Injustice is Not a Beautiful Colour

I sometimes look at a sunset and see so much pollution, but it makes the sunset look so much more beautiful.

As I write this, I’m riding on a bus from Montreal to Toronto, observing a sunset. It is deeply beautiful, with purples and yellows, and clouds lit up with bands of crimson. And yet, at the same time I feel uneasy – are not the colours of this sunset to some extent the product of man made pollution? A quick internet search reveals that to get deeply red sunsets, “you need aerosols”, and

In an atmosphere with no junk at anytime, you’ll never get a sunset that would make someone with normal color vision say, ‘Wow that’s red!’” says Craig Bohren, professor emeritus of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University. “It is certainly true that the ‘pollution’ results in redder sunsets. (Scientific American

So if we’re looking at a red sunset, we’re looking at the presence of aerosols in the atmosphere. However, just because we know this, doesn’t mean all of a sudden sunsets will stop feeling beautiful. We might feel a tinge guilty about enjoying a sunset, but basically we will still appreciate the beauty.

 Now think of another example. Imagine if you are standing on a rooftop in occupied Palestine, and looking out at lights in the distance. The lights are beautiful to you, and you say so out loud. Oops, those lights belong to the Israeli settlement next door, perhaps the settlement that stole land belonging to your friend’s village, or even your friend’s family. Imagine you are told a story of crimes carried out by people of that settlement against your friends village, or against his or her friends, or even against them. 

 What just happened? Your experience of beauty was interrupted in a jarring, unexpected manner. What at first you saw as pretty twinkly lights, you now see as signs of oppression. And not signs in the symbolic sense, but literal pieces of the infrastructure of occupation that dispossess the land’s native people and installs a foreign group as privileged and dominant status residents. Do those things appear beautiful any longer? Probably not, because your emotional reaction towards them is mediated by your solidarity with your friend. You feel resentment churning in your gut, you break your silence by exclaiming “fuck the occupation”, you imagine a new ideal of beauty for the foreground – one of a darkness under the moon punctuated by the lights of farm houses. You turn and take the stairs back down again, head buzzing with ideas of how to fight the occupation, how to delegitimize Israel’s ongoing colonial actions in the eyes of the citizens of empires who support them. 

 So what about those aerosols, why didn’t the same thing happen to your experience of sunsets when you found they were largely coloured by man made pollution? For starters, you don’t really understand what aerosols are (particles of liquids or solids suspended in a gas), what causes them (burning things, mostly), or, and most importantly, what their effects are (too broad to summarize, includes increasing cloud cover and increasing reflectivity of clouds, also can contribute to lung diseases in mammals). There is no simple story to tell about aerosols, no simple way to understand how to get rid of them, or even if we would want to get rid of them.  Your aunt wasn’t murdered by aerosols, they didn’t steal your cousins car or put your best friend from kindergarten in jail. So why shouldn’t you find the sunset beautiful? 

I’ll give a reason. Your tendency to have strong emotional reactions to morally abhorrent ills which harm you or your friends directly makes it very difficult to act on dangers which threaten us all. If people were highly motivated by the changes to the physical world which were the visible signs of manmade interference which threatens to upset precarious environmental balances, balances on which our habitat depends, then it wouldn’t be so impossible to act on climate change. Climate change is perhaps the purest example of the motivational gap between abstraction and narrative – climate change will harm far more people, and with equal or not worse intensity than the zionists, but because it isn’t possible to tell a compelling story about it, and because we can’t vilify climate change as an actor needing to comply to some moral standard, we focus instead most of our efforts elsewhere. I often explain the problem of liberal reformism with the phrase “no one dies on a barricade for incremental progress”, meaning people will struggle and sacrifice for redemptive stories, for dreams of the last revolution, but not (or at least not to the same degree) for incremental improvements to their well being. 

 I’m not saying any of this to put down people with commitments to Palestinian liberation. I feel able to write in this way about that national liberation struggle precisely because I am so committed to it myself, and by “committed” I mean not only arguing with people on the internet about it, but more importantly belonging to two anti-apartheid organizations, and making ongoing visits to Palestine to see my friends there and stay engaged with the ongoing and constantly transforming situation there. 

