Archive for November, 2012

On the Border

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (November 28 2012)

The topic of last week’s post, the likely fate of Israel in the twilight years of American empire, makes a good example of more than one common theme.  As I commented in that earlier discussion, Israel is one of several American client states for whom the end of our empire will also be the end of the line.  At the same time, it also highlights a major source of international tension that bids fair to bring in a bumper crop of conflict in the decades before us.

The word “irredentism” doesn’t get a lot of play in the media just now, but my readers may wish to keep it in mind; there’s every reason to think they will hear it fairly often in the future. It’s the conviction, on the part of a group of people, that they ought to regain possession of some piece of real estate that their ancestors owned at some point in the past.  It’s an understandably popular notion, and its only drawback is the awkward detail that every corner of the planet, with the exception of Antarctica and a few barren island chains here and there, is subject to more than one such claim. The corner of the Middle East currently occupied by the state of Israel has a remarkable number of irredentist claims on it, but there are parts of Europe and Asia that could match it readily – and of  course it only takes one such claim on someone else’s territory to set serious trouble in motion.

It’s common enough for Americans, if they think of irredentism at all, to think of it as somebody else’s problem. Airily superior articles in the New York Times and the like talk about Argentina’s claim to the Falklands or Bolivia’s demand for its long-lost corridor to the sea, for example, as though nothing of the sort could possibly spill out of other countries to touch the lives of Americans. I can’t think of a better example of this country’s selective blindness to its own history, because the great-grandmother of irredentist crises is taking shape right here in North America, and there’s every reason to think it will blow sky-high in the not too distant future.

That’s the third and last of the hot button topics I want to discuss as we close in on the end of the current sequence of posts on the end of American empire, and yes, I’m talking about the southern border of the United States.

Many Americans barely remember that the southwestern quarter of the United States used to be the northern half of Mexico. Most of them never learned that the Mexican War, the conflict that made that happen, was a straightforward act of piracy. (As far as I know, nobody pretended otherwise at the time – the United States in those days had not yet fallen into the habit of dressing up its acts of realpolitik in moralizing cant.)  North of the Rio Grande, if the Mexican War comes to mind at all, it’s usually brushed aside with bland insouciance: we won, you lost, get over it. South of the Rio Grande? Every man, woman and child knows all the details of that war, and they have not gotten over it.

That might not matter much on this side of the border, except for two things.  The first, which I’ve discussed here several times, is the dominant fact of 21st century North American geopolitics, the failure of US settlement in the dryland West.  In the heyday of American expansion, flush with ample wealth from undepleted resources and unexhausted topsoil, the United States flung a pattern of human ecology nurtured on the well-watered soils of the Ohio and upper Mississippi valleys straight across the continent, dotting the Great Plains and the dry lands between the mountains with farms and farm towns.  The dream was that these would follow the same trajectory as their predecessors further east, and turn into a permanently settled agricultural hinterland feeding wealth into newborn cities.

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was the first sign that this grand fantasy was not going to be fulfilled. Behind the catastrophic impact of farming techniques poorly suited to the fragile western soils was a deeper, natural cycle of drought, one that the native peoples of the West knew well but white settlers  were by and large too arrogant to learn. Since then, as the vulnerability of agriculture on the southern Plains to cyclical drought and other ecological challenges has become more and more clear, the usual response – throw more money and technology at it – has solved problems in the near term by turning them into insoluble predicaments in the longer term.  Thus, for example, farmers faced with drought turned to irrigation using water from underground aquifers that date from the Ice Age and haven’t been replenished since then, gaining temporary prosperity at the cost of permanent ruin later on.

The details vary from region to region but the effect is the same. Across the dryland West, from the Great Plains to the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges, a new kind of ghost town is emerging alongside the old breed from the days of the gold and silver rushes.  Homes, churches, schools, city halls sit empty as tumbleweeds roll down the streets; with the decline of the old agricultural economy, all the townsfolk, or all but a few stubborn retirees, have gone elsewhere.  There are county-sized areas in several of the Plains states these days that once again fit the old definition of frontier: fewer than two non-Native American people per square mile.  In response, the vacuum is being filled by the nearest nation that has enough spare people and cultural vitality for the job.

I encourage those of my readers who doubt this claim to book a long bus trip through any of the major agricultural regions of the United States west of the Mississippi valley. You’ll want the run that stops at every other two-bit farm town along the way, because that’s where you’re going to see a significant part of America’s future: the towns that are Mexican by every standard except for a few lines on a map. It’s not just that the signs are all in Spanish; the movie posters in the video shop windows are for Mexican movies, the snacks in the gas stations are Mexican brands, the radio announcers are talking excitedly about Mexican sports teams and the people on the street are wearing Mexican fashions.  Such towns aren’t limited these days to the quarter of the United States that used to be half of Mexico; they can be found in most of the country’s agricultural regions, and increasingly beyond them as well.

In the United States, this isn’t something you talk about. There’s plenty of rhetoric about immigration from Mexico, to be sure, but nearly all of it focuses on the modest fraction of those immigrants who cross into the US illegally. Behind that focus is another thing people in the United States don’t talk about, which is the bitter class warfare between America’s middle class and its working class. Illegal immigration is good for the middle class, because illegal immigrants – who have effectively no rights and thus can be paid starvation wages for unskilled and semiskilled labor – drive down the cost of labor, and thus decrease the prices of goods and services that middle class people want. By the same token, illegal immigration is bad for the working class, because the same process leaves working class Americans with shrinking paychecks and fewer job opportunities.

