Cold | Sleeping Bags | Can Drive | Snowscape | Molgaard Gone | Book Juggler | Bark Train | Adventist Reality | Aquacultures | Todd's Point | ISO Upgrade | Mattole Road | PA Reorg | Redwood Elephant | Wave Energy | Forest Parking | Ed Notes | Doyle Family | Fagan Cartoon | Sea Lions | Hendy Free | Wedding Expo | Youth Arts | Yesterday's Catch | DePape Prosecution | Crumb Lightning | Homelessness | Cattle Station | Helping | Leaving | Gay Mafia | Teen-Age Jungle | Fired/Stolen | Assassinated Men | Gun Deaths | Amerika | Ukraine | Passenger Trains | Least Likely | Oswald | End Empire | Aizu Winter | Want Acid | Strikes
COLD OVERNIGHT TEMPERATURES AND DRY WEATHER will remain through the weekend. Precipitation chances begin to increase early next week. (NWS)
ANDERSON VALLEY STUDENTS HELPING OUT, Collecting Food For Those In Need
by Justine Frederiksen
Anderson Valley students have collected nearly 1,000 pounds of food for their local food bank this holiday season, Superintendent Louise Simson reported.
“Good stuff to see kids taking care of their community,” said Simson, explaining that all of the classes at the junior high and high school in Boonville are competing to see who can collect the most items for the food bank.
Simson, who recently joined the district as its superintendent, said she had been a part of similar efforts in the districts she worked at previously, and suggested that Anderson Valley School District host a competition this year.
And the response from the students and their families was so great that they met the “benchmark goal” of 200 pounds in the first week with the seventh-graders collecting 58 pounds, the eighth-graders collecting 33 pounds, the ninth-graders collecting 35 pounds, the 10th-graders collecting 23 pounds, the 11th-graders collecting 33 pounds, and the 12th-graders collecting 55 pounds.
“This has been so beautiful to see,” said Simson, adding that many of the students also visited the food bank this month to deliver some of the items they collected, then helped bag up the items and present them to the families in need.
“So they got to see firsthand who was benefiting from their efforts,” Simson said, explaining that some of the students will now begin volunteering at the food bank on a regular basis, likely every two weeks.
“It just happened organically,” she said, recalling their teacher Kira Brennan, whom she described as “a fireball,” declared, “we have to make this happen!”
When the competition concludes this week, Simson said the “class bringing in the most items (will earn) an ice cream party and title!”
As of Tuesday morning, Simson said that the seventh-graders had collected 195 pounds, the eight-graders 189 pounds, the ninth-graders 119 pounds, the 10th-graders 122 pounds, the 11th-graders 118 pounds, and the 12th-graders 215 pounds, a total of 959 pounds.
* * *
And we can!
We believe in helping others,
We believe in
The power of community,
We believe the actions of a group will positively affect the lives of many.
First Place Award for the
2022 Class Canned Food Drive earned by:
Louise Simson, Superintendent
Anderson Valley Unified School District
Every Student • Every Possibility • No Matter What
MENDOCINO COUNTY’S DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH ANNE MOLGAARD ABRUPTLY RETIRES After Less Than a Year at the Helm
A month and change shy of her year anniversary, Molgaard has retired. As confirmed by Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer Darcie Antle, Molgaard’s abrupt exit has left the county’s Public Health infrastructure without an administrator which CEO Antle told us will be ironed out in the coming days.…
My collection of true-life tales from around the county, Mendocino History Exposed, is now available at The Book Juggler in Willits. If you want to get lost in a book store, this is the place for you. Walk in at 182 S. Main Street in Willits only a mile or so south from the culminating events of Chapter X, "The Bridge," in Mendocino History Exposed.
Check out the website at: thebookjuggler.com or give them a call, 707-459-4075, to get hold of this great read for yourself or as a holiday gift for others.
HARVEY B. CHESS:
It seems as if it’s like Adventist can’t help itself here locally on the coast. I notice the organization appears to have done a thorough job of branding by virtue of seeing the visual invitations to avail oneself of the organization’s services throughout social media. On the other hand, I see a variety of complaints on those same social media outlets from people dissatisfied with communication with representatives of the organization. I can now add my own example. I journeyed to the imaging wing days ago to ask for a copy of the disc from my earlier ultrasound to accompany me to an upcoming visit with a specialist, filled out the request form as instructed, and was informed I would be called when the disc was available. In the absence of having been called, I’ll obviously need to once again drive from Little River and return to that department to inquire what remains to be done to get what I need. In the scheme of day to day doings, this isn’t a big deal, but it surely seems emblematic of an unnecessary glitch, and does not reflect well on an organization whose reps have at times asked us to be patient patients. It’s like you can’t have it both ways—inviting us to sample the wares only to have us unable to do so when we attempt as much.
AQUACULTURE, ONE MORE WORD...
NOT all aquaculture created equal: Oyster farming is benign. Shrimp farms however are as bad or worse than salmon and produce an inedible end product.
— David Svehla
MENDOCINO FIRE DISTRICT PUBLIC PROTECTION CLASSIFICATION UPGRADED
After many months of effort, the Mendocino Fire Protection District has received an upgraded Public Protection Classification (PPC) from the Insurance Service Office (ISO). ISO is an independent company that serves insurance companies, communities and fire departments by evaluating risk to structures and local fire department capabilities to reduce that risk. Insurance companies use the PPC grade to establish fair premiums for homeowner and commercial insurance. In general, the price of fire insurance in a community with a good PPC grade is substantially lower.
Because the Volunteer Fire Department was able to document their capability to deliver sufficient water to a fire scene, ISO upgraded the District to 05/10. This means that any resident living with 5 miles of one of our firehouses now can tell their insurers that they are rated 05 regardless of the location of the nearest fire hydrant. Those residents living beyond 5 miles are rated 10. This is a significant improvement over the previous rating for the majority of our residents because nearly all live within 5 miles of one of our firehouses located on Little Lake Road, Lansing Street and Road 409. The steel building components for the Comptche Ukiah Road building have been purchased and construction should begin early next year. When that building is complete, all of the District residents will be 05.
We have posted this information, along with the full ISO report, on the Fire Department’s web site at mendocinofire.com. We encourage residents to contact their insurance agents to find out if this new rating will impact their insurance premiums. We will also be sending this information to all of the local insurance agents.
We also wish to thank our residents for their loyalty and support over the years. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
John Pisias, Asst. Chief, Mendocino Fire, PO Box 901, Mendocino,CA 95460 (707)937-0131
JUST IN FROM THE TITANIC!
