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      Optimizing Change through Clarity of Awareness and Right Action

                                                                     An Earth Manifesto essay by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                                            June 1, 2008

CHANGE was the new mantra on the campaign trail after an unprecedented turnout of voters in early presidential caucuses and primaries.  Capitalizing on the clamor for change, all candidates for the position of President claimed to represent the veritable voice of change.  They all said they are the best vehicle for implementing change.  They all declared, disingenuously, that they are strong advocates for change, ‘24/7, 365’, yes siree! 

The public seemingly senses that low voter turnout in the past two presidential elections has helped allow our political system to be hijacked by a regressive coalition of ideologues who have worked tirelessly against the best interests of the majority.  High turnouts in the 2008 primary elections were therefore not surprising.  It was a positive portent that heightened civic concerns in the workings of our government were revitalizing our democracy.  This presented a good opportunity for large scale systemic changes to be made.  We have a compelling need for such reforms in order to more fairly and effectively cope with daunting challenges. 

People are beginning to recognize that there is a critical need for new directions in both domestic and foreign policies.  It has becoming apparent that business-as-usual policies are failing --- failing the young, failing the majority, failing the middle class, failing women, failing the poor, and failing future generations.

Albert Einstein once observed that “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  I strongly believe that we must collectively find better ways of ensuring the general good.  The best way to do this is to strike a more reasonable and fairer balance between competing interests.

“You can't depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.”

                                                                                                       --- Mark Twain

The need is becoming obvious for us to choose leaders who we can trust to unite us in doing the right things, leaders who will lead us in the right direction.  We are tired of being cleverly divided in order for wrong-headed, shortsighted and unfair policies to be perpetuated.  More than three-fourths of all Americans now feel that our country is headed in the wrong direction under current leadership.

Professor Jared Diamond wrote a book titled Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which he explains his findings from a study of many different civilizations throughout history.  He concludes that resource mismanagement has been a common factor in the decline and collapse of many societies.  The professor contends that, to prosper and survive, we must think long-term and plan ahead with better foresight.  He further indicates that we must be willing to reconsider core values, ones that may have served society well, once those values become outmoded and detrimental due to changing circumstances or deteriorating environmental conditions.

Global trends reveal that the human race is living in ways that are unsustainable.  Our behaviors are seriously damaging the ecological systems upon which we ultimately depend.  We have essentially seized the responsibility for the stewardship of the Earth, yet instead of protecting Creation we are carelessly harming and mismanaging it.  We are allowing narrow interests to exploit it to the detriment of the common good.  We are inadvertently damaging ‘the commons’ by devastating old-growth forests, overfishing the seas, overusing and degrading fresh water sources, depleting mineral resources, causing topsoil erosion, fighting ruthless resource wars, and contributing to ominous increases in atmospheric and ocean temperatures worldwide. 

Our actions are effectively fleecing future generations of a fair legacy of adequate resources and healthy ecosystems.  We are extensively endangering our own well-being as well as that of our communities and our descendents.  And we are imperiling thousands of species of life, driving many to extinction.  

Insights into Causes and Consequences of Shortsighted Activities

There is a distinct conundrum in human affairs that Robert Reich discusses in detail in his recent book Supercapitalism.  As consumers, we generally want good deals and cheap prices.  This is why CostCo and Wal-Mart have been so successful.  In our roles as investors and speculators, we want the best possible returns on our investments.  In contrast, as citizens we want to have important things that are often contrary to what we want as consumers and investors.  We want healthy communities and social justice, for instance.  We want good quality public education and a fair shake for workers.  We want affordable health care for all.  We want at least a minimal social safety net, and safeguards of our liberties, and equitable institutions, and clean air and water, and protected public lands and parks and open spaces. 

In other words, as consumers and investors we DO NOT want products and services to contain all of the costs of a healthy society, because we want prices to remain low and profits to be high.  As citizens, however, we DO want prices to include the fair and sane treatment of workers and sensible protections for communities and the environment.  Over the last few decades, things have gotten better for consumers and investors in many ways, but worse for citizens. 

The economic ideology that dominates our society shrewdly advocates that the benefits of capitalism should be privatized, while as many costs as possible should be socialized.  This is an irresponsible course of action.  Big corporations are allowed to externalize enormous costs onto society such as those related to the welfare of workers and to resource depletion and environmental damages.  Also, corporations have used ideology, powerful influence and institutional mechanisms to reduce the amount of federal taxes they pay.  The Congressional Budget Office reports that American corporations are paying 60% less of the share of the federal budget that they paid in 1960. 

Businesses have managed to gain such privileges by using the influence of lobbyists to get direct subsidies and favorable tax loopholes.  They shelter profits through accelerated depreciation and a wide variety of special perks.  Many big corporations evade taxes by using offshore tax shelters.  By allowing these corporate gambits, we give benefits to established industries at the expense of small businesses and innovative companies that are struggling to compete.  This discourages new technologies and more efficient production methods.  It also foolishly delays the development of better, more energy efficient and ‘greener’ products. 

It should come as no surprise that oil companies, with their powerful influence in the Bush Administration, are making the biggest profits in world history and that they have a much lower effective income tax rate than other kinds of corporations.  We should change this.  Instead of allowing generous oil depletion allowances and other tax breaks and subsidies, these companies should be taxed so that the proceeds can be used to contribute to the development of alternatives and to mitigate the harmful effects of the combustion of their products.  See the Earth Manifesto essay ‘The Reality and Ramifications of Peak Oil’ for a better understanding of these issues.

Corporate Domination of Our Politics

Our political system can much more accurately be understood as a form of ‘corporatism’ than as a fairly representative democracy.  Corporations have much greater influence than citizens.  Corporations control decision-making and the legislative process through insider access and big money contributions.  These are forms of institutional bribery.  The corporate strategy of obtaining tax breaks and other benefits, and profiting from government largess, allows companies to charge lower prices and make bigger profits for their shareholders.  By externalizing costs onto society and paying less tax, corporations effectively understate the costs of their products.  This affects resource allocations, and it upsets rational forces involved in supply and demand.  Thus it perverts the free market system.  To create a far better system, we need to ensure that all products are required to fairly include all costs related to their production, plus a fair share of taxes.

