Tuesday, December 18, 2018

3131. Changing Our Worldview of Human Dominance

By Eileen Crist, Science Magazine, December 14, 2018



Rising human consumption is driving widespread destruction of natural systems, such as this forest in British Columbia. CREDIT: IVAN OYARZUN/GETTY IMAGES

Earth is in the throes of a mass extinction event and climate change upheaval, risking a planetary shift into conditions that will be extremely challenging, if not catastrophic, for complex life (1). Although responsibility for the present trajectory is unevenly distributed, the overarching drivers are rapid increases in (i) human population, (ii) consumption of food, water, energy, and materials, and (iii) infrastructural incursions into the natural world. As the “trends of more” on all these fronts continue to swell, the ecological crisis is intensifying (24). Given that human expansionism is causing mass extinction of nonhuman life and threatening both ecological and societal stability, why is humanity not steering toward limiting and reversing its expansionism?
The rational response to the present-day ecological emergency would be to pursue actions that will downscale the human factor and contract our presence in the realm of nature. Yet in mainstream institutional arenas, economic, demographic, and infrastructural growth are framed as inevitable, while technological and management solutions to adverse impacts are pursued single-mindedly. Although pursuing such solutions is important, it is also clear that reducing humanity's scale and scope in the ecosphere is the surest approach to arresting the extinction crisis, moderating climate change, decreasing pollution, and providing sorely needed leeway to tackle problems of poverty, food insecurity, and forced migration (5). The question that arises is why the approach of contracting the human enterprise tends to be ignored.
The answer lies in the deeper cause of the ecological crisis: a pervasive worldview that imbues the trends of more with a cachet of inevitability and legitimacy. This worldview esteems the human as a distinguished entity that is superior to all other life forms and is entitled to use them and the places they live. The belief system of superiority and entitlement—or human supremacy—manifests in a range of anthropocentric commonplace assumptions, linguistic constructs, institutional regimes, and everyday actions of individual, group, nation-state, and corporate actors (6). For example, the human is invested with powers of life and death over all other beings and with the prerogative to control and manage all geographical space. The all-encompassing manifestation of the belief system of human supremacy is precisely what constitutes it as a worldview.
This worldview is not necessarily an explicitly articulated narrative. Rather, it forms the tacit postulate from which people source meaning and justification to disregard virtually any limitation of action or way of life in the ecosphere and toward nonhumans. Human supremacy is the underlying big story that normalizes the trends of more, and the consequent displacements and exterminations of nonhumans—as well as of humans who oppose that worldview (78). In this context, it is crucial to recognize that human supremacy is neither culturally nor individually universal, nor is it derived in any straightforward way from human nature. However, western civilization has elaborated its most forceful, long-standing expression, and through the West's ascendancy the influence of this worldview has spread across the globe (9).

Blind to the Wisdom of Limitations

The planetwide sense of entitlement bequeathed by a supremacist worldview blinds the human collective to the wisdom of limitations in several ways, thereby hindering efforts to address the ecological crisis by downscaling the human enterprise and withdrawing it from large portions of land and sea.
First, because the worldview demotes the nonhuman in favor of the human, it blocks the human mind from recognizing the intrinsic existence and value of nonhumans and their habitats. Nonhumans are rendered as resources and considered dispensable or killable; it is assumed that natural areas can be taken over and converted at will.

Second, a worldview founded on the elevation of the human impairs the experience of awe for this living planet, inducing instead the perception that viewing the ecosphere as a container of natural resources, raw materials, and goods and services makes sense. If humanity inhabited Earth with a profound sense of awe, news of an impending mass extinction would galvanize the world into action. Instead, what we find is that the response to anthropogenic mass extinction is muted in mainstream media and other social arenas.

Third, based on the conviction of the special distinction of the human, the worldview fosters the belief that humans are resourceful, intelligent, and resilient enough to face any challenges that may come. This tacit missive bolsters societal torpor and political inaction, because it is widely assumed that technological innovations and interventions will overcome problems.

