Barsamian: What about points of resistance? What opportunities do you see?
Nader: A lot of them. Ordinary people, for starters....
We live, simultaneously, in two different worlds. Ultimately, we live in the World of Nature, a world that we did not create and the world upon which all life depends. Most immediately, we inhabit a "human world" that we create ourselves. Because our human world is the result of our own choices and actions, we can say, quite properly, that we live, most immediately, in a “political world.” In this blog, I hope to explore the interaction of these two worlds that we call home.
Barsamian: What about points of resistance? What opportunities do you see?
Nader: A lot of them. Ordinary people, for starters....
When I wrote The End of Nature 30 years ago, my theory of change was simple. I was 27 years old; I thought people would read my book and then they would change. I now know that that's not the way change happens. Books and arguments are one part of what needs to happen, but I spend most of my time now building movements. I think those are what really will move the needle. I hope that this book contributes a little to that movement-building process.
But I also just want to mark where we are. Thirty years ago my greatest fear for climate change, in a way, was that we'd walk off this cliff without even recognizing it. I think now at least there's going to be a serious fight. And that is, at the very least, a more dignified way for humans to be engaging with this greatest of crises.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The two characters do exactly the same work. They make their money using exactly the same commercial formula. And though they emphasize different political ideas, the effect they have on audiences is much the same.
Sunstein’s book is illuminating because it puts norms at the center of how we think about change. A culture is made up of norms — simple rules that govern what thoughts, emotions and behaviors are appropriate at what moment. It’s appropriate to be appalled when people hit their dogs. It’s inappropriate to ask strangers to tell you their income.
Most norms are invisible most of the time. They’re just the water in which we swim. We unconsciously absorb them by imitating those around us. We implicitly know that if we violate a norm, there will be a social cost, maybe even ostracism.
From time to time, a norm stops working or comes into dispute. People are slow to challenge a broad norm, because they don’t want to say anything that might make them unpopular. But eventually some people notice that, actually, there are a lot of people who secretly think a certain norm is wrong or outdated.When this happens, permission is granted to go public with your private thoughts. More and more people speak up and you get rapid, cascading change. There used to be a social penalty for supporting gay marriage. Now there’s a social penalty for not supporting it.
Sunstein points to the importance of “norm entrepreneurs,” people who challenge old norms and create new ones. I’d add that there are at least five different kinds of norm-shifters, though often one person can perform several of these roles:
Namers. These are people who describe the context in some new way. They describe the reality around us in a way that makes visible what had previously been invisible or taken for granted. Charles Dickens made the poor visible to Victorian England.
Confrontationalists. Social movements move forward by declaring disgraceful things that had formerly been acceptable: segregation, littering, sexual harassment, etc. They wake people up to the ways an old norm is disgraceful by actively and visibly confronting it. The civil rights movement had a strategy aimed at creating a soap opera every day: Do something every day that forces the segregationists to display their own hatefulness and the unjustness of their norms. This is how you rouse people.
Illuminators. If confrontationalists tear down old norms, illuminators lift up new ones. They do this by showing how cool and just the norm breakers are and thus encourage others to copy them. The 1960s radicals violated all sorts of norms, but it was illuminators like Ken Kesey, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin who created the counterculture identity: This is who we are. This is the story we are all a part of. This is how we behave.
Conveners. These are people who organize gatherings for those who want to shift the same norm. These gatherings embolden change agents by reminding them, “There are a lot of us!” They sponsor specific actions you can do to embody new norms. Everybody should recycle.
Celebrities. When famous, good-looking or cool people embrace a norm-shift, you get a mass cascade. That’s when you win over all the people who may not be intrinsically interested in the cause, they just know that this is how the cool people think and act, so they want to do it, too.
We all have the power to create cultural microclimates around us, through the way we act and communicate. When a small group of people shift the way they show approval and disapproval, it can shift the social cures among wider and wider circles. Suddenly, revolutions. The whole school of fish has shifted course in rapid ways that would have astounded us beforehand.
