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"Forget the Rest" blog


February 9, 2014

Please join us at the Prandoni family home in Santa Fe on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4:00 pm, and more news and views

Dear Study Group core supporters and friends –

If you don't want to be on the Study Group’s inner email list, write us and we will remove you!  For reference, five previous letters have been sent to this list, on 10/23/13, 11/15/13, 11/25/13, and 12/27/13, none of which have been sent to the general membership or posted. 

In this letter, which is not going to the main Study Group list:

  1. Please join us at the Prandoni family home in Santa Fe on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 4:00 pm
  2. Greg to speak at Gray Panthers meeting, Albuquerque, Sat, Feb. 22nd, 1pm.
  3. Please join us the Study Group “World Headquarters” on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 6:30 pm
  4. Simplify into Spring!  Donations are being accepted for the Study Group Spring Garage Sale, Friday February 28 through Sunday March 2.  Volunteers wanted! 
  5. Excellent 25th Anniversary Study Group mugs available! 
  6. The ignored gravity of our civilizational crisis – and the majesty of a wholehearted response.  It’s a brave new world, or no world at all.

Dear Study Group core supporters and friends –

First of all, board member Marita and Peter Prandoni have invited members of the Study Group who live in the area to their lovely home near Seton Village south of Santa Fe on Sunday, February 23, at 4 pm, for food, drink, and discussion.    

I will provide a (short!) update on the status of nuclear weapons and schemes for their “modernization” (mostly good news) and of our nuclear laboratories.  I will have just returned from a sort of “nuclear Davos” here in DC (offered free to us by the organizers – shhh please) and various lobbying visits on and around the Hill. 

Perhaps more interestingly, Trish will provide a report on the second international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Nayarit, Mexico, from which she will just have returned.  If I know Trish, she will have pictures of our colleagues and the diplomatic community who will be gathered there.  We very much want to support this international movement – and some of them want to work with us here – but we need more member participation to help make that happen smoothly.  

Overall, we want to have a discussion with you, our members, about the opportunities before us in the crisis our state, and our world, are now enterin
g.  Basically, the sun is shining, and we need manpower and womanpower to make hay while we can.  But in the meantime we also want to enjoy one another’s company, and that’s what this gathering is about also. 

Regardless of whether you think you can contribute in any way or not, please feel comfortable in coming to this discussion, if you can make it.  And if you know a friend who might be able to help our work, bring them too.  If we run out of space at the Prandoni’s (and we may) we will schedule another meeting pronto in Santa Fe, as the subject matter can’t wait.  (See 2. and 3. below for Albuquerque meetings.)

Please call Marita at 505-989-1014 to RSVP so she will know how much food to prepar
e.  She will also explain how to get to her place.

  1. Greg to speak at Gray Panthers meeting, Albuquerque, Sat, Feb. 22nd, 1pm.

I will be speaking at the Gray Panthers meeting on Saturday, February 22nd, 1 pm, at the Highland Senior Center, 131 Monroe Street NE, Albuquerque, on “Partnership of the Generations -- or Collapse.”  Many of the people who will be present have been serious activists for decades and the discussion is bound to the good.   There is no charge to attend and you do not have to be a member. 

  1. Please join us the Study Group “World Headquarters” on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 6:30 pm

We hope those of you in Albuquerque will be able to come to 2901 Summit Place NE for an update from Trish and Greg, with snacks and drinks and relaxed discussion after short updates from each of us, as above.  We really want to work with folks in Albuquerque more and there are very great opportunities for solidarity and community with those who live nearby.  The Study Group could do much more in Albuquerque.  Come on over! 

  1. Simplify into Spring!  Donations are being accepted for the Study Group Spring Garage Sale, Friday February 28 through Sunday March 2.  Volunteers wanted!

We’re going to have a garage sale to raise money for the Study Group on the above dates.   We crave salable items, and volunteers.  You can bring your goodies at any time from tomorrow on; just call the office at 505-265-1200 and speak to our Volunteer Coordinator Astrid Webster, who is handling donations and volunteer scheduling.  A good time should be had by all, so please chip in however you can! 

And it is a very good time to simplify, not just our material lives but our attention as well.    Distraction, in its various forms, is probably the primary reason citizens lose political struggles.  It’s not our primarily our adversaries’ money that is the problem but rather the focused and continued attention and skill money buys.  If one has focused, long-term attention, and the skills that result from that, one has most of what the Koch brothers or the military-industrial complex has to pay for with millions of dollars.  I am proposing that there exists, or should exist, a relationship and continuum between spring cleaning and preparation for real citizenship in a time of crisis, about which more below.  William Morris’s advice in 1880 is still good, however far we may be from following it at the moment: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” 

  1. Excellent 25th Anniversary Study Group mugs available! 

Our 25th anniversary mugs are here!  Get one for just $10!  There are three ways to do this: a) call the office (505-265-1200) and if convenient drop by and pick one up; b) come to an events; or c) ask us to send one to you, which will cost more and take more time.   