The compulsion to make ever-bigger profits is the corporate bottom line.  The corporate mission is to maximize profits;  it is the corporate reason for being.  It is even the legal mandate for corporations.  This precedent was established by a Michigan Supreme Court ruling in the Dodge vs. Ford Motor Company case in 1919.  By failing to require fairer rules and regulations, the government allows corporate America to diminish and undermine almost everything we want as good citizens.  This creates colossal challenges and presents us with profound existential dilemmas both domestically and abroad.

Why do we allow corporations to fleece us with these strategies?  Why do we let the Establishment stand in the path of creating better societies?  Why do we hype growth and create speculative bubbles?  The reason seems to be simple, and narrowly focused:  we do this to benefit CEO’s, investors and speculators, often at the cost of the greater good.  It is because of inertia, complacency, fear of change, ignorance, delusion, self-deception, emotionality and vested interest opposition that we allow entrenched interests to impede the causes of fairness and progress and farsighted planning.  We have the power to change this system, but to begin to make this change we need to be clear about its true nature.

Robert Reich notes that “The only way for the citizens in us to trump the consumers and investors in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases and investments a social choice as well as a personal one.”  We must redesign our laws and restructure our economies and institutions with this in mind. 

The brilliantly sensible businessman and author Paul Hawken wrote the following in his important book, The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability:

“We must design a system … where doing good is like falling off a log, where the natural, everyday acts of work and life accumulate into a better world as a matter of course, not a matter of conscious altruism.”

The fairest way to adjudicate between competing interests is to have fair institutions and fair laws that are fairly applied with the purpose of securing the best interests of the common good over the longest period of time. 

It is vital that we perceive reality in ways that accurately correspond to the way things really are.  We should articulate clear and realistic ideas and understandings in our own minds.  We must upend prevailing selfish ideologies and embrace a new worldview in which broadminded and progressive ideas reign.  Regressive ideas have been discredited;  they must now be emasculated.  All of the extensive and wide-ranging essays in the Earth Manifesto provide insights into pragmatic ways that we should be going about achieving this.  As Barack Obama has said, "We can't just tell people what they want to hear, we need to tell people what they need to hear.  We need to tell them the truth!"

The proverbial ‘invisible hand’ of free markets, as enunciated by the famous economist Adam Smith in 1776, has been insidiously manipulated in capitalist societies by hidden hands that sanctify greed and profiteering and militarism at the expense of the common good.  Whereas Adam Smith believed strongly that the welfare of whole of society would be improved by private interests and self-motivated behavior, he did not foresee that social and environmental ills of industrialization would be exacerbated by abuses of power that are inherent in human nature and capitalist systems.  He also did not imagine the degree to which the masses would be manipulated and disenfranchised by the corrupting influence of Big Money, powerful vested interests, and marketing on political decisions. 

The Current State of Affairs

Financial markets began to panic in early 2008 due to the bursting of the housing bubble and a related credit crisis and American trade and debt imbalances.  Stock market volatility has become pronounced on stock exchanges worldwide.  The Federal Reserve made an unprecedented emergency interest rate cut of three-quarters of a percent on January 22, 2008, and another half percent on January 30th, and more since then.  Congress and the White House jumped on the bandwagon to stimulate the economy to prevent recession. 

The rare bipartisan eagerness to compromise on an economic stimulus package in this election year is criticized by some insightful observers.  Why?  Because it emphasizes the same old shortsighted ideas and failing ideologies.  A substantial portion of the bright ideas advocated by Republicans emphasize economic stimulus in the form of tax cuts and depreciation write-off perks for big businesses.  Fairer Democratic ideas include helping people who are losing their homes and giving the neediest people tax rebates and better unemployment benefits and additional food stamp assistance. 

All of these stimulus ideas involve short-term goals, not investments in competitiveness or structural solutions or sustainable economic strength.  Wiser ideas would include investing in public works like renewable energy, mass transit, infrastructure repairs, improvements to public schools, green building initiatives, small business incentives, and providing help to hard-hit States by giving them more federal budget assistance.  Economic bailout ideas target investors and consumers, but as usual ignore the more important good citizen goals adduced above. 

After World War II, the United States strived for multilateralism and democratic government for the benefit of all, including a large middle class.  Initiatives such as the G.I. Bill helped to create a prosperous and healthy middle class.  Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the ascendance of narrower conservative ideas, however, this orientation towards fairness has given way to government for vested interests by small elites of privileged people.  Corporations have gained too much power, and this has resulted in a variety of dysfunctional outcomes, including the aforementioned foolish externalizing of worker and environmental costs onto society.  The consequence is the rise of a new ‘Gilded Age’ in which social inequities have multiplied, and economic insecurities have markedly increased, and our supporting environment is under increasingly furious assault. 

Many types of thinking and activities have gotten us into the dangerous state of affairs in which we currently find ourselves.  The status quo has developed in tandem with wrong-headed priorities, shortsighted economic policies, fiscal irresponsibility, and political expediencies that pander to entrenched interests.  The resulting abuse of power has facilitated the exploitation of workers and resources.  These trends are contrary to the greater good. 

Most of our leaders are insular and shortsighted in their thinking.  They inflexibly and stubbornly embrace narrow ideological convictions.  They are closed-minded and not responsive to the best interests of the majority of people.  By rationalizing greed and preemptive warfare, for instance, people in the Bush Administration undermined our national integrity and our safety.  They have perverted the true sense of justice on the international stage and actual well-being for the majority in the domestic arena. 

In another vital regard, our leaders are helping to create conditions of profligate consumerism, debt financing and mindless depletion of resources.  One serious consequence of this course of action is to exacerbate the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ phenomenon.  Our societies, as a result, are becoming more vulnerable to natural disasters and heightened potentials for the collapse of ecological systems.  People are also becoming more susceptible to increased injustices, social instability and expanded conflicts.  (See the Note at the end of this essay for an explanation of the Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon.)

To gain Big Picture perspectives and clearer understandings, we need to use anticipatory reasoning and critical thinking.  To plan better and make smarter decisions, we must be open-minded to learning.  We should cultivate a good knowledge of history and be able to apply rational logic to novel situations.  When we use our personal experiences to make valid comparisons and contrasts, we can achieve clearer insights that allow us to evaluate options in better ways.  This in turn results in fairer and wiser solutions to problems that are more salubrious for the common good.