Subject: Notice Of City Council Reorganization
The City Council of the City of Point Arena was reorganized at its Regular Meeting of the City Council held December 13, 2022, as follows:
Mayor: Barbara Burkey, Term Expires November 2026
Vice Mayor: Anna Dobbins, Term Expires November 2026
Councilmember: Jim Koogle, Term Expires November 2024
Councilmember: Jeff Hansen, Term Expires November 2026
Councilmember: Dan Doyle, Term Expires November 2024
The Point Arena City Council meets on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 6pm at City Hall, 451 School Street in Point Arena.
Members of the City Council also serve as the City's Planning Commission.
Dated: December 14, 2022
WAVE ENERGY ON THE COAST?
by Frank Hartzell
The biggest effort underway for wave energy is PacWave South, now completing construction off Oregon. The project features competing wave energy devices all designed to be functioning this summer and part of grid- tied testing in 2024. Oregon beat out Central California for Department of Energy funding as the wave energy hub, and state leaders have been receptive to any ideas to test the technology, greatly increasing Fort Bragg’s chances to get the grant with Oneka, one state official said. Fort Bragg wants to play a bigger role in the process, especially in regards to tidal energy in the greater Bay Area.
There have also been Blue Economy aquaculture ideas talked about including one plan away from the ocean that has been discussed with state officials. “The City of Fort Bragg is investigating the possibility of adding a desalination component to its Green Economy project which includes a land-based aquaculture project,” said Reed of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, region 1. “In March, we met with City staff, their consultant, and State Water Board staff to discuss requirements for permitting an ocean desalination plant under the California Ocean Plan and the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The City indicated that it may move forward with the aquaculture project and tackle desalination later. We’ve heard nothing since that date.”
There have been discussions of a red urchin nursery in Fort Bragg so that that edible species can replace the purple urchin, which has devoured the kelp forests and destroyed the abalone fishery. There is a very limited market for purple urchins.
Public Works Director John Smith said the city has now made the Oneka project the priority and will look at the other Blue Economy proposals, including aquaculture, plan later. Property that the Noyo Center for Marine Science owns adjacent to the city’s oceanfront sewer plant, where the fresh water could come onshore from the wave energy raft may become was looked at as part of a future aquaculture plan.
Another massive blue economy project the city could hook up with is the now federally funded plan for towering wind turbines planned offshore of Humboldt County. That project is one of the biggest Blue Economy projects in the state, including studies off Cape Mendocino, with operations getting started all along that Coast and an operations center being built off Avenue of the Giants at the Pepperwood Exit
The state has a world leading research for desalination, the National Alliance for Water Innovation “Innovation Hub” funded by the U.S. Dept of Energy and run by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley, to dramatically lower the cost and energy required for desalination and water reuse. Fort Bragg City councilmembers said the only problem they had with any of the plans is that the cost of the water would be too high for local residents. The Center is studying ideas ranging from paying for the cleaning of polluted water and salt water with the minerals removed. Another idea is open source code which would allow greater utilization by small cities and poor parts of the world. Projects (nawihub.org).
The most modern wave energy plans are surprisingly like one that started the modern wave energy revival. (Romans used wave and tidal energy.) Scotland has been a leader since the modern beginnings of wave energy research since the 1970s when Professor Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh invented Salter’s Duck, the first modern working wave energy device. The curved bobbing duck showed great potential in test pools but was never deployed to sea. It’s very similar to the rafts that have now become popular.
IN FORT BRAGG, the Satanist bullshit, to deploy Craver's assessment of it, was a modern day reprise of the Salem Witch Trials that resulted in the bewildered, totally innocent Orr Sisters being threatened with death and hounded out of town because the town's porn-drenched wahoos claimed the Orr ladies were operating a Satanist day care center! That entire interlude, which of course went national, showed the rest of us just how close we are, how un-evolved we are, from the time of the tom-toms and rattling of chicken bones.
WHICH, of course, didn't prevent the Sheriff's Department from packing their own Sergeant Gary Hudson off to a “training seminar” to keep the department up with the latest in Beelzebub-related perv-think.
DINING TIP. The Calpella Club, Calpella. I think I'd been there years go, but Wednesday's lunch with a friend at “the Club,” as old timers refer to it, was brand new to me. Friend said that when he was new to the County he'd been invited to “the Club,” and had a helluva time finding it in tiny Calpella because he thought he was being invited to a country club, wondering all the while why Ukiah would locate a country club in a little mill town five miles north of the County Courthouse.
THE CLUB is the real deal. Good solid gringo grub, and fast, pleasant service in a kind of a labyrinthian structure apparently erected before building codes, and mos def not a country club with a lotta noon time drunks walking around with their golf clubs telling each other dirty jokes. This club is a real place for real people — I'm probably the only unreal person to enjoy a lunch there since… Harry Merlo of L-P whose mill was right down the street.
WHEN I ARRIVED — early of course, punctuality being my sole remaining virtue — I sat down at a window table near the bar, assuming I had strode through the front door, unaware that the cognoscenti entered at the south door of what turned out to be a very busy establishment, chock full of elderly folks who've been patronizing “The Club” for many years, and lots of F-150 boys who looked like they did blue collar work. The front room where I had first seated myself, had been deserted except for three guys at the bar and two couples at a single table talking about their adventures at Eagle Lake.
BUT FRIEND SOON ARRIVED to steer me to a second room east of where I sat alone beating back a temptation to knock back a couple of Maker's to warm up for the holidays. Saved by the arrival of Friend. No sooner had I ordered a lunch I'd never heard of — a fried shrimp wrap with fries — than it arrived just as I settled in the busy east room. The wrap was great! I'll be back soon for another one at The Club. Maybe they'll even make me a member.
FOR YOUR FRAUD FILES. Darryl Cherney has a Go Fund Me page soliciting money from the duped and the unwitting for, get this, an archive of material from the Redwood Summer period. Any money collected from any of the scammers associated with those events goes straight into the pockets of a tiny group of self-mythologizing phonies, primary among them, Cherney.
HE AND THE LATE JUDI BARI raised a ton of money they said would go to plant trees if they won a pending libel action against the FBI. Bari was nearly killed and did indeed die from her injuries seven years later. Cherney was slightly injured. He's lived off the event ever since.
