currently doing is dream-work. It exists only for its own sake, or to make rich people feel good about themselves, or to make poor people feel bad about themselves. And if we simply stopped, it might be possible to make ourselves a much more reasonable set of promises: for instance, to create an “economy” that lets us actually take care of the people who are taking care of us (emphasis added).
 

Image Credit:
https://jacobin.com/2021/03/david-graeber-posthumous-essay-pandemic
 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

#275 / A Picture Of The Future By Mr. Fish?

 

I found the image above to be arresting. It illustrates an article by Chris Hedges, in Consortium News. The image is identified in Hedges' article as “'Doomsday Selfie' by Mr. Fish."
 
In fact, the assertions in Hedges' article, which is titled, "The Final Collapse," is very much consistent with the "Doomsday Selfie" image. Hedges pretty much says that "Doomsday" is now upon us, and that there is no chance to escape, and that our civilization should be counted out. We're done!

I am quite familiar with Hedges, and I really appreciate the writing that Chris Hedges does. He is a truthteller, I think - and he consistently attempts to puncture America's sense of its own greatness, that sense of our own entitlement and probity that has led us into so many actions of overweening excess, particularly by way of military actions that are both despicable and perverse. Let me just name two of these, to give context to that comment: (1) Vietnam; (2) The War in Iraq. That is, of course, a short and very "partial list."

Consortium News plays the same role, within contemporary political journalism, that Chris Hedges plays with his writing. Consortium News and its writers hold up a mirror to contemporary events, and often suggest that the United States is in the "wrong," not in the "right," when we pay attention to what the government is actually doing (as opposed to what the government says it is doing). I appreciate Consortium News, as I appreciate Hedges, for helping us to take a look at where we are, and where we seem to be going from a critical perspective. If truth is important, criticism is vital.
 
I do, however, want to raise an objection to Hedges' article with the "Doomsday Selfie" illustration. Click right here to read Hedges' article for yourself.
 
Hedges begins his column by describing "a 100-foot-high temple mound, the largest known earthwork in the Americas built by prehistoric peoples." This mound, "Monks Mound," is located outside St. Louis, Missouri, and is a remnant of a former great civilization. Here is how Hedges ends the column:

By the 1400s Cahokia had been abandoned. In 1541, when Hernando de Soto’s invading army descended on what is today Missouri, looking for gold, nothing but the great mounds remained, relics of a forgotten past.

This time the collapse will be global. It will not be possible, as in ancient societies, to migrate to new ecosystems rich in natural resources. The steady rise in heat will devastate crop yields and make much of the planet uninhabitable. Climate scientists warn that once temperatures rise by 4C, the earth, at best, will be able to sustain a billion people.

The more insurmountable the crisis becomes, the more we, like our prehistoric ancestors, will retreat into self-defeating responses, violence, magical thinking and denial.
The historian Arnold Toynbee, who singled out unchecked militarism as the fatal blow to past empires, argued that civilizations are not murdered, but commit suicide. They fail to adapt to a crisis, ensuring their own obliteration.

Our civilization’s collapse will be unique in size, magnified by the destructive force of our fossil fuel-driven industrial society. But it will replicate the familiar patterns of collapse that toppled civilizations of the past. The difference will be in scale, and this time there will be no exit.
 
I have no quarrel with Hedges' warning of the dangers we face - nor of his dramatic and forceful way of trying to bring us to our senses. I want to caution us all, though, that predictions of what is claimed to be inevitable are always based on a failure to understand our real situation.

What we see, now, is never going to be an adequate predictor of the future (for good or ill). That is because we can act today (right now) and change the course of history. The realities we encounter are the realities we create ourselves. 
 
Doom is always a possibility, but it is never an inevitable destiny. Furthermore, as Elizabeth West says (and she is another person who appreciates Hedges):


Let's not forget that, because if we do, we will create the Doom that was not inevitable, but that we embraced only because we took no action, or took the wrong actions, to prevent its arrival. We will forfeit, as well, the joy to which Elizabeth West calls our attention.

That "Doomsday Selfie," pictured by Mr. Fish, is a possible, but not an inevitable portrait of our civilization, and of our individual fates.
 