Nobody in the middle class wants to admit that it’s in their economic interest to consign the American working class to misery and impoverishment; nobody in the working class wants to use the language of class warfare, for fear of handing rhetorical weapons to the next class down; so both sides bicker about a convenient side issue, which in this case happens to be illegal immigration, and they bicker about it in the shrill moral language that afflicts discussions of most issues in today’s America, so that the straightforward political and economic issues don’t come up.  Meanwhile, the demographic shift continues, and redefines the future history and cultural landscape of the North American continent.

Students of history will recognize in the failure of US settlement in the dryland West a familiar pattern, one that is also under way on the other side of the Pacific – the Russian settlement of Siberia is turning into a dead end of the same kind, and immigrants from China and other Asian countries are flooding northwards there, quite probably laying the foundations for a Greater China that may someday extend west to the Urals and north to the Arctic Ocean.  Still, there’s another pattern at work in North America.  To make sense of it, a glance at one of the core sources of inspiration for this blog – the writings of Arnold Toynbee – will be helpful.

Central to Toynbee’s project, and to the sprawling twelve-volume work A Study of History (1934 ~ 1961) that came out of it, was the idea of putting corresponding stages in the rise and fall of civilizations side by side, and seeing what common factors could be drawn from the comparison. Simple in theory, that proved to be a gargantuan undertaking in practice, which is why nearly all of Toynbee’s career as a writer of history was devoted to that one project. The result is a core resource for the kind of work I’m trying to do in this blog: the attempt to gauge the shape of our future by paying attention to the ways similar patterns have worked out in the historic past.

One pattern that has plenty of examples on offer is the evolution of borderland regions caught between an imperial power and a much poorer and less technologically complex society.  Imperial China and central Asia, the Roman world and the Germanic barbarians, the Toltecs of ancient Mexico and their Chichimec neighbors to the north – well, the list goes on. It’s a very common feature of history, and it unfolds in a remarkably precise and stereotyped way.

The first phase of that unfoldment begins with the rise and successful expansion of the imperial power. That expansion quite often involves the conquest of lands previously owned by less wealthy and powerful nations next door.  For some time thereafter, neighboring societies that are not absorbed in this way are drawn into the imperial power’s orbit and copy its political and cultural habits – German tribal chieftains mint their own pseudo-Roman coins and drape themselves in togas, people very far from America copy the institutions of representative democracy and don blue jeans, and so on. A successful empire has a charisma that inspires imitation, and while it retains its ascendancy, that charisma makes the continued domination of its borderlands easy to maintain.

It’s when the ascendancy fails and the charisma crumbles that things start to get difficult. Toynbee uses a neat if untranslatable Latin pun to denote the difference: the charisma of a successful imperial power makes its borderlands a limen or doorway, while the weakening of its power and the collapse of its charisma compels it to replace the limen with a limes, a defensive wall. Very often, in fact, it’s when a physical wall goes up along the border that the imperial power, in effect, serves notice to its historians that its days are numbered.

Once the wall goes up, literally or figuratively, the focus shifts to the lands immediately outside it, and those lands go through a series of utterly predictable stages. As economic and political stresses mount along the boundary, social order collapses and institutions disintegrate, leaving power in the hands of a distinctive social form, the warband – a body of mostly young men whose sole trade is violence, and who are bound by personal loyalties to a charismatic warlord.  At first, nascent warbands strive mostly with one another and with the crumbling institutions of their own countries, but before long their attention turns to the much richer pickings to be found on the other side of the wall.  Raids and counter-raids plunge the region into a rising spiral of violence that the warbands can afford much more easily than the imperial government.

The final stages of the process depend on the broader pattern of decline. In Toynbee’s analysis, a civilization in decline always divides into a dominant minority, which maintains its power by increasingly coercive means, and an internal proletariat – that is, the bulk of the population, who are formally part of the civilization but receive an ever smaller share of its benefits and become ever more alienated from its values and institutions. This condition applies to the imperial state and its inner circle of allies; outside that core lies the world of the external proletariat – in the terms used in earlier posts here, these are the peoples subjected to the business end of the imperial wealth pump, whose wealth flows inward to support the imperial core but who receive few benefits in exchange.

The rise of warband culture drives the collapse of that arrangement. As warbands rise, coalesce, and begin probing across the border, the machinery that concentrates wealth in the hands of the dominant minority begins to break apart; tax revenues plunge as wealth turns into warband plunder, and the imperial state’s capacity to enforce its will dwindles.  The end comes when the internal proletariat, pushed to the breaking point by increasingly frantic demands from the dominant minority, throws its support to the external proletariat – or, more to the point, to the successful leadership of one or more of the external proletariat’s biggest warbands – and the empire begins its final collapse into a congeries of protofeudal statelets.   Much more often than not, that’s how the final crisis of a civilization unfolds; it’s also one standard way that common or garden variety empires fall, even when they don’t take a civilization down with them.

As the United States faces the end of its overseas empire and the drastic contraction of an economy long inflated by imperial tribute, in other words, it faces a massive difficulty much closer to home:  a proud and populous nation on its southern border, with a vibrant culture but disintegrating political institutions, emergent warbands of the classic type, a large and growing demographic presence inside US borders, and a burning sense of resentment directed squarely at the United States.  This is not a recipe for a peaceful imperial decline.