THE Bari-Cherney lawyers got together with the fed lawyers to write a suit that excluded any mention of the bombing attack on Bari. I was declared “obsessed and deranged” — I'll cop to obsessed but I was insulted to be described as deranged, as both sides agreed not to call me or any of several named persons who would have testified that Bari's ex-husband did it, and that the libel suit was part of an ongoing scam-a-rama.)
BARI-CHERNEY won the phony suit, and several million dollars in damages. Bari's share went to her bomber — Mike Sweeney — who functioned as trustee for the two already wealthy daughters they, perp and vic, had had together, and Cherney's million-plus of the proceeds bought him a dope farm near Garberville.
NOT A SINGLE TREE was ever planted on behalf of the martyred couple, all proceeds went to Bari-Cherney and their “movement” lawyers from a “movement” that has moved steadily backwards since 1968.
WITH THE COLLAPSE of the marijuana market, Cherney is out of money, and is again circulating among the credulous with his begging bowl. The ava maintains an archive of everything we could/can find related to the Bari Bombing. If you're skeptical of what I've said here please visit our archive on the case and report back. I'm eternally prepared to argue with anyone about it.
To the Editor of the Independent Coast Observer,
I was appalled at the comic [in last week's Independent Coast Observer] depicting Herschel Walker. It looks blatantly racist even though cartoonist Mr. Fagan may depict other politicians in a similarly deprecating way. I think the Independent Coast Observer needs to use discretion in this area. It is disturbing that Mr. Fagan may not have enough checks and balances given his position at the Independent Coast Observer.
Please refrain from using racially suggestive material. I am sure this community leans toward racial equality, inclusion, acknowledgment, and celebration of diversity. And knowledge of spelling has nothing to do with intelligence or ability to perform as an elected servant of the people of the United States.
* * *
I deeply apologize to anyone who might have been offended by my cartoon last week depicting Herschel Walker.
My intent was definitely not racist. It was to portray Walker as ignorant and incompetent, something for which he has been repeatedly criticized. By the time this letter is published it is my fervent hope that his African-American opponent, the Reverend Raphael Warnock (to whose campaign I have made substantial monetary donations) will have been reelected senator from Georgia.
Had the candidate been Caucasian, I would have done the same cartoon. Cartoonists should not be held to a double standard of depicting white candidates in a "deprecating" way, but not African-Americans. My caricatures of other politicians have certainly been unkind, and I have had Donald Trump misspell a number of words while in other cartoons I have shown several African Americans in a positive light including Kamala Harris, Ketanji Brown Jackson, George Floyd and Martin Luther King.
Again my apologies to those who might have been offended. I am a strong believer in racial equality and harmony and have fought for it all my adult life. My cartoons are intended to provoke, not offend.
FREE DAY AT HENDY WOODS for Mendocino County Residents
Our Gift to you this New Years Day - FREE day use at Hendy Woods State Park for All Mendocino County residents (know your zip code) January 1, 2023.
Day use is from sun up to 1 hour after sunset. Free guided hike at 11 AM, learn about the complex systems of redwood ecology as you walk among the towering giants. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, Volunteers Needed! Do you love Hendy Woods, want to help support your park?? Join our great team! We are always looking for motivated Volunteers for the Hendy Woods Visitor Center, invasive plant species removal and to lead forest walks! Interested? Contact: email@example.com
NEW YOUTH ART CLASSES Starting in early January!
Mendocino Art Center’s Art With Julie, Youth Art Classes Beginning in early January, Scholarships are Available!
More information & activity schedules: https://www.mendocinoartcenter.org/youth-arts
Each six-week session is packed with exciting art projects specifically designed for children in four different age groups, 2 to 4*, 6 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 15.
Each week we will focus on a different discipline, medium or technique, in a nurturing and positive environment. Students will create a different work of art each week. All activities are open-ended, and designed to encourage children to develop their individual creative imaginations and intellect. Each session promises to be an exciting artistic experience like no other! All supplies included.
For more information on scholarships, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* If you have a 5-year-old you would like to enroll, please contact the instructor, Julie Karlonas (email@example.com), to determine the most age appropriate class for your child.
Mendocino Art Center
45200 Little Lake Street at Kasten Street, Mendocino
CATCH OF THE DAY, Wednesday, December 14, 2022
ANDRE ARI, Clearlake/Ukiah. Probation revocation.
AURUELIO BARRAGAN, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
OSCAR BERNAL, Ukiah. Criminal threats, resisting, probation revocation.
JOHN BOLTON IV, Willits. DUI no license. (Frequent flyer.)
DIANNA GIBSON, Fort Bragg. DUI-alcohol&drugs, narcotics/controlled substance for sale/transportation, paraphernalia, suspended license, addict driving a vehicle,
TESLA HENCZ, Laytonville. Assault with firearm, ammo possession by prohibited person.
SHANNON KIDD, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-under influence.
KENNETH LAWSON, Laytonville. Stolen property.
ALEXANDRA LONG, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
PATRICK MARIANI, Ukiah. Grand theft-auto, taking vehicle without owner’s consent, stolen vehicle, concealed dirk-dagger, lead cane.
EAN MAXEY, Fort Bragg. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
JERMIAH MCOSKER, Ukiah. Failure to appear. (Frequent flyer.)
BETHANY PACHECO, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
LUIS SANCHEZ JR., Ukiah. Failure to appear.
DAVID DEPAPE ORDERED TO STAND TRIAL IN VIOLENT ASSAULT OF PAUL PELOSI
After hours of testimony including 911 call audio and police body cam video, David DePape was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on all charges stemming from the terrifying October home-invasion assault of Paul Pelosi.
Superior Court Judge Stephen Murphy determined there was enough evidence to move forward with prosecution on all state charges, including attempted murder.…
THE OBVIOUS ANSWER TO HOMELESSNESS: And why everyone’s ignoring it
When someone becomes homeless, the instinct is to ask what tragedy befell them. What bad choices did they make with drugs or alcohol? What prevented them from getting a higher-paying job? Why did they have more children than they could afford? Why didn’t they make rent? Identifying personal failures or specific tragedies helps those of us who have homes feel less precarious—if homelessness is about personal failure, it’s easier to dismiss as something that couldn’t happen to us, and harsh treatment is easier to rationalize toward those who experience it.
But when you zoom out, determining individualized explanations for America’s homelessness crisis gets murky. Sure, individual choices play a role, but why are there so many more homeless people in California than Texas? Why are rates of homelessness so much higher in New York than West Virginia? To explain the interplay between structural and individual causes of homelessness, some who study this issue use the analogy of children playing musical chairs. As the game begins, the first kid to become chairless has a sprained ankle. The next few kids are too anxious to play the game effectively. The next few are smaller than the big kids. At the end, a fast, large, confident child sits grinning in the last available seat.