Rather than put down the Palestinian struggle, rather than put down the role of narrative and solidarity in political engagement, I instead advocate the need for stories in all social justice struggles. The Palestinians are not too focusses on narrative, and they are absolutely not lacking in sober rationality. It’s the other way around – to confront climate change (and also aerosol pollution) we need a compelling narrative that explains what is going on in terms of winners and losers, criminals and martyrs, defeats and victories, and – and this is really important – any visual manifestation of climate change needs to fit into the story just like those lights on settlement houses. 

Because man made threats to the stability of the environment, to the perdurance of our human habitat, is nothing other than a Nakba brewing all over the world. And the guilty are all those who fail to see it and make it seen. 

Climate Change and Colonization

The logic of colonization is brutal, but at least it includes within its practice the redemptive forces of its own undoing. The colonizer oppresses and dispossesses the native, but the native can rise up in a sort of republican and emancipatory anti-colonial nationalism which resists by force his and her dispossession, oppression, subjugation. In other words: colonization is bad, but at least there is someone positioned to fight against it.

Climate change is much worse. Not only because it will cause dispossession and dislocation around the entire globe, disproportionately effecting the poor and the global south, but also because the position of victim and perpetrator is less clear. Climate change is not a form of colonization not because it is less violent or less exploitative of the third world, but because it is emissions rather than geographically based. So how can you establish an anti-climate change nationalism? You may laugh at the idea, but this is because you don’t understand the purpose of emancipatory nationalisms – their role is to allow many people to act together, with one hand, to stand with more force than the few and powerful than benefit from their oppression. For people to act together, they must both be in a situation where their objective needs coalesce towards a goal, and they must feel that their individual sacrifice for the cause is more valuable than the cost that it makes on them as a self interested individual. In other words, the people must be together, and they must not be selfish. This is exactly what is missing in climate change politics – stopping climate change is in everyone’s interest, but no one, at least no one yet, is immediately dispossessed by it in a way that their interests coalesce and the situation motivates selfless action in the face of it.

This may change as the weather effects get worse. Climate refugees may become climate revolutionaries, carrying out guerilla campaigns against the elites that benefit from the very pollution that caused their dispossession. This will play into the logic of the “global war on terror”, but it will be more difficult for the state to sell this war as “evil” because those fighting it will be “climate patriots”. The idea of the nobel lie may by used to justify massive disinformation on climate change to prevent the people from supporting climate guerillas – insisting their are alarmists and their dispossession was caused by the natural progress of nature, not a rich industrialist in the Western World.

In order to prepare for the conflicts of the future, we should begin to think seriously about what motivates conflict, what sustains conflict, and we should try hard to see the truth in the revolutionary so as not to miss something in our reactionary opposition to “terrorism”. Furthermore, we should re-examine the paradigm of republicanism and think about what it means to be a “sovereign people”, and what collective knowledge and/or collective projects this requires. We should not simply “imagine” a better future, we should think clearly about what forces are likely to emerge in the future, and stand with those forces on the side of freedom and emancipation for all peoples – including the people of the future.

Is religion a force for good? No, there are 2 religions.

We live in an era of incessant debates which quarrel over the question “is religion a force for good”. What results is fame and fortune for the most prolific writers and debaters, embrassement for those who can not match the skills of their opponents in debate, defensiveness on the part of the quiet and well meaning but timid religious majority, self-righteousness for atheists because it gives them a chance to feel radical even if they are the farthest thing from activists, and perhaps a very small amount of genuine thinking.

I challenge that the problem with these debates is that the question is malposed. While I’m all for simplification, and I think “organized religion” is a real category which we can talk about, it just turns out that within organized religions there are two tendencies – one that tends towards the re-institution of traditions for their own sake (conservatism), and the other which demands on the basis of a dogmatic tenant, societal reforms or even revolution. The first set of tendencies put off the redemption of religion to a future life, or a future decision by the godhead. The second set demand that the decision has already been taken, and it is up to humans to implement it.

