Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Interview on Voice America

The Joy of National Default

Alexander Wells

At 78 pages of scholarly, somewhat jargon-laden prose, Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion by David Korowicz is not quick reading, nor is it light reading, but it is important reading. It puts a lot of definition to the concept of cascaded failure, in which financial collapse inexorably leads to political and economic collapse with no possibilities for arresting this process or even altering its course. This may seem like a terribly pessimistic message, and, indeed, it is hard to imagine that it would provoke a cheerful reaction in any sane person. But for those who feel that it is important to understand what is unfolding, Korowicz offers a large dose of realism. Still, a fair warning is called for: “Abandon all optimism all ye who enter here!”

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Politics of the Unconscious

Mike Mitchell
Across the US flags are flying at half-mast in honor of the twelve people killed and 58 injured by James Holmes during the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado. Meanwhile, Norway is commemorating the 69 people shot dead by Andras Brevik at the Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island a year ago. Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that Brevik “brought Norwegians together in defense of democracy and tolerance.” Unlike the much higher civilian death counts coming out of places such as Afghanistan, such events never fail to shock us. We are fine with intercommunal violence, and happy to call it a “war.” In fact, the ability to kill people with impunity in remote corners of the planet makes us feel stronger and safer. But intracommunal violence shocks us, because it compromises our sense of safety.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unlearn, Rewild

One of the least useful words in the English language is the word “wilderness.” I grew up wandering the woods, and, to me, where the road and the trail end and the animal (and human) paths begin is a point of fundamental transition: beyond this point lies something else—an older, perfectly ordinary, normal way of being, in which we are just another animal among many others. (An even more atrocious term is “unimproved land”—which is what developers call land that they haven't had a chance to bulldoze yet; “undestroyed land” seems more like it.) Perhaps a more reasonable perspective is to not call “wilderness” anything—it's just another piece of the planet—and instead find a word that applies to its opposite: human blight, perhaps? Human infestation? You get my point.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peak Oil Oppositional Disorder: Neurosis or Psychosis?

[En français

The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has grown to include 297 disorders, but it seems that there is always room for one more.

Richard Heinberg recently published an article that addresses various recent claims that Peak Oil is no longer a concern. His term for the phenomenon is “peak denial.” It sounds good, and dovetails nicely with Richard's overall theme of “peak everything.” It's a thoughtful piece that does a thorough job of exposing the surreal nature of the optimists' projections, and I have no issues with his argument. I do, however, have an issue with his terminology. First, since denial does not happen to be a nonrenewable resource with a characterizable depletion profile, its peak, should we detect one, is not particularly meaningful, because it could just as easily peak again tomorrow and then again next century. Second, I suspect that “denial” is no longer the right word to describe the social phenomenon we are currently observing. I think that Ugo Bardi pointed us in the right direction: in his article reacting to George Monbiot's assertion that "We were wrong about peak oil, there is enough to fry us all," Ugo characterized Monbiot's approach to Peak Oil using another word: “delusion.”

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Movement for Involuntary Complexity

Afu Chan
Year after year, the Addbusters Magazine propagandizes “Buy Nothing Day”:
On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams!
The idea, I suppose, is the usual sort of thing: make a stand, send a message, have something to talk and write about... and then go right back to consuming. On the day after “Buy Nothing Day,” for instance, you could buy a glossy copy of Addbusters Magazine at the check-out counter at Whole Foods. Last I checked, you could do so in the more liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts, but not in the more conservative Brookline, Massachusetts right across the river. The cultural battle lines are clearly drawn.