  1. The ignored gravity of our civilizational crisis – and the majesty of a wholehearted response
Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be only?

Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” 

…in The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis (1924) [Freud] wrote the following: “Neurosis does not disavow the reality, it ignores it; psychosis disavows it and tries to replace it.” (p. 185) What psychosis replaces reality with is delusion….Psychotic delusion on the personal level becomes ideology at the group level; both possess the power to annihilate the Other – be it the foreigner or the domestic subversive.

Dmitri Orlov, “Peak Oil Oppositional Disorder: Neurosis or Psychosis?”

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction.  It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety.  And now it is to be expected that the other of the two "Heavenly Powers", eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary.  But who can foresee with what success and with what results?
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

I love Jesus, who said to us:
Heaven and earth will pass away.
When heaven and earth have passed away,
my word will remain.
What was your word, Jesus?
Love? Forgiveness? Affection?
All your words were one word:

Antonio Machado, “Moral Proverbs and Folk Songs,” Robert Bly translation
And the crisis of society is, of course, the crisis of organized religion too: religion is no longer valid as a hero system, and so the youth scorn it.  If traditional culture is discredited as heroics, then the church that supports that culture automatically discredits itself.  If the church, on the other hand, chooses to insist on its own special heroics, it might find that in crucial ways it must work against the culture, recruit youth to be antiheroes to the ways of life of the society they live in.  This is the dilemma of religion in our time.
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

I want to say just a few words about the gravity of our collective situation, just in case there is any mistake about it. 

I think we all understand that human civilization, and this planet’s diversity of life, have entered a severe, multifaceted crisis.  For human civilization, the crisis is unprecedented in scale (it is global), in dimension (it affects all human institutions) and in severity (there are no apparent limits). 

As regards nature, the mass extinction now underway and the present very rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases and initial stages of climate change in the new Anthropocene epoch is not entirely unprecedented.  An apparent analog to where present trends (in emissions, deforestation, and above all arctic warming and melting) will lead unless they are rapidly reversed can be found in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), or even the Permian–Triassic mass extinction event, which killed more than 95% of all life on earth.  As mentioned in my October 23 letter to you, Thom Hartmann and his colleagues have produced an excellent video wake-up call regarding these matters.  The threat is very grave and very urgent, as perusal of the web site of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group will tell you.  The response of climate and our weather (hence, storms, droughts and food production) to changes in fundamental variables like atmospheric moisture (now up 4%) and the extent of summer arctic sea ice (which may effectively vanish as early as 2015) is not linearEarth’s climate is inherently unstable, outside narrow boundaries which we have already transgressed.  We must therefore promptly return to a stable climate before runaway geophysical events make it impossible to return.  Surely no monetary cost in such an effort is too great, since there are no technological means capable of supporting civilization and human populations under the climatic regime toward which we are certainly headed if we cannot rapidly reverse course.  Specifically, we must reverse arctic warming.  It is quite possible that, to be successful in avoiding runaway climate change, we must prevent further arctic warming during the present decade.  This would require active cooling, a subject well beyond the scope of this letter.

Without particularly focusing on arctic issues, James Hansen and several others in an overview paper published last month attempt to quantify the overall greenhouse gas problem from a policy perspective, advising that global warming needs to be held to about 1°C and suggesting how to do, with a sobering reminder of the cost of delays, past and prospective.   

We conclude that human-made warming could be held to about 1°C (1.8°F) if cumulative industrial-era fossil fuel emissions are limited to 500 GtC (gigatons of carbon, where a gigaton is one billion metric tons) and if policies are pursued to restore 100 GtC into the biosphere, including the soil.  This scenario leads to reduction of atmospheric CO 2 to 350 ppm by 2100, as needed to restore Earth's energy balance and approximately stabilize climate….Cumulative fossil fuel emissions through 2012 are 370 GtC and increasing almost 10 GtC per year.  The current emission rate would need to decrease 6% per year to limit emissions to 500 GtC.  If reductions had begun in 1995, the required reduction rate would have been 2.1% per year, or 3.5% per year if reductions had begun in 2005.  If emissions continue to grow until 2020, reductions must be 15% per year to stay within the 500 GtC limit, which emphasizes the urgency of initiating emission reductions.  (emphasis added)
(James Hansen et. al., “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature”; 6 pp. summary and commentary; whole paper)

Let us set aside the climate crisis just for a moment and consider the energetic basis of our civilization, specifically the transportation fuels necessary to run it.  The best official data available now show that conventional oil production peaked around 2008 and is now in terminal decline. 