You can say that disability or lack of physical strength caused the individual kids to end up chairless. But in this scenario, chairlessness itself is an inevitability: The only reason anyone is without a chair is because there aren’t enough of them.
Now let’s apply the analogy to homelessness. Yes, examining who specifically becomes homeless can tell important stories of individual vulnerability created by disability or poverty, domestic violence or divorce. Yet when we have a dire shortage of affordable housing, it’s all but guaranteed that a certain number of people will become homeless. In musical chairs, enforced scarcity is self-evident. In real life, housing scarcity is more difficult to observe—but it’s the underlying cause of homelessness.…
by Larry Bensky
That big sigh of relief we were expected to exhale when the dear, not quite dead left arm of the mostly right armed United States political system survived the 2024 election?
No sooner had the estimable distinguished Democratic clergyman, Raphael Warnock, narrowly defeated the certifiable Republican wing-nut, unqualified star football player, Herschel Walker, than the sages and savants were unanimous in saying “we” dodged a bullet.
Never mind that the Republicans, including wing nuts among them, retained or regained control of all other major Georgia offices.
Never mind that the hope of the electoral progressives, Stacey Abrams, was swamped by a previously nutso Brian Kemp, for Georgia Governor.
Never mind that the Democrats’ 51-49 new numbers in the Senate took all of one day to disappear, when the nominally Democratic Senator from Arizona, Kristen Sinema, announced she would no longer be a Democrat. Add her to West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and the Democrats no longer seem to be in the Senate majority.
And while Republicans seem to have a tiny majority in Congress’ other branch, Republican Kevin McCarthy, who wants to lead them as Speaker, seems clueless about how to make which deals on what, including committee assignments and “pork barrel” home district budget items.
All the tension and drama created around the 2022 elections disappeared overnight, as the media cyclops shifted focus to a place you’d be unlikely to spot on a map, Qatar. A place where perhaps 300,000 people live on incomes of $10,000 a year or more, from oil revenues. They are mostly don’t work, their money comes to them from government mandated birthrights. They live without paying taxes. Their households are filled with low paid or non-paid servants mostly imported. There is with free education (men only) and free, expert medical care, (See “Goals Pleasure and Politics in Qatar,” by Sam Knight, The New Yorker,” 12/12/2022)
Even the estimable NY Times, with seven by-lined reporters on the World Cups scene, glosses over the wage (or debt) slavery imposed on construction workers, maids and servants, maintenance and cleaning staffs, vehicle and airplane pilots.
These people keep the comfortable in Qatar comfortable. While they, the comforters, are kept marginalized.
President Biden and his White House crew don’t care about any of this World Cup stuff. Instead, they are trying to end the year being puffed up at securing the release of a basketball player, Brittany Griner, home from an unjust and dangerous confinement.
Her punishment for an inadvertent minor infraction (less than an ounce of marijuana in her luggage) looked like it was turning into a ten year prison sentence in Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. But as a pawn in a geopolitical game she was exchanged tor a murderous arms merchant.
And now, with the U.S. government tied in knots, our great nation turns to its true vocation: shopping!
To hell with the homeless. To hell with those attending underfunded, poorly staffed schools. To hell with those – estimated to be half the U.S. population – suffering from serious mental health issues. To hell with the flu taking over from Covid as health menace.
It’s more than ever easy, at this season, to escape news that might depress or frighten you.
None of the dangerous, violent events portrayed on local TV newscasts – still a major source of “news” for most people - is framed so that people outside of localized danger need feel frightened.
There’s passing mention of addiction and homelessness problems. But no insight into how even those of us not wacked out on drugs or sleeping in the street are often invisible in our own way, shielded within “housing” that is often moldy, vermin and bug susceptible in older structures or high-rise cocoons whose windows don’t open, meaning there is no “fresh” air for breathing. Elevators that go to “your” floor, but they can strand you in sealed doors between floors until “back-up” power kicks in. Which it may do quickly, or slowly, or not at all.
It used to be possible to verify that elevators were inspected for such attributes. The last time I was in one, in downtown San Francisco, the inspection certificate was years out of date. The building’s reception area was unstaffed. Nobody home. So if you live in one of these “live work” areas you can take your groceries (no stores selling them nearby anyway) up 25 flights of stairs. Maybe get stuck in a stairwell, because nobody has inspected the locks on doors leading to those either.
Cautiously marginally, what’s left of the San Francisco Chronicle’s local reporting staff is strewing hints that post-Covid (which this is supposed to be, though new strains of Covid are surfacing) office occupancy is way down. Like maybe half of what it once was.
To make things even more fun, high rise office buildings whose workers stayed at home were used as shelters for hundreds of homeless. Who did things like use the bathrooms. Washed clothes in hand sinks. Plugged in hair driers. It would take months, if not years, for these high rises to open as offices again. But those stubborn entities known as workers don’t want to work in them anymore anyway. They’re too hard to get to, given MUNI and BART cutbacks. And they’re too hard to fix and maintain, since there aren’t enough electricians and operating engineers to work on them.
All of that is far from old folks like me. My limited world is small. The people who pass by my daily perch, on the benches in front of the elementary school my daughter attended two decades ago, are few. (The school itself has been renamed for a Latina, Sylvia Mendez, who no one has ever heard of. It used to be named for a notorious racist, Joseph LeConte. who no one had ever heard of either).
The people I see passing by are pretty easily categorized. Some can be heard approaching half a block away, braying loudly into the cellphones they hold gingerly in their hands. Then there are the mothers trailing small children while mom pushes others in carriages or strollers. An occasional jogger, outfitted in shorts and T-shirts no matter how cold and drizzly the day.
And then there’s the old couples, arm in arm, silent, eyes downward, observant of the uneven pavement on which they might stumble. A few large women of indeterminate age, rumble along slowly, holding onto tiny dogs, who stop to sniff/pee frequently. Masks have more or less disappeared, except on kids who burst out of the school doors three times a day, though responsible health officials (who have local, not statewide mandates) say they’re as advisable as ever.
Contrast this with the Ukrainian situation. Skipping school in pandemic California is a choice. In and around Ukraine it’s a life-preserving necessity, as wayward or intentional missiles from Putin’s forces result in schools half empty; teachers and families having fled their homes for Poland, Lithuania, other destinations in Europe to which trains still run, or people can, with difficulty, walk, Women are present on all levels, including command jobs in the military and police.
