Progressive Calendar 12.29.07
From: David Shove (shove001tc.umn.edu)
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2007 03:32:28 -0800 (PST)
             P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R    12.29.07

1. Stillwater vigil 12.30 1pm
2. Ban landmines    12.30 6pm

3. AI Augustana     12.31 7pm
4. Cuba Rev Ole!    12.31 8pm
5. WAMM giving      12.31

6. Rovics music/CTV  1.01 5pm

7. Malcolm Martin - Socialism is the only way
8. Ray McGovern   - Creeping fascism: lessons from the past
9. Chris Maser    - How we've made ourselves into abstractions
10. ed            - Bumpersticker #1

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From: scot b <earthmannow [at] comcast.net>
Subject: Stillwater vigil 12.30 1pm

A weekly Vigil for Peace Every Sunday, at the Stillwater bridge from 1- 2
p.m.  Come after Church or after brunch ! All are invited to join in song
and witness to the human desire for peace in our world. Signs need to be
positive.  Sponsored by the St. Croix Valley Peacemakers.

If you have a United Nations flag or a United States flag please bring it.
Be sure to dress for the weather . For more information go to
<http://www.stcroixvalleypeacemakers.com/>http://www.stcroixvalleypeacemakers.com/

For more information you could call 651 275 0247 or 651 999 - 9560
[Or not, you know, it's up to you. -ed]


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From: Lydia Howell <lhowell [at] visi.com>
Subject: Ban landmines 12.30 6pm

Jack Rossbach?s Banning Landmines Birthday Party
The 10th anniversary of the Signing of the Banning Landmine Int'l Treaty
The 10th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Int?l Campaign to
Ban Landmines
Party with a bunch of Nobel Peace Prize winners and marvelous others

Pot Luck or just bring yourself -- lots to share
Sunday December 30, 2007 6:00- 9:00 p.m.
St. Martin?s Table
2001 Riverside Ave., Mpls - 612-339-3920 or Jack at 651-488-0524
jack2ros [at] yahoo.com


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From: Gabe Ormsby <gabeo [at] bitstream.net>
Subject: AI Augustana 12.31 7pm

Augustana Homes Seniors Amnesty Intl Group meets on Monday, December 31st,
from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the party room of the 1020 Building, 1020 E 17th
Street, Minneapolis. For more information contact Ardes Johnson at
612/378-1166 or johns779 [at] tc.umn.edu.


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From: Minnesota Cuba Committee <mncuba [at] gmail.com>
Subject: Cuba Rev Ole! 12.31 8pm

CELEBRATE THE 49TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION
AN EVENING OF MUSIC, FILM AND FUN
8:00 pm, Monday, December 31
1314 Marquette Avenue, Apt. 803, Minneapolis

- Salsa
- Mojitos
- Cuban food
- Sneak preview of award-winning film about Cuba's "special period"
On January 1,1959, the "barbudos" marched triumphantly into Havana, and the
dictator Fulgencio Batista fled to the Dominican Republic. Join us and
millions of Cubans in celebrating the 49th anniversary of the revolution.

Donations of a special dish or some music to share are welcome.
Suggested donation: $10
Proceeds will go to support the Cuban Five (www.freethefive.org) and the
ongoing work of the Minnesota Cuba Committee

Parking is available at the Loring Municipal Parking Ramp, 1330 Nicollet
Avenue between 13th Street and Grant Street. Some street parking is also
available.

More info: 612 623-3452

For more information about the Minnesota Cuba Committee and meeting times:
http://groups.msn.com/minnesotacubacommittee


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From: "wamm [at] mtn.org" <wamm [at] mtn.org>
Subject: WAMM giving 12.31

Last Day for Year-End Giving  (Special Benefits for Age 70+)

Midnight, December 31 Last day to give to Women Against Military Madness,
if you would like to take advantage of a special provision in current tax
law that brings additional benefits to donating from Individual Retirement
Accounts (IRAs). Donating to WAMM can reduce your adjusted gross income
and lower the amount of income tax you owe for the year. Consult your tax
accountant, advisor or IRA custodian.


--------6 of 10--------

From: Eric Angell <eric-angell [at] riseup.net>
Subject: Rovics music/CTV 1.01 5pm

Most excellent St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN 15) viewers:
"Our World In Depth" cablecasts in St. Paul on Tuesday evenings at 5pm and
midnight and Wednesday mornings at 10am.  All households with basic cable
can watch!

1/1/2008 5pm and midnight and 1/2 10am "David Rovics in Concert:
Haliburton Boardroom Massacre Tour (Part 2)".  The musical voice of
Democracy Now! Part 2 of concert plus post concert interview. (a repeat)


--------7 of 10--------

Socialism Is the Only Way
by Malcolm Martin / December 27th, 2007
Dissident Voice

Much like Charles Darwin, who discovered immutable truths regarding of the
origins and evolution of life, Karl Marx was a pioneering scientist. He
guided humanity through the reasons capitalism was born, why it would
thrive and dominate for a time, and how its inherent contradictions
condemn it to death. Marx forecast capitalism, once dead and buried, would
be replaced by a superior economic system. Under socialism the shots would
no longer be called by a wealthy few but by all the productive people in
society in a genuine democracy. For the sake of human survival, sharing
rather than competition would be at the foundation of the new system.

