Putting a tunnel through a tree is stupid

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/pioneer-cabin-tree-sequoia.html

Pioneer Cabin tree, a tree that was tunneled through in the name of tourism, recently fell. I found out on social media, and people really seemed to be bummed out about it. I had never heard of it, and didn’t even know tunneled trees were a thing. My first thought, when looking at a picture, was one of revulsion. My second thought was people are the fucking worst.

But is it really so bad, ethically-speaking? In Practical Ethics, Peter Singer argues that we don’t owe any special consideration to the interests of plants because they lack the capacity for sentience/consciousness, however one defines these terms. A human or nonhuman animal with adequate mental capacities has preferences, but the desire for tolerable conditions and the ability to do something about it is not thought to be present in plants:

Once we stop to reflect on the fact that plants are not conscious and cannot engage in any intentional behavior…it is clear that all this language is metaphorical; one might just as well say that a river is pursuing its own good and striving to reach the sea. [1]

Thus, the Pioneer Cabin tree was incapable of having an opinion as to whether or not its mutilation was good and, in terms of ethical consideration is little different than a stalactite.

That just strikes me as intuitively wrong. However, I’m mindful that one’s intuition, without good evidence to support it, is meaningless. Ideally I believe humans should give consideration to the interests of all life, and not just the section that comprises the animal kingdom [2]. Every living organism – sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious – is an entity comprised of molecules that resist entropy. An entity that continually incorporates, changes and discharges molecules, all in an ultimately futile attempt to rage against the dying of the light. A stalactite has no such internal chemistry that resists the inevitable, with no mechanisms to alter its surrounding physical conditions and maintain homeostasis. It’s that struggle that is sufficient for me to grant that all living entities have an interest in existing, whether an organism is sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious.

That certainlydoesn’t mean it’s never wrong to take a life, be it animal, plant, fungi, or bacteria. Generally speaking, it’s acceptable to eat plants and animals, regardless of their desires to continue existing. I also have no problem with, in a vacuum, purposefully or mistakenly killing plants and animals for agricultural purposes [3] or if they pose a health threat to oneself. Taking antibiotics to kill harmful bacteria is fine. A deer tick in my navel drinking my blood for 3 days that I inexplicably and foolishly didn’t notice? Fuck you, I’ll kill you. [4] Basically, one should have a good reason for killing or harming another living being.

Humans, ever willing to take on the mantle of God, frequently make decisions that mean life or death to countless organisms. This is from the smallest of scales – killing a spider in your bedroom – to the level of whole ecosystems. It would be nice if such alterations were divorced from anthropocentric desires that do not deal with our health or survival. Obviously, if the tree was left alone and people were unable to drive or walk through it, our health or survival would have been unaffected. So hollowing out a tree for tourism purposes is bad, as the National Park Service admits.

Even if it wasn’t the reason the tree fell, I don’t see how hollowing out a tree can be seen to, at best, have no detrimental effects to the tree itself. Perhaps, though, the experience people had with this tree caused a shift in general viewpoint in terms of the necessity of conservation. If so, I would argue that this is based on a grotesque display of human domination, and wonder how one could quantify any positive real-world consequences (as opposed to mere changes in one’s perspective).

All of this leads to the question of human assigned value: there is no intrinsic difference between a thousand year sequoia, and a ten day old garlic mustard plant. We assign value to the sequoia due to the sense of majesty we feel when we’re in its presence; knowledge of the significant role it plays in its ecological relationships; or, if you suck, the amount of money you can make off its wood. Garlic mustard, on the other hand, is non-native to North America, makes our lawns look like shit, and outcompetes native vegetation. These are human assigned values that are extrinsic to individual organisms – we love well manicured landscapes devoid of unsightly weeds and prefer more visually appealing native flora.

And yet, I feel no sense of grief as I pull individual garlic mustard plants out my yard. This means I’m a dick for doing so, because intrinsically a garlic mustard plant is no better or worse than any other plant in the vicinity. I make a value judgment, and my reasoning does not take into consideration the plant continuing to have the ability to do plant things (regardless of whether or not it can be said to have preferences). Basically, I’m a hypocrite if I prefer a yard that myself and other humans arbitrarily regard as “nice,” because that’s a pretty shitty reason to end a life. Oh well. But fuck putting tunnels in trees.


[1] Practical Ethics, p. 249. The Oxford Dictionary website defines intentional as “Done on purpose.” Left unstated is whether or not doing something on purpose requires a conscious component, though it’s probably implied. David Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, states that while he doesn’t grant plants the ability to think, they “exhibit elements of anoetic consciousness [“the rudimentary state of affective, homeostatic, and sensory-perceptual mental experiences”].” This, coupled with the pretty amazing things plants can do is, to me, enough to differentiate them from a river flowing to its mouth.

[2] Not viruses, which aren’t technically alive. Viruses can fuck right off

[3] Outside of this vacuum, factory farming is cruel and abhorrent.

[4] The thought of getting Lyme Disease again is terrifying.

 

My shitty alma mater

“Journalist” and terrible human Milo Yiannopoulos recently spoke at UW-Milwaukee, one of my alma maters, because it’s essential that higher education institutions allow a platform for every possible viewpoint in the name of free speech. It went about as one would expect, with the possible exception that he outed a trans student in the audience and alleged that she was a sexual predator (I am blessedly ignorant of what typically happens at his talks).

In an attempt at saving face, Chancellor Mark Mone, who was certainly apprised of the possible negative affects of the talk, released an exceptionally pathetic statement saying, among other public relations type nothing-speak, that

I also will not stand silently by when a member of our campus community is personally and wrongly attacked. I am disappointed that this speaker chose to attack a transgender student.

So brave, so courageous to take such a stand of sending out an email to all of UWM’s students and exhorting them to

respond to tonight’s event with positive messages, not anger. Join me on social media in using #UWMstandstogether to tell our city, state and nation about the wonderful things happening on our campus and the valuable contributions of our students, faculty and staff.

Yup, that should do it. A bigotry free utopia should be forthcoming any day now. My eyes are rolling into the back of my head.

All of this is horrible, but the point of this post is to highlight the student’s response which, in lieu of highlighting especially poignant sections, I’m posting in full. It’s well-written, emotionally raw, and enraging that anyone has to experience what she went through.

Chancellor Mark Mone

 GO FUCK YOURSELF.

I am the trans student that was attacked and your email is nothing short of insulting. I wasn’t going to write this email at first, even after Milo attacked me, but then I saw your email and  I’m SO FUCKING SICK of your goddamn lip service. Seriously go fuck yourself.

 Your email? I don’t even know where to begin. Also, I don’t care if you feel “offended” or “harassed”. Welcome to my life. Sue me. I’d be more than happy to defend my free speech in court (since this is what you call it apparently) to lambast your ass for being an ungodly, fucking pathetic “ally.” And quite frankly I don’t care who the fuck reads this email (as you can tell by the CC) or what people think of me. I’m aware of where this email can end up. So be it. My “give a fuck card” was thrown out the window a long time ago. I’m going to write about you and YOUR fucked-up bullshit.

 Your words: “I also will not stand silently by when a member of our campus community is personally and wrongly attacked.” That is probably the biggest piece of goddamn fucking bullshit I’ve ever read. What exactly do you plan to do? OH YEAH, NOTHING, BECAUSE YOU’RE A COWARDLY PIECE OF SHIT. Your “not standing silently” apparently consists of a single email mass-sent to the university. That’s it. You don’t get a fucking cookie for that. What else were you going to go? NOTHING. You were planning on doing jack shit.