A former British Petroleum (BP) geologist has warned that the age of cheap oil is long gone, bringing with it the danger of "continuous recession" and increased risk of conflict and hunger.

The first hammer-blow – the peaking of conventional oil production – has already fallen, quadrupling the price of oil and shocking our frothy finance system and the real economy so badly it has taken trillions of dollars in near-zero-interest loans to the biggest financial organizations just to maintain the ragged illusion of “normality.” 

What makes our society and our nested economic arrangements very fragile is also what makes them very unjust, very environmentally destructive, and anti-democratic.  Our common problems have common solutions, but do not be deceived: there is no utopia, no better world, ahead.  There is a less-bad world, if we choose it. 

In this country alone, millions of livelihoods, as well as prospects for tens of millions of young people to someday join the “middle class,” have come to what is very likely a permanent end.  There is no serious plan to get those livelihoods back.  There can’t be without a radical commitment to substitution for the economic resources which have become limiting.  That change will involve financial losses – losses of power and status – for many of the people now running the show, so some (not all) of them resist mightily.  By and large the superwealthy would still be wealthy after the necessary transition, but that minor diminishment and flexibility for the common good is not part of everyone’s moral code. 

The nature of the resources we need now is radically changing, away from oil and gas, which will never again be available at prices low enough to re-start real (not fictitious, bytes-in-a-hard-drive) economic growth, and toward dispersed renewable energy and the human skill, wisdom and care it will take to manage a society which is no longer rich.  Surely everyone knows, at some level, that more and more of us must now “make our living by loving,” as Thoreau put it.  The social contract, the environmental contract, must make up a larger and larger part of our economy, replacing mindless consumerism and the mindless mass entertainment that enables it, or else there will be no economy.  We must now turn to one another and “speak new words for the first time,” as Gary Snyder put it so many years ago. 

Surely everyone knows that all the new debt – aka claims on our children’s productivity – will never be repaid.  When the U.S. shale oil boom begins to plateau and decline, a process that could well begin next year or the year after, or the year after that, as many industry analysts now understand, today’s anemic “recovery,” itself the product of jiggered government statistics, will collapse.  How far and fast that process goes, and with what pauses and what turbulence, is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain: the rising tide of trouble will engulf the lowest stratum of society first (it already has), and then the next.  Already, the life expectancy in Albuquerque’s richest census tracts is 28 years more than in its poorest.  (Thanks to the Albuquerque Journal’s Mike Bush for reporting this research, apparently done by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, to be used by Peter Winograd of the UNM Center for Education Policy in a lunch talk to be hosted by the Albuquerque Press Women tomorrow, February 10.)

To see the future that is gradually spreading, just look at our poorest neighborhoods and rural regions today, not to mention at the refugees and riots in many countries today.  People aren’t risking their lives in those demonstrations just to vote.  People riot when they perceive that they have little to lose.  They want material benefits and opportunities which they are denied.  They want respect, and dignity, and these come with a material as well as a social and political price tag. 

This economic decline – so fast in historical terms it will be called a “collapse” in retrospect – will probably be a good thing, because the way we live has unleashed a climate catastrophe which if not quickly reversed will – not may –destroy civilization and most life on earth.  This will happen very fast, indeed it is happening now.  What we do in the next decade is likely to be determinative of the outcome on a scale of centuries. 

Unfortunately, merely decreasing emissions, no matter how steeply, is almost certainly no longer enough.  We waited too long. 

What each of now does, or fails to do, has consequences that far exceed the apparent ambit of our lives.  Each of our voices is now more important than ever. 

“Does the individual know,” said Jung, “that he is the makeweight that tips the scales?” 

Well, no, in our experience “the individual” generally does not know and many people do not want to know.  We are seeing a great deal of understandable fear in our communities – fear of information, fear of discussion, fear of commitment.  People are shit-scared, for darn good reasons, and many of you are hiding, whether you know it or not.  Scared you may be, just as we are, but please do not hide. 

We often hear, “I can’t do any more than I am!”  Jung does not imply doing more and neither do we.  We don’t need more, we need less.  And there is a problem with doing, period.  “Doing” generally means some variant of busyness.  Why can’t we dispense with “our” precious notions of choice, 99% of which amount to mere consumer choice, and be willing to set aside some of that slavery and accept a degree of freedom?  There’s no deferred gratification involved here.  The freedom is instant.

