Trump’s America: How We Got Here

Trump 4At this point in American history, the Democratic Party is a lot like a henpecked husband. Kicked out of the house, he stands on the sidewalk with his meager possessions strewn around him, wondering what just happened, and why. Meanwhile, the GOP is the spiteful wife, eagerly, viciously, turning the kids against him, telling anyone who will listen what a miserable bastard he is, and planning how to take for herself the house, the car, everything they once owned together. The point isn’t just to get all the stuff, it’s to leave him with nothing, to destroy him in every possible way.

Obviously, this didn’t happen overnight. It built up over years.

Here’s how I think we got here.

Just FYI, my observational baseline stretches back to John F. Kennedy. At a fairly early age, I was kicked awake politically by three events. The first was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the standoff over nuclear weapons that had us practicing duck and cover drills under our elementary school desks. The second was the space race with the Soviets, and the grand vision, dear to my science-fiction-loving heart, of Americans going to the moon. The third was the assassination of JFK, announced in mid-afternoon shortly before Thanksgiving break by my sixth grade teacher.

If you’re younger than me, that probably all sounds like ancient history. Dry facts stuffed away in the past that have no bearing on today. But we doddering older people experience it as MEMORY – real events that have had an effect on our lives and the lives of others.

In my memory, at least, it pretty much started with Nixon. Whatever you might think about presidential politics, in the modern era it MOSTLY proceeded with honesty and honor, with some large amount of respect for the powers, limitations and image of the office. But whatever good Nixon did, and there was a lot of it – opening relations with China, establishing the EPA, traveling the world to meet with foreign leaders – was overshadowed publicly by his actions in Watergate, where he oversaw the coverup of GOP operatives breaking into Democratic Party headquarters. Never admitting any wrongdoing, Nixon resigned rather than be impeached. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier amid allegations of bribery, tax evasion and money laundering during his term as governor of Maryland. The two of them had a hostile relationship with the news media for most of Nixon’s term, resulting in an almost paranoid presidency that placed a high value on secrecy and loyalty to Nixon, rather than to the nation.

Note I used the word “publicly” in the previous paragraph. What none of us knew until later was that Nixon started his first presidential campaign – against departing president Lyndon Johnson, and his chosen successor Hubert Humphrey – with an act of pure treason.

In late 1968, Nixon knew there was a pending breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks. Johnson would announce a halt to bombing in North Vietnam and Vietnam and the U.S. would negotiate further agreements in the cooler atmosphere of a cease-fire. That action would bolster the positive image of the Democratic team, possibly cementing a win for Humphrey.

To prevent such a result, Nixon dispatched an aide to talk to the South Vietnamese ambassador, telling him to withdraw from the peace talks until after the election, as he would get a better deal from Nixon. Note that this is not mere conjecture – there were actual tapes detailing the acts of Nixon and others. Nixon not only committed treason in order to win the White House, he deliberately prolonged the war, resulting in further deaths of American troops on the ground in Vietnam.

Nixon actually campaigned with the argument that the Johnson war policy was in shambles because they couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Once in office, he escalated the war with military intervention in Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives – quite apart from the lives of the Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese caught up in the new offensives – before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within our grasp in 1968.

Something especially enraging to me personally, Nixon also oversaw the 1970 murder of four unarmed war protestors, college students, at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. The National Guard fired 67 rounds into a crowd of unarmed Americans, killing four, wounding nine, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The dead were Jeffrey Glenn Miller; age 20; Allison B. Krause; age 19; William Knox Schroeder; age 19; and Sandra Lee Scheuer; age 20.

So:

Point One: Nixon the secretive, calculating traitor, blessed with callous disregard for human lives. A Republican.

Point Two: Another Republican President, Ronald Reagan, a man famous – and popular – for his homespun, non-intellectual approach to matters of state. Also a man who was, arguably, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

And again, Reagan did a lot of good. Pushing a massive military buildup in the U.S., he helped along the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War. But he also helped destroy unions, famously firing more than 11,000 air traffic controllers striking for better wages, better equipment and fewer stress-filled hours. He backed a constitutional amendment favoring prayer in public schools. He kicked off the War on Drugs and ignored the AIDS epidemic.

He also oversaw the criminal covert sale of arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, with the proceeds used to fund the human-rights-abusing Contra rebels fighting against the democratically elected Nicaraguan government. Funding the rebels had not only been specifically outlawed by Congress, it violated international law and breached treaties with Nicaragua. Though Reagan himself emerged squeaky clean from this arguably treasonous act, the scandal resulted in 14 indictments and 11 convictions of members of his staff.

Point Three: George W. Bush, Republican. I have described Bush privately many times as being just about bright enough to run a tire store, and watching him over his presidency, I was continuously amazed that Republicans saw him as an extremely intelligent man who never told a lie, never made a mistake, and whose worst problem as a president was that he was soundly hated by “libruls.”

This rich, privileged frat boy took more vacation time in his first year than any president in history, taking off the entire month of August, 2001, all the while U.S. intelligence agencies were trying to interest him in a report titled “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.”

Shortly after, he presided over the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history. I watched the video of him freezing into immobility in a classroom of second-graders after getting the whispered word, “America is under attack.” His empty face showed not decision and strength, but a profound inability to process what was happening.

He and his team lied America into a second war, with Iraq, on ginned-up evidence, resulting in the deaths of more than 4,000 American men and women, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced Iraqis. Also not to mention the huge price tag – estimated at a trillion dollars or more – entirely unbudgeted, of the Iraq War.

Yes, the Iraq War was backed by Congress, but it was a Congress lacking vital information – in fact, operating solely on lies supplied to them by the White House – and forced into a pro-war stance through fears of appearing weak after America was attacked. Lying us into war, the Bush administration was guilty of treason in spirit if not in letter of the law.

Hell, he played golf while we lost an American city, New Orleans, and applauded the limp-dick response – “Heckuva job, Brownie!” – that left 1,833 dead, and 30,000 people trapped in the New Orleans Superdome for five hellish days without water, food or working toilets.

One of the things I especially disliked about Bush was the empty-headed posturing, best illustrated by the “Mission Accomplished” dog and pony show on the USS Abraham Lincoln in May, 2003. Returning from combat operations in the Persian Gulf, the ship was actually held offshore so Bush could make his overly theatrical and expensive stunt of landing in a jet fighter, while a gaudy banner prepared by White House staff was hung as a backdrop to his speech.

My conservative friends, even knowing the facts of the Iraq War, and having seen clearly his administration’s failed rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina, still see him as likeable, intelligent, honest and capable. At worst, they see him as having been taken advantage of by Dick Cheney, or failed by appointees. Any argument about the facts of Bush’s presidency always seem to include “Well, but Clinton, but Obama, but Hillary!”

There has been a progression of betrayal and incompetence in Republican presidencies, probably with the disinclusion of Bush Senior, but GOP White Houses have shown a callous disregard for law, for American ideals, and for American lives, with their right-wing constituency fed a steady diet of false arguments, obfuscations, justifications and outright lies – including insanely vicious attacks on liberal rivals – to keep them firmly on the side of the Right. If you can make your opponent look like a traitor in public, you can actually BE a traitor in private, and less-educated, progressively less rational voters will still love you.