All of this seems to have been presided over by President Biden. Whose prior eternity in government, as Senator for Life from Delaware and then fifth wheel on Barack Obama’s Presidential limousine could not have been called predictive of such an outcome. Or such responsibilities.
Republicans, with their legendary strength in wealthy donors and religious fanatics, must now contend with a wartime President who seems to be defeating what prior Republicans viewed as an “evil empire.” Persecuting Hunter Biden for alleged transgressions of document irregularities ain’t gonna cut it in the fight for public support. Any days he wants to, President Biden can present heroic January 6 police officers and military strategists working with anti-Putin governments. As well as oh-so-serious and thus far oh-so-inadequate measures to combat global broiling.
Like most people I won’t be spending a lot of time on “foreign affairs” this winter. I’ll much more be interested in how any levels of government will provide for people unhoused or under-housed in the cold winter already upon us. How any levels of government will see that children get the educational resources they deserve. How doctors and nurses and social service workers and law enforcement officials can do their work and live their lives.
Who and how you love whom is nobody’s business but yours.
My advice? If you have the skills and the time and the strength, find a place to help others.
I’m going on 86 years old and disabled, with limited computer skills and not much income. But I’m overwhelmed with possibilities about where I might do something to help those much less fortunate than me.
Look around. You’ll find them, too. Peace and health to you in 2023!
(Larry Bensky may be reached at LBensky@igc.org)
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
— Jack Kerouac
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I find the expression “gay mafia” a clunker. Like adding the Yeti or UFO’s to a well reasoned argument. You lose focus. You open yourself to easy flak.
Not saying Yetis, UFO’s or gay mafias exist, or don’t. Mafias do exist. Most garden variety homosexuals wouldn’t know where to sign up to a gay one.
There are other ways to describe the encouragement of depraved views by elites, maybe. Decadence? A jaded society harder and harder to shock? Setting up scapegoats? Wars on reality, biology, virtue signaling, Luciferian pride?
And homosexual people are not the tiny minority. We all know some, maybe in our own family or circle of friends. 10-20% may have that natural inclination.
As long as they sate it with other consenting adults, and not in our faces, I don’t see a problem with it, and I don’t automatically associate depravity and sin with gays.
Most gays are normal people, except maybe for bad taste in clothes and music and in men, terrible haircuts in women, but what do I know… I’m a straight middle aged married man with grown children.
I do associate depravity with pedophiles, most transexuals, and those who bring perversion and scandal to young children and society at large, like crazed activist teachers, or that ghastly nuclear waste manager, or the so called “admiral”. Not the same thing.
FIRST FIRED, THEN IDENTITY STOLEN
(Immediately after being fired from his job as a journalist for the New York Times, Mike Finkel discovered that Christian Longo, a murderer on the run from the FBI, had adopted his identity. His book "True Story" (2005) examines the relationship that ensued between them.)
I was a reporter for the New York Times Magazine, working for them full time, and I cheated on an article. That's a very simplistic way of putting it, but it's also true. I was assigned to write a story about slavery on the coastal plain plantations West Africa. I found the reporting to be very difficult. I was talking with young boys who didn't speak the same language as I did and were reticent and shy. In trying to tell a compelling story I created what's called a composite character. I didn't make up any quotes out of whole cloth, but placed many statements from different people into one invented character.
Essentially, I cheated, and I did it quite consciously. I've always had this internal tug of war between journalism and what I consider artistic writing. I've always thought that journalism was sort of the hobby of the writing world and fiction was the artistry. I frankly suck at writing fiction but always wish I were more of an artist. I will try and explain. The complexities are huge. It's always hard for me to condense this story because in the position I'm in I have to be as accurate as possible.
I did not quote anybody accurately but I was actually correct. The other journalists percolated this myth of rampant slavery and I told it like it was, it was quite ambiguous and complicated, and possibly the best term to use is "desperate poverty." "Slavery" was being used as a very inaccurate buzzword. I'm not shy to say this, and I know it sounds cocky, but I possibly wrote the most accurate article about the situation in West Africa and was fired publicly for it, because I also cheated. The reason I should have been fired — and I agree with the decision of the Times — is that I betrayed the readers trust.
On websites and in the Associated Press and NPR and around the world — when I received a phone call from another reporter. I'm not a traditionally religious person, but the one moment in my life where I wouldn't hesitate to use the term "Divine intervention" was when I received that phone call. I lost my identity. I felt like I had tumbled into an abyss. In terms of pure psychic shock, I didn't just get fired from a job.
The reporter was calling from the Oregonian in Portland and I thought he wanted to interview me about being fired. I was wrong. He informed me that a man on the FBI's ten most wanted list — wanted for murdering his wife and his children — had just been arrested in Mexico where he had been living under the name "Michael Finkel of the New York Times."
I can remember that moment extraordinarily vividly. I could talk about that very moment for an hour and I still wouldn't be able to parse all the psychological ramifications. But briefly it was like an explosion in my head. Just at the moment that I lost my identity someone else seemed to have taken it on. It changed my life, that coincidence.
Frankly I wondered if it was a hoax. Just because I was stripped of my job doesn't mean that I was stripped of my instincts. Besides this personal revelation there was this journalistic alarm that went off in me. I needed to know what the hell the story was. I immediately needed to get in touch with this person whose name was Christian Longo, Chris Longo. I was told that Chris Longo whose alias was Michael Finkel was not talking to anybody. He was sealed away in a jail in Oregon and for all I knew completely inaccessible to the outside world. Nonetheless, in this state of shock and depression, in this half awake daze, I decided to hand write a letter to this Chris Longo, a.k.a. Mike Finkel, in jail. It was the oddest letter I had ever written. I'm a little bit old-fashioned. I do like to write letters still. I had no idea if I would ever be able to publish another sentence again as long as I live, but I still felt like a writer.
My letter basically said, "I've just got fired, you took my identity, would you like to talk about this?" It was a very honest, odd letter. I stuck a stamp on it and put it in the mail and then I had no idea what would happen. A really difficult month passed. I thought, Well, I'm probably not going to hear from this person.
I see men assassinated around me every day. I walk through rooms of the dead, streets of the dead, cities of the dead; men without eyes, men without voices; men with manufactured feelings and standard reactions; men with newspaper brains, television souls and high school ideas.
— Charles Bukowski
GUNS ARE NOW the No. 1 cause of deaths among American children and teens, ahead of car crashes, other injuries and congenital disease. In other rich countries, gun deaths are not even among the top four causes of death, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found. The U.S. accounts for 97 percent of gun-related child deaths among similarly large and wealthy countries, despite making up just 46 percent of this group’s overall population.
