Webizens Unite!

The fuss over the SOPA/PIPA legislation last week is the marker of a generational shift in our understanding of the media: we’re at the transition point between 20th century media models, which rely on centralized, profit-driven control over production and consumption, and 21st century media models, which are all about open access and the free circulation of ideas.

While I’m generally a strong supporter of the open-access model, I do see some dangers to it.

For one thing, when we operate on a distributed intelligence model, information is so widely available that none of us really has to feel responsible about knowing anything.  We can just look it up, after all.

But when we rely so much on others to be the keepers of our collective intelligence, we become vulnerable on at least two crucial levels:

  • Vulnerable to being manipulated by the producers of that knowledge—think Fox News, for example, with its so-called “fair and balanced” reporting.  As long as we are aware that Fox News is reporting from a distinctly biased point of view, we can take their information under advisement, and balance it ourselves with other sources.  As long as there are other sources.  And as long as we have the education to be able to sift through it all and form our own informed opinions.
  • Vulnerable to loss of access—as in the one-day blackout on Wikipedia last week. It’s like kids who rely so completely on the calculator that they never learn their multiplication tables.  All well and good, until the day when they don’t have a machine available to make the calculations, and they’re left helpless.

Our society has become so totally tuned in to media that we would be lost without it.  And that kind of dependency is dangerous.

I think about the big push now to digitize libraries.  Of course, I love the idea of being able to carry 4,000 volumes around with me on one slim little e-reader.  It’s awesome!  But on the other hand, a little voice in the back of my head worries: what would happen if we lost ready access to electricity?  What would happen if there were shortages, so only the elites were able to power up their notebooks and Kindles?  Where would our libraries be then?

We’re already living in a society where social class, access to the Web and social influence form a tight, circular web.  Privileged kids today are growing up totally plugged in and able to make the best use of the amazing collective intelligence of the Web, while kids from poor backgrounds, worldwide, are growing up on the other side of the digital tracks, out there with the garbage and the weeds.

As the big media companies work ever more aggressively to stake their claim in the wild west of the Web, fencing off bigger and bigger areas of the digital commons, we need to become more vigilant about guarding our freedom of speech and our free access to the Web, and making sure that more and more of us really do have that access and the knowledge needed to make good use of it.

WordPress blogging platforms like the one I’m writing on are like little free information lanes alongside what are becoming ever more hulking, fenced and patrolled toll highways.  The fact that anyone can start up a blog or a Twitter feed or a Facebook page for free and get their voice out to the public immediately, with no censors, is a 21st century version of a time-tested Constitutional right that we need to make sure we defend.

Corporations don’t like the free circulation of “media content” because it escapes their profit-driven model.  That’s what they were trying to accomplish with their anti-piracy legislation—a way to shut down any website that did not pay its toll.

Looking into the brave new future that awaits us, I see increasing conflict over these basic issues of access to and control over the media.  I also see that unless we are successful in making the shift to renewable energy sources, it is conceivable that basic access to electricity, which we in the West now take for granted, may become less easily obtained.

As a blogger who relies on platforms and hardware that I could not possibly produce myself, I feel my vulnerability keenly.  I need Apple and WordPress to get me going, and the electric company to power me up, or I’d be dead in the water.

If I ever woke up and found the power out and my web browser blank, well…I could always go back to zining! But I would miss the incredible distribution powers of the World Wide Web.

Last week some 7 million webizens barraged Congress with protests of the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation, and we won the battle!  We have to maintain our stations though.  As with the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s going to be a long siege.

Is Anybody Listening?

Just curious: why is it that today’s NY Times front page features social protest in Egypt, Yemen and Hamas, but nothing about California?

Way below the digital “fold,” in small print, there’s a piece with the bland headline “From Crowd Control to Mocking Images,” but it’s more about pepper spray itself than about the serious issues raised by the UC Davis incident.

The opinion pages are similarly focused on Egypt and Israel–nothing on the Occupy movement.

Somehow it reminds me of the classic situation where a kid is trying to get her parents’ attention, and Dad is buried behind his newspaper, Mom is talking away on the phone, and NOBODY IS LISTENING!

What does that kid have to do to get the adults’ attention?

Something outrageous. And even then, the focus will most likely be more on returning things to the status quo as fast as possible, rather than on talking through the issues deeply and seriously considering change.

That seems to be the posture of the UC system officials, who are in the current hot seat of the Occupy movement.  They want this whole mess to just go away, so that students will return to their classrooms and dorm rooms and keep paying their ever-higher tuition to earn degrees for jobs that don’t exist.