 Did you even attempt to reach out to me? NOPE. Not even an email, nothing. Instead it was supposed to suffice to just send a nice little bit of polished hogwash to the general campus. Is that right? Were you trying to head off student protests calling for you to be sacked or something? You’d like nothing better than for this to just blow over. Seriously what the hell ARE you even doing right now? You say you’re not standing by silently? BULL-FUCKING-SHIT YOU POMPOUS ASSHOLE. YES YOU ARE.

 Don’t act like you didn’t know this would happen. You knew goddamn well it would. I lost track of how many people pointed this out to you. And what the hell did you do when students tried to organize and deliver a petition to cancel Milo’s event? YOU FUCKING CALLED THE COPS ON THEM. LIKE WHAT IN THE LIVING FUCK. Your asshole level is off the charts, especially because you feign concern about this with one hand while backhanding all of us with the other. Because there’s nothing like the threat of state violence to keep people in line.

 Seriously, you FUCKING CALLED THE GODDAMN POLICE on students at your office who were raising extremely valid concerns about Milo, you forcibly threw students out, and then you want to turn around and act like you didn’t see this coming? How fucking naïve do you think we are?

 This also isn’t just a case of a speaker going off an a tangent like that, like some random occurrence. It was not a case where you had no way of knowing he would do this. Quite the contrary: Milo has a supremely extensive, highly-documented track record of doing precisely this. As I’ve already said, YOU KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN. WE TOLD YOU IT WOULD. AND WE TOLD YOU AGAIN. AND AGAIN. But you brushed this off under “muh free speech” bullshit.

 Do tell me, if someone invited a fucking modern Hitler to campus, would you allow that? Because that’s what your bullshit argument says. How about David Duke of the KKK, can we invite him? Or how about Andrew Anglin, the self-proclaimed Nazi who runs the Daily Stormer website? (Yes, he is an actual Nazi. That is not hyperbole.) Can we invite him? Genuine question. You’ve already allowed a fascist on campus, so can we invite a full-fledged Nazi? Are there no bounds? Maybe we should invite a radical who advocates burning down Chapman Hall, because speakers like that can be found (and no, me typing that sentence is not a threat to destroy property. “Words don’t hurt anyone” as the fascist you defended last night would say.)

 Free speech does not cover harassment, and that’s exactly what Milo did to me. But hey, do email about hashtagging #UWMstandstogether as if that fucking accomplishes anything. Damn, you fucking liberals really drive me up the wall. Now you can spend all of 10 seconds making some half-assed tweet, give it a cute hashtag, and go about your day feeling like you did something. NO. YOU DON’T GET CREDIT FOR THAT. YOU ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING. You’re as embarrassing as the people who wear a safety pin and think that counts as being an ally—patting yourself on the back for a job well done—all while you stand silent as fascists attack your students. Some ally. Or making a hashtag that virtually nobody in the city will see, and which will do abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Good grief…UWM “stands together”…as you fucking call the police on students who tried to petition you…as you divide and attack marginalized students while saying you want unity…as you allow a fascist to use “free speech” as an pretense to harass and attack. The amount of doublethink here is just incredible.

 And we’re supposed to respond with positive messages, not anger? WHAT FUCKING WORLD DO YOU LIVE IN. Do you have any idea how much fucking privilege you have to even BEGIN saying something like that? WHAT. THE. FUCK. You do NOT get to dictate how we feel. You do NOT get to tell us what our emotions should be. Oh but okay, here’s a positive message: Nobody died! WOO-FUCKING-HOO! Positivity! Go Panthers!

 Fuck no. I am done getting repeatedly abused and shit on, and expected to just take it and not be angry. But don’t worry, I’m not angry. I’m way, way beyond that. I am SO FUCKING DONE having to justify my humanity to shitheads like you all the fucking time. Angry bitches get shit done. You say to not respond with “anger”…goddamn you haven’t the slightest fucking clue what pervasive marginalization is like.

 Do you even know what Milo said about me? Do you, asshole? Here, I’ll type a bit out for you, because I highly doubt you actually know what that fascist said about me from his podium in front of hundreds of people (and live-streamed on Breitbart in front of thousands):

>>> Context: Milo just finished mocking feminists who critique the very harmful phrase ‘man up’ <<<

Milo: “I’ll tell you one UW-Milwaukee student that does not need to man up, and that is (Student’s name).”

>>> Milo puts an image of me, taken from last spring when I was earlier in my transition and appeared significantly more masculine, on the main screen<<<

Milo: “Do you know about (Student’s Name)? Have any of you come into contact with this person? This quote unquote nonbinary trans—you’re not laughing now, are you, you know him—this quote unquote nonbinary trans woman forced his way into the women’s locker rooms this year. Who knows about this story, any of you?”

>>>Milo looks around, people laugh<<<

“I see you don’t even read your own student media. He got into the women’s room the way liberals always operate, using the government and the courts to weasel their way where they don’t belong. In this case he made a Title IX complaint. Title IX is a set of rules to protect women on campus effectively. It’s couched in the language of equality, but it’s really about women, which under normal circumstances would be fine except for how it’s implemented. Now it is used to put men in to women’s bathrooms. I have known some passing trannies in my life. Trannies—you’re not allowed to say that. I’ve known some passing trannies, which is to say transgender people who pass as the gender they would like to be considered.”

>>> Milo directs the audience’s attention to the image of me.<<<

“Well, no.”

>>>Audience laughs. <<<

Milo: “The way that you know he’s failing is I’d almost still bang him.”

>>> Audience begins laughing a lot, keeps laughing <<<

Milo: “It’s just…it’s just a man in a dress, isn’t it? I should reapply my lipstick…”

And all you can say is you’re “disappointed” he attacked me? Disappointed? Are you fucking kidding me? How about ENRAGED or INFURIATED. What the fuck is this use of disappointed? Tranny is the equivalent of faggot, and you’re disappointed? Really? REALLY? YOU FUCKING THINK???? Goddamn. Oh but you condemn it. Okay, that forgives everything. Not.

You: “I would not deprive students or our community of opportunities to hear diverse viewpoints.”

Translation: I would never deprive students of the ability to collectively harass and verbally assault another student, because it’s “free speech.”

I was at Milo’s event. You have NO FUCKING IDEA what that was like. NO. FUCKING. IDEA. I knew this event would bring out all the worst people on campus, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Standing in line was bad enough. Luckily at this point in my life, I look substantially more feminine than I did last spring (when almost everybody perceived me as a “boy in girls’ clothes”), and I’m correctly gendered as a woman probably 90%+ of the time now. Anyway I’m in line waiting, and in front of me two dudes are making hateful comments about trans folk. Yet 10 minutes after that, one of them was looking at my chest and checking me out. In my mind the only thing I’m thinking is, “If this person knew he was sexually attracted to a trans girl…holy shit…” because asshole boys like him tend to get extremely aggressive if they realize a girl they found attractive has a penis.

