Archive for July, 2017

The Right and Climate Change

July 28, 2017

Not all people who identify with the mainstream right refuse to be persuaded by the evidence that climate change is real, or that its humanly generated, or that crisis may be coming. Not all climate scientists are left of centre for one, and I’ve met, and heard of plenty of people on the right who wish their party would do a little more. And, in the US, some Republicans have been getting angry about the way that established powers try to stop them from using cheaper renewable energy and so on. Admittedly you rarely see this news in the corporately owned and controlled media, but you can find it if you bother to search.

So the question might be “why is the right party elite so opposed to recognizing climate change, and why are the committed deniers so committed to ignoring the evidence, or saying things like ‘climate changes all the time’, as if this was something climate scientists were not aware of?”

Most obviously, we have a problem in that the build up to climate change is, in human terms slow – its taken at least 50 years (since the 1970s) to get to where we are now. However, when the system changes state it will probably do this in a fairly short period of time, after years of building up. That’s how complex systems behave.

So until it is too late, it is relatively easy to pretend that its all normal, and the continuing series of hottest years ever recorded, glaciers melting and so on, are not doing that much harm, or are just normal, or just freaky weather events. We also get used to things being different, so people can say “we were snowed out, and thus there is no climate change”, when thirty years ago they would have spent a lot more time being snowed out. We can also spend a lot more on artificial snow for ski resorts that don’t really have the falls they used to – but it looks the same.

There is another problem that arises, because specific predictions in a complex system are really difficult. Thus we can say the weather will probably become wilder, and significantly different, but we may not quite know in what way. So people get frustrated with some failed predictions (the general trend is more reasonably accurate, if more disturbing than expected) and assume all predictions are worthless. Especially if they are really defending something else….

Cynics could say that the US Republican Party, or the Australian Liberal Party’s resistance arises because some of their elite are so committed to the liberty of established wealth and power. Anything which might compromise that liberty, or give ordinary people a chance, must be repelled. Indeed we can see members of that elite cheer when corporations are given more freedom to stamp on ordinary people, exploit them, maim or injure them and so on. They cheer when corporations are given extra permission to freeload on others by polluting and poisoning the world. That was almost the first thing the Republicans did when they got a President. They gave corporations more liberty to hurt people. So that position is pretty basic. We have had close to 40 years of praising free markets and corporate power and business competence, and very little has improved, unless you were wealthy to begin with, or thought more corporate power was a good thing. The mainstream right are unashamedly neoliberal in their policies.

For these people, the problem is that it would seem that the fairly easy actions we could take to lessen the risk of rapid climate change and ecological crisis, might affect the profitability of some established powers in the sacred corporate sector. Personally, I might think they would primarily be affected if they were stupid – but that is the sort of thing you cannot say as the common sense is that business knows best.

Parties today require funding, and so funding is important, and those established people can spend lots of money (money is power) supporting political deniers, providing dubious research, arguments from principle, or casting doubt on whatever seems real. Their allies in the media can report as if climate change was undecided, or not a threat and so on. The media can more or less ignore it as a problem, as they generally do.

Members of the establishment probably reckon that if they keep getting wealthy at everyone else’s expense, then they will be able to survive easily enough; wealth remains power when its concentrated. So they don’t have to worry, so what if other people get hurt? They might have more to worry about personally if coal was discontinued for example. Hence we hear Exxon and members of the electricity generating industry have been aware of the evidence for global warming for decades, but did not allow it to get in the way of profit. And profit is the real god.

For this elite, affecting profit negatively is bad. Lots of people will support this position to be on side, or to make the others evil. Hence nothing will be done, until those who currently control mainstream right parties and their media propaganda decide that profit is not everything, and that it might be nice if normal Americans or Australians had a chance, for a change…

Self-preservation & Climate Change

July 26, 2017

Ideas of “self preservation” or “genetic preservation” (making sure your genes survive in your kids), have been around for a long time and seem popular in a culture of individualism, consumerism and neoliberalism, but they don’t seem to have helped us deal with climate change at all. Nothing. These ideas may even be obstacles to us doing anything constructive. After all, the mainstream right seems to regard these kinds of ideas as fundamental – you, and nobody else, are responsible for your own survival. If you stuff up, then its not in my interests to help you back up, unless I do so charitably.

Partly I think the problem with self-preservation arises because in a complex system (and ecological and social systems are usually complex) it’s not absolutely clear what actions are in one’s self interest or contribute to self-preservation. Does it help your self-preservation to boost coal consumption as that has helped with lots of things in the past, or is it in your interests, to abandon coal and head for an uncertain future? Sure if you are wealthy and you are making money out of despoiling the world then you might think you should continue that action, as your accumulating wealth is as likely to protect you and your offspring, as anything else is. But that doesn’t help solve the problem, it makes it worse.

