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Culture | Green Dragon

Pope Francis FTW!

 Posted by at 7:02 pm  Culture
Sep 272013
 
Vatican Pope

Anyone who knows me knows that I have never for even a moment given serious consideration to Christian cosmology.

Sorry: I just can’t. It’s too cruel, too bloody,  and too silly.

But I write here today to tell and celebrate the amazing tale of how Mr. Chips became Pope.

The Roman Catholic Church  was rotting from the inside for a long time. John Paul II didn’t care about corruption, nor wrongdoing on the part of his priesthood–he just wanted to expand his market. Steadily pushing the ideology and areas of attention of the institution to the right, he allowed the Church to become so corrupt and so tarnished by the combination of being in the money laundering business and having high-level officials involved in deliberate indulgence of child molesting that Benedict, who never wanted anything more than to be the Emperor guy from Star Wars, actually *bailed* within mere months after finally gaining the throne.

So now the cardinals have a choice: Put in a member of the Pederastic Order and basically flunk the whole church out of the human race for good (probably break the bank, too–which is why the Vatican Bank guys were decidedly in the opposite camp)? Put in one of the Vatican Bank technocrats who’re all about the dough, and up to their necks in money-laundering for gangsters and drug runners…when all of that is about to come to light in pending investigations?

Neither is possible, because the reason both factions got to where they are is that they were holding each other hostage. Elevate one, and the other stops circling the wagons around the other faction’s particular weakness. This worked for a long time: particular individuals kept their status and power, but the institution ended up looking like…the Roman Catholic Church of today.

In cases like these, what is a corrupt and self-interested College of Cardinals, knowing its brand is in a tailspin, to do?

DING! Light goes on.

You appoint a USEFUL IDIOT.

A Boy Scout. A happy guy who looks like Peter Sellers, with a big warm grin, who says nice things about the poor. Someone the public will love so the institution’s image gets polished, but who is too sunny and naive to play hardball with the poisonous old lizards who have been running the show. Somebody from the hinterlands who can barely find Rome on a map.

A rube. Problem solved.

So before the worst of the banking scandal breaks, the Head Lizard hands off to a Useful Idiot from the slums of Panecuabrazirgentina, or something.

And finds out he has made a dreadful mistake.

The Useful Idiot turns out to be someone with opinions. And those opinions chop directly at pretty much everything the Head Lizard has been trying to turn the institution into for more than 30 years.

Moving back towards Vatican II. Decrying overemphasis on sexual issues like abortion and homosexuality while ignoring the plight of the poor. Recognizing the essential humanity of everyone. Stating that GOD WILL LOVE ATHEISTS, fer cryin’ out loud, so long as they behave as people of conscience. Who says (shudder!) that women need a larger role in the Church, and maybe we should look at priests being able to marry. 

A guy who starts foot-washing female prisoners. Who spurns all the jewels and robes and dripping accumulations of power and wealth—the princely aspects of that medieval Prince’s office—and instead lives in a dorm with some guys, dresses simply, refuses to ride in a bulletproof box. 

A guy who appoints commissions of Decidedly Not The Right People to root out corruption…meaning, people who might actually root out corruption. Who makes it clear that he doesn’t think particularly highly of either of the factions, and instead thinks there may be something in the stuff this Jesus guy supposedly said.

What is happening to the Catholic Church right now is something like the movie “Dave”. It’s so improbable that it has happened…and yet, it is the logical conclusion of the mess they got themselves in.

Throw out the money-lenders, Francis! I’m no Catholic, but I’m for ya.

At publication, the Dragon was DIGGIN’ IT.

Jun 222013
 
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Recently, what with all the Snowden/NSA mishegas, some of my friends have run with their prejudices to climb on the ZOMG! Spooks! Everywhere! bandwagon, and have accordingly become furious with me for failing to join them (the logic for which I posted previously).

Among the characterizations cast by some of these critics has been the suggestion that the reason I do not agree with them is because (they say) I am a “centrist” (or, sometimes, a “liberal”), while they style themselves “progressives”.