Organized religion is thus both revolutionary and conservative. And it’s not simply that some organized religions are revolutionary, and some are conservative, or that the same organized religion is revolutionary in one place and conservative in another (although this has certainly been the case in the Catholic church’s internal struggle for and against liberation theology). Rather, every organized religion have both of these tendencies at the same time, but perhaps to different degrees and with different results, insofar as they meet two basic conditions. The first condition concerns prophesy, which is always in the past, and the second concerns the messianic future.

1. The Prophetic Past

Organized religions tend to be organized around books. This might seem arbitrary if we believe religions are simply organs of power – why not just have a religion with a deity in charge, a person who’s word is true by virtue of their identity? The answer to this is, of course, the inherent instability of tribal political organization – institutions are stable, but at the cost of serving themselves rather than the people in them. Even the leaders of an institution serve the institution. So, the institution needs some content over and beyond the personality of its leaders – and this content is scripture and interpretation of scripture.

The scripture must motivate people. Or rather, while technically it would be possible to have a religion where people only believed in the scripture because they were threatened with violence if they believed otherwise, the character of internal belief is such that it is almost impossible to believe something only because you are being forced to. It is therefor far more efficient to create scriptures which themselves help in the motivating process. There is something compelling about scripture  - the texts themselves want to be believed, and you want to believe them. Of course, it’s possible to resist this temptation with reason and critical faculties, but the fact that you must resist the easy beliefs proves their power of motivation.

Now, for a scripture to be motivating, it must accord in some sense with your person. There must be something about it which falls into line with either what you already believed, or with what you wanted to believe but didn’t know yet. If you are going to believe it to be the eternal truth, especially on a question of justice, it must be “believable”, in fact, it must not only fail to be repulsive, but if we believe that the motivating character of scripture might be one of the differences that makes some religions grow and others fail, perhaps it might confer some advantage on itself if it accords with an internal principle of justice – something we think on the basis of being human, something that we all think.

Now, this of course is not a very popular view amongst post-modernists who wish everything to be socially constructed, and the degree to which social forms can differ completely infinite. But just for the sake of argument assume that the idea of equal worth and equal dignity is a fundamental property of human justice, and that it follows either from the idea of freedom (Rousseau/Hegel/Sartre/Badiou/Hallward), or from the kind of being which we ourselves are – finite, thrown into a world of possibilities, already caught up in projects, and needing to cope with situations of tension and conflict with each other (roughly, the Phenomenological and Sociological traditions). If we believe this, we might begin to think that if religions were only unjust, immoral institutions – why would they include this idea? Because they do, (at least some of the time, and not enough). And it’s really inconvenient for them to do so – because it means commentators have to go to great interpretive lengths to show why, despite some commandment or principle or religious law, it’s still ok to kill people that you hate, or who you think are your enemy. It would be much easier all around if religions explicitly only granted the right to life for people in the in-group. But, I challenge, if they did that they would have more difficulty recruiting new members, and maintaining motivation amongst existing members.

Not only do principles of freedom pose problems for organized religions when they are trying to be genocidal and colonialist, they also can produce situations where those values get out of control, so to speak, and people on their basis demand certain political rights. Liberation theology is the best example of this, but you could also look at the Catholic struggle for equal rights in Northern Ireland, and the Palestinian struggle for fair treatment and the return of their homeland. While there are secular elements of all of these conflicts (certainly the Palestinian struggle was dominantly secular up until the first intifada), many people in these conflicts have religious beliefs – and I’d be surprised if their ideas of equal worth, anti-tribalism and anti-colonialism do not receive much of their emotional motivation from the idea that “I deserve to be treated as such because God says so”, or “My grievances are as valid as his or hers because God says so.” These are interesting kinds of statements, “because God says so” is completely unverifiable, and it seems to come from nowhere. But, maybe there is something profoundly powerful about the fact that a liberatory statement can come, as if, “from nowhere”. If a liberatory principle had to be empirically grounded in evidence, it perhaps never would be justified at all. What evidence do you have, after all, that you are as worthy of consideration as another human being? Appeals to the sociological content of a political situation only reveals the emotive dynamics and the differential power and importance and usefulness of the different actors. In other words, if you demand an empirical ground to equal worth, all you will find is different worths. And there’s a reason for this – social organizations are complex, and they don’t function well if everyone has the same task, or even a task of similar importance. Difference people have different skills, and which skills are valuable changes depending on the conditions – that’s not “ableism”, that’s just the real world.