If the U.S. had gun death rates similar to Canada’s, about 26,000 fewer children would have died since 2010, according to Kaiser. But the trend has been going in the opposite direction: Gun deaths among teens and younger kids have gone up in the U.S., while they have declined elsewhere. The victims are disproportionately people of color, most often Black boys.
Why is America such an outlier? Because it has many more guns…. The U.S. has more guns than people. This abundance of guns makes it much easier for anyone to carry out an act of violence with a firearm in America than in any other wealthy country.
— German Lopez (NYT)
UKRAINE, WEDNESDAY, 14TH DECEMBER
Ukraine’s capital Kyiv woke to blasts and air raid sirens on Wednesday, according to reports from local officials who said the city had been attacked by Iranian-made “Shahed” drones.
Oleksii Kuleba, the head of the Kyiv regional military administration, warned residents that the air alert remained in place and that civilians should take shelter. “The air alert continues. The danger remains. Stay in shelters,” he said.
It’s unknown what structures the drone attacks were targeting but Kuleba said “Russia continues the energy terror of the country.”
Civilians take shelter inside a metro station during air raid alert in the centre of Kyiv on December 13, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In other news, snap Belarusian military drills that began on Tuesday sparked concerns about an escalation of the war in Ukraine, although Ukraine’s armed forces said they have not yet seen signs of the “formation of enemy offensive groups” along the Belarus-Ukraine border.
Ukrainian and Polish military officials discussed the “security situation on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border” after the check on the combat-readiness of troops in Belarus, according to NBC News, and agreed to coordinate joint action in the days ahead.
Belarus borders Ukraine to the north and Poland to the east. While Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly said his country will not join the war, Belarus is Russia’s ally and has allowed it to launch attacks on Ukraine from its territory.
‘Russia is destroying city after city,’ Zelenskyy says
A Russian soldier walks amid the rubble in Mariupol's eastern side where fierce fighting between Russia/pro-Russia forces and Ukraine on March 15, 2022.
“There is no calm on the front line. There is nothing easy and simple. Every day and every meter is fought for extremely hard,” Zelenskyy said in a nightly address on his Telegram channel.
“Russia is destroying city after city in Donbas - like Mariupol, like Volnovakha, like Bakhmut,” he added..
Zelenskyy also thanked Ukrainian forces for “repelling another attack by Iranian drones this morning.”
— Amanda Macias, NBC
THE LEAST LIKELY OUTCOME FOR HUMANITY'S FUTURE is that we continue along the same trajectory we've been on without having to drastically change ourselves and our behavior. That is the least likely thing to happen. We're headed for massive changes fairly soon, one way or another.
The humanity of the not-too-distant future operates very differently from the humanity of today, either because it learned to work in cooperation with itself and with its ecosystem or because it's an extinct species, yet most visions for our future imagine we'll remain the same. We need to abandon the notion that the humanity of the future will move and operate in more or less the same way as the humanity of today, just with better technology. That is the very least likely of all possible outcomes.
— Caitlin Johnstone
HOW TO END THE ‘GLOBAL EMPIRE OF CAPITAL’
Humanity faces a grim fate because the global ruling class refuses to depart from the capitalist status quo even as their quest to maximize profits intensifies the climate crisis and the prospects of a nuclear war. But with enough solidarity, progressives around the world can build an egalitarian, democratic, peaceful, and sustainable society. That’s the message shared by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who outlined his vision for how the left can work together to end the “global empire of capital” and forge a humane future — part of a Progressive International-led effort to chart a path toward a “New International Economic Order for the 21st century.” “Enough of their hypocrisy, their war-mongering, their financialization of lives, and the privatization of our commons,” Varoufakis declared. “Progressives of the world refuse to take sides on this new “cold” hot war. We are instead building a new non-aligned movement to fight for humanity’s survival by working for peace, solidarity, and cooperation.”
WANT IS THE ACID
by Paul Kingsnorth
The best thing I ever bought was my VW camper van. It came into my life soon after my first child, and the two have grown older together. Neither of our children would allow us to sell our old van now even if we wanted to; there are too many memories tied up in it. That van has been with us on beaches and in woodlands, on hills and plains and mountains, on ferries and in lay-bys too numerous to count. I’ve got it stuck in mud, reversed it into trees, blown out its tyres on hidden rocks and exploded several of its gaskets in several different nations, and it’s still more reliable than me.
In the age of covid, our family van has allowed us to escape on little holidays in our own country, with the added advantage that we can avoid the various establishments that we are now banned from by our ever-caring authorities. In the west of Ireland you can squirrel yourself away down a lane or on a remote beach, and nobody will bother you if you’re tactful. In human-scale places, you are still mostly free to be human.
It was quite recently, a few weeks back, on a short family trip in our van, that I saw something about my world, and by implication myself, that I haven’t been able to unsee. Sometimes this happens to me, as I’m sure it does to many of you: something that you believe you ‘know’ in some abstract, intellectualised sense becomes suddenly real in a more embedded way. You see it playing out, sinking in, and then it is no longer an abstraction but the pattern of your reality.
On this occasion we were in a small town - a nice little place, full of holidaying people like us. There were pubs and restaurants open, and the streets were full of tables and chairs (one of the unexpected benefits of the pandemic has been that Ireland has discovered outdoor dining). There were shops and markets. There were people in vans, like us, and other people hiring boats and other people eating and drinking. There were leaflets in the tourist information centre advertising country house tours and chocolate makers and cycling trips.
It was a nice little place, and all of a sudden I saw it for what it was. I saw what was happening here, and by extension everywhere, and within me and all of us. I saw that everything around me was dedicated solely to the immediate gratification of the senses.
There it was, all of a sudden, right in my face. Eating. Drinking. Buying colourful things. Boats, vans, bikes, beer, steak, new clothes, second hand clothes, burgers, chocolate bars, old castles, stately homes, cappuccinos, pirate adventure parks, golf courses, spas, tea rooms, pubs. Food, drink, fun, entertainment, games, probably some sex somewhere in the mix. All of it came together suddenly into a kind of package of sensory overload and I saw that this was what we were, what we had become without really thinking or planning it. Stimulating the senses, then reacting to the stimulus: this was what our society was all about. Feeding the pleasure centres, spending and spending to keep it all coming at us.
It was a nice little place. A small, unremarkable town that became, just for a second, the centre of the whole world.