History up to Marx's day and time recorded the transition from feudalism
to capitalism as a bloody mess. So Marx well knew that it was likely to be
just so when capitalism was forced to make way for socialism. One thing he
could not gauge was the scientific and technical advance capitalism would
make before it reached its dying days.

So the problem humanity faces is that capitalism in its last throes,
rotting internally, irrational and increasingly insane, is now armed with
doomsday weapons and has created the technology to create the Orwellian
state. The system infects culture and controls the mass media and
education across a growing part of the world. It places its servants in
seats of political and military power, and creates philosophy and myth to
glorify its own existence. It is completely amoral. It has now evolved
into a system that would not bat an eye before killing every single human
being on the planet.

In the near term, capitalism will take increasing advantage of war,
disaster, disease, terror, and slavery to feed itself. Wholesale
destruction and regime change will be visited on the oil producing states
like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela and other resource-rich areas. Left
unchecked, eventually the United States, China, India and the European
Union will fight wars for control of world markets and access to
resources.

Capitalism depends on profits to live and the appetite for those profits
simply cannot be satisfied! For example U.S. oil companies have realized
world record profits every quarter for the past several years yet Big Oil
must continue to raise the price of gas. The fact is, unless they make
ever-greater profit into the indefinite future ExxonMobil and Chevron will
wither and die. That is why, against every instinct toward justice, the
oil company's servants in the Congress reject a windfall profits tax, have
given away billions of dollars of royalty rights revenues, and will
eventually give up drilling rights prohibitions on the Gulf Coast and in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Today, even the largest corporations,
like General Motors, Nissan and Renault, seek the comfort of each other's
arms. They will only survive in combination as wealth is consolidated in
fewer and fewer entities!

But wars for resources, higher commodities prices and mega-mergers are
only putting off the day of reckoning for capitalism. There is only so
much technology can boost production or wages can be depressed until a
slave system must be created. Even at that, the system will then stare
into the eyes of its fatal contradiction. Slaves cannot buy the products
they produce.

The American electorate again slogged through the political muck to try to
be heard in 2006. Their effort turned out to be an exercise in complete
futility or the nation's symbol of anti-war motherhood Cindy Sheehan would
not be challenging the nation's first female House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in
2008. The experience, frustrating as it was, will open more minds to the
real source of our oppression and the true telling of our nation's
history. The fact is that the story of the United States of America is
bound up in the birth and rise of capitalism, and the nation's present
descent into dictatorship is part of the same economic system's decline
and inevitable death.

Coincidental with the birth of the US, fueled by the Industrial
Revolution, the capitalist system was beginning to break the brutish
shackles of feudalism on the people of that day. At the same time
capitalism began creating the only force capable of destroying it - the
working class. Nascent capitalism enjoyed explosive growth and it spawned
revolutions around the world, including the American Revolution. The young
and dynamic economic system found that a bourgeois democracy was the most
fertile soil for development. The new nation and several other rising
industrial countries adopted this form of government.

>From the birth of the republic, capitalism has been able to provide the
American people with several powerful incentives to buy into the program.
Five percent of the world's population is invited to consume 30% of the
world's resources by way of imperialism. Then the white American majority
is invited to enjoy a disproportionate share of that material wealth by
way of racism. An especially comfortable place is provided to politicians,
intellectuals, academics, bureaucrats, and entertainers in the narrow
strata of society Marx called the petty bourgeois.

Nowadays though, the deal with the capitalist devil is becoming more and
more difficult to keep! The U.S. is being integrated into a global economy
as capitalism searches for the lowest possible wage and the greatest
possible profit. The process is steadily reshaping ours into a
subsistence-wage service economy. The jobs of elite industrial workers,
from auto and steelworkers to airline pilots, are disappearing across the
country along with their health benefits and pensions. Even white
Americans have begun to feel the pain of a declining standard of living.
It is a process that will not be reversed.

Capitalism's contradictory impulses have begun bumping into each other.
It's happening in the ongoing national debate on immigration and it
happened in the recent Dubai Ports World controversy. Profits remain the
system's lifeblood so the ruling class craves an immigrant guest worker
program and the United Arab Emirates' petrodollars but the rabid
anti-immigrant and anti-Arab sentiment coursing through U.S. society
blocked that path to greater riches. The situation is worsening though. No
matter the potential backlash now, desperate crumbling financial pillars
of the system like Citicorp and Morgan Stanley are happily accepting the
sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi, Singapore and China.

Racism and xenophobia and nationalism and patriotism and every other
tactic of division have been promoted relentlessly by capitalism with good
reason. White supremacy, Black Nationalism, religious fundamentalism,
sexism, homophobia, and all the crackpot schemes and the nihilistic cults
of the bourgeoisie, like al-Qaeda, are dead ends for all of us who work.
In contrast, our unity would be a poison arrow shot into this system's
Achilles' heel.