Fourth, the worldview impedes humans from recoiling from, or even seeing, the violence of an expansionism that fuels extinctions, population plunges, mass mortality events, and starvations of nonhumans. Because these experiences are happening to “the merely living,” they are nonissues for mainstream media and the political sphere, which are focused almost exclusively on human affairs. For example, humanity's impact has become so pervasive that migratory animal species are in decline and the very phenomenon of migration is disappearing around the world. Yet neither the loss of animal migrations nor the suffering of the animals involved seem to be matters of concern in public arenas.

Lastly, the supremacist worldview insinuates that embracing limitations is unbefitting of human distinction. Whether openly or implicitly, limitations are resisted as oppressive and unworthy of humanity's stature.

By operating on all these levels, the worldview of human distinction-and-prerogative obstructs the capacity to question human hegemony for the sake of Earth's inherent splendor and in the service of a high-quality human life within a downsized, equitable global civilization nested in an all-species commonwealth. Instead, the trends of more—on the population, consumption, and infrastructure fronts—are left to persist their course seemingly unassailable.

Toward Scaling Down and Pulling Back

The reigning human-nature hierarchical worldview thus hinders the recognition that scaling down and pulling back is the most farsighted path forward. Scaling down involves reducing the overall amount of food, water, energy, and materials that humanity consumes and making certain shifts in what food, energy, and materials are used. This quantitative and qualitative change can be achieved by actions that can lower the global population within a human-rights framework, shrink animal agriculture, phase out fossil fuels, and transform an extractionist, overproducing, throwaway, and polluting economy into a recycling, less busy, thrifty, more ecologically benign economy (1012). These shifts must align with a new ethos in civil society toward shared norms of mindfulness around dietary choices, avoidance of waste, conservation of energy, and reuse and recycling of materials.

Scaling down can be complemented with substantially pulling back our presence from the natural world. Achieving continental-scale protection of terrestrial and marine habitats will enable sharing Earth generously with all its life forms (13). Recent research reveals that large-scale nature conservation is also a powerful counter to climate change by absorbing a sizable portion of the carbon dioxide of the industrial age and preventing additional carbon (stored in the ecosphere) from being released (1415). Vastly expanding marine protected areas will support the resurgence of marine life. Ambitious forest, grasslands, freshwater ecologies, and wetlands protection and restoration will prevent extinctions and preempt an anthropogenic mass extinction event. A robust global network of green and blue protected areas will save wildlife populations and animal migrations from their current downward spirals. Preserving the night sky in extensive swathes of wild nature will keep an open portal into the cosmos we inhabit.

Many of the global approaches called for in this pivotal moment may lack the glamor of technological and engineering breakthroughs, but they promise far-reaching strides in resolving the ecological crisis and preventing human and nonhuman suffering. Paramount examples include state-of-the-art family planning services for all (including modern contraceptive technologies), universal education from the age of 4 to 17 or 18, substantial reduction of animal-product consumption, adoption of the reduce-reuse-recycle paradigm as an everyday norm, massive protection of wild nature, and adoption of sustainable and ethical food production practices on land and sea.

Beyond Human Dominance

The dominant framework of technofixes, technological schemes, and fine-tuning efficiencies is by itself no match for the tidal wave of human expansionism expected in this century. Looming before us is the imminent escalation of food, energy, materials, and commodities production, and resulting increases in wildlands destruction, species extinctions, wildlife extirpations, freshwater appropriation, ocean degradation, extractionist operations, and the production of industrial, pesticide, nitrogen, manure, plastic, and other waste—all unfolding amid climate-change ordeals.

In the face of this juggernaut, a singular focus on a techno-managerial portfolio seems fueled by a source other than pragmatism alone. That portfolio—which would include such initiatives as climate geoengineering, desalination, de-extinction, and off-planet colonization—is in keeping with the social rubric of human distinction. The prevalent corpus resonates with a Promethean impulse to sustain human hegemony while avoiding the most expeditious approach to the ecological predicament—contracting humanity's scale and scope by means that will simultaneously strengthen human rights, facilitate the abolition of poverty, elevate our quality of life, counter the dangers of climate change, and preserve Earth's magnificent biodiversity.

