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The Fatal Center

2011/02/24 1 comment

by Thomas Frank

Harper’s Magazine Easy Chair (January 2011)

It has been three years now since the statistical beginning of the recession, and the tide of unemployment is still near full flood. Business investors have taken shelter on higher ground. The housing market, built on imaginary sands, has pretty much washed away. Throughout it all, I have waited for some grand enactment of economic suffering: for a “petition in boots” to make its way across the country, as in 1894; for Iowa farmers to blockade highways, as they did in 1932; or for a “tractorcade” to lay siege to Washington, as in 1979. Instead there came a caravan of comfortable people equipped with lawn chairs and tricorn hats inveighing against totalitarianism.

Should you happen to have been outraged by the Wall Street bailout – who wasn’t? – and should you have wished to make your indignation known, just about the only choice you had was to let your snake flag fly. Say what you like about the Tea Party movement, but at least they showed up. They’ve been out there in the park, in your town, every couple of weeks since the Obama presidency began, and they have pretty much had that park to themselves.

Two years ago, you couldn’t talk to anyone about politics without hearing that conservatism’s day was done, that the sun had set on Reagan’s America. The GOP’s numbers were subterranean in those days, their leaders were buffoons, their famous economic recipe – three parts deregulatory zeal, two parts tax cutting, and a garnish of corporate welfare – had been permanently discredited by the economic disaster. Besides, the changing demographics of the nation doomed a Republican comeback. The chorus of sages sang their verdict: the Republicans had abandoned the Magic Middle – that New Jerusalem of the centrist faith – and had followed Sarah Palin rightward into the wild. Just look at the parade of Republican moderates who endorsed Barack Obama. “We need someone who speaks from the center”, an anonymous Republican senator moaned to Politico shortly after the 2008 elections. “Sarah Palin is not the voice of our party”.

This verdict was not original to 2008, of course. Professional political observers have long reasoned that, since the two parties compete to occupy the middle, they must automatically mirror each other. If one is guilty of some transgression, so must be the other; if one party whores it self to K Street, so must the other; if one side has swung right, then the law of the Magic Middle dictates that the other must have swung an equal and opposite distance to the left. Should either swing too far, the median voter would quickly step in to pull it back.

In a much-discussed March 2009 cover story for Newsweek, the former presidential speechwriter David Frum slapped down radio rowdy Rush Limbaugh, who had made headlines by wishing that the incoming president would “fail”. Today such a sentiment seems civil, even quaint; at the time, though, Frum saw such Limbavian outbursts as “kryptonite, weakening the GOP nationally”. They might entertain the party’s bitter enders, he acknowledged, but the price of going in that direction was the loss of the “educated and affluent”, who increasingly found “that the GOP had become too extreme”.

Then there was David Brooks, who erupted in the pages of the New York Times on the day after the first version of TARP was defeated, largely, by the most conservative House Republicans, in a vote Mr Brooks called the “revolt of the nihilists”.

They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.

House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party …

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If the economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawley’s of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the Republican Party as we know it.

Journalists have their own reasons for worshiping at the altar of the Magic Middle: its numinous powers will protect them, they believe, from accusations of bias. During 2008 and 2009, the punditry faithfully incanted the liturgy: If Republicans hoped to recapture any of the citadels of power, the sages murmured, they would have to moderate their message, soften their brand. Following the compass needle that pointed unwaveringly toward America’s moderate heart, they would have to hie their way to the welcoming center, where the “median voter” sat in judgment over public figures great and small.

Two years later, among November’s triumphant conservatives, opposition to TARP is regarded as a shibboleth, whereas the particular vote Brooks believed would do so much to “destroy the Republican party” is celebrated by Tea Party chieftains like Dick Armey as one of the movement’s formative moments. The seemingly poisonous pronouncements of Limbaugh, meanwhile, proved such a tonic that The American Spectator recently declared him “the undisputed winner of the 2010 election”.

The “median voter” did not shower his wrath upon the GOP for deviating from centrism’s course; he showered votes. And while the punditry proceeded to turn their unfailing perspicuity on the Democrats, informing them of dire consequences now unless they abase themselves before the Magic Middle, certain conservative leaders were laying plans to radicalize the Republicans even more, right over the “political carcasses” – as one conservative strategist put it – of the party’s remaining moderates.

Tea Party leaders talk a lot about the “real America”, but they don’t seem to care much about the Magic Middle. “Policy decisions are driven by the people who show up”, Mr Armey writes in Give Us Liberty (2010), the “Tea Party Manifesto”, adding that Samuel Adams, the original Boston Tea Party ringleader, believed he needed only “an irate, tireless minority” to prevail. And perhaps Armey and Adams are correct. For years – decades – the Republican Party seems to have paid little attention to the compass of public opinion. “You can’t explain where the Republicans have gone by looking for some grand shift in median voter sentiment”, I was told by political scientist Jacob Hacker, coauthor with Paul Pierson of Winner-Take-All Politics (2010). “The middle of opinion distribution has moved modestly over the last twenty years – shifting left and right only very slightly over time. We’ve hardly seen a dramatic shift. But the Republican Party has gone far, far to the right, from having a moderate wing to being an extremely unified conservative party.”

Democrats, for their part, tend to do the opposite, dreaming of bipartisanship and states neither red nor blue and of some reasonably arrived-at consensus future in which the culture wars cease and everyone plays nicely forevermore under the smiling, beneficent sun of free trade and the knowledge industries.

The short explanation for this striking divergence is the ever growing power of organized money, which has created all manner of “asymmetries” between the parties and among the different pieces of the electorate. In Hacker and Pierson’s book, we learn how money mounts primary challenges to Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative, how money musters gargantuan lobbying efforts against measures like financial reregulation, how money causes “grassroots” groups to sprout from the earth, and how money nurtures a faction within the Democratic Party that pushes rightward on economic issues.

Obvious, though the power of money might seem to you and me, this basic fact of political life has proved extremely difficult for professional political experts to grasp, so utterly have they fetishized the theory of the Magic Middle. The idea of two perfectly counterbalanced political enterprises competing for a politically sophisticated monad-in-the-middle is so pleasant to believe, so elegant in its harmonic order. The great, overarching fact of American politics in the past forty years has been the rise of the right, but the wise men stand at the foot of this Everest and announce that it’s level ground as far as the eye can see.

I was thinking about all this as I watched the last act of the 2010 electoral cycle, comedian Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity”, jokingly known as the “million moderate march”, an event that brought a few hundred thousand people out to the National Mall on October 30. Here at last, perhaps, was the liberal counterpart to the Tea Party movement.

But no. Whereas there was something noble about Mr Stewart’s invocation of the ordinary American getting along with his neighbor in the course of everyday life, the gathering itself betrayed a larger desperation. Despite the jokes and the jolly I’M WITH REASONABLE T-shirts, the rally seemed to me like a final attempt to make the Magic Middle theory work by sheer incantation, to persuade the public to play the part that the dramaturges of the media had scripted for them.