Now as capitalism enters its final stage, a nearly seamless political
transition to fascism is well underway in the United States. The mass
media, the electoral machinery, and both major political parties are under
corporate control. The trappings of bourgeois democracy are a hindrance on
profits and so they are being shredded. The Constitution and its Bill of
Rights are being rendered meaningless by plans for perpetual war, by
presidential signing statements and the theory of the unitary executive,
extraordinary rendition, government surveillance programs and the like.
Programs based on democratic principles like the public schools, Social
Security, and Medicare are being starved to death. Separate and parallel
Internet and military forces are being constructed along with internment
camps and the legal construct for a martial law declaration. Blackwater is
the growing private military force of the ruling class, protecting them in
Baghdad and patrolling the streets of New Orleans for them now. Because
there are too many sons and daughters of the working class in the US
military it can not be trusted by the bourgeoisie when the order is given
to attack the American people. Likely the two militaries will one day face
each other in combat.

Bloodless coups in 2000 and 2004 installed George W. Bush in the White
House and it would take a team of psychoanalysts and profilers to
catalogue the many and varied mental pathologies of Bush and his henchmen
in the U.S. government. The point to keep in mind is that in this time and
in this place the capitalist system required barely human persons in power
capable of carrying out insane and grotesquely inhumane policies, up to
and including nuclear warfare. Capitalism, like the HAL 9000 computer
onboard the spaceship Discovery in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey is out
of the control of its makers. The system now has only human sentinels,
best represented by the so-called Neo-Conservatives in ruling circles.

American bourgeois democracy is being held under water. It will drown,
never to be resuscitated. The liberal intelligentsia of the petty
bourgeois spins its wheels in the mud of this reality. On this point Al
Gore's quixotic campaign to sound the alarm on the ecological disaster
right around the corner is instructive. In An Inconvenient Truth Gore lays
out the incontrovertible facts of global warming, hoping to organize and
agitate to a tipping point that changes governmental policy. A young Al
Gore saw Dr. Martin Luther King do just that in his confrontation with
racism. Despite titling his recent book "The Assault On Reason" Gore
clings to the idea that rationality still has influence in American ruling
circles. The real inconvenient truth is that even the great Dr. King could
not generate an effective civil rights movement in this era and that the
rape of the planet will not end until a stake is driven into the heart of
capitalism.

The sad truth is that the petty bourgeois cannot defeat the capitalist
ruling class! They are a timid and passive group who, in this time for
warriors, gather at the gates of the palace to nag and complain
essentially to each other. There are scores of Internet websites,
magazines, newspapers, radio programs and networks, and some small
television networks where liberal, left, progressive, and other
commentators show up to whine out loud. They rail against the outrages and
inhumanity of the U.S. government and the Bush Administration. They point
out the duplicity, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the inhumanity, and the
utter criminality loosed in the world today but to no useful end since
capitalism will not be reformed nor shamed to death. Pointing out the
defects of capitalism has become as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. The
ruling class brushes its liberal democratic critics off like gnats as long
as they stay away from the third rail. But let one of these voices dare
mention unity based on working class-consciousness and a mobilization to
strike at profits and great danger would shortly thereafter visit.

No matter the danger, it must begin to be spoken by a warrior vanguard:
socialism is the only way humankind will live into the distant future on
this planet. Only a working class with a consciousness of itself and
united across all racial, national and cultural boundaries is capable of
seizing power. Only a working class in power will see to the end of this
madness and willingly share our available resources for the sake of human
survival.

Malcolm Martin is a teacher and an elected teacher's union official of an
American Federation of Teachers affiliate. He can be reached at:
Malcolmxmlk [at] aol.com. Read other articles by Malcolm.

This article was posted on Thursday, December 27th, 2007 at 5:27 am and is
filed under Communism/Marxism, Socialism.


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Creeping Fascism: Lessons From the Past
by Ray McGovern
Published on Thursday, December 27, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

"There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which
I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in
Germany, as if from a box at the theater.Perhaps the only comparably odd
thing is the way that now, years later..."

These are the words of Sebastian Haffner (pen name for Raimund Pretzel),
who as a young lawyer in Berlin during the 1930s experienced the Nazi
takeover and wrote a first-hand account. His children found the manuscript
when he died in 1999 and published it the following year as "Geschichte
eines Deutschen" (The Story of a German). The book became an immediate
bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages-in English as
"Defying Hitler".

I recently learned from his daughter Sarah, an artist in Berlin, that
today is the 100th anniversary of Haffner's birth. She had seen an earlier
article in which I quoted her father and emailed to ask me to "write some
more about the book and the comparison to Bush's America - this is almost
unbelievable".

More about Haffner below. Let's set the stage first by recapping some of
what has been going on that may have resonance for readers familiar with
the Nazi ascendancy, noting how "odd" it is that the frontal attack on our
Constitutional rights is met with such "calm, superior indifference".

Goebbels Would be Proud

It has been two years since top New York Times officials decided to let
the rest of us in on the fact that the George W. Bush administration had
been eavesdropping on American citizens without the court warrants
required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. The
Times had learned of this well before the election in 2004 and acquiesced
to White House entreaties to suppress the damaging information.

In late fall 2005 when Times correspondent James Risen's book, "State of
War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," revealing
the warrantless eavesdropping was being printed, Times publisher, Arthur
Sulzberger, Jr., recognized that he could procrastinate no longer. It
would simply be too embarrassing to have Risen's book on the street, with
Sulzberger and his associates pretending that this explosive eavesdropping
story did not fit Adolph Ochs' trademark criterion: All The News That's
Fit To Print. (The Times' own ombudsman, Public Editor Byron Calame,
branded the newspaper's explanation for the long delay in publishing this
story "woefully inadequate".)