Nor is there much hope that the classic pattern can be evaded:  the wall has already gone up, in the most literal sense, and the usual consequences are following.  The warbands?  The US media calls them “drug gangs”, since their involvement in drug smuggling across the border makes good copy.  They haven’t yet completed the trajectory that will make them the heirs of the Huns and Visigoths, and in particular, the rock-star charisma that surrounds great warlords in an age of imperial collapse has only just begun to flicker around the most successful leaders of the nascent Mexican warbands.  Give it time; the glorification of the gangster life that pervades popular culture toward the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid these days shows that the seeds of that change have long since been planted.

Can anything be done to prevent this from proceeding all the way to its normal completion?  At this stage in the game, probably not.  An empire in the days of its power can sometimes stop the spiral by conquering the entire region – not merely the border area, but all the way out to the nearest major geographical barrier – and absorbing it fully into the imperial system; that’s why Gaul, which had been a source of constant raids against Roman interests early on, didn’t produce many warbands of its own in the years of decline until it was conquered and settled by Germanic tribes from points further east. Had the United States conquered all of Mexico in the 1870s, admitted its states into the Union, and integrated Mexican society fully into the American project,  that might have worked, but it’s far too late in the day for that; the polarization of the borderlands is already a fact, so is the bitterness of a dispossessed people, and so is the ongoing unraveling of American power.

The other endpoint of the process – the only other endpoint of the process that can be found anywhere in recorded history – is the collapse of the imperial power.  The United States has prepared plenty of other disasters for itself, by way of its unusually clueless choices in recent decades, and some of them are likely to hit well before the defense of the southern border becomes its most pressing and insoluble security problem.  Still, I would encourage those of my readers who live in the dryland West, especially those within a state or so of the southern border, to keep an eye open for the first tentative raids, and perhaps to read up on what happened to those parts of the Roman Empire most directly exposed to warband incursions in the twilight years of Roman rule.

I would also like to ask any of my readers who are incensed by the above to stop, take a deep breath, and pay attention to what is and is not being said here.  Again, the shrill rhetoric of moral judgment that treats every political question as an opportunity for self-righteous indignation, popular as it is, has no particular value in this context.  More than a century and a half ago, American politicians decided to go to war with Mexico; over the next century or so, as a result of that decision and its cascading consequences, the social order basic to any viable society will most likely be shredded over a sizable part of what is now the United States, and stay that way for a good long time.  That’s simply one of the things that can happen when an empire falls, and it’s something many of us can expect to see here in America in the years ahead.


End of the World of the Week #50



As previous entries in this series have shown, predicting the end of the world is a chancy business, and your likelihood of being proved wrong and made to eat crow is very high. There’s at least one way to avoid that awkward detail, though – make sure you don’t survive to see the failure of the prophecy – and a certain number of apocalyptic true believers have used that escape hatch.

The Order of the Solar Temple – l’Ordre du Temple Solaire, for purists – was one of those. It emerged out of the New Age scene in the late 1980s, attracting a wealthy clientele in Quebec and a variety of European countries with a free mix of New Age philosophy and rituals borrowed from a range of occult traditions. Its founders, Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro, started with a set of utopian fantasies of the usual sort, but as time passed and a New Age of peace and brotherhood unaccountably failed to dawn, they strayed further and further into the apocalyptic flip side of those fantasies. By the early 1990s the Solar Temple was preaching that the middle of that decade would see vast environmental catastrophes that would exterminate most if not all of the human race.

Most prophets of doom prefer to wait around, like Harold Camping, to see the end arrive, but Jouret, Di Mambro, and many of their followers were made of sterner stuff. That’s why they killed themselves en masse over a period of a few days late in November 1994. The vast environmental catastrophes failed to arrive, of course, but that was no longer anything Jouret or Di Mambro had to worry about.

— For more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not {1}


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {2} 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 Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered (2011). 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 {3}, his blog/novel of the deindustrial future. 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.





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Top US Healthcare Giant: GMOs Are Devastating Health

by Anthony Gucciardi

Natural Society (November 27 2012)

Just days after a leading genetically modified organism (GMO) researcher spoke out against GMOs and how many pro-GMO ‘scientists’ are in bed with Monsanto or carry their own GMO patents, the largest managed healthcare provider in the United States is now publicly speaking out against GMOs. In a recent newsletter, the Kaiser Permanente company discussed the numerous dangers of GMOs in a recent newsletter and how to avoid them.

Explaining how GM ingredients have been linked to tumors and organ damage in rats in the only lifelong rat study available, the newsletter highlighted how the only real long- term research indicates that GMOs are a serious health danger. The newsletter, which you can view here, states:

Despite what the biotech industry might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health. Independent research has found several varieties of GMO corn caused organ damage in rats. Other studies have found that GMOs may lead to an inability in animals to reproduce.

Top Health Giant Says Buy Organic for Proper Health

The newsletter then goes on to tell readers how they can avoid GMOs in their food through buying high quality organic and looking for other non-GMO indicators.

It is important to remember the organic labeling meanings when shopping organic, however, which this newsletter unfortunately does not address. Make sure you know which ‘level’ of organic you are consuming:

* Products labeled ‘100% organic’ – These items are made with 100% organic ingredients and are the highest quality organic products you can purchase. No GMOs are allowed.

* Labeled ‘organic’ – These products are to contain at least 95% organic ingredients overall. Still no GMOs are allowed.

* ‘Made with ‘organic ingredients’ – This is the lowest form of organic content. This label is only required to contain seventy percent organic ingredients, meaning that the remaining thirty percent can be conventional. The conventional items, however, are not allowed to contain GMOs. These products don’t qualify for the USDA seal, whereas the previous two do.

