Noam Chomsky in 3 Doses: Manufacturing Consent (documentary), Profit Over People (interview), Imperial Ambitions (ebook)

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“It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste.” ― Noam Chomsky

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Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

Funny, provocative, and surprisingly accessible, MANUFACTURING CONSENT explores the political life and ideas of Noam Chomsky, world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist. In a dynamic collage of new and original footage, biography, archival gems, imaginative graphics and outrageous illustrations, the film highlights the evolution of Chomsky’s philosophy, his probing analysis of mass media, and his critique of the forces behind the daily news. MANUFACTURING CONSENT stands as the definitive work on Chomsky, favoring a documentary style that encourages viewers to question its own workings, as Chomsky himself encourages his listeners to extricate themselves from the media’s “web of deceit” by undertaking a course of “intellectual self-defense.” Winner of 22 international awards and honors including the Gold Sesterce (Nyon), Gold Apple (Oakland), Gold Hugo (Chicago), Gold Conch (Bombay); three Audience Choice awards, and the “Most Loved By Public” rating at the Sydney International Film Festival. – CINEDIGM

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In this first collection of interviews since the bestselling 9-11, our foremost intellectual activist examines crucial new questions of U.S. foreign policy

Timely, urgent, and powerfully elucidating, this important volume of previously unpublished interviews conducted by award-winning radio journalist David Barsamian features Noam Chomsky discussing America’s policies in an increasingly unstable world. With his famous insight, lucidity, and redoubtable grasp of history, Chomsky offers his views on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the doctrine of “preemptive” strikes against so-called rogue states, and the prospects of the second Bush administration, warning of the growing threat to international peace posed by the U.S. drive for domination. In his inimitable style, Chomsky also dissects the propaganda system that fabricates a mythic past and airbrushes inconvenient facts out of history.

Barsamian, recipient of the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism, has conducted more interviews and radio broadcasts with Chomsky than has any other journalist. Enriched by their unique rapport, Imperial Ambitions explores topics Chomsky has never before discussed, among them the 2004 presidential campaign and election, the future of Social Security, and the increasing threat, including devastating weather patterns, of global warming. The result is an illuminating dialogue with one of the leading thinkers of our time — and a startling picture of the turbulent times in which we live.

DOWNLOAD EBOOK ( 226 pgs, 2005, epub)

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On The Verge Of Climate Collapse // George Monbiot’s book “Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning”

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A FAUSTIAN PACT

In Christopher Marlowe’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, written in 1590 (and that would later inspire Goethe’s Faust), he tells the story of a brilliant scholar, “glutted with learning’s golden gifts”, who reaches the limits of human knowledge. Bored by terrestrial scholarship, he plots, by means of necromancy, to break into

…a world of profit and delight
Of power, honor, of omnipotence.

When, he believes, he has acquired his demonic powers, spirits will fetch him everything he wants:

I’ll have them fly to India for gold,
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
And search all corners of the new-found world
For pleasant fruits and princely delicates.

So Faustus draws a circle and summons the Devil’s servant, Mephistopheles. He offers him a deal: if the Devil will grant him 24 years in which to “live in all voluptuousness”, Faustus will, at the end of that period , surrender his soul to hell. Mephistopheles explains the consequences, but the doctor refuses to believe him.

Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That, after this life, there is any pain?
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.

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So the bargain is struck and signed in blood, and Faustus acquires his magical powers, With the help of a flying “chariot burning bright”, he takes a sightseeing tour around Europe. He performs miracles. He summons fresh grapes from the southern hemisphere in the dead of winter.  After 24 years, the devils come for him.  He begs for mercy, but it is too late. They drag him down to hell.

If you did not know any better, you could mistake this story for a metaphor of climate change.

Faust is humankind, restless, curious, unsated. Mephistopheles, who appears in the original English text as a “fiery man”, is fossil fuel. Faust’s miraculous abilities are the activities fossil fuel permits. 24 years is the period – about half the true span – in which they have enabled us to live in all voluptuousness. And the flames of hell – well, I think you’ve probably worked that out for yourself… Our use of fossil fuels is a Faustian pact.

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To doubt, today, that manmade climate change is happening, you must abandon science and revert to some other means of understanding the world: alchemy perhaps, or magic.

Ice cores extracted from the Antarctic show that the levels in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and methane (these are the two principal greenhouse gases) are now higher than they have been for 650.000 years.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have been rising over the 20th century faster than at any time over the past 20.000 years. The only means by which greenhouse gases could have accumulated so swiftly is human action: carbon dioxide is produced by burning oil, coal and gas and by clearing forests, while methane is released from farms and coal mines and landfill sites.

As CO2 and methane levels in the atmosphere increase, the temperature rises. The concentration of carbon dioxide, the more important of the two, has risen from 280 parts per million parts of air (ppm) in Marlowe’s time to 380 ppm today. Most of the growth has taken place in the last 50 years. The average global temperature over the past century has climbed, as a result, by 0.6º Centigrade. According to the World Metereological Organization, “the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest in any century during the past 1.000 years.

Already sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to the smallest area ever recorded. In the Antarctic, scientists watched stupefied in 2002 as the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed into the sea (see The Guardian’s Antarctica Sends 500 Million Tonne Warning of the Effects of Global Warming, 20 March 2006, by John Vidal).  A paper published in Science magazine concluded that is disintegration was the result of melting caused by a warming ocean.

Almost all the world’s glaciers are now retreating. Permafrost in Alaska and Siberia, which has remained frozen since the last Ice Age, has started to melt. Parts of the Amazon rainforest are turning to savannah as the temperatures there exceed the point at which trees can survive… The World Health Organization estimates that 150.000 people a year are now dying as a result of climate change… All this is happening with just 0.6 ºC of warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a committee of climate specialists which assesses and summarizes the science, estimated in 2001 that global temperatures will rise between 1.4 and 5.8º C this century. (…) Professor Martin Parry of the UK’s Metereological Office estimates that a rise of just 2.1º C will expose between 2.3 and 3 billion people to the risk of water shortages. The disappearance of glaciers in the Andes and the Himalayas will imperil the people who depend on their meltwater, particularly in Pakistan, western China, Central Asia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warns that “in some 40 poor, developing countries, with a combined population of 2 billion, crop production losses due to climate change may drastically increase the number of undernourished people, severely hindering progress in combating poverty and food insecurity.”