Trying to make everyone equal empirically in a struggle is cause of indigestion in radical movements – just look at how the need to “not be ableist”, if interpreted in a naive way, results in organizations acting so clearly against their best interests. Clear examples of this tend to involve people who do not have the adequate skills to accomplish a task being directed to do that task, and the result is failures, and the worsening of the situation for everyone together.

The equal worth of people is a theological tenant, or a metaphysical tenant if you need to expel the idea of God. It comes as if from outside. Of course it doesn’t actually come from outside – it comes because someone had the idea and wrote it down, and other people htought it was a good idea – the idea grew through the public imaginary and was captured by the religions system which uses it towards its own ends. But, that same idea can always escape from the grips of the priests and be used against them in a struggle for the fulfilment of the value, rather than of their ends which always concern the next world rather than this one. This brings us to the second condition of religion:

2. The Messianic Future

Organized religions motivate people with beliefs that are genuinely related to human justice. But, they have to make sure they maintain themselves as power structures. The easiest way to do this is play a trick with time. To say, “Sure, everyone is equal before God, but you don’t have to worry about changing the situation here because the judgement that matters is God’s, and God’s judgement judges every person equally” – this conveniently avoids the fact that on earth, the rich are not judged equally to the poor – the rich get off, and the poor go to the jail. This deferral of justice is power’s greatest ally, because it allows it to maintain the highest moral authority, while propagating or at least perpetuating endless criminality.

The real trick, however, is to get people to believe that the apocalypse, the return of the messiah, or whatever future event justice is waiting for, is not only the moment of the redemption of the pious – but the arrival of a justice so much greater than human justice, that human justice in relation to it is not even worth fighting for. This idea manifests itself differently in different religions, but is always the attempt to not only defer, but invalidate the struggles that religion can support as I’ve outlined in the first condition. I don’t like to bring in specific examples, but I must speak a little about Protestantism – there is an idea in the Protestant mindset that acts are without value, acts are like dirty rags – only God’s love can save us, and what we do is somehow of no consequence – and therefore we can avoid our moral obligation to stop injustice – even when we directly profit from the injustice. The protestant idea that acts are like dirty rags literally makes it palatable to people to own stock in companies that organize the killing of union organizers. This is pretty amazing, and it helps me understand why America and Canada are protestant countries. (We of course look at the Catholic church as genocidal institution with a dictator at the top, and we should, but by doing this we avoid seeing the structural injustice permitted by the anti-Catholic Christian sects, which are the protestant churches).

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the messianic condition is that it makes people want the end of the world. Literally, Christian Zionists across North America today are celebrating the desecration of not only Muslim but also Christian graves in occupied Palestine because they believe that it is a step towards bringing the great war which will start world war three, and kill most people (including most Jews, incidentally, except for a few thousand). And it makes sense for them to want the end of the world – if you love the justice of the final decision infinitely more than human justice, then why wouldn’t you try to bring about the cataclysm as quickly as possible?

Christianity is the religion I am most familiar with – and it has in it these two conditions in a profound way. And, it has had them for ever – the serious attempts to understand the lives of Jesus and Paul tend to come to the conclusion that they actually believed that the day of judgment would arrive in their lifetime. The famous quote attributed to Jesus, “worry not for the morrow”, literally makes no sense unless you believe that the apocalypse will come in your own lifetime – on what other basis could it be moral to leave your job, your children, your family, to follow a crazed lunatic across the land? And Jesus clearly some decent qualities to have motivated so many followers (although, it seems like more in retrospect, in reality there were not so many Jesus followers before Paul invented Christianity, and even then, Christianity is mostly Pauline mysticism with little to do with Jesus’s actual teachings or the historical lineage of his rabbinical practice).

