Monday, November 14, 2016

2016: Further Conclusions

It's been six days, the initial adrenalin surge has abated.  People have talked to me about it, I've read a little and listened to a little, I've heard about reactions among community people. I had a particularly potent conversation with some redwoods.  I'm still not sleeping well or long, and although I've sampled some reactions from Washington etc. that says this is reversible in coming elections, I find my views softened only a little. (Though I must say that President Obama's press conference today suggests better potential.)  I allow for possibilities that I'm wrong and they are right.  And as I've said before, I know I am seeing things from my specific perspective, emotionally as well as intuitively, intellectually and through selective observation.

I'm also aware of how vulnerable people are right now, and maybe it's best to be quiet.  But I'll have to be selfish here, and express myself, if only in the hopes that it may help me sleep better soon.
From a 1930s Federal Theatre Project production of Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here"                  
Hillary Clinton made two particularly true assertions during this campaign. This: "Sometimes the fate of the greatest nations comes down to single moments in time. This is one of those make-or-break moments," she said.

 And this: "I'm the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse."

It was a make it or break it moment.  And now it's broken.  This was a pervasive failure of our political system in the US--in all aspects of it.  Consequently there's nothing--or nothing much--between us and the apocalypse.

 Our political system first of all failed to repel two new threats: intrusions by a foreign and hostile power, and intrusion by the federal police.  But to really face the comprehensive failure, one must withdraw the instant legitimacy that the election gave Trump, and recall that he was not in any sense an acceptable  political candidate.

 He had no experience in government whatsoever.  He was almost completely ignorant and ill-informed about issues, the Constitution and the powers and responsibilities of the office he was running for.  He demonstrated all the knowledge and curiosity of someone deeply afflicted with attention deficit disorder.  He bragged of not paying federal taxes and disdained releasing his tax returns,  the simplest test of veracity and conflict of interest.  

As a candidate, he was revealed to be a compulsive liar and a crook, who assaulted women and bullied anyone who didn't worship him constantly.  He made racist statements. The extremists who supported him included white supremacists, and that includes the man who will now be his chief policy advisor in the White House. He showed himself to be temperamentally childish, with a fragile ego. He is a charlatan and a Philistine.

Very few newspapers or other media outlets endorsed him, and most warned that he was unfit and dangerous.  Prominent members of his own party, especially those who had served in high positions in previous administrations, also warned that he was unfit.   He was accurately described as a demagogue and an authoritarian threat to constitutional democracy.

It is unprecedented in my lifetime that major news media figures, political analysts and other prominent voices would routinely describe a presidential candidate as a proto-fascist, a Mussolini or a Hitler. (Recall that the UK had a parliamentary debate over whether he should be allowed in the country.)  But Trump was so described, around the world and also in the US.

Those who have warned in the past of a fascist takeover usually suggested it might happen in a time of economic, political and social crisis.  While there are some serious underlying problems today, there is no major and pervasive economic and social crisis in 2016.  The country is as politically stable as it has been in 20 years.  I'm pretty certain that in coming years people will look back on this year as a high point of prosperity and stability, compared with what it likely to be coming.

Despite all this and more, the nightmare came true.  I cannot view this as other than a complete failure of the entire system: Democrats failed, Republicans failed, the consultants and experts failed, the pollsters failed, the entire media (old and new) failed.  Some of them even did a reasonably good job.  But they still failed.  In fact our entire culture and society failed. It's a failure both pervasive and pervasively consequential.

I do not believe it is a failure with temporary consequences. Once ushered into power, our home-grown Hitler and his alt.right Nazi party control the entire
federal government (including the courts and the federal police.) They also control many state governments who will decide apportionment in 2020.  It seems likely to me that they will wield power for many years to come.

 Republicans and the alt.right in particular have used with decisive effectiveness the technique of attacking opponents for doing exactly what they themselves are doing.  This makes their opponents defensive, and inoculates them against the same charge. So by charging rigged elections, they get away with voter suppression and intimidation.  By a persistent effort to portray President Obama as a dictator who wanted to cancel elections, they may get away with a brand of authoritarianism this country has not seen.