Ideological Underpinnings and Other Causes

Human civilization has been convulsed in the past century by intense competition, rapid change, violent clashes of ideas, and battles between competing interests for control and dominance.  The predominant ideological conflict of the second half of the 20th Century was between communism and capitalism.  Communism in its ideals represents equality and the rights of people in the face of the many serious social ills caused by capitalism and urbanization and industrialization.  In contrast, capitalist societies represent ideals of protected individual liberties and the supreme rights of capital and private property. 

Both communism and capitalism have been discredited by their collaborations with authoritarian leaders, selfish elites, repressive rulers, inegalitarian influences, unjust aggression, and violent and costly militarism.  Independent of corrupting factors like these, it is clear that the long-term interests of humanity are best served by a fair and sensible balance between all competing interests, including consumers, workers, capital, owners, investors, citizens, young people, future generations, and other life forms.  We live, after all, in an interrelated and ecologically interdependent whole, and we wholly depend upon its healthy balance.

Neither communism nor capitalism is an optimum system.  The best form of government would be an intelligent amalgam of reasonably regulated capitalism and democratic fairness which is characterized by prudent protections of people and the environment.  We need to buttress our republic so that democratic governance is ensured and fair representation of all interests is taken into account.  This would be in better accord with our great American Constitution, in which the General Welfare was held to be amongst the highest of values and checks and balances were built into the system of government to prevent abuses of power.

Our democracy is under severe siege for three primary reasons:

(1) Globalization has had the impact of spreading ‘Supercapitalism’ around the globe, together with its distorted priorities, its susceptibility to corrupting influences, its wrong-headed preoccupations, its material obsessions and its innate inequalities.  The overemphasis on consumer and investor goals in this undemocratic form of capitalism is a glaring problem, because it gives short shrift to vitally important good citizenship goals.  This is a ‘Tragedy of the Social Commons’, a phenomenon in which inadequate value is accorded to good citizenship goals, even though it is these goals that are ultimately most crucial for our collective well-being and prosperity and survival.

(2) Short-term-oriented interests and Big Money are firmly entrenched.  They wield the biggest influence in policy-making decisions.  Politicians who favor the wealthy embrace economic fundamentalism and ‘social Darwinism’, and religious fundamentalism has an outlandish influence.  As a consequence, unfairness, policy gimmickry, misinformation and secrecy have increased;  and honesty, transparency, accountability and effective oversight have been diminished.  Rationalizations for selfishness have gained ascendance, and democratic ideals of egalitarianism, fair representation and good governance have been emasculated. 

(3) The Media, which so powerfully affects public opinion, is dependent upon consumerism and sensationalism and shallow entertainment and seductive advertising.  Big Media is often in cahoots with corporate interests and hawkish political movements, so it has a lesser integrity.  It is failing to do an adequate job of investigative reporting.  The media is also faltering in its important role of fairly educating the populace on domestic and foreign policy issues.  Citizens have a basic right to know what our government is up to, and to have shenanigans and ethics violations and scandalous activities exposed.  For this reason, secrecy by our government is anti-American.  We must encourage whistleblowers and investigative reporters rather than intimidating and discouraging them.

To better manage our economic, social and environmental challenges, we must cultivate new modes of thinking, and embrace enlightened paradigms of behavior and action.  One of the fairest and most effective ways of accomplishing this would be by creating new incentives for beneficial behaviors, and by simultaneously instituting new disincentives that are designed to effectively discourage waste, cheating and behaviors that are harmful to our communities. 

Foolish subsidies and pork barrel spending must be reduced.  Powerful impetuses that militate for war must be challenged.  Our economies must be redesigned so that every consumer and investor automatically contributes to good citizenship goals.  In other words, we must restructure our economies and our societies in light of our clearest, fairest, and most insightful, propitious and reasonable understandings.  We must embrace progressive ideas!

Cultivating Win-Win Solutions

We are living in an extraordinary time in history.  A tipping point of ecological awareness is washing across nations worldwide.  At the very same time we are reaching a tipping point of converging demographic and social and environmental calamities.  Daunting challenges face the human race, yet there are great potential solutions that tantalizingly appear on the horizon.  I heartily encourage people to watch Amory Lovins’ rousing and hope-inspiring speech, “Imagine the World …”.  This talk, which was given at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Rocky Mountain Institute, can be accessed from the Institute’s Home Page at www.rmi.org.

Amory Lovins’ ‘win/win’ ideas contrast dramatically with the ‘win/lose’ paradigms that affect so many aspects of the status quo.  The human race is essentially embarked on a rash uncontrolled experiment in consumerism, stimulated economic growth, profligate resource depletion, debt financing, rapid population growth, and the alteration of habitats and ecosystems.  We cannot know exactly what the consequences of this experiment will be, but it seems quite certain that the current modes of our economic activities are not precautionary or sustainable or sensible in the long term.  By upsetting the balance of nature through unwise activities, we are harming the ability of natural ecosystems to continue providing invaluable services to us.  Extinctions of thousands of forms of life are reducing biodiversity and making natural systems less resilient.  This is a bad omen for our species, because we are dependent on diverse and healthy ecosystems. 

Although the consequences of these developments may be largely unintended and cannot be fully comprehended or accurately predicted, it seems clear that instead of being paralyzed with either worry or knee-jerk denial, we should whole-heartedly embrace measures that are precautionary in nature in order to mitigate looming problems.  We must do this with far-sighted conviction and long-term commitment.  Our goals must be to achieve greater public safety and peace and well-being, and to leave a fairer legacy for our descendants.

A Concise Summary of Global Risks

A ‘perfect storm’ of gathering risks is swelling up into a tsunami-like wave that could cause extreme disruptions to our civilizations in the course of next few decades.  These risks include the following:

(1) Risks related to the depletion of fossil fuels.  Peak Oil and the subsequent decline in production will result in higher energy prices and economic disruptions and intensified impulses for resource wars.  We would be wise to boldly begin a transition to renewable alternatives and make greater commitments to conservation and efficiency measures in our energy policies.  We must shift our development planning from a mindset that encourages suburban sprawl to one that embraces the revitalization of urban centers.  And we must find much better ways to reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and limited nonrenewable resources. 