The question of whether “religion is a force for good in the world” should really be interpreted in terms of these two conditions which organized religions rely upon. The extent to which religions are apocalyptic, and defer justice to death or to the resurrection, they can easily be mobilized for evil. The extent, however, to which they motivate people to act on humanist values, because they feel God has told them, to this extent they can be unmatched sources of positive motivation.

Secularism has many advantages – the cool calm use of reason can propel the human mind and spirit far beyond what the shackles of religion will allow. But so long as religion will be a force in the world, we have a choice of either leaving it alone, or trying to support its most revolutionary elements. Those who hate the world because it does not contain the objective conditions for the fulfillment of their values are resentful, weak, and nihilistic in the worst sense. The revolutionaries who will change the world are those willing to listen, read, and adopt to the current circumstances that they find themselves in, and support the liberatory values while kindly and gently working to marginalize the power of deferral to avoid the messianic apocalypse from becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Why Milan (and possibly I) is going to Washington

My friend Milan is on his way to Washington, D.C. to take part in a protest against the building of a pipeline that will facilitate the burning of the Alberta tar sands. I might be going down to join him for a bit, but I’m as yet unsure about whether that is possible given my current situation with work and finances. I will quote a limited section of his post below, which you should read in it’s completeness here, on the blog which I no longer contribute to but continue to support. Here is a snippet of his post:

I am going to Washington to help draw attention to the gap between our understanding of the world and the assumptions that underlie our behaviour. We know that continuing to burn fossil fuels puts humanity in peril, and yet we cannot imagine how to behave otherwise. We do not fully appreciate the extent of our freedom and the impact of our choices. We have the freedom to choose a high-carbon future or a low-carbon one, and the choice we make seems highly likely to impact the lives of a huge number of people worldwide, over a long span of time.

Read the rest here, if you haven’t already.

In Toronto Again: Kevin Annett

Last night I had the good fortune of seeing Kevin Annett speak at Ryerson University. I first met Kevin last year when I arranged for him to speak at Campus Co-op, and that event was crucial for my becoming aware of Canada’s genocidal treatment of indigenous populations, and specifically the history of residential school. His documentary, “Unrepentant” (watch the trailer or the whole film online), is a brutal and compelling story which carefully documents both the history, and the way institutions respond to those who threaten to unearth crimes of the past.

This event was part of the launch of Kevin’s new book, Unrepentant: Disrobing the Emperor, although unfortunately he was all out of copies so I wasn’t able to get my hands on one (it can also be ordered online for the surprisingly low price of 13$, or 8$ on Kindle). Kevin read from the book a little, but because the stories are highly emotional, and the audience was relatively small and highly educated in residential school history, he left most of the time for people to ask questions, talk, and socialize. One of my favorite things about Kevin is his sense of the importance of community, and the need to actively engender time and spaces for people to relate humanely with each other – and how this is at least as important as getting the correct ideas out there, supported by good arguments.

Superficially, not much as changed in Kevin’s story since I saw him speak last year. There is a difference in tone, however – in a sense he has become much more hopeful. He’s begun to speak about the confluence of capitalist/environmental crisis in relation to our society’s unwillingness/inability to come to terms with grief, to understand its own failings, and to be honest with itself about the terror it creates for those who are excluded from privilege. He now connects the religious logic which allowed Christians to consider non-Christian lives not worth living with the logic of white or western privilege which grounds racial or sectarian prejudice that makes palatable imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His response to this is not to encourage us to stand up against it, because this culture is us. Rather, he suggests we grieve the death of that culture, which is our culture. I’ll have a better idea of what that means after I read his new book, but perhaps more significantly – I already have a strong feeling of what he means.