 

Image Credit:
https://consortiumnews.com/2022/08/15/chris-hedges-the-final-collapse/
 

Friday, September 30, 2022

#274 / BDE

 

Kari Lake, a former television news anchor, is the Republican candidate for the governorship of the State of Arizona. Lake has been endorsed by the person pictured above. Having won the Republican Party primary, in early August, almost certainly because of Donald Trump's endorsement, Lake now faces a November matchup against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, one of a handful of Democratic elected officials holding office in Arizona.
 
I mention Lake, while picturing our former president, because Lake has opined that Donald Trump has "BDE." For the uninitiated (which was my own condition before reading the Twitter posting linked here), "BDE" translates as "Big Dick Energy." 
 
This rather pungent description of the attraction that our former president seems to have for so many (and Lake gives comparable status to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis), is more professionally or academically described as "charisma." 
 
In fact, it was an online commentary by conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg - talking about charisma - that led me to Lake's characterization of the Trump-DeSantis appeal as "BDE."
 
Below, I am quoting what Goldberg has to say about charisma. I think he is on target in warning us to be suspicious of how charisma operates in the political arena. In fact, I think that Goldberg's column reinforces my advice, provided in earlier blog postings, to shun the idea that we are supposed to be electing "leaders."
 
As Bob Dylan so nicely expressed it, in one of his earliest songs, "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Trying to elect "leaders" with "charisma," with "BDE," will almost certainly result in us all getting screwed. 

oooOOOooo

 
Column: The paradox of Trump's charisma
Jonah Goldberg
 
Donald Trump has a lot of charisma.

Let me finish. I do not mean charisma in the colloquial sense of being charming, though he has charmed millions. I’m referring to a style of leadership famously described by the German sociologist Max Weber, who described three forms of authority or leadership: traditional, legal-rational and charismatic.

In traditional societies monarchs derive their authority from custom. In modern societies, most leaders — elected or otherwise — are chosen based on their qualifications and expertise and their authority is prescribed by law. Charismatic leaders bring something else to the equation: an inner quality that commands loyalty and even worship.

The ancient Greeks used the word “charisma” to mean a divine gift or grace. Weber secularized it to mean some quality that inspires intense followership. “Men do not obey [a charismatic leader] by virtue of tradition or statute,” Weber observed, “but because they believe in him.” I suspect that Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is not a close student of Weber’s, but she captures the idea well enough when she talks about Trump’s “BDE.” You can look that up. 
 
One of the paradoxes of charismatic leadership is that the leader’s illegitimacy — in legal, rational or traditional terms — can have the effect of strengthening their hold on their followers. This dynamic has been at the heart of Trump’s distortion of the right. If the man cannot measure up to the traditional, moral, rational or legal yardsticks that conservatives once ascribed to leadership, then it is the yardstick’s fault for not measuring up to the man.

If you’re immune to Trump’s charms you’ve probably had the experience of trying to argue with someone who adores the man. The more you press the point that their faith is irrational or otherwise unjustified, the more intense their devotion becomes.

And when the system of laws confronts the charismatic leader, his followers not only see that as proof of his superiority, but of the system’s illegitimacy.

When the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton, Trump followers said that proved her corruption. But when the FBI investigates Trump, it’s proof of the FBI’s corruption. If “the system” — or the “establishment” — cannot abide the man, it is the system that is to blame. When the issue is the alleged mishandling of classified material by anyone other than Trump or his subalterns, it is a grave problem. But when it’s Trump who is in the crosshairs, the outrage is the existence of classified material. Hence Republican Rep. Bob Good’s preferred solution is simply to “Just declassify everything.”

Moreover, through the magic of psychological transference, criticism of charismatic leaders is transmogrified into an attack on all those who love him. Hence the paradox of Trump. When he is at his most indefensible that is precisely when the irrationality of his defenders becomes most intense.

That intensity often takes on a quasi-religious quality. “Donald Trump Is the MLK of the Working Class and Christians. No Wonder the FBI Is Persecuting Him, Too” is the headline of one recent article from the acolyte camp.