(2) Risks related to escalating conflicts over fresh water shortages.  As global demand for water grows, water conflicts are contributing to increased tensions and hardships.  Access to safe drinking water for everyone must become a cooperative priority of all governments.  Water privatization scams must be prevented.  A more forward-looking balance must be established between competing water demands.  Agriculture needs, urban requirements, sustainable aquifer usages, and the natural flows of rivers for wildlife and ecosystem integrity must be taken into account.

(3) Risks related to increasing inequities and disparities of wealth and poverty.  Economic and political forces and wrong-headed public policies are magnifying income inequalities and social unfairness and economic insecurities.  This is likely to cause more desperation and crime, corruption, repression, terrorism and militarism.  It will probably make it increasingly difficult to achieve sensible goals of fairness, justice, mutual cooperation, sustainability, societal stability and peace.

(4) Risks related to detrimental impacts caused by the continued rapid increase in human numbers.  The carrying capacity of Earth’s natural systems to sustain us is being steadily diminished by excessive extraction, over-consumption, and ecosystem damages.  The continued rapid growth in population, together with extensive poverty, makes it certain that the demands of the poor will increase --- and the rich will no doubt continue to consume lavishly, wastefully and unmindfully.  These are not auspicious trends;  we must avoid crashing so recklessly against looming limits.

(5) Risks related to global warming, which are being made worse by accumulating quantities of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.  All nations are currently failing to significantly step up efforts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are being spewed into the atmosphere.  This will cause further dramatic changes in climate and weather patterns.  Intense droughts like those in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the United States will become more frequent and prolonged.  Crop failures and disruptions of agricultural production will be caused by desertification trends in some regions and catastrophic flooding in others.  Severe wildfires like those in Southern California in October 2007 will become more widespread due to the feedback loops involved in global warming.  The intensity of hurricanes and tornados will likely increase, according to scientific climate models.  The worldwide melting of glaciers and ice sheets and Arctic and Antarctic ice caps will cause sea levels to rise, flooding islands and low-lying coastal areas.  Millions of people will be forced to become environmental and geopolitical refugees.  Tropical and infectious diseases are expected to spread. 

During times of great uncertainty, people become more insecure, so conservatism becomes more appealing with its assurances of keeping order and combating change and exerting discipline and controlling others and offering the solace of certitude.  Leaders who are socially conservative tend to divert our attention from economic and social problems with divisive hot button issues and bold militarism and appeals to nationalistic and patriotic impulses.  Paradoxically, it is at such times that what is needed most is an intelligent approach that is proactive and progressive so that we deal effectively, flexibly and adaptively with change.

Some Ideas about Desirable Solutions

We must unflinchingly reform the socially and ecologically negative aspects of unbridled capitalism.  We must control anti-social, anti-democratic and anti-environmental abuses of corporate power.  We must mitigate globalization and privatization schemes that are damaging to the greater good.  We must plan ahead more intelligently.  We must stop encouraging unwise land use.  We must prevent the externalizing of significant costs onto society.  Strict disciples of the ideologies of Milton Friedman and other economic fundamentalists must admit that, in the real world, the practical, the fair, and the pragmatic are most probable to prove to be most propitious to the public good, as the years slide past.  What is right?  Who should be intolerant of what?? 

We are faced with a basic need to alter our corrupt electoral system that obeys Big Money over all other influences.  American citizens should have more influence in determining public policies so that our societies are not overwhelmingly dictated by rich people, insiders, war hawks and control freaks.  We must rein in the trends toward authoritarianism, imperialistic aggression, hawkish nationalism, and disadvantageous forms of centralized control that come at the expense of the common good.

When our foreign policies are bolstered by clear legitimacy and fair-mindedness, they enhance our power and prestige.  Positive ‘soft power’ values are attractive because they are admirable and decent.  Attributes of ‘soft power’ include democratic fairness, good neighbor policies, generous foreign aid, support for individual opportunities, respect of human rights, protections of individual liberties, adherence to rules of law, and foreign policy approaches that are multilateral and mutually beneficial.  Soft power policies are deeply seductive to people because they are intrinsically moral, so they encourage cooperation. 

Our power and prestige in the world are diminished when our foreign policies are founded on repulsive ‘hard power’ gambits like unilateralism, intimidation, coercion, deception, heartless economic sanctions, naked aggression, self-serving ideologies, ruthless covert operations, military occupations, trigger-happy security forces, kicked-in doors, harsh interrogations, and extensive ‘collateral damage’ from air strikes.  This is why injustice, brutality, torture, hypocrisy, arrogance and triumphalism create insurgent opposition. 

When we rely so exclusively on hard power policies, our power and influence are eventually eroded and our national security interests are harmed.  We would be wise to embrace ‘soft power’ options with greater enthusiasm, and we should develop stronger institutions to prevent the forces of domineering and profiteering from dictating our foreign policies.

            “An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.”

                                                                                        --- Mark Twain

‘Soft power’ tends to encompass different modalities of communication and negotiation than those that characterize hawkish ‘hard power’.  Soft power more readily embraces diplomacy, mediation and compromise to meet the needs and achieve the goals of all concerned.  Even neoconservative Francis Fukuyama has pointed out that the U.S. is discovering that it is necessary to implement “a dramatic demilitarization of American foreign policy and a re-emphasis on other types of policy instruments."  Please!!

Mark Twain called war “a wanton waste of projectiles”.  How do we really see war today, mired as we are in the midst of occupations of two Middle Eastern nations? 

Republicans have sold many Americans on the idea that “weakness is provocative”, as if the most powerful nation in history could be considered weak.  I believe that unjust aggression and hard-line militarism are arguably far more provocative.  Such actions make conflicts worse, and they increase the risks of retaliatory ‘blowback’.  We have provoked millions of Arabs and Muslims as well as Islamic extremists with our harsh economic sanctions and arrogant military interventionism in the Middle East.  In fact, the use of soft power is smart and sensible, not a weakness. 

I urge readers to check out “Reflections on War” at www.EarthManifesto.com.  Far-sighted and illuminating ideas therein offer valuable insights into the dilemmas of U.S. foreign policies, together with historical perspectives and vital prescriptions for better ways forward.  Also, see the essay, ‘Sow Justice, Harvest Peace!”