In the mere 10-year reign of Fox News and associated right-wing bum boys such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, the news media itself has come under attack, being indelibly and probably permanently branded as lying, slanted and untrustworthy. The media has responded by cozying up to the name-callers, moving inexorably rightward, swallowing and rebroadcasting party line attacks on Obama and Hillary Clinton. The result is that, in fact, the news media IS untrustworthy and slanted.

Meanwhile, in a perfect storm of diminished national attention span and a rapid-fire volley of quick-hit memes and catch-phrases on social media, transparently false accusations and half-truths gain ground over actual facts and research.

One huge mistake made on the left is the belief that the instigators of all this stuff are stupid. You’re stupid, they’re stupid, that’s stupid. When in fact, the people pushing it are brilliant at achieving their goal, which is not factuality or truthfulness, but the sparking of strong emotions – fear, hate and paranoia – among their contituents.

Point Four: Republican traitors in Congress. It’s no secret that GOP now values party loyalty over service to their country, working for Obama’s eight years to oppose EVERY SINGLE ACT of the President, no matter what his intent, no matter whether it would benefit American citizens or not. (Hell, they and their voting base are PRAISING Vladimir Putin, after proven interference in this American election!)

Enter the showman, Trump. He’s not Point Five, he’s the QED, the end result of all this.

Like the clumsy magician he was, we could SEE what he was doing, but his main audience, half of America, childlike and unhappy, ready for any distraction from the faked-up horror show which was Obama, saw only the magic. Trump dropped a drape over their already blinded eyes and pulled their emotional levers – “Make America Great Again,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Deport Muslims,” “Build a Wall,” “Bring Back the Jobs,” “Dismantle Obamacare” – and they eagerly applauded and voted.

This was not ALL the doing of the Right. I blame the Left for

1) Swallowing the lies about Hillary – Benghazi, the emails, dishonesty, Wall Street insider, the image of the vicious bitch who would stop at nothing to grab the reins of power, and who has left a trail of dead bodies in her wake.

2) Being stupidly perfectionistic, expecting miracles and settling for nothing less. And yes, if you voted for Bernie or Jill Stein, if you sat out the election in smug protest, if you were one of those who said in your whiny little voice “Well, I’d rather vote for Donald Trump than Hillary!,” this is definitely your fault. You helped it happen, and Trump is YOUR president, you ignorant little self-involved twit.

(There is a third large factor, but it’s not only something quite a bit more difficult to explain, it’s something most of us on the left would flat-out deny. Because there’s no way WE could be wrong about our basic beliefs and goals, right? Whatever, it’s not something I’m going to get into, because I’m sure few would even listen, much less agree about it.)

In the end, I don’t see any way back from this mess. We have a White House soon to be occupied by someone who probably qualifies as a textbook narcissist — literally mentally ill — of no great intelligence, we have a permanently broken trust in media, and we have a tradition of greed and treason at the uppermost levels of government with which those on the Right are wholly comfortable.

Worse, we on the Left keep foolishly HOPING that this or that will save us. Oh, the Electoral College will save us! Oh, the recounts will save us! Oh, Hillary will fight this! Oh, we can do this or that to oppose Trump! We’ll start a petition! We’ll write letters! We’ll win in the end!

Nope. We lost. And I think the roots of that loss go even deeper than I’ve covered here.

The current great hope is that Congress will impeach Trump pretty much as soon as he enters office. But again, nope. I tend to doubt that will happen.

Even if they despise him, he’s a known quantity, a man willing to make deals, to give them pretty much anything and everything they want, as long as he feels he comes out on top. Whereas simple-minded little Bush was a Humvee that could only occasionally be driven here and there by the Right, Donald Trump is a Star Trek transporter that can beam them anywhere. Lacking anything ordinary Americans might recognize as a conscience, lacking any sense of honesty or fair play or American ideals, lacking any desire even to be publicly consistent, he will go anywhere without fear or concern for long-term effects. And the media will let him.

Once they get a handle on how to flatter and appease him, he will be a right-wing dream machine of bills, Supreme Court nominees, corporate favoritism and military buildup. He will dismantle everything Obama has done, he will finally destroy the middle class, even blithely breaking the law to achieve whatever goals his flighty little head sets on. Better yet, he will look away in boredom while they party in right wing ecstasy.

So yeah, we’re screwed. Things look bleak as hell. To me, it looks like civilization itself is on the line.

The ONE hopeful thing I see coming out of this is the situation’s utter hopelessness.

I HOPE Americans will finally understand that we live in a real world, with real-world consequences for our actions, and that the choice before us is utter ruin (and I’m talking Mad Max-level nastiness) or some sort of muscley response – minus the pissy little whiners – that will get us rising up and forcing real change.

I don’t expect it. But I do hope for it.

Beta Culture: The Poison of Stories

Bracket copyI’m having this idea. Haven’t worked it out completely, but … here’s the main part.

First, let’s go back to earlier in the year and look at this post: Beta Culture: Seeing the Brackets. (Its illo is just to the right here.)

This is a sister post to that one, and to me clarifies and expands what I was really getting at back then. So:

A great deal of what we humans do in day-to-day living is creating stories to live by.

Some of them might be stories of personal identity – Faithful Believer, Obedient Daughter, Dangerous Rogue, the Funny Kid, Tough Guy, Wild Girl, Smarter Than You, Scary Biker Dude, Poor Little Mistreated Thing, Compassionate Liberal, Staunch Conservative, or so many other roles to define oneself.

Some of them are ways of viewing the world or the people around us – You’re Wrong About Everything, Barack Obama Wants to Take Our Guns, Everything Will Be Okay Because I Have Jesus, The Bilderbergers Run The World, GMOs are Totally Safe and Anybody Who Doesn’t Think So is a Hateful Luddite, All Men Are Just Waiting For Their Chance to Rape and Abuse Women.

It’s this second one, the bit about ways of viewing the world, I kinda want to talk about.

As a writer myself, I know how to write a story and make it interesting. You’ve got these conceptual elements, or this idea, and you turn it into a story. You emphasize certain parts, leave other parts out. You create a narrative, and carve out everything that doesn’t fit. You embellish it, you add tweaks, to make it interesting. Not true, but interesting. More than informing your chosen audience, your goal is to attract and hold their attention. (Ha. Suddenly FOX News comes to mind.)

You fictionalize deliberately in order to capture interest.

In entertainment-type storifying, you do it for that simple reason: to entertain. But other types of storifying have much less innocent aims.

Storifying is yet another of the things that bothers me about religion. Religion is harmful not just because it’s factually false, it’s harmful because it causes you to accept its STORY. Worse, it conditions you to accept not just its own story, but stories themselves.

And here’s the thing: If I tell you certain things and say they are facts, you may or may not accept that those things are facts. You can reject or critique those items. You might be moved to do your own research to find out if they really are facts.

But if I tell you a STORY and get you to accept it, you will thereafter reject or accept additional information ALL BY YOURSELF — depending on whether or not it fits the story. In other words, you yourself become a defender and supporter of that story and all that goes with it.

You can be presented with information which is verifiably factual, and yet reject it because it doesn’t fit the story. You can discover other information which is easily proven false, and yet accept it because it does fit the story. Once you buy into the story, nobody has to argue to convince you of additional parts of the story – you yourself will include and exclude the facts that fit or don’t fit.

You will reject things, ignore things, that fly in the face of the story. You will step totally outside real reality, which is lumpy and uncertain and chock full of facts that don’t fit, and you will cleave to the story.