And the hordes of unreason arrived at the gates, as expected, three days later.

There is something characteristically liberal about describing one’s project as a defense of “sanity” – against “the assault on reason”, as the title of Al Gore’s 2007 book had it. After all, certain Democratic leaders understand their party as a consortium of professionals, of people whose reason has been certified by the meritocracy of higher education and licensed by the nation’s official organizations of expertise. As for the right, the mission stated by Conservative Caucus leader Howard Phillips at the dawn of the Reagan era seems more valid today than ever: “to organize discontent”.

The past few years have been good ones for organizers of discontent. For the reasonableness community, on the other hand, those years have brought one credibility disaster after another. First, reasonableness’s faith in rational economic behavior was drowned in a flood of obviously fraudulent mortgage loans – a trillion dollars’ worth of them, a torrent that also carried off whatever authority was held by the financial professionals who packaged and sold them to one another. Regulators missed it until it was too late. So did journalists.

But other men of reason and expertise then proceeded to bail out those financial professionals, to restore them to their bonus-happy status quo ante – while leaving you and me to struggle through the worst times in seventy years. As I write this, the forces of reason are allowing banks that claim their files are in order to continue foreclosing on people’s houses even though all evidence suggests that those banks didn’t bother with basic paperwork requirements – a form of corner-cutting that would draw a very different reaction were you or I to make a habit of it. Never has the system seemed more obviously rigged or the rule of professionalism more like a bargain between cronies.

This situation should have been a silver-platter gift to those on the left, as similar doings were in the 1930s. But liberals these days are reluctant to speak plainly about such matters, either because they truly believe the free-market faith or because they are afraid that if they don’t at least pretend to, party funders on Wall Street will accuse them of “class warfare” – a fear that has been validated even though the Democratic response to the economic crisis has been craven.

The right, meanwhile, has been waging a class war for years now, raging against the devitalized “liberal elite” who comprehend so little of the authentic Americanism that transpires in places like Branson, Missouri, and your local NASCAR venue. And this may point us to the most consequential “asymmetry” of all: liberals have trouble talking about the obvious realities of class, while conservatives freely spin all manner of theories about the snobbish anti-Americanism of judges or doctors or graduates of fancy colleges.

The organizers of discontent had the perfect answer to the ascension of Obama: a rhetorical weapon their laboratories had developed back when busing and abortion and evolution seemed like the issues that mattered. After a few tweaks to update the old stereotypes, the weapon was ready to be redeployed. And so, in the most economically volatile climate in almost eighty years, it was the ultraconservative American Spectator that published first a cover story and then a book, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (2010), in which author Angelo Codevilla provided the Tea Party movement with an intellectual frame for its rebellion. It was that well-known habitue of the right-wing think-tank world Charles Murray who lambasted the “new elite” in the Washington Post the week before the election, describing a privileged caste of the well-educated who were “isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans”.

We may not believe in “death panels”, or in President Obama’s secret Kenyan agenda, or even that the bank bailouts were evidence of a socialist takeover, but let us give the Tea Party the credit it has earned: here is a movement so dubious it borders on spurious, and yet it has, in the space of two years, completely halted what so many commentators once believed to be a wave of epoch-shifting righteousness. The “elites” the movement has damaged the most – the priests of the almighty middle – aren’t the power-lusting liberals its rank and file thought they were gunning for, but the deed deserves our respect nevertheless. For smashing our complacent faith in the Magic Middle and for giving the world a hard and unmistakable lesson in the architecture of American power, every citizen owes them gratitude.

Categories: Uncategorized

White is the New Black

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of The Long Emergency (2005)

kunstler.com (February 21 2010)

Let it be remembered that, as the world was blowing up, Fashion Week gave the New York news media a case of the vapors. But let them tell it. In the immortal words of The New York Times’s Cathy Horyn: “…amid the parkas and the managed pant-suits there was a story here: the amount of embellishment and new technology …”

The mantra of New Technology is on everybody’s lips, of course. New Technology is the New Jesus. It’s descending from out of the holy ethers to float us across the rivers of Babylon to the New Jerusalem – although, now that fashion has got its hooks into the stuff, I dunno, it could be game over for New Technology. Nothing goes out of fashion like fashion. The same newspaper, by the way, tells us that “long-form blogs” are also joining the Dodo and Paris Hilton in the Museum of Extinct Curiosities. But I wouldn’t want to try this on Twitter. And the mosh-pit of Facebook seems an uncongenial place for my brand of high-toned comedy. I guess I’ll have to soldier on here.

Around the same time that Kanye West was perusing the gift bags at the Alexander Wang show on Pier 94, I heard a curious thing on NPR. Some cheeky young envoy from the realm of New Technology was complaining that the “public space” of Twitter and Facebook had to be respected world-wide as “the new town square”, and wasn’t it appalling that the authorities tried to shut these things down in places like Egypt, Algeria, and the lesser kingdoms of Arabia?

This is the kind of virtual thinking that passes for mental exercise these days in the land ruled by Lady Gaga. Hello. We (meaning the USA) do not run these foreign countries – I know it may come as a surprise to the paranoid conspiracy crowd. Even when these faraway places blow up and their former tyrants beat it to Monte Carlo, Zurich, or Riyadh, we do not step in and run them. We try to meddle a little, of course, but in the moiling red mists of revolution nobody even has the authority to pay attention to one of our perspiring attaches, and they don’t want to hear our bullshit anyway, even when it comes with a suitcase full of cash.

The idea that the rest of the world owes Jeff Zuckerberg and the creators of Twitter a certain respect is unrealistic, though it goes against the grain of our own First Amendment and the cardinal beliefs of Rachel Maddow. The clinical psychologists often speak of boundary problems – the inability to recognize where your stuff leaves off and the other person’s stuff begins – but what we’re seeing now in the American thought-sphere is explicitly geographic (and ethnographic) confusion. We don’t understand that we are not them, and they are not us.

Likewise, the infantile idea that these nations in the throes of revolt will slide from disorder into natural democracy like falafels into a pita pocket. What you generally get in political upheavals throughout history are protracted periods of confusion, factional fighting, and violence.  More often than not, they resolve in the rise of a new tyrant, some figure who seems to know what he is doing when everybody else around him does not – which is the essence of human charisma, being a declension of the following:

1. People who know what they are doing.

2. People who seem to know what they are doing.

3. People who pretend to know what they are doing.

4. And people who don’t know what they are doing.

Most of the human race is composed of the fourth category, which is why the figures in the categories above them claim their attention and allegience. Sometimes, the results are very unfortunate.

The world is now blowing up politically at the same time that it is blowing up financially, and there should be little doubt about the relation of these two conditions. At a time of rising resource scarcity (oil, metals, fertilizers), and capital scarcity (unpaid loans vanishing in the black hole of default), and raucous weather in places where grain crops usually grow (Russia, Australia, Argentina), you can be sure that things will get weird.