Things turned violent in the Middle East when people had enough of leaders who refused to listen.  There, soldiers and tanks were called in against civilians.  Here, we have armed riot police called in against students who were doing nothing more challenging than sitting cross-legged in a quad.

 Imagine what could happen here if protesters stopped being so polite and nonviolent and began demanding attention in a no-nonsense way.

How far would our leaders–from university chancellors to mayors to governors and the politicians in Washington DC–go in choosing to repress and stifle dissent rather than listening and engaging in thoughtful dialogue about the best way forward for all?

A couple of decades ago, when people took to the streets to protest working conditions and lack of freedom in Latin America, the U.S. demonized “the Communists” and sent military aid to the dictators to maintain order in the banana republics.  The civil wars there claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

It is impossible to blame “the Communists” this time, and the unrest is not far away in some other country, it’s right here in our own heartland.

It’s our own sons and daughters who are feeling the crack of the police baton, the burn of the chemical sprays.

What are we going to do about it?

First of all, we’d better start listening.

Resisting the Energy Vultures

Today’s New York Times Sunday Review piece by White House correspondent Mark Landler, “A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy,” gives disturbing insight into the mindset not only of the men and women who preside over national foreign policies, but also into the media lapdogs who cover them.

Landler reports that China and the U.S., along with practically every other country in possession of a serviceable Navy fleet, are entering into “a new type of maritime conflict — one that is playing out from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean, where fuel-hungry economic powers, newly accessible undersea energy riches and even changes in the earth’s climate are conspiring to create a 21st-century contest for the seas.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of Landler’s sources, explains blandly that “This hunt for resources is going to consume large bodies of water around the world for at least the next couple of decades.”

Clinton has got the right metaphor there.  What Landler describes all too flippantly as “a watery Great Game” could well indeed “consume large bodies of water around the world.”

What neither Clinton nor anyone else interviewed for Landler’s article bring up is the cardinal question:  When the game is over, what will be left of the living beings that used to populate those waters in unimaginably vast numbers?

Landler describes the navies and drill ships of countries from China and the U.S. to Turkey and Israel jockeying for control of huge troves of oil and natural gas deposits that have been discovered beneath the sea.

Of especial interest to these circling energy vultures are the deposits beneath the Arctic ice.  Landler reports that “melting ice has opened up the fabled Northwest Passage,” making resource extraction in the Arctic more viable than before.

This offhand and veiled reference to climate change provides a window into the sociopathic mindsets of the men who rule the Energy Kingdoms.  The cowboys of global fossil fuel extraction are essentially warlords, relying on the national armies of their nominal countries of origin to clear the way of opposition to their reckless drilling.

From their warped point of view, global warming can be seen as a bonus.

If the Arctic ice melts, so much the better–it’ll make it easier to get those billions of barrels of oil out of the sea and into the global market.

No matter that deep sea drilling has been proven to be highly risky and lethal to the environment.  Hello, does anyone remember BP in the Gulf of Mexico?

Imagine a spill like that going on in frigid northern waters.

Imagine billions of barrels worth of oil or gas gushing into the Arctic Ocean, to be picked up by the currents and spread all over the world.

Imagine the destruction of marine wildlife, and indeed the entire marine food chain, that this would entail.

NY Times reporter Landler doesn’t waste time contemplating such grim scenarios.  The focus of his article is “gunboat diplomacy,” a glamorous new competition among national navies to dominate the oceans, seen strictly in utilitarian terms.  His only mention of fish, or indeed any maritime creature, is a brief aside that icebreakers are being sent into the Arctic circle by countries like China and Korea, “to explore weather patterns and fish migration.”

Landler’s article, which is billed as “news analysis,” reveals the extent to which the chillingly disturbing values of the Energy Kings have permeated not only the governments who are supposed to be regulating their industry and safeguarding the natural world, but also the media “watchdogs,” who are obviously sitting cozily in the laps of Big Oil.

Questions of environmental sustainability and health are simply outside the picture for these folks.  It’s not relevant to them whether or not the polar bears survive.  They don’t care about the coral reefs, or the plankton.  They don’t care about whales.  Their only concern is the bottom line.

What is the most effective opposition to such monomania?

Trying to think of persuasive strategies gives me a touch of hysteria.  We could appeal to their love of seafood!  Wouldn’t they miss their caviar and oysters?

They will figure out how to grow these in tanks.