Jesus wasn’t born in the middle of winter? Doesn’t matter. No way Noah could have gotten two of every species on the ark? Ain’t important. Geology proves the Earth is billions of years old? Says who?

The Bible is not just dangerous because of false facts, it’s dangerous because it turns the entire universe into this story. And such stories are seductive not just because they’re entertaining and, perhaps, internally consistent (which reality may not always appear to be), but because they’re easy to swallow and understand. And once you accept a story, you can feel like you’re there, you understand, you KNOW.

Because I write, because I’m familiar with the storifying process, I’m probably more aware of stories than the general public. But only recently have I started to understand the hazard. This is DANGEROUS, kids, because it turns you into a permanent ally of people who have a vested interest in lying to you, in manipulating you. Once you get caught by their story, you’re an unwitting team member, pretty much forever.

Because anybody can tell you a story. They may not even know they’re making up a story. And you certainly may not realize you’ve accepted it. But if you buy into it, you’re trapped. You have to accept everything presented to you that fits the story, and you have to reject everything presented to you that does not fit the story.

Is Barack Obama a secret Muslim? Oh yeah. Which means he wants to destroy America. Which means EVERYTHING he does must be inspected for its hateful real purpose.

Is Hillary Clinton a manipulative, murderous bitch? Well, of course. That decency and compassion stuff is all just an act, and the part where she looks presidential, it’s a viciously deceitful pose. Every smile and laugh, every expression of calm confidence, is a poisonous trick.

Is there a “liberal media” that’s out to get all the GOP candidates? Absolutely. Which means every question is a sly attack, meant to destroy this panel of good, honest, Christian men who would all make perfect presidents. Have they made Sarah Palin look like an utter fool? That must mean she’s an intelligent, poised statesman, a rich well of wisdom from which every American could benefit.

Is Al Gore a tool of the secret cabal that wants to enslave and disenfranchise us all? Well, sure he is. Therefore global warming has to be an utter hoax.

But also: Are all men vicious rapists, just waiting the chance to brutalize women? Yes, this is known. Therefore, any man who argues with a feminist about any issue whatsoever does it because he’s a mansplaining hater of women who supports Rape Culture and the Patriarchy.

And also: Are all cops malignant racists, and every shooting of a black man is deliberate murder? Totally. Therefore, all black men shot by cops are harmless victims who cannot possibly have done anything wrong. (And don’t you fucking dare accuse me of not knowing about real racism.)

And again also: Are all homeless people simple honest victims of a bad economy? Yep. Therefore ANY attempt by a city to keep homeless people from congregating in city parks, or sleeping in apartment entryways is a hateful attack on the innocent.

Speaking of my own experience, I’ve had countless run-ins with people who are so caught up in the story of GMOs that they’re willing to say that nobody should be allowed to even know if a food contains genetically modified ingredients, that consumers MUST NOT be given the choice, because otherwise children elsewhere in the world will starve and go blind. And these are people who consider themselves staunch advocates of science and reason. Yes, I know there’s more to the subject. But this STORY keeps them from being able to admit there are rational views on the subject that might simultaneously be critical of GMOs, or pro-labeling, and yet not be coming from hateful screaming-insane luddites.

Every movement that storifies is guilty of trafficking in the same sort of dangerous socio-cultural acts as religion. Hell, we probably learned it from religion.

I know there’s a great deal more that could be said here. I sense that there’s a major field of study that someone smarter than me has already discovered and examined at length. But the idea that stories can be dangerous is new to me. And because of that, damned scary.

Because the real world is not a story. It isn’t even a collection of stories. It’s facts. Real-world phenomena. Data. All mixed up in a confusing, ultra-complex mess that can be bewilderingly deep, scarily unpredictable.

Surfing reality’s swirling patterns is a job for a rational being, not a consumer of stories. For every story you buy into, you become that much less capable of understanding the world around you, that much less able to be a free and independent thinker.

For every story you reject, you become that much more able to see the array of facts hidden behind them, that much more able to reach trustworthy, accurate conclusions about how things really work.

I would want this to be one of the most basic teachings of Beta Culture – that stories exist, that they’re dangerous, and that you have to constantly work to recognize and steer clear of them in order to be a rational being.

Earth Day 2015: Thoughts Like Falling Leaves

[This is a repost of a piece I did several years ago, slightly edited for 2015. This essay is also part of the conceptual force driving my thoughts on the need for Beta Culture.]

Leaf One

Con games and sleight-of-hand magic work because, one, we humans only have so much attention to spare at any one moment, and two, they direct that attention deliberately in one direction. If you look at where the finger points, you miss … well, everything else.

Like the movie teen backing through a darkened doorway in the serial killer’s lair, we focus intently on one thing while something more important takes place just outside the sphere of our focus.

I’ll give you a real-life example that has bugged me for a long time.

I met Timothy Treadwell some years back in Flagstaff, when he came to give a talk about grizzlies. Tim’s the guy who got killed and partially eaten by a bear in 2003 in Alaska, and was immortalized in the 2005 film “Grizzly Man” a “documentary” by filmmaker Werner Herzog.

I hated the film (and I think Herzog is a pandering jackass for making it as he did) because it projected exactly two messages into the minds of viewers: 1) Tim Treadwell was crazy. 2) Grizzlies are deadly killers.

The finger pointed in those directions, and most of the viewers looked that way. Treadwell was in fact killed by a grizzly. But off-screen, what the finger didn’t point at, and what most of us failed to notice, was that he lived within spitting distance of these huge bears for 12 summers.

Unprotected.

Unarmed.

Unhurt.

Out of all the things we might want to know about grizzlies, we already know “Any sane person knows them goldurned bears’ll kill yuh!” What we don’t know is “There’s a way to live right in among grizzlies for 12 years without getting hurt.”

I can tell you in one second which of those things I’d like to see in a film, which of those things I’d like to KNOW. Herzog, sleight-of-hand documentarian, wasn’t interested in it. Today we have one more titillating, somewhat stupid film pointing a finger at something we already “know,” and most of us still view bears as unpredictable, inevitable killing machines.

So here we are on Earth Day 2015, equally awash in sleight-of-hand: Oh my gosh, are we ever jumping on the “green” bandwagon. You can’t watch TV for half an hour without seeing five commercials about companies going green. Corporations are going green, politicians are going green, builders are going green, banks are going green, cities are going green, for all I know states are going green. Green green GREEN — Yowzah!!

TV, billboards, radio messages, magazine ads, newspaper stories, websites — everywhere you look, clean, well-fed mommies and daddies and happy children are pitching in to cut water consumption! Save energy! Produce less trash! Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Man, I already feel better about it, don’t you? We’re DOING SOMETHING, at last, to Save the Earth. Let’s all heave a deep sigh of relief. Yessssss.

Meanwhile, in all those places where the finger doesn’t point …

Leaf Two

Was it just a dozen years or so ago I was writing an article about Baby Six Billion? She was born on or about October 11, 1999. I wrote about the world of progressive scarcity she would be born into, and I wished her well.

But we’re already living in the world with Baby Seven Billion, who arrived on Earth — as estimated, anyway — on October 31, 2011.

Halloween was the SECOND scariest event on that date. Even though you’d expect Baby Seven Billion to be a daughter or granddaughter of Baby Six Billion, she’s not. (Unless Baby Six Billion got pregnant at the age of 12, that is.)

Instead, Baby Seven Billion was born, give or take a few years, to the same generation that produced Baby Six Billion. The SAME generation.

