Archive for December, 2016

Trump and coal

December 19, 2016

I keep reading that Trump cannot restore the place of coal in the US economy. At the risk of repeating myself, he can.

Trump can save the coal industry for a number of years, all he has to do is pump taxpayer’s money into coal subsidies to make it cheap, and into coal power stations to make them cheap. That way he gets coal up and running, and people locked into providing coal for the years they need it to supply the power stations he helped build. He can also subsidise coal power in the third world and tie that to the US export market to help local coal production. Its expensive, but he is rebuilding America in the only way he knows how, tax cuts to the wealthy and corporate sector and subsidies for the wealthy and the corporate sector. (Trump has already apparently explained his cabinet of billionaires by saying such people are successful and therefore have all the skills and virtues necessary to govern and do good things. Rich people are, in his ideology, good people – by implication poorer people are not – they cannot expect help.)

He can work towards crippling renewables simply by making regulations affecting the industry difficult in the extreme, or charging a tax on renewables to ‘recompense’ people who are not on renewables. He can ban wind farms from being anywhere near where there are birds or people, increasing their cost of transmission. He can rule that people using renewable energy must pay a large charge to established energy companies to connect to the grid and keep it viable, and so on. These actions would make coal more competitive and boosts its chance of overtaking renewables in the US.

He can take money away from climate science and give it to climate denialists, or to corporate think tanks, to create even more of an atmosphere in which business can just continue on its way. He can revoke all objections to the Keystone pipe line, as he has money invested in it.

The congress might object to the expenditure, but they will probably pass it as too many of them are beholden to fossil fuel companies.

He can encourage countries like Australia to keep up coal exports, opening new coal mines and new ‘clean’ power stations. This will then probably encourage India to keep up its determination to burn coal as a matter of ‘justice’. This will probably encourage more subsidy of coal power in other countries by other countries.

Don’t underestimate what he can do.

‘Human Greed’ and the Anthropocene

December 16, 2016

We often see human greed, blamed for ecological destruction, and even the Anthropocene itself. However this is not the case. “Human greed” is not the problem. Most humans, even today, are not generating emissions, pollution and ecological problems at a suicidal rate and they are not craving the ‘untapped resources’ of the Amazon, the Indonesia rain forests, the Liverpool plains in Australia, or the poles. Most humans do not like it when their ecologies change, and frequently protest against it, as they are not the direct cause of that change. Do any of the local residents near me, for example, relish the idea of having unfiltered pollution stacks, near their homes, for the tunnels to take a highway which is to push 75,000 extra cars per day over an already blocked bridge? No, it is not their greed that is responsible. It is not the billions of Indian villager’s greed, or even the greed of the average inhabitant of Delhi, which makes the air unbreathable. The inhabitants of Tuvalu or Kiribati have not contributed to the climate change which will destroy their homes. Most people  on the planet generate small amounts of emissions.

It is a relatively few humans, acting within particular social arrangements, that cause the problem.

Gareth Bryant argues that 71% of contemporary greenhouse gas emitters in Europe are responsible for only 4% of European emissions, while 9% of emitters are responsible for 83% of those emissions. According to Richard Heede, just 90 organisations have been responsible for two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions between 1854 and 2010.

Half of these emissions have occurred since 1986 after the triumph of neoliberal corporate dominance, when people became aware of climate change, and when particular corporations began sponsoring climate change denialism for what seemed like their own political and economic advantage. They had to engineer the state we are in. It was not natural.

Realising that the cause  of our climate problems is not just ‘human greed’, but the greed and activity of particular humans, in particular social organisations, changes the possibilities for ending the problem. If the problem is human greed then there is no chance, or we must get rid of humans. If it is particular people in particular social organisations, then yes it is possible. It  is just politics, persuasion, risk and effort. It is standing up to power. It is not easy, but it is doable.