Republicans will also take advantage of the fact that Democrats are actually committed to solving problems with government action.  So congressional Democrats will not automatically oppose everything as Republicans did.  For example, after years of opposing infrastructure spending solely because President Obama proposed it, Republicans may suddenly and shamelessly support it--and take the credit.

 In any case, even if it lasts only four years plus the years necessary to try to repair the damage, it's a very consequential failure.  That's what makes it a failure.

Some of this failure is more widely shared beyond the U.S.  Xenophobia is on the rise around the world.  Its eruption in the UK has shaken the western world, doomed the UK to a generation of decline, and weakened Europe.  Now it is openly triumphant in what was the world's model of a diverse society, resulting already in violence and supremacist preening.

It has tipped the balance of a complex culture, but worse, it may well be a tipping point.

For there is one failure--the one with very probably the greatest consequence--that belongs to the US alone.  The US is alone in the world in having a major political party oppose all efforts to address the climate crisis, or even to acknowledge its reality. That party is now in power.

Efforts, I see, are underway already to withdraw this nation from the Paris climate treaty.  It is likely that very soon, federal carbon pollution regulations will end, pipelines will get the go-ahead and the extraction and use of fossil fuels in and by the US will accelerate (as will the deforestation and pollution in Canada.)

Serious push-back from other nations and from US military and security experts on climate change realities is also happening already, but it's unclear whether any of the alt.right administration's evisceration of climate and environmental protections can even be blunted.

It is clear now in retrospect that a major failure of this campaign was not demanding that the climate crisis be among the top issues discussed.  It wasn't discussed at all.

The Obama administration managed to do a lot without making a big issue of it--it wasn't discussed in the 2012 campaign either.  That came back to haunt us this election.  At a time when it is crucial that efforts to address the causes of climate change be accelerated, we will have an administration that seeks to destroy all progress so painfully made.  And at the moment there is no obvious US political consensus or even large visible support as a counterweight, to prevent this from happening.

The Paris agreement was a triumphant moment for a world that has to be united if civilization is to survive.  But it came too late to keep the climate from seriously changing.  It did however feel like turning the corner on attention to addressing the causes so that the worst might not happen for coming generations, and also to address some of the effects that are being experienced, and will be experienced by people now alive.

The United States was a leader in this effort over the entire extent of the Obama years.  Now that leadership and even participation is to be withdrawn.  It makes it deeply, deeply humiliating to be an American, to know that our political system has quite possibly doomed human civilization, and a great deal of the life now existing on this planet.

Is it really that bad? It's true that there is uncertainty about how much time we have to work with. Through the application of our science and technology, we know where things are heading and why.  We know the range of consequences.  The climate, the Earth as a system of systems, is very complex in its interactions, so we do not know where we are in the process.  But quite a few anticipated possibilities have happened well before worst-case scenarios suggested they might.

And we pretty much know there are tipping points--circumstances that will create self-perpetuating cycles--global heating feeding on itself, a long chain of ocean death-- that in turn will create conditions that will not support our current civilization, and may send the human race on the road to extinction.  Once passed, there is nothing known that humanity can do to stop these processes, and only surmises on how even to cope with them.

We may have already reached one or more of those tipping points, but if we proceed with the insane Republicans plan (and the fact that they are serving the most powerful destructive industries is part of that insanity) we are rushing towards those tipping points.  Right now, four years is itself a dangerous and I fear fateful amount of time.  Especially since it would take more years to reverse course again.

For humanity, Paris was a demarcation point that said: humanity as a whole has unknowingly deformed the climate, but now organized humanity as a whole has consciously acknowledged this and has decided to stop doing it, hoping it is not too late.  As part of this, there was some acknowledgement that humanity unthinkingly if relentlessly destroyed conditions that supported many species of life, especially the larger animal and plant species, and that this, too, had to be addressed, beyond climate change consequences.