To pursue scaling down and pulling back the human factor requires us to reimagine the human in a register that no longer identifies human greatness with dominance within the ecosphere and domination over nonhumans. The present historical time invites opening our imagination toward a new vision of humanity no longer obstructed by the worldview of human supremacy. Learning to inhabit Earth with care, grace, and proper measure promises material and spiritual abundance for all.
References

Monday, December 17, 2018

3130. Nancy Pelosi and the Horse Trading Progressives

By Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist, November 19, 2018


Nancy Pelosi has been making news lately as an obstacle to the transformation of the Democratic Party into the kind of European Social Democratic Party the DSA and Sandernistas yearn for. There is a growing momentum to reject her bid to be reelected as Speaker for the House of Representatives.

Norman Solomon, the director of RootsAction.org, a Sandernista online activist group, wrote an article for Truthdig titled The ‘Pelosi Problem’ Runs Deep that does not quite call for a vote against her: “Nancy Pelosi will probably be the next House speaker, a prospect that fills most alert progressives with disquiet, if not dread. But instead of fixating on her as a villain, progressives should recognize the long-standing House Democratic leader as a symptom of a calcified party hierarchy that has worn out its grassroots welcome and is beginning to lose its grip.” Solomon instead urges his 1.5 million “members” (nothing more than clicking a link online) to continue more or less the same course DSA urges, namely activism around various issues such as a “Green New Deal” and electing people like Ocasio-Cortez.

Justice Democrats, another online activist outfit like RootsAction.org focused on electing “progressives”, has received the endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez. Two days ago she got on the phone with some 700 Justice Democrats, most of whom were active in the Sanders campaign, and told them: “Long story short, I need you to run for office. We all need to run at all levels of government, but I really hope that many of you join me here in Congress.”

Last Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez participated in a sit-in at Pelosi’s office calling for a Green New Deal that she views as requiring the same commitment as WWII and the Marshall Plan. If I were her, I’d probably not have alluded to such obvious imperialist projects but then again I live in Another Country, as James Baldwin once put it.

Does this mean that she was ready to vote against Pelosi becoming Speaker? Surprise-surprise. Four hours ago, she pledged support for her as the “Most Progressive Candidate” . She added, “All of the rebellion for the speakership are challenges to her right, and so I think it’s important to communicate that.” Among the 16 House Democrats opposing Pelosi is Max Rose, who just got elected in Staten Island, a NY borough that has much more in common with rural Iowa than the rest of the city. Filled with white cops and firemen, you’d think that Rose would be another Joe Manchin. A visit to Rose’s website, however, will reveal that he favors lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 55, etc. The NY Times analyzed why he beat the incumbent:

His pedigree might have alienated potential constituents, but his rhetoric did not. He offered a simple, unifying message that was progressive in substance but relatively neutral in its delivery: that the system is rigged to benefit special interests, that the little guy is getting stiffed over and over, that we need better infrastructure and stronger unions.

The most outspoken opponent of Pelosi’s reelection is Marcia Fudge, an African-American Representative from Ohio, who has even been considering a run against Pelosi. Fudge has been stigmatized as homophobic for refusing to co-sponsor the Equality act but defends herself by saying that that she supports gay rights, but not the way that particular bill was handled. She said, “They can’t find one vote, not one vote, that’s anti. I just don’t want to insert it into the civil rights bill. It should be a stand-alone bill and I’d support that.”

Fudge is an ally of Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who also signed the letter against Pelosi and who ran against her for the House Speaker post in 2016. There’s nothing much in his record to place him in the DP’s rightwing. Indeed, in an op-ed piece for the NY Times, he stated: “I think that Ocasio-Cortez was expressing the frustration that so many people feel right now that our systems aren’t working for the people who work hard and play by the rules. She talked about the cost of rent, health care, wages and education. Those are bread and butter issues that play all across the country.”

I really don’t have the time, nor the motivation, to look into the background of the other 15 Democrats but for argument’s sake will accept the possibility that they are to the right of Pelosi. What interests me more is how this fits into the broader question of how to understand the role of the Democratic Party in American society.

To start with, Ocasio-Cortez does have a point. Pelosi is, by DP standards, fairly progressive. On Facebook, Stephen Zunes, a San Francisco professor and well-known journalist of the left, wrote:

Given that under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership the Democrats won back the House while under Chuck Schumer’s leadership Democrats actually lost seats in the Senate, why is it Pelosi whose leadership is being challenged?