They are finally getting weird in the streets of the USA now, too. Wisconsin is surely just the first of many hashes that cry to be settled – and that state is not nearly as broke as Illinois, New Jersey, and California. A lot of stuff is shaking loose out there. Our charismatic leaders, alas, have been drawn mostly from Category Three, and out of all their pretending comes a banking system that is flying apart like a Chrysler Slant Six engine that somebody poured Karo syrup into, thinking it might work as an “alternative fuel”. The reverberations will be felt in every household, business, and office in the land.

Some wags out there are even blaming Ben Bernanke for the worldwide rise in food prices, and the cause-and-effect relationship there is rather plausible. You juice the world money supply with an artificial $100 billion a month, at least, and the juice flows somewhere, lately into stock and commodity markets because who the heck wants bonds when no issuing entity has a prayer of staving off some kind of default, and the interest rates are a joke anyway.

Americans lost in the Techno-rapture and the inane transports of Fashion Week have no idea how fragile our vital supply chain system is. If the lands around the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea continue to fall apart politically, you can be sure that something required by the oil markets will get broken over there – whether it is an oil terminal, or a shipping channel, or a royal skull – and before you can say Mike Huckabee the shipments of food to America’s supermarkets will be interrupted, with predictable results.

This could be a helluva week. We’ve flattered ourselves for years about how wonderful it is that everything is connected in this world – the Tom Friedman fantasy about the eternal sunshine of the global economy. Now, we’re more likely to see the dark side of connectedness, as the planet’s goodie-bag deflates and folks in colorful costumes start fighting over what’s left.

_____

Mr Kunstler’s biography is at http://kunstler.com/bio.html.

http://kunstler.com/blog/2011/02/white-is-the-new-black.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Paradox: Linchpin of The Long Emergency

by Carolyn Baker

Carolynbaker.net (February 13 2011)

Note: The original version of this article contains links to several additional sources of information. See URL at end.

When people ask me, “Will the Long Emergency happen quickly or slowly?” I answer, “Yes”. When they ask, “Will it be like rolling down a bumpy hill or falling off a cliff?”, my answer is “Yes”. My response usually draws laughter or a knowing smile, and then I proceed to explain what I mean as I intend to do in this article. Answering “yes” to such questions underscores the paradox that is at the core of both the questions – and the answers, and without which it will be absolutely, unequivocally impossible to navigate the Long Emergency.

Obviously, the expression, “long emergency” is in itself paradoxical. The very word “emergency” implies a crisis that is sudden, immediate, short-lived, and abrupt. So when James Howard Kunstler entitled his book The Long Emergency (2005), he captured the paradox that lies at the core of humanity’s current and future predicament.

The dictionary defines paradox as: a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. Psychologist James Hillman in a recent interview, when asked about a number of world events, responded with:

We have to realize that our minds are our enemy. The current debate has become very ideological, with certain fixed ideas dominating the discussion. This is a result of thinking in opposites; it goes back to Aristotle, and has to do with an either/or kind of logic: If something is this way, it cannot be that way.

But this isn’t how the world really is. For example, most people think that the opposite of white is black. But there are shades of black  –  from blackberries, to black coal or blackbirds  –  that have nothing to do with white. The point is to learn how to evaluate each issue on its own merits without having to bring up the opposition’s point of view. In therapy, when you have a dream of your mother, for example, you don’t necessarily have to talk about your father as a supposed opposite.

While I don’t agree with everything Hillman writes or many things he says in the interview, I found these two paragraphs priceless in terms of how we need to think about the Long Emergency, particular in the areas of how it is likely to unfold, how we should hold it in our consciousness, and its implications for our species at large.

In older, more traditional civilizations preceding our own, one finds a remarkable capacity for embracing paradox. In fact, paradox inhabited the psyches of indigenous cultures as if in their DNA, as exemplified in their art, literature, stories, and other cultural artifacts. It was not until the dawn of modernity, greatly facilitated by Rene Descartes’ dualistic perspective which became increasingly predominate in Western intellectual tradition, that either/or thinking triumphed.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after exhaustive research of traditional cultures, physician Carl Jung, brought forth an entire psychology grounded in paradox because he witnessed firsthand among his patients the pathology of the dualistic perspective and its severe emotional consequences. And indeed, we need only reflect on the fundamental values of industrial, corporate, consumer capitalism to notice the polarization of opposites inherent therein. Thus, we approach the reality of the Long Emergency with questions issuing from a Cartesian paradigm that belie one of the essential causes of our current predicament. Some of these questions are:

Will It Be Fast Or Slow, Positive or Negative?

A number of writers on the Long Emergency, including Kunstler, opine that the collapse of industrial civilization, transition to a new way of life, and what some have called “The Great Turning”, will be a protracted process, punctuated by poignant, painful crises that deepen the severity of the overall unfolding of events.

More recently, robust discussion has ensued among Long Emergency-aware individuals and groups regarding what the process should be called and whether or not it should be viewed as “positive” or “negative”. Again, this is an embarrassingly Cartesian approach to our predicament – and far removed from the troubling realities of it.

I personally prefer the notion of a process that is unfolding in roughly three segments, all of which are congealing, convoluting, and complementing each other. The first segment I believe is the collapse of industrial civilization in which we are currently deeply embroiled and which will inevitably intensify. The second would be a period of transition which has also just begun and will also intensify, followed by a Great Turning, in which after a long period of anguish and the decimation of Cartesian dualism, humanity will likely engage collectively in an unprecedented turning from its self-destructive paradigm and for the first time in many millennia, embrace and create infrastructures for living a paradigm that authentically and unequivocally sustains life on earth.

For me, it is crucial to acknowledge and name the collapse of the current paradigm as such. To avoid the word, tip-toe around it in fear of “scaring people”, or cosmetically alter the unraveling of industrial civilization, is essentially tantamount to celebrating a rebirth while ignoring that a death occurred. To deny death while focusing only on transformation reveals the level of denial in which we are steeped and profoundly insults masses of human beings around us who are terrified of the future because no matter how much we prattle about “potential”, “opportunities”, or “resilience”, they are terrified in the marrow of their bones of what the future holds. They do not need us to fluff pillows and bring them a cup of tea, but to validate what they already know is so, even if they are kicking and screaming with all their might against what they know – and to provide them with support for talking about their fears. Every human knows in their gut when someone or something around them is dying because whether we acknowledge it or not, we are connected with everyone and everything on levels which humanity has only begun to understand.

In his extraordinary book Requiem For A Species: Why We Resist The Truth About Climate Change (2010), author Clive Hamilton states that the consequences of climate change will result in a near-death experience for humanity. But as is so often the case with such events, “Those who have had near-death experiences or life-threatening illnesses are often transformed so that they see their previous lives as empty and self-centered”. Furthermore, not only is the impact of climate change likely to produce a near-death experience, but so are the impacts of peak oil and global economic crises. What sense then does it make to recoil from the world [word?] “collapse” when the entire human race is well aware that it is swimming in it and feels the relentless burden of it from moment to moment? The kindest and most compassionate response is to validate and name what our fellow earthlings intuit rather than colluding in industrial civilization’s delusional denial-fest of “unlimited growth” and “recovery from the recession” – or even the notion that “nothing is collapsing; we are only ‘transitioning'”.