We could appeal to them as property owners: what’s going to happen to their beachfront homes, not to mention their office towers in coastal cities around the world, when the waters begin to rise?

They will have armies of lawyers figuring out ways to make the taxpayers bear the burden of their lost properties.

We could appeal to their brand image.  Does Exxon-Mobil really want to go down in history as the biggest perpetrator of maritime omnicide in world history?

They will throw this back at us, and rightly so: they were just doing their job of giving the consumer what she wants, a steady supply of affordable energy.

It’s true that we all share the blame for this tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes. It’s also true that we have the power to stop it.

How? We need to demand that the rights of the denizens of the natural world be respected.  A new Declaration of the Rights of Nature has been written–it needs to be circulated, popularized and upheld.

We need to insist that our politicians report to the people, the taxpayers, not to the corporations. Yes, people want energy; we want cars, we want electricity.  But we want to direct our tax dollars into R&D of renewable sources of energy–solar, geothermal, wind–not into dangerous oil and gas extraction or nuclear fission, and not into dirty coal mining either.

We need to call the mainstream media on its dereliction of duty when it presents one-sided reports like Landler’s industry white paper today.

Extracting those billions of barrels of oil buried below the earth’s surface miles beneath the sea would not just be a death sentence for marine life.  It would drive the nails on the human coffin as well, along with all the other species on this planet who will not be able to adapt to the erratic climate extremes of floods, droughts and storms that will inevitably ramp up once the planet heats beyond the point of no return.

Under these circumstances, if the governments won’t listen, radical action may prove a necessity.  The French Resistance to the Nazis were considered criminals in their own time and place, but look like heroes to us today, with the power of hindsight.

We are in the midst of a new, much larger Holocaust now, one that threatens not just one group of people, but all of us, and our natural world as well.

Each of us has a choice to make.  You can go along with the crowd, watching impassively as the train leaves the station for the gas chambers, or you can dare to raise your voice in opposition, and maybe even to throw a wrench in the gears of power.

Each of us is going to die sooner or later.  Wouldn’t you rather die knowing you had done your utmost to make a difference, to safeguard the world for your children and all life on this planet?

Sweet stirrings of a new world: fringe politics overturning the barricades

The venerable social critic Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker contrasts the Tea Party with the Occupy movement in this week’s magazine, and finds the Occupy movement lacking in precisely what has made the Tea Party so strong: a willingness to get involved in (and take money from) the established American political parties.

“Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are both protest movements, not interest groups,” Hertzberg says, “and while both are wary, or claim to be, of established political figures and organizations, each welcomes their praise, if not their direction. Both have already earned places in the long, raucous history of American populism. But only one, so far, has earned a place in the history of American government.”

Are we supposed to be proud that the Tea Party has “earned” an infamous place as the launching pad for the new cadre of rightwing Republican zealots who have spent their time in Congress obstinately shooting down and stampeding every effort by President Obama and the Democrats to steer this nation towards a more compassionate and forward-looking political stance?

In its few years of existence, the Tea Party has happily wormed its way into the main arteries of American political power.  Hertzberg offers an apt metaphor of this tea as a new wonder drug, “injected into the scarred veins” of the GOP, which has quickly become addicted to this mainlined source of entranced, stupified frenzy.

“Now the Democrats are hoping the drug might be available as a generic,” Hertzberg continues, eying the Occupy movement as a way to enliven its own moribund political base.

I firmly hope that the Occupy movement does not allow itself to be used in this way by the political establishment, and I think it’s a reasonable, if remarkable, hope.

Remarkable because for so long Americans have been asleep, indifferent or unaware of what Hertzberg calls “the astounding growth of what can fairly be called plutocracy.”

Why it took so long for the sleeping giant of American popular opinion to wake up is a question for historians of the turn of the 21st century to ponder.

Why is it that Americans have been voting against their own class interests so long?  Why is the persistent myth of American equality, liberty and justice for all so teflon-coated?

We all want to believe that our country represents the moral high ground in the world, and that our leaders in government are as invested in upholding our idealism as we are.

Our public education system, which is responsible for the education of a great portion of the 99%, aids and abets this self-delusion by giving students the most doctrinaire and uncritical version of American history and civics, and teaching docility and proficiency at standardized testing above all.

Our media doesn’t help much; with the exception of a few poorly funded but stalwart independent outlets, the vast social landscape of contemporary media is focused at best on distraction, and very often on outright deception.

Under the pressures of this kind of social conditioning, it’s remarkable that the young idealists in the Occupy movement have had such success in galvanizing the country to wake up, shake ourselves, and stare around us with new eyes.