You can also look for the ‘Non-GMO Verified’ logo on food items to be sure that they are GMO free.

But why does a major corporation care that you are eating GMOs? Well the fact of the matter is that the research (and common sense – eating pesticide factories mixed with the DNA of viruses isn’t going to end well) indicates GMOs are causing problematic health conditions across the board. Of course the issue lies in the fact that GMOs are not immediately considered as a cause and actually influence disease through a series of complications that are not easy to trace. But as the only lifelong study has showed us, fifty percent of male and seventy percent of female rats died prematurely when consuming GMOs.

And the bottom line is that this is costing Kaiser Permanente. If members of the healthcare juggernaut were to switch to high quality organic foods free of GMOs, pesticides, mercury-containing high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners, then Kaiser would be dishing out millions upon millions less for healthcare costs.

More and more organizations and individuals alike are speaking out against GMOs and the effects of GMO consumption as the evidence becomes more and more clear on a daily basis. Perhaps next time Monsanto tries to push a new outlandish creation into the food supply they will be met with crushing opposition thanks to a global increase in awareness.


Anthony Gucciard is an accomplished investigative journalist whose articles have appeared on top news sites and have been read by millions worldwide. Anthony’s articles have been featured on top health & political websites read by millions worldwide such as Reuters, Yahoo News, MSNBC, and Bloomberg. Anthony is also a founding member of Natural Attitude, a leading developer of super high quality spagyric formulations.

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The Practice of Anarchy

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (November 20 2012)

In my previous three-part series on anarchy {1, 2, 3} I argued, among other things, that anarchic (that is to say, non-hierarchical and self-organizing) systems are the norm in evolution and in nature and have also been the norm in human societies through much of their existence. They have a great deal to offer us as we attempt to navigate a landscape dominated by the failure of various centrally controlled, rigidly organized, explicitly codified hierarchical systems based on complex chains of command that have come to dominate human societies in recent centuries. I have also pointed out that, based on recent results from complexity theory, such hierarchical systems are collapse-prone. This is because they scale badly, increasing their metabolic cost per unit size as their size increases, which is just the opposite of how living organisms behave. This is also because, in order to continue to meet their internal maintenance requirements, they have to grow exponentially until they encounter physical limits.

But, as some astute readers have pointed out, what are we to do with all this excellent information? We live in a hierarchically structured society whose sometimes oppressive but always ever-present top-down authority we cannot escape. With many generations of people having become used to hearing anarchists vilified as terrorists, communist revolutionaries and having been conditioned to accept anarchy as a synonym for chaos and mayhem, any attempt at advocating anarchism as a political program is bound to go nowhere. We may be able to accept that anarchy is the way of nature, but we must also accept that it is no longer (at least for the time being) the way of human nature – or, if you like, not the way of man – or at least not the way of “the man” – the one who pays us a little something if we are helpful to him and orders us to be beat up or locked up if we are not. The advocate of anarchy is at best an amusing disembodied voice on the Internet (who must be dong something or other more practical to please the hierarchy in order to be able to afford the free time and the Internet connection). At worst, the compulsion to advocate anarchism as a program of political reform is a sign of mental illness.

Yes, the advocate of anarchist revolution is a sad sort of imbecile, but this is not to say that the theory that underpins anarchism is without any practical applications. It is just that such applications have nothing at all to do with politics. Just as anarchist thinking has at its source the scientific observation of nature, so must its applications to contemporary society start by observing the constructive role that anarchy normally plays within contemporary society, and then look for ways to extend it. Are there any examples of that? Yes, indeed there are. Whenever an existing hierarchically organized system becomes sufficiently ossified and dysfunctional to give an obvious edge to an improvised, anarchic, perhaps initially inferior alternative, there is a possibility that such an alternative will materialize out of nowhere, spread virally, become dominant, and then, in turn, become hierarchical and ossified. Let’s list some obvious examples.

The Protestant revolution is an obvious one. Once the Catholic church – a hierarchical organization par excellence, though built on top of the wreckage of anarchic early Christianity – became sufficiently corrupt and obnoxious, putting up toll booths before the gates of heaven and so forth, a variety of new self-selected religious leaders led a revolt, providing viable, though rather primitive, alternatives, which then took over in many parts of the world, and eventually sprouted their own hierarchical structures thanks to the efforts of Luther. The Russian revolution is another one: once the general senility and obsolescence of the Czarist ancien regime became compounded by its failed effort durng World War One to a point where it could no longer quell bread riots, a variety of new self-selected political leaders stepped into the breach and provided an alternative, until it, again, sprouted a hierarchical organization of its own thanks to the efforts of Lenin. Seventy years later the stiff and morbid hierarchy into which it evolved was also tipped into the dustbin. More recently, when the first efforts at trade liberalization provided advantages of economies of scale, as well as labor and jurisdictional arbitrage, with which national enterprises could not compete, the trend became unstoppable, until there is now a single transnational business environment which is beyond any one nation’s control. If history is any guide (as it sometimes is) the inevitable result will be that a dangerously centralized global economic bureaucracy, conceived in an effort to control the forces of chaos globalization has unleashed, will briefly attempt to dominate the scene before crumbling into dust under its own weight.