That is also the case for most of our socially approved actions; they seem to be part of the problem. They seem to make things worse. So following self-preservation as your guide could well lead to unresolvable problems, problems in which you try and dump everyone else in it. That is why climate change is an existential problem. We don’t know how to exist in it. We don’t know yet how to imagine life in it.

On top of that, because climate change is complex and existentially challenging, it can seem like everything is too big. It is beyond us. Actions we can take are actions at a local scale. Who can change the weather? Nothing we do apparently makes any difference. So we don’t do anything. We magnify the opposition, and are rendered incapable. Furthermore, it seems obvious, that individualistic action is not enough. We can only preserve ourselves with others. We depend on others. This is hard if we are focused on self-preservation. These others might free-ride on us, and hold us back.

So, to me, it seems like there needs to be something beyond self preservation. That is why we I’m arguing that we might need generosity.

Generosity has been around for a long time, it is a basic human configuration, and has not (as far as I know) been a feature of our cultural response to climate change, while self-preservation and justice have been. With climate generosity, we act without calculation, without fear of losing. We act to inspire. We just give what we can give, beyond what we need to give. We work towards becoming the solution, without expectation or demands on others.

Climate Justice???

July 25, 2017

The idea of “Climate Justice” perturbs me. It seems self-destructive, or self- undermining.

‘Justice’ as it works, usually involves two kinds of processes:

1) Defining someone as evil and punishing them for it. This requires violence for enforcement, and creates resentment and self-righteousness. It encourages projection, shadow play, in Jungian terms. In this set up there is only good and evil, whereas in a complex ecological and social systems there is neither, there is mainly mutual implication.

2) Appeals to fairness. But it is never fair that we have to give up anything while others benefit… hence we do nothing. Piers Ackerman was arguing the other day that it is unfair for Australia to do something when we produce so little CO2 (even thought we produce massive amounts per head of population). This is a common anti-global warming tactic, which avoids responsibility.

Justice arguments are continually used by India and China to justify their massive expansion of coal. They are used by the Australian government to justify the Adani mine – shared prosperity for all, the war on poverty and so on. They are routinely used by people to argue that Australia can make no difference, so those people who request that we act are making unjust, or unfair, demands upon us, consequently we don’t have to act.

As a result of these problems or co-options, it might be better to avoid ‘justice’ altogether and phrase action in terms of “climate generosity”, attempting to come from humans ‘good’ side (and through modes of status acquisition through gifting) rather than our punitive side.

Climate Generosity requires that we do more than is necessary or just – we are generous, we act beyond what is required of us, without much hesitation. We are magnanimous, excessive.

Climate generosity does not have to involve allocations of guilt and blame and suggests that we are ‘in this together’ and ‘working together’, and thus acknowledges the systemic nature of the problem.

Generosity upsets the power relations based on old habits, while justice requires enforcers. Generosity combines both individual and social action, and appeals to the greater good of everyone, without demanding victory. It does not say ‘we won’t act until its fair’, it simply sets an example to be emulated or ignored. It gets on with the job, and cultivates a sense of responsibility.

If we only do what is just then we will not do anything much, we will only go to the boundaries of what is needed – we will be continually check to make sure others are not freeloading or acting unfairly. We will not act first.

However, if we replace justice by generosity, then we can go over those boundaries – “yes it might be cheaper and just to sell goal, but how about we help you build renewables? How about we cut back more of our emissions than would be our fair or just share? Why should we wait for others to act so that it is fair, lets be generous and act now!”

Jung and Gods

July 23, 2017

In his analysis of Nazi Germany in 1935-6 Jung argued that that the true symptom of what was going on was possession by an archetype; an archetype which had its roots in German history; the archetype of Wotan. It was a return of the Gods. Wotan was characterized by restlessness, movement, violence, sacrifice, ruthless heroism and so on. In this view Hitler was an unaware shaman who stirred these dormant unconscious forces into action.

This leads to the question of what are the current archetypes being stirred up….

I suggest two possibilities:

First: the “killer god.” The God that demands wars, sacrifices, serial killings, while pretending that he protects his followers. He demands the suppression of thought, of any aspiration beyond death – making the dream of death, and the death bringer, the only valid reality. Face death, your death, your friends death, the death of martyrs, the death of society, the death of the planet. There is nothing but death. It is heroic to kill. Serial killers become dark and dedicated heroes. Kill while you have the chance.