Chomsky: Climate Change is an institutional problem

Transcribed from a recent interview in Wales:

When you have a financial crisis there is a way to rescue it: you go to the taxpayer, the taxpayer bales you out. So there is a possible answer; Goldman Sachs can make risky investments and when it all crashes you take your copy of Hayek or Milton Friedman and run to the nanny state. But in the case of climate change the externality in this case… is the fate of the species. So when you’re making decisions as the director of a corporation, one of the externalities you can’t pay attention to is “what’s the effect on my grandchildren?” – you have to maximize short term profit and market share. In this case there is nobody to bail you out, no taxpayer can come and take care of it. But these are institutional necessities and that’s what makes them so dangerous. There is no point convincing a CEO that you shouldn’t be doing it; he knows it already. But if he doesn’t do it someone else will do it. It’s just the way the institution is set up; it’s the way markets work. To the extent that we have unregulated markets we’re going to get more and more of this. These (anti-climate change) propaganda campaigns in the last couple of years have had a big effect, you can see in opinion polls. Now about a third of the population thinks there is a serious risk of global warming. This is exasterbated by the recession, for a large part of the population it’s back to the depression, and worse because the jobs aren’t going to come back; people don’t want to hear about things that don’t matter to their immediate survival.

Conservative values? Anarchism.

The more I hear arguments for conservative values, the more I’m an anarchist. By “conservatism”, I mean the political analysis of Jordan Peterson, who takes such conservative positions as: poor people are largely poor because they lack motivation and intelligence, absolute poverty does not cause violence or unethical behaviour, (sorry, this next one is quite offensive) non western “primitive” societies tend to have high rates of male on male homicide. While each one of these points, for Peterson, are reasons for us to appreciate the genocidal and barbarous “civilization” that we live in, they can all easily be turned into critiques of that society’s sustainability and ability to transform to face new challenges and threats.

Take the idea that poverty can largely be explained on the basis of motivation and intelligence. To an anarchist this seems offensive – poverty is caused by systemic oppression, don’t blame the victim! But, the radical liberal John Rawls pointed out that while people should be allowed to benefit from their skills and aptitudes, they fact that someone was born with less skill is not a justification for them being less well off than they might have been in a society where skill and aptitudes are not rewarded. And the kicker is – for Rawls, motivation, insofar as it can be explained biochemically, is a skill. And, Peterson is obsessed with explaining motivation biochemically. So, for Rawlsians, the fact that poverty can be explained social-darwanistically is no justification for it to exist: if society could exist without poverty at the expense of the rich then we have no moral choice but to abolish it.

I’ve always believed Rawls’ motivation for an egalitarian justification for society was motivated out of a fear of the Hegelian rabble – the dirt poor who see their good over against society rather than in harmony with it. This actually is in harmony with Peterson’s next idea – that violence and ethical degeneration in society is not caused by poverty, but by relative poverty, or as he likes to call it, the slope of the dominance curve. If the dominance curve is very steep (those at the top have everything, and those at the bottom have nothing), your society will not be stable because there will be many men who can not find a mate or a job, and thus will have little to lose by becoming pathological and murderous. It’s hard to understand how Peterson maintains such a conservative stance when we actually live in a society where the dominance curve has been steadily steepening since the 70s – and even mainstream liberals are getting concerned that America will become like a 3rd world country if the existing trends continue. My anarchist response here is to say the social fabric of our lived world depends on mutual recognition, cooperation, and everyone benefitting enough from the involvements to justify their continued contributions. Sure you can motivate people will the fear of starvation and the carrot of capitalist success, but you’re playing a game which a certain number of people are destined to lose. Society should be a hard game – everyone should work to achieve their own potential and make meaningful contributions. But I see no reason that the only or primary motivations which can be used towards this end are the current capitalist ones, and the presence of very low positions on the dominance chain. Why should someone have authority over others which can’t be justified in terms of the benefit and consent of those under command? Why should we think that that kind of authority will even produce the best results from those dominated – doesn’t it simply privilege a very specific kind of obedience? Is that form of obedience actually something which serves society when those who have it rise up the corporate ladders?