Hertzberg obviously intends his column as a signpost for the Occupy movement, pointing towards Washington D.C. as a more important battleground than Wall Street.  “Ultimately, inevitably, the route to real change has to run through politics,” he concludes; “the politics of America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system, the only one we have.”

Here is a glaring example of the kind of civics mis-education that has made our country so hard to reform over the years.

Who says our political system is limited to two parties?  Or at least, to the two parties we have now?

The Republicans and the Democrats have shown themselves to be chronically unable to lead this country out of the morass of special interests and ruthless corporate-driven capitalism that has bulldozed right over our cherished ideals of equality, not to mention the sacred ecological web that forms the real foundation of all our wealth and prosperity.

The Occupy movements are showing their intelligence in shying away from engagement with the established political system.  If anything, their political allies are more likely to be found in those perennial political organizations that have always camped out on the fringes of our electoral parks: the Green Parties or the Rainbow Coalitions.

Remember Ralph Nader, for example?  Remember how Big Media colluded with the established parties in denying so-called “outside” candidates a seat at the table at the televised Presidential debates?

This year the Ralph Naders of the political world have suddenly swelled their ranks dramatically, but without the figurehead of a single leader at the head of the crowd.  As Nader knows only too well, one man at the head of a true opposition movement is open to all the slings and arrows that the establishment can muster.  Even Gore and Kerry have felt the force of the muddy vomit pitched their way out of the far-right Republican swampland.

Far better for the Occupy movements to stay plural and collective, strong in the anonymity of the multitudes.  Those of us who are serious about doing more than simply rearranging the deck chairs on the great hulking Titanic of American politics realize that “America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system” is exactly what has to go.

OK, Hendrik, it may be the only one we HAVE HAD, but now the veil has been torn down, the people are awake, and we realize that another world is possible.  As Arundhati Roy famously put it, “on a clear day, I can hear her breathing.”

That clear day has dawned.

Psst–did someone say…CLIMATE CHANGE???

A Year Full of Weather Disasters and an Economic Toll to Match – NYTimes.com.

Here is yet another example of the way the mainstream press reports on climate change without actually using that oh-so-loaded term.

“Normally, three or four weather disasters a year in the United States will cause at least $1 billion in damages each. This year, there were nine such disasters… These nine billion-dollar disasters tie the record set in 2008, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

The article goes on to say that the NOAA “is taking several steps to try to make the nation more “weather ready,” including making more precise forecasts, improving the ability to alert local authorities about risks and developing specialized mobile-ready emergency response teams.”

But not a word about what really needs to be done to slow down this destructive trend, saving lives and livelihoods, not to mention the environment itself–REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS!!!!

I wonder how the Times is going to cover the big climate change action coming up on Sept 24?  Check out Moving Planet for more info and to get involved.

Information warriors, we need you!

I mean, who wants to look at pictures of skinned baby seals?

Doing Battle with the Blob

I had a moment of eerie and upsetting disjunction this morning while listening to the CBC (that is, Canadian Broadcasting Co) radio news.

The announcer says that humanitarian aid organizations believe that 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died in past 90 days as a result of the famine now afflicting southern Somalia.  He goes on to say that nearly half a million young children are expected to die during this latest Somalian disaster.  Then, his voice shifting to an almost chirpy tone, he says, “Sports is next, after this break.”  And an ad for furniture begins blaring, and I change the channel.

The most upsetting thing about this is that I might not even have noticed it had I not stayed up past my bedtime last night reading Thomas de Zengotita’s fascinating new book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It.  De Zengotita (yes, that is his real name, apparently), argues that because of the way we are all supersaturated by the media now, we are forced to adapt by mentally “surfing” what we take in, on a generally unconscious level.

“The moreness of everything ascends inevitably to a threshold in psychic life. A change of state takes place…[as] the mind is forced to certain adaptations, if it is to cohere at all.  So, for example, when you hear statistics about AIDS in Africa for the 349th time, or see your 927th picture of a weeping fireman or an oil-drenched seabird, you can’t help but become fundamentally indifferent–unless it happens to be “your issue,” of course, one you “identify with,” a social responsibility option you have chosen.  Otherwise, you glide on, you have to, because you are exposed to things like this all the time.  All the time. Over breakfast.  In the waiting room.  Driving to work.  At the checkout counter.  All the time” (24).

De Zengotita says that as a result, we are cocooned inside what he calls a “Blob,” or others might call a bubble, which “mediates” between us and the outside world.