Equally significant (and somewhat less fraught) examples of anarchy in action can be found in the area of computer technology. There was a time when computers made by different manufacturers came with their own different and incompatible operating systems. The manufacturers liked this state of affairs, in spite of the fact that it greatly inconvenienced the users, because it created lock-in: switching from one manufacturer to another involved expensive and time-consuming rewriting of software. Then it just happened that two minds at Bell Labs dreamt up a very simple and primitive operating system called Unix (its very name was initially a joke) which was written in a language called C that ran on a lot of different computers – and virally took over the world. Then Unix became a commercial product, instantly going from anarchical and free to hierarchical and expensive. But anarchy triumphed again when it was rewritten, through various efforts, in a way that pried it away from grubby corporate hands. A big role in all this was played by self-selected leaders. Richard Stallman’s GNU project (the acronym stands for “GNU is Not Unix”) created gcc, a free C compiler, and rewrote a great many Unix utilities to be free as well. Linux Torvalds, a graduate student in Finland, didn’t like the Windows system that his university-provided PC was running (he thought it was crap) and so he wrote the Linux operating system that leveraged GNU, creating a Unix variant that initially ran on PCs, but now runs inside a great many devices, from Android smartphones to WiFi routers to the Google search engine to virtually all of the world’s supercomputers. Eventually even Apple Computer saw the light, and its OS/X is a Unix variant. Unix is now ubiquitous, and the last non-Unix holdout is Microsoft, which is now clearly a dinosaur and sinking fast, while Linux-based Google and Unix-based Apple are eating its lunch. It started out as a joke and then went viral and took over: score one for anarchy.

There are many other such examples from many fields, but the pattern should already be clear: when a hierarchical organization – be it a church, a government or a corporation – creates a structural impediment, and when a solution is found to circumvent that structural impediment, even if it is just a quick and dirty one, a leader self-selects to create that alternative. If the effort is a success and the alternative takes root and becomes rampant, in due course it gives rise to a hierarchical organization of its own. In an effort to expand and consolidate its control over the newly created domain, that organization then sets its sights on crafting a new set of structural impediments. But in due course the deathly touch of hierarchy takes its toll, and then the cycle repeats. There doesn’t seem to be a lot that can be done to break the cycle, although there is a way to stretch it out by placing the new invention in the public domain (in software, this is done via the General Public License and a few others) or by declaring it an open, public standard. This has the effect of negating, or at least reducing, the undue influence of any one corporate entity, and this is almost always helpful because, first, corporations tend to be short-lived entities, and their influence shortens the lifetime of the invention, and second, corporations pursue profit by any means, such as by working against the interests others. But any significant invention is bound, over time, to come under the control of industry consortia, standards bodies, government regulators and other hierarchical entities, which eventually kill it. They may kill it with diligence or with neglect, but kill it they do, because in order for something to live forever and evolve freely it has to be organized anarchically, and that is a form of organization of which hierarchical organizations happen to be incapable.

I hope that this makes it clear what the practice of anarchism looks like. First of all, someone must lead; not seek a leadership position, not attempt to take charge or seize control, but simply go right ahead and start doing what needs to be done without asking anyone’s permission. The goal is to create a viable alternative of which others can avail themselves freely. But in order for this to succeed, the target must be chosen well: a significant structural impediment that can be circumvented with finite effort. Working either entirely by yourself (in secret if need be) or with a few informal helpers, to craft a quick and dirty solution that nevertheless embodies the right set of concepts to scale up and take over is quite a feat, and few people are capable of it, but it is nevertheless something that happens quite a lot.

The best targets are ones that can be circumvented through individual or small group effort, with minimal start-up costs and where the alternative can spread virally. And the worst? Well, they generally require proposing a package of reforms, organizing politically, engaging in group planning activities, lobbying government and so forth. As Peter Kropotkin put it over a century ago,

It’s about time we learned that such is the fate of all revolutionary laws: they are enacted only once they have become the established practice.

So, start practicing!





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Scientist: Many Pro-GMO Corporate Biologists Own GMO Patents …

… [and are] in Bed with Monsanto

by Anthony Gucciardi

Natural Society (November 25 2012, Updated November 26 2012)

The lead researcher behind the monumental study that linked Monsanto’s GMOs and best-selling herbicide Roundup to tumor development {1} and early death is now blowing the whistle on many corporate scientists who are not just close to Monsanto and profit-harvesting GMO crops – many of them actually have or are seeking their own GMO patents. These patents, of course, enable them to make bountiful amounts of cash. Other corporate scientists are on (or ‘were’ at one point) Monsanto’s pay roll, including former Monsanto executive turned Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA Michael R Taylor {2}.

Dr Gilles-Eric Seralini {3}, a French scientist who has been under assault from Monsanto and pro-GMO scientists, was responsible for perhaps the largest awakening over the dangers of Monsanto’s GMO foods that we have ever seen. Not only did the public begin to further recognize the existence and threat of GMOs thanks to his research, but numerous countries like Russia and others actually enacted a suspension {4} on the import of genetically modified maize due to public health concerns.

This, of course, upset the Monsanto-funded corporate scientists who proverbially ‘unleashed the dogs’ on Dr Seralini. Even Monsanto released a comment, stating that the lifelong rat study wasn’t sufficient to substantiate any real health concerns. The company itself, amazingly, only conducted a ninety day trial period for its GMOs before unleashing them on the public.