Jeezus holy jacked-up shit.

Knowing that, I have to ask: What exactly is the point of going green?

I mean, if you and I conserve and recycle and stop eating endangered fish and refuse to support companies that log the Amazon, and do everything we can possibly do to keep the Earth green and growing …

And we each of us cut in half our annual environmental footprint on the Earth …

Where’s the net gain if, during that same period, our neighbors produce more than 205,000 more kids EVERY DAY?

That’s 75 million a year, in case you wondered — roughly equal to the combined populations of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah,Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Or more than the individual populations of Turkey, Thailand, France, United Kingdom, Italy or South Africa.

Or, if you prefer, more than twice the population of Canada. Each and every YEAR.

Oh, and by the way, prepare to greet Baby Eight Billion in NINE YEARS.

Your piddly-ass half-person conservation effort vanishes in the noise.

Leaf Three

I saw a beautifully designed book on the environment a few years back, a thick, well-researched tome about all the possible things you can do to Save the Earth. (Wish I could remember the name, but I seem to have put it out of my mind.) I was so excited, I ordered it immediately. And man, when it came, I unwrapped it lovingly, admiring its heft, its colors, its stunning cardboard slip cover. I dove into it with excitement — it was like a whole weighty library of greenitude.

But I made the mistake, within an hour of getting it, of delving into the index for articles on population control.

Nothing.

Huh? I couldn’t believe it. I tried different words, different combinations. In the end, I discovered the entire book seemed to contain only two PHRASES related to the subject. I mean, there weren’t three whole sentences about it. Amid stories of fish farming and water conservation and energy from wind and sun and recycling plastic and improved strains of rice, there was virtually nothing about human numbers.

It was like going through a million-word book of instructions on how to save a sinking ship, reading a thousand different formulations of “Bail faster and better,” but finding no mention at all of “Hey, stupid, plug the fucking hole in the hull!”

I instantly lost interest in the damned thing. I mailed it to a friend who’s into green stuff, and have since then entertained several brief imaginings of punching the authors in the face if I ever get to meet them.

But … can I really blame them? I haven’t had the chance to read every book ever written on saving the earth, but I’ve found few recent ones that deal with population as the real core of the problem.

Is the subject taboo? Is it simple despair that puts it off-limits?

Maybe it’s the inevitable over-reaction. The instant you start talking about encouraging people to use condoms and contraceptives, to pursue various avenues of family planning, etc., to limit human population, the shriekers slam down on you like a rain of neutron bombs — blam, blam blam! “You want to murder babies!! You want to commit genocide!! Oh my God, why do you hate human beings so much!!?”

Whew.

Leaf Four

I had a cowboy friend, Tom Wood, who was an eternal optimist. I noticed the day I met him that he had this small purpley bump on the side of his face, and I asked him about it not long after, when we’d had a chance to get to know each other.

“Ah. That ain’t nothing.” Big smile, dismissive gesture with can of beer. “Been there for years! You gotta go sometime!”

Two years later, the purpley bump was bigger, but the gesture and optimistic dismissal was the same. Every time the subject came up: “Hey, you gotta go sometime!”

Except for the day he found out he had malignant melanoma, and the three or four months he lasted after.

Turns out optimism, like anything, is misusable. If you have a problem, but you refuse to grapple with it because you’d rather be optimistic and hopeful about the future … well, there are side effects.

To get well, you first have to admit you’re sick. To climb out of a financial hole, you first have to admit you’re not handling your money well. To stanch the bleeding of a gaping wound, you first have to notice the gushing blood.

Sometimes, for a while, optimism has to slide over into the passenger seat, keep its smirking mouth shut, and let pessimism take the wheel.

In the midst of an emergency, in the face of a deadly threat, you have to think more about the worst that can happen, rather than the best.

The population of Planet Earth has yet to realize this.

Leaf Five

I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t use the word “retarded.” And I get the point — it can be an insult to people with mental handicaps.

But like the shock value of carefully-applied profanity, it can also serve to slap people awake.

Here’s retarded: The smug idiot who laughs “Hey, we can’t hurt the Earth! Ha-ha! It’ll be here and fine long after we’re gone!”

Here’s retarded: “Even IF we were capable of wrecking the environment, God could fix it with a wave of his hand.”

Here’s retarded: Buying into all those corporate messages that if we recycle and reuse (with their corporate help, of course), everything will be just fine.

Here’s retarded: Every environmentalist and green advocate who ever lived who failed to recognize that the foundation of EVERY environmental problem is too many people.

Here’s retarded: The guy who repeats the vague reassurance that “Educated women tend to have fewer children. All we have to do is raise the level of education and social welfare in the world, and world population will level off at some sustainable level.”

Problem is, we’re out of time on hopeful reassurances. The planet is already over the load limit on humans — there’s nothing left, no excess capacity to hold us until that optimistically hoped-for population leveling begins to kick in.

If ever there was a moment to be pessimistic, to attempt to be thoughtful and worried and to imagine the worst, this would be that moment.

We’re killing the Earth NOW.

Leaf Six

I don’t see it getting better in my lifetime.

Don’t think I don’t hate to say it.

I hate to even think it. Hey, I’ve been a fan of science fiction since I was about 11 years old and first read Zip-Zip Goes to Venus.

As an SF fan, I’m a devoted futurist. For years I thought about the possibility of cloning my dog, the Best Dog I Ever Even Met, but I held off on doing anything about it. Then one day he got sick, and it hit me that I could either 1) read about all the possible technological innovations but do nothing to make ready for them, or 2) I could live and act as if these imagined futures would be real.

I picked the second option. The future is a real place, a real time, and many things will become possible. I set the wheels in motion for collecting tissue samples when Tito died. Today those samples are frozen in liquid nitrogen, providing me a doorway into one of those possible futures. When (if) cloning gets to be reliable and cheap, I’ll be ready to have them build a puppy for me, the latter-day twin of the Best Dog I Ever Even Met.

But futurist or not, no matter how much technological progress we make — on gene-engineered crops, fish farming, pollution-free energy — none of that can fix the hole in the boat, the hole of more and more people, more and more mouths, arriving daily like unstoppable civilization-smashing dreadnoughts of unthinking hunger.

Leaf Seven

The truth is — brace yourself for some carefully-applied profanity —

We’re fucked.

Seriously. We’re raping ourselves to death with our own appetites. We are bent over, grabbing our metaphorical ankles, while a dick the size of Montgomery, Alabama — population 205,764 — rams repeatedly, daily, up our collective butts.

And it looks like we don’t have the brains to stop it.

For instance: Even the idea of conservation has enemies. And not quiet enemies, but active, loud, wealthy enemies. Enemies with TV and radio shows. Enemies with audiences of admiring millions. Enemies with the backing of huge, globe-spanning churches. Save the environment? Do something about global warming? It’s un-American, it’s crazy, it’s EVILLLL!!

But even those who aren’t active enemies of possible solutions are still thinking we can do pretty much all the same stuff we’ve always done. Everybody can drive cars and live in big houses, and buy everything we buy wrapped in a disposable plastic sheath, and have two or three or four kids. As long as we all pitch in and conscientiously — voluntarily! — conserve, everything will be fine.

Even those of us who are active champions of the environment, as long as we fail to bring the subject of human population into every single discussion, are little more than enablers, co-dependents who help wreck things by failing to admit the real problem.