So let me clarify: “Potential”, “opportunities”, and “resilience” are very important and useful words, but not when they are used to obscure the last gasps of industrial civilization which are incessantly occurring around us in present time, and which, if we are honest with ourselves and each other, we know will only exacerbate. Such words serve us only if we are also willing to name the ubiquitous death by which we are surrounded and if we are willing to feel it and speak honestly about what we feel.

Are These Secular or Spiritual Issues?

First, let’s notice that a question like this would never occur in an indigenous culture. For those societies, there was no separation between the two, and the notion of polarizing them is a thoroughly “civilized” one.

Secondly, the dichotomy results from dissecting the human psyche, insisting that only certain parts are worth keeping, and discarding all others. It also results from religious abuse and the belief that words like “spiritual”, “sacred”, or “transpersonal” are religious terms. In fact, the word religion is rooted in the Latin word relegare which means “to bind back”, or “to obligate”. It is a term of bondage and contraction whereas a word like “transpersonal” is expansive and refers to a part of the psyche that is larger and more comprehensive than the rational mind or human ego.

The words, spiritual, sacred, transpersonal have nothing whatsoever to do with theism. Theism is a doctrine of a monotheistic, personal god that is “out there somewhere” in the universe or as Matthew Fox notes, “is behind the universe with an oilcan”. In an interview with Derrick Jensen in Listening To The Land (2004), Fox states, “And of course, the next step after theism is atheism. It’s easy to reject a God who’s way out in the sky. I don’t know any other civilization that has invented atheism except the West. The word does not exist in indigenous languages. The spirit exists.”

I believe that collapse, transition, and Great Turning are revealing and will reveal the integrated wholeness of the human psyche and the inherent connectivity of all life. The unraveling of the paradigm that has fragmented the psyche and separated us from the transpersonal and the entire earth community is a sacred process, and if we can open to it, instead of resisting or trivializing it, we may have the opportunity to become a wiser, more compassionate, more connected species.

An integral aspect of the Great Turning, I believe, will be a turning away from all forms of theism and religious abuse and a turning toward and abiding with the sacred self within us and within all other sentient beings. This may be the ultimate “opportunity” of the Long Emergency – a protracted process which will be fraught with anguish alongside unprecedented transformation. None of us knows how much of either we will experience. What is certain is that our day-to-day reality will be comprised of both, and our challenge is to hold the tension of those opposites, rather than embracing one and excluding the other. I believe that is unquestionably the most difficult work confronting us, both now and in the future.

Author and educator, Margaret Wheatley, in her recent book Perseverance (2019), speaks powerfully and paradoxically to the uncertainty of the future and captures the essence of holding the tension of, rather than polarizing, opposites:

Either position, optimism or pessimism, keeps us from fully engaging with the complexity of this time. If we see only troubles, or only opportunities, in both cases we are blinded by our need for certainty, our need to know what’s going on, to figure things out so we can be useful …

Certainty is a very effective way of defending ourselves from the irresolvable nature of life. If we’re certain, we don’t have to immerse ourselves in the strange, puzzling paradoxes that always characterize a time of upheaval …

The challenge is to refuse to categorize ourselves. We don’t have to take sides or define ourselves as either optimists or pessimists. Much better to dwell in uncertainty, hold the paradoxes, live in the complexities and contradictions without needing them to resolve.

_____

Carolyn’s latest book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition (2011) is now available at Amazon and by ordering from your local bookstore. The Introduction may be read at http://carolynbaker.net/

http://www.countercurrents.org/baker130211.htm

Categories: Uncategorized

Don’t count on natural gas …

… to solve US energy problems

by gailtheactuary

ourfiniteworld.com (February 07 2011)

Note: The original version of this article contains links to several additional sources of information. See URL at end.

We often hear statements suggesting that by ramping up shale gas production, the US can raise total natural gas production and solve many of its energy problems, including adding quite a number of natural gas vehicles, and replacing a large share of coal fired electricity generation. While there is the possibility that shale gas will allow US natural gas supplies to increase for a few years (or even ten or fifteen), natural gas is only about one-fourth of US fossil fuel use, so it would be very difficult to ramp it up enough to meet all of these needs.

One issue is whether a rise in shale gas will mostly offset other reductions in natural gas supply. In Annual Energy Outlook 2011, EIA forecasts that shale gas production will increase from 23% of US natural gas production in 2010 to 46% of US natural gas production by 2035, but that these increases will mostly offset decreases elsewhere. Even with this huge increase in shale gas production, the EIA only sees US natural gas production increasing by an average of 0.8% per year between 2011 and 2035, and US natural gas consumption increasing by an average of 0.6% per year per year to 2035 – not enough to make a very big dent in our overall energy needs.

Figure 1. EIA Figure from the Early Release Overview of Annual Energy Release 2011 http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/eia-dry-gas-forecast-figure_1es-lg.jpg

I don’t know that the EIA forecast is correct, but below are some related issues I see. While we may see some increase in natural gas supplies, there is significant downside risk if shale gas cannot continue to ramp up considerably, because of cost, or fracking issues, or carbon dioxide, or any number of other problems. Even if shale gas does continue to ramp up as planned, the EIA forecast suggests that the overall increase in total US natural gas production is likely to be modest at best. It seems to me that steps we make to use this new supply should be made cautiously, being aware that the increased supply may not be all that much, or last all that long.

1. The US is a natural gas importer. It does not produce as much natural gas as it consumes.

Figure 2 shows the US has been a natural gas importer for many years, with Canada being the major source of imports. LNG has played a more minor role. The amounts imported have not been a large percentage of the total, but even now they are essential for keeping the prices down.  The import amounts shown are on “net of exports” basis. In other words, LNG imports have been reduced by LNG exports (from Alaska to Japan), and Canadian imports have been reduced by exports of natural gas to Canada.

Figure 2. US natural gas consumption, separated into US produced, LNG, and Canadian imports, based on EIA data.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/us-natural-gas-consumption.png

2. The US supply pattern for natural gas has been quite irregular over the years.

A person can see how irregular the natural gas supply pattern has been in Figure 2. Figure 3, below, shows US natural gas production by itself. The irregularity of production over the years and the fact that current production is not much above 1970, makes a person wonder if the optimistic forecasts are really accurate. One factor that may have may have depressed production was price controls from 1954 until 1978, but even without price controls, there has not been much of an upward trend in production until recently.