When Sulzberger told his friends in the White House that he could no
longer hold off on publishing in the newspaper, he was summoned to the
Oval Office for a counseling session with the president on Dec. 5, 2005.
Bush tried in vain to talk him out of putting the story in the Times. The
truth would out; part of it, at least.

Glitches

There were some embarrassing glitches. For example, unfortunately for
National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the White
House neglected to tell him that the cat would soon be out of the bag. So
on Dec. 6, Alexander spoke from the old talking points in assuring
visiting House intelligence committee member Rush Holt ( D-N.J.) that the
NSA did not eavesdrop on Americans without a court order.

Still possessed of the quaint notion that generals and other senior
officials are not supposed to lie to congressional oversight committees,
Holt wrote a blistering letter to Gen. Alexander after the Times, on Dec.
16, front-paged a feature by Risen and Eric Lichtblau, "Bush Lets U.S. Spy
on Callers Without Courts". But House Intelligence Committee chair Pete
Hoekstra (R-Michigan) apparently found Holt's scruples benighted; Hoekstra
did nothing to hold Alexander accountable for misleading Holt, his most
experienced committee member, who had served as an intelligence analyst at
the State Department.

What followed struck me as bizarre. The day after the Dec. 16 Times
feature article, the president of the United States publicly admitted to a
demonstrably impeachable offense. Authorizing illegal electronic
surveillance was a key provision of the second article of impeachment
against President Richard Nixon. On July 27, 1974, this and two other
articles of impeachment were approved by bipartisan votes in the House
Committee on the Judiciary.

Bush Takes Frontal Approach

Far from expressing regret, the president bragged about having authorized
the surveillance "more than 30 times since the September the 11th
attacks," and said he would continue to do so. The president also said:

"Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this
authorization and the activities conducted under it".

On Dec. 19, 2005 then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and then-NSA
Director Michael Hayden held a press conference to answer questions about
the as yet unnamed surveillance program. Gonzales was asked why the White
House decided to flout FISA rather than attempt to amend it, choosing
instead a "backdoor approach". He answered:

"We have had discussions with Congress, as to whether or not FISA could be
amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we
were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible".

Hmm. Impossible? It strains credulity that a program of the limited scope
described would be unable to win ready approval from a Congress that had
just passed the "Patriot Act" in record time. James Risen has made the
following quip about the prevailing mood: "In October 2001 you could have
set up guillotines on the public streets of America". It was not difficult
to infer [[ http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/60/19945
]] that the surveillance program must have been of such scope and
intrusiveness that, even amid highly stoked fear, it didn't have a prayer
for passage.

It turns out we didn't know the half of it.

What To Call These Activities

"Illegal Surveillance Program" didn't seem quite right for White House
purposes, and the PR machine was unusually slow off the blocks. It took
six weeks to settle on "Terrorist Surveillance Program," with FOX News
leading the way followed by the president himself. This labeling would
dovetail nicely with the president's rhetoric on Dec. 17:

"In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized
the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the
Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with
known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. The
authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September 11
helped address that problem.

And Gen. Michael Hayden, who headed NSA from 1999 to 2005, was of course
on the same page, dissembling as convincingly as the president. At his May
2006 confirmation hearings to become CIA director, he told of his
soul-searching when, as director of NSA, he was asked to eavesdrop on
Americans without a court warrant. "I had to make this personal decision
in early Oct. 2001," said Hayden, "it was a personal decision. I could not
not do this".

Like so much else, it was all because of 9/11. But we now know.

It Started Seven Months Before 9/11

How many times have you heard it? The mantra "after 9/11 everything
changed" has given absolution to all manner of sin.

We are understandably reluctant to believe the worst of our leaders, and
this tends to make us negligent. After all, we learned from former
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that drastic changes were made in U.S.
foreign policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue and toward Iraq at the
first National Security Council meeting on Jan. 30, 2001. Should we not
have anticipated far-reaching changes at home, as well?

Reporting by the Rocky Mountain News and court documents and testimony in
a case involving Qwest Communications strongly suggest that in February
2001 Hayden saluted smartly when the Bush administration instructed NSA to
suborn AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest to spy illegally on you, me, and other
Americans. Bear in mind that this would have had nothing to do with
terrorism, which did not really appear on the new administration's radar
screen until a week before 9/11, despite the pleading of Clinton aides
that the issue deserved extremely high priority.

So this until-recently-unknown pre-9/11 facet of the "Terrorist
Surveillance Program" was not related to Osama bin Laden or to whomever he
and his associates might be speaking. It had to do with us. We know that
the Democrats who were briefed on the "Terrorist Surveillance Program"
include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (the one with the longest tenure
on the House Intelligence Committee), Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) and
former and current chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob
Graham (D-FL) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA). May one interpret their lack of
public comment on the news that the snooping began well before 9/11 as a
sign they were co-opted and then sworn to secrecy?

It is an important question. Were the appropriate leaders in Congress
informed that within days of George W. Bush's first inauguration the NSA
electronic vacuum cleaner began to suck up information on you and me,
despite the FISA law and the Fourth Amendment?

Are They All Complicit?

And are Democratic leaders about to cave in and grant retroactive immunity
to those telecommunications corporations - AT&T and Verizon - who made
millions by winking at the law and the Constitution? (Qwest, to its
credit, heeded the advice of its general counsel who said that what NSA
wanted done was clearly illegal.)