Information mess again

December 11, 2016

In information society, communication and information function almost entirely in strategic terms. The primary point of communication is not to convey reasonable accuracy, but to participate in persuasion and political struggle. This is a standard feature of communication, but in information society it appears magnified. Certainty and loyalty to information, and the groups supporting it, not only provide status and marks exemplary membership, and helps to filter the huge amounts of information people have to explore, it provides apparent order, and allows immediate action. Accuracy of particular pieces of information can sacrificed to victory, or to the more fundamental principles that a group stands for. This means that all information and principles a group clings too can be sacrificed for loyalty. Principle A can be asserted (when it fails), by justifying and holding on to principle B, and Principle B likewise by justifying and holding on to Principle A. Coherence is not required, so if principle C threatens something disliked and threatens principle B, it will only be applied to the disliked idea. The group eventually lives in a fantasy world, because there is so much ‘good’ information.

Furthermore, given these priorities, there is no need to check accuracy. Statements which appeal to group biases, can be promoted and spread with great speed. They become more available and easier to find – hence bad information drives out good.

If information which could refute a ‘dearly held position’ comes from a political outgroup, then it is easy to claim that information is biased and geared to what are perceived as that group’s political interests. The more the information, or the informer, contradicts our political position or status, the more it can be condemned and vilified – we do not trust outsiders as their information would disorient us. The more information comes from a recognised insider the less checking it will require. Hence increasing polarisation.

As an example, a member of the Trump team made it clear that they would not be engaging with ‘politicised’ information about climate change from NASA, by which they meant information which they did not like politically. What is not your politics seems politicised. Similarly, if Trump had lost the election and it seemed that Russians had hacked in favour of Clinton, then it is hard to imagine that he would not be declaiming about it and demanding a recount or fresh election. But given it is the opposition, he can be demanding that the opposition quieten down and accept his victory, and that the stories are completely fictional.

Admitting “we are wrong”, or that “we may have benefitted from Russian hacking, and this is bad” produces loss of claims to information certainty, navigations, political power and status, and will be denied, just as climate change is denied, or the failure of corporate power to produce general prosperity is denied.

Power is based in information and persuasion as much as it is based in being able to persuade people of those with power’s capacity for violence.  If there is no belief in the ‘legitimate’ basis of power, then it will eventually start to dissipate.

The end point of these processes is where groups use their power and certainty to supress even discussion, as in Australia where the climate-right has just stopped the government from even thinking about some ways of dealing with climate change. In their view allowing the discussion of climate change and emissions costing was to show disloyalty to the party.

This is not a right only phenomena of course, but it seems particularly pronounced there at the moment, perhaps because their main policy is promising that if corporate and market power was increased, general prosperity would follow, and it clearly has not.

If we think we are certainly right, then we are probably caught in similar processes, so the first step is always a degree of scepticism that is open to the possibility of the other being corrector than yourself.

We think with metaphor, myth and analogy

December 2, 2016

This post is largely an elaboration of a response to an important post by John Woodcock on metaphors and thinking or being – John’s post is probably better.

John reminds us that we think and feel with analogy, myth, metaphor and feeling.

Some of that feeling will arise because of our patterns of thinking, and of interpreting what happens in the world, but some will arise because of unconscious processes. Indeed we could suggest that the processes of thinking themselves are largely unconscious, because the forms or patterns that guide that thought, or that the thought and feeling takes in manifesting, are not conscious. Thoughts and feelings are likewise not separable – thoughts generate feelings, and the feeling reinforces the thought, or the type of thought likely to come next. (For example, if you are angry, you are thinking thoughts that make you angry, and that anger then limits the range of thoughts likely to arise for you).

As a result, we often let our symbols (and their patterns and dynamics) do our thinking for us, and that is a problem for both political and personal life. Once the metaphor is announced a particular result becomes probable – and the more it is used, the more that result is reinforced, or becomes a settled pathway. I suspect that the experts on propaganda know this well, and that this cultivation of metaphors (this art of metaphors) has been part of the activity around Trump.