Taken together, we’re the battered wife who won’t admit she needs help. “I know he loves me. He only does it when he’s drinking.” Wham! “It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t provoke him.” Wham! “He doesn’t really mean to do it. I just can’t leave him.” Wham! Wham!

Out here in the real world, we’re already dying. We’re already killing everything else we care about. It’s just that it’s been happening in slo-mo.

Like the stupid pigeon that stands still while the cat sneaks up on him in broad daylight — “Yeah it DOES look like a great big predator, but hey, it’s barely moving, and nothing bad’s happened SO far, right?” — we’ve sat mired in calm complacency in the midst of a slow motion crash.

But things are speeding up.

The Earth is bleeding to death under us, faster and faster, and the best we’ve managed so far is a string of very small Band-Aids.

When the real way to stop the blood loss, the only workable treatment, is the tourniquet of Everybody Stop Having Children. For a while, anyway.

Leaf Eight

Nothing I’ve said here is meant to imply that I have absolutely no hope. Even the statement “we’re fucked” is not something I feel in any final way.

But I’m not optimistic. The only hope I DO see is if we admit the problem, the real problem, and deal with that. Plug the hole in the hull first.

Stop human population growth. Now. Reverse it. Get our numbers down to four billion, two billion, whatever number really IS sustainable in the real world.

Because this is it, kids. The photo finish where humanity as a group crosses the line a split-second ahead of Mr. Death and lives as the better selves we could be, the ones who become rational adults and enter the next Age of life on earth.

Or the photo finish where Mr. Death beats us across, and stands mocking as we murder each other attempting to claw our individual selves out of the sucking pit of our own sewage and malignant runaway growth … and kill everything else we care about — all the whales and wolves, the polar bears and eagles, and even the cats and dogs and horses — along the way.

There is a possible future, maybe even a probable future, where quite a lot of us will live to see the squalid, dehumanizing background-world of Blade Runner, or Mad Max, or Idiocracy, as the depiction of an enviable Golden Age.

(Just FYI, all you uber-rich people thinking you might survive inside some kind of walled compound, I’d bet real money that the zombie hordes will be eating you FIRST. After all, you’re the fat, juicy ones. Besides, do you really want to live in a world without toilet paper? Without coffee? Without chocolate? )

You, or your kids if you have any, will face this fact: A decidedly unpretty future of death, death and more death is coming soon to a planet near you.

Leaf Nine

And now — deep sigh — cue the shriekers. I obviously want to murder babies, and commit genocide on poor people, right? I’m crazy, I have no proof for my silly dark fantasies and I should probably just shut up — Why do you hate people so much, Mr. Gloomy? — and try not to kill other people’s optimism.

Anyway, things aren’t really that bad, and Science Will Find A Way. Like, you know, mining asteroids and colonizing the Moon, sending our surplus population into space. Stuff like that.

Besides, somewhere out there somebody smarter and better informed than you and I has the problem in hand and will fix things up.

After all, those wise strangers, wherever they are, whoever they are — you know, like government people and corporations and such — care SO MUCH about you and I and our families, right?

Right?

Right.

Rumination on Death, and Love, and Life

Cowboy DadThree years and a bit later, I don’t dwell on the death of my Cowboy Dad all the time. When I do dwell on him, I can have these surges of sorrow, missing him with painful intensity. But it’s not all the time now.

The loss of him is kind of fading into the background of my daily life. He’s passing into a sort of history in my mind. And I hate that. But I’m sort of okay with it too.

I’ve said many times: “When you lose someone you truly love, it should break you forever.” That’s the fitting tribute for the loss of a loved one, and nothing less will serve to honor them. But if you’re going through this right now, the terrible truth, and the wonderful truth, is that you’re going to get through it. You’re eventually going to be okay. You’ll go about your day and you’ll have happiness and you’ll smile and laugh. It’s probably going to take a couple of years.

The fact that they pass into the history of our memories is an ugly thing. But it’s also a good thing. You want to honor them by being broken, but if you honor THEIR love for YOU, you’ll understand that it’s okay to go on and live your life. Because that’s what people want for each other.

What do you want for the people in your life? There are people for whom I would step in front of a car and push them to safety, or step in front of a bullet, and say “Save yourself! Run!” And I wouldn’t regret it. It wouldn’t bother me at all to give up my life for someone I love.

The thing is, the people you love and who love you back, they feel the same way. It’s okay to go on and live, and be happy, and even, someday, to find other people to love. Because that’s what THEY would want for you.

Remember that.

Beta Culture: Being Grownups on Planet Earth

Cowboy DadFor most of the years I knew him, I unconsciously thought of my Cowboy Dad as “the grownup” in my life. Since he died, I’ve realized there were several side-effects of thinking that. One is that I cheated him out of all the years of ME being a grownup, so that we could be … well, friendly equals, fellow MEN together. The other is that I cheated myself out of all those years of me being a grownup. All the endeavors and relationships in my life were approached in some degree of a childish/childlike manner.

None of this was conscious, or by decision. It was something that simply appeared in my attitudes and behavior. If I had stated it in words, it would’ve come out to something like “It’s safe for me to be childish. I can be irresponsible. I can drift, I can put off critical decisions. I can party, I can laze around and not think about my present situation, or my future. If I screw up, he will rescue me. I can safely not worry too much about the people around me, or the larger world, because the Old Man is handling all that.”

I think a lot about religion and the effects it has on people and cultures, and I think my experience of “relating to the grownup as a child” is directly applicable to the experience of people in religion. I doubt we can imagine how much we’ve lost, how much Planet Earth has lost, by us feeling free to not be conscious adults.

In my case, I can’t place the entire blame on myself. I came into our relationship fairly  broken, and I needed the comfort and guidance, the there-for-you-ness, a real parent could provide. But that doesn’t mean the results were any less real, any less damaging.

In the case of we humans, I suppose I can’t place the entire blame there, either. As a species, we grew up without parents or wise guidance of any sort. We stumbled along figuring out things as we went, repeatedly falling back into mistakes and breaking ourselves and the world around us.

But the cost has been incalculable, and it’s something we – and our planet – can’t afford anymore.

A month or so after my Dad died, I woke up one day to the realization “Oh gosh, I have to be a grownup now.” It was a little bit scary, but mostly it was … strength. Determination. A little bit of steel injected into my being with the understanding that I could handle whatever happened, because that’s what grownups do. I understood that I had to relate to my own life and the world around me in an entirely new, entirely responsible way. And I was truly okay with that.

For any individual recovering from religion, I have to believe you have that same epiphany. After your god “dies,” you realize you have to be an adult. You have to deal with the reality of your own life, and the lives of those close to you, and even larger matters out in the world around you. But you also understand that you CAN. You — along with others like you — take each situation into your hands and change it for the better. Or you accept the fact of a bad situation and deal realistically with its cost. Because that’s what grownups do.

As an entire civilization, we’re nowhere near the point of waking up as grownups. Our world full of contentedly religious, drunkenly mystical, calmly unconcerned juveniles is this hapless, directionless child, fumbling around and breaking things, breaking each other and the world we live in, and thinking it’s all okay, because our Parent is dealing with all the hard stuff and picking up the clutter of each destructive act.

I think even most atheists inherit this mindset, and fail to notice they have it. We grow up in the culture that thinks this way, and it’s so deeply embedded we never get around to seeing it, or peeling it out of our own heads.