What's going on here? Have congressional leaders no sense for what is at
stake? Lately the adjective "spineless" has come into vogue in describing
congressional Democrats - no offense to invertebrates.

Nazis and Those Who Enable Them

You don't have to be a Nazi. You can just be, well, a sheep.

In his journal Sebastian Haffner decries what he calls the "sheepish
submissiveness" with which the German people reacted to a 9/11-like event,
the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) on Feb. 27, 1933. Haffner
finds it quite telling that none of his acquaintances "saw anything out of
the ordinary in the fact that, from then on, one's telephone would be
tapped, one's letters opened, and one's desk might be broken into".

But it is for the cowardly politicians that Haffner reserves his most
vehement condemnation. Do you see any contemporary parallels here?

In the elections of March 4, 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire, the
Nazi party garnered only 44 percent of the vote. Only the "cowardly
treachery" of the Social Democrats and other parties to whom 56 percent of
the German people had entrusted their votes made it possible for the Nazis
to seize full power. Haffner adds:

"It is in the final analysis only that betrayal that explains the almost
inexplicable fact that a great nation, which cannot have consisted
entirely of cowards, fell into ignominy without a fight".

The Social Democratic leaders betrayed their followers - for the most part
decent, unimportant individuals. In May they sang the Nazi anthem; in June
the Social Democratic party was dissolved.

The middle-class Catholic party Zentrum folded in less than a month, and
in the end supplied the votes necessary for the two-thirds majority that
"legalized" Hitler's dictatorship.

As for the right-wing conservatives and German nationalists: "Oh God,"
writes Haffner, "what an infinitely dishonorable and cowardly spectacle
their leaders made in 1933 and continued to make afterward.. They went
along with everything: the terror, the persecution of Jews.. They were not
even bothered when their own party was banned and their own members
arrested.. In sum:

"There was not a single example of energetic defense, of courage or
principle. There was only panic, flight, and desertion. In March 1933
millions were ready to fight the Nazis. Overnight they found themselves
without leaders. At the moment of truth, when other nations rise
spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply
collapsed. They yielded and capitulated, and suffered a nervous
breakdown.. The result is today the nightmare of the rest of the world."

This is what can happen when virtually all are intimidated.

Our Founding Fathers were not oblivious to this; thus, James Madison:

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the
people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by
violent and sudden usurpations.. The means of defense against foreign
danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home".

We cannot say we weren't warned.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the
ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. A former Army officer
and CIA analyst, he worked in Germany for five years; he is co-founder of
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.


--------9 of 10--------

How we've made ourselves into abstractions
Written by Chris Maser
Jan Lundberg's Culture Change Letter culturechange.org

Editor's note: Chris Maser is a leading author with an interdisciplinary
knowledge-base of sciences. His purpose is to help his readers and clients
deeply understand our world and its problems, so that his answers resound
with logic and heart. In considering the development of our species,
touched on briefly but well done, Chris identifies our essential
challenge: "...once the world is divided into 'us' versus 'them,' people
perceive the necessity of acting either in 'self-interest' or
'self-defense,' which today translates into our 'national interest' versus
everyone else's. And it's this sense of dualism that's the seat of
humanity's increasingly fragmented view of a seamless world." He develops
this further in a section titled Consolidation of Personal Power. Chris's
insights include hunter-gatherer culture, which helps him be a most
effective ecologist and forester, among other capabilities. - Jan Lundberg


In discussing how I think fear subverted the sharing, caring way of life
that most hunting-gathering societies enjoyed (replacing it gradually,
insidiously with a life ruled progressively by acquisition, competition,
subjugation, and fear itself), it is important to remember that mine is -
at very best - a grossly simplistic notion of what might have happened,
beginning with the development of language.

Development of Language
Of all the gifts of life, language is one of the most incredible. Through
language, we can create, examine, and test concepts, those intangible
figments of human thought and imagination. Concepts, such as love and
fear, can only be qualified, not quantified; only interpreted, not
measured. And concepts can be reinterpreted hundreds, even thousands, of
years after they were first conceived, uttered, and written. Language thus
guides thought, perception, and our sense of reality by archiving
knowledge - and our cultural sense of fear.

Knowledge, in turn, is the storehouse of ideas, and language is the
storehouse of knowledge. Language therefore allows each succeeding
generation to benefit from the knowledge accrued by generations already
passed, as well as their perceptions of love and fear. Language is a tool,
a catalyst, a bequest from adults to children - that based on love is a
gift, whereas that based on fear a curse. Moreover, language allows each
generation to begin farther up the ladder of knowledge than the preceding
one. Language is an imperative for our survival because the tenets of
society are founded on it. As well, our understanding of Nature, and our
place therein, is founded on knowledge conveyed through language. We
simply must understand one another if our respective societies are to
survive.

Technology and the Abstraction of Life
Development of any kind is the collective introduction of thoughts, which
inevitably lead to further introductions of practices, substances, and
technologies in a strategy to use or extract a given resource or to defend
those already in possession. Another facet of technology is the sense it
gives us humans of ever-greater control over our environment, which in
today's Western industrialized society is often a war against the
uncertainties of Nature - against the creative novelty of the Universe
itself. Consider the development of weapons.

