Monday, September 30, 2013

Rainer Maria Rilke: Sonnets to Orpheus, Part One, IV

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part One, IV
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins beside you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.
Fear not the pain.  Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.
The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy.  You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~
(In Praise of Mortality, translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Obedience to Corporate-State Authority Makes Consumer Society Increasingly Dangerous

 This is a very powerful and important article. ~ Molly

Sunday, 29 September 2013 00:00
                                        By Yosef Brody, Truthout | Op-Ed

Puppet man(Image: Puppet man via Shutterstock) 
Fifty years ago this month, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram published a groundbreaking article describing a unique human behavior experiment. The study and its many variations, while ethically controversial, gave us new insight into human tendencies to obey authority, surprising the experts and everyone else on just how susceptible we are to doing the bidding of others. The original experiment revealed that a majority of participants would dutifully administer increasingly severe electric shocks to strangers - up to and including potentially lethal doses - because an authority told them that pulling the levers was necessary and required (the "shocks," subjects found out later, were fake). People who obeyed all the way to the end did so even as they experienced tremendous moral conflict. Despite their distress, they never questioned the basic premise of the situation that was fed to them: the institution needed their compliance for the betterment of the common good.
Milgram was driven by the need to comprehend Nazi horror, and today his research is rightly recognized as a warning of how easily things can go wrong if people obey authority uncritically and systematically. Yet its social contribution is only rarely understood to have here-and-now implications. We urgently need to update our appreciation of the perils of obedience to accommodate our contemporary global situation.
The most powerful authorities today make demands that can appear pretty reasonable on the surface - yet are driving us toward oblivion. Climate scientists have reached consensus that our behavior, if unchanged, is likely to result in social and environmental devastation, including mass species extinctions and human suffering on an unprecedented scale. Will our society continue to pull levers until we administer catastrophic doses? ...

Acts of obedience have over the centuries been the cause of far more destruction and savagery than have acts of disobedience - maybe most dramatically during World War II. Humanity witnessed an eruption of systematized violence on a scale never before seen, an outcome fully dependent on the obedient behavior of ordinary people. The war ended with two extraordinarily destructive acts: a handful of men obediently followed orders over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the instant incineration of several hundred thousand human beings. Soon afterward, as a result of the Nuremberg Tribunal, it became crystal clear for anyone touched by the war that personal considerations of conscience were simply unavoidable when making decisions in hierarchical contexts. The duty to obey authority could no longer justify inhumane actions, neither morally nor legally. Questions regarding obedience and disobedience were revealed to the world as intensely personal, deeply ethical and of supreme consequence. In a post-Nuremberg world, the ultimate responsibility for one's actions falls on the individual, not on powerful interests that persuade or coerce. 
Unfortunately, the nature of habits is that they take concerted effort to break. So powerful are the habits to obey others that we often continue to do so even when our actions are no longer in our own best interest, or when our ethical principles demand otherwise. ...

Most problematic is the process I call malignant obedience, the type of ongoing, systemic obedience that contributes to social or environmental injustices. Without successful intervention, malignant obedience is, like a cancer, apt to propagate itself until system collapse. 
Not all obedience is malignant, of course. Obedience has an important function as a social bond, a behavioral link between people arranged in hierarchy. Many acts of obedience are pro-social and foster organizational functionality, cooperation and the betterment of life in general. Too often, however, obedience results in ongoing harm, destruction and suffering. ...

Pulling the Levers of Consumerism
Returning to Milgram's obedience paradigm, let's examine these classic experiments in the context of our lives today. While teaching them in my courses, I've come to realize that Milgram's experimental design parallels our ongoing political-economic experiment remarkably well - and may offer the outlines of a solution.
The authority in the Milgram experiments was a man with a gray lab coat and a stern disposition who repeatedly told subjects to administer increasingly intense electric shocks to another person.
In contemporary society, the most powerful authorities are the interlocking boards of directors of major business corporations and the state apparatuses that support them. As in the Milgram paradigm, the demands made by these authorities on today's consumers and citizens are leading to increasingly grave consequences for human life, including dangers that were not foreseen when Corporate America first launched the mass consumerist experiment in the years following World War I.
How is obedience maintained in consumer society? What sorts of escalating consequences can we expect if it continues?
While large corporations sometimes give direct orders to consumers, more often they exact obedience in indirect ways by suggesting images, ideas and social narratives, and by manipulating emotions so that desired behaviors become more likely. This is what we call marketing and advertising, and it works extremely well.
In recent years, a growing body of psychology research, including important work by Tim Kasser at Knox College, has revealed associations between corporate propagation of materialist attitudes (i.e., having a strong value orientation toward money and possessions) and poorer life satisfaction, higher levels of anxiety and depression, poorer quality of interpersonal relationships and lower self-esteem.
According to other researchers, such as Susan Linn at Harvard University, the consequences of prioritizing the consumerist mindset are even more debilitating for children than they are for adults, especially for young children who have not yet developed the capacity for critical thinking. Direct corporate messaging to children, a relatively new and highly sophisticated phenomenon, is a pretty easy way to boost sales, but it also has predictably negative effects on kids' social, psychological and physical health. For example, most marketing to children is for junk food, a significant risk factor for obesity. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity-related disease is predicted to shorten kids' life spans to such a degree that the current generation will probably die younger than their parents for the first time in the modern era. ...