HEATGEORGE MONBIOT
Heat – How to Stop the Planet From Burning
(Doubleday Canada, 2006, 277 pgs. Buy at Amazon.)
Read on at http://www.monbiot.com

BROKEN REPUBLIC (Penguin Books, 2011) – The “World’s Biggest Democracy” according to Arundathi Roy

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INDIA: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST DEMOCRACY? By E.C. Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer 

AA1998: while we were reaching the end of the 20th century, India was testing nuclear weapons. The civilization which gave to the world masters of wisdom such as Gandhi and Sidarta Gautama, Ambedkar and Tagore, was very un-wisely on the brink of war.  It was like a reawakening of the politics of the Cold War, in which both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had atom bombs at their disposal, with both India and its next-door-neighbour Pakistan with weapons of mass destruction pointing at one another. The scars of Partition still imprinted in memory. Sad news, indeed. It’s as if, instead of learning from History (Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “the horror, the horror!”), some governments just won’t let go of this very lousy idea of messing with nuclear warfare – a situation so brilliantly mocked by Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

One of India’s greatest writers, Booker-Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy, instead of writing a follow-up for The God of Small Things (1997) – widely considered a masterpiece of contemporary literature – felt she had to devote herself to write about the political reality of her nation’s turmoil. She accused India’s government of dangerously throwing fuel to a fire of nationalist pride with the Hindu H-Bomb. “When you have dispossession and disempowerment on this scale as a result of corporate globalization”, she told David Barsamian, “the anger that it creates can be channeled in bizarre and dangerous ways. India’s nuclear testes were conduced to shore up people’s flagging self-esteem. India is still flinching from the cultural insult of British colonialism, still looking for its identity.” (The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile, p. 37) Nuclear warfare on the hands of India and Pakistan was certainly no reason to celebrate, argued Arundhati Roy, who feared the worst might end up happening  -she finished one of her articles with apocalyptic imagery: “This world of our is 4.600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon.” (read The End of Imagination at Outlook Magazine)

broken-republic-arundhati-roy1Arundhati Roy’s political essays also denounce fiercely the Human Rights abuses in Kashmir, where India’s army imposes its rule with the colossal force of half-a-million soldiers (the largest military occupation in the world), crushing with violence all the demands of independence made by Kashmiris. Opposing the recent wave of celebration of India’s “economic miracle” and skyrocketing GDP, Arundhati Roy states that we shouldn’t be fooled by the ideology marketed by “experts in economics”. One shouldn’t measure the success of a nation by the number of new billionaires it produces each year. And wealth going into the pockets of large corporations and their politicians should never be confused with Common Wealth or Social Justice. She argues that India is a fake democracy, a society still deeply hierarchical, clinging to its rigid Caste System, with obscene rates of deaths by starvation and mass suicides by empoverished peasants (since 1997, it’s estimated that 200.000 of them have killed themselves, often by drinking Monsanto’s pesticides). Arundathi Roys, in her BBC interview, stated that no less than 800 million people in India live on less than 20 rupees a day (which means: 30 cents of a dollar).

According to Roy, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, India aligned with the U.S.A. and the Indian state decided to open its gates to all the marvels of Free Market and “Development”. When the new century dawned, however, the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington were to be followed by a surge of islamophobia, fueled by the Yankees “War on Terror” that was beggining to plan its military invasions and bombings of Afheganistan. In India, this epidemic of islamophobia caused disaster, a re-awakening of communal violence, culminating in tragedy: in Gujarat, 2002, Muslims were massacred  by Hindu nationalists in a pogrom which killed at least 2.000 people and forced at least 150.000 out of their homes. Welcome to the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

Is Indian Capitalism working? If we look at growth rates and skyrocketing GDP, oh yes Sir! But let’s not get blinded by economists and their statistics: India is a country ravaged by famine: “836 million people of India live on less than 20 rupees a day, 1.500.000 malnourished children die every year before they reach their first birthday. Is this what is known as ‘enjoying the fruits of modern development’?” (ROY, Broken Republic, pg. 154).

The Indian State also has to deal with another kind of menace, the “inner enemy”, those dozens of thousands of Indians, called “Maoists” or “Naxalites”, who decided to insurrect in armed rebellion. They want nothing less than to overthrow the Indian State. “Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Suharan Africa”, writes Arundhati Roy (pg. 7).

In 2006, India’s prime minister described the Maoists as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”, a statement which Roy considers very exaggerated.  By magnifying in discourse the danger posed by the Maoist guerrilla, by painting in the media a portrait of them as cruel terrorists, the Indian government aims, argues Arundhati Roy, to justify its war measures against the poorest of its citizens. Quite honest in revealing the masters who he serves, the prime minister also told the Parliament in 2009: “If Left Wing extremism continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment.” (B.R., pg. 3)

For a quick example of the “tremendous natural resources”, it’s enough to mention that “the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is worth 2.27 trillion dollars (twice India’s gross domestic product)” (pg. 23). In order for the mining corporations to have access to this precious things, India needs to be turned into a Police State. It needs to wage war against the hungry, desperate and destitute people who live in this very “profitable” lands, against the people who revolt against being displaced, impoverished and opressed. To simply leave the bauxite in the mountains seems out of the question for the government and the industrialists, of course, who have eyes only for the money that can be made and not to the environmental damage and social havoc that such procedures of extraction will cause. The alliance between a neo-liberal state and its corporate friends leads to a situation in which military power and police repression are massively used to enforce the so-called Free Market. In order to clear the way for the corporations to extract their profits from India’s natural resources, genocide is seen as an acceptable means, if only you preach in the media that a terrorist threat to national security needs to be crushed.

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Comrade Kamla, member of the Maoist guerrillas.

“What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the ‘single biggest internal security challenge’ (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them) the share prices of many of the mining corporations in the region skyrocketed? The mining companies desperately need this war… To justify the militarization, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (…) Here’s a maths question: if it takes 600.000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?” (31-34)

Arundhati Roy speaks from experience: she went to witness first-hand what’s happening in the areas where India’s State and the Maoist guerrilla clash. She tells the tale in Walking With The Comrades, one astonishing feat of investigative journalist that proves how courageous Arundathi Roy really is. She puts herself in danger in order to see for herself what’s going on there, in order to be able to write truly about the battle for the “mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal – homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.” (pg. 42) It seems to be a situation with many similarities with Mexico’s conflict in Chiapas, where the Zapatista’s armed insurrection confronts the Mexican State in its tendency to favour corporate plunder of indigenous lands.

“The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organized, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion.” (pg. 39)

India’s Constitution, adopted in 1950, “ratified colonial policy and made the state custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land.” (pg. 43) Dispossessed of their right to livelihood and dignity, the tribal people became pawns in the Big Business game. “Each time it needed to displace a large population – for dams, irrigation projects, mines – it talked of ‘bringing tribals into the mainstream’ or of giving them ‘the fruits of modern development’. Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people.” (pg.  43) Here we have an example of what Bruno Latour calls The Modernization Front. In India, The Modernization Front, in order to protect corporate interests (after all, corporations are vehicles of Progress…), won’t refrain from engaging in a war against its own people. A War that Arundhati Roy prefers to call by another name: Genocide.