The abstraction of life, which shifts our perception from the spiritual to
the material, began unconsciously through the technological development of
weapons. Weapons initially came about as a means of protection from
predators and for obtaining food. The first weapon probably was a hurled
rock or a piece of wood used as a club. Then, a human-like creature saw
the advantage of using a long piece of wood to hold some viscous predator
at bay. With time, it was discovered that a stick could be fashioned into
a more potent weapon by rubbing one end against rough rocks until a
sharpened point was affected, one that caused pain or death.

Next, a pointed stick was hurled at a foe or potential meal, and thus was
born a spear, the sharpened point of which could be hardened by subjecting
it to heat from a fire. Then a piece of sharp bone was fastened to the end
as a more lethal tip and finally a piece of stone shaped into a cutting
point. With time, a throwing stick or atlatl was devised to hurl a spear
with greater force than available in one.s extended arm.

Next came the bow and arrow, which could be shot faster and farther than a
spear could be thrown. In addition, one could carry more arrows than
spears, and arrows were probably more economical to make and less of a
setback when broken or lost. This progressed to the crossbow and finally
gunpowder and guns. Today's rifles can fire bullets so fast one scarcely
has time to see an enemy's face, and others are exceedingly accurate at
long range. Each technological advance made life and killing more
abstract - such as "smart bombs."

Domestication of Animals
With the advent of domesticating and herding animals, came the necessity
of continually finding enough pasture on which to graze one's herd. The
more people in a given vicinity who had flocks of sheep or herds of goats,
and later herds of cattle and/or horses, the more inevitable it became
that competition for grazing lands would sooner or later find its way into
culture. Competition became accentuated when people viewed their animals
as their wealth and thus built flocks or herds to numbers far exceeding
those necessary for mere survival.

Here the challenge is that once the world is divided into "us" versus
"them," people perceive the necessity of acting either in "self-interest"
or "self-defense," which today translates into our "national interest"
versus everyone else's. And it's this sense of dualism that's the seat of
humanity's increasingly fragmented view of a seamless world.

Invention of the Irrigation Ditch
As the first ditch - a human-created water diversion - became the many
ditches, it allowed the expansion of humanity, plants, and animals into
places heretofore uninhabitable by those needing water in close proximity.
In so doing, the supply of available water and the ability to divert it to
areas of one's choice became a basis of a more secure life with respect to
the production of food. Thus, local populations of people increased, as
well as competition among them. With time, the supply of available water
became contentious as those people who controlled more land than others
wanted more of the available water.

This scenario was compounded when water either originated on the land
controlled by an individual or ran through a piece of land under a
person's direct control. The farther away one's land was from the source
of water one used, the more at the mercy and good will of the person or
people upstream one was likely to be.

Over time, ditches, and the water they carried, gave rise to agriculture
and eventually led to such feats of engineering as the Suez and Panama
Canals, each of which physically connects one ocean with another, and in
the process, both canals became commodities over which wars have been
fought.

Centralization of Leadership
Centralization of leadership, which may well have given rise to the
proverbial struggle for power, probably arose with the acquisition of
material goods, such as herds of livestock, and the inevitable material
advantage that came from having more than someone else. Such distinct
material advantage undoubtedly prompted the notion of personal
privilege-based material wealth.

For example, when the first European invaders set foot on the shores of
the "New World" and saw its wealth, did they not set out to get what they
decided was rightfully theirs by the act of "discovery" before someone
else did? However, the New World was already discovered - and occupied -
by humans, but that did not stop the European invaders, with their
superior technology, from stealing whatever they wanted. So began the
centralization and consolidation of alien powers in the New World.

Consolidation of Personal Power The struggle for power was born the moment
the first person with a social advantage consciously eliminated human
equality from the heart of the hunter-gatherer way of life and replaced it
with inequality based on gender and/or social class, both of which are a
contrived behavior disguised as privilege and translated as "power." This
sense of privilege, the underpinnings of most organized religions, is
based on holding power.  Fear of losing power through opposition means
that all voices but its own must be silenced - as exemplified by the
Catholic Inquisition in olden times and dictatorships today.

With the advent of wealth and personal power, still another lesson from
the hunter-gatherer culture was lost, namely that self-centeredness and
acquisitiveness are not inherent traits of our species, but rather
acquired traits based on a sense of fear and insecurity within our social
setting that fosters the perceived need of individual and collective
competition and the notion of "rights" such competition for power
engenders.

Establishment of "Rights"
The establishment of "rights" led to the introduction of slavery,
subjugation of the growing masses, and finally to the perceived
unequivocal and absolute "ownership and rights of private property."
Speaking of rights, the Dalai Lama said: "If we are prevented from using
our creative potential, we are deprived of one of the basic
characteristics of a human being. It is very often the most gifted,
dedicated, and creative members of our society who become victims of human
rights abuses. Thus the political, social, cultural, and economic
developments of a society are obstructed by the violations of human
rights."

Those who violate human rights attempt to do so in the secrecy of an
information blackout. To remove the cloak of secrecy and shed light on
these violations, hundreds of journalists have given their lives to bring
the news of such atrocities to the world by going into areas where free
journalism is discouraged, if not outright forbidden.