The drumbeat for an attack on Iran is reverberating ever more distinctly in the United States.  It is emanating from the same regime that has brought us war in Iraq that has been driven primarily by our addiction-oriented desire to control oil resources and enhance opportunities for profiteering.  Concomitantly, avarice and drives for supremacy and dominance are exerting undue influence on our national decision-making.  It appears that a hubris-filled and absurd our-God-is-better-than-your-God conflict is taking place, judging from the vituperation of various groups toward “Islamofascists”.  Do we not see that our religious fundamentalists share distinctly similar characteristics to those ‘despicable rats’?

In any case, there is grave danger in this re-run of the run-up to war in Iraq.  The politicians beating the drums against Iran have proven that they do not merely bluff.  However they DO use the same old tricks over and over again.  This is demonstrated by the Bush Administration’s belligerent allegations about Iran and talk of World War III. 

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) published by all the U.S. Intelligence agencies in early December 2007 revealed a disconnect between propaganda and reality, just like there was in the run-up to the attack on Iraq and the allegations of Saddam Hussein’s supposedly threatening (though non-existent) weapons of mass destruction. 

Militaristic neoconservative philosophies have been discredited in the past decade.  So have dishonest tactics and ‘shock-doctrine’ strategies.  ‘Disaster capitalism’ is being milked for all that can be gotten out of it.  Read Naomi Klein’s book about this!  There is a frightening possibility that desperate Neocons, their influence waning, believe that their only hope for redemption and renewed support lies in an even greater gamble:  a manipulative tail-wags-the-dog escalation of war in the Middle East by attacking Iran.  This is madness!

When our leaders cry wolf too many times, it stands to reason that we will stop believing and trusting them, just like the villagers did in Aesop’s fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  When politicians exaggerate and deceive people about enemies, they create new forms of vulnerability and danger. 

Supporters of the Bush Administration’s military aggression are acting out of a type of crowd psychology that tends to surge during times of uncertainty and insecurity.  They are accepting an ideology that exploits people’s trust in authority and panders to a distorted sense of patriotism.  The abuse of presidential powers in the past 8 years has grown remarkably, as examined in detail in “Power of the Presidency” on Bill Moyers Journal (google it!).  Read Charlie Savage’s book, Takeover – The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy to discover deeper reasons that it is reckless to allow the president to expand executive powers and undermine the checks and balances in our Constitution.  It is totally unwise to allow the appointment of partisan political operatives and to use fiscally imprudent expediencies and to embed “propaganda pundits” in the media and to spy on citizens and to use abusive interrogation practices and to choose ideological Supreme Court Justices.

It appears that Barack Obama represents the best hope for America to move boldly forward to heal deep divisions and conflicts that confront Americans at home and abroad.  Terrible wounds are associated with our war-making.  Challenging calamities are being caused by initiatives that increase economic insecurities.  Extensive social unfairness has been institutionalized through ‘trickle-down’ economic policies that primarily benefit the wealthy.  A deeply cynical injustice underlies healthcare inequities and cost inflation that is associated with corporatism, bureaucracy and profiteering.  Environmental injustices and unacceptable shortsightedness clearly afflict our national energy policies.  And the drug war is a decimating and costly prohibition approach to substance abuse that is racist in its demographic effects.  Right-wing policies have seriously harmed our nation.

To solve these problems, we need to have them clearly articulated.  We need honest leadership that tells us what we need to know, not just what we want to hear.  We need someone who can unite us, and who can inspire us to work together to make America a better country.  We need to courageously reduce the overweening power and influence of corporations on our government, and correspondingly increase the power of the people.  To achieve these goals, we need to implement more effective corporate lobbying restrictions, and Congressional ethics reform, and public financing of election campaigns.  And we need to reaffirm a stronger system of checks and balances between Congress, the Executive Branch and the Supreme Court. 

Frankly the Republican leadership in the past eight years doesn’t seem to truly give a damn about good citizen goals, or true justice, or democratic fairness, or the sensible limitation of presidential power, or Constitutional checks and balances in our government.  They use antagonizing rhetoric instead of effective diplomacy.  They have not made adequate efforts to ensure peaceful coexistence.  Their policies are not focused on the most sensible, intelligent, fair and cost effective ways of achieving national security.  They seem to be unfazed by the outlandish costs and the astonishingly shortsighted folly of debt-financed wars, deficit spending, dishonesty, tax cuts targeted to benefit the wealthy, deceptive accounting, or anti-women and anti-gay policies.

   mark twain must know the prezelhead:

     "it ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble.

        it's what you know for sure that just ain't so."  

           nothing new.   


                the road mole 

Teddy Roosevelt once said that our nation should “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”  George Bush and Dick Cheney and their gang today seem to believe that it is a better idea to divide to conquer by (1) using hot-button social issues to gain support for the  enactment of regressive social policies, and (2) using fear-mongering to get the public to tacitly go along with shock-and-awe aggression.  Having achieved power by these means, they figuratively rattle the saber, threaten loudly, scare the hell out of us and ‘the enemy’, indulge in dastardly intrigue, belittle opposing views on critical issues, oppress dissent, outsource government functions, facilitate profiteering, evade oversight, make preemptive attacks, occupy other countries, torture prisoners, subcontract military security to prospering crony corporations, and strive without precautionary sensibilities for a full-spectrum dominance of the world. 

I submit that such gambits are making everyone everywhere less secure.  Preemptive war based on hyped up threats is NOT a healthy form of thinking in advance or wise planning.  Wars of aggression are the ‘supreme international crime’ according to the Nuremberg Principles.  Our national security depends on finding a path to mutual security amongst nations.  We should commit ourselves to international cooperation in solving the big challenges facing us.  We need to cultivate visionary ideas and common sense initiatives that are targeted toward achieving peaceful coexistence and ecological sanity. 

I encourage readers to peruse “Reflections on War” because it provides a cogent, coherent and comprehensive worldview in support of smart soft power objectives. 

"America's bellicose response to the 9/11 provocation was not only dishonorable and unethical, given the cruel suffering it has inflicted on thousands of innocents, but also imprudent in the extreme because it was bound to produce as much hatred as fear, as much burning desire for reprisal as quaking paralysis and docility.  Some of the sickening effects are unfolding before our eyes.  That even more malevolent consequences remain in store is a grim possibility not to be wished away." 