Figure 3. EIA historical US natural gas production. Graph by EIA.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/eia-natural-gas-production.jpg

3. In the absence of shale gas, EIA’s forecast for US natural gas production would be a decline over the next 25 years.

This is clear from Figure 1, at the top of the post. EIA is forecasting an increase in shale gas, but to a significant extent it would act to offset a decline in other production. Note that historical shale gas production on Figure 1 is very small, but the EIA is forecasting a very large increase for this sector.  If declines in other production have been optimistically estimated, then it is possible that there may be a decline in total production, even if the shale gas estimate is correct.

4. The production of Canada, the US’s largest source of imports, is declining as its own use is rising.

Figure 4 suggests that at least part of the need for additional shale gas production is simply to offset declines in Canadian production. If Canada uses more natural gas in its oil operations, this could exert additional downward pressure on exports in future years.

Figure 4. Canadian Natural Gas Production, Consumption, and Exports from Energy Export Databrowser.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/canada-natural-gas-exports.png

5. The much publicized report from the Potential Gas Committee relates to “resources”. Much of these resources may prove to be too expensive, or not technically feasible, to extract.

Figure 5 is the summary exhibit from the report, showing proved reserves and resources.

Figure 5. Summary Exhibit from the Potential Gas Committee Regarding Natural Gas Reserves and Potential Resources
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/potential-gas-committee-resource-summary.png

US current consumption is about 24 trillion cubic feet a year. If we divide the “US Future Supply” of 2,074.1 TCF by 24, we get 86 years, which is the source of the statement that 100 years of natural gas supply is available. But it is not at all clear how much of this is economically extractable with technology that we have now, or will be able to develop in the future. If we exclude speculative resources, we are down to 61 years, assuming no growth in natural gas consumption. If natural gas use rises, we would exhaust those resources much sooner.

If we exclude both “Speculative Resources” and “Possible Resources”, then the number of years at current consumption falls to 29 (but much shorter, if production ramps up sharply). The shale gas portion of this is about a third of the total, or approximately ten years, at current consumption levels.

The EIA had access to the Potential Gas Committee report when they put out the “early release overview” version of Annual Energy Outlook 2011. They show an average annual growth rate of US dry gas production to 2035 of 0.8%, and an annual growth rate of US dry gas consumption to 2035 of 0.6%. (The latter would reflect lower expected imports over the time period.) So evidently, their expectations are quite modest overall.

6. If Texas experience serves as an example, shale production starts dropping fairly quickly after it starts.

Texas is the home of Barnett Shale, the first of the big shale resource plays. Data for the state of Texas indicates that 2009 production was down from the 2008 level, and an estimate I made for 2010 using data through November suggests it will be down even further in 2010.

Figure 6. Texas natural gas marketed production based on EIA data. 2010 estimated based on Jan-Nov actual data.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/texas-natural-gas-marketed-production-eia.png

Based on Figure 6, It appears that Barnett Shale production reached a peak (of approximately two trillion cubic feet per year) in 2008, and has been declining since. According to Art Berman, initial plans were based on the assumption that the quality of reserves was uniformly excellent throughout the area, but as drilling proceeded, it became increasingly clear that there were only two sweet spots, and drilling contracted into those areas.

7. Shale gas drillers appear to need higher prices than are currently available to make production of shale gas profitable.

A big reason why natural gas looks so attractive now is its low price, but it is doubtful these low prices can last. Art Berman has shown that a well head price of over $7 per thousand cubic feet is needed for shale gas drillers to make a profit. He has also pointed out that estimates of well profitability are based on optimistic views of how long individual wells will be economic. If wells are taken offline more quickly than assumed, this will further raise the needed price. (I came to a similar conclusion using a different approach here also).

In the recent past, prices have been more in the $4 per thousand cubic price range, but over the long term, prices have been very volatile.

Figure 7. Monthly average wellhead natural gas prices based on EIA data, adjusted to current cost level using US Urban CPI.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/natural-gas-wellhead-prices.png

Many who are expecting that natural gas use to grow are assuming that prices will stay low. It is doubtful this can happen. Prices will need to be much higher for shale gas production to grow greatly.

8. High (and volatile) prices tend to depress natural gas consumption for industrial use and for heating buildings.

Figure 8. US Natural Gas Consumption by Sector, based on EIA data.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/us-natural-gas-consumption-by-sector.png

Industrial use of natural gas has not been rising over the long term; it was higher in 1973 than it is currently. Industrial use rose to a peak in 1997, but when prices started becoming volatile, it dropped again. Natural gas for residential and commercial use is primarily for heating, hot water, and cooking. Its use has remained quite level over the years, reflecting increased efficiency of furnaces, better insulation, and growth in electrical substitutes (such as heat pumps). The only area of natural gas consumption showing real growth has been electrical use of natural gas.

Much of the enthusiasm for new uses for natural gas seems to be driven by its current low price. When this price starts rising again, past history suggests that enthusiasm may wane. Higher use for electrical consumption may continue regardless of price, but a low price makes it more attractive for this use too.

At some point, even electrical use may decline with high price. There is considerable evidence that high oil prices send the economy into recession. There is good reason to believe that very high natural gas prices might have a similar effect.

9. The amount of oil and coal consumption that needs to be replaced is huge in relationship to natural gas consumption.

Figure 9 shows that natural gas amounts to only a little more than a quarter of total US fossil fuel consumption. Trying to ramp its production up to replace coal, and to offset declines in oil availability would seem to be an extra-ordinarily difficult task. Natural gas production would need to be more than doubled – something no one is expecting.

Figure 9. US historical fossil fuel consumption, based on BP data.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/us-fossil-fuel-consumption.png

10. There are a number of outstanding environmental questions.

With traditional gas drilling, most drilling seems to be in relatively unpopulated areas. Shale gas operations include more populated areas, leading to more chance of water pollution. Many people are concerned about the possibility of harmful environmental effects from fracking, especially if it is done close to the source of New York City water supplies. At this point, there is a six month ban on fracking of horizontal wells in New York. The EPA is also doing an analysis of the safety of fracking. It is not expected to be completed until 2012, however.

There is also an issue of whether fracking permits significant fugitive emissions of methane that could result in shale gas’s overall global warming potential being far higher than that of natural gas from conventional sources. The EPA has a technical support document on its website, suggesting that this might be the case. This is a summary graphic from that paper:

Figure 10. Summary Emissions factors from EPA Technical Paper.
http://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/table-1-emission-factors.png

According to David Lewis’s calculations, these high emissions would bring the global warming gas potential of shale gas at least to that of coal. Professor Robert Howarth of Cornell University has come to a similar conclusion, analyzing data directly. His article has been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but has not yet been published.

These findings are obviously preliminary. It may also be that even if the findings are true, there are changes to production techniques that can bring emissions down to an acceptable level, but these are things we don’t know. If this issue starts receiving much attention, it would seem to have the potential to reduce interest in shale gas production.

Summary

In summary, a review of information related to US natural gas production (and in particular shale gas production) does not give much confidence that it can ramp up by more than a small percentage over the next 25 years before it runs into some obstacle. The most likely obstacle is affordability, but there are others obstacles including the need to keep drilling (at high cost) to keep shale gas production up, or production will decline as it has done in Texas. Even if production can ramp up more, there is a chance that global warming gases associated with shale gas will suddenly become an EPA concern, and production will need to be scaled back.