But that was still bearable and I was prepared in case they realized I’m trans (thankfully they didn’t). I also knew Milo was going to regurgitate a profound amount of racist and transphobic hate. What I did not anticipate was being specifically targeted and called out in the way he did. I hadn’t said anything or made even the slightest disruption: He had his harassment of me planned out well in advance. I’m sitting there and I hear him say “(my name” and I just froze up. I have never, ever, ever been more terrified in my life of being outed. Ever. He put my picture up, which as already stated, was taken from a prior period when my masculine features were significantly more sharp and extremely noticeable. And I am sitting there frozen in total terror that somebody around me would recognize me, point me out, and incite the mob of the room against me. Nobody did point me out, thank god. But do you have ANY idea how much power Milo had and how it feels to pray that your ability to “pass” doesn’t fail you now? That’s what it was like. Fuck, you can’t even appreciate what I’m writing. You say you do but you really don’t. You do NOT have this perspective. I was looking at the stage, consciously aware of trying to not look “suspicious” and reveal I was the person he was talking about (even as I could feel the color draining from my face), but also not looking at Milo directly ‘lest he recognize me and instantly set off dozens of people screaming at me.

I was trapped in fear and went numb. Completely numb. I felt nothing. I was having a severe, emotional, traumatic response to being fucking called out and directly targeted by this transphobic asshole in front of thousands of people, and my body’s main coping mechanism for severe stress is to shut down all emotions. I couldn’t even cry, and that’s probably a good thing because it would’ve outed me. Even after the event, I still felt nothing and was “fine.” It wasn’t until hours later, as my body began to process it, that I broke down sobbing uncontrollably. I can handle transphobia (you’re basically forced to as a trans girl) but Milo went way the fuck beyond that in what he did to me.

Do you have any fucking idea how hurtful this is? Do you know what it’s like to be in a room full of people who are laughing at you as if you’re some sort of perverted freak, and how many of them would have hollered at me (or worse) if I was outed? Do you know what this kind of terror is? No, you don’t, because as a cis person you do not understand. Sorry-not-sorry, but you don’t and you can’t. You don’t understand how misgendering is violence. Yes, VIOLENCE. And did you miss the part where Milo was talking about having sex with me? Aka shoving his dick up my ass, and joking about applying lipstick to seduce me. How the fuck is this acceptable? This is both gender and sexual harassment. What court upholds this as free speech? Answer: NOBODY. THIS WAS SPECIFICALLY TARGETED AT ME. WHAT FUCKING COURT HAS EVER UPHELD THIS SORT OF HARASSMENT DIRECTED SPECIFICALLY AGAINST A STUDENT AS “FREE SPEECH”? Just wait, now an apologist for fascists will find one lonely example, amidst a plethora that protect students from harassment.

If you actually cared about students, you would have blocked this student org from bringing Milo here, and had they fought it in court you would have battled back and prevailed. The difference here is Milo harasses specific people and incites violence against them. That is not protected, and other universities have successfully blocked him because of that. But you’re too busy kissing the ass of trans-hating republicans running the state and letting fascists attack whomever they want.

But whatever, let Milo joke about fucking me (up the ass). Who gives a fuck about sexual violence. It’s not like I’ve been raped or anything before (actually, I have). Universities regularly push that under the rug in order to protect their sorry-ass reputations. I sure as hell wouldn’t put that past UWM either. And Milo is the Dangerous Faggot after all. Let him repeatedly commit violence against me by erasing my identity and painting me as some sort of male sex predator preying on women in the bathroom. Because who cares if a student is slandered? WHO THE FUCK CARES ABOUT THOSE GODDAMN CODDLED STUDENTS? Who cares if they get harassed?

Perhaps this might be an explanation you can somewhat, partially understand on what it’s like to be misgendered and how this is violence, Mark Mone: Pretend you go to a restaurant to order a meal, and when you arrive, you’re given a gendered greeting of, “Hello woman, how may I take your order?” After placing your order, “Thank you ma’am, that will be such and such.” Then when you receive your order, “Oh hey, did you know you’re STILL not a man? Because you’re not. Oh and here’s your food, thank you!” And whenever anybody interacts with you, you’re called she all day, every fucking day. Imagine a similar scene again an hour later at the gas station. Now imagine it CONSTANTLY happening, on a DAILY basis, every week of the year, EVERY GODDAMN YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. You get to a point where it really, really severely fucks with you. The endless invalidation and relentless attack.

Oh who the fuck am I kidding. Why am I bothering even trying to explain what it’s like? It completely escapes your mind the very real violence Milo intentionally committed against me by calling me a man over and over in the name of “free speech” and slandering me as a sex predator.

You will also never know what it’s like wanting to die every day, you don’t know what it’s like attempting suicide multiple times, you don’t know what it’s like looking down 20 stories to a concrete ground and being an inch away from plummeting to death, you don’t know what it’s like putting your neck on a railroad track, only to chicken out right before the train got there and cursing yourself for not going through with it, (to your fucking bullshit police, no I am not suicidal right now but you fucks will try and twist past-tense into present. you pretentious assholes), you don’t know what it’s like to look in the mirror every goddamn morning and see a face you don’t recognize, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE GOING THROUGH PUBERTY FOR THE WRONG FUCKING GENDER. THIS IS A HELL YOU CANNOT, AND WILL NOT, AND ARE UTTERLY FUCKING INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING. And then being denied medical access for years and years and years. Do NOT have the audacity and gall to say you “understand” our concerns. NO YOU DO NOT. You don’t know what it’s like being in poverty and unable to pay for physical transitions, and locked in the wrong body. You have NO FUCKING CLUE what it’s like to be in our shoes and having to pretend everything is fine and dandy. And then to have the university defend a speaker that targets you by name and puts up a masculine-looking picture of you to laugh at…regardless if I had been there in person (sitting in terror) or hiding in my home, HOLY FUCKING SHIT. FUCK YOU. JUST FUCK YOU.

Honest to god, if any student said or did that to me, it would be a complete and total violation of university policy on harassment. NO student could say those things and get away with it. NOBODY. BECAUSE FOR THE 100TH FUCKING TIME, HARASSMENT AND VERBALLY ASSAULTING PEOPLE IS NOT FREE SPEECH. But if they bring in an outside speaker who does THE SAME EXACT FUCKING THING, then apparently it’s okay because “free speech.” Seriously, do you not comprehend how contradictory and fucked-up your logic is?

Can I bring in a speaker who goes on a tirade and personally insults, attacks, and makes crude sexual jokes about a student in the Turning Point USA org? And then do it again for the next student, until every student in that organization is thoroughly trashed? Is that free speech?

NO YOU ASSHOLE, IT IS NOT. HARASSMENT IS NOT FREE SPEECH. AND YOU FUCKING KNEW MILO WOULD DO THIS. WE TOLD YOU. YOU REFUSED TO LISTEN.

But you know what, I’m not done ranting against your transphobic ass yet. I’d like to tell anybody who is still reading this email the other bullshit going on in this hellhole. You have rung me around ever since last January with your locker room bullshit. You do realize there are trans and intersex people on campus who 100% avoid the locker room and Klotsche Center because YOU still insist on policing their body parts? And yes, I say YOU personally because YOU approve of the unpublished “interim policy” that does just this and still forbids any nonconforming body part from being exposed for so much as a second. This is where you’re truly a transphobic ass. You are no ally. If a transgender man changes clothing in the men’s locker room, and someone sees his breast, YOU would seek to punish the trans man for the so-called “crime” of changing his clothes. Nevermind how totally fucking inverted this reasoning is.

And you won’t commit to putting a locker room policy on paper either, so instead you have something that’s transphobic as fuck yet only verbal, making it harder to track and challenge. You’re taking ZERO leadership on this and are instead stalling for time, waiting for the issue to be forced and decided in the courts. Yet you’re “proud” of the work the LGBT resource center does? Goddamn if that’s the case (it’s not; you’re a transphobic asshole), then either be an actual trans-inclusive leader or get the fuck out of the way.