Today, one understanding of a "right" is a legalistic, human construct
based on some sense of moral privilege. Although a right in a democratic
system of government is created by people and defined and guaranteed by
law, access to a right may not be equally distributed across society.
Conversely, a "right" does not apply to any person outside the select
group, unless, of course, that group purposely confers such a right on a
specifically recognized individual - someone from a foreign country
seeking political asylum from clan violence in Somalia, rape in Kosovo, or
forced sterilization in China.

Ostensibly, a "right" in democracy gives everyone equality by sanctifying
and impartially protecting socially acceptable behaviors while controlling
unsanctioned ones - which includes the "right" to extract natural
resources by the global corporate powers. There is, however, a price
exacted for having rights, even in a true democracy.

Rights have responsibilities attached to them, such as protecting the
legitimate rights of all peoples from the overreach behavior of
resource-mining corporations, which means protecting the rights of extant
hunter-gatherers, even those who simply want to be left alone to live
their lives in peace and harmony within their homelands, be they forest,
jungle, desert, or Arctic shores. Thus, whenever a law is passed to
protect the rights of the majority against the transgressions of the
minority, everyone pays the same price - a loss of freedom of choice, of
flexibility - because every law so passed is restrictive to everyone. Put
succinctly, we give up personal freedoms in order to gain personal rights,
but those without access to the cherished "rights" reap only less freedom.

The problem is that rights, as granted by humans to one another in daily
life, including in the United States, are based on access, not on
equality. Access is determined by some notion that one race, color, creed,
sex, or age is superior to another, which means that differences and
similarities are based on subjective judgments about whatever those
appearances are. In American society, for example, men are judged more
capable than women in most kinds of work because society has placed more
value on certain kinds of products, i.e., those demanding such masculine
attributes as linear thinking and physical strength as opposed to those
demanding such feminine attributes as interpersonal relationship and
physical gentleness.

With notable exceptions, the stereotype holds that perceived differences
in outer (superficial) values become social judgments about the inherent
(real) values of individual human beings. Superficial characteristics are
thus translated into special rights or privileges simply because the
individuals involved are different in some aspects and either perform
certain actions differently or perform different actions. The greater the
difference one perceives between another person and oneself, the more
likely one is to make black-and-white judgments about that person's real
value as expressed through one's notion of that person's rights.

The most extreme example of personal judgment is the use of superficial
differences to justify a social end. One group of people thus declares
itself superior to another group because it wants what the other group
has. The "superior" group tells the "inferior" group that they have no
rights, and through this denial of rights justifies its abuse of fellow
human beings.

By replacing spirituality, Nature, and human well-being with material
wealth, as symbolized by the money chase, the road to social
impoverishment, environmental degradation, and, in numerous instances
throughout recorded history, the collapse of societies and their
life-support systems become the norm - exemplified by the Industrial
Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution and the Rise of Capitalism
If we leap forward in time by the thousands of years it took to advance
from the domestication of animals to the Industrial Revolution, we find
that technology was still idealized both as labor saving and as a means of
increasing the predictability of control over Nature in maintaining
material lifestyles. But then something shifted in the human drive for
predictability and power, a shift that began to focus technology on
replacing people with machines, which in turn fostered the growing social
inequality among those with material means and those without.

Those who could afford to own the machines, which did more work than one
person could, kept more of the profits. Thus, if it originally took ten
men to produce a given amount of goods for sale, each man was paid a
certain amount. With the advent of a machine that could now replace nine
of those men and still produce the same amount of commodity, the reasoning
became something like this: "I've invested my monetary capital in the
purchase of this machine; therefore, I'm entitled to keep nine-tenths of
the profits since my machine represents nine-tenths of the productive
capacity because it takes only one person to operate the machine." And so
the first people were put out of work by a "labor-saving" invention that
not only separated economic production from social life but also strictly
reinforced the tie of individual well-being to individual production. This
coupling of individual well-being to individual production inevitably led
to competition, which in turn led to social inequality, poverty, and
environmental degradation.

Labor-saving technology shifted to social tyranny when those who lusted
after wealth and power discovered they could both own and use technology
to produce more of a given product with fewer people and thus keep a
disproportionate amount of the profits for themselves. At that point, the
unspoken purpose of such technology began to move from labor saving in
terms of creating a better life for everyone, to people-replacing in order
to garner more wealth and power for the few who could afford to own the
technology. After all, machines do not ask for wages; are not late to
work; do not call in sick; make no human mistakes; do not want child care
or maternity leave; do not expect health benefits, paid vacations,
retirement pensions, and so on.

The Industrial Revolution spawned not only the ability to produce more
products than were needed to fulfill life's necessities but also the
capitalist economic thinking that contrived the notion of scarcity as an
economic construct to foster consumerism and increase profits. And thus
fear choreographed the psyche of the industrialized human to deal with the
economist's notion of scarcity and want.