The rules don’t apply to the folk hero. People don’t measure them by the same tape. Behavior that people would never condone in their personal lives, they relish in the folk hero.
I believe that the great miscalculation people make in trying to understand Donald Trump and the cultlike devotion of the people who follow him is that they continue to apply the standard rules of analysis. I believe that ... Trump [has] ascended to folk hero status among the people who like him, and so his lying, corruption, sexism and grift not only do no damage, they add to his legend.
The folk hero, whether real or imaginary, often fights the establishment, often in devious, destructive and even deadly ways, and those outside that establishment cheer as the folk hero brings the beast to its knees.
There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.
Whatever our differences, where you live, who you love, to whom you pray, for whom you voted in the last election — let those differences not define us or divide us at this moment. Before we are anything else, we are Americans first.
Former president Barack Obama said Saturday that he is concerned about “rigidity” among some liberal Democrats who take aim at others in the party for “straying from purity on the issues.”
His remarks come amid an internal debate in the party over the most effective path to take in challenging President Trump for the White House in 2020. Democrats recaptured the House in November in large part due to a surge of liberal energy. But as some have embraced sweeping proposals such as Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal plan to combat climate change, others have balked, arguing that the party should take a more centrist approach.
At a town-hall-style event hosted by the Obama Foundation in Berlin, the former president was asked about the art of compromise.
He told the crowd of mostly young people that, in politics as well as in the civic arena, “you have to recognize that the way we’ve structured democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you.”
“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States — maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity, where we say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is how it’s going to be,’” Obama said.
He lamented that Democrats sometimes create “what’s called a ‘circular firing squad,’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.”
“When that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens. . . . You can’t set up a system in which you don’t compromise on anything. But you also can’t operate in a system where you compromise on everything; everything’s up for grabs. That requires a certain amount of internal reflection and deliberations.”
What, indeed, is truth? As Pilate implies and John’s tale suggests, it seems to depend on who’s telling the story — and whose story we choose to believe. Could truth, in other words, just be a matter of opinion?
The original sin, it seems, isn’t all that complicated; it’s the prioritization of growth — above all else and at the expense of those of us who use the services.
Amendment VNo person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment IXThe enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (emphasis added).
Ms. Schreck’s jokes, left unrefrigerated a second too long, keep curdling after the laugh. She zooms past certain details — such as growing up in an “abortion-free zone” — as if they were haunted houses.
They are. And in the next part of the play, removing her jacket and reintroducing herself as a grown woman less eager to please, she lets the ghosts out. We learn about her great-great-grandmother, a melancholic mail-order bride; the history of domestic abuse in her family; and her brush with certain rights the Supreme Court eventually located in the “penumbra” of the Ninth Amendment and in the right to privacy of the 14th.
Though neither of these concepts is explicit in the document, the teenage Ms. Schreck merrily interprets them as prime examples of the framers’ brilliant modesty. “The Constitution doesn’t tell you all the rights that you have,” she says, “because it doesn’t know.”
Through activities like farming, mining, and clear-cutting, people have directly transformed more than half the ice-free land on Earth—some twenty-seven million square miles—and we’ve indirectly altered half of what remains. As with the Mississippi, we have dammed or leveed most of the world’s major rivers. Our fertilizer plants and legume crops fix more nitrogen than all terrestrial ecosystems combined, and our planes, cars, and power stations emit about a hundred times more carbon dioxide than volcanoes. We now routinely cause earthquakes. (A particularly damaging human-induced quake that shook Pawnee, Oklahoma, on the morning of September 3, 2016, was felt all the way in Des Moines.)
In terms of sheer biomass, the numbers are stark-staring: today, people outweigh wild mammals by a ratio of more than eight to one. Add in the weight of our domesticated animals—mostly cows and pigs—and that ratio climbs to twenty-three to one. “In fact,” as a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences observed, “humans and livestock outweigh all vertebrates combined, with the exception of fish.” We have become the major driver of extinction and also, probably, of speciation. In the age of man, there is nowhere to go—and this includes the deepest trenches of the oceans and the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet—that does not already bear our Friday-like footprints.