I knew when I went public last spring with all the transphobic bullshit YOU were putting me through that trolls would pick up on it. I was ready for that. But what I’m NOT going to gloss over is your contemptible pandering to trans and intersex folk, and your fucking self-righteous email and related bullshit you put forth claiming to stand with marginalized people like me. NO YOU DO NOT.

Your administration never wanted to allow me and other trans and intersex folk locker room access in the first place. You fucks originally tried to force me into the men’s locker room (which ironically, I couldn’t change clothing in there right now either because I have breasts…or are you so incredibly transphobic you don’t recognize that my breast development is indeed female breasts? I can’t change clothing anywhere under your goddamn policy unless I run off and lock myself in a stall), or to force me into a completely segregated, single-user space that lacked a sauna and pool access. It was only—and I repeat, only—because your attorneys advised you that you had to allow access that you ever let me back in to the locker room after originally banning me. And even then, you insisted I follow special restrictions (which by the way, I long, long, long ago disregarded. You’re in another fucking world if you think I’d submit to that bullshit.) And you continue to marginalize other trans and intersex individuals in locker rooms to this very day. If someone who appears trans wants to use the facility, you’ll have them yanked aside and given a body-shaming lecture where they are told they must always cover up in a locker room…a fucking locker room where undressing is expected…fuck you really are backwards. It’s apparent our bodies will never be acceptable to you.

Besides deliberately and purposely preventing a trans-inclusive locker room policy, your list of shit also includes throwing ALL of your trans and intersex employees under the bus by refusing to fight for their right to have medical procedures and treatment covered by insurance. You are PERFECTLY content with the status quo of denying medical service, as much as you may pretend otherwise. In fact, you recently had a prospective hire walk away from a job offer because they were transgender and you refused to provide medical benefits. But do continue blaming your bullshit on third party “outside of your control” crap and doing meaningless shit to change that.

I can keep listing more things but you know what, just go fuck yourself and in all honestly, drop your T from LGBT. Quit pretending. You do not stand for or represent trans folk and you ignore our needs. Asshole. You are LGB at best and a complete transphobic jerk. I’m done with you. Coming to this university was one of the single-most, worst mistakes I have ever made in my life. At the time you were supposedly ranked 5 stars for LGBTQ+ friendliness and sold me a colossal amount of bullshit to that effect. HA! WHAT A FUCKING JOKE. I really do genuinely regret ever coming here. It was a mistake.

Believe me when I say no matter how much you might dislike (or resent) this email, any pain you feel from what I wrote is but a tiny fraction of the pain I felt, and still feel in my chest and throughout my body, when Milo attacked me, and the pain trans folk feel just for existing in this society. You are so, so incredibly blinded by your privilege and place in society. Fuck you.

Sincerely,

(Student’s Name)

Former student at this godforsaken university

P.S. To Mark Mone and your cronies: I’m not going to respond to any phone calls, emails, or attempts to have me speak with anyone. I am never returning to your goddamn campus again. Ever. GOODBYE BITCHES. And very specifically to you Mark Mone and other spineless liberal assholes that fully support bringing a fascist speaker to campus who is EXTRAORDINARILY well-known to harass and target specific students: From the bottom of my heart, truly, FUCK YOU.

Good music!

As I get older, I’m less and less aware of new music. In addition to my increasingly rapid transformation into a grumpy old person that dislikes new things, I heavily blame podcasts. I listen to way more podcasts than music and it’s kinda sad.

Anyways, here are my favorite 10 albums of 2016 in no particular order:

  • The death albums: Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker; David Bowie – Blackstar; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree. I wasn’t too familiar with Cohen, and to a lesser extent Bowie, before the releases of their final albums, something I eagerly rectified. Nick Cave, on the other hand is one of my favorite artists. During the recording of Skeleton Tree, his son died in an accident. While the album was mostly written by this point, parts of it were amended and the result is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.

  • Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder. A welcome return to their iconic black metal sound

  • Anohni – Hopelessness. I don’t think I like this as much as the Antony and the Johnsons material but this is still really good shit.

  • Mizmor (מזמור) – Yodh. This is what I was listening to, entirely coincidentally, as Milwaukee burned 6 blocks away from our house this past summer. Gorgeous album cover.

  • Charles Bradley – Changes. Charles Bradley covering Black Sabbath? Yes plz!

  • Angel Olsen – My Girl. Awesome music from someone under 30!

  • G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge. More people under 30! It’s nice to be reminded that punk’s not dead, even though the band, sadly, is.

  • Ghost – Popestar. This EP has my favorite song of 2016. It’s a cover of a song by the Swedish band Imperiet, better known as their earlier punk incarnation Ebba Grön. I nominate this as the song that plays if and when our glorious empire burns.

Man and woman learned how to make fire
And the kingdom’s walls were extended
By the fourth day the walls were reaching so far
No one knew where they ended

Now no one heard that voice anymore
And metal cities came to ascend
On the fifth day spring turned into fall
And a rain fell over the land

But no walls can stop such a rain
That keeps on falling forevermore
I was told that by the sixth day
The world was like an open sore

Now who will pray for Babylon
Sing a song to Babylon
On your knees before Babylon
Beat that drum because Babylon is falling

*****

Other shit that is good, but slightly less good than the aforementioned:

  • Sumac – What One Becomes
  • World Be Free – The Anti-Circle
  • Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
  • Alcest – Kodama
  • Direct Hit! – Wasted Mind
  • Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
  • Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse of What You’re Not
  • Bob Mould – Patch The Sky
  • A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
  • Brujeria – Pocho Aztlan
  • Panopticon – Revisions of the Past
  • Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

Police officer indicted in the shooting of Sylville Smith

Against all odds, Dominique Heaggan-Brown will be charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the shooting of Sylville Smith on August 13th. In the immediate aftermath, the police and mayor claimed there was unequivocal video evidence that Sylville was armed and pointing a gun at the officer. Later, once the unrest had died down, it was admitted that the footage wouldn’t “answer every question.” And now, Heaggan-Brown is charged, which is in addition to the unrelated charges of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault and Solicitation. It’s impossible to know how much the latter charges factored in the decision to indict on the murder charges. A cynic might wonder if the authorities decided he was an acceptable sacrificial lamb due to his other alleged transgressions. A different police shooting, that of Jay Anderson, with questionable video evidence resulted in no charges, and for some reason, far less notoriety. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also include another local story from last week about an officer involved death in which there’s clear video evidence of federal agents hitting a man with a car, and the agency in question claiming the man shot himself.

As welcome of a development as this Heaggan-Brown’s indictment is, it’s almost impossible to be optimistic for a conviction. If Michael Slager, who clearly murdered Walter Scott, can get away with it, what hope is there?

The shooting occurred four blocks from our house. The burned down gas station was seven blocks away. The trashed liquor store is two blocks away. During this, well-meaning but patronizing friends and relatives offered for my wife and I to retreat to the safety of the suburbs. How privileged we were to have even had that option.

Below is what I posted to Facebook the day after the shooting (and only lightly edited). The intended audience was those who were surprised or confused by the events, and any closet bigots I had on my friends list. It was my way of putting into words everything I wanted to express about the situation.