If charisma is a kind of divine grace, then insulting the charismatic leader is a kind of sacrilege. In the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s home, Charlie Kirk, a pliant priest in Trump’s personality cult declared, “That wasn’t just a raid against Trump, that was a raid against your values. That was a raid against you.” Mar-a-Lago is where Trump did some of his best work as president, Kirk explained, thus the search was “a desecration of the conservative movement!” It’s a strange form of conservatism that says a lawful warrant has no authority on holy ground.

It’s worth noting that just as devotion to charismatic leaders can take on the flavor of religious devotion, opposition to them can too, which is why the rhetoric against Trump can get as ahead of the facts as the defenses of him. Demagoguery, which Weber identified as a common form of charismatic leadership, has always been the Achilles' heel of democracy. But the demagogue’s lawlessness is not the only threat; a weakening of the rule of law in defeating the demagogue can be a hazard, too.

The only way out of this mess is through. Our system was expressly designed to withstand the stresses of popular passion. As the blessedly uncharismatic Calvin Coolidge said, one with the law on his side is a majority. That’s the only kind of majority our legitimate leaders should be serving now (emphasis added).
 
 

Image Credit:
https://www.realclearpolitics.com/2022/08/16/the_paradox_of_trumps_charisma_577228.html

Thursday, September 29, 2022

#273 / Another One Of Those 1,000 Words Pictures

 

Above is a picture that accompanied a column by Ezra Klein. Klein's column appeared in the Sunday, August 14, 2022, edition of The New York Times
 
The picture shows all phones, everywhere - everyone on a phone. Though the photo has actually been "doctored" by The Times, it makes a real point. Online, Klein's column has the following headline: "I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message."
 
If you can dodge The Times' paywall, I recommend that you read what Ezra Klein has to say. If you can't, this picture really does speak for itself. 
 
Increasingly, we are not living, anymore, in a common, and "real," physical world. We are living in a "metaverse," if you want to call it that. We are living online - in a world maintained by giant corporations that control our experience of the world in which we live.
 
This fact has consequences - social, political, economic, spiritual, and otherwise.

Read all about it in Klein's column, if you can. But whether you can access Klein's column or not, you've got the picture.

THINK about it!
 

Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/07/opinion/media-message-twitter-instagram.html
 
 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

#272 / A New World Begins

 

I picked up my copy of A New World Begins, authored by Jeremy Popkin, from one of the many "little free libraries" that I visit as I walk around Santa Cruz, California. If you want to read this book yourself (and particularly if you like to underline your books, as I do, so you can't just take the book out from the library), you may have to buy it at a bookstore. Popkin's book is long, at 561 pages before the Acknowledgments and the Index, and I thought it was quite a rewarding read. 

Before I picked up the book and took it home with me, I more or less credited myself with knowing pretty much anything worth knowing about the French Revolution. After all, I was a history major in college, and I spent six months in France as an undergraduate student. I took a course touching on French history from Gavin Langmuir, a famous historian who taught at Stanford, and I have a book by Robert Fawtier on my bookshelves - The Capetian Kings of France. Besides, I read A Tale of Two Cities long ago, not to mention On Revolution, in which Hannah Arendt gives her take on the French Revolution. What more could you need?
 
Nonetheless, since the book was essentially brand new, and since I am a history student, I picked up the book and took it home. As it turns out, I didn't know that much about the French Revolution.

  • I was truly unaware of the extent to which women were empowered by the French Revolution.
  • I did not really understand how profoundly egalitarian the revolution was.
  • I didn't fully appreciate how the revolution so significantly eliminated the influence of the Catholic Church.
  • I hadn't known how important the French Revolution was in ending slavery worldwide, and particularly in the Americas. 
  • I didn't really know, either, how Napoleon's dictatorship was related to the French Revolution, to which it marked an end.
  • And... (this part I had some idea about), Popkin's book made me realize - even more than A Tale of Two Cities - how truly ghastly can be the results when a group of persons, chosen to represent the people, have unchecked and limitless power, when there are no "checks and balances" built in, and when governmental institutions are designed to facilitate the "democratic" use of government power. Without any effective check against governmental power, the revolution produced what was so properly called "The Terror," and that "Terror" was terrible, indeed.