        --- Steven Holmes, The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror

According to author Chalmers Johnson, Steven Holmes is committed, as a legal scholar, to the rule of law.  "Law is best understood," Holmes writes, "not as a set of rigid rules, but rather as a set of institutional mechanisms and procedures designed to correct the mistakes that even exceptionally talented executive officials are bound to make and to facilitate midstream readjustments and course corrections.  If we understand law, constitutionalism, and due process in this way, then it becomes obvious why the ‘war on terrorism’ is bound to fail when conducted, as it has been so far, against the rule of law and outside the constitutional system of checks and balances." 

Chalmers Johnson adds:  “There is, I believe, only one solution to the crisis we face.  The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge, still growing military establishment that undergirds it.  It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire.  By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic --- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.” 

In thinking about the priorities of attractive ‘soft power’ and the tactics of repulsive ‘hard power’, an illuminating parallel curiously arises in the religious arena.  A slow disintegration of right-wing evangelical Christianity may be taking place as a result of the growing awareness that political identification with mainly negative issues like anti-abortion, anti-gays and hawkish war policies is repulsive and counterproductive.  True spirituality is much more consistent with an affiliation with positive values.  After all, the ideas that prophets like Jesus would have espoused include social justice, peace, caring about poverty, and loving or respecting neighbors.  

New Ways of Seeing the World

I encourage evangelicals to develop a respect for life that is not principally restricted to first trimester fetuses.  Issues that are far more important affect real people’s lives, like poverty and unfairness in educational and job opportunities and the lack of universal access to good healthcare.  It is retrogressive to oppose stem cell research that could improve the lives of millions.  It is socially wrong to work to stop other people from using sensible prophylactics that could prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases like AIDS.  It is socially reprehensible to continuously favor the fortunate and neglect the poor.  And it is folly to side with vested interests that strive to profit from the destructive exploitation, pollution and depletion of ‘God’s creation’.

Women of the World, Unite!  There are better ways of coping than just going along with domineering, punitive, puritanical, cold-hearted, moralistic, and patriarchal ‘macho dude’ doctrines.  Empowered women should help lead the way!

Traditionalists believe that empathy and permissiveness are wrong-headed, and that they lead to a lack of discipline and even -- oh, horror! -- promiscuity.  But the demands of Neocons have been given too much sway, with results that are quite disturbing.  It is now time to address the causes of problems, not merely the symptoms.  We must embrace progressive ideas, empathetic understanding, and consensus-oriented decision-making.

     "We make our destinies by the gods we choose." 

                                                                                 --- Virgil      

The way I see the world, we have collectively chosen gods in the course of history that have helped us create astonishingly complex and varied cultures, but at the same time the individual has been subjected to compelling forces of conformity.  Narrowing, puritanical, materialistic, and unfulfilling influences have repressed the child-like freshness of our perceptions, the creativity of our self expression, the nobility of our imaginations, the playfulness of our spirits, the earnestness of our souls, the independence of our dreams, and the connectedness to our authentic inner selves.  We have all been adjusted to the mythological ‘Procrustean bed’, either by being stretched beyond our capacities or by having parts of our selves chopped off to force us to fit.  Yet we are all spiritual beings at our cores, and our souls are an ineffably inexplicable product of our conscious and unconscious awareness, the yearning in our hearts, the electrochemical processes of our brains and senses, and the existential exigencies involved in finding our way in the world. 

Far out!  My point is that we DO have a certain amount of free choice in our lives.  To the extent that this is true, we must collectively choose a more hopeful path, and one that is most likely to lead to a sustainable future.  There may be a ‘system bias’ for the goals of consumers and investors against those good citizen goals that are desirable from standpoint of healthy communities, but it is time that we start faithfully acting to bring this condition into a more rational and fulfilling balance.

Our rapid population growth is having unprecedented global impacts.  Our collective hunger for ever-greater quantities of food, fuel, fresh water, minerals, forest products, building materials, territory and profits is resulting in the unsustainable harvesting of the bounty of the topsoil and the seas.  Wildlife habitats are being destroyed.  Rivers, lakes and oceans are being unsustainably exploited and polluted.  We are even altering the gaseous composition of the atmosphere.  These actions are upsetting the dynamic balance of nature to which all forms of life, including us, are so well adapted. 

Students and faculty in high schools, colleges and universities represent a vital part of the future of humanity, so I challenge them to study the ideas found in the Earth Manifesto.  Educational institutions play an important role in our societies.  They are thus the perfect place to begin a revolutionary undertaking to make the world saner and more sustainable. 

British author H.G. Wells wrote in 1920: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."  To win this race, we need better public education.  Unfortunately, misguided ideological forces are being used to subvert high quality and safe public education.  The No-Child-Left-Behind law, for instance, emphasizes a narrow curriculum, together with an overemphasis on testing in public schools for memory and recall skills.  It does not encourage more important ‘advance thinking’ skills.  Underfunding of educational needs, together with expedient actions and this glaring shortcoming in educational goals, are having a distinctly unfavorable impact on the success of public education.  American economic competitiveness is consequently suffering.  So are our roles as good citizens in helping to formulate intelligent decisions in our democracy.

Ideological fundamentalism represents primitive drives that are principally about power and control.  They are not about morality, peaceable relations, healthy conservatism, or what is best for our communities.  Fundamentalism, whether economic, political or religious, is a form of authoritarian dominion with a terrible dark side:  it motivates and rationalizes harmful acts of merciless exploitation, inhumanity, intolerance, violence, greed and cruelty.  Such ideas have contributed to wars, genocide, repression, pogroms, torture, the burning of women at the stake and other terrible atrocities throughout history.  Give us a break!

It is crazy and potentially calamitous to cling closed-mindedly to convictions that are completely contradicted by overwhelmingly contrary evidence.  Here is what I mean:  fundamentalism is dangerous because it clings to inflexible doctrines, even when far more logical, reasonable, intuitively sensible and probable explanations exist.  It is one thing if such beliefs were harmless, like if a conviction posited a benevolent god in the heavens who loves all human beings equally.  But it is quite another when such beliefs involve a Special Creation that favors only true believers, especially when this conviction leads people to behaviors that are discriminatory, predatory, violent, belligerently supremacist, or otherwise socially detrimental.