Previous Peer-Reviewed Evidence Highlighting GMO Danger Ignored by ‘Scientists’

It’s important to remember that Seralini’s work may be the most popular within the media, but it’s not the only research linking GMOs and Roundup to serious health effects. Monsanto and fellow goons failed to mention this truth, especially the fact that Monsanto’s Roundup has been associated with over 29 negative health conditions {5} according to peer-reviewed studies available on PubMed. And these conditions are nothing minor. Health effects linked to Roundup include:

* Cancer

* Parkinson’s

* DNA damage

* Low testosterone

* Liver damage

* Infertility

* Endocrine disease

These are serious disorders that result from the very Roundup that is used on crops by farmers worldwide before hitting your dinner table. In fact an increased amount of usage is now needed thanks to ineffective GMO crops that are now being eaten by mutated superbugs that have developed a resistance to Monsanto’s built-in GMO pesticides. Roundup covered crops that eventually land on dinner tables worldwide.

But perhaps very few scientists around the globe actually dare speak about these dangers due to the overwhelming political influence Monsanto and other biotech companies have over nations around the globe. We know thanks to 2007 WikiLeaks cables {6} that not only are most if not all US ambassadors on Monsanto payroll, but that prominent US political figures have threatened nations who oppose Monsanto with ‘military-style trade wars’. A threat that has managed to strike fear into many nations who would not risk massive retaliation from the United States.

Now, however, the awareness has grown stronger than ever before and consumers worldwide are taking a stand. A stand that countries around the globe can no longer ignore, nor can corrupt corporate scientists dissipate through phony bought-and-paid-for garbage science.









Anthony Gucciardi is an accomplished investigative journalist whose articles have been featured on top health & political websites read by millions worldwide such as Reuters, Yahoo News, MSNBC, and Bloomberg. Anthony is also a founding member of Natural Attitude, a leading developer of super high quality spagyric formulations.

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Retributive Warfare

Mistaking Killing and Revenge for Justice

by John Kozy

Global Research (November 12 2012)

Much is being written both for and against America’s use of drones to assassinate those whom Americans consider to be anti-American combatants. Although there is no doubt on which side the moral arguments lie, what’s being written strikes me as nugatory. Pious platitudes, legalistic niceties, and sophistical rationalizations appear to be written by the guilty to convince themselves that they are not the people evil to the marrow that they are, and the dying and the dead couldn’t care less. To them, being killed by a bullet or a bomb fired from an AK-47 or a drone makes no difference whatsoever. Dead is dead. Death cannot be sanitized by pronouncements.

The so called advantages of using drones to kill are undeniable; so are the disadvantages. Arguing about these is futile. The fundamental question is not about the advantages or disadvantages of the means, it is about the rightness or wrongness of the end. In the end, what good does killing do?

Although no one seems to have noted it, I find it interesting that so many of Al-Qaeda’s “senior commanders” were killed by drones while Osama bin Laden, once located and identified, was not. Why? Was it because killing by drone is too unreliable to be trusted for the task? In fact, killing from the air is always unreliable. During World War Two, American pilots often mistakenly attacked American instead of German positions. In Paths of Death and Glory (2003), Charles Whiting quoted people as having said,


American pilots are idiots.This has happened so often that maybe the US should rethink the whole ‘flying’ thing. Obviously they can’t do it worth a damn,


and the American Ninth Air Force, which flew out of England, was nicknamed the American Luftwaffe because it regularly mistakenly bombed American troops in Normandy. Just imagine the propaganda catastrophe that would have resulted if a drone had been used and missed or killed bin Laden’s wives and children but not him. The entire rationale for the drone program would have been shattered  So as good as drones are, there were not good enough for Osama bin Laden.

Air weapons, as the Germans refer to them, have always been oversold. Their effectiveness has never been established. The military impact of air raids has been the subject of decades of controversy. In World War Two, RAF Bomber Command destroyed a significant portion of Nazi Germany’s industry, many German cities including Cologne and Dresden, and caused the deaths of up to 600,000 civilians. The stated aim of the offensive was to break the morale of the German working class and it failed miserably.

The indiscriminate nature of the bombing, the heavy civilian casualties and damage stiffened German resistance. Even the effect of Bomber Command’s attacks on industrial production was not major, as little as three percent in some years. This lack of success is generally admitted even though Bomber Command was undeniably massively destructive. Many believe that the bombing of Dresden, when the war was essentially over and which killed 25,000 people, symbolizes the ruthlessness and pointlessness of bombing campaigns. Numerous people, including military officials alive at the time, also questioned the need to atom bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki since it was obvious that Japan had been completely defeated by then. The goal of those bombings was merely the utter destruction of two cities and more than 150,000 civilian lives. Although never admitted, the goal was merely retribution.

The American bombing of Hanoi during the Vietnamese War was similarly ineffective. As with the people of London during the Blitz in World War Two, the more America bombed the North, the more the resolve of the people grew. More to the point, the two bombing campaigns against the North resulted from the realization that the war was not being won, and they failed to have any notable effect on the war’s progress. Olof Palme, the Prime Minister of Sweden, compared the bombing to a number of historical atrocities including the bombing of Guernica, the massacres of Oradour-sur-Glane, Babi Yar, Katyn, Lidice, and Sharpeville, and the extermination of Jews and other groups at Treblinka.

Bombing has no function in wars of conquest. Bombers cannot be used to hold territory, but they can destroy everything in it. Air weapons are clearly only destructive. And the destruction clearly has only one function. Although America’s military claims that American war is waged to destroy the enemy’s ability to resist, the real purpose of war from the air is to punish those who dare to resist American ambitions. It is meant merely to punish, to destroy and kill, and the killing of civilians has always been an element of wars of plunder. The lesson air war tries to teach is, Resist Uncle Sam at your peril! But consider this:

In the fourteenth century, a Mongol called Amir Timur conquered a vast empire that stretched from Russia to India and from the Mediterranean to Mongolia. The purpose of his conquests was merely to pillage and plunder. He is remembered in history as a brutal barbarian who razed cities and put entire populations to death, using the victims’ skulls to build grisly towers and pyramids. The rulers of Europe trembled at the idea that Timur’s hordes were at their borders and sent embassies hoping to avoid attacks. In Western history, he is known as Tamerlane.