    Reading Popkin's book made me think, a lot, about the state of our own government, society, economy, and politics, here in the United States. Contemplate this discussion, from Page 497 in Popkin's book:

    Where it faced defeat, the Directory told its supporters to claim that legal procedures were being violated; they were then to create a schism by walking out of the electoral assemblies and forming their own rival group. Even when the breakaway assembly had many fewer participants than the original one, the government's loyalists in the councils would pronounce its candidates legally elected.
     
    Does that ring a bell? Does the date, January 6, 2021, come to mind?

    William Faulkner is famously known to have said, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
     
    Pick up Popkin's book, and read all about it!
     
     

    Image Credit:
    https://www.basicbooks.com/titles/jeremy-popkin/a-new-world-begins/9780465096671/

    Tuesday, September 27, 2022

    #271 / Enormous Extent And Tantalizing Complexity

     

    I was interested by an article in a recent edition of the online magazine, Vice. The article was titled, "‘Mind-Blowing’ Lost City With a Cosmic Link Discovered in the Amazon." Clicking that link will take you to the article, which begins as follows:
     
    The ruins of a vast ancient civilization that has remained hidden under the densely forested landscape of the Bolivian Amazon for centuries has now been mapped out in unprecedented detail by lasers shot from a helicopter.... While field expeditions and Indigenous knowledge have previously shed light on this region’s lost settlements, a remote-sensing technique called Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) has now exposed the enormous extent and tantalizing complexity of this civilization.
     
    The study reported on by Vice documents "immense settlements [that] stretch across some 80 square miles of the Llanos de Mojos region of Bolivia and include pyramids, causeways, canals, ramparts, elevated forest islands. The structures were built by the Casarabe culture, an Indigenous population that flourished from 500 to 1400 A.D. and came to inhabit some 1,700 square miles of the Amazon rainforest." The find is “mind blowing,” according to Heiko PrĂ¼mers, an archaeologist at the German Archaeological Institute, headquartered in Berlin, and one member of the research team.
     
    As I read this story, I marveled that a civilization that still existed in 1400, only 622 years ago, had disappeared so completely from human recollection. 622 years is what I think of as a relatively short period of time, in the overall sweep of human history. That a civilization of "enormous extent and tantalizing complexity" could simply disappear seems strange to me. Does that seem strange to you, as well? Despite the extent and complexity of this civilization, no definite human memory of it existed, some six hundred years after it was, apparently, flourishing.

    That makes me think. Who will marvel at the enormous extent and tantalizing complexity of our own civilization, should it, too, disappear?
     
    And of course, it might. 
     
    Most of us wouldn't think that our civilization could disappear - as large and complex as it is - but the Amazonian civilization so recently uncovered should make us realize that our own civilization might come to the same kind of end. What a "mind blowing" wonder our world would seem to anyone who came later - after our world had disappeared  - and who found buried evidences of what we had built. 
     
    Memento Mori is not only good advice for the individual. We humans who are alive today would do well to recognize the possibility that what we assume is fixed, stationary, and inevitable might disappear, despite its vast extent and amazing complexity. 
     
    With that thought in mind, we might focus more on what we need to do to make sure that our civilization does not become a tantalizing archeological question for others, in the future.

    As, of course, it might.
     
     
    Image Credit:
    https://www.vice.com/en/article/3abxv5/mind-blowing-lost-city-with-a-cosmic-link-discovered-in-the-amazon
     
     

    Monday, September 26, 2022

    #270 / An Important Article (But Hard To Read)

     

    N.J. (Nate) Hagens has written an article I would like to recommend. I think the article is important. I didn't find the article easy to read, however, and I doubt you will, either. 
     
    Here is a link to the article I am talking about. It is titled, "Economics for the future - Beyond the superorganism." Hagens' article was published in Ecological Economics in 2020 [169 (2020) 106520]. 
     
    Scholarly articles are often hard to read. All those footnotes! The academic nature of the article is one of the difficulties with "Economics for the Future."

    But there is another reason, too, that this article is hard to read. As the point Hagens is making in the article begins to sink in, the article illuminates the reality that underlies the palpable sense of discouragement and doom that hangs over all of us who are alive today. Our worst fears are being confirmed, in rather neutral, scientific language.

    So, be advised. 
     