“Once in a while, in the public realm, some eruption of fate or evil–9/11, obviously, but also, say, a school shooting, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the hostage beheadings, something like that–will feel as if it…might pierce the membrane and…at least interrupt the Blob’s progress through the universe.

“But no.  Watch as the media antibodies swarm to the scene of those nascent interruptions.  These are the junctures that require the most coverage–and the latent meaning, the ironic dialectic implicit in that word emerges.  What must be covered is any event or person or deed that might challenge the Blob with something like a limit, something the Blob cannot absorb, something that could, in resistance or escape, become the one thing the omni-tolerant Blob cannot allow, something outside it, something unmediated–something real.

“But not to worry.  The Blob may have to devote some extra time and energy to these challenges, but in the end it prevails.  And how is the moment of its victory marked?  By your indifference….That’s when the original being of the real thing has been fully mediated.  It becomes representational, and that means optional.  You can turn it off, or on.  It’s up to you again (27).

I have of course noticed this indifference in myself and others–this ability to ignore anything disturbing that we learn of through the media.  I knew it was related to being overly saturated with bad news, to the point where our ability to empathize becomes numbed and disabled.

But I hadn’t really considered the extent to which this mediation process is alienating and impairing our fundamental ability to connect to the real.  We are so used to seeing emotion and action happening onscreen that even when it is happening to us directly, de Zengotita says, we “perform” as if we are acting in our own personal movie. And it becomes harder and harder for us to “turn off” this performative state.

De Zengotita gives several caveats about how the mediated public he’s talking about are the wealthy First World types like you and me, the ones who spend half their waking hours online, and are more at home with a keyboard than any other tool.  We do not represent the majority of humans yet, by any means, though our ranks grow every day.

Because we are so globally connected via the media, we know about the thousands of Haitians still living without permanent shelter 19 months after the big hurricane hit, and now going into yet another hurricane season.  We know about the famine in Somalia, and the polar bears swimming to death as the Arctic ice melts.

That’s part of the eeriness of this–we know about them, but they don’t know about us.  We have an almost godlike power to look down on the globe, Google-Earth-style, and watch what is going on everywhere.

And then we have the power to click another link and move on.

Hence the huge challenge for activist movements today to arouse  the masses to action–especially, it seems, young people.  We saw what happened in the so-called “Arab Spring” when the youth there texted their way to revolution.  But here in the US, our kids seem to be too busy enjoying life, playing video games and going to the mall, to worry about difficult issues like climate change or economic meltdown.

De Zengotita observes how activist organizations spend millions of dollars to create “hard-hitting films” that will break through the Blob/bubble and galvanize people to political action.  “Kids today have been subjected to thousands and thousands of high-impact images of misery and injustice in every corner of the globe before their are old enough to drive,” he says.  “The producers of these images compete with each other to arouse as much horror and pity and outrage as possible, hoping that this encounter with a person dying of AIDS or that documentary about sweatshop labor or these photographs of recently skinned baby seals will mobilize commitment.

“But what the cumulative experience has actually mobilized, in the majority, is that characteristic ironic distance that aging activists mistook for apathy.  But it wasn’t apathy as much as it was psychological numbness, a general defense against representational intrusions of all kinds–especially painful ones.  I mean, who wants to look at pictures of skinned baby seals?” (135).

True that.  And perhaps we mediated folk are doing the only healthy thing we can do faced with such a barrage of psychically inflicted pain–tuning out.  But there seems to me to be something profoundly immoral about all of us sitting pretty in front of our screens here in the heart of Empire, knowing about and ignoring the suffering that our lifestyles have done so much to cause.

So the question becomes: how to do battle with that Blob?

Paradigm Shift: From Competition and Destruction to Nurturance & Collaboration

I am almost 50 years old, and in my current lifetime I have lived through one of the most intense, rapidly changing periods of human civilization on this planet.  The technological discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries were steadily gaining steam when I was born in the early 1960s; “progress” seemed infinite, and infinitely exciting.  Advances in medical understanding and treatment, the speed of computing, the mechanization of every aspect of our economic systems, and the explosion in information technologies, all made our civilization seem powerful—even invincible.  The blip of failure that registered when we “lost” the Vietnam War was quickly swallowed up in a huge wave of optimism as the economy surged in the 1980s, and the collapse of Soviet Communism, as well as the softening of Chinese Communism, made Euramerican Capitalism seem like a global Manifest Destiny.