O RLY?

Well, let’s take a look.

I support marriage equality and absolute civil equality for women and racial, sexual, ethnic and religious minorities; absolute abortion rights for women and birth control rights for everyone; guaranteed publicly funded universal health care; a 90% top taxation rate; the Buffett rule; a carbon tax; enforceable and stringent international climate protection rules; reassertion of Glass-Steagel; a hard cap on total corporate executive compensation at 50x the income of the lowest-paid employee; a cap on inheritance at $10 million per beneficiary; affirmative action; withdrawal from GATT and the WTO; predication of foreign aid on recipients’ meeting stringent human rights standards (and no free pass to Israel in this regard); an end to the death penalty; a livable minimum wage; rigorous consumer, workers’ rights, environmental and workplace safety regulations; immigration reform; sharp reductions in military spending (and reallocation of those funds to programs to improve the infrastructure, opportunities and quality of life of the American people); a guaranteed post-secondary education for every American who completes high school or an equivalent and wants one; universal voter registration; a paid holiday for every American on election days; overturning Citizens United; solely public funding and time limits (say, 3 months) to all political campaigns; elimination of the definition of corporations as “persons” under the law; an end to all subsidies and tax breaks to nonrenewable energy industries and agribusiness except family farms occupied and worked by the owners; re-application of the Fairness Doctrine in all televised and radio media, broadcast or not; a ban on private ownership of any firearm less than 3’ long, able to hold more than 6 rounds at a time or able to shoot more than one round in a firing; mandatory, scientifically correct sex education for all students, whether their parents want them to have it or not; legalization and taxation of marijuana; an end to the “pledge of allegiance”; a transaction tax on financial transactions such as security sales; an end to supermajority legislative requirements of all kinds and at every level; elimination of tax deductions on contributions to religious organizations; and removal of all references to “God” from US money and US elected legislatures at every level: period, full stop.

If that’s a centrist, I guess Eugene Debs and Abbie Hoffman were, too.

So okay, the characterization doesn’t hold water (duh!) But thinking about it, I got onto the larger question: what is a “progressive”, really? Is it a just a checklist of policy positions, or is it something more?

I’d say that politics isn’t a thought problem. It’s not about taking a pledge, joining a club or talking like the rest of the cool kids.

It’s about results.

It’s about what happens in the real world.

And that means that the only meaningful definition of a progressive is “one who acts to advance societal movement in the direction of fairness, justice, the common good, environmental stewardship, a robust, informed democracy, ensuring that all citizens are safe from privation and have opportunities to improve themselves, peaceful resolution of differences when possible, working, efficient, up-to-date and well-maintained public facilities and services, and personal liberty up to–but not beyond–the point at which it infringes on those of others or the common good.”

There are two moving parts in this definition. It requires not only a set of values, but also behavior in a manner intended to cause policy and society to move in the direction of those values. And here is where a deep chasm opens between me and the friends who want to characterize me as “not progressive”.

I see little evidence that these friends expend much consideration of what policies are workable, politically feasible or even actually put into place. Their politics aren’t about doing anything: they’re about taking a position. More than anything, they are about how they wish to understand themselves and to be seen as opinion holders. The politics they articulate are about their view of themselves—their chosen identities—rather than about actual intent to accomplish social change.

Unless it completely implements the ideal they claim to support, the folks I’m describing will castigate policy movement in a positive direction as weak tea, and trash those who achieved such movement as having “sold out”…up to and including accusing such policy makers of being in the pockets of the very interests the new policy reins in.

In the eyes of people who think like this, a step forward doesn’t count. Only the ideal on the wish list counts. So the significant step forward of the Affordable Care Act is, in their eyes, a “sell-out to the insurance industry” because “Obama is a corporatist puppet”—which provides them the double pleasure of  staking out a position of moral superiority to the product of the dirty, dirty world by contrasting it with the bright shiny ideas in their heads, and of casting themselves as having “higher standards” which have been disappointed by the failure of those who are in the trenches and doing the work.