           “Prophesy is a good line of business, but it is full of risks.”

                                                                                                     --- Mark Twain

I believe that it is becoming vital for us to be more honest with ourselves and with each other.  We must seek greater truths and more accurate understandings of important issues.  We must transcend narrow parochial beliefs.  The global scope of our human impacts has never been greater.  Our ignorance, delusion and denial are becoming more dangerous to ourselves and future generations.  The problem with simplistic thinking is that it is seductive to people who have not developed critical thinking abilities and who are consequently vulnerable to sheep-like obedience toward those who use persuasive propaganda, control of the media and the bully pulpit of authority to get more power and use dishonest and unlawful means to accomplish narrowly partisan and shortsighted ends.

Social conservatives, economic fundamentalists and religious extremists are often driven by the desire to control and dominate others.  Using demagogic rhetoric, misinformation, and deceptive doctrines, they manipulate the public’s emotions, fears and insecurities in order to gain support for regressive social policies and the aggressive waging of wars.  There is a chance that such indulgence in ruthless and heedless competition for dominion and ascendance could cause conflicts so devastating that they would result in a nuclear winter of planetary destruction that could drive even versatile humankind to extinction.  I reckon that we should all do whatever we can to prevent this!

Righteous supremacist ideologies and ‘Manifest Destiny’ rationalizations for military aggression are wrong.  Ambushes and retaliatory blowback and terrorism in response to such actions are also wrong.  And hawkish militarism and military occupations in reaction are wrong.  All of these actions are signs of a kind of rational irrationality that the human race must find more effective means to prevent. 

Human nature does not change;  but we can modify our behaviors and we can change our policies and institutions --- and we arguably must change them to avoid disaster and heightened conflict as the world becomes a more crowded and desperate place.

“I do not feel obligated to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.”

                                                                                  Galileo Galilei

Ignorance may be bliss for some, but it is generally a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.  No one is infallible or omniscient.  Profound complexities and ever-changing conditions make it valuable for people to be open-minded, versatile, intelligently engaged, adaptable and resilient.  We need to question assumptions and authority.  We need to courageously give at least skeptical consideration to all reasonable ideas, even those that are opposed to our cherished beliefs.  A kind of scientific rigor of thought is needed to trump oversimplification and absolutism and stubborn dogmas and other limited ways of seeing reality.

In addition to Reflections on War, I recommend that readers peruse other writings found on the Earth Manifesto website.  All of the issues detailed in this essay are analyzed in extensive observations in Comprehensive Global Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview.  Also, important ideas and prescriptions for better ways forward are summarized in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies, and the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity.

The Need for a Modern Religiosity

Biological evolution is an on-going process of adaptation to changing circumstances.  It occurs in a kind of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ process, with a slow background rate of change that is punctuated by more rapid changes during times that the climate or competitive influences are in rapid flux.  During such times, ecological niches open up as varieties of life become extinct or lose competitive advantages.  In the case of human beings, evolution also takes place in social, cultural and behavioral attitudes, and it does so much more quickly than in more ‘conventional’ physical adaptations that characterize the do-or-die evolution of most other species of life. 

It is abundantly clear that life on Earth today faces greater challenges than it has in almost all the ages of existence.  The geological and fossil records show overwhelming evidence of an eons-long evolution of life punctuated by occasional episodes of mass extinctions of species.  The most prominent of these mass extinction events are:

(1) The Permian Extinction, which took place about 250 million years ago. This event wiped out more than half of all species of life.  It is an extinction episode that marks the end of the Paleozoic (‘old animal life’) Era and the beginning of the Mesozoic (‘middle animal life’) Era.

(2) The Cretaceous Extinction, which took place about 65 million years ago.  This event caused thousands of species to become extinct, including many kinds of dinosaurs.  This ended the Mesozoic Era and marked the beginning of the Cenozoic (‘new animal life’) Era. 

Life today is undergoing another accelerated extinction episode -- and this one is, for the first time, being caused not by some geophysical calamity but by a single species on the planet:  us!  Bill Bryson writes in his great book, A Short History of Nearly Everything:

   “It is an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme

      achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.”

Thinking and acting with the long-term in mind is arguably the best way to ensure that we help to save ourselves, and even metaphorically help to ‘save the world’.  Our best bet is to plan ahead wisely, and not to passively depend on prayers to God for salvation, because God is clearly and demonstrably not a partisan ‘guy’, no matter what your local preacher may tell you.  When we observe nature and natural circumstances, we see that impersonal cause and effect determines all outcomes.  The forces operating in the Universe are ruthlessly indifferent to any individual or species of life.  Nature favors individuals that work with ‘her’ rather than against her, over the long run.  This is what the process of biological adaptation is:  adaptive changes to natural conditions that allow survival in the context of changing physical conditions or competitive forces or weather patterns.

In 1909, Mark Twain wrote Letters from the Earth, a book in which he gave readers clever insights into the preposterous nature of religious myths and dogmas.  It is a witty book that ridicules ‘holy book’ absurdities and provides a healthy perspective of the nature of religious orthodoxies.  Ninety-nine years have passed since Mark Twain published this book, and we can see that ridicule has proved to be inadequate in mitigating the harm that religious fanaticism is capable of causing in the world.  In fact, terrorism supported by religious Islamic extremists has strengthened the hand of the Christian ‘religious right’ in the United States, and this has caused dramatically negative impacts on the lives of women, blacks, young people, gay people, educators, religious minorities, and people convicted of crimes.  It has helped conservative Republicans to gain power and to implement a regressive agenda that has harmed the prospects for social justice, personal freedoms, cultural modernity and peaceful coexistence. 

We arguably need a new religion that enunciates a morality based on higher principles and bigger picture insights and more salubrious understandings and more comprehensive policies and more inclusive worldviews.  This new religion must represent an enlightened moral code based on sensible fairness as envisioned in the Golden Rule.  It must honor and emphasize sustainable goals, meaningful prosperity, and an overarching ecological respect for others, including future generations and other denizens of the Earth.  It must help advance a new worldview that is more adaptive and intelligent and secure and healthy for our communities and our descendents.  See Revelations of a Modern Prophet for further ideas about this topic.