I post so rarely, but I thought an incident like last night warrants something, seeing as we live a mere six blocks from the events. That’s pretty close! We didn’t really notice anything amiss until around 9pm, when we saw redirected city buses on our street. Even then, it didn’t really register aside from absentmindedly noticing sirens, which isn’t uncommon on a Saturday night. At about 9:30pm our local neighborhood app alleged that the gas station was on fire. Standing on the balcony, we couldn’t hear anything. Right before going back in, I heard gunshots and later found out it was from someone firing into the air. Aside from that, and more sirens than usual, our immediate neighborhood was quiet. As a true testament to the, in my mind surreal sense of normalcy of our block, white women were walking their dogs early this morning as if there weren’t riots the previous night. I mowed my lawn in peace listening to a Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast as our cats relaxed contentedly in their catio. So we’re fine, and thanks for your concern.

But none of the above is really the purpose of my first FB post in, I dunno 2 years? I just want people to understand that this did not happen in a vacuum. It’s ridiculously easy for people (some, but not all closet or openly racist) to shake their heads at their perceived social inferiors and lament something to the effect of this not being what MLK wanted (I’ve seen white people say this (please note you shouldn’t say this)).

Did you know that Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the country? (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/01/25/back-in-time-60-years-americas-most-segregated-city.html).

And that this segregation isn’t entirely accidental – and in addition to its historical legacy is still something that is happening? (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/remember-redlining-its-alive-and-evolving/433065/)

It’s damn near impossible to convince some people that systemic racism is an actual thing, despite the wealth of scholarly research that emphatically confirms how persistent and insidious it is. Moreover, an understanding of this is tied to the founding of America and its abhorrent treatment of black people (among other classes of people, obviously). This isn’t ancient history – the end of the civil rights era didn’t magically usher in an era of pure equality and such thoughts are almost childishly simplistic.

This brings me back to my initial point about how the events of last night did not happen in a vacuum. Solely focusing on specific, discrete situations neglects the overarching systemic issues of historical institutionalized racism and the concomitant associated traumas (i.e. poverty; child abuse & neglect; substance abuse; transient living situations; familial incarceration; domestic violence; nonexistent access to effective schools, etc.). Dealing with any one of them is enough to shatter the hope of any child. Moreover, the aforementioned traumas are additive in nature and largely temporally ongoing events. I hope it sounds like these are exceedingly difficult things to overcome because they really are. Anyone invoking the “bootstraps” myth, or thinking how they’d totally turn out fine growing up poor and black is full of rancid shit. Even being able to move out of the hood to leave such problems behind is exceedingly difficult. I implore everyone who has any connection to Milwaukee to read the profound, heartbreaking book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist who did the field work for the book in Milwaukee.

(As a brief side-note, I’ve chosen not to bog down this already overlong post with sources, but these are easily found – one can certainly find counter-arguments, but I’d be stunned if they were backed by anything remotely considered peer-reviewed research (Breitbart, Fox News, memes, and your feelings don’t count).

The final topic I’ll address is the relationship between the police and the poor black community mere blocks from my house. It’s unfortunate (aside from the loss of life) that the proximate cause is going to be used by those who think that cops can do no wrong to disparage and dismiss legitimate social concerns. This too is connected to the historical relationship between black communities and police (again events like this don’t happen in a vacuum, yada yada). It turns out police have been pretty rough on black communities since its inception (http://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing). Certainly their relationship can best be described as abysmal up until the civil rights era. Important steps have been made since, but it’s nowhere near sufficient to repair generations of perfectly valid distrust. It’s long been thought that police kill a disproportionate amount of black people, but until recently nothing close to a comprehensive accounting existed. The Ferguson events changed that and its since been definitively confirmed thanks to the monitoring of nongovernmental entities, the ubiquity of social media and cell phone camera technology. The minuscule percentage of police that will even have to go to trial is something also not to be discounted. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men).

Police killings have long been overdue for their spotlight in the national consciousness and it is no longer ignored. Combined with prominent national killings, Milwaukee has had, among others Dontre Hamilton and Jay Anderson, that for whatever reasons didn’t achieve the same level of notoriety. The community that participated in the unrest yesterday is undoubtedly not unaware.

But, but police kill much more white people, you say! This is actually true. I view this primarily as an argument used by those who posit an unearned sense of white stoicism to police violence (“Hey we don’t get mad when they kill us!”). But it’s misleading and reductive to merely state that there are more incidents of police violence against whites than blacks, which is what one should obviously expect with whites comprising 64% of the population, while blacks comprise only 13%. In other words, a blanket statement of the gross amount tells us nothing statistically significant. As the aforementioned Guardian article states: “young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015.”

I prefer not to wade into how often police violence is justified and how that can be determined. To my eyes, it’s philosophically murky. I will say I don’t have too much of an issue with an officer whose life is actually in danger using murder as a last resort. This undoubtedly happens. As for last night, the police claim and the media are reporting that the young man was shot while fleeing and armed – these are the only concrete details known. It hasn’t been disclosed whether or not the police knew who he was beforehand; why he was pulled over; if they knew or had reason to believe he was armed; where on the body he was shot (it’s going to look bad if it’s in the back) and if he pointed a gun at the officers. Hopefully the body cameras can clear this up. If not, there are many reasons for the police to obfuscate what really happened.

So as a thought experiment, and to conclude this long-winded (and no doubt little read) essay, I’m going to attempt to tie everything together. You have a community that’s been historically kept from achieving the American Dream that is sold ubiquitously in our entertainment and media. In Milwaukee, affluent communities are mere minutes away with a level of comfort, safety and material possessions the adjacent poor can only dream of. They are people who have experienced punishing traumas. They, or someone close to them, have experienced police abuse and misconduct that never involves the offending officers receiving consequences. This feeling is reinforced with events from around the country. A young man is shot by police on a hot summer Saturday afternoon in August. A crowd gathers. Friends and family of the victim come and are overwhelmed with emotion. Rumors spread about the manner of death. The veracity of the rumors (which may or may not be true) are irrelevant, as anger spreads through the crowd. The face of the state, the police, are standing right there. Maybe your anger and pain gets the best of you and you throw a brick through a cop car’s window. With that, the fuse is lit and the combination of everything I’ve written about comes to a head, and explodes. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Or, hey, maybe black people are just inherently violent and destructive and stupid. That’s pretty easy to wrap your head around since it involves little to no thought and a complete lack of empathy.

I’m neither intelligent nor arrogant enough to claim I have answers. I don’t. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried – I’m not that naive. But overall, I guess we’re okay.

Obama was a cockeyed optimist

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an extensive account of the Obama presidency I didn’t know I needed. It is well worth your time, even if, like me, you weren’t a big fan. He paints Obama as being, what i would regard as, naively optimistic vis-à-vis the inherent goodness of white people, and provides insight as to why this is. Some, me for example, might even say he was (and still is) a cockeyed optimist, who got caught up in the dirty game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.

I think Obama’s status among the Left roughly parallels what Bush Jr. was to the Right in the 2000’s. They were candidates whose respective constituents wanted to have a beer with, though obviously for far different reasons. Is it a sign of progress that we’ve moved on from such puerile tendencies and instead select candidates who we fucking hate, and would never under any circumstances want to spend any time with? Yeah, probably not.

The most illuminating insights, to me, were those that touched on subjects tangentially related to Obama, and expounded on by Coates’ incisive prose. Some highlights:

Pointing to citizens who voted for both Obama and Trump does not disprove racism; it evinces it. To secure the White House, Obama needed to be a Harvard-trained lawyer with a decade of political experience and an incredible gift for speaking to cross sections of the country; Donald Trump needed only money and white bluster.