    Hagens is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota, and he teaches an Honors Seminar titled: "Reality 101 - A Survey of the Human Predicament." Hagens describes the class as "an interdisciplinary overview of: anthropology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, energy, economics, population, ecology, systems thinking, [and] environmental science." The objective of the class, according to Hagens, is for "students to see through the cultural blindspots on energy, behavior and the future, [and thus] to see the general shape of the 21st century. This allows for greater personal clarity for future decisions, and insights into the leverage points to be effective at larger scales."
     
    Hagens lists three "main conclusions" that he hopes his students will take away from his class. They are:

    1) That human population combined with our aspirations and consumption function akin to a giant superorganism, and that our aggregate actions are directly causing the 6th great extinction. 
    2) That nature - and human systems - are based on quality energy and natural resources, 98% of 'labor' in human economies is now done by machines, with 85% of that via fossil slaves (coal, oil and natural gas) - the cost of finding, extracting and delivering these -in addition to rebuildable tech like PV/wind to a complex societal infrastructure is so high as to limit further growth. 
    3) Most importantly, [that] we don't have an energy or environmental problem so much as a human brain mismatch - we evolved to be 'wrong', and our reflexive responses to our problems are really responses that were formed in the Pleistocene. Until we acknowledge who we are, where we came from, what we're doing and what really motivates us/makes us happy etc, we will continue on current trajectory. But...we are the first generation of our species - of any species to know these things, and our neural plasticity + cultural evolution gives reason for hope.  
     
    This three-point list, which comes from Hagens' self-description on his LinkedIn profile, is pretty much the message of the article I am recommending. Read the article and you won't have to take Hagens' course. In essence, Hagens is advising us - in fact, he is demonstrating to us - that the social, political, and economic realities that define our current world are profoundly unsustainable, and that the world in which we live, and which most of us take for granted, and which we want to continue to take for granted, is (to use that word again) "doomed." 

    The last point in Hagens' three-point list is a rather general message of hope, offered to offset that sense of "doom" that might otherwise prevail. We are smart, says Hagens, and our reasons for hope are not just "wishful thinking." Human beings have overcome many past difficulties, and we can do that again. In providing this counsel, Hagens is agreeing with my friend Richard Charter, whose recent book outlines the same kind of problems Hagens discusses, and concludes that "hope is our most promising antidote." 
     
    I would like to take just one step beyond "hope," though, and make two specific points. 
     
    First, the "superorganism" that Hagens describes makes that "superorganism" sound like some kind of "blob." In fact, the way I'd put it, Hagens is really claiming (in using that "superorganism" description) that we are all "in this life together," and on a global scale. That is one of my consistent contentions, as those who read my blog on a regular basis certainly know. Becoming aware of our ultimate connection, beyond all the boundaries and divisions that seem more "real" than the actual reality of our interconnection, is critically important. If we don't embrace our global interconnection, then the "doom" that we can see coming becomes a near certainty. Division and difference, as problems arise (as they certainly will, if Hagens is correct), leads us directly into conflicts and contentions that will destroy the world. Frequent readers of my blog postings will remember my not infrequent introduction of pictures like the one below, to underscore this point: 
     

    The other thing to say in response to Hagens' three-point list - my "second" point - is that we are not simply the objects of our own observation. We are "actors," too, not simply observers, and nothing that exists in the human world that we have constructed, from neolithic times till now, makes that world inevitable, or impossible to change. In fact, hard to read though it is, Hagens is telling us that the time in which we live is a time in which we will (because we must) create a giant transformation of the world we currently inhabit. Everything can be changed. 

    And that's not impossible, either. My favorite Bob Dylan song, Mississippi, puts it poetically: 

    Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there
    Everybody got to move somewhere
    Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
    Things should start to get interesting right about now
     
    "Where are we going?" Nate Hagens asks. We're moving. We have "got to move." We have got to move, "somewhere." Hagens' paper makes that very, very clear. That's "Reality 101." 
     
    So where are we going? We can hope it will be good, but I am talking about something different from hope. Let's not discount "hope," but we should be shooting for "joy."
     