ArundhatiIn the 10-hour drive she untertook through areas known to be “Maoist-infested”, she noted: “These are not careless words. ‘Infest/infestation’ implies disease/pests. Diseases must be cured. Pests must be exterminated. Maoists must be wiped out. In these creeping, innocuous ways the language of genocide has entered our vocabulary.” (pg. 45) She walks for hours and hours each day, along with the comrades, under the shining and vehement sun, carrying a backpack filled with essentials for jungle-survival – and when it comes the time for sleep, she doesn’t mind that much not having a roof over her head. Resting on a sleeping-bag on the forest floor, she celebrates her “star-spangled dormitory” (pg. 63): “It’s my private suite in a thousand-star hotel. (…) When I was a child growing up on the banks of the Meenachal River, I used to think the sound of crickets – which always started up at twilight – was the sound of stars revving up, getting ready to shine. I’m surprised at how much I love being here. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.” (pg. 57-60)

While she walks with the comrades, she knows some areas they’re crossing run the risk of going underwater because of Mega Dams. Since Independence, 3.300 big dams were built, and the amount of displaced is estimated in over 30 million people.

“The Bodhgat Dam will submerge the entire area that we have been walking in for days. All that forest, that history, those stories. More than a hundred villages. Is that the plan then? To drown people like rats, so that the integrated steel plant and the bauxite mine and aluminium refinery can have the river? (…) There was a time when believing that Big Dams were the ‘temples of Modern India’ was misguided, but perhaps understandable. But today, after all that has happened, and when we knoe all that we do, it has to be said that Big Dams are a crime against humanity.” (pg. 142-143)

 In the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, 45% of its cadre are women. The so-called Maoists or Naxalites consist mainly of people from the lowest caste of India’s piramidal society: the Untouchables, the pariahs of India, those who are treated as human scums, crushed underneath a heavy weight of hierarchical machinery. When the Prime Minister said the Maoists were a grave security challenge, “the opposite was true”, argues Roy, who remembers that the rebels were being decimated in a Purification Hunt destined to “send the share-value of mining companies soaring” (pg. 80)

What it all boils down to is a clash between Corporate Capitalism, on the one side, and the majority of the population, on the other. In times where ideologies of Free Trade reign, the exploration of natural resources is made not in order to provide for the commonwealth of the whole of society, but for private profits gained through ecocidal and genocidal means.

“Allowing ‘market forces’ to mine resources ‘quickly and efficiently’ is what colonizers did to their colonies, what Spain and North America did to South America, what Europe did (and continues to do) in Africa. It’s what the Apartheid regime did in South Africa. What puppet dictators in small countries do to bleed their people. It’s a formula for growth and development, but for someone else. (…) Now that mining companies [in India] have polluted rivers, mined away state borders, wrecked ecosystems and unleashed civil war, the consequence of what the coven has set into motion is playing out like an ancient lament over ruined landscapes and the bodies of the poor.” (pg. 170)

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“If the motion picture were an art form that involved the olfactory senses – in other words, if cinema smelled – then films like Slumdog Millionaire would not win Oscars. The stench of that kind of poverty wouldn’t blend with the aroma of warm popcorn.”  – Arundathi Roy

Arundathi Roy’s political thought is so intensely relevant nowadays because she is one of the fiercest critics of what goes by the name of “Democracy” nowadays. States that impose with authoritarian means – including military atrocities and police brutality – the policy of Free Market (which means: let’s protect the private interests of wealthy corporations and billionaires!), call themselves “democracies”. India is often called the world’s biggest democracy, and yet “the Indian State, in all its democratic glory, is willing to loot, starve, lay siege to, and now deploy the air-force in ‘self-defense’ against its poorest citizens.” (pg. 186) So we have to distinguish between Ideology / Propaganda (“India is a Democracy, a Fast-Growing Economy, with a State concerned in providing Security from terrorists”) from Reality (there are a lot of natural resources that corporations are eager to get a hold of… if only the people are thrown out of the way!).

The essential question to be asking is this: what about the future of the planet? If the current model of development continues, what will happen to mankind as we move towards a future that’s bound to be filled with ecological crisis and all the cataclysms ensuing from Climate Change? In India, there’s “several trillion dollars’ worth of bauxite, for example. And “there is no environmentally sustainable way of mining bauxite and processing it into aluminium. It’s a highly toxic process that most Western countries have exported out of their own environments. To produce 1 ton of aluminium, you need about 6 tons of bauxite, more than a 1000 tons of water and a massive amount of energy. For that amount of captive water and electricity, you need big dams, which, as we know, come with their own cycle of cataclysmic destruction. Last of all – the big question – what is the aluminium for? Where is it going? Aluminium is a principal ingredient in the weapons industry – for other countries’ weapons industries…” (p. 211)

Such is the suicidal logic of the Powers That Be, a situation so bleak that many of us are worrying about Mankind’s path: are we following a road that will lead to our own extinction? Does our future hold new horrendous explosions of Atom Bombs and civil wars?  Will Corporate Capitalism be allowed to proceed with its ecocidal practices and its obscene tendencies to concentrate wealth in a few hands (while millions die from hunger and curable diseases)? How to shift direction in order for us to slow down this process that has been turning Planet Earth into an Ecological Wreck? This is how Arundathi Roy finishes this deeply moving and concerning book, Broken Republic:

“Can we expect that an alternative to what looks like certain death for the planet will come from the imagination that has brought about this crisis in the first place? It seems unlikely. The alternative, if there is one, will emerge from the places and the people who have resisted the hegemonic impulse of capitalism and imperialism instead of being co-opted by it. Here in India, even in the midst of all the violence and greed, there is still hope. We still have a population that has not yet been completely colonized by that consumerist dream. We have a living tradition of those who have struggled for Gandhi’s vision of sustainability and self-reliance, for socialist ideas of egalitarianism and social justice. We have Ambedkar’s vision, which challenges the Gandhians as well as the socialists in serious ways. We have the most spectacular coalition of resistance movements, with their experience, understanding and vision. Most important of all, India has a surviving adivasi population of almost 100 million. They are the ones who still know the secrets of sustainable living.