We watch endless deaths on TV every night as drama; Sometimes these lawgivers are as brutal as the killers, they demonstrate the virtues of death, even is they punish the original numinous perpetuator, death still wins.

The message is to give up, resistance is futile. Good is death, evil is death. Death is all. Do not bother to listen. Death is all.

Second: The other archetype we are likely to become possessed by is Hermes, God of communication, lies, theft, promises and magic; all of which arise from communication, yet we need communication. Hermes is necessary but ambiguous.

Hermes talks all the time. He is the internet. He is the whisper that flies around the world. He is the force that gives you constant misinterpretation, and allows you to blame others for your own mistakes.
He will steal things from you and persuade you he hasn’t got them, or you gave them to him – and you will love him for it. He is the god of smooth talk, the blatant lies we ignore, and endless advertising – he is the cunning adorable heart of capitalism, or priestly religion, that tells you if you just give him your trust, your life and your property, you will gain happiness and satisfaction.

He is the god of “the Secret”; he espouses the idea that if you think, say and desire hard enough then what you wish for will be come true. And if you don’t get it, all you need to is give him more of your money, or listen to him with more attention, because he has your best interests at heart…

Hermes is the magician, the conjurer, the quick of hand and feet. He is the person who promises esoteric knowledge beyond the ken of ordinary people. He is Nyarlathotep telling you that he is unambiguously the good guy.

Neoliberalism: again

July 22, 2017

Neoliberalism has always been about pork barreling the private sector, and public/private collaborations are at the heart of the neoliberal project. They are justified by the idea that the ‘market’ does it better, as it supposedly always does everything better, but as usual the technique insulates corporations and the wealthy from facing competition, or ‘market discipline’ which is just for the workers.

Public/private partnerships have the following advantages from the neoliberal point of view:

1) They hand over taxpayer’s money to corporations. (This is good by neoliberal standards)

2) Commercial in confidence means that the money cannot be accounted for, and accounting for inefficiency or stupidity is lost. Cost blowouts are normal, and cannot be contained, while the company makes still more profits. (This is good by neoliberal standards)

3) It seems the builders cannot be replaced – no matter how bad they are, and the law often gets changed to accommodate their failures, making the law less restrictive on other abusive businesses. (This is good by neoliberal standards)

4) The products of this public money, remain in private hands. (This is good by neoliberal standards)

5) The public gets charged to use the new services/products, and the public makes no money out of them. Indeed they end up paying for the product twice; once to build and once to use. (This is good by neoliberal standards)

6) Wealthy people get even more wealthy, and the public loses public service. (This is wonderful by neoliberal standards)

Neoliberalism, and free market talk, is absolutely the problem and public private “partnerships” simply make it worse.

Conspiracy Theory?

July 18, 2017

There is a well known argument, that faced with historical and policial complexity, people tend to reduce that complexity by implying that events arose because of secret and hidden actions. Conspiracy is something that is imagined to make the world seem ordered when its not. A recent academic version of this argument can be found at:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.2308/abstract

Now we know that one of the results of complexity is that prediction is incredibly difficult. It is actually quite hard to make a social or political result that one wants. The pessimist thinks it is harder to get a good result than a bad result – perhaps because there are so many ways things can go wrong and so few ways they can go right. This makes the idea that the world is controlled by conspiracy unlikely. However, that does not mean there are no conspiracies

Conspiracy occurs pretty much day to day. We all conspire with other people to get results. This is what we call decision making or self-governance. It is also pretty minor. However, it seems unlikely that powerful people do not try the same thing, planning to have effects over your lives. Certainly they like decisions to be shrouded in secrecy. You can think of public/private partnerships where the reasons for spending taxpayer’s money on corporations is often held to be “commercial in confidence”. The capitalist State is not always open, so it is unlikely other States are open either.

So it could appear some conspiracies are not purely imaginary. The difficulty is learning to distinguish between the imaginary and the real.

Do businesses conspire to fix prices and lower wages? It was reported by Adam Smith. The answer is probably as often as they can. It makes more money all around and that is what counts. There are known cases of price fixing, price gouging and prices moving in tandem, and, in the absence of unions, wages for ordinary workers rarely increase. So it is probable, although it may not be deliberate joining together, people may just say to themselves; that is the standard price and leave it at that. It may even be normal. The usual idea is that business does things as cheaply as possible and charges as much as possible, and is occasionally constrained by competition: if people know about it.