In spite of overwhelming evidence that the habitability of our ecosystem is threatened due to rampant hydrocarbon exploitation, natural resource depletion and unrelenting pollution, we are surrounded by incessant appeals from dominant institutions to pull levers of consumption to keep ourselves and our society flourishing.
Overconsumption is a function of obedience built on the false premise that eternally acquiring more goods will make you, your family and your society happier. These goods are produced in a way that - we now know - is likely to lead to global environmental catastrophe. While many authorities acknowledge climate realities, they also claim that the extraction of fossil fuels continues to be necessary for powering a high-tech, industrial economy.
Is there really no alternative to digging up and burning all the oil, gas and coal that industry can find? Safe energy alternatives to fossil fuels are, in fact, already technologically feasible, but they do not maximize profits and therefore are not offered as a serious replacement. Full transformation to a green energy economy is a realistic option that would come with many permanent jobs, but this is not a choice offered by fossil fuel corporations and the state that subsidizes them to the tune of billions of dollars a year. At the end of the day, an "all of the above" energy policy like that of the Obama administration cannot hold back irreversible climate change.

Maximum Voltage: Destruction of the Human Habitat?
As the dangers escalated and ambivalence intensified, Milgram's authority kept insisting confidently to subjects that "the experiment requires that you continue," a phrase reminiscent of demands made by today's corporate and political elites. And just like Milgram's subjects, many of us experience anxiety about the bleak consequences of our behavior even as we continue to obey out of habit, rationalizing to ourselves that our personal responsibility for the environmental crisis is limited or nonexistent. 
Fortunately, sparks of hope exist. Climate disobedience in America is becoming increasingly common. The avant garde includes people like Tim DeChristopher, who spent 21 months in federal custody for obstructing the leasing of Utah land to oil and gas corporations. Many others have been willing to get arrested as part of a civil disobedience campaign attempting to block construction of the Keystone/XL oil pipeline, including more than 1,250 people at the White House in August 2011. In early August 2013, more than 200 people were arrested for trespassing at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, demanding an end to the burning of fossil fuels and a transition to renewable energy. A week later in Idaho, at least 20 others were arrested for blocking the delivery of oil refinery equipment on its way to Canadian tar sands mines. Other nonviolent activists have been resisting mountaintop-removal coal mining by blockading not only the companies that literally are blowing up mountains for profit, but also the investment banks funding these projects, leading to climate arrests from Appalachia to Connecticut
When habitual obedience leads to malignant outcomes, the most responsible actors take personal risks and sacrifice their own comfort by refusing to cooperate with the will of authority. Modern, civilized society is a historical achievement that grew out of countless acts of principled and nonviolent disobedience, courageous power struggles with unjust and corrupted institutions over fundamental moral issues. ...

Since Milgram shocked the world in 1963, the consequences of mass obedience to authority have become considerably more malignant. Today we must confront the probability that continued obedience will lead to the destruction of the most valuable thing we have: a viable habitat. Thoughtful acts of nonviolent disobedience can not only deepen our democracy, they could very well ensure our species' survival.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. 
~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Unbroken

The Unbroken
There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken...
And a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness we are sanctioned into being,
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole...

 - Rashani Rea

Saturday, September 28, 2013

'Unequivocal' says IPCC: Planet Is Burning, Humans Are Causing It

Global scientific consensus says planet is changing in ways unseen in thousands of years and if something 'substantial' not done, and soon, the results will be unthinkable