The day capitaism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers… It is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past but may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask: Can you leave the water in the rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their wars.” (pg. 214)

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DOWNLOAD ARUNDATHI ROY’S BOOKS (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!):

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ALGEBRA OF INFINITE JUSTICE – DOWNLOAD

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LISTENING TO GRASSHOPPERS – DOWNLOAD

“We cannot have freedom without wilderness…” – Edward Abbey (1927-1989) described by Douglas Brinkley [includes downloads of free E-BOOKs]

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Edward Abbey  (1927-1989)

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By Douglas Brinkley

For more than 30 years Edward Abbey  presented himself as the literary watchdog of the arid American West, writing 8 novels, dozens of travelogues, and hundreds of essays, all aimed at the heart of the industrial complex President Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned about in his surprisingly frank farewell adress of January 17, 1961. Abbey’s motto came from Walt Whitman – “resist much, obey little” – and he was delighted that everything from the FBI to the Sierra Club derided him as a “desert anarchist”. Blessed with a wicked sense of humor and penchant for pranksterism, Abbey carefully cultivated his ever-changing  role as a stubborn provocateur, (…) but he also was always a disciplined writer, even while playing the robust outdoorsman obsessed with stopping the pillage of the American West. “We can have wilderness without freedom’, Abbey often said, ‘but we cannot have freedom without wilderness.”

And he believed it. Throughout the Cold War era, no writer went further to defend the West’s natural places from strip-mining, speed-logging, power plants, oil companies, concrete dams, bombing ranges, and strip malls than the sardonic Edward Abbey.  His entire adult life was devoted to stopping the ‘”Californicating” of the Four Corners states he considered home – Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Abbey was labeled the “Thoreau of the West”, (…) but he rejected out of hand the notion that he was a ‘nature writer’, even if the untamed wilderness did serve as his lifelong muse; instead, he fancied himself an old-fashioned American moralist, a Mencken-esque maverick who kowtowed to no one in his quest to expose others’ treachery, hypocrisy and greed. It was the “moral duty” of a writer, Abbey insisted, to act as social critic of one’s country and culture, and as such to speak for the voiceless.

EmilysQuotes.Com-society-stew-people-intelligence-consequences-Edward-Abbey

And so he did, especially in the memorable jeremiad with which he launched America’s “ecodefense” movement and rattle the cages of both Big Industry and Big Government: his 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Abbey, born in Pennsylvannia, as an adolescent became disgusted with the big lumber companies’ wanton destruction of the pristine Appalachian woodlands where he grew up hunting squirrels, collecting rocks, and studying plants with fervor, in what he called these ‘glens of mystery and shamanism’. (…) In the summer of 1944, the 17-year-old left Home to seek the America he had heard about in Woody Guthrie songs and Carl Sandburg poems. He hitchhiked to Seattle, tramped down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco, then boxcarred down through the San Joaquin Valley, making his meager keep picking fruit or working in canneries along the way. His hobo holiday of storybook adventure and intoxicating freedom lost its allure only once, when he was arrested for vagrancy in Flagstaff, Arizona, and tossed into jail like the common drunkards already there. It only added to a coming-of-age experience Jack London would have approved of.

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“The Monkey Wrench Gang” (Perennial Classics), Abbey’s most famous novel, illustrated by Robert Crumb

Shortly thereafter, the wanderer of the canyons was drafted into the U.S.. Army and spent the last year of World War II serving in Italy. Upon returning home he headed straight for the Land of Enchantment in the form of the University of New Mexico, where he earned a B.A. in philosophy in 1951 and an M.A. in 1956, the latter on a thesis titled “ANARCHISM AND THE MORALITY OF VIOLENCE” in which Abbey concluded that anarchism wasn’t really about military might, as the Bolshevik Revolution had been, but about opposition to, as Leo Tolstoy had put it, “the organized violence of the state”.

A self-styled flute-playing bum wandering his way through coffeehouses and university circles, Abbey was winked at as Albuquerque’s take on the ancient Greek cynic Diogenes, who allegedly abandoned all his possessions to live in a barrel and beg for his keep. Along the same lines, Abbey took to passionately denouncing the spoilers of the West: greedy developers, cattle ranchers, strip-mining outfits, and the Federal Bureau of Land Management. In response, the FBI began monitoring Abbey for possible communist activities – and continued its surveillance of him for the next 37 years

As a professional nose-tweaker, the bane of Abbey’s existence, the purpose of his antigrowth prose and outlaw posture, was to rage against the machine, to become the most ferocious defender of the American West since John Muir. What Abbey wanted to tear down the most was the Glen Canyon Dam, constructed in 1962 just 60 miles north of the Grand Canyon, a 792.000-ton hydraulic monstrosity that had cost U.S. tax-payers $750 million to build. This concrete colossus had stemmed the natural flow of the Colorado River, desecrating the steep walls of the magnificent Glen Canyon that Abbey imagined grander than all the cathedrals in Europe.

It was with a bellyful of bile over Glen Canyon Dam that Abbey began writing The Monkey Wrench Gang in the early 1970s, putting black humor, theater gimmicks, and clever characterizations together to form what would become a lasting cult classic. (…) In what Newsweek approvingly reviewed as an ‘ecological caper’, a gaggle of good-time anarchists mobilize themselves SWAT-like to harass power companies and logging conglomerates. Like their hero Ned Ludd – an early 19th century British weaver who provoked his countrymen to save their jobs by sabotaging machinery in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, and to whom Abbey dedicated the novel – the Monkey Wrenchers develop into a charismatic clique of econuisances who pour Karo syrup into bulldozers’ fuel tanks, snip barbed-wire fences, and try to blow up a coal train all in preparation for their real objective: dynamiting Glen Canyon Dam to bits. Their battle cry is ‘Keep It Like It Was!

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The Monkey Wrench Gang 
is far more than just a controversial book – it is revolutionary, anarchic, seditious, and, in the wrong hands, dangerous. Although Abbey claimed it was just a work of fiction written to ‘entertain and amuse’, the novel was swiftly embraced by ecoactivists. (…) When asked if he was really advocating blowing up a dam Abbey said, “No”, but added that “if someone else wanted to do it, I’d be there holding a flashlight.” Failing to see his humor, Abbey’s detractors ignored an important point: lovable pranksters in his novel kill only machines, not people, unlike the truly violent protagonists of such fictional works as Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit To Brooklyn.

Abbey’s fictional Monkey Wrenchers considered themselves justified in resorting to whatever means they found necessary to defend the region from ‘deskbound executives’ with their ‘hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by calculators’. It was civil disobedience in the grand tradition of Thoreau.

– Douglas Brinkley

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EDWARD ABBEY – E-BOOKS FOR FREE DOWNLOAD  >>>>

Title: The Monkey Wrench Gang
Author(s): Edward Abbey
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 1992
Language: English Pages: 241
Size: 1 MB (1416590 bytes) Extension: pdf
Download E-book: FREE E-BOOK

Title: Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching [DOWNLOAD]
Author(s): Bill Haywood, Dave Foreman, Edward Abbey
Publisher: Abbzug Press Extension:  pdf
Size: 5 MB (4939841 bytes)
Year: 1993 Edition: 3rd
Language: English Pages: 360
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“ANARCHISM AND THE MORALITY OF VIOLENCE”
By Edward Abbey (Thesis in Philosophy, University of New Mexico, 1959).
DOWNLOAD PDF

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION
A statement of the problem, with definitions of terms to be used and procedures to be followed.