Do scientists uniformly conspire to tell us climate change is real for political purposes? This seems extremely unlikely. Scientists are not politically uniform. Scientists tend to like putting other scientists down and getting noticed for being innovative. When they get money from science grants they generally don’t have to produce particular results. However, it is quite probable that fossil fuel companies conspire to make it seem that climate change is unreal, or not urgent. Climate change threatens income and profit. It requires change. These big companies have a long history of conspiracy, when it comes to preserving profit and getting rid of inconvenient political challenges. They also sponsor think tanks, who give them the messages they want – or they don’t sponsor them anymore. Again we might wonder if this is not really conspiracy, but profit leading to misinformation. However, we know Shell knew about climate change but sponsored deniers. So it seem possible it was conspiracy.

Did the Freemasons cause the French Revolution? Harder to say. If they tried they would not have succeeded without a lot of help. They may well have worked for it, but I doubt they liked the result. Did Lenin conspire with others to produce the Russian Revolution? Yes – but again they had a lot of help – there were other people involved. indeed some people say Germany sponsored them to get rid of Russia from WWI – certainly a more intelligent strategy than Hitler’s. Sometimes they worked with people who did not like the results being gained. Complexity again.

We can use these latter examples to make further claims. If big results came from the actions of few relatively powerless people, then big events can certainly result from the actions of a few relatively powerful people.

So the conspiracy, no conspiracy idea needs complication. The world is unlikely to be run by conspiracies, but it is equally unlikely there are no effective conspiracies, ever, or that really powerful people do not conspire to keep in power and disadvantage everyone else – just make sure that you are really identifying who is powerful. Good questions for that include: who is wealthy, or has economic power? Who controls organisations with wealth? who controls violence? Who tells others what to do and its done? Who controls communication?

What is ‘Neoliberalism’?

July 17, 2017

I keep facing people who ask me what neoliberalism is, or who argue that as no-one calls themselves neoliberal, it is just a meaningless slur.

One definition is that neoliberalism is the corporately sponsored philosophy that makes ‘the market’ (not the economy) the only important function in society. And the market should, ideally, be ‘free’. Nothing else really counts.

The idea of free markets, in practice, means that governments should support and pander to business, as business is the only worthwhile activity. This becomes a moral imperative: if something cannot make a profit, then it should not exist. Everything should be administered as if it was a business, with profit coming before pleasure or effectiveness.

Furthermore, the free market idea means that government has to look after business by breaking unions whenever possible and lowering wages and working conditions to let business be ‘flexible’ and ‘responsive’ – although it is the workers who always suffer the discipline. As part of this process, government tries to reduce welfare spending, so that people are forced into working for low wages – but it always fails because governments simply spend more on bribing the prosperous middle class or in providing subsidies to business.

The free markets idea is used to argues for tax cuts for business, and wealthy individuals as they are the virtuous and they earned that money supposedly without any help from anyone, or without any history of theft.

It claims that these activities are all about getting the government off your back, which it does if you are wealthy and wish to pollute as part of your business, but the government is necessary to stop ordinary people from protesting or organising, and prevent them from taking power.

Neoliberalism has proven completely incapable of dealing with ecological despoliation and climate change, because as far as it can see, if nature or the environment is not owned by someone then it is simply an externality and a cost. It cannot effectively be factored into the ‘free market’ model. All costs should be minimized.

Few people would actually vote for this mish-mash – hence no one calls themselves neoliberal and neoliberals pretend they are about liberty, and something called ‘values’. These ‘values’ are used to hit dissenters, but are rarely important if there is a clash between values and established profit. Hence the promotion of the supposed ‘culture wars’ by neoliberals, as a distraction, as a way of recruiting conservatives to their cause, and as a way of getting government back on your backs, more stringently than before.

In the English speaking world we have had neoliberalism as the dominant ideology since the late seventies or early eighties of the last century (with Thatcher, Reagan and Keating), so we have had nearly 40 years of it. We know what it produces. It is not a mystery.

Neoliberalism uses “free market talk” to support and entrench corporate power.

Over-optimism and renewables

July 16, 2017

I’ve almost written this before, but what the hell?

I think there is way too much optimism in certain parts of the ‘alternate power’ or renewables movement. Over and over again you hear things like good design wins out, or the economics of renewables will win through, or that change is resisted by old fuddy duddies, then it arrives successfully and everyone is happy.

This is crap.

There is very little evidence that humans always manage to resolve life-threatening issues – indeed people in power can resist any change that appears to threaten them, threatens their loyalties, threatens their world view, or threatens their sense of order.

When that happens, and it is happening now, then there is always a powerful lobby trying to prevent change, and that lobby often wins until everything breaks down. They can keep resisting change, and making change awkward for a long time – and if they have access to real power (law, regulation, violence etc) they can stymie beneficial change completely.

Once society gets into a destructive habit, reinforced by the power relations, then it is hard for that society to change voluntarily or with any control.