To all those soft-serve atheists who think we should just live and let live, that atheism will grow or not as events develop, and that meanwhile it’s all good …

I think you have no idea how deadly dangerous is the situation we live within. No idea how damaging it is to let people continue to believe in gods, and stay children. No idea what we’ve DONE, and continue to do, and will soon do.

It’s why I’m not just an atheist, but an anti-theist.

In the same way you have to cure disease in order to be well, we have to cure ourselves of religion, of the childishness of our race, in order to be grownups. In order to live and be well on Planet Earth, in order that the lot of us can wake up and see that we have to be adults now — in order to SURVIVE — our gods have to die.

We have to kill them.

A Short, Short Post on the Idea of Souls

soulsI kinda wonder how broadly the idea of ensoulment affects what we consider is acceptable to think and do. For instance, it occurs to me that war and the death penalty are easier to contemplate in a social matrix of soul-belief. Sure you’re killing people’s BODIES, but you’re not affecting their real selves.

Likewise I wonder if our rather casual approach to drug use is somehow a result of that same idea. If you think your brain is YOU, that any change or damage to it is a direct assault on your most intimate Self, it seems to me you’d be especially careful about consuming things that impact it. But if you think the REAL you is this disembodied soul-thingie, and that anything you do to “my body” or “my brain” is just another experience, you might be a lot more accepting of the idea of consuming or doing something that might dramatically alter those … mere material possessions.

Every day in my work with addicts (I’m not a counselor, just a driver), I hear clients talking about taking heroin or other drugs purchased from street dealers, and I have a hard time imagining opening up the top of my head and allowing some unwashed street hustler to diddle with the contents inside. But that’s exactly what they’re doing. Years back, I read about some kids who accepted designer-drug capsules at a party, and wound up with instant, permanent Parkinson’s disease.

Gah. Mega-creepy. Why would you even CONSIDER such a thing? Well, you might consider it if you and everyone around you had been lied to for a thousand generations, and your entire culture and society was based on the idea that we’re not really real, and that the real Self is this hovering gaseous thingie that somehow exists outside our mere bodies, safely distant from any effect of physics or chemistry.

I’ve thought a lot about ensoulment over the past several years, and it seems to me that this one idea is more pervasive, and more deeply affecting to us — from the individual level to the level of our entire civilization — than we’re able to realize.

One of the many things that worries me about present-day atheism is that those of us who free ourselves from our home religions tend to think we’re THERE, that gaining our little bit of personal perspective is the whole job. Hey, we’re free! Victory!

But the real job is this vastly more complex thing — remaking civilization itself. Reimagining and reforming a world full of lifeways that grew (and continue to grow) from the soil of  millennia-old religious conceptualization. The idea of souls may be the most basic and pervasive of the religious poisons. We have breathed it in as a species — incorporating it into our thought, our language, our customs, our daily lives, the gross structure of our societies and every little thing within them — so that we have little or no idea of how to live without it.

Our individual atheism is the first tiny step. It seems to me that a thousand-year journey stretches out before us.

I don’t know whether I feel good about being one of the pioneers, back here in the Dark Ages, or deep despair that I’ll never get to live in the sane world that might someday be.

But the idea that there’s this larger work before us, the necessary something-greater that has to follow individual atheism, is what drives me to think about Beta Culture as a next step along the path.

Beta Culture: ‘Yeah, We’re Fucked.’ Now What?

Big Boy 1I’ll tell you about one of my sort-of-hidden motivations behind my thoughts about the necessity of Beta Culture.

I’ve told this anecdote at least once here, but I’ll repeat it: I was in New York City a few years back, specifically to meet PZ Myers at a Seed Magazine event, and I got to meet a climatologist at the same time. Drink in hand, and jokingly, one of the first things I said was “Tell me the truth. Are we fucked?” Dead seriously, he replied “Yeah. We’re fucked.”

Some years before that, I had this revelation about how to think about the future. The thing was, I could SEE certain things that were going to happen, but I lived my life on automatic, as if only NOW was the important bit. The revelation was that I should live as if that future, the stuff coming down the pipeline as sure as graduation looms for a hard-partying high school senior, was a real thing.

No, I’m not saying any of us, including me, can predict the future.  But we can look at the trends around us, and follow them out to some fairly-certain end point. The problem we have is that when that fairly-certain end point looks bad, we flip over into an instant optimism that roadblocks us from following through to preparative action. For instance:

1. No, the oil can never run out!
2. Okay, maybe it will run out, but it will take a long, long time.
3. Sure, the oil’s gonna run out, but hey, somebody will invent something!

The end of petroleum as a viable widespread energy source? Yep, gonna happen. Already happening. But SOLAR, right? Sure, except for all the things petroleum is used for that has nothing to do with energy. Plastics, for instance. Asphalt for roads – a shitload of roads, roads that have to be repaired and repaved constantly.

But we’ll find workarounds, rights? Yes, probably, but they’ll cost more, in energy, in funding, in the direct drain on your own personal wallet. Everything about life will be a little bit – or a lot – harder.

The cool thing about oil is that it has been so cheap.  The other cool thing — which flips over into being a huge disadvantage if there’s no oil to feed into it — is that we have a massive civilization-wide infrastructure built with petroleum (and coal, the other fossil fuel) in mind.

The point is, have any of us ever considered the one more option?

4. The oil is running out. It really will run out. There’s nothing that can take its place, so things are going to get really, really bad.

That instantly offends something in you, doesn’t it? Why would anybody say such a negative thing? And why bother to think about it? Because Intelligence! Because Inventiveness! Because the Soaring Unbeatable Human Spirit! Because the Good Old American Can-Do Attitude! Right?

Switching back from talking about oil and onto the more general subject of civilization-wide problems: What do we do if the solutions don’t work, or actually make things worse? What do we do if we wait until the last minute to try to solve the problem, so that panic is the most widespread reactions?

Here’s David Suzuki talking about that INEVITABLE last minute:

We optimism-addicts refuse to really grapple with Suzuki’s idea. Instead, we gaze out at the world and think only about all the technological wonders in store.

But how about this? NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It’s Not Looking Good for Us.

According to a new study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, we only have a few decades left before everything we know and hold dear collapses.

Or this?  Superbugs Could Kill 10 Million Each Year By 2050.

Back in 2000, I had this idea for a book, The Next 30 Years, and half of it was going to be about coming technological and social goodies, the positive progress that might be made. The other half was going to be about certain challenges to be faced, the not-so-good stuff that, extrapolating from ongoing trends, was very likely going to happen. Some part of it would be about, well … not the End Of The World, but a definite crash that would pretty much wreck civilization.

I didn’t write it. One reason was time and energy, but another was that I couldn’t bear to think about certain bits I’d be writing about. Book or no book, though, nothing I was thinking about back then has changed except we’re coming up on halfway through that 30 year period.

So. What’s my solution?

I don’t have one. Or rather, I think there isn’t one. I think we’re fucked, seriously. Civilization is due to suffer catastrophic failure, in 15 years or less, by my guesstimate. I actually think I’ve seen signs of it since the 1970s, which means it’s already in progress, and the “catastrophe” is only the phase at which it will become undeniable to everybody. Given the already-obvious limits to resources, which will sharply worsen when the panic hits, most of us — most of the people you know — won’t survive.

But I do have this idea that there’s a certain number of sane, rational people who might be convinced to work together to get through it and create a saner civilization on the other side of it.