There is little evidence that shale gas producers can make money at current low prices. At higher price levels, coal becomes a cheaper alternative, and substitution becomes more difficult. Coal and petroleum consumption are so large in relationship to natural gas consumption that trying to ramp up natural gas to replace more than a very small percentage of these fuels would seem to be impossible.

Shale gas is needed to offset declines in conventional production and a drop in Canadian imports, so one cannot assume that an increase in shale gas production corresponds to an increase in the amount of natural gas available for consumption.

I have not tried to look at LNG imports. To date, they have played a minor role. Based on EIA data, in 2008, LNG exports corresponded to about 7.5% of world consumption, and from Figure 2, it is clear they have only played a small role in US consumption. I would not expect this situation to change greatly. LNG terminals are expensive, and have to be financed whether they are actively used or not.

_____

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. The financial system is also likely to be affected.

View all posts by gailtheactuary at http://ourfiniteworld.com/author/gailtheactuary/

http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/02/07/dont-count-on-natural-gas-to-solve-us-energy-problems/

Categories: Uncategorized

Energy: What Actually Matters

2011/02/22 3 comments

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (February 16 2010)

It’s not uncommon, when I give public talks about the end of the industrial age, for people to ask me whether I can offer them any hope. Now of course people mean many different things by the very indefinite word at the end of that utterance; some want me to tell them that I was only joking and industrial civilization isn’t really careening headfirst into hard planetary limits, others want me to tell them that when the crash is over and the dust settles, some kindly power or other will hand them an even shinier society than the one we’ve got, and still others will settle for being told that our civilization won’t drop dead until at least a few moments after they do.

To all these I have nothing to offer. Still, there are always a few who simply want to know if there’s some reason to believe that the next half century or so might not be quite as ghastly as it looks. I do have something to offer them, and it’s one of the ironies of our time that the reason for hope I’d like to discuss in this week’s post is also one of the most annoying features of contemporary society: the very common assumption that people in the industrial world can’t possibly scrape by without access to amounts and kinds of energy that few if any of our ancestors would have been able to figure out what to do with.

I’ve discussed more than once in these posts the fact that the average American uses around three times as much energy each year as the average European, to support a standard of living that by most of the standard measures isn’t even as good. That’s relevant to the point I hope to make, but there’s another factor as well. Most of the energy that’s directly used by a household in a modern industrial society consists of highly concentrated fuels and 120-volt alternating current electricity. The forms of energy that are actually needed to support a fairly comfortable human life, on the other hand, consist of food on the one hand, and a distinctly modest supply of relatively diffuse heat for cooking, water heating, and space heating during cold weather on the other.

Mind you, this is what’s needed to support a fairly comfortable human life. Most of our ancestors got by with a lot less, and a good many of our descendants will probably do the same. Still, most of our ancestors, and in all probability at least an equal share of our descendants, would or will see the point in a well-stocked pantry, a working stove, hot water on tap, and a home where the ambient temperature is well above freezing in winter, and it seems reasonable to aim for these things now – particularly because they are a lot less difficult to provide than most of the frankly less important uses of energy that get most of the press these days.

It’s worth being a bit more specific. Producing highly concentrated fuels and 120-volt alternating current electricity at home, in anything like the quantities most Americans use these days, with the sort of resources and equipment most Americans can cobble together readily, is a very challenging task; for most of us, “impossible” would be a better description. Producing the amounts of food and diffuse heat that’s needed for a comfortable lifestyle under the same conditions is a good deal less challenging, and in some situations it’s actually pretty easy. Most current projects for dealing with the harsh constraints on energy supplies in the wake of peak oil have fixated on finding ways to keep the highly concentrated fuels and electricity flowing, and a great deal of highly dubious reasoning and evidence has been trotted out in an attempt to insist that we can keep pipelines and gas tanks topped up and grids humming with power from renewable sources; meanwhile, by and large, the much simpler resources that human beings actually need to survive have been left out of the discussion.

The Green Wizard project was launched, in large part, to offer an alternative to this sort of thinking. We’ve spent much of the last six months talking about ways to produce at least some of your own food in your own backyard, using hand tools and readily available organic soil amendments in place of the extravagantly energy-wasting methods of food production indulged in by current agribusiness. There’s plenty more that could be said on that subject, and I’ll doubtless be saying some of it in passing as my own backyard garden begins another season, but the main focus of the posts to come will be on the other half of the equation: diffuse heat.

And this, dear reader, means that you need to get friendly with the laws of thermodynamics.

That may seem like an unlikely assignment, if only because the laws in question don’t seem particularly interested in making friends. Most popular presentations of the laws of thermodynamics these days tend to stress the negative side of these much-maligned rules. Still, as the word suggests, thermodynamics is simply the branch of physics that tells you how heat moves, and if you’re going to be moving diffuse heat around, you need to know how that’s done. The British musical comedy duo Swann and Flanders made this easy {1} some decades ago by explaining the first two laws of thermodynamics in a lively little song. (The link, I’m sorry to say, will play you the song but won’t show you Swann and Flanders singing it; for reasons that left me utterly baffled, the only copy I could find online has video-game characters dancing around and fighting monsters in tune to the music. And, inevitably, throwing around vast amounts of energy in the form of lightning bolts. Go figure.)

Got that? Okay, now that you’re tapping your toes to the melody, let’s apply it.

One of the pervasive mistakes made by people in the industrial world these days – oh, all right, made by most Americans and a much smaller number of people elsewhere – is the notion that the only thing that matters when you’re dealing with heat is having enough energy to produce it. Every autumn, accordingly, you can go to your local department store and find scores of portable heaters waiting for you in serried ranks, so that you can turn electricity or propane or what have you into plenty of heat wherever you want it. You can do that, but unless you do something to encourage the heat to stay around for a while, it’s not going to work very well, and it’s also going to cost you plenty, because producing heat is only the first part of what matters; the rest of the equation, which is in many ways the most important part, is keeping the heat from leaving the place you put it any sooner than it has to.

This is helpful even if you’ve got abundant fossil fuels or plenty of electricity handy. If you don’t, and you have to get by with the much less concentrated energy available from renewable sources, it’s not helpful, it’s essential. The maxim from my old Master Conserver classes was “weatherize before you solarize”, and the principle can be extended: unless you take steps to use heat effectively, if you try to get your heat needs met from renewable sources, you’re basically wasting your time.

So the first and most crucial step in making sure that you have enough diffuse heat in your life to get by comfortably in an energy-constrained future is to do a smarter job of using whatever heat you’ve got. In order to do this, you need to know how heat leaves the places where you want it – your home will do for now; we’ve already talked about the food you cook, and we’ll talk about hot water in a later post.