Indeed, few of the folks I’m talking about have ever invested much time or energy in engaging the legislative process or participating in electoral campaigns. Adamant as they may be in their opinions they also, by and large, dismiss our public institutions and the systems we have for pursuing political change as irretrievably corrupt. To the degree they have advocated for policies, it has generally been from the sidelines in ineffectual but personally satisfying symbolic gestures like protest marches.

Their opinions are rooted firmly in convictions about “how things should be” but generally uninformed about how they are. And as such, their concept of the nature of American politics is an oversimplified cartoon in which Big Interests Own Politicians (of both major parties, because They’re All The Same) and Buy Elections, resulting in Orwellian Institutions which want to Exploit And Control Us All.

In this, they have a lot in common with the Tea Party, actually.

As someone who has actually been in that world and done stuff in the political sphere, I have a different view.

I’m here to suggest that if what you do undermines progress, you aren’t a progressive.

Trashing the character, competence or motivations or those who got you half a political loaf when you wanted a whole one isn’t progressive.

Setting the bar of acceptability at a pie-in-the-sky level and then erupting in outrage when you don’t get it isn’t progressive.

Starting with an assumption that public officials and institutions are corrupt, ill-intentioned or incompetent and seizing on every opportunity—however flimsy, however improbable—to confirm it in your mind and the minds of others is not progressive.

“Standing for principles” in a manner which makes it impossible for those principles to gain traction in the political sphere is not progressive.

Dismissing a policy maker as a walking dungheap because he hasn’t done exactly as you would like on every issue is not progressive.

The only thing such behavior does is to make progress less likely to occur. It saps voter enthusiasm on the left and undermines the openness of moderates and swing voters to seeing progressive positions as reasonable and viable.

I can also tell you that such backseat driving tempts those who do the heavy lifting which actually results in progress to chuck it all and get a job in the private sector. Policy work is hard. You may think being in Congress or a state legislature is all cocktail parties and being showered with lobbyist gifts, but it isn’t that at all, and particularly not for progressives, who don’t generally align with interests loaded with money.

We’re fighting against the odds anyway. When a policy maker who is pouring out the productive years of her life in the name of the greater good starts having to dig friendly fire out of her back, it’s not a surprise that she might want to quit and let her critics try to do better.

Unsatisfiable self-righteous outrage doesn’t do a damned thing for our country or the world. It is a self-indulgence, and one we can ill afford.

It is the antithesis of progressive. It sabotages progress.

Progressives don’t need to agree with everything an official or an advocate—or a blogger—does or says to forbear from impugning his character. They can express their desire for different policies than those under consideration without framing those working on these policies as betrayers, cowards, traitors, incompetents or criminals.

Progressives don’t have an all-or-nothing approach to politics. They understand that improvement happens one step at a time: you work for a gain, nail it down, celebrate, thank your allies and gear up for another one. That’s how history works.

Progressives don’t leap to endorse thinly-sourced conspiracy theories just because they confirm their prejudices.

You can choose to do those things, if you get some kind of satisfaction out of it, but I’ll tell you this: by no stretch of the imagination is it progressive.

Progressives help to create progress. They don’t impede it, belittle it, or undermine its exponents.

A left-wing concern troll is not a progressive.

Ralph Nader (at least, the version we’ve seen in the past 20 years) is not a progressive.

Dennis Kucinich is not a progressive.

Jane Hamsher, Cenk Uygur and Glenn Greenwald are not progressives.

They are something else. Whatever it is, it is not progressive.

 At publication, the Dragon was THINKING

Feb 282013
 

TimesUpHippies2The environmental movement of the latter half of the 20th century is dying. And as a product and member of that movement, I say, not a minute too soon.

Don’t get me wrong. We have a lot for which to thank the green movement that arose in force during the Sixties. Without towering achievements like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and countless other federal, state and local reinings-in of pollution, waste, and annihilation of habitat supporting biodiversity, our world would be vastly worse off.