It’s a completely bombastic idea, I admit. But … why not? And who else is doing anything that will include US?

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 8 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

 

This is the Truth:

In my hunting days, I was headwaiter at a seafood restaurant in a little resort town in the California’s Eastern Sierra mountains. Hunting season had opened several days before, but I’d had to work every day. This was my last evening shift before I had a couple of days off, and I was ready to go.

I had my new Ruger .30-06 rifle with a 7-power scope. I had my pack and my sleeping bag and two days worth of camp food. And I had an intimate knowledge of miles and miles of backcountry trails that would lead me into good hunting country, far away from the lazy, clumsy road-hunters who swarmed the hills every fall.

I had to work until 9 p.m., but the almost-full moon was coming up soon after, and I thought I could get in a good couple of hours hiking under its light. The high-country moon is brilliant enough to read by when full, and it would light the mountain trails to near-daylight certainty.

I hiked in the starlit dark for half an hour, then welcomed the moon like a sunrise on the rocky trails. I trekked on for another hour, then started thinking about pitching camp for the few hours before dawn.

And found myself reluctant to stop. Thinking about it blithely in the previous days, I saw no problem with the plan. But now that I was faced with it, I realized that I had never actually camped out by myself in the wilderness. And I was … afraid.

I traveled onward in the light of the still-rising moon. Another hour passed and it was well past midnight before I convinced myself to at least stop and think about it.

I took off my pack and began laying out my camp with slow, overly careful precision. My movements were mechanical, my body running itself while my mind, weighted with the fear, flowed like glaciers. All my attention was routed through my ears, listening for the slightest suspicious noise. Though I was ravenously hungry, I didn’t want to use my little butane stove, because to do that would mean making a light, which would make me vulnerable by diminishing my night-sight. I rolled out my sleeping bag and lay down in it like a death-row inmate sitting in that last chair, hearing each tooth click as I slooooowly raised the zipper.

I lay like a statue for another hour, while the moon moved across the sky and finally buried its light in the trees overhead. Finally my own body rejected the fear: tiredness overcame frozen panic and I finally asked myself, “What the heck am I afraid of?”

I listed them. Black bears. Mountain lions. Coyotes. Um … well, what else was there?

Not a damned thing.

I stood outside myself and imagined what a bear or mountain lion might think if it came upon me: I was a human being lying suspiciously just off the trail, breathing easily and wrapped in a miasma of strange smells, gun oil and cordite and the stench of human sweat.

Even from my own viewpoint, I looked dangerous. With a loaded, high-powered rifle ready to hand, I was like some comic book villain with Death Vision: Down the barrel of that gun, I could kill anything I could look at.

I suddenly realized that I was the most dangerous animal within five miles, and after 30,000 years or so of living on this continent with Man, everything with a brain bigger than a walnut would damned well know it.

I relaxed in minutes and, cozied down in my sleeping bag, drifted off and slept restfully and well until dawn.

— End —

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

 

© Hank Fox, 2011 and earlier.  No part of this document may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without explicit written permission of the author.

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 7 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

 

Stomping Kittens

In America there is a safety-conscious social force backed up by the power of law – and constantly reinforced by frequent and large lawsuits – that decrees that every tiniest hint of danger must be stamped out of every activity. People must be taken care of.

Even in the midst of our riskiest pastimes, we do everything possible – which is always considerable – to eliminate the risk. The requirement for wearing floatation vests and helmets on river rafting trips is a good example.

Yet we love the feeling of exertion, and hazard. It makes us feel more alive. It may even be necessary to our mental health. We so enjoy the excitement of risk that we reduce ourselves to arguing about whether we should allow ourselves to be coerced into wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, or whether we should be required to wear a seatbelt while driving, or whether we should be forced to put safety locks on the triggers of our guns.

Generally speaking, our lives are so safe (except from other humans) that we have to travel great distances, pay considerable amounts of money, and work very hard to contrive situations that enable us to experience a little real risk. Contending against the ongoing and all-pervasive campaign to make our lives safer and duller, we have to invent ways to experience excitement.

We entertain ourselves with the illusions of risk: We sit through adventurous movies. We ride roller coasters. We pay to enjoy indoor climbing walls.

And we make up scary stories for ourselves and our children, stories of monsters with fearsome teeth and claws, Face Eaters coming at us out of the night. We plaster befanged predators on the fronts of our magazines, and disseminate “true” tales of the menace from the wildlands.

Yet far, far distant from the world created on hunting magazine covers and supermarket tabloids is a place called Reality. In Reality, every bit of wildlife on “our” planet is susceptible to human will. To our anger. To our greed. Even to our carelessness.

And especially to our ignorant fears.

Wild animals are like nothing so much as a litter of newborn kittens left lying in the path of booted millions of marching humans. We can and do tread on them, and their only safety lies in their feeble, ignorant scramble to evade our crushing, world-spanning feet.

The Grizzly’s Gamble

Somewhere out there is a grizzly – any grizzly, every grizzly – who knows nothing about any of this. He has no idea the entire rest of his world is occupied by an incredibly dangerous, barely-in-control (out-of-control?) predator: Man.

The grizzly has his teeth and claws, his own muscle power, a sharply limited intelligence, and no possibility at all of adapting to a changing world. His whole existence is part of a game too vast for him to imagine.

Human beings, on the other hand, have the ultimate hole card – the fact that we are the most incredibly, overpoweringly deadly animal ever to live on this planet.

Drop a human down in grizzly country and see how long he lives. In fact, the experiment happens thousands of times every summer, and with extremely rare exceptions, the man remains healthy for the length of his stay.

Drop a grizzly into the middle of a human habitat, a city, and see how long he lives. The answer would be a matter of hours at most. Which is the more dangerous?

To put a finer point on it:

Humans are so dangerous, we’ll kill predators for decades after a predator attacks just one of us (even a perfect stranger), and we’re so bright we can remember a grudge for generations.

We’re so dangerous, we organize and deputize our killing; we hire people to kill millions upon millions of captive, helpless prey animals – each year.

We’re so dangerous, we have gadgets — traps, snares, landmines — which will kill at random, and without even having a human present, for months or years after being set in action.

We’re so dangerous we produce chemicals which will kill any creature they touch. We produce substances that will deform, cripple or kill anything and everything for decades after we last used them.

We’re so dangerous, we and our children kill – for fun – creatures such as songbirds and ground squirrels which are not only harmless, but absolutely useless for food, fur or anything else.

We’re so dangerous that even our well-fed pets kill – for fun – birds and small mammals in the millions every year.

We’re so dangerous that we in turn kill those pets, in untold numbers, simply because we become bored with them.

We’re so dangerous, we kill by accident, just as a side-effect of traveling on our highways, uncountable millions of animals each year, in this country alone.

We’re so dangerous that merely building homes and growing the food needed for our burgeoning billions results in the deaths of unreckonable numbers of other creatures, as we thoughtlessly consume the habitat they need to survive.

We’re so dangerous that a single juvenile human can torch a thousand square miles of wildlife habitat in one weekend – simply by dropping a lit match.

We’re so dangerous we kill, by accident, even our most beloved family members and acquaintances: our children, wives, husbands, lovers, friends and neighbors – to the tune of thousands each year – in household, auto, playground, school sports, recreation, fire and shooting accidents.

We’re so dangerous, we kill, deliberately, members of our own species in the thousands each year – in the commission of crimes, in law enforcement activity, in military actions, in deliberate murders.