This election in the US has riven this tender new consensus.

How can one election do this? In the observable present, huge glaciers the size of states and icebergs the size of cities are breaking apart, melting and sliding into the sea.  But they don't break apart all at once.  Perhaps after years of strain, it starts with invisible cracks, that in prior seasons would have sealed when cold descended.  But the small cracks lead to a larger crack. As water pours through it, that crack determines the glacier's fate.

I offer this as a metaphor, not a scientific description.  So in this metaphor, the consequences of this election make that large fateful crack in the world's resolve and ability to address the causes and consequences of deformed climate.

There is a sense in which it is the answer to the question of whether humanity and human consciousness has evolved quickly enough to survive massive environmental change, and now I fear we have the answer, and it is no.  Because the test is whether we effectively act, and it may take only the US to prevent it.  It is an even greater failure because it was humanity and aspects of consciousness that created the environmental change.  It's not only necessary to our survival, it's our moral responsibility.  And if we don't meet it, we're the curse of the planet.

That, at any rate, is what I felt in my conversation with the redwoods.  I was there not as usual, as member of a fellow species, admiring, breathing in life, paying respects and communing.  I felt I was dead to those redwoods.  That they really don't want to have anything to do with a failed species that is taking down their species and the environment that supports it. They were telling me that our kind of consciousness is a failed evolutionary experiment, a mutation that worked for awhile but in these new conditions it largely created, couldn't cut it.

 It may be outlandish projection, but it suggests why I feel as I do about this election and its consequences.  And while I respect those who will continue to engage in the political arenas, for me the failures are so stark and pervasive--at a time in my life when there isn't a lot of time left--that I must look elsewhere.

I don't yet know where this leaves me.  I hear people determined to experience what survives of our planet while they can.  I hear people looking for one specific area in which they can offer their efforts, and make some sort of difference.  Those seem like good ideas to me.

At this point in life you don't want to waste too much time (knowing full well that the cycles of life involve a lot of waste.)  I just want to make more realistic choices about how to spend my time.  I know the dangers of letting unconscious factors like emotion rule decisions too much, but emotions and intuitions can't be ignored either.

Hope as always is a commitment more than a feeling.  Hope is an activity of the present that is necessarily oriented to the future.  The future may be an illusion, but it is a necessary one.  Another consequence of this election is that the future is even less knowable, but it's probably not going to be a matter of smooth or even moderately bumpy transitions.

Finally a point that deserves its own space, but it is relevant to all of this.  In times when it seems even more important to savor what we have around us, the elusive quality of being "in the moment" with minimal distraction becomes more valued.  And rightly so.

But being in the moment, and experiencing the world of this moment with gratitude, is not the same as living only in the present.  There are evaluations to make of the influences of social media and smartphones and other manifestations of the Internet-dominated culture.  For now, I note that a lot of people believe they are changing important aspects of consciousness.  One of those is a restriction to the present.

Back when Facebook was taking off, I asked someone who worked there what people found to talk about on it so constantly.  He said they were engaged in answering the question "What are you doing right now?"

When more and more consciousness is absorbed only in "right now," through social media, texting, smartphone alerts and so on, it reduces the density and complexity of consciousness and of identity.  At least that's the conclusion made by Edward Mendelson in the New York Review of Books.  "The more you dwell in the past and future," he writes, "the more solid your persona...You cannot reduce your engagement with the past and future without diminishing yourself..."

Mendelson's use of "persona" is a bit ambiguous, as this usually refers to what others see of you.  What you are may be described as your personality or identity, and it may also be called your soul.

I suppose this post is partly about looking at this election with the past and the future in mind.  And my conclusion about what the hell do we do now is: how the hell should I know, but I believe we need to retain and develop the skills to apply the past and future to the present.  Or anyway I do.  And my initial conclusion is: everything is changed.  Pretty much everything.  And start from there.

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