None of this stopped me from enjoying the rest of my holiday. I ate crisps and went kayaking. We drove our camper van around the coast. But somehow, a part of me remained - still remains - cut off from it all, observing as if from a distance this situation and its consequence: the ongoing degradation of the world. A process I am part of, even as I complain about it. Even as I see what is happening, I put my shoulder again to the wheel that turns it all around.
This is what a Machine society looks like. It is all a kind of simulacrum of a real culture, with organised sensory gratification replacing anything that might previously have provided lasting meaning. I don’t mean to imply that sensory gratification is anything new - or even anything inherently bad, within reason. We’re all human, and that’s still (mostly) OK. Since at least the Neolithic we’ve been adorning ourselves with imported foreign jewellery and roasting meat to perfection. The pursuit of sensory pleasure certainly took up most of my younger life, even though these days my main vices - the public ones, at least - are chocolate and cheese.
But the pursuit of instant pleasure as an organising principle of society? A culture that is becoming little more than a Pleasure Dome, dedicated to ‘growth’ and a supposedly consequent ‘happiness’? This is something that ought to bring about more than moral doubts.
If you think I’m going over the top here, then it’s worth zooming out. The impacts of a society predicated on boundless economic growth via boundless sensory stimulation are at least in some ways measurable. Visit this website, for example, and you can see a real-time counter which will tell you just how much waste has been dumped around the world this year as a result of this way of living. At the time of writing, the counter is reading 1.4 billion tonnes. It’s only September.
We can enjoy our little towns here in the richer bits of the world because the waste we generate through our excitable purchases of big-screen tellies, lego sets, foreign holidays, cheap clothes, cheap food and all the rest of it always ends up somewhere else. The dioxins and PCBs go into the water and soil, the plastic goes into the oceans, the carbon dioxide goes into the air. Fifty million tonnes of ‘e-waste’ is shipped every year to the poorest countries on Earth, which are least equipped to deal with it. But then they’re not really supposed to deal with it: they’re supposed to keep it away from us. We don’t know what else to do with all this crap, so we - for example - ship 4000 tonnes of toxic waste, containing carcinogenic chemicals, to Nigeria, and just dump it on the beaches. The same way we dumped 79,000 tonnes of asbestos on the beaches in Bangladesh, and 40 million tonnes of our poisonous waste in just one small part of Indonesia. The same way we run our old ships up onto the beaches in China and India, and leave them for the locals to break up - if they can. The same way we dump nine million tonnes of plastic into the oceans every year.
Had enough yet? Me too. But we need to understand the consequences of the Machine we have built, and which is now rebuilding us so that we may become more perfect consumers, shopping for individual fulfilment in its Global Marketplace of goods, ideas and identities. We need to understand just what this Machine encourages within us, what it inflames and what we have become: a cheap, digitised version of Late Rome, looking elsewhere when the container ships take away our mess to be dumped on the poor.
I’m not usually one for graphs, but the illustration at the top of this page gives a historical perspective on all of this. All of this abundance comes from the bonanza of fossil fuels that enabled the industrial revolution to take the Machine global (more on that next time.) The size, scope and speed with which we are eating the Earth and turning the results into toilet paper, plastic ducks and smartphone batteries is unprecedented and, in historical terms, very new.
If you look closely at the charts above, you’ll see a number in red in the baseline of each of them. This is a year: 1950. It marks the beginning of an age of rapidly-accelerating economic growth, fuelled by mass production and mass consumption: a period that has been dubbed the ‘Great Acceleration’. The lines on these graphs - each of them virtually identical, shooting almost vertically upwards over just the last seventy years - are the story of our age. In just one human lifetime this has changed virtually everything. I believe that the West’s current cultural disintegration is another result that, if we knew how to measure it, could probably be staked out on a similar chart. A culture that believes in little or nothing beyond the stimulation of the senses is at the end of its useful life.
In two previous essays - you can read them here and here - I attempted a historical thumbnail sketch of how the process of Machine modernity got us to this point: the end of the Christian faith in the West, the rise of ‘Science and Reason’ (which were, however, a product of the Western version of that faith), and the revolutions of 1789 and later, which, by clearing the ground of the last remnants of feudalism, laid the foundations of a new kind of world, governed by a new kind of people, with a new set of values.
Those people - well, they’re mostly us. The best and most poetic chroniclers of their - our - revolution remain Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who, whatever their other flaws, have never been bettered in their description of the new world which grew from the ruin of the old, and which is now coming to ruin itself. A world with new values: growth, progress, profit, money. A world built by the most revolutionary class in history, one which embodies these values and has embedded them, over the centuries, into every aspect of our lives: the merchants, traders and moneymen otherwise known as the ‘bourgeoisie’:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value. And in place of the numberless and feasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
This description is, famously, from the 1848 Communist Manifesto. It’s a curious document, world-changing in a way that few pamphlets ever are. Curious, to my mind, because it is a hearty damnation of the world the bourgeoisie have built, but a damnation which is tinged with a sneaking admiration. Marx and Engels, after all, were both self-styled revolutionaries. As such, they recognised that the capitalism they set out to destroy was the most effective revolutionary force in history. The ‘bourgeois’ class which drove it on, they wrote,
… has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades … It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
Revolutionary stuff indeed. And this bourgeoisie had revolutionised not just the structures but the values of humanity, at the deepest levels:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
Everlasting uncertainty and agitation. Today’s world was under construction- globally - even back in 1848. Once the bourgeoisie really got to work, the current age of corporate globalism - and the waste, destruction and cultural decay it generates - was the inevitable result:
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country … It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
I’m no Marxist, but the Communist Manifesto describes the world we are in with brilliant prescience, despite being written nearly two centuries ago. The Great Acceleration is the natural conclusion of the world which Marx and Engels saw being born, and pinioned in words so well. Once the ‘bourgeois revolution’ had cleared the ground of awkward obstacles like the peasantry, the artisans, common land, local cultures and traditions, family and home life, a sense of history and mutual obligation, and religions which preached against wealth and wordly power, then the captains and priests of the Machine could get on with the work they were made for, the work of our time, the holy effort to which all human will, skill and energy is now bent: making money.
I could, I suppose, cant on about the ‘bourgeoisie’ all day, but it would start to sound like either a branch meeting of the Socialist Workers Party or a Monty Python sketch. What I am really trying to get at here is not a theory or a structure or an ideological claim, but something deeper: an old, surging force, one that stems from within us. A force which has driven all this onwards, which is the lifeblood of the Machine, and which, through its untrammelling, acts as an acid which burns through all past structures and values. An acid which is now acting to dissolve our ecosystems and cultural forms, as it has dissolved so much else.