That is shown over and over by history. People go on poisoning the ground they depend on, keep building temples at the cost of food, keep fishing the lakes until they are empty, keep turning the army into a barbarian militia or keep expanding beyond the possibilities of supply lines working. It is what happens.

However, despite this victory of the old order’s disorder, the disruptions and pressures keep building and eventually everything falls to pieces. The empire or the nation lies in ruins. Helpful organized change was stopped. Massively destructive change happened instead.

Beneficial change, does not always just arrive because its sensible, or the alternative is social destruction.

It requires political action, campaigning and good stories. It is not enough just to have good design and be cheaper.

Why are experts less respected?

July 6, 2017

There seems to be some general argument that experts are now no longer valued because all opinions are held to be equal, and because of “the rise of popularism,” rage, or “anti-estabishmentism”. These positions both beg the question of whether these are separate conditions, whether anyone actually thinks that someone else’s opinion is as good as theirs and which ignore analysis of the question of the socio-psychological basis for these views.

It seems to me that people judge information by information they already hold, which is backed up by the groups they are in allegiance with. This is the socially reinforced aspect of what is known as “confirmation bias” (where a person seeks evidence and opinions which agrees with their existing opinions), or of “belief bias” (where people first of all accept a conclusion as correct and then are largely uncritical of the arguments leading to that conclusion, or engineer arguments for the conclusion.)

People who seem to be good members of groups that other people see themselves as allied with (ingroups) are always more persuasive than people who seem to be exemplary members of groups they are opposed to (outgroups). The more groups can be made to separate, and the more people can fear exile from their groups, then the more this group bias occurs. Communication and reasoning are more about group bonding than about the nature of the world. During our evolution, group bonding, cooperation with our ingroup and maintaining a good reputation, was probably far more important to human survival than anything else.

Since the end of communism, we have had experts in one group (largely privately sponsored) claiming that free markets will produce liberty and meaning, which they don’t; in practice they produce corporate domination, distribution of wealth away from most people, unemployment, inflation of the economy to the be all and end all of life, and a less useful and participatory State. These results produce massive discontent, and thus risks disturbing actions.

In self-defense, the elite of this group seem to have made a very determined attempt to use the above ‘facts’ about human communication to attack those experts who dispute the virtues of privatizing everything or who dispute the universal beneficial consequences of such policies: they do not belong to our group; they are politically biased; they are immoral unlike us; they are sick; they are engaged in socialist conspiracies to thwart human freedom; they are an elite with nothing in common with us; they are out of touch; they want to take your money, and so on.

The aim of the process seems to be to separate groups and stop members of each group from talking to each other, and to stop trust in experts, by upping the abuse levels (see the Murdoch media), suggesting that talking with these outgroup experts means you are not really one of us (RINOs) and by engaging in largely distractionary “culture wars” – although the culture wars help reinforce the idea that the other groups are immoral and not worth listening to on anything. If there are other social processes reinforcing the separation of social groups into physically separate enclaves or conversational groups, then this move is easier.

The more fantastical the propositions being defended, ie ‘free markets’ produce liberty, corporate power is always good, coal is great for ecological and public health, then the more this kind of process becomes the best way of winning arguments, and supporting established power – until it breaks down and violence becomes more necessary to enforce the order being defended.

This movement against ‘experts’ is not an anti-establishment movement, it is a movement which is tied to an establishment which contradicts known things about social and ecological dynamics in the support of its power, even if it eventually leads to break down of that establishment.

Attacks on experts are socially motivated and proposed solutions have to bear this in mind. Simply defending expertise or attacking the groups attacking the experts will not persuade them of the experts virtues, it will likely do the opposite.

Trump and “Energy Dominance”

July 4, 2017

It has just been dirty energy week in the US. If you look at Trump’s speech, then the priorities are clear. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/06/29/remarks-president-trump-unleashing-american-energy-event

First he attacks the media, and the democrats, and once the essential stuff is done away with, he is very specific.

“Energy dominance” means removing any restrictions on coal and gas. Approving pipelines, including one taking oil to Mexico under the wall. Ending the EPA, so poisoning the population is ok. Expanding nuclear energy. Financing overseas coal plants to support US coal exports. Opening public land (that presumably include national parks) to mining. There is an implication that dirty fuel exports will increase, and imports will decline.

There is a further statement which clarifies all this, should you need it.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-energy

“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”

“We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.”

“reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.”

There is also a sop to Republican Environmentalists “with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority.” But there is no evidence of this.

With this kind of government help, fossil fuel could survive and flourish. Certainly renewables could be set back. For Trump, and established business, Climate change is ignored and ignorable. Just a burden on profit.