And [emphasis added]:

Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to understand the Tea Party protests, and the 2016 presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, which ultimately emerged out of them. One theory popular among (primarily) white intellectuals of varying political persuasions held that this response was largely the discontented rumblings of a white working class threatened by the menace of globalization and crony capitalism. Dismissing these rumblings as racism was said to condescend to this proletariat, which had long suffered the slings and arrows of coastal elites, heartless technocrats, and reformist snobs. Racism was not something to be coolly and empirically assessed but a slander upon the working man. Deindustrialization, globalization, and broad income inequality are real. And they have landed with at least as great a force upon black and Latino people in our country as upon white people. And yet these groups were strangely unrepresented in this new populism.

Christopher S. Parker and Matt A. Barreto, political scientists at the University of Washington and UCLA, respectively, have found a relatively strong relationship between racism and Tea Party membership. “Whites are less likely to be drawn to the Tea Party for material reasons, suggesting that, relative to other groups, it’s really more about social prestige,” they say. The notion that the Tea Party represented the righteous, if unfocused, anger of an aggrieved class allowed everyone from leftists to neoliberals to white nationalists to avoid a horrifying and simple reality: A significant swath of this country did not like the fact that their president was black, and that swath was not composed of those most damaged by an unquestioned faith in the markets. Far better to imagine the grievance put upon the president as the ghost of shambling factories and defunct union halls, as opposed to what it really was—a movement inaugurated by ardent and frightened white capitalists, raging from the commodities-trading floor of one of the great financial centers of the world.

And finally [again, emphasis added]:

“We simply don’t yet know how much racism or misogyny motivated Trump voters,” David Brooks would write in The New York Times. “If you were stuck in a jobless town, watching your friends OD on opiates, scrambling every month to pay the electric bill, and then along came a guy who seemed able to fix your problems and hear your voice, maybe you would stomach some ugliness, too.” This strikes me as perfectly logical. Indeed, it could apply just as well to Louis Farrakhan’s appeal to the black poor and working class. But whereas the followers of an Islamophobic white nationalist enjoy the sympathy that must always greet the salt of the earth, the followers of an anti-Semitic black nationalist endure the scorn that must ever greet the children of the enslaved.

So maybe read it, or don’t. But fair warning: it’s really fucking long.

 

 

The American dream is becoming an American nightmare

I’m very proud of this blog title. Until now, surely no one has used such a way to describe the fabled American Dream. There’s really no need to confirm this via Google.

Stunning new research by very smart people finds that income inequality in America is not only bad, but getting much much worse. From The Atlantic (“Severe Inequality Is Incompatible With the American Dream“):

The idea that an unequal society allows the wealthy to dictate policies that help themselves has very troubling implications in a country that just elected a president who seems focused on putting the wealthy in charge. The wealthy have benefited from the system that has helped create their wealth: the private schools, the elite colleges, and the growing salaries for those at the top. And they have little incentive to change it.

I chuckled reading the phrase “putting the wealthy in charge” as if this is something new. But I admit the incoming presidential administration will, in addition to countless other vile aspects, likely have the look of a kleptocracy, the likes of which haven’t been seen in recent memory. I’m only referring to America, of course. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Petro “The Chocolate King” Poroshenko in Ukraine are only two of many contemporary examples. At any rate, the notion that Trump will do anything substantive for the poor white dipshits who worship him is and always has been laughable.

And here’s FiveThirtyEight (“Inequality Is Killing The American Dream“):

‘There really is a dramatic change in what’s going on in the income distribution in the U.S.,’ said Nathaniel Hendren, an economist at Harvard and another of the latest paper’s authors. ‘The rungs of the ladder are growing further apart, so the difference in outcomes in being born to a rich family versus being born to a poor family is getting greater.’

Both articles discuss new research by, among others, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Their forthcoming paper can be found here. It’s nice that there is such robust analysis being performed, but it should be intuitive that governments of capitalist societies need to control for systemic inequalities. That is, if one idealizes egalitarianism rather than a cut-throat society based primarily on competition. For proponents of the latter, the Horatio Algers myth continues to reign supreme as the primary means of moving up the economic ladder. It’s basically a lottery the poor are forced to play, but with horrible consequences for the many who don’t win.

On a personal note, I am at best semi-literate economically. I’ve read Piketty’s The Economics of Inequality and while I understood the general message, there were large parts I could only barely comprehend (one day i hope to read his allegedly magisterial Capital). So, hat in hand, I’m asking for suggestions on fundamental books on economics for dummies like me. Thanks in advance!

Getting the most bang for your charity buck

The Life You Can Save and GiveWell recently released their lists of the most effective charities for 2016/2017. Both organizations use different methodologies to evaluate which charities do the best work.

TLYCS was founded by Peter Singer and revolves around the idea that

if we can provide immense benefit to someone at minimal cost to ourselves, we should do so. And since there are charities that dramatically improve, or even save, the lives of people living in extreme poverty (i.e. living on less than $1.90 USD/day) for relatively little cost, we should support those highly effective charities.

There’s a decent amount of information to wade through in regards to how TLYCS selects it’s charities, but the gist of it is:

The Life You Can Save’s charity recommendations are based on robust research on effectiveness. We use three criteria, which we call “the three E’s:”

  • Evidence: Why do we believe the charity produces good outcomes? We consider the size, quality, and relevance of the evidence base for the charity.
  • Efficiency: How cost-effective are the charity’s programs? We want to find charities offering the most “bang for the buck.”
  • Execution: Do we believe the charity can translate marginal donations into good outcomes? We consider whether the charity has good programs in need of funding and the capability to execute those programs.

GiveWell evaluates charities using four criteria: effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, transparency, and room for more funding. Their mission is to

find outstanding charities and to publish the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give. Our focus is on finding the most outstanding charities possible rather than completing an in-depth investigation for each organization we consider. In addition, we’re interested in identifying and supporting the study or growth of potential future top charities and programs.

There is also an organization that evaluates animal charities for effectiveness, Animal Charity Evaluators, and they too have released an end of the year list.


In light of the incoming Trump regime Charlie Bresler, the Executive Director of TLYCS, released a statement with regards to the idea of giving to causes that are in peril:

The election of Donald Trump has had a chilling effect on many of our subscribers, our recommended charities, our Team at The Life You Can Save, and people throughout the United States and the World. There is an understandable desire to do something to mitigate the damage that a Trump presidency can do to the environment, the social safety net, and to civil liberties. At a time when many people wanted to advance in these areas beyond what the Obama administration has done, there is concern that we are about to take a dramatic step backwards. How does this impact effective giving?

I have heard many people say things like, “I want to give to the American Civil Liberties Union, or another domestic activist organization.” This is completely understandable, but if it means money will be diverted from the most effective organizations this movement of charitable donations could be very bad for the global poor…

I would suggest that we continue to support the recommended charities on our new list at the same level we have in the past, or even at an increased level. The value of $1 given to a recommended charity still trumps (forgive the pun) the value of a dollar given domestically — even under the current political environment. However, as citizens I urge everyone to get involved in social movements to which they resonate whether the movement targets the environment, civil rights, or protecting our social safety net. If one feels the understandable urge to give to political movements or organizations fighting the Trump agenda then please consider giving more money over the next four years so that you don’t diminish your gifts to fight global poverty.

It’s definitely something to consider.

There is truly no shortage of worthy causes one can support with their time and money, and figuring out which ones do the best work is pretty overwhelming . By selecting one or several, you’re neglecting thousands of others, some of whom do good and important work. Any organization can make claims about the good they do without providing evidence and I think it’s good that there are independent evaluators that attempt to provide independent verification.