     
     
     
    Image Credits:
    (1) - https://youtu.be/2ThBxeBUYAQ
    (2) - https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170816-the-monster-atomic-bomb-that-was-too-big-to-use 

    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    #269 / God Knows

     

    God knows it’s a struggle
    God knows it’s a crime
    God knows there’s gonna be no more water
    But fire next time
     
    - Bob Dylan
     
    According to The Los Angeles Times (and despite the many wildfires now raging worldwide), Bob Dylan's confident prediction (above) may not really be correct. Looking ahead, Dylan can hear the adumbrations of the trumpets of doom that many (not only Dylan) believe we can all discern, if we would only pay attention.
     
    Global warming is definitely at the stage "When Shit Gets Real." Pictures of wildfires adorn our newspapers, online and in their hard copy versions, for those who still like the inky reality of newsprint smeared across their fingertips. For those who get their news in some sort of video format - and many of us do - we can easily watch the coverage that seems to vindicate what Bob Dylan has to say. There are massive wildfires everywhere, all around the world, and certainly including California. 

    The possibility of massive flooding events, however, is certainly part of that "When Shit Gets Real" perspective. Even as we read reports of wildfires, we hear about both floods and droughts. Again, that's a worldwide phenomenon. The recent, and massive, inundation of Pakistan is certainly an example.  

    With respect to California, the article in the August 12, 2022, edition of The Los Angeles Times may or may not be accessible to non-subscribers, given the newspaper's paywall. Here, however, is an extract from the article, titled, "Risk of catastrophic California ‘megaflood’ has doubled due to global warming, researchers say."

    On 10,000-foot peaks, which would still be somewhat below freezing despite global warming, “you get 20-foot-plus snow accumulations,” Swain said. “But once you get down to South Lake Tahoe level and lower in elevation, it’s all rain.” 
    Swain and co-author Xingying Huang project that end-of-the-century storms will generate 200% to 400% more runoff in the Sierra Nevada Mountains due to increased precipitation and more precipitation falling as rain, not snow.
    The increased runoff could unleash massive landslides and debris flows, particularly in hilly and mountainous areas stripped of vegetation by wildfires. 
    “Whiplashing shifts” in extreme weather could also challenge the stability of California’s massive collection of aging dams and levees, exposing major cities to inundation. 
    The study also found that further increases in “megaflood” risk are likely with each additional degree of global warming this century. 
    The ARKStorm is also known as “the other Big One” after the nickname of an expected major earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. 
    But unlike an earthquake, an ARKStorm event would result in a disaster zone stretched across thousands of square miles, complicating emergency response efforts and triggering economic and supply chain blockages that would be felt globally. 
    The researchers are now working collaboratively with the California Department of Water Resources to develop maps pinpointing where flooding could be worst and preparedness strategies to reduce potential losses of lives and property. 
    Some of their initial proposals, however, are all but certain to generate tensions between flood risk management plans and water conservation projects. 
    More frequent cycles of droughts and deluges fueled by atmospheric rivers — Pacific-based storms that are hundreds of miles wide — will present both problems and opportunities for West Coast reservoir managers balancing mandates for water storage and flood control, said Alexander Gershunov, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography in San Diego who is not affiliated with the study. 
    That’s because, he said, “California will increasingly have to depend on potentially hazardous atmospheric rivers and floodwater for water resource generation in a warming climate.” 
    Preparing for massive flooding, the UCLA study says, “could mean letting water out of reservoirs preemptively, allowing water to inundate floodplains and diverting water away from population centers.” 
    Earlier this week, however, Gov. Gavin Newsom called on state agencies to begin preparing for a hotter, drier future with strategies including expansion of water storage and water recycling capacity. 
    That’s because, he said, new data indicates that California will lose 10% of its water supply by 2040. 
    “Retaining as much water as we can is a good move,” Swain said, “except that might collide with the necessity to prepare for catastrophic flooding.” 
    Currently, people are focused on the risk of wildfires, plagues and earthquakes, Swain said. “But catastrophic flooding is a risk that has been rising quietly, but steadily in the background.” 
    “Eventually, it’s going to come back to bite us,” he said.
     
    Meanwhile, let's not forget about events in Pakistan, where we were informed on August 30th, about a month ago, that "a third of Pakistan is underwater as deadly floods leave desperate residents facing 'doomsday.'"  


    oooOOOooo

    So, what is our takeaway, here? 
     