II. ANARCHIST VIOLENCE: THE THEORISTS
The justification of repudiation of violence, as found in the thought of five major European anarchist writers: Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and Sorel.

III. ANARCHIST VIOLENCE: THE THEORISTS
The justification of violence as presented by active revolutionaries and sympathizers, with particular reference to the arguments of the Haymarket anarchists, Emma Goldman, and Albert Camus.

IV. CONCLUSION
A summary of the findings, with further evaluation and final considerations.

* * * * *

You might also like:

BBC Scotland Doc about John Muir

WRENCHED, Bio-doc about Abbey (trailer)

INTERVIEW WITH ABBEY (Full)

“Life Far From Hot Baths” – Simone Weil’s philosophy in connection with Zen Buddhist ethics

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“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away.

To define force – it is that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was there, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is a spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us.

 Nearly all the Iliad takes place far from hot baths. Nearly all of human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths…

Such is the empire of force, as extensive as the empire of nature.”

SIMONE WEIL  (1909-1943),
Iliad: Poem of Force, pgs. 3-4-10.

 

6Simone Weil reads the Iliad as if she is witnessing before her compassionate eyes those occurrences evoked by the poet’s verses: she doesn’t turn her face away, refusing to see, when the horrors of war are depicted in Homer’s blood-soaked pages. The war between Trojans and Greeks offers infinite occasions for us to reflect upon Force – especially in its deathly effects. What results from the battles is always men laying lifeless on the ground, “dearer to the vultures than to their wives”, and Simone Weil stresses that even the greatest heroes – Hector or Achilles – are frequently reduced to things by the enemy’s force. “The bitterness of such a spectacle is offered us absolutely undiluted. No comforting fiction intervenes; no consoling prospect of immortality; and on the hero’s head no washed-out halo of patriotism descends.” (WEIL: p. 4)

If there’s a lot of tragedy in the Iliad – and it surely has, even tough it was written centuries before the Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides) were born – it’s because force often is employed with tragic effects. It’s clear to me that Simone Weil uses the concept of “force” to denote something she morally condemns, and in such a manner that one might fell she has affinities with Eastern wisdom, especially Buddhist ethics. For example, D. T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhist philosopy, in which he opposes Power and Love and describes them as hostile to one another. Force/power is imposed upon a subject in order to reduce him to a thing, either by killing him (and thus forcingly throwing him back into the inanimate world), either by violating, humiliating, opressing or harming him in such a way that the person is still alive and breathing, but is no longer an autonomous subject. “A man stands disarmed and naked with a weapon pointing at him; this person becomes a corpse before anybody or anything touches him… still breathing, he is simply matter.” (WEIL: pg. 5)

A difference or imbalance between the forces of two individuals are excellent evidence of the onthological presence of Simone Weil’s force or Suzuki’s power among all that’s human. Trivial examples abound. Someone with a bazooka overpowers someone with a knife. A knifed man forces an unarmed woman into carnal processes she wouldn’t unforcibly agree to. And there are hundreds of movie scenes, especially in westerns and action blockbusters, that tell stories about this battle of forces and powers. But for millenia before cinema was invented human history cointained in its bosom duels, rivalry, competion – and one of the most ancient of literary monuments of the world, Homer, has blood of battle soaked all over his pages. To speak like a Greek, human history is filled with ágon and húbris.

Weil writes about the Iliad being a French woman in the industrial-commercial age, and surely her experience in Renault’s factory, where she went to work in order to experience in the flesh the fate of the proletariat, informs her reading of History as a whole. The factory’s of the 20nd century are a force that dehumanizes and turns subjects into things, Weil dennounced on her writings La Condition Ouvrière, and she can sense a similar process mirrored in  The Iliad.

Iliad

“There are unfortunate creatures who have become things for the rest of their lives. Their days hold no pastimes, no free spaces, no room in them for any impulse of their own. It is not that their life is harder than other men’s nor that they occupy a lower place in the social hierarchy; no, they are another human species, a compromise between a man and a corpse. The idea of a person’s being a thing is a logical contradiction. Yet what is impossible in logic becomes true in life, and the contradiction lodged in the soul tears it to shreds. This thing is constantly aspiring to be a man or a woman, and never achieving it – here, surely, is death but death strung out over a whole lifetime; here, surely is life, but life that death congeals before abolishing.” (WEIL: p. 8)

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In the epoch of the Trojan War, it was destiny of a conquered enemy to become a slave, that is, to be turned into a thing, deprived of autonomy, and Homer describes in some occasions how people are forced into ships, taken away “to a land where they will work wretched tasks, laboring for a pitiless master” (HOMER. Iliad. Apud WEIL: p. 9).

A person enslaved is being treated like a beast, like a horse on reins. 12 Years A Slave, Scott McQueen’s film, is a fresh reminder of these horrors. Simone Weil denounces the inhumanity in human affairs wherever she sees it: be it on a Greek epic-poem or in the factories of the car industry. In this we can see how Simone Weil joins hands once again with Buddhist ethics: she denounces the ways in which misused force, or tyranny, disrespects sentient beings by treating them as if they were inert matter.

What Weil and Suzuki denounce in the workings of Force and Power is that lack of compassion which Buddhist ethics, by dissolving the ego, aims to cure ourselves of. Enlightnement or Nirvana, in Buddhism, can’t be achieved without compassion. It may also be argued that French philosophy in the 20nd century has few voices more compassionate than Simone Weil’s.

“Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. In the Iliad there is not a single man who does not at one time or another have to bow his neck to force.” (WEIL: p. 11)

There’s no simplistic dualistic division between the forceful and the forceless in Weil’s philosophy – of course one can be a slave for a whole lifetime, and one can be a master and tyrant from birth to the grave, but force isn’t something a human being can only exert upon others. Nature itself overpowers tremendously each and every one of the sentient and living creatures in its bosom, in such a way that even the most powerful among humans is still a frail thing – and always mortal, transient.