Make humanity great again

I’ve long been uncomfortable with the high level of arrogance inherent in Western Civilization. Through the ages, humans have been inexorably downgraded in terms of cosmic importance, but it’s done little to stem our collective hubris. Every religion that’s ever existed provides no empirical reasons to believe in any of their metaphysical tenets, many of which place humans above the rest of Creation. Divorced from a providential sense of importance we are only special from a global perspective due to our canny abilities to take massive quantities of raw materials and turn them into massive amounts of manufactured eventual garbage, as well as the creation of technology that is capable of destroying tremendous amounts of human and nonhuman life.

This is admittedly a bleak and pessimistic overview. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that some of the “manufactured eventual garbage” has enabled us to, among other things, transport our bodies at fast speeds to faraway places; systematically investigate and understand the cosmos at the largest and smallest scales; share, store and transmit vast amounts of information; diagnose and treat diseases; and travel beyond our planetary confines. Not to mention other fun and awesome things like literature, music, the arts, and skateboards. More seriously, some of us have developed empathy and compassion for unrelated humans, and perhaps more notably nonhuman animals, which I think is one of our more admirable traits. [1] Unfortunately, empathy and compassion are often reactions to monstrosities perpetrated by other humans. On the whole, any and all positive characteristics need to be considered in light of our 8-12,000 year onslaught against each other and the rest of the biosphere.

We are destroying ecosystems and extirpating entire species and only recently beginning to grasp the true extent. [2] The only other biological comparison on par with our illustrious death march is Proterozoic oceanic cyanobacteria, which produced enough oxygen to wipe out much of earth’s anaerobic biota eons ago. The obvious difference is we are aware, though, I’m not sure that’s an entirely accurate way to phrase it. One can’t be certain to what extent the individual humans (not to mention humans in charge of other humans) participating in direct and indirect ecosystem disruptions are aware of the harm they are doing spatiotemporally. Did a Canadian fisherman trawling in the North Atlantic in the 1950’s necessarily know they were destroying the local cod population? Did a mining company CEO in the 1990’s know on some level the devastation that mountaintop removals cause, the cessation of which would hurt their company’s bottom line? Did they just not care?

Certainly there is a large difference between a working class fisherman in an industrialized nation and a CEO of a transnational mining company. The former does such work as part of their livelihood and likely noticed diminishing returns but still continued fishing, with the hope that the cod would return. The latter is, in my mind, more grotesque with regards to power and responsibility. They largely don’t give a shit, their transparently disingenuous corporate website environmental propaganda sections notwithstanding. The point is, in an age where information is widely available some of these individuals must know or have been made aware of the idea that their actions in some capacity have negative impacts. Those negative impacts aside, it’s patently obvious that extractive industries will eventually run out of things to extract in a discrete area, which necessitates the movement to a new area, be it fish or coal. On a finite planet with finite resources, eventually we’ll run out nonrenewable resources and are largely reliant on the ecological resilience of harvested wild animal and plant communities (not to mention the vagaries of agricultural systems and its associated environmental factors). [3]

Overall, those who derive the most profit off of organic life and abiotic phenomena care about the aforementioned in terms of how to best utilize it for their own narrow-minded ends. [4] We are a culture that richly rewards this type of behavior. If the Bramble cay melomys in Australasia goes extinct due to ecosystem mismanagement so fucking what? If there’s no monetary or utilitarian value for humanity, or something we don’t find to be cute or iconic, the vast majority of people won’t give it a passing thought in the unlikely event they are even made aware of it. This is summed up well by Paul Kingsnorth:

Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens [Latin: ‘wise man’], though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so.

“It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ In a very short time — just over a decade — this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total — at the price of its soul.”

Anthropogenic climate change has finally been accepted on a large-scale, resulting in paltry global attempts at mitigating its effects. However, despite this newfound acceptance we have yet to collectively take meaningful actions to lessen our consumptive lifestyles. Fossil fuel extractions continue apace with no end in sight. The prospect of the imminent accessibility of the Arctic’s seabed has wealthy, powerful humans falling all over themselves for the privilege of plundering, environmental concerns be damned. There doesn’t appear to be much standing between them and their greed.

I often wonder how such blatantly harmful actions can be curtailed. As long as there’s money to be made, nonexistent or hard to enforce laws, and a dearth of options for a percentage of the world’s population to survive in a global economy, it’s hard to see things improving [5]. This is not to entirely disparage incremental progress, but in terms of environmental destruction and ongoing human caused extinctions, it’s fair to ponder the futility of conventional environmentalist tactics in the face of continuing and irreversible damage. [6]

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t express a sense of admiration of those fighting the good fight against the ongoing assault against nature, even if their methods haven’t had a lot of success historically. However, the power disparities appear insurmountable. No one, for the most part, is getting rich off of doing the dirty work of fighting the dominant culture, and many are content to blog, retweet and argue online as part of their armchair activism (like me!). It’s easy and requires little time, little effort and little danger to oneself. I am certainly not exempt from this criticism. On the other hand, there is a mass of humanity that couldn’t care less – they can be seen in shopping malls, on TV, in sports arenas, and soon, at rallies for the U.S.’s president-elect.

*****

Many nature/environmental/conservation writers spend the bulk of their writing describing the enormous problems we face and shoehorn a few reasons for hope into the conclusion. It’s hard not to perceive this as blatant wishful thinking, often in the form of “if we do x, y and z, with those variables being improbable pipe dreams, then maybe things won’t be so fucked up.” [7] The only solution my dumb brain can comprehend is a totalitarian world government that violently controls the world’s resources and severely punishes any opposition in the name of sustainability. In other words, we need to be stopped at gunpoint. Such a government would be highly repressive, and regardless of ideology breed a class of elites dominating the rest of society. This would obviously be a nightmare scenario. But as utterly ineffective as the UN is at preventing atrocities and the manifold failures of US hegemony, it’s hard to see the New World Order prophesied by conspiracy theorists coming to pass anytime soon. Perhaps, though, localized authoritarian regimes will materialize, as the depletion of nonrenewable resources continues. Or, I could be very wrong about all of this. I’m wrong a lot.

I think the hope that most have is for Science to generate magical solutions to wean us off fossil fuels while allowing the maintenance or slight decrease of our hyper-consumptive lifestyles (and just maybe, in the spirit of egalitarianism, allowing for the developing world to attain the Western standard of living). It would also be nice to develop technology to better recycle discarded metals and minerals. These solutions should be clean, cheap, safe, renewable and widely available to all. If Science isn’t able to do that, and if humans aren’t willing to stop destroying the environment, it’s hard for me to be optimistic about what the future brings.

Only by overcoming the severe and near innumerable issues we face environmentally, not to mention our vast array social problems, would conceivably make humanity great in my eyes. That is the essence of this overlong essay: we aren’t great, and we never really were [8]. I’d also add that during or after we tackle the aforementioned problems, we should maximize the possibility we can predict and survive cataclysmic events relatively unscathed. [9] Designing the means for enduring a gamma ray blast, impact event, or supervolcano eruption would be pretty damn impressive. We’d finally earn the translation from the Latin of our species name that we so humbly bestowed on ourselves. It’s too bad that, if any of it ever comes to pass, I’ll probably be long dead and unable to let my fellow humans know my very important opinions on the matter.

Like the environmental writers referenced above, I too will attempt to end on a positive note. It’s an appropriate encapsulation of how I mentally confront the enormity of what we face. From Derrick Jensen, who is admittedly a douche:

I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.” [10]


[1] It’s worth noting that we do not have a monopoly on empathetic and altruistic behavior. For example, humpback whales have been observed rescuing seals from killer whales, thought the degree of intentionality is uncertain. For more: Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce.