Neither does “the individual,” in our experience, know why she or he is that makeweight.  “The individual,” in our experience, in the United States, is generally very far from free.  “The individual” wants a certain political outcome but does not know that it is the wholly-accepted process, not the outcome, which is the liberating and majestic experience. 

Although the Study Group works closely with two branches of government and we litigate in the courts, we know these activities are not remotely sufficient in themselves to save our country from its intensifying decline, compounded of factors very familiar to all of us. 

Neither will mere reform rescue this poor state from its downward spiral (“Whither New Mexico, world capital of weapons of mass destruction?” Bulletin #167, 03/27/13)

Reform in all its modes will not preserve the diversity of life on earth, now in its sixth great extinction crisis.  In fact we do not know what will be sufficient, or if anything will be sufficient.  At the Study Group we’ve been discussing our converging crises for many years – many of us, for decades. 

Two things are clear.  First, nothing we see on the contemporary political scene in the U.S. today is sufficiently efficacious to prevent major disruptions to our lives and families.  Second, our present level of comfort – the “American Way of Life” as we have known it since World War II, including the ecosystems that support us in the living landscape and waters – is being stripped away. 

How dire things become, and how quickly, and for whom and for how many, and how we each experience these conditions socially, psychologically, economically, and spiritually, are in crucial ways up to us.  Our society will have the crises, but will we seize the opportunities?  The old world, the assumptions and conditions that have formed our politics and intellectual assumptions up to now, is dying.  Our new world must be brave or we will have no world at all.  

For others (including our children) to survive, we now need to travel the path of nonviolently withdrawing legitimacy and energy (attention, time, and money) from those institutions and activities which act far outside human ethical norms.  The goal is not disengagement and certainly not any sort of purity, as self-satisfying as that can temporarily be.  Our goal is rather engagement – political engagement.  Nothing we do or try to do, in the household and corporate realms merely, will be enough, without political engagement.  Goodness knows I don’t mean voting, that charade of legitimacy.  Vote, certainly, but voting merely no longer counts as democratic participation. 

Running for office is altogether another and more effective thing to do, especially in a primary.  In our long experience, our congressional delegation cares about little else than winning.  They have no platform or plan for government, let alone knowledge or any significant interest in the crises our society faces, except as these are reflected in potential votes in the coming election.   Their attention cannot be gained in any other way than by threatening successful reelection, either through running for office or through discouraging donations to the electoral process, by which votes are bought through propaganda campaigns.  In any election for national office these days, votes serve to legitimize oppression and global environmental destruction.  One chooses the least bad candidate, as best as one can, but this process will never right itself under the current corrupting influence of capital.

Nonviolent noncooperation is powerful and effective, more powerful and wise than anything else.  There will be casualties. 

We must find effective ways to rebel, if our family responsibilities allow.  If we do not, we must help others do so.  Hedges quite rightly distinguishes between those who are hors de combat and those who are not (“Shielding a Flickering Flame,” Nov. 24, 2013).  Some are calling for a constitutional “insurgency” (Brecher, “Climate Protection: The New Insurgency,” Dec. 28, 2014), others for an “uprising” (Hedges).  It comes to the same thing.  Here is Hedges:

[T]hose who defend corporate totalitarianism, including the leaders of the two major political parties, fatuous academics, pundits and a bankrupt press, must be driven from the temples of power. Mass street protests and prolonged civil disobedience are our only hope. A failure to rise up—which is what the corporate state is counting upon—will see us enslaved. (“The Last Gasp of American Democracy,” Jan. 5, 2014)

David Holmgren, called “one of the founders of permaculture” in this review by Albert Bates, calls for “Crash on Demand,” that is, “a strategic decoupling by masses of youth (and elders) from the economic system that is the crashing the planet’s ecological stasis,” in Bates’ summary. 

This is an ugly picture, or so it may seem.  Yet the spectacle of millions of lives crushed by the quest for corporate profits (and our comfort), and the silent winking-out of the beautiful creatures who have been our companions for thousands and millions of years – now that is ugly.  Let us hope it quickly becomes too ugly for us to bear – and I mean us, not unnamed others – and let us work together to quicken that day.  That’s our foremost wish for 2014 and we hope you will consider it closely and conscientiously with us.  Yes, we will continue and deepen our “normal” work, but these are not “normal” times any more, as we will explain face-to-face if given the chance, as well as in these bulletins. 

In gratitude and solidarity,

Greg, for the Study Group

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2901 Summit Place NE Albuquerque, NM 87106, Phone: 505-265-1200

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