What is this force? What could be so powerful that it could dissolve away centuries of our cultural inheritance; could dissolve forests and oceans, great faiths, nations, traditions - everything that makes a human life real - and replace it with this … Pleasure Dome?
Want. Want is the acid.
We can usefully understand our time, I often think, by seeing in it the final result of the centuries-long tension between the merchant class - that ‘bourgeoisie’ - and everyone else. Pre-modern societies, in every case that I know of, always kept the merchant class in their place, and that place was usually right at the bottom. Here, for example, is the social pyramid during Japan’s Edo Period:
The merchants sit right at the bottom, below the farmers and artisans, because their work, while sometimes necessary, essentially created nothing of value. This was the pattern worldwide. In medieval Europe, usury - the lending of money at interest - was a sin, as it still is in Islamic nations. Here too, the merchants, bankers and money people were hemmed in by a network of customs, religious edicts and structures like guilds and professional bodies. Money had to be kept under control, precisely because of the power it had to ignite the powerful flame of want.
I’m not especially suggesting we should all live under a Shogunate, though at least it would give us elites with some panache. But the story of the world since the eighteenth century has been the story of the setting of that flame, and the resulting fire. We are all bourgeois now: which is to say that we are all driven forward by want. Even those who see the dark side of this world will often promote it anyway, even as just a temporary expedient. In a famous essay from 1930 - an essay which is in many ways an advert for the utter failure of the modern ‘science’ of economics - the British economist John Maynard Keynes explained that it might take another century to solve ‘the economic problem’ worldwide, ensuring the end of poverty and the creation of a wealthy, leisured modern planet. When that happened, we might again become virtuous as a society:
I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue - that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.
This Utopia, however, would take a while to reach, and until it was reached, we would have to pursue ‘growth’ regardless of the short-term cost:
But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.
There is the Devil’s bargain, in black and white. It’s nearly a hundred years now since Keynes wrote those lines. How are we doing at solving his ‘economic problem’? The Great Acceleration answers that question simply enough, and the record rates of absolute poverty and inequality seal the deal. When we look around us, we can see that Keynes’s naive notion - that a society which cores itself around ‘avarice and usury’ can suddenly drop those vices when some undefined plateau of perfection is reached - is ludicrous. Once you adopt these values, they will make and remake you. The world they have built will depend upon them being pursued forever.
Four decades after Keynes made his claim, another British economist, E. F. Schumacher, skewered his assumptions in his book Small Is Beautiful. Taking issue with ‘the dominant modern belief’ that the kind of ‘universal prosperity’ narrowly defined by the likes of Keynes would lead to peace or happiness, Schumacher suggested instead that entirely the opposite was the case:
I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man.
This made the question of ‘prosperity’ a much bigger issue than the likes of Keynes had suggested:
What is at stake is not economics but culture; not the standard of living but the quality of life. Economics and the standard of living can just as well be looked after by a capitalist system, moderated by a bit of planning and redistributive taxation. But culture and, generally, the quality of life, can now only be debased by such a system.
This is a big claim. It is also, to my mind, obviously correct. Schumacher knew it, and Keynes knew it too: it’s why he so apologetically explained that we would need to live under a self-made spell for a hundred years, like some fairytale princess. We must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair. What he didn’t forsee was that we would forget we were pretending. Today we are led by want, we are drenched in it, and we are increasingly sick from its infection.
What is interesting about both Schumacher and Keynes’s approaches to the plague of want is their almost religious language: or in the case of Schumacher, a Christian inspired by Buddhist principles, their openly spiritual perspective on the problem. There is a lot of talk here of sin, of wrong and right, of fair and foul. In this, both men distinguish themselves from today’s economists, for whom talk like this is embarrasingly passé. We are all grown-ups now, and we know that living by want is not only necessary but can be justified with software modelling and leader columns in The Times.
But a value system which glorifies wealth and accumulation, which builds itself on a platform of want, which inflames and creates more of it daily through a marketing machine which colonises the human mind - this is what every spiritual tradition in history has warned against, and with good reason. Take, for example, the famous list of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Western Christian tradition: gluttony, lust, pride, wrath, greed, sloth and envy. With the possible exception of sloth, we currently live in a culture which not only sees nothing wrong with these values but actively encourages them. The pursuit of these six vices is no longer something to be confessed or repented: it is the very thing which drives our notion of Progress forward.
So this is who we are. You don’t have to be a Christian - or a Buddhist - to see where it has led us, and where it will lead next. Want is the acid. Capitalism is the battery. Growth is the engine. Greed is the forming energy that moves us to where we are inevitably headed.
What is the brake?
The answer is as hard as it is old-fashioned. I have come to see that all of the questions raised in these essays - the questions raised in my lifetime of non-fiction writing, and maybe my fiction too - could be said to come back to one word: limits. Modernity is a machine for destroying limits. The ideology of the Machine - the liberation of individual desire - sees our world as a blank slate to be written on afresh when the old limits of nature and culture are washed away. This is our faith: that breaking boundaries leads to happiness, that boundaries are barriers rather than opportunities. We strain against all limits. It is who we are.
What Schumacher knew but Marx denied - with all the terrible consequences that the twentieth century produced - was that the solution to the triumph of want, as far as there can ever be one, is not political revolution followed by a grand new social structure, but something harder and less spectacular: spiritual vigilance. The problem of want can be guided by systems and cultures, but it is, ultimately, a matter of the heart. Want will dissolve everything, if we let it, and new structures will not prevent that. Guarding the heart is the best defence against the acid.
Want is the acid, but the heart is both its provenance and its potential enemy. I often ask myself: Do I want too much? Do I grasp too hard? Do I live too heavily? The answer is always yes, and in spades. Plenty of people don’t have the luxury of asking these questions. I think this gives those of us that do all the more obligation to work them through.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. ‘It is hardly likely,’ wrote Schumacher, in the conclusion to Small Is Beautiful, ‘that twentieth-century man is called upon to discover truth that had never been discovered before.’ The dangerous results of untrammelled want have been known since the dawn of time, which is why every sane culture has discouraged it rather than making it the basis of its value system. But an ancient problem, as Schumacher’s closing paragraph emphasised, will have ancient solutions - if we choose to go looking for them:
Everywhere people ask: “What can I actually do?” The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.
"STRIKES!" (via Randy Burke)