We’re so dangerous, we have the power, via nuclear weapons, to wipe out most life on the planet in a single afternoon.

No animal or collection of animals on earth could ever even conceive of the ability to do this. No other creature on Earth could be so unconsciously, unintentionally destructive. Even with full, constant, murderous intent – virtually nonexistent even among predators – no animal could ever hope to equal the dangerous potential of the world-sized monolith which is Man.

The grizzly is in a game which he cannot hope to win, a game which he doesn’t even know he’s in. He can never even comprehend the stakes: that his entire species — and thousands, perhaps millions, of others — is on the line.

What chance does the grizzly have against human beings?

Out of billions of chances for death, out of near certain extinction, he has this one chance for life: that human beings will choose not to bet against him.

— CONTINUED —

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 6 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

 

Technological Man

Guns. Fire. Helicopters. Radios. Infrared sights. Light-amplifying night scopes. Binoculars. Poisons. Traps. Electrified fences. Bulldozers. Chainsaws. Fishing nets. Maps.

We humans live in a society where we can draw on the accomplishments and assets not only of our own families, not only of our own acquaintances, but the intellectual fruits of literal geniuses for the last ten thousand years.

Call it the realm of Man-to-the-X-power, where human advantages rise into the exponential, to be multiplied together an unknown number of times.

The question becomes, not “what advantages do we have?” but “what advantages do we NOT have?”

An animal has its own fur, teeth and claws, and only what it can pick up by direct experience. It is 100% naked and defenseless except for what it was born with, and what little it can learn with its tiny, disadvantaged brain.

Through technology, we humans have senses that no animal ever had: comic-booky-but-real senses such as X-ray vision, microscopic and telescopic vision. We have even wilder abilities, such as the ability to hear or see radio waves, connecting to remote eyes and ears that work in the air, on and under the sea, even from space.

On a more everyday level, we can go out in the wilds for a weekend (instead of being permanent residents), and enjoy the advantages of warm, waterproof fabrics; lightweight, everlasting camp food; warm, dry comfortable places to sleep; shoes and gloves to protect our hands and feet; magnifying and spotting scopes; projectile weapons that are simple and lightweight but extraordinarily deadly; vehicles to travel faster than any land animal can run (and also far enough that we can hunt animals thousands of miles from our home range); fire for cooking or lighting or warming; flashlights and lanterns to free us from the confines of daylight; knives with razor edges, sharper than any tooth or claw – and all of it made for us and all of it obtainable with money earned from the tiniest fraction of our daily labor.

A worthless corporate lawyer – someone who cannot even butter a piece of toast on his own – can pay a few hours’ pocket change from his parasitic profession to outfit him instantly with rifle, camp gear and guides. He can depart his Washington, D.C. office on Friday afternoon and be out killing African lions on Saturday.

What chance does our card-playing grizzly have now? Lend him human intelligence for a moment and he might sit wide-eyed with his pair of twos, beginning to realize the terrifying, one-sided truth of his situation. Across from him sits not a single opponent, but an opponent backed up by a host of other men – not just ordinary simpletons like you and I, but brilliant men, geniuses, the best and the brightest and the most accomplished, tens of thousands of  years of inventors and discoverers and creators and captains of manufactury – each standing ready with a technological ace, until our human card player’s hand would overrun with them.

Hyperlinked Man

Like a hypertext document which allows you to click on a link and get a pop-up layer of additional information and meaning, individual humans are connected by hyperlinks to practically the whole of western civilization.

This fact is most evident in the field of information sharing, but human compassion comes a close second. Every person in our culture lives within a complex web of hyperlinks – communication and rescue apparatus assembled to give teeth to our feeling for our fellows.

Drop an 18-month-old girl down a well, as happened in Midland, Texas in October of 1987, and within hours tens of millions of people become tearfully aware of it. Great numbers of volunteers responded personally, backed up by millions of dollars of immediate aid and rescue equipment. “Baby Jessica” McClure was pulled to the surface after 58 hours of effort, and in the ensuing joy at her survival, gifts of money and toys arrived from all over the world.

In 1994, a 40-year-old jogger, Barbara Shoener, was found dead and partially eaten by a mountain lion. Though no one witnessed the attack, it was reported as such – and millions of people knew of it within 24 hours. A vigorous political campaign was mounted within a short time to re-establish sport killing of these menacing predators. It might have cost even more millions of dollars, and it did engage the attention of a large fraction of California voters for months.

Perversely, if that same death had been caused by a domestic cow or a pet dog – both of which happened numerous times in that same year, not just in California but all over the world – the case would receive zero publicity, and no urgent action.

Every person, in this country at least, lives in a web of hyperlinks which includes a safety net of potentially violent, armed, vengeful protectors: police officers, Fish and Game officers, professional trappers and bounty hunters, and even well-armed unofficial volunteers riding out with visions of Wyatt Earp in their heads.

With no effort on the part of the victim, social hyperlinks automatically activate police, fire and search-and-rescue efforts, medical experts, flight resources, and outpourings of compassionate offers to help, console or avenge.

More than this, if we are injured in the wilds, we have a complex network of medical and surgical marvels that will instantly spring into action to repair us or nurse us back to health. A human can literally have his guts ripped open, yet thanks to medical hyperlinks, be walking around on his own power in a matter of weeks or months.

In July of 2001, 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast suffered a shark attack on a Florida beach, in which his arm was bitten off and swallowed by a 7 foot long bull shark. After being given blood to replace the loss of almost all of his own, and having his arm reattached in a 12-hour operation – his uncle wrestled the shark to shore, where it was shot and the arm retrieved – he is alive today. Yes, he suffered significant brain damage from the attack and the ensuing blood loss. The point is not that he recovered fully, but that he lives at all.

An animal that sustained a tenth the damage would be dead within minutes or hours, or at most days. A broken bone is a minor, outpatient matter for humans. We are repaired and sent home, where we suffer worst of all from the boredom of inactivity (or maybe the family’s reaction to our ceaseless whining!). Picture the likely outcome from the same broken bone in a mountain lion, bear or bird: death, death, inevitable death.

Finally, help for victims of natural disasters may come from half-way around the world, it may come at uncountable cost, it may involve everybody from schoolchildren with their pennies and crayon letters to world leaders with grand armies, billions of dollars and shiploads of grain.

Do we need to say it again? Are we tired yet of hearing “no other animal on earth”?

Now our gambling grizzly has to contend not only with the winning hand of his human opponent, not only with the scores of cheerleaders and distracters that stand around poking and pinching him, not only with the ghostly presence and advantage of ten thousand years of human genius, but with a battery of microphones, cellphones and cameras recording and transmitting his every move, eagerly poised to summon an armed cadre of grizzly exterminators if he should play the wrong card.

By no means has every human advantage been mentioned here. In individual advantages and in every conceivable combination, there are simply too many to list. We have the capacity for thoughtful patience, for instance, that few other animals can match – patience that spans hours, days, years. We have the ability to tolerate immense numbers of ourselves, so that we can reproduce virtually unchecked. We happily breed year round (woo-hoo!), and we protect our young with a vicious zeal unmatched in the natural world.

We also have the inestimable advantage of projective forethought, an ability to plan, coupled with all our other advantages, that amounts to the virtual creation of future conditions. Compared to human planning and foresight, a squirrel gathering nuts for winter is a ludicrous cartoon.

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