The last point I mentioned above is by far the hardest to deal with, and most offensive. First – I don’t believe that it is true. That’s not to say I don’t believe there are non-western, non-technological societies which have/had high rates of male on male homicide. However, simply to point out this “fact” is deceptive – the rates of male on male homicide, in any rate, skyrockets in war, and war or genocide for the sake of conquest is the normal form of confrontation between “civilized” and “non civilized” people. Moreover, there are indigenous societies which have lived in relative harmony with their ecosystems for thousands upon thousands of years (also, there are many which didn’t, and collapsed as a result). Perhaps the kind of stability we value (peacefulness, the conditions that permit progress) are only stable and good from a short term perspective. Kind of like a dictatorship – everything appears stable, but only because you don’t consider the violence on the periphery and the long-term instability of such regimes. Like a dictatorship, western society only appears peaceful because you look at particular parts of it, and because you ignore the violence on the globalized periphery, both against people and against the ecosystem – who’s ability to sustain us is deeply threatened. What makes our society “better” than one which, not developing a “state” (in the Deleuzian sense of an institution) and not developing advanced forms of technology, manages not to make a deep enough impact on its environment as to cause the collapse of the society, culture, way of life.

Indigenous societies which are sustainable collapse as well – they collapse when they encounter genocidal Europeans who take the land and wreak havoc on the societal norms and structures they find, calling them “pagan”, and introducing all maners of chaos (mostly in ways they don’t understand) into communities, and in the larger picture into histories. The moral question to ask here is – when a culture fails due to environmental forces, unless those environmental effects were pre known and ignored, that is a tragedy. But when humans inflict chaos on one another, that is evil. This distinction, I should point out, I’ve borrowed from Jordan Peterson’s lecture on Evil – and I think it’s adequate. It emphasizes the degenerative forces in a society as the anachronisms, the unwillingness to confront the need to change, and the unwillingness to confront the reality of one’s own crimes and other shortcomings, as evil – and that must be distinguished from the merely tragic – when bad things happen, but no one is positively or negatively at fault.

We live in a society of conservative anachronisms - where the need to transform is and has been on the surface for 40 years (perhaps more – Milan is free to correct me on this), and where the hypocricy about war and genocide is rampant. It is not enough simply to “raise awareness”. We must do something else – something I don’t understand.

The closer we move towards the danger, perhaps the more we must try to strengthen the moral fiber of our local communities, so as to try to avoid murderous pathological chaos if/when the supply chains that sustain our fragile, plastic existence, begin to break down.

 

Modern Science, Climate Change, and a four year old with a gun

Recently I was thinking about how future societies might look back at our period of history and conceptualize the structural causes which made climate change such a difficult problem to solve. Assuming we don’t rectify climate change, and all the predicted catastrophes go off as (un?)expected, scholars and pundits will be looking for interesting ways to blame our generation for failing to act. But, due to our tendency to interpret the past in a fatalistic way, they will also be looking for ways to explain why we didn’t act – some will probably even look for reasons we couldn’t act.

Now, certainly many explanations will look to the nature of our political systems, and their inability to respond to long term or collective threats. Still others will look to the geo-political structure of nation states as such as having as its goal the production of profitable instability which pit humans against each other for the benefit of the few. That’s all very interesting – but another explanation interests me more: the idea that the developments of modern science somehow unleashed a power we could not control, and enabled rates of growth and ecological devastation which our cultures had no means to account for or check until it was too late.

Continue reading

Canada’s new Environment Minister

Canada’s new minister of the Environment minister of truth is already fully committed to repeating nonsense about the oilsands, hoping to prey on and bolster Canadians’ ignorance both of climate change and the local destruction reeked by the tar sands:

Canada’s new Environment Minister Peter Kent says the oilsands have been unfairly demonized as an ecologically destructive development, lauding the resource as “ethical oil” and an economic boon for the entire country.

On his second day in the federal environmental portfolio, the Toronto-area Conservative MP reiterated his predecessor’s pledge to enhance water monitoring in northern Alberta’s vast oilsands region. However, he said labels such as “dirty oil” and claims that bitumen extraction is the most destructive industrial activity on the planet are overblown.

“There has been a lot of disinformation and outright misinformation,” Kent told the Herald on Wednesday.

“There has been a demonizing of a legitimate resource,” he added. “It is ethical oil. It is regulated oil. And it’s secure oil in a world where many of the free world’s oil sources are somewhat less secure.”