No essential difference separates the actions of Tamerlane from those of Britain’s Bomber Command or American air wars. Western civilization today uses air weapons as Tamerlane used swords to intimidate and punish those who have the audacity of defy it. In cultures whose goal is plunder, human life has no value. Plunder is more valuable than life. The progress of Western Civilization stalled in the 14th century. Today our plundering elite still live in it.

So arguing over the rightness or wrongness of the use of drones is meaningless. Drones are not evil; killing is! As long as ordinary people acquiesce in the killing carried out by their governments, if drones aren’t used, some other instruments of murder will be.

Ordinary people living in the West and perhaps everywhere are generally of the opinion that government exists for their benefit and security. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ordinary people exist merely to carry out the aims of governments. Now it is being claimed that the aim of government is to preserve life by killing, and most of us are dumb enough to believe it. How else can you explain the American government’s willingness to send more than 4,000 young Americans to their deaths and the maiming of tens of thousands more to avenge the deaths of fewer than 3,000?


John Kozy is a retired professor of philosophy and logic who writes on social, political, and economic issues. After serving in the US Army during the Korean War, he spent twenty years as a university professor and another twenty years working as a writer. He has published a textbook in formal logic commercially, in academic journals and a small number of commercial magazines, and has written a number of guest editorials for newspapers. His on-line pieces can be found on and he can be emailed from that site’s homepage.

For media inquiries:

Copyright (c) John Kozy, Global Research, 2012

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Puppet State America

by Paul Craig Roberts

Institute for Political Economy (November 19 2012)

The United States government and its subject peoples think of the US as “the world’s only superpower”. But how is a country a superpower when its entire government and a majority of the subjects, especially those members of evangelical churches, grovel at the feet of the Israeli Prime Minister? How is a country a superpower when it lacks the power to determine its own foreign policy in the Middle East? Such a country is not a superpower. It is a puppet state.

In the past few days we have witnessed, yet again, the “American superpower” groveling at Netanyahu’s feet. When Netanyahu decided to again murder the Palestinian women and children of Gaza, to further destroy what remains of the social infrastructure of the Gaza Ghetto, and to declare Israeli war crimes and Israeli crimes against humanity to be merely the exercise of “self-defense”, the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, the White House, and the US media all promptly declared their support for Netanyahu’s crimes.

On November 16 the Congress of the “superpower”, both House and Senate, passed overwhelmingly the resolutions written for them by AIPAC, the Israel Lobby known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the only foreign agent that is not required to register as a foreign agent. The Global News Service of the Jewish People reported their power over Washington with pride {1}.  Both Democrats and Republicans shared the dishonor of serving Israel and evil instead of America and justice for the Palestinians.

The White House quickly obeyed the summons from the Israel Lobby. President Obama announced that he is “fully supportive” of Israel’s assault on Gaza. Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told the media on November 17 that the White House “wants the same thing as the Israelis want”. This is an overstatement as many Israelis oppose the crimes of the Israeli government, which is not the government of Israel but the government of the “settlers”, that is, the crazed land-hungry immigrants who are illegally, with Netanyahu’s support, stealing the lands of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s Israel is the equivalent of the Lincoln Republicans 150 years ago. Then there was no international law to protect Southern states, who left the voluntary union, a right under the Constitution, in order to avoid being exploited by Northern business interests. Subsequently, the Union army, after devastating the South, turned on the American Indians, and there was no international law to protect American Indians from being murdered and dispossessed by Washington’s armies.

Washington claimed that its invasion forces were threatened by the Indian’s bows and arrows. Today there is international law to protect the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza. However, every time that the world tries to hold the Israeli government accountable for its crimes, Israel’s Washington puppet vetoes the UN decision.

The notion that Israel is threatened by Palestinians is as absurd as the notion that the US is threatened by Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, and Iran. No government of any of these countries has ever made a threatening statement against the US. Even had such a statement been made, it would be meaningless. If a Superpower can be threatened by such impotent and distant counties, then it is not a superpower.

Demonizing a victim is a way of hiding state crimes. The American print and TV media is useless as a check on state crimes. The only crimes reported by the media are assigned to “terrorists”, that is, those who resist US hegemony, and to Americans, such as Bradley Manning and Sibel Edmonds, who liberate truth from official secrecy. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks remains in danger despite the asylum granted to him by the President of Ecuador, as Washington has little regard for international law.

In the US the exercise of the First Amendment is coming to be regarded as a crime against the state. The purpose of the media is no longer to find the truth, but to protect official lies. Speaking the truth has essentially disappeared as it is too costly to journalist who dare to do so. To keep one’s job, one serves Washington and the private interest groups that Washington serves.

In his November 19 defense of Israel’s latest war crimes, President Obama said: “no country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down from outside its borders”. But, of course, numerous countries do tolerate missiles raining down from the US. The war criminal Obama is raining down missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, and has rained missiles on Libya, Somalia, Iraq and Syria as well. Iran might be next.

The German assault on the Warsaw Ghetto is one of the horror stories of Jewish history. Such an event is happening again, only this time Jews are perpetrators instead of victims. No hand has been raised to stay Israel from the goal of the operation declared by Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai to be “to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages” {2}.