Swann and Flanders’ useful ditty could use just a bit of modification for our purposes, because the three ways that heat passes from a hotter body to a cooler body – conduction, convection, and radiation – aren’t equally important in green wizardry. Conduction is the most important of the lot, convection gets a look in here and there, and radiation is a minor factor; there’s also a fourth, combined factor, which is nearly as important as conduction, that’s called infiltration. This is air movement through leaks, and it’s the process by which cold air gets into your house. Technically speaking, infiltration is balanced by exfiltration, which is the process by which the nice warm air in your house goes outdoors so it can radiate its heat to the environment; in practice, since infiltration and exfiltration use the same kinds of leaks and can be fixed in the same ways, the label “infiltration” does for both.

This is a huge issue in most American homes – anything from a fifth to a half of the heating load on a house is typically accounted for by losses to infiltration and exfiltration – and in most cases, it’s also far and away the easiest and cheapest source of heat loss to fix. The gear you’ll need are a caulk gun, several (usually, quite a few) tubes of good weatherproof caulk, and an assortment of weatherstripping supplies for doors and windows; a sturdy scrubbing brush, cleaning supplies, and a pair of gloves you don’t mind ruining also belong on the list. Your local hardware store will provide you with everything you need.

If you’ve never used caulk or a caulk gun before, you’ll find detailed instructions in the fourth of the Master Conserver handouts available for free download at the Cultural Conservers Foundation {2} website, and you can also find good instructions in any decent book on home repair. Your goal is to find all the little cracks where air is leaking into and out of your home, and seal them with caulk. There are almost certainly a lot of them: along the baseplate where your house joins its foundations, along the frames of windows and doors, in the little holes drilled through the walls by the guy who installed cable television or internet service, around outdoor water faucets, and the list goes on. Search the inside and outside of your exterior walls, and find every crack and gap; make sure the surfaces are clean, so that caulk will stick to them, and then, to borrow a phrase from one of my instructors, caulk those puppies.

Now of course you’re not going to caulk the moving parts of your windows and doors, since you need to be able to open and close them. (Nonmoving parts of windows can and should be caulked; if the windows are old, they probably leak like sieves.) For doors and windows that open, you need weatherstripping. There’s a dizzying range of products available; most of them haven’t changed much since I studied this stuff in the 1980s – for that matter, most of them haven’t changed much since the 1950s- and 1960s-era home handyman books I collect started to include chirpy little articles on “Saving Money with Weatherstripping!” – but different door and window situations call for different kinds of weatherstripping, so take your time and explore your options. The Master Conserver handout mentioned above has a fair amount of info on the subject, and so will books, new or used, that cover energy conservation at home.

A few other details can help you close off other air leaks. Electric sockets and switches on the inside of exterior walls are often the places where the air that leaks in through openings elsewhere gets into your living spaces; your hardware store will sell you inexpensive foam gaskets that go behind the faceplates to take care of this. The hatch into your attic, if you have one, needs to be weatherstripped, since your attic is probably vented to outside – and if it isn’t, it should be; more on this in a later post – and can leak a lot of heat. Finally, if you’ve got an open fireplace, one heck of a lot of warm air is rising out through the chimney to warm the great outdoors. A set of glass doors or some other way of closing up the fireplace opening when it’s not in use will be well worth your while.

By the time you finish caulking and weatherstripping, not to mention putting in foam gaskets and installing glass doors on your fireplace, you may be wondering how any air is going to get into your house so you can breathe it. With the relatively simple technologies we’re using, that’s not an issue; if you do a good job, you’re probably going to be able to reduce the rate at which air flows through your house by something around half, which means that you’re going to save about half the money that infiltration currently costs you – roughly ten to twenty-five per cent of your heating bill, in other words – without causing any problems worth noticing with air quality.

There are high-tech methods out there that will save you a great deal more. Very thorough sealing is an important part of those methods, and so is air quality remediation. These aren’t things you can do yourself – you’ll need to hire a professional – and you’re going to shell out quite a bit of money to do it, but if you’ve got the funds to invest, free heat for life is a pretty good payback; the Passive House system, which was invented in Germany and has recently taken root on this side of the Atlantic, is one approach about which I’ve heard good things. Still, unless I’m very much mistaken, the vast majority of the readers of this blog don’t have the kind of spare income that would allow them to drop five figures on a passive house remodel, and even fewer will have that kind of money as the economic unraveling of our society picks up speed; furthermore, it’s exactly those among us who don’t have the funds to spare for that sort of project that have the most urgent need to save money and energy just now.

Cutting down on infiltration by caulking and weatherstripping, then, is the first step in getting your home ready for an age of energy limits. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll discuss some of the other steps: all of them inexpensive, all of them easy enough that the average homeowner or renter ought to be able to do them effectively, and all of them important in cushioning the impact of rising energy costs in an age when most people will no longer be able to afford ignoring what kinds of energy use actually matter.

Resources

The book that needs to be listed at the very top here is one I haven’t been able to find: a good clear explanation of the laws of thermodynamics in language that a fourth-grader can follow, with plenty of colorful examples. If there is one, I’d be grateful if someone can point me to it; if there isn’t, there’s got to be a physicist out there who can write one, and I can probably even talk a publisher or two into giving it a look. In the meantime, there’s always Swann and Flanders.

Good detailed instructions on caulking and weatherstripping can be found in almost every guide to do-it-yourself home repair published since the end of the Second World War; your local public library can probably provide you with a couple of good examples, and so can your favorite used book store; review the details and then get to work, and you’ll be in a position to help your neighbors figure out how it’s done. The Master Conserver handouts mentioned earlier in this post are also useful.

If you’re interested in the Passive House system, a visit to www.passivehouse.us is a good way to find out about it.
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My books on peak oil and the future of industrial society, The Long Descent (2008) and The Ecotechnic Future (2009), are available from your local full service bookstore or direct from the publisher at these links {3, 4}. My forthcoming book on post-peak economics, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered {5}, will be available in June and can be preordered now from the publisher at a twenty percent discount.

_____

John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {6} and the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (2008), The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World (2009), and the forthcoming The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy reading this blog, you might want to check out Star’s Reach, his blog/novel of the deindustrial future {7}. Set four centuries after the decline and fall of our civilization, it uses the tools of narrative fiction to explore the future our choices today are shaping for our descendants tomorrow.

Links:

{1} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTHiIwxcexI

{2} http://www.culturalconservers.org/library.php

{3} http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/4014

{4} http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/4051

{5} http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/4093

{6} http://www.aoda.org/

{7} http://starsreach.blogspot.com/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2011/02/energy-what-actually-matters.html

Categories: Uncategorized

An Ethical Tradition Betrayed

by Hajo Meyer

huffingtonpost.com (January 27 2010)

I was twenty years old when Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army 55 years ago. This occurred just in time because ten months imprisonment in Auschwitz-Gleiwitz-1 had weakened me considerably. One needed a hell of a lot of luck in order to survive that long under the circumstances in that camp.