Unfortunately, like so much that arose out of the Sixties, the era of environmental activism that is now passing away was based more on romantic notions than on practical and scientific realities. And now that time has moved on and younger generations do not, by and large, share those same romantic notions, we are threatened with a future in which protection and stewardship of the environment will dwindle as public support is lost.

Though there were certainly scientific reasons for the concerns being expressed by such Boomer-era environmental drivers as Rachel Carson and the David Brower-era Sierra Club, their articulated arguments were not couched in those terms. They were emotional appeals. Those coffee-table books featuring magnificent, endangered landscapes and adorable or noble charismatic species struck a chord in a Cold War public increasingly aware of the dark side of advancing technological progress, and painted a Muir-style romantic image of “Nature” as Out There: in the wild lands, far from humans, precious and endangered. As a result, millions of acres were protected as federal and state lands and parks. Nature-lovers flocked to hike, backpack, raft and otherwise enjoy these wild places.

There were those who loved and romanticized Nature prior to the 1960s, of course. But they were few, and viewed as cranks. Their signature, remarkable accomplishment was the invention of the national park, for which we must be ever grateful. But they were not a mass movement until a poetic idea of the Earth as a beloved, unified entity–what some claimed is even a single, intelligent organism–seized the imaginations of young people in reaction against their parents’ technologically enthusiastic, militaristic consumer society in the late 1960s, surging into the public imagination with the first full-Earth pictures relayed back by Apollo 8.

While there is certainly plenty of truth to describing wild lands as magnificent and rich with the fabric of life, it also had the effect of defining “the environment” as Somewhere Out There…rather than here, around us, all the time. By falling in line with the Sixties’ counterculture’s anti-societal ethos and evoking a romantic idea of Simpler Olden Times When Humans Lived More In Harmony With The Earth (particularly, lionizing with grossly oversimplified stereotypes the lifeways of native peoples) the environmental movement that rose to effective power at the end of the 1960s was the age-old-story of Man Against Nature, but rooting for the other team. It was the romantic mentality of the “back-to-the-landers”, rendered as a social movement.

Exacerbating this problem for us today is that one of the primary cultural legacies of the Sixties has been a wholesale cultural turning away from reason and science, suspiciously viewing these as the modalities and tools of authoritarian institutions, corporate greed, and engineered destruction. As a result, we have seen both on the left and right a tremendous surge in superstition, confirmation bias, junk, fringe- and pseudoscience accepted as fact, and paranoid conspiracy theories…be they about President Obama’s birth certificate, or the mortal dangers of water fluoridation.

Now, this is not to say that the modern environmental movement does not include many who are scientifically educated and literate, and who use the best available information in crafting proposed actions and policies. But this group tends to operate within institutions like established wildlife habitat restoration and land conservation organizations, academic institutions and policy think tanks. These informed and careful experts are often out of step, however, and even sometimes attacked by less educated grassroots activists, because they do not provide support for these activists’ more extreme theories.

The True Believers of the Sixties are fading away. Muir/Thoreau/Abbey-style Nature romantics who frame every proposal they don’t like as an environmental disaster belong to a generation now averaging over 60 years old, and their values have not penetrated to the youth of today. If theirs is the modality of operation and the mentality we continue to call “environmentalism”, environmentalism will die as a significant political and social movement.

Today’s generation does not view technology with suspicion. It spends most of its life engaging with it and interacting through it. Whether or not we want to face it, today’s youth feels little motivation to put on a backpack and hit the trail. Attendance at state and national parks has plummeted, and when you look at the number of people going to the back country, it is even lower. Those who do are overwhelmingly older, rather than younger.

The transition isn’t just in relation to technology. It’s demographic: a whole lot more of today’s young people come from backgrounds other than the white middle class suburbia from which most Boomer-generation environmentalists emerged. That’s just a fact.

Rather than beating the dead horse of values the young mostly do not share, if we want advocacy for the environment to persist it will have to become relevant to them. Environmentalism must evolve, or it will die.