Let’s remember that the Iliad begins when a heated controversy is dividing two very powerful Greeks, Agamemnon and Achilles. This fight for supremacy is all around Homer’s poem, everyone wants to increase his power, and this can’t be done by any other way than at the expense of others. The result of this mad rivalry is huge bloodshed. “He that takes the sword, will perish by the sword. The Iliad formulated the principle long before the Gospels did, and in almost the same terms: Ares is just, and kills those who kill.” (p. 14)

1Certainly inspired and influenced by the philosophy of one of her dearest teachers, Alain  (Émile-Auguste Chartier, 1858-1961, author of Mars ou La Guerre Jugée), Simone Weil is a passionate apologist for philosophy’s powers against inhumanity – because “where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence.” (p. 14) And, she argues, the horrors and tragedies that Homer depicts can also be understood as results of lack-of-reflection, of hastiness to act, of an incapacity to refrain from agression. “Hence we see men in arms behaving harshly and madly. We see their sword bury itself in the breast of a disarmed enemy who is in the very act of pleading at their knees. We see them triumph over a dying man by describing to him the outrages his corpse will endure. We see Achilles cut the throats of twelve Trojan boys on the funeral pyre of Patroclus as naturally as we cut flowers for a grave. These men, wielding power, have no suspicion of the fact that the consequences of their deeds will at lenght come home to them – they too will bow the neck in their turn.” (WEIL: p. 14)

What’s astonishing about these last words is how closely Weil gets to the Buddhist idea of karma. And what’s also touching is how compassionate Simone Weil truly is when she describes those numerous occasions when we fail to treat ourselves as “brothers in humanity” (WEIL: p. 15). But Weil is no Buddhist, and in the text we are following she’s interested mainly in the Greeks and how they also had a concept similar to karma, some sort of “retribution which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force”. She claims this is the “the main subject of Greek thought”:

Nemesis

Greek godess Nemesis

“It is the soul of the epic. Under the name of Nemesis, it functions as the mainspring of Aeschylus’s tragedies. (…) Wherever Hellenism has penetrated, we find the idea of it familiar. In Oriental countries which are steeped in Buddhism, it is perhaps this Greek idea that has lived on under the name of Karma. The Occident, however, has lost it, and no longer even has a word to express it in any of its languages: conceptions of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life are, in the West, restricted to a servile function in the vocabulary of technics.” (WEIL: p. 16)

In André Comte-Sponville’s philosophy, especially in his Short Treatise Of Great Virtues, Simone Weil’s ethical legacy lives on, and it’s enough to read his wise chapters on “temperance”, “prudence” or “love” to get convinced that France is keeping alive the flame of these virtues, or at least hoping to spread them by inviting more humans to practise them. “A moderate use of force, which alone would enable man to escape being enmeshed in its machinery, would require superhuman virtue, which is as rare as dignity in weakness.” (WEIL: p. 20)

In Simone Weil’s ethics, moderation of force, care for the feelings of others, awareness of alterity, are virtues to be practised by those who see themselves as brothers and sisters in humanity. But when we look back at History we have few reasons to be optimistic. And besides, as Simone Weil points out with irony, we still live in times where “there is always a god handy to advise someone to be unreasonable.” (21)

Simone Weil’s writings frequently denounces inhumanities commited by humans. She spreads awareness of our common humanity by showing how frequently we treated ourselves in a subhuman fashion. And it’s not true that only the slaves are turned into subhumans when they are forced into slavery: the master also loses his humanity when he enslaves. And war and slavery are dehumanizing forces because they work towards destruction and death, “yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” (WEIL: p. 22)

Is Weil, then, simply a pacifist, a Gandhian? Or did she approve armed uprisings against the Nazi occupation of Paris, for example? Her condemnation of war, and not only on “moral” grounds, but in a much broader sense, in an existential level, would necessarily lead her to a practice of non-resistance? The answer is hard to give, considering that Simone Weil, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), enlisted to fight against the fascists, and can be seen in a famous photograph with a shotgun in her hand, quite willing to add a little bit of force to the Anti-Franco militias. But Simone Weil was no brute – on the contrary, she was gentleness incarnate, and her personal favorite in the Iliad is “Patroclus, who knew how to be sweet to everybody, and who throughout the Iliad commits no cruel or brutal act.” (WEIL: p. 26)

The possession of a fire arm does not imply the right to brutality or cruelty. Being armed isn’t a license to act with mad húbris. When I think of Simone Weil armed with a shotgun in Spain, willing to fight against Fascism when she saw it dangerously spreading through Europe, I can’t be simplistic about pacifism, as if it was some kind of ethical absolute. I don’t believe it is – and neither did Simone Weil back in the 1930s or the Zapatistas under the guidance of Marcos in Chiapas, Mexico, nowadays.

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War turns us into subhumans beasts killing themselves in mad rivalry, but how on Earth are we to build a planetary community in which war has been banned, and ample dialogue and mutual enlightnement between cultures reigns? For thousands of years, war seems to follow humanity, always on its trail. That ideal sung by John Lennon in “Imagine”, the Brotherhood of Man, remains to be futurely made flesh. In Homer’s Iliad Simone Weil sees nothing to be optismistic about, just “a picture of uniform horror, of which force is the sole hero.” (p. 27) But what’s sublime about Homer’s art, the lasting artistic value of ancient epic poetry, lies in the poet’s capacity to portray suffering befalling all – both Greeks and Trojans. Thus it points out to the fact that we’re all brothers in sorrow, and that’s an excellent reason for peace and compassion, as a Buddhist could put it.

“However, such a heaping-up of violent deeds would have a frigid effect, were it not for the note of incurable bitterness that continually makes itself heard. It is in this that the Iliad is absolutely unique, in this bitterness that proceeds from tenderness and that spreads over the whole human race, impartial as sunlight. Never does the tone lose its coloring of bitterness; yet never does the bitterness drop into lamentation. Justice and love, which have hardly any place in this study of extremes and of unjust acts of violence, nevertheless bathe the work in their light without ever becoming noticeable themselves, except as a kind of accent. Everyone’s unhappiness is laid bare without dissimulation or disdain; no man is set above or below the condition common to all men; whatever is destroyed is regretted. (…) Whatever is not war, whatever war destroys or threatens, the Iliad wraps in poetry; the realities of war, never. (…) The cold brutality of the deeds of war is left undisguised; neither victors nor vanquished are admired, scroned, or hated. An extraordinary sense of equity breathes through the Iliad. One is barely aware that the poet is a Greek and not a Trojan.” (WEIL: p. 30 – 32)

For Simone Weil, the poet who wrote the Iliad acted with marvelous impartiality, and sang about the misfortunes and losses, about the victories and triumphs, of both sides of the conflict, in such a way that Greeks and Trojans are shown as co-participants of a common process. “Attic tragedy, or at any rate the tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles, is the true continuation of the epic. The conception of justice enlightens it, without ever directly intervening in it; here force appears in its coldness and hardness; (…) here more than one spirit bruised and degraded by misfortune is offered for our admiration.” (p. 34) The enduring existential value of such art lies in this: to be aware of human misery is “a precondition of justice and love”, claims Weil. (p. 35)