    Let's go back to that "When Shit Gets Real" understanding of our situation. We are in for it, all over the world. What California can be looking forward to, by way of the predicted megaflood disaster, is massive flooding which could displace "up to 10 million people," shut down "major interstate freeways such as Interstates 5 and 80 ... for months," and "submerge population centers including Stockton, Fresno and parts of Los Angeles." This megaflood, if it happens, would constitute a "$1-trillion disaster, larger than any in world history." 

    So, we can start trying to prepare for these impacts, even as we also try to prepare for impacts related to increasing wildfire danger, drought, food insecurity, and massive heat prostration. 
     
    By all means! But Benjamin Franklin's advice is still our best bet. You'll remember his adage, I am sure: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

    What we need to do, urgently, is to take action both individually and collectively to try to prevent the disasters we can so easily foretell.  We can do that only by taking action, as soon as we possibly can, to eliminate every source of greenhouse gases that we possibly can

    Prepare to deal with the impacts of predicted disasters? Sure! But let's try to prevent the worst of it, at least. 
     
    There's a lot more that that we could do on the prevention side - and we had better get ourselves organized to do it.
     
     


    Image Credits:
    (1) - https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-08-12/risk-of-catastrophic-megaflood-has-doubled-for-california?utm_id=64109&sfmc_id=713668
    (2) - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/pakistan-floods-un-appeal-aid-monsoon-climate-change-rcna45219
     
     

    Saturday, September 24, 2022

    #268 / Rules

     

    A book review in the August 10, 2022, edition of The Wall Street Journal caught my attention. The book reviewed, by Lorraine Daston, is titled, Rules: A Short History of What We Live By. Daston is an American historian of science. 
     
    What was not clear to me from the review is whether Daston really puts all the various "rules we live by" into a common category (which is how I read the review), or whether she properly differentiates between the kind of rules that scientists study and the kind of rules that governments promulgate.
     
    Anyone who has been reading my blog postings for very long will probably be aware that I advocate for a "Two Worlds Hypothesis," and I want us all to understand the profound difference between the "Laws of Nature" and "Human Laws." You can click this link for a quick review of how I see the world, and how I understand "the [two different kinds of] rules we live by." 
     
    I think there are TWO kinds of rules, and that they are quite different. It is my belief and that we really need to understand the difference between these two versions of the "rules we live by," if we are properly to understand our place in the universe - and properly to understand the huge dimensions of our human freedom.
     
    As I say, whether it's the fault of the reviewer, or of the book, The Wall Street Journal's book review seems to conflate and confuse the two:
     
    Mass attracts mass, energy can be neither created nor destroyed, nothing is faster than light—we call these cosmic certainties “laws” of nature, but the comparison is an insult to physics. Regular laws, the human kind, are broken all the time. Laws of nature, by contrast, are products of induction, patterns of occurrence derived from observation; one solid counterexample would break them for good. They are bolstered by theory but backed by no other authority. Newton won’t punish you for violating his laws.
    As the historian of science Lorraine Daston recounts in her fascinating study “Rules: A Short History of What We Live By,” the metaphor of natural laws was popularized in 1644 by Descartes in his treatise “Principia Philosophiae.” It has bothered certain thinkers from the start. The natural philosopher Robert Boyle, a contemporary of Descartes, objected to the notion of rational laws being obeyed by brute matter that was “devoid of understanding and sense.” Today, the term has a creaky ring, even if we might slyly appreciate how it captures the fact that science is an inherently human enterprise.
    Civilization of any kind relies on rules about human behavior, but their nature isn’t static. Different eras have forged different types of rules, and seen existing ones in different lights. Laws, which aim for lofty authority, are only one of the flavors of constraint Ms. Daston describes, along with models and algorithms. She draws examples from a range of case studies, including Babylonian math texts, premodern recipes, attempts to reform spelling, the municipal regulations of Enlightenment Paris and casuistry, the medieval method of reasoning that is the source of the term “case study.” She plots them all on several overlapping axes that yield rich comparisons: flexible vs. rigid, general vs. specific, “thick” vs. “thin” (thick rules fold in examples and exceptions, while thin ones anticipate a stable, predictable world).
    [This discussion continues. Please feel free to read the entire review.]
     