And yet there was always the dark underbelly of the beast, clear to anyone who had the will to see it.  Rachel Carson sounded the first alarm on the dangers of synthetic chemicals, released haphazardly into the environment.  Chernobyl was the first major indicator of the serious dangers of “clean” nuclear power.  The slow epidemic of cancers (in the wealthy countries) and AIDS (in the poorer countries), and a myriad of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, have begun to make clear how we have poisoned our environment even for ourselves.  And now, in the first decade of the 21st century, it has finally become apparent even to the most resolute deniers that climate change is a dangerous reality to which we must adapt or perish.

So these are the transition times we live in.  I don’t think it’s too dramatic to compare our times to the last years of other great human civilizations in the past: the Romans, the Mayans, the Inca, the Ming.  All of these civilizations were based on the possibility of exploiting resources—human and natural—to such a great extent that tremendous wealth could be amassed for the rulers.  This was the same model followed by the English, French and Spanish during their colonial periods (16th-19th centuries, roughly), and the U.S. is playing by the same rules with the rise of corporate capitalism backed by the biggest, most deadly military the world has ever known.  The U.S. has become the political center of a global Empire that any feudal European would recognize, the only difference being the advantages that the contemporary wizards of technology afford our leaders.  King Arthur would have been lost without Merlin, and our leaders today would be lost without the magic of electricity.  Truly, our civilization would entirely grind to a halt were we to lose power for even a short period of time.

This is why the frantic quest for energy sources has turned so ugly in recent years.  To the average household, losing power is an inconvenience—but we know the power company will come out and fix it sooner or later, we don’t get too bent out of shape about it.  As worldwide demand for electric power grows, along with demand for easy, cheap means of moving people and goods through space, the question becomes one of supply.  Our scientists are telling us that the Earth is finite, that she has reached her carrying capacity in terms of sustainable growth.  And yet the human population keeps growing exponentially, and the global reach of corporate capitalism keeps creating more and more demand for modern conveniences: cars, refrigerators, air conditioning, computers.

Clever leaders manipulate the demand of the populace for the luxuries on display through every TV set.  We have become familiar, in the late 20th, early 21st century, with the term “debt bondage,” now not just applying to serfs in feudal Asia, but common in any American suburb, where it takes two adults working more than fulltime to support the average mortgage, car loans and consumer loans, not to mention the school loans and home equity loans.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, when I was a kid, people who opted out of all this, who chose a simpler life, perhaps even living “off the grid,” without running water, were derogatively termed “hippies,” weird fringe folks who spent their time smoking too much dope and having too much sex.  Some joined cults, and some of these cults were headed up by dangerous psychotics who led entire communities into suicide.  The media effectively demonized anyone who tried to resist the prevailing forces of modernity.  The most powerful dissenters were silenced by the oldest method in the book: assassination.  Since the 1960s, there has been an ever-growing list of charismatic leaders, educators and journalists who have been assassinated by the political elites, all over the world.  In the old days, the colonists would come into an indigenous community and immediately pick out the smartest ones, the ones who looked like the leaders.  Those who proved incorruptible would be enslaved or simply killed.

This is still going on, but now, in addition to the old-fashioned methods of violence, there are subtler ways to neutralize dissent and channel resistance.  Antidepressants, anyone?  Addictive media games?  Above all, educational systems that teach obedience to authority from earliest childhood, backed by drug therapy (think Ritalin or Adderall) and indoctrination into an acceptance of inequality and environmental destruction.

There are still pockets of clear thinking and resistance to be found, even in the heart of Empire where I live.  I don’t claim to have answers or to know the “right” way forward.  But I do have a fierce desire to explore our present reality in all its dimensions, even some of those that many people would find too “out there” for comfort—the spiritual realms, the astrological and the psychic.  Nothing should be off limits to inquiry; in many ways I still feel as curious as a young child, open to every nuance the world has to show me.

Just before a baby is born, the laboring mother is said to be “in transition.”  This is what happens when the birth canal is dilating enough to allow the child’s big head to drop down into the free air.  Our world is in transition now.  Something new and different is about to be born.  Whether we humans will still have a role to play remains to be seen.  But it certainly is an interesting time to observe, and I believe there is still time to try to intervene and create a more positive outcome, not just for us but for all the species we will take with us if there is a major environmental cataclysm.

We must be both the midwife and the laboring mother, in this case.  And the baby about to be born.  Our job above all is to nurture, to love, to stroke, to build a deep resilience so that we can survive whatever may be thrown at us.  This is the work of my second half of life.  And this is what I’ll be exploring and documenting in this blog.

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