- Jon Queally, staff writer
 Published on Friday, September 27, 2013 by Common Dreams
If the public and policymakers want a single adjective to describe the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new assessment report that's the word.
Released Friday, the IPCC report states, that "warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia."
"Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I, responsible for this first stage of the IPCC's reporting on climate. Whereas this report focuseson the geoscience of climate change, subsequent working groups, whose work will be published in 2014, will focus on other aspects of the science as well as mitigation.
Read the full report here.
Headline statements from the IPCC here (pdf).
The report reaffirms that the human influence on the planet's dramatic warming is clear and beyond reproach. According to a press statement accompanying the release of the report:
It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.
Thomas Stocker, Co-Chair of the working group behind the report indicated that in order to prevent the worst case scenarios presented in the report for the century ahead, governments will need to take aggressive action. "Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system," Stocker said. "Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."
The IPCC document—officially labeled as IPCC Working Group I assessment report (AR5) and titled Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis—was approved by the world scientific body on Friday in Stockholm and is the panel's official statement—made after hundreds of the world's top scientists reviewed thousands of studies—on climate change, ocean and atmospheric temperatures, and global warming.
“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said Dahe.
And its other key findings are startling. They include:
  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
  • Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).
  • Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
  • Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
“The world’s scientists have spoken," said Sarah-Jayne Clifton, climate justice and energy coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, in reaction to the report. Clifton said the report once again reaffirms "now with absolute certainty" that climate change is caused by humans and "that it poses a severe and immediate threat to our future and that of the planet."
"Communities around the world are already being devastated by extreme weather. It is untenable for our political leaders to continue their inaction," she said. "The interests of humanity must be prioritized above the profits of dirty energy corporations through an urgent and dramatic transformation of the world’s corporate-controlled, unsustainable energy system."
For the complete article, please go here:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wendell Berry: Reverence and Humility

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world - to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity - our own capacity for life - that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.

Grace Lee Boggs: The Power Within Each of Us

Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit, now 98 years old

History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past. How we tell these stories - triumphantly or self-critically, metaphysically or dialectally - has a lot to do with whether we cut short or advance our evolution as human beings....

Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say "No" to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.

The Fast-Approaching ‘Point of No Return’ for Climate Change

September 27, 2013
Venice Weather
(AP Photo/Luigi Costantini)
For the first time, the world’s top climate change scientists have endorsed an upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions, establishing a target level for curbing emissions that if not achieved could lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climatic changes.
In a report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate panel, scientists also said that the target is likely to be exceeded in a matter of decades unless steps are taken soon to reduce emissions. To contain these changes will require “substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions,” the scientists said.
The panel hopes that its latest report will help move international policymakers toward agreement on a new climate treaty, as negotiations have stalled in recent years. The report also concluded that many of the observed changes in climate since 1950 were “unprecedented over decades to millennia” and that over half of the temperature increases were man-made.
“Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, co-chair of the IPCC working group that produced the report.
In reaction to the news, Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, said: “The IPCC warns of an alarming escalation of impacts but also shows that preventing climate chaos is still possible.”
“The IPCC warns of an alarming escalation of impacts but also shows that preventing climate chaos is still possible.” — Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International
Speaking at a press conference in Washington, DC, Naidoo added that the panel’s warnings call for immediate action. He also pointed to the on-going situation regarding Greenpeace activists who are being held in Russia after they protested oil drilling in the Arctic.
“Unfortunately those who are taking this action are now in prison in Russia, while those that are most responsible are protected by governments around the world,” Naidoo said. One of the main obstacles to addressing climate change is a lack of political will, in particular on agreements that would create legally binding and internationally enforceable targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Window of opportunity
Naidoo talked about the urgency of these issues in this weekend’s interview with Bill Moyers. As the Arctic melts and sea levels rise, Naidoo said bold steps are needed on the part of policymakers in the international community to create an “energy revolution” to ensure carbon emissions drop dramatically.
“There is a small window of opportunity in terms of time. I would say no more than five to ten years,” Naidoo told Bill. “And, based on current practices of governments, if we continue like that over the next coming years, then sadly, I think it will be too late,” Naidoo said.
The IPCC concluded in its report that to keep emissions below the internationally agreed upon target of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) no more than one trillion metric tons of carbon can be burned and the resulting gas released into the atmosphere.
More than half that amount has been emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. According to calculations by one of the report’s authors, the trillionth ton of carbon will be sent into the atmosphere around 2040.
A separate study released earlier this year found that, to give humanity a 75 percent chance of not exceeding the 2 degree Celsius mark, global emissions will have to peak by 2015 and decline by five percent annually thereafter.
Point of no return?
The Greenpeace International study, “Point of No Return,” pinpoints a number of enormous planned energy projects that would “cause massive climate threats,” which would likely cause humanity to exceed the 2 degrees Celsius point.
“Burning the coal, oil and gas from the 14 massive projects would significantly push emissions over what climate scientists have identified as the “carbon budget,” the amount of additional CO2 that must not be exceeded in order to keep climate change from spiraling out of control,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
Reducing and eventually phasing out emissions through a variety of measures is the cornerstone ofGreenpeace’s policy recommendations. The organization is also calling for investment in renewable energy sources and establishing legally binding targets for their use.
Greenpeace said moving forward with these planned projects could lead to dire consequences in the coming years. “The costs will be substantial: billions spent to deal with the destruction of extreme weather events, untold human suffering, and the deaths of tens of millions from the impacts by as soon as 2030,” Greenpeace said.
Last week, at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on President Obama’s climate action plan, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz suggested a time frame similar to that given by Naidoo to act on climate change. “In my view, this decade is the critical one [because] the CO2 problem is cumulative. And every ton we emit, you can check it off against our children and grandchildren,” Moniz said.
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