Copyright (c) 2012 All rights reserved.

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Guard Labor and Open Source

2012/11/27 3 comments

by mtraven

Omniorthogonal (February 20 2010)

Life is intrinsically boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.

— Edward Gorey

According to this paper by Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev {1}, an astonishing 26% of the US workforce in 2002 was engaged in non-productive “guard labor”, meaning their work was not directed towards producing goods or services but was instead aimed at making sure that the wrong people did not help themselves to slices of economic pie that they were not supposed to have.

Compare this to eleven percent in contemporaneous Sweden, or seven percent in the US in 1929.

I’d argue with some of the definitions and methodology in the paper, in both directions. For instance, supervisors are the largest category of guard labor, but it’s hard to say that all of management is non-productive – they aren’t all PHBs [The pointy-haired boss is Dilbert’s boss in the Dilbert comic strip], many make creating contributions other than merely riding herd on their employees (that is, they are thinking of someone like a low-level manager in a call center whose only job is to make sure employees don’t stay too long on their bathroom breaks – but there is also, say, Steve Jobs). On the other hand, there are entire industries that are effectively engaged in guard labor that are not counted in Bowles and Jayadev’s measure, such as health insurance. And the finance industry is neither productive nor guard labor (I wonder what percentage of the economy is skimmers and con artists?). {2}

Prisoners and the unemployed are also counted in the numbers for guard labor, because the concept depends on the idea of power and sanction, and prisoners and the unemployed are considered “necessary concomitants of the public and private sanctioning systems, respectively”. This struck me as odd, but makes some sense when taking a macroeconomic point of view – both the guards and the prisoners are people who are not doing actual economically productive work – their labor is wasted as a direct result of the fact that the social system of power and property needs to be upheld.

Ideally we would also include those producing guns for private use, locks, security systems and the like, but we are not able to do so because of the lack of data.

The need for guard labor is related to the broader goal of understanding the role of institutions in the role of managing and reproducing the economic activity of society:

The insight we wish to develop is that securing conformity to institutions can be quite costly, and the cost differs among institutions and across time and space. Conformity achieved through the coordination of expectations or the internalization of norms, for example, may not be very costly, as in the case of driving on one side of the road or the other, or the voluntary compliance with tax laws in some countries. However,where conformity to a society’s institutions is secured primarily through governmental coercion or privately deployed sanctions, the resource costs may be substantial. Examples include some authoritarian political systems, colonial regimes, and as we will see, highly unequal capitalist economies.

Intuitively, the more inequality in a society, the more guard labor it requires. There’s a convincing scatterplot of GINI versus guard labor fraction by US state included in this quite good profile of Bowles in a Santa Fe paper {3}.

Prior to about twenty years ago, most economists thought that inequality just greased the wheels of progress. Overwhelmingly now, people who study it empirically think that its sand in the wheels.

Here’s the last paragraph of the paper:

Fourth, illegitimate inequalities are costly to sustain. While cultures often justify vast differences in power and access to valued resources, the mind is not a blank slate on which such ideas as the divine right of kings or the superiority of the white race can be etched at will. Two decades of behavioral experiments have provided convincing evidence that humans in dozens of cultures are inequality averse, and that violations of norms or reciprocity often lead to costly conflicts.

Of course the counterargument to the view that guard labor is mere friction is pretty easy to make – that all this guarding is actually necessary to make producers productive, via incentives and structuring. The ticket-taker at the movie theater produces nothing, but without the efforts of him and others, the actual movie-makers could not get paid and could not raise capital to produce anything. It might be more efficient to have a different scheme, for instance having entrance to the movies be free and producers supported by the government via taxation. That may sound absurd or totalitarian but just such a change is happening in academic publishing via the Open Access movement and free-access journals like PLoS {4}. Institutions that did nothing but provide proprietary guards over content (like my former employer Elsevier) are on their way out.

In fact, the whole free/open source movement in software and elsewhere may be seen as a response to the unpleasantness of guard labor. Proprietary software requires licensing schemes (ticket-takers) that cause new bugs, interfere with legitimate uses, and more generally cause friction. More broadly, locking software behind a pay wall reduces the amount of sharing and requires frequent reinvention of the wheel. It’s inefficient, and this drives engineers crazy. Most of the time they don’t get to vote, but the FOSS movement arose as a direct response to some of the unpleasantness surrounding proprietary software and has in its way been amazingly successful.

Guard labor is in its most purest and most apparently wasteful form when it is guarding digital content {5}. The question is why then, if our economy is more involved in producing content than ever before, is the fraction of guard labor so high? I suppose it is also true that guarding digital content takes more effort than guarding physical objects – how much of the fraction is RIAA lawyers, or the army of private detectives employed by Monsanto {6} to sue small farmers who allegedly use their genetically modified seed without paying (genes are basically digital content – and I just watched Food, Inc {7} which goes into this story). Monsanto, like DRM, is friction, but capitalists would argue that it such friction is necessary to spur production. But there can’t be all that many people employed doing this kind of work.

I was around for the birth of the open source movement and efficiency really had nothing to do with it – it was a moral struggle, based on the anguish of the excluded when a once open resource suddenly being subject to enclosure and guarding. But its ongoing success happened because of efficiency and the self-interest of software producers and companies. It is interesting to hear arguments for more general economic equality and openness, usually derived from a moral or emotional basis, being made on the basis of macro-scale efficiency.

Editor: I was constructively flaming Bowles’ frequent collaborator Herbert Gintis on open-source here {8}.










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