When Simone Weil affirms that “misery is the common human lot” (p. 35), she’s once again approaching a landscape familiar to Buddhists: one of the Four Noble Truths enounced by the enlightened Sidharta Gautama is  “all is suffering”. From this awareness  springs compassion. Love, justice, compassion, can’t arise without the clear perception of our brotherhood in suffering. However, it’s clear as water that, even tough she was born in a Jewish family, Simone Weil is deeply suspicious of the doctrines and dogmas of Judaism:

“With the Hebrews, misfortune was a sure indication of sin and hence a legitimate object of contempt; to them a vanquished enemy was abhorrent to God himself and condemned to expiate all sorts of crimes – this is a view that makes cruelty permissible and indeed indispensable. And no text of the Old Testament strikes a note comparable to the note heard in the Greek epic, unless it be certain parts of the book of Job. Throughout 20 centuries of Christianity, the Romans and the Hebrews have been admired, read, imitated, both in deed and word; their masterpieces have yielded an appropriate quotation every time anybody had a crime he wanted to justify.” (p. 36)

Belief in gods is seen as highly problematic in Simone Weil’s philosophy, even tough it would be an exageration to call her an atheist, considering the intense mystical impulses that she manifests so vividly in her ouevre. What Weil can’t stand is the arrogance of those who use religion to falsely believe they are superior to the rest, that they are immune from evils that will only befall others. When religion leads to the denial of our common humanity, Weil rejects it: “the only people who can give the impression of having risen to a higher plane, who seem superior to ordinary human misery, are the people who resort to the aids of illusion, exaltation, fanaticism, to conceal the harshness of destiny from their own eyes.” (p. 36)

We still have a lot to learn from the Greeks, including its great epic poet, and Simone Weil admires Homer’s Iliad so much that she claims that

“in spite of the brief intoxication induced at the time of the Renaissance by the discovery of Greek literature, there has been, during the course of 20 centuries, no revival of the Greek genius. Something of it was seen in Villon, in Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and – just once – in Racine. To this list of writers a few other names might be added. But nothing the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem that appeared among them. Perhaps they will yet rediscover the epic genius, when they learn that there is no refuge from fate, learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate. How soon this will happen is another question.” (WEIL: p. 37).

These words also sound, to my ears, in tune with Buddhist ethics, especially for the praise of compassion for the suffering of others. And of course that within the realm of The Other we should include Life-As-A-Whole, and not only human life. The Buddhist notion of “sentient beings” is such a great idea, methinks, because it describes something much vaster than Mankind, something that, without being a god, certainly transcends the individual self. Dogs and cats, lions and owls, sunflowers and worms, they all belong to the great family of the living, they are all sentient beings, even tough the degree of self-cousciousness greatly varies.

If both Simone Weil’s philosophy and Buddhist ethics are worthy of our attention, study and discussions, methinks it’s mainly because of the imminent ecological catastrophes that will quake our future and will shatter the current “Western Way” of dealing with Nature. Or, to put it in another words, it won’t be possible for the West to continue in its industrial-commercial path, on its productivist húbris, in its crazy consumerism meddled with egotisticall individualism, simply because the Earth’s biosphere won’t stand for it – and if we keep on going in the same direction, we can only expect mass-scale tragic consequences arising from so much atmospherical pollution, fossil-fuel burnings, deforestations, oil spills… A wiser relationship with Nature urgently needs to emerge from the cultural slumber of destructive capitalism – or else we’re damned.

Suzuki 2

“Westerners talk about conquering Nature and never about befriending her. They climb a high mountain and they declare the mountain is conquered. They suceed in shooting a certain type of projectile heavenwards and then claim that they have conquered the air. (…) Those who are power-intoxicated fail to see that power is blinding and keeps them within an ever-narrowing horizon. Love, however, transcends power because, in its penetration into the core of reality, far beyond the finiteness of the intellect, it is infinity itself. Without love one cannot see the infinely expanding network of relationships which is reality. Or, we may reverse this and say that without the infinite network of reality we can never experience love in its true light.

To conclude: Let us first realize the fact that we thrive only when we are co-operative by being alive to the truth of interrelationship of all things in existence. Let us then die to the notion of power and conquest and be resurrected to the eternal creativity of love which is all-embracing and all-forgiving. As love flows out of rightly seeing reality as it is, it is also love that makes us feel that we – each of us individually and all of us collectively – are responsible for whatever things, good or evil, go on in our human community, and we must therefore strive to ameliorate or remove whatever conditions are inimical to the universal advancement of human welfare and wisdom.”

(D. T. Suzuki, The Awakening of Zen, “Love and Power”, pg. 70)

REFERENCES

WEIL, Simone; BESPALOFF, Rachel. War and Iliad. Preface by Christopher Benfley. New York Review Books Classics, 2005.

SUZUKI, Daisetz Teitaro. The Awakening of Zen. Edited by Christmas Humphreys. Boston: Shambhala, 1980.

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(Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes, at Awestruck Wanderer,
Toronto, Canada. March 2014.)

Alan Watts (1915-1973) talks about Ecology and the “Continuous Stream of Life”

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“Man as an organism is to the world outside like a whirlpool is to a river: man and world are a single natural process, but we are behaving as if we were invaders and plunderers in a foreign territory. For when the individual is defined and felt as the separate personality or ego, he remains unaware that his actual body is a dancing pattern of energy that simply does not happen by itself. It happens only in concert with myriads of other patterns – called animals, plants, insects, bacteria, minerals, liquids, and gases. The definition of a person and the normal feeling of ‘I’ do not effectively include these relationships. You say, ‘I came into this world.’ You didn’t; you came out of it, as a branch from a tree.” (pg. 20)

“The special branch of science which studies the relation of living beings to their environments – ecology – shows beyond doubt that the individual organism and its environment are a continuous stream, or field, of energy. To draw a new moral from the bees and the flowers: the two organisms are very different, for one is rooted in the ground and broadcasts perfume, while the other moves freely in the air and buzzes. But because they cannot exist without each other, it makes real sense to say that they are in fact two aspects of a single organism. Our heads are very different in appearance from our feet, but we recognize them as belonging to one individual because they are obviously connected by skin and bones. But less obvious connections are no less real…

Civilized human beings are alarmingly ignorant of the fact that they are continuous with their natural surroundings. It is as necessary to have air, water, plants, insects, birds, fish, and mammals as it is to have brains, hearts, lungs, and stomachs. The former are our external organs in the same way that the latter are our internal organs. (…) The sun, the earth, and the forests are just as much features of your own body as your brain. Erosion of the soil is as much a personal disease as leprosy, and many ‘growing communities’ are as disastrous as cancer. That we do not feel this to be obvious is the result of centuries of habituation to the idea that oneself is only the envelope of skin and its contents, the inside but not the outside. The extreme folly of this notion becomes clear as soon as you try to imagine an inside with no outside, or an outside with no inside.” (pg. 36-37)

“Civilization, as we have worked it out, is a system of screens which conceal the connections between events. (…) Bacon, as found packaged in the supermarket, gives no intimation of pig, and steaks appear as if they were entities like apples, having no relation to the slicing of dead cattle. To remove such screens is held to be as offensive and vulgar as to relieve one’s bowels in the gutter of a public street.” (pg. 40)

ALAN WATTS.
“Does It Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality.”
New World Library, California, 2007.
Available at the Toronto Public Library.