Trump’s talk appears to have been powerful and resonated with, or raised anger present in, his audiences, but it could mean whatever you wanted it to mean. If you did not trust Clinton because of the 30 year smear campaign and the feeling/sense that something must be wrong about her (even if you could not point to anything real), then you could select what you wanted to hear from Trump’s metaphors, or take what could have been literal as ‘only metaphor’. And his metaphors tended to be repeated to reinforce them.

His phrase ‘drain the swamp’ (exampled by John) sounds good because it says he is going to remove the icky, sticky stuff that you can get lost and die in. Its a visceral image involving bringing light into darkness and solidity from squelch. It implies a simple set of dichotomies: swamp/non swamp; bad/good; action/stuckness. Who can resist this? Who will say this is bad?

Some kind of awareness of analogy helps, us to navigate our way here.

Extracting ourselves from auto-thinking and feeling takes effort and rebellion against the norm. It takes awareness of the analogies we are using, their connotations and our automatic responses to begin with, as well as the knowledge that our thinking is not always voluntary or right, and that our feelings are not always accurate or real. We are potentially partially conscious creatures, not automatically fully conscious – we can be misled and wrong (even in our sense of being misled). Becoming conscious, might be tedious.

This is a place in which depth psychology and science can possibly help, by setting up exploration, experiment and reality testing.

Trump’s usage is definitely not depth psychological (there is no sense the darkness and stickiness is something to be faced, possibly explored and projections removed) and it is not ecological (swamps can host whole families of creatures, and store and purify water, they can protect. They are places of bounty as well as danger). Outside of these psychological or scientific frameworks, the metaphor does its thinking for you, and that is the natural way. It is a metaphor encouraging avoidance, which sums up fear, and puts virtue with the cleansing group.

Given the election is over, it will be interesting to see how the so called “alt.right” defend the president elect’s apparent attempts to fill the swamp with far worse, but openly visible, creatures who are completely beholden to the corporate elite, and who do not mind poisoning workers in the name of profit. I presume the swamp will now become portrayed as a field of light, clarity and genius (perhaps even ‘spirit’) – because light dazzles the critical faculties. Perhaps they will simply continue to attack everything else, because the good/evil dichotomy seems so real, that if the others are bad, then they must be the light.

Perhaps, disillusionment will settle in, but I doubt it for one prime reason. People on the right in general, tend to cultivate a perception of themselves as living in a world in which they have no say, and are oppressed. They think the media is leftist, they think Marxists rule academia and education, they think gay people and Jews run the entertainment industry as propaganda, they think all scientists are communist conspirators, they think unions control and hobble business. Judging by some of the remarks I’ve heard recently, some think that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H and W, Bush etc. were raving socialists, who actively suppressed free enterprise and right wing dissent. In this view, any information which can be branded as official is probably a lie, unless it agrees with this fundamental truth that they are the victims of the evil left. So we can assume that the loving alliance of Trump with parts of the corporate sector will not be recognised, for who will report it but the evil left?

Trump’s apparent lack of control in his expression also promised that he would allow the expression people thought was being suppressed.

While non of this may seem real to those of us who identify as being on the Left, it is the starting point for much of the Right. They see themselves being oppressed, hence the anger. In their own minds they are heroic, fighting the triumphant forces of darkness against amazing odds. This of course may be the position that others wish to assume, by assuming *all* people who vote for this right are deliberate racists or nazis or whatever. It is a monotheistic position that blames the world for evil, and feels right. All of us may feel the forces of darkness are triumphing and that we fight against them. We seek scapegoats to blame and expel for whatever we perceive is going wrong, and as long as this benefits those in power (by identifying some group that is relatively powerless), then this will probably be encouraged.

If we do understand this position and its appeal to all of us, then maybe we can start trying to free ourselves. First of all by observing our own metaphors and patterns and their consequences and testing them out, finding pain, and perhaps eliminating our own binaries, or bringing them into open confrontation within. And then attempting to communicate, not by appealing to reality or attempting to refute the other’s delusion, but by entering into the fantasy and undermining its binary nature. We all feel repressed.

But again, this suggests going out into the field (which may seem a swamp) and doing some exploratory work ourselves.