Two important components of luck were on my side. First, during my first years as a refugee kid in the Netherlands I had learned to be a locksmith. So during the very strong winter of 1944 and 1945 I worked in the warmth of a factory. Second, I had acquired a very good and completely trustworthy friend, called Jos. We helped each other as much as possible. The two of us did indeed survive.

Another aspect of my friendship with Jos was that in spite of – or better, due to – the extremely high number of people per square foot in such a camp, one felt extremely lonely. Because of our friendship, mutual help and absolute mutual trust we were not lonely. This was vital to our psychological survival.

Psychological survival is at least as important as physical survival. In fact, the Nazi concentration camps were their attempt to dehumanize us Jews. If a prisoner became part of the oppression system by being Kapo, the dehumanization would be successful. Obviously, the non-Jewish members of the oppression system were also no longer fully human. I realized there that anybody from a dominating group who tries to dehumanize people from a minority group, can only do so if by education, indoctrination and propaganda he has already been dehumanized himself, independent of the uniform he wears.

It is a deep tragedy that in Israel this is not what one concludes from the experiences in Auschwitz. To the contrary, Auschwitz is elevated there into a new religion.

“In the beginning is Auschwitz”, wrote Elie Wiesel. “Nothing should be compared to the Holocaust but everything must be related to it”. This elevation has allowed it to be exploited for political ends. All that was once most valued in a rich and varied Jewish heritage – the centrality of the ethical tradition, for instance – disappears beside the Nazi attempt at annihilation. This Holocaust religion translates in the minds of many into the impossibility that Israel can do any wrong.

Auschwitz existed within history, not outside of it. The main lesson I learned there is simple: We Jews should never, ever become like our tormentors – not even to save our lives. Even at Auschwitz, I sensed that such a moral downfall would render my survival meaningless.

Like most German Jews, I was raised in a secular and humanist tradition that was more antagonistic than sympathetic towards the Zionist enterprise. Since 1967 it has become obvious that political Zionism has one monolithic aim: Maximum land in Palestine with a minimum of Palestinians on it. This aim is pursued with an inexcusable cruelty as demonstrated during the assault on Gaza. The cruelty is explicitly formulated in the Dahiye doctrine of the military and morally supported by the Holocaust religion.

I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of “blood and soil” in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people – coerced ghettoization behind a “security wall”; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival – force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.

It is not too late to learn a different lesson from Auschwitz. For example, in the last year, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network has become a means for many – including young Jews in the United States – to challenge the precepts of Zionism and support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Their goal, and mine, is to challenge the dispossession and exclusivity of a Jewish state, in their names and in mine. They understand the urgency of the classical Jewish concept of teshuvah, return from the wrong road. Further, they understand that the pursuit of justice and making ethically positive sense out of senseless suffering is not only part of an ancient Jewish interpretation and shaping of history, but is crucial for all of us in creating the world we want to live in, and to our moral survival.

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Hajo Meyer is the author of The End of Judaism: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed (2007).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hajo-meyer/an-ethical-tradition-betr_b_438660.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Backward Arabs …

… or Navel Gazing Empire Loyalists?

by Trevor Selvam

Countercurrents.org (February 17 2011)

Once again, the Media in the West is at its narcissistic best. In the over-dramatized “breaking news” style of analysis (to war drums in the background), they are imagining that “the backward Arabs” have finally come on board and are demanding “western style democracy”. “This is good for them. About time”, they say. From Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. It’s a “revival, a much needed reform”, say some evangelist proselytizers.

Once again the Media in the West believe that this is a revolt against the old caliphate mentality, against brutal, medieval dictators, against baksheesh and corruption. As if pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes, Enron book keeping, AIG-Lehman bailouts, pharma and defence lobbying, pork-barreling, the CDS-CDO inspired 2008 meltdown, the Wall Street mega billion toxic flips were Arab contributions to the world of international scammery!

Once again the Media and their sponsors and owners, Rupert Murdoch, GE Capital and Time Warner, are spreading the fib that this is a cry for democracy, for “modernity”, for the freeways of the “free world”.

Once again, the Media in the West are craning over each other worrying about Israel’s southern flank when Israel itself has not been particularly or demonstrably concerned.

Once again the Media in the West are wrong and incalculably out of touch.

For a media that in the space of fourteen days, unquestioningly rebroadcasted the White House dictum of describing Mubarak as a “stable ally”, “not a dictator”, “a good friend” and then devolved into talking about a “stable transition”, “an immediate transition” and finally “the people have spoken” – what can one expect? Talk about having your pants and skirts down to your ankles!

Once again, the careful, discerning eyes of the media failed to realize that there were Shias and Sunnis demonstrating together, most of the time united, secularist Egyptians and Tunisians, protecting each other and not having separate agendas. Once again, they failed to realize that Arab men and women, hijabed or in gelabyas, in jeans or cargos, old and young, workers, lawyers, engineers and teachers, locked arms and marched in protest. Once again they failed to realize that every stream of society participated in dignified, controlled protests and it was not only Blackberry and iPhone toting FaceBookers demanding a western mall-rat lifestyle!

In fact what they failed to realize was that this was really MORE of a revolt against the twenty or more years of the post Berlin wall era of pompous neo-liberalism, that spawned joblessness, hunger, environmental cataclysms – it was a revolt against tin-pot dictators aided and abetted by Washington DC who siphoned off the wealth of nations, food chains that disappeared, wars that were started on spurious grounds and police states who upheld the West’s cynical notions of stability, while protecting their geo-political strategies.

But this is good. Because every generation must see a sea-change flip of belief systems and false ideals. And that time has come, when the real monsters have exposed themselves. From the neo-liberalist trumpeters and evangelist proselytes of the tea-party variety and the fundamentalist extremists preaching suicide martyrdom, to the horrendously asinine sharia-ists in caves, they are all together in one conclave unaware and unconscious that there is a new wave of Arabs who are sick and tired of non-secular nonsense, unintelligent and backward incantations to obscure edicts and the abject failure of the Reagan-Clinton-Bush-Obama notion of a New World Order. This is a rebellion against the baloney that the West has passed off as “success”. It is a revolt against the hyperbolic triumphalism that free trade, globalization, de-regulation, structural “reform” has been promoting for too long.

It is a revolt against the Empire and not just against its chattel. It is also a revolt against those who have compromised too long about the Palestinian nation. This brings me to Israel. Israel is not at all concerned about Gaza or its own Southern extremity. It has the Palestinian Authority well trained to deal with all that. Peace Treaty? Israel really could not care two hoots. As a nation that survives on borrowed shekels from Washington DC and whose isolation in the world is increasing daily, Israel knows very well that it has to make a few idle threats about bombing Iran, attacking Lebanon and right away it will get more US, UK and French aid and support covertly. Israel relies on covert-ism as foreign policy.

So Arabs have spoken. The world is listening. The media in the West is navel gazing.

http://www.countercurrents.org/selvam170211.htm

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