Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fight For the Biosphere

The Story of the Earth Liberation Front: If a tree falls.

What is sacred? No one lives without deep values, whether conscious or unconscious. When I recently travelled to a small midwestern town, I was struck by its devotion to its institutions of reproduction- the high school, the church, the football game, the picket fences. Small town American is under perpetual siege from the outside, from the Amazons, Wallmarts, cheap drugs, bombarding media, and changing values. From capitalism in general, though no one would put it that way. Getting young people to stay instead of heading out to the big city or the coast is one challenge. Another is facing a flow of poorer immigrants who do want to come, but who drop the bottom out of the local labor market and are difficult to assimilate. The FOX and Sinclair propaganda channels harp constantly on "traditional values", as though applying a magic incantation against change (even as they and the right end of the political spectrum work to remove what fetters are left on capitalism, and to destroy the public goods & institutions that these communities rely on). No wonder Trump found a fearful and responsive electorate.

But everyone has their god- communists worshipped the sacred revolution, into whose maw millions were fed. And into the bargain had their trinity of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. To others, capitalism is a glowing, sacred value, and to some extent for good reason. The adoption of capitalism in China has brought about the most massive and rapid transition out of poverty, ever. (Even though the means to get there has been ecocidal technology.)

But these major ideologies and religions are weakening in our time. People are becoming disaffiliated with the cultural structures and institutions that used to cultivate sacred values, whether those of explicit religion or of its various modern ideological substitutes. The balance is often made up, on a personal level, by "nature". This is our instinctive and "natural" religion- the groves of the pagans, the auspicious birds and other animal spirits, the awesome scale and impurturbability of the surrounding vista, not to mention our own mystifying biology.

A fairy ring in a wooded grove.

The dedication to conservatism that pervades small town America is deeply in conflict with respect to this deeper set of values, as well as being counter-historical. A mere six or seven generations back, these lands were peopled by Native Americans, before being invaded by pioneers. These pioneers found, in their westward expansion, an undreamt-of natural abundance of game, fertile soil, and plant and wildlife of all sorts, which they promptly set about chopping down, shooting, poisoning, and generally extirpating. The illusion of stasis upon which rural Americans are so intent on staking their politics belies tectonic shifts to their natural surroundings and supporting ecosystem.

For the world is on fire. It is not just the loss of wolves, and the invasion of exotic species, and the relentless spread of pesticides, and countless other piecemeal assults that are degrading what we imagine to be perennial nature. It is global warming that is making nature itself a shadow of her former self. California has been literally on fire the last couple of years. Seasons are palpably shifting. Droughts are spreading. The Arctic sea ice is dwindling. Corals are dying en masse all over the world. Wildlife has been halved over the last half-century. Forests continue to be burned and clear-cut.

Those who see the sacred in nature are deeply appalled and affronted by all this. In the late 90's and early 00's, the Earth Liberation Front formed to take direct action against this desecration, not just by protesting, but by attacking those responsible for the clear-cutting, especially of old growth forests. The Northwest is full of roads that have a thin screen of trees to shield the innocent driver from vast clearcuts hidden behind. What are called "National forests" are in reality more tree farms than forests.

El Dorado "national forest"

The documentary "If a Tree Falls" is a moving story of a fight in defense of sacred values, against the modern Maloch of the timber industry. Whether this fight is noble or not is one of the themes of the piece. But the timber cutters have another set of values, more in line with the conventional property and rapine program of American capitalism, and get to brand the ELF activists as "terrorists".

The irony of the ELF actions is sadly unmistakable, using fossil fuels like diesel oil to burn down the buildings of the forest destruction complex, (i.e. the forest service and the timber companies), which will be immediately rebuilt using yet more timber. The bulk of the film profiles one of the last holdouts from Federal investigation and prosecution, Daniel McGowan. A pudgy, unprepossessing terrorist indeed, he gradually comes into focus as unshakable in his deep sense of sacred values which are in total opposition to the established order. Likewise, the prosecutors and investigators are profiled at some length, embodying their dedication to the values of law and order under the existing system. Yet they are visibly uncomfortable with what those values ultimately stand for and accomplish in this case.

Capitalism is fundamentally amoral, and exists to serve whatever we as private people want to have. It is a tool, not a value system. If we want houses made of wood, it supplies that wood, no matter the incidental cost to public lands and the animals and plants that live there. If we want electrical power, it will burn the coal to supply that power, and transmit it over fragile lines that regularly cause devastating conflagrations in high winds, abetted by global climate heating. We can not blindly trust capitalism to safeguard our long-term interests, let alone our sacred values, from our short-term needs. That is the work of government. And the last people to whom we can entrust that government are those who own and benefit from the capitalist system.

  • Conservation vs conservatives.
  • Pakistan shows who its friends are.. the Taliban.
  • "Free speech" in Europe is a little different than in the US.
  • The media is not so great in Britain, either.
  • Facebook remains a cesspool. 
  • Burn it up. The destruction of social trust favors Republicans.
  • Fellow sleaze, in a completely illegal appointment.
  • The US excels in diagnosing and treating rare diseases.
  • Economic graph of the week... Left cities are economically more equitable, which is perhaps not saying much.
Economic mobility in various cities, vs overall employment growth.