This coverage from the Calgary Herald fails to evaluate any claims made by the minister, but succeeds I suppose in being “unbiased” by concluding the article with the views of “environmentalists” who “want Kent and the Harper government to move more aggressively on climate change.”

It appears likely that whereas departing minister Jim Prentice actually had some concern about the impacts of the tar sands, and was considering demanding the government clamp down on the under-regulated industry, Peter Kent has no interest in being anything but a lackey for Stephen Harper. In a Canadian political environment which rewards uncritical support for corporations working to damage the climate as quickly as possible, we should expect nothingness than this total disregard for science, morality, and civic responsibility.

Banking: your personal contribution to extinction

It’s easy to blame RBC for the tar sands, and we should. But RBC are by no means the only Canadian financial institution which is enabling perhaps the biggest climate crime ever committed by humans against their own habitat. The Rainforest Action Network’s “Climate friendly banking” site pegs TD-Canada Trust’s’ Co2 from total financed emissions at 124 million tonnes, or nearly a tonne per 10,000$ of checking account holdings. This isn’t to say TD is as bad as RBC; according to Tar Sands Watch,

TD Bank pursued a different course from RBC, engaging with senior RAN [Rainforest Action Network] representatives and signing some environmental accords. In June 2007, TD Bank announced a new environmental policy that pledged to “manage and minimize the impact of environmental risks and issues from its business operations.”

Still, TD is a corporate bank, which means it’s primary duties are to its shareholders not humans or the planet or the people who’s land they help poison. This is obvious from a 2010 report TD released to its shareholders on tar sands investments. The report contains no reference to first nations communities, or even the term “first nation”, “native”, “indigenous” (I even searched “indian”, nothing came up). On the topic of environmental issues there is shit short bullet point, which looks like it would be more at home in 2001 than 2010:

Environmental issues, specifically cumulative impacts on watershed and airshed, may become increasingly difficult and costly to deal with

– Alberta has been very oil friendly and very development friendly and no project has been rejected outright

– more likely an issue of time, cost and patience than go/no-go – Kyoto?

What’s even more frightening is found under the heading “Key Drivers”:

Long life assets – projects normally have 30+ years of reserves – non-declining production

Expected growth from expansions – virtually all projects have been expanded and contemplate further expansions

To look at this report today, in the year 2010, is deeply depressing. The banks have no fear that these projects will be compromised by an eventual recognition of the catastrophic environmental impacts they have on a local and global level. And why should they be afraid – we live in a political context where it is normal for a federal environment minister to quit without notice to take a post at a financial institution. The state of corruption with respect to environmental catastrophe and the world we are leaving for our children is deep. While comparisons to Nazi germany are rarely useful, we might think about comparing the current state of Canada and the world to the last few decades of the USSR – the combination of a sense of overwhelming chaos, but a faith that the state of things could be held together with force. But, in fact, the corruption in the current global powers is far worse because they are not merely gambling away the welfare of their citizens, but the welfare of citizens of other states, and of future generations.

We will live through an era where individuals will be forced to make serious choices about the role they will play in resisting, or through tacet consent approving of crimes against future generations. These crimes will be committed in the name of national interest, the economy, and human welfare, but are in fact pursued for the sake of existing power structures. In this context of perpetual disguised emergency, we can not afford to not learn what we can from other kinds of resistance movements – to try to understand what works and what doesn’t work, and under what conditions different tactics can be effective.

But, before we contemplate serious questions about the legitimacy of violence, we can start with where our money is being invested, and what is being done with the profits made from the loans we take out. Insofar as the people actually have any money, their money is actually required for business to maintain its power – if we take the money away, they can’t build the projects. Banking is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of modern society – it’s potentially democratic (well, it would be in an equitable society anyway), and yet we treat our banking like consumers rather than as citizens – insofar as capitalism means you vote with your money, this is meaningfully done not as a consumer but as a conscientious investor. On this question I don’t actually have an answer – do any readers of this blog have good information on the investments of various Canadian banks and credit unions? Are there Canadian banks or credit unions which offer mainstream financial services, but which are committed to divesting from projects which empower forces against action on climate change?