Central to that evolution must be heightened emphasis on ecosystem services such as integrity of food webs and biodiversity, carbon sequestration, watershed function and other operations of the natural world which have a direct nexus with human needs, as opposed to wilderness preservation in remote areas. We all need to eat. We all need to breathe. We can still advocate for preserving wilderness from the standpoint of watershed functions, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc., but if our talk continues to be rooted in Muir/Brower “glory of Nature” rhetoric and the expectation we can lure popular support with the prospect of wilderness recreation opportunities that fewer and fewer of us are seeking, we’re going nowhere.

And, fellow greenies, we also have to stop indulging or participating in so-called “environmentalism” that is really just self-interested obstructionism. We need to call out the difference when opponents of change (and it is always opponents, not proponents, isn’t it?)  use environmental protection laws as a cudgel. We need to distance ourselves from fringe- and pseudoscience. We need to accept that all actions have impacts, and that this alone is not an argument never to do anything. The question is what will be impacted, and the significance of that impact. If the debate at hand is about which store goes into an already-existing mall, it’s up to us to point out that there may be reasons to oppose the project, but they are not environmental reasons.

Environmental reasons are rooted in air, water and soil quality; biodiversity; minimizing waste; efficient use of resources such as energy and water, and moving toward lower-impact ways of sustaining ourselves. That’s all.  Fighting a multi-family in-fill housing project in your neighborhood when what you really care about is parking convenience and the prospect that (gasp!) some brown people might try to live near you isn’t environmentalism. Opposing a more natural flow regime in managing a dam and claiming your concern is for fish and wildlife–when what you’re really concerned about is tourism-related business downstream–isn’t environmentalism.

In my home town a few years ago, a specific plan–mind you, just a plan, not a project–was proposed which would have set standards for developing mixed-use, higher density, transit and pedestrian-friendly projects in an area adjacent to the downtown, on lands currently occupied by decaying light industrial buildings.

The town went berserk. And self-styled “environmentalists” killed the plan.

Now, by no stretch of the imagination was theirs an effort in defense of or to augment the natural world. The existing policies applying to the area allowed more filling of nearby wetlands than did the proposed ones. Residents of the housing units would have been within walking distance of three grocery stores, a drug store, a farmers market, a post office, a movie theater, shops and restaurants and the town’s hub for regional transit. They would have been able to live a nearly car-free lifestyle. Everything about the plan was the kind of thing environmentalists around here say they support.

But only, apparently, if it is built somewhere else.

We have to stop this, folks. It’s shameful. Because what we’re showing the next generation is an “environmentalism” that lies about its real motivations while claiming to speak for the Earth in romantic, unreasonable, technophobic and often hysterically irrational terms.

There are projects well worth opposing. There are areas that should be protected rather than being allowed to intensify in land use. Zoning, land use, water and transportation planning and enforcement are good things. But they are abused every  bit as much when they are twisted to prevent change out of knee-jerk, reactionary opposition to anything new as they are when policy makers rubber-stamp exceptions to them to allow destructive activities to go forward.

We environmentalists were among the first to recognize the very serious problems homo sapiens was creating by fouling its nest. We bear a responsibility to be problem-solvers rather than reactionaries, to accept that some of our comforts are probably going to have to be let go for the greater good. Environmentalism can no longer be a luxury of the privileged, nor a movement primarily focused on defending that luxury. We have to make caring about the biosphere a practical, common-good ethos that includes a place for those who are never going to go backpacking, couldn’t care less whether there continue to be polar bears, and are not afraid of cell phone towers.

We are in the Earth and of the Earth. Our task is to figure out how to keep the biosphere livable for humanity–all of humanity–and for as rich a diversity of organisms as is practically possible.

Note the “practically”.

We must be thoughtful, well-informed, realistic, and embrace positive change. And we must distance ourselves from those who do not meet that standard but claim our mantle.

We must evolve, before we die.

 At publication, the Dragon was TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

About “Culture”

 Posted by at 12:00 pm  Culture
Jul 102012
 

This category of posts relates to social criticism and analysis, review, arts, etc.

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