    I haven't read the book, and maybe it's the reviewer, not Daston, who doesn't seem to make clear that using Natural Laws as a "metaphor" to characterize the rules that human beings make (or vice versa), is a profound error. There are "scientific" laws that govern the Natural World. Suggesting that our human laws are like those Laws of Nature is a common misconception, and the misconception results in the truncation of human freedom, since in the world that we create, the "Human World" in which we most immediately live, there is no "rule" or "law" that can't be changed. 

    If we fail to pay heed to the laws governing the Natural World, we doom ourselves (check out what global warming is doing to human civilization and to the Natural World itself). But the human laws that most immediately effect how we live (who pays taxes, and how much; who gets educated and who gets health care, etc.) - all those "rules we live by" - are absolutely susceptible to change. Failure to understand this, and to act upon that understanding, is putting our society in peril - in danger of collapse. 

    There are, in fact, two kinds of law. There are two quite different kinds of "rules we live by." We had better start understanding the difference, and start conducting ourselves accordingly, or we won't be around much longer to write books, or to read them!
     
     
     
    Image Credit:
    https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/rules-review-the-measure-of-all-things-11660080897
     

    Friday, September 23, 2022

    #267 / Revolutionary Constitutionalism

     

    You will be forgiven if you don't immediately recognize former South African Constitutional Court Justice Laurie Ackermann, pictured above. I hunted down the picture because I recently read a paper about Ackermann, authored by Roger Berkowitz, the Founder and the current Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College.
     
    Berkowitz' paper dates from 2009, and is titled, "Revolutionary Constitutionalism: Some Thoughts on Laurie Ackermann's Jurisprudence." The Berkowitz paper was the first I had ever heard of Justice Ackermann. 

    In fact, at least the way I read it, Berkowitz' paper is not really about Ackermann's jurisprudence. While the paper begins and ends with some references to Ackermann, the focus of the paper is on how revolution is connected to human (and specifically political) freedom, drawing mainly on the thoughts of Hannah Arendt. 

    The Berkowitz paper is pretty "academic," and thus might be heavy going for those not familiar with the substance and style of academic writing. It is, however, worth reading, and I have provided a link, for those who might want to read it. My purpose is served by quoting what Berkowitz says near the very end of his discussion:
     

    Arendt sees that the fateful choice to found the legitimacy of modern law in democratic consent is ‘built on quicksand.' It is a solution to the problem of authority that replaces ‘monarchy, or one-man-rule, with democracy, or rule by the majority.’ But democratic rule is, as rule, nothing but the principle of majority decision. Since that democratic decision ‘is ever-changing by definition’ and susceptible to the weakness of wilful demagoguery, the elevation of democratic decision-making to democratic rule harbours a grave threat to the protection of political and human rights and thus to the protection of every limitation and space of freedom.
     
    What I take this to mean is that protecting our right to "vote" for those who will decide what happens to us is no guarantee of political freedom. In fact, and this is a theme deeply embedded in everything Arendt ever said about government, we preserve our freedom only by our personal participation in the discussion that leads to decisions. Electing the people who will then hire the people who will run our lives for us is to have lost what Arendt calls our "revolutionary treasure," which is a life together based on a government of, and by, and for the people - to use Lincoln's words. 

    It's those "of" the people and "by" the people parts of Lincoln's formulation that are the most important. Without our direct and personal participation in the political process, without our personal involvement in the debate and discussion that leads to decisions, a government that claims to be "for" the people can quickly degenerate into an illegitimate exercise of power by those who happen to have claim to public office. 

    A concern that this is what has happened to us, here in the United States, is what a majority of Americans probably believe, today, about our national government. Our government claims to be "for" us, but it is not really a government that is either "by" or "of" the people themselves. Thus, whether seen from the perspective of either left or right, our government is not a government that can command any profound respect or allegiance from those who are subject to its decisions.

    This is profoundly dangerous, and we are living in dangerous times, as surely we all know. Our personal connection to and participation in the debate and discussion that precedes governmental action is what we need. That's really what a "revolutionary constitutionalism" requires.
     
     
     
    Image Credit:
    https://ourconstitution.constitutionhill.org.za/south-african-constitution/the-constitutional-court/founding-the-new-court/