1) Pelosi, while not nearly as progressive as I would like, is still more liberal than Schumer. For example, she opposed the invasion of Iraq and supported the Iran nuclear agreement while Schumer sided with the Republicans on both of these important foreign policy matters. Pelosi is also more progressive on a number of important domestic issues as well.

2) Pelosi, because she is more willing to challenge Republican priorities, has been attacked a lot more by Republicans than has Schumer and some Democrats get easily spooked by right-wing criticism

3) there is still a lot of sexism among Democrats

In my view, the opposition to Pelosi is overdetermined in the Althusserian sense. Among the various factors, each of which by themselves would serve as sufficient grounds for opposing her, are:
  1. As Zunes said above, she has been pilloried for years now by the Republicans. Leaving aside the merit of their attacks, her unpopularity rating is at 29 percent. To some extent, this is the same sort of burden Hillary Clinton carried around. The two are female (obviously), wealthy, urban, and indifferent to the plight of the working people. For example, in 2010 Pelosi opposed a moratorium on home foreclosure, something Clinton ironically did support.
  2. As opposed to the Republicans, the Sanders wing of the party views her as inimical to the changes that are necessary to make the DP an agent of “socialism”. Despite the Republican attack on her as a “radical”, Govtrack.us ranks her as the 37th most conservative Democrat in the House.
  3. Probably the most important motivation for replacing her is the perceived need voiced by younger elected officials in the DP to make room at the top for themselves and their cohorts. In a way, it is the same problem that exists in the academy where professors continue to hold down jobs well into their 70s, if not their 80s. An old friend who taught sociology at Columbia described this as “calcification” not much different than the kind that can cause a stroke.
You get a real sense of the ambitions that drive opposition to Pelosi from Beto O’Rourke, the leftwing darling who lost a narrow race to Ted Cruz in November. In today’s NY Times, he comes across as the ultimate careerist:

“You have some of the institutional members say, ‘Who are these upstarts?’ ” one of these younger Democrats, Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who was elected in 2012, told me in 2015. “One member of Congress compared us to spoiled kids, like teenagers who want a car on their 16th birthday. But you look at my class: Tulsi Gabbard, she’s not going to stay in the House for long — she’ll run for governor. Joe Kennedy, the same. Pat Murphy, the same. And they’re all talented, ambitious and good fund-raisers. I’ve just got to think that when you see that 20-year road to be in a position of consequence, other options look a lot more attractive.” O’Rourke, of course, left this year to pursue those other options, following his fellow erstwhile rising House stars Xavier Becerra (who was appointed attorney general of California in 2017) and Kyrsten Sinema (whom Arizona elected to the Senate this month). [emphasis added]

This reminds me quite a bit of what Les Evans told me when I joined the SWP in 1967. “I looked around when I joined and saw that I could become a leader of this party without too much trouble.” (Or something to that effect.) After cutting his ties to the party during the turn, Evans took a position at UCLA exploiting his knowledge of Chinese he developed in the party. Today, he is a Zionist and a liberal. Who knows where O’Rourke will be in 20 years? I can say that when he started out, he was not exactly the sort of politician that would endear himself to the average DSA member.

Probably the most savvy take on the progressive opposition to Pelosi comes from Politico, a website that views this sort of thing the way that touts view the odds at a horse race. Titled Progressives back Pelosi for speaker — in return for more power, it sees the compromise as old-fashion horse-trading, to continue with the equine analogy.

It wasn’t a coincidence that moments after Nancy Pelosi promised progressive House leaders more power in the next Congress, a host of liberal groups announced they were supporting her for speaker.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who is expected to co-chair the House Progressive Caucus next year, left a Thursday night meeting with Pelosi in the Capitol and proclaimed that her members would have more seats on powerful committees and more influence over legislation.

The Washington state Democrat then phoned MoveOn and Indivisible with the news, and they promptly tweeted out support for Pelosi. Then, on Friday morning, Jayapal, previously uncommitted on whom she would back for speaker, gave Pelosi a full-throated endorsement.

“No one can really doubt Pelosi’s progressive chops,” Jayapal told POLITICO in an interview. “And I do think, for the next two years, as we lead into 2020, and are coming off this big wave, we need someone who is smart and strategic and has done this.”

