Tropic of Chaos Review: Military Soothsayers

Chapter 2: Military Soothsayers

These book reviews are a way for me to think through what we know of the changes we expect in our climate, and how to respond to them. In particular, I’m focused on actions we can take now to support our future efforts towards a society run on progressive, secular humanist values. I’m new to book reviews, so let me know if you have questions or suggestions. If you want to read along with me, the book is Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, by Christian Parenti

General impression: This chapter takes a look at how the global Military Industrial Complex, which should include the private prison industry, is preparing for climate change by planning for war. And war is made virtually inevitable by the instability and deprivation from the wars of the 20th century, combined with the exploitation and extraction of material resources from Africa in particular. Once again, we are reminded that history never really stays in the past.

Soundtrack: Marti’s Last Stand, Enter the Haggis

Click here for lyrics.

What can we do in response to this? Learn, spread the word, keep reminding people that the companies that profit off of war and repression are constantly lobbying lawmakers to keep creating profits for them, be it through war, or increasing arrests. With the intentional chaos engulfing our government, it’s easy to lose track of problems that aren’t making a lot of noise, so it’s worth amplifying them. If minds can change on religion, they can change on other ideologies, so don’t view efforts to get the message across as pointless!

Imprisoning Our Kids for a Profit

The Case for Outlawing For-Profit Prisons

The True Cost: Why the Private Prison Industry is About so Much More Than Prisons

Big money behind war: the military-industrial complex

Defense Contractors Spend Millions to Overturn Limits on Military Spending

And now on to my thoughts on the chapter:

I was never that big of a Hunger Games fan. I enjoyed the first book, and the first movie was OK, I lost interest in the second two. That said, I feel like maybe I ought to give them another shot. Reading through this chapter, I can, without question, imagine a future for America very much like Collins’ Panem. Most of the factors guiding us in that direction are already widely known. With global climate change comes land lost to sea level rise, increases in drought frequency and severity, increases in flood frequency and severity, and an end to reliable weather patterns. To anybody with even a passing knowledge of human history, that all spells war, and with war comes the vultures. Well, if vultures manipulated nations to create lots of dead bodies to eat.

One of the most evil parts of American capitalism is what should probably be called the Security-Industrial Complex. Profiting off of death, destruction, and misery has always been a part of our system, and the private prison industry, which proudly continues the tradition of convict slavery in America, bolstered by a legal system that was created, originally, by people who did not consider black people to be human. The prison industry was joined by the military arms industry, which gained a much wider global reach, though we’re not the only country that allows companies to profit off of prisoners.

And then there are the mercenaries, who have latched on to the Pentagon like so many leeches, and have managed to gain an unconvincing veneer of respectability, with the help of the politicians they got timeshares of. And that’s really what it comes down to. Around the world, politicians are being influenced by companies that can see the approaching tidal wave of blood, and are looking forward to a great deal of profit and job security.

And last but not least, there’s the civilian gun market, represented by the NRA. The NRA is the most open about its eagerness for violence, and I don’t need to go into their record of vile and violent rhetoric, but I did want to underscore their participation as a sort of icebreaker, clearing the path for everyone else.

As the world becomes more chaotic, regressive politics are likely to take over. This book was written in 2011, when the beginnings of a trend toward authoritarianism, militancy, and fascism was already pretty apparent. Even so, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that Trump is just the next step on a road which, paved by desperation, war and fear, will lead on for generations to come.

There’s not really any question that we’re not only on that road, or even that we’ve been cruising down it for quite some time. Income inequality is becoming steadily worse not just in America, but around the world, with a shrinking number of people controlling a growing hoard of money, land, and resources.

Absent some very, very unlikely changes, we’re faced with a new kind of feudalism in the 21st century, in which the new global nobility will rule not over sections of land, but over access to goods and services. We will almost certainly continue to move away from fossil fuels, but coal and oil barons are being replaced by new dynasties in the form of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch, and more, and all of them will be hiring armies to protect their various sources of profit against the majority of humanity, who’s just trying to survive.

The middle class will vanish, and the number of people who can call themselves wealthy will shrink. And since their empires aren’t rooted in geographic territory, these people will be able to congregate in places reserved for them and “palace staff”, as it were. Honestly, if we go down that road, I would be kinda surprised if some form of lethal gladiatorial entertainment doesn’t emerge.

So yeah, that seems like a likely chain of events. I will not, however, say “Game Over” just yet. Obviously part of that is because I’m just not willing to believe that we can’t have a better future, but part of it is also that a lot of people seem to be increasingly aware of the problems and injustices of these industries, and of the possibilities offered by things like universal basic income, universal healthcare systems, and universal access to education.

Things will change, one way or another. In my opinion, our current economic, political, and physical infrastructure will not survive even another degree of warming. A society more focused on human wellbeing than on money will have much better odds for a relatively safe 21st century, barring invasion, and the more we move in that direction as a species, the less we’ll have to worry about war. If we do it right, we might even get to the point at which the acquisition of wealth is no longer a driving force in our-

Star Trek. We’re aiming for Star Trek.


Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.

Lily Sloane: No money? You mean, you don’t get paid?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity. Actually, we’re all like yourself and Dr. Cochrane.


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  1. says

    There’s a pretty good video on youtube of Gwynne Dyer doing a talk on geopolitics in the era of global warming. His argument is that the various militaries of the world are planning for it, and expecting it. They see the chaos that will result as an opportunity to ply their trade.

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