The contrived scarcity, which is built around the economist's vision,
which perceives the ever-increasing need to consume-always consume, was
built into the Rational Economic Man (and Woman) as an inherent part of
human nature.1 As the dominant behavioral paradigm permeating conventional
economic theory, Rational Economic Man is a bundle of assumptions about
human nature from the philosophers of the Enlightenment who were
responsible for early economic thought. The features assumed by economists
to define Rational Economic Man are:

1. self-interested
2. competitive with perfect knowledge of all alternatives
3. acquisitive
4. materialistic
5. believing more is better - always preferable to less
6. preferring immediacy - something now is preferable to something later
7. always making the same choices ("rational")
8. the desire for power and its perceived psychological benefits
9. and, I might add, an addiction to machines and gadgets

To the uninitiated eye, the traits appear to accurately describe human
nature and behavior. Anyone who builds mathematical models realizes that
realistic assumptions generate useful models because they have the ability
to accurately predict real-world phenomena. Economists, among others, go
to great lengths and invoke elaborate semantic gymnastics to convince
themselves and others that their assumptions are realistic and, therefore,
"factual" in that people really do act this way. In so doing, their style
of speaking can be incredibly difficult to decipher, which Federal Reserve
chairman Alan Greenspan refers to as "constructive ambiguity."

When, however, economists are confronted with evidence of human behavior
that is inconsistent with the assumptions of Rational Economic Man, the
instinct of self-preservation often leads them to point out that a
particular assumption was not really granted or that a twist in language,
which would indicate an apparently altruistic behavior, was really
self-interest, and so on. If nothing else, they retreat to the premise
that most people act consistently with the assumptions of Rational
Economic Man most of the time, and that should be sufficient to ensure the
validity of their "rationalistic" economic theory.

Of course, if exceptions do exist, monstrous errors in describing the
goals and behavior of people can also occur, as pointed out by Sherlock
Holmes to Dr. Watson: "While the individual man is an insolvable puzzle,
in the aggregate, he becomes a mathematical certainty." Holmes goes on to
explain that it is impossible to foretell what any individual person will
do, but an average number of people are always predictable because,
although individuals vary, percentages remain constant.

Holmes, in his discussion of the predictability of human behavior, touches
the core of special cases and common denominators. Although each person is
a special case and therefore unpredictable, if we study enough special
cases with an eye for their common traits (common denominators), then we
can make certain predictions about the generalized behavior.

Where technology is not yet available to replace people, corporations
still find ways of divesting themselves of those people they feel cost
more than they want to pay. As corporations downsize, and as technology
increasingly replaces people, lower-paying jobs, such as clerks in retail
stores and positions in fast-food establishments, fill the gap, but most
receive minimum wage or slightly higher (usually without benefits, such as
health insurance), which is not enough to pay for housing. As a result,
many people with jobs are homeless. That is different than in the past,
when a full-time job almost guaranteed a person the dignity of being able
to afford housing. There is yet another way human dignity is lost, one
that especially affects men.2

In the days of the hunter-gatherers, there were clear rites of passage to
help men find their path in life. In the not-so-distant past, men had
communities (churches, unions, political groups, civic groups, and various
associations of war veterans) to help them find their way along the
time-honored path of masculinity. Now, however, good work is difficult to
find and real community has been replaced by virtual community, which
offers but a faint shadow of the once ways. Today, there is a sick,
sinking feeling in the pit of many a man's stomach as the bedrock of
community continues to crumble.

For lack of a more substantive way to define themselves in today's
society, men have become overly obsessed with their images because their
jobs not only change too often to become a firm basis of personal identity
but also are increasingly demeaning. Nevertheless, the dark side of
technology (and its negative, human fallout) is ignored, brushed aside, as
it were, by most corporations and many economists so more and "better"
technology can be developed to deal with the problems of earlier
technologies. The latter, however, more often then not become the
technological problems of tomorrow and the endangerment of
social-environmental sustainability. Although I could go on at length
about the cumulative impact of making ourselves into abstractions, I think
the point has been sufficiently made.

So, where is society today? Now that we humans have the technological
capability to destroy the entire world as we know it, more and more people
are beginning to question the wisdom we possess to cope with many of our
so-called technological advances. I find hope in this questioning because
people are beginning to realize that we have duped ourselves into thinking
that technology can progressively allow us to control Nature and therefore
to separate ourselves from Nature, and from one another along the way. By
the same token, people are gradually beginning to understand that they
are, in fact, an inseparable part of both Nature and one another's
experiences of life.

Endnotes
1. The discussion of Rational Economic Man is based on: Chris Maser, Russ
Beaton, and Kevin Smith. 1998. Setting the Stage for Sustainability: A
Citizen.s Handbook. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 275 pp. For a more
thorough discussion of Rational Economic Man, refer to Chapter 6 of this
book.

2. The preceding discussion about American men is based on: (1) Susan
Faludi. 1999. The betrayal of the American Man. William Morrow & Co., New
York, NY. 662 pp., (2) Joseph H. Pleck. 1999. Balancing Work and Family.
Scientific American 10(2):38-43, and (3) Martin Daly and Margo Wilson.
1999. Darwinism and the Roots of Machismo. Scientific American
10(2):9-12,14.

* * * * *

This essay is condensed from Chris Maser's 2004 book The Perpetual
Consequences of Fear and Violence: Rethinking the Future. Maisonneuve
Press, Washington, D.C. 373 pp.

Chris has written several books that are showcased on his website,
chrismaser.com. Chris lives in Corvallis, Oregon. He is a consultant on
environmental land-use development, sustainable communities and forestry.

Further Reading:

"Ancient innovations for present conventions toward extinction" by Jan
Lundberg, Culture Change Letter #161, June 10, 2007: culturechange.org

[More soon from Mr Maser -ed]


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