Smart and strategic? I suppose so. To give you an idea of what this means in practice, look how Jayapal and her cohorts finessed the abolish ICE demand as reported by In These Times:

In July, three members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.)—introduced a bill to abolish ICE. They intended it as a statement of principle and, as Vox observed, “weren’t ready to be taken seriously,” given that the majority of Americans oppose abolishing ICE and Democrats themselves are split. House Republicans threatened to bring it up for a vote, with the hope of embarrassing Democrats. The progressives then announced they would vote against their own bill. But as with Warren’s plan for reforming capitalism and the more ambitious climate change plans, such laws that push the moral envelope lay important groundwork for when progressives and Democrats actually have power. [emphasis added]

So if they don’t take themselves seriously, why should we?

Writing for The Nation, the abysmal Joan Walsh interviewed Jayapal as “a bridge between the still-feuding Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democratic Party”. It concluded with these words from Jayapal: “We can’t tear each other down. If we start to divide ourselves now, we’re really lost. It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree about things. But we agree we’re all working toward the same place. That’s when we begin to win.”

For the past year or so, we’ve been hearing about how people like Jayapal and Ocasio-Cortez will eventually take over the Democratic Party. Mark my words. Within a year or two, the Democratic Party will have taken them over. That’s what it has been doing with the left for over a century and it is an art it has perfected. When those being co-opted are getting richly rewarded for their surrender, no wonder there will barely be a whimper. It is up to us who still see a need for revolution to scream at the top of our lungs from every rooftop.

3129. Rat Poison Found in 85 Percent of Tested Mountain Lions, Bobcats, Fishers

By Center for Biological Diversity, December 12, 2018


SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A new state analysis has documented super-toxic rat poisons in more than 85 percent of tested mountain lions, bobcats and protected Pacific fishers, prompting state regulators to open a new evaluation of whether to further restrict or ban the powerful toxins.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s analysis of 11 different wildlife studies indicates non-target animals continue to be poisoned in large numbers despite state restrictions on the sale and use of the deadliest rodenticides since 2014. The long-lasting super toxins often poison non-target animals that eat poisoned rodents.

“This alarming new evidence should spur the state to ban these dangerous poisons,” said Jonathan Evans, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program. “There are safer, cheaper alternatives that greatly reduce risks to wildlife, pets and children. Pesticide regulators have no excuse for continuing to allow California’s wildlife to die slow, excruciating deaths.”

Four years ago the state limited the sale and use of the so-called super-toxic rat poisons — known as second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides — to licensed applicators. But they are still allowed throughout the state for agricultural users and licensed pest-control operators.

The ongoing wildlife poisonings and legal pressure from wildlife advocates prompted the Department of Pesticide Regulation to open a reevaluation of the powerful rodenticides. As part of the assessment, the public can submit comments through Jan. 16.

The new state analysis documented super-toxic rat poisons in more than 90 percent of tested mountain lions, 88 percent of tested bobcats and 85 percent of protected Pacific fishers tested.

Along with the high percentage of poisoning among tested mountain lions, fishers and bobcats, the re-evaluation analysis documented the potent rat toxins in seven out of ten endangered northern spotted owls tested and 40 percent of tested barred owls.

In addition, research included in the analysis suggested that anticoagulant rodenticides are associated with the often-deadly mange, a malady that can result in population-level harms to bobcats.

The harm caused by the super-toxic second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides in California is well documented. More than 70 percent of wildlife tested in California in recent years has been exposed to dangerous rodenticides. Officials have found poisonings in more than 25 different species of animals, including endangered wildlife such as the San Joaquin kit fox and Pacific fisher.

More than 4,400 children under age 6 were poisoned with the long-acting anticoagulant rodenticides in the United States in 2016, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that children in low-income families are disproportionately exposed to the poisons. Thousands of incidents of pets being poisoned by rodenticides have also been reported, many resulting in serious injury or death.

Effective affordable, alternatives to rat poison include rodent-proofing of homes and farms by sealing cracks and crevices and eliminating food sources; providing owl boxes in rural areas to encourage natural predation; and using traps that don’t involve these highly toxic chemicals. For more information on nontoxic rodent control methods, visit SafeRodentControl.org.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.