[2] Not that anyone is unaware of this sentiment, but the most illuminating book I’ve read on this from a historical perspective is A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations by Clive Ponting.

[3] The following article on our dwindling resources is behind a paywall at Scientific American but here is a link to that issue as a pdf, pg. 56-63: http://elibrary.bsu.az/jurnallar/Scientific%20American_201009.pdf.

[4] I’m referring more to large corporations, and not the global poor and working class, as the latter groups harm the environment in order to obtain the bare necessities of life. A stark account of how this struggle is manifested can be seen in a recent article in Roads and Kingdoms that describes contemporary fishing villages in South Asia.

[5] And note I wrote the bulk of this BEFORE Trump won the election.

[6] It feels shitty writing things like that. Just to pick one example, there are good, courageous people fighting against DAPL. I really hope they win, but I’m skeptical. Oil and gas companies rarely lose. And even under the Obama administration, the state is decidedly on their side, as it always has been. At best, the pipeline will be moved from Native lands, but it’s still, in all likelihood, getting built.

[7] A brief example from the excellent Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina:

So to embrace a sea ethic we need not idealize or distort the ocean’s creatures. Indeed, up to now our view of the sea’s living inhabitants can hardly be more distorted. Instead, we have the opportunity to see them fully for the first time, as wild animals in their habitats, confronted with needs and dangers, equipped by evolution with the capacity and drive to manage and adapt and survive.

“Such a perspective frees the mind and opens door: to a lifetime of boundless inquiry, to a wealth of enriching insights and reflections, to the chance to be more fully human, to manage and adapt and survive.”

This was after 400 or so pages of some pretty depressing shit. It’s a nice sentiment but frustratingly abstract, though concrete solutions and techniques were dotted throughout the text. That book was written in 1998. Here’s a quote Safina gave to National Geographic this past summer:

Over my lifetime I’ve seen big changes; far fewer fish and terribly deteriorated coral reefs worldwide. More mercury in seafood.”

I should point out that the article does highlight success stories, but the referenced quote speaks volumes, as does another recent article of his with the optimistic title of “As salmon dwindle, whales die.” His comments would obviously be far different if his research and activism resulted in evidence that things have gotten better in the two decades since the publication of the book.

[8] Unless one counts our pre-civilized hunter-gatherer ancestors, whose existence encompassed around 90-99% of our time as a species, and didn’t trash the planet.

[9] It’s possible we’ve already done it once

[10] Endgame, Volume 1:The Problem of Civilization

My atheist story

Lately, due to various personal reasons I haven’t felt like writing about much that requires discerning thought. But writing about my atheist story is easy. Moreover, I have written little about atheism on this blog.

I was raised Catholic and had to attend church every Sunday from birth until around age 17. That included CCD classes once per week in the fall/winter. I fucking hated all of it. I didn’t care for school in general, and church represented more time that I had to be bored out of my skull. Despite this, during my childhood and early adolescence, I recall having a vague acceptance that God was real, and so was the Jesus story. I remember wearing a cross necklace or two because I thought it looked cool. [1] I also wore a WWJD bracelet because it seemed like Jesus was a good dude. This was probably around age 13 or 14.

I was not the type that interrupted church classes with pointed questions and attempts to expose hypocrisy or things that didn’t make sense. No, I paid next to no attention, doing the bare minimum in terms of participation and watching the clock miserably (oh what I would have given for a smart-phone back in those days).

I only recall a few what-the-fuck style memories about religion in my early years:

  1. In 3rd or 4th grade I gave some money during the solicitation portion of mass, thinking that the money would go to the poor. I was informed afterwards that that wasn’t the case; instead, the money went directly to the church. Fuck that, I thought, the church doesn’t need another stupid fountain.
  2. During my freshman year in high school, I made it to state for wrestling. By this point it had been drilled in my head that God was responsible for good things happening, while receiving none of the blame for the bad. For as long as I remember I thought this unfair. Anyways, I was told I should be thankful to God for my success. Fuck that, I thought, I’m the one that did this shit, why should I give credit to God?
  3. What the fuck happened to people who died before Jesus’ time? Or peoples who lived in places free of Christianity and had to wait hundreds of years to receive the means for salvation? Seems kinda shitty, Jesus.
  4. I didn’t get how people decided they could pick and choose what parts to believe/follow from the Bible. It seemed to me that either ALL of it was true and needed to be followed or it was flawed, and thus imperfect and definitely not divinely inspired.

By freshman year of high school, I was already a year or so into my chosen rebellion of punk and hardcore music. It was through this that I was introduced to radical politics and to a lesser extent atheism. The latter was manifested primarily via blasphemous lyrics and imagery. Some of the best were Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Propagandhi, Integrity, Overcast, Converge, Disembodied, Bloodlet and Catharsis. There were also some good Christian punk/hardcore bands in those days (Zao, Slick Shoes, Living Sacrifice, Strongarm): “See mom? This band is Christian so it’s not bad that I listen to this type of music!” Here are some awesome songs:

By junior year I self-identified as agnostic. Despite this, I was still Confirmed. I had skipped classes, finagled my way out of the overnight retreat, and my mom had to convince the priest to do it. Even during this time, I played the sulking teenager, paying no attention and participating only when necessary. In retrospect, it’s too bad I didn’t play the bad-ass punk contrarian. At any rate, I went through with it out of love for my mom, though getting money from the subsequent Confirmation party certainly sweetened the deal.

In 2006 or 2007, I finally decided I was an atheist. Dawkins’ “spectrum of theistic probability” as described in The God Delusion was the pivotal factor and I rather liked this way to categorize belief. On that scale I wholeheartedly identified with the “De facto atheist” definition of “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.” Moreover, the agnostic label never was able to adequately convey my disdain and repudiation of organized religions and their hypothetical deities.

Atheism is a foundational aspect of who I am, though it doesn’t figure too prominently in my day-to-day life. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded socially by other non-believers, as well as respectful believers that don’t give me any shit (#blessed). I enjoy coming to FtB to consume stories from an atheist perspective, and the writers here do a very good job at addressing the insidious, the absurd and the infuriating. It’s so well-covered that I rarely feel I have anything substantive to contribute. Perhaps that will continue, perhaps not.


[1] I was wrong. It was not cool.

 

 

Noam was right

In 2010, Noam Chomsky, last seen in these parts dunking on Sam Harris, predicted the rise of a Donald Trump-like figure. From an interview with Chris Hedges, he says:

The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen…Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

Silly Noam, he was off by one election. Sad!

Our luck has apparently run out. It’s pretty obvious he’s referring to the “telling it like it is” brand of honesty, and charisma is being used in a relativistic manner – I, for one, do NOT find Trump to be charismatic or honest. Qualifying what we’re soon to face as “more dangerous than Germany” is legitimately terrifying, considering the source.

Hedges wrote a piece on Friday which references Chomsky’s prior comments and outlines the fun times he sees in store:

The repression of dissents will soon resemble the repression under past totalitarian regimes. State security will become an invasive and palpable presence. The most benign forms of opposition will be treated as if they are a threat to national security. Many, hoping to avoid the wrath of the state, will become compliant and passive. We, however, must fight back. We must carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as many have done in streets around the country since the election. But we must also be aware that the democratic space allotted to us in our system of inverted totalitarianism has become much, much smaller.”

But sure Kumbaya singing motherfuckers on the left, let’s give him a chance.