Atmospheric warming, ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, deglaciation, desertification, eutrophication—these are just some of the byproducts of our species’ success. Such is the pace of what is blandly labelled “global change” that there are only a handful of comparable examples in Earth’s history, the most recent being the asteroid impact that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, sixty-six million years ago. Humans are producing no-analogue climates, no-analogue ecosystems, a whole no-analogue future. At this point, it might be prudent to scale back our commitments and reduce our impacts. But there are so many of us—nearly eight billion—and we are stepped in so far, return seems impracticable.
ON A SUNNY SUNDAY MORNING IN APRIL, I walked down an old abandoned mine road in Redlands Canyon, Death Valley National Park. ... The flowers were at their peak, and a cloud of insects created a multitonal symphony. The seductive scent of nectar filled the soft warm air. With each step I felt so fortunate to find myself in the midst of it all and experience this vibrant celebration of life.
Suddenly I heard a sound I should have recognized instantly but somehow didn’t. I stopped walking and listened. For a split second I thought “bird?” No, couldn’t be. It went on for too long. But I couldn’t immediately determine which direction it came from. The air resonated with so many sounds. Then I happened to look down. Right next to the trail and approximately two feet away from my feet, was a mature Panamint Red partly coiled and rattling softly but insistently.
I looked at her as she looked at me. There was no doubt as to the message that she conveyed. “You are too close.”
I slowly backed away. Odd, I did not feel threatened. It felt like a straightforward warning not a preliminary to an attack. I slowly backed away a few feet, and she stopped rattling. We both remained motionless as she scrutinized me for a few more minutes. Then she turned away and went on her way leisurely gliding along looking utterly elegant. Her movement was smooth and flowing, regardless of any impediments this wild terrain offered. She was beautiful; sleek, muscular and healthy looking. This was her territory. This was her home. She knew it and she looked it. As I stood watching her, I was mesmerized.
Then I thought: “Photograph.” I was not carrying a camera, so I called out to Neal, my husband, who was nearby but out of sight. He recognized the urgency in my voice and soon came walking around a corner. Being the artist and avid photographer that he is, he carried two cameras, one strapped over his shoulder and one in his hand. As Neal approached, the snake knew instantly that something had changed. She slid under a bush and stayed put. And that was that. ...
When I think back to my encounter with this magnificent Panamint Red, I ... regret my actions. I wished I had just allowed myself to be fully engaged with the magic of that moment. Here I had been given the opportunity to observe a snake being a snake. It was a creature utterly alien and inaccessible to me, but yet it was right there fully inhabiting her own world. I not only splintered that opportunity but also rudely invaded her space.Ultimately, I am left with the question: do I want a photograph or do I want the experience that touches my soul?
As important as these various forms of engagement seem to be, relatively few college graduates say that they experienced them. While more than 60% of graduates strongly agreed that at least one professor made them excited about learning, only 27% strongly felt that they were supported by professors who cared about them, and only 22% said the same about having a specific mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams. Just under a third strongly agreed that they had a meaningful internship or job or worked on a long-term project, while just a fifth were actively involved in extracurricular activities.
Given the research on what matters in college, the best advice for choosing the right one would seem to be finding a place where the student will be engaged, in class and out, by all that the college has to offer. The good news is that engaging experiences of this sort can happen at a wide variety of colleges, regardless of selectivity, size or location. And with over 4,500 accredited degree-granting colleges in the United States, students have plenty of options from which to choose.
A lack of transparency and accountability for civilian deaths helps enemies spin false narratives, makes it harder for allies to defend American actions and sets a bad example for other countries that are rapidly adding drones to their arsenals. It could also result in war crimes, as some critics have claimed.
There is no such thing as combat without risk.