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Glamour and Envy: remarks on the Madness of Consumerism, with John Berger…

Fellow earthlings! Many among us are surrounded by images of Photoshoped, Barbiesque, and very highly-paid top-models. Many of us have the unfortunate luck to be surrounded by an army of ads and its insistent and annoying injunctions: “Buy! Own! Consume! Work! Obey! Enrich! Just do it!” Many of us have been told – and the stupidiest among us have even believed in it! – that Money will open the gates of Heaven for anyone who’s smart enough to get his hands in a lot of it.

This pervasive commercial imageryinfest the cities where capitalism and “modernity” reign (and also in the places where Imperial power took them…). They command us to consume products that large multi-national corporations are devoted to selling us. These corporations don’t want anyone of us to wonder about the work conditions for the people who actually produced them (and usually are very badly paid and live in places of terrible health conditions… remember Nike’s sweatshops in Asia?). The corporations don’t want any of us to question this system that permits extreme accumulation of wealth in a few hands (the last time I checked the statistics, 85 people were the owners of a wealth equivalent to that of half of Mankind).

The publicity machinery is destined to turn us into stupid unquestioning puppets, who give their money away in exchange for products whose real producers are being explored and kept in poverty in lots of societies who, in the Global Market, are the peryphery of cheap labour destined to suffer miserably through life so that the so-called First World can enjoy the delirious delights of Consumerism. As most of you are quite aware, this has been wrecking our planet and, if it’s allowed to go on, will only lead us to witness, in coming years, some of the worst ecological catastrophes ever endured by our species – and all other who share with us this “pale blue dot”, as Carl Sagan called it. But enough, for today, of my awkwards incursion into Saganesque ecology or Marxist critique of the commercial-society’s trashy productions… Let’s put aside the theme of ecocide and save it for another ocassion, fellow earthlings!

Many have pointed out that the “subliminal effect” of modern marketing campains is to brainwash us into a nowadays very wide-spread behaviour: that which is dominant on consumerist societies. You can’t be possible consider yourself a fully-fullfiled person if you’re not the owner of fancy cars, chic houses, hi-tech electronic devices, jewels and gizmos… The so-called Show Business is a factory of dreams who attempt to invade our subconscious minds and turn us into morons who obbey ads like Pavlov’s dogs did with the bells.

We are made to believe, by this day-to-day conditioning, not very disimilar to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World techniques of mass indoctrination, in a link between Happiness (or The Greatest Good in Human Life) and consumerism and ownership. In BBC’s documentary The Century of the Self, the tale is told of a certain Mr. Edward Bernays, Sigmund’s Freud nephew, who was a key figure in the United States early 20th century mass-conditioning of consumering citizens. It’s scary to take a look behind the curtains and discover these sinister experiments that contributed so much to boost up capitalism. Wherever Free Market capitalist gained predominance, it created as by-products of consumerism an unbelievably high mountain of trash – literal trash, but also aesthetic trash (I mean: ugly ads and terrible publicity images). We’ve been going mad on this overdose of images with promises of delight – if only you buy! Many of us, fellow earthlings, have forgotten all delights that can’t be bought, all the beauty that can’t be owned, all the happiness that can be experienced without any need of possessions.

The manufacturers of this Show Bizz dreams, those who sponsor the Mass Media, those who spread through society this images that promise delight in connection with the enjoying of a bought merchandise, they’ve been leading large portions of mankind into a very questionable path: that of seeking for happiness in the process of buying and owning things, in having instead of being. We’ve been praising competition instead of cooperation, individualism instead of collective effort,  superficial glamour instead of genuine beauty.

Well, at least these were some of the thoughts that popped up in my head while I was watching BBC’s Ways of Seing, in which John Berger embarks in similar considerations about what Guy Debord called La Societé Du Spetacle. Berger has lots of interesting things to say about Consumerist Society’s imagery and how they produce large amounts of toxic envy and cheap glamour. According to Berger’s interpretation, glamour is something that evokes or produces, in its receiver, a feeling of envy. Glamorous images are supposed to depict something desirable, something to strive for; they’re ideal scenes who don’t intend in any away to portray reality. They appeal to our emotions and try to manipulate them into a set-up that’s deemed profitable by the economical powers reigning in commercial societies, and “personified” in banks and stock markets.

Imagine a woman who sees in a daily basis, for years and years, gorgeously sexy and wealthy women exhibiting all their glamour in magazines and outdoors – figures such as the millionaires Kate Moss or Gisele Bünchen. One of the possible effects is: this woman will envy that which the fabricated image is supposed to depict. Once again, the subliminal effect is intended to be: you’ll only be a happy and fulfilled human if you look like Moss or Bünchen… Thus the epidemics of gyms, plastic surgery, silicone boobs, anorexia – among other techniques that try to turn a woman into something similar to a commercially produced cliché. Our ideals of beauty have been so deformed by publicity’s invasion of the public space, by its invasive glamourous imagery, that feelings of low self-steem, depression and inedequacy are skyrocketing (just check Prozac’s sales!). But well, I’ll shut up right now and summon Mr. Berger to continue this debate – so here it comes, a quote from Ways of Seeing fourth and last episode, certainly one of the greatest critiques of publicity ever aired on TV:

berger-author-pic“Publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour. Without social envy, glamour cannot exist. Envy becomes a common emotion in a society that has moved towards democracy and then stopped halfway. Where status is theoretically open to everyone, but enjoyed by only a few. (…) Publicity and oil painting share many of the same ideals, all of them related to the principle that you are what you have. (…) Publicity appeals to a way of life we aspire to, or think we aspire to, but have not yet achieved. A publicity picture suggests that if we buy what it is offering, our life will be different from what it is. Not only will our home be different, but all of our relationships will become radiant because of our new possessions. But we can only achieve such radiance if we have money, thus urging each of us to scramble competitively to get more… and making money appear as if it were itself magical. (…) It promotes the illusion that a man’s ability to consume is directly related with his sexual virility. According to the rules of the dream, those who do not have this power, those who lack glamour, become faceless, almost non-existant. Publicity both promises and threatens. It plays upon fear, often the fear of not being desirable, of being unenviable. It suggests that you are inadequate as you are, but it consoles you with the promise of a dream… But the highest value of this civilization is the individual ego… one can only say this culture is mad.” – BERGER