Wrongful ‘righteousness’ and dishonorable motives lie behind many of the doctrines of established religions.  Too often the right-wing of religious traditions gains ascendance and tramples the saner ideas of more moderate and progressive factions.  Demagogic leaders steer the faithful in directions that contribute to detrimental impacts, conflicts and discrimination.  Instead of contributing to peace, justice, social health and ecological well-being, churches have too often in history found themselves on the wrong side of the greater social good.  Today their anti-social influences are primarily oriented around supporting retrogressive politicians and repressive agendas, and moralizing against gays and lesbians, and opposing contraception and the reproductive rights of women.  That they accomplish this TAX-EXEMPT galls those who see the inequity of this situation.

Reason alone has a curious inability to push aside the terrible ramifications of spiritual exploitation and ruthless dominance ideologies.  This may be partially due to the physical nature of our brains and our related susceptibility to be hijacked by our emotions.  Our thinking is affected by a multitude of influences, yet the genesis of our thoughts is ultimately a mystery.  Ideas arise in a complex subconscious process that defies full comprehension.  Ideas sometimes seem to be channeled into our conscious awareness through a mysterious tumult of creative revelation.  Philosophers and scientists have noted this throughout the ages.  So have the founding prophets of major religions, like Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and Joseph Smith.

Consider the implications of this observation from Mark Twain:  “If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time.”  No God can be socially acceptable in this modern conflict-escalating world if those who act as spokespersons for God preach that there is an absolute righteousness of their deity alone, and they consequently discriminate against those with differing beliefs or persecute those with different cultures and values and goals. 

We’ve all seen football games where a receiver makes a great catch in the end zone and celebrates with fervent signs thanking God, while the defender exudes woe because God did not help him to prevent the mortifying catch.  Wait a minute! -- God is not an entity that intervenes, folks!  Pray as you like, and believe as you like -- but do not imagine that God is on your side against others.  Faith and prayer may help athletes to achieve a state of being ‘in the flow’ which helps them succeed, and it may help others to focus or to find purpose, confidence, meaning, resignation, or motivation for living a good life.  But when prayerful intention and religious beliefs contribute to terrible injustices for others, they cannot be condoned or accepted.

John Lennon sang provocative words in his best-song-of-the-20th-century, Imagine:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace ...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.

I can imagine some readers being dubious about the premises herein.  There are many reasons to explain why people do not collectively think in long-term contexts.  Our thoughts and beliefs are strongly influenced by subtle biases, clashes of values, social conditioning, anthropocentrism, self-delusions, opinion manipulation, personal insecurities, illogical decision-making, the hijacking of our emotions, Big Lies, and persuasive promotion.  It seems clear that we must find ways to transcend our solipsistic self-centeredness, our selfishness, our fear-influenced perceptions, and our ethnocentric dogmatic faiths -- and to begin to connect with awareness of the validity of our inner intuitions and instincts and understandings. 

Our sense of conscience arises from a subconscious suspicion that our actions and cherished political beliefs may be founded on erroneous assumptions.  Most Americans believe that there is good and evil in the world and that our nation largely represents the good, and it is rare for us to be able to get our minds around an understanding that differs from this.  Nonetheless, opinions are relative;  there is no doubt to me that our nation’s hubris, militarism, ruthless economic sanctions, covert operations and other ‘hard power’ actions represent evil incarnate to great numbers of people who are direct victims of such attitudes and policies.  Ask the Iraqi people!

Moral absolutism is a failure of the imagination.  The complexity of true understanding encourages us to strive to see reality in a clearer light, and one that is more empathetic, fair-minded and compassionate.

Life can be beautiful, hopeful, enervating, sublimely joyful, wonderfully fun, and filled with a heartening rapport towards others and a healthy connectedness to the natural world.  But we are often distracted from what is really important.  We seem to not even know what really matters in life.  Let us adjust our focus, and do whatever we can to make ours a better world!  This is the way to advance understanding.  And in a sense, it is a quest for something that always resides within.

   “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,

          but in having new eyes.”                                 ----- Marcel Proust     

When the New Year 2008 arrived, as I began this essay, I recommended that we shout out, in a sort of reverential prayerful kind of manner, “Let us give THANKS, and make a New Year’s resolution that we will try to show our appreciation for the natural world in more meaningful ways.  Let us help protect the natural world, and combat ‘nature deficit disorder’ in our children.  Let us do our part in making a positive difference in our own families and communities.  Let us strive to personally do whatever we can to make our world a better one.”

Let’s GET ORGANIZED, and work to achieve the best of purposes, and not just more of the same chasing after the whole set of ‘worser’ purposes.  Let the revolution begin!

Feel free to provide your feedback to me at SaveTruffulaTrees@hotmail.com.  Voice your opinion -- I am open to it, and will make Wikipedia-like modifications of the ideas herein, according to the clarity, logical consistency, insightfulness, broad-mindedness, constructive criticism, or more valid perspective of any particular suggestion or revelation.  Thanks!


            Dr. Tiffany B. Twain

                Hannibal, Missouri             

                    June 1, 2008




P.S.  I give a tip of the hat, with this essay, to our wise progressive ancestor, the pamphleteer Thomas Paine, and I commemorate the 172nd anniversary of the November 30, 1835 birth of the great Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

Note:  The Tragedy of the Commons phenomenon is explained in Chapter #27 of the “Comprehensive Global Perspective” essay on the Earth Manifesto site.  I quote:

Rational behaviors contribute to the phenomenon known as the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.  The rational self-interest of many people who are competing for benefits from a shared resource often results in unreasonable damage to that resource.  The reason that this occurs is simple:  self-interested individuals are motivated to get immediate benefits from an activity, while the unintended consequences and negative impacts are insidious and less immediately apparent, and they are borne by the less-focused entire community. 

The Tragedy of the Commons describes what is taking place in many different arenas of resource exploitation.  For instance, the decimating impact on formerly rich fisheries by fishing fleets from many competing nations occurs because unregulated competition results in the over-harvesting of fish stocks.  Actions by rational individuals can thus result in outcomes that are utterly insane for the entire group.  This is a tragedy that extensively affects the ecological commons. 

It turns out that better cooperation, not less-regulated competition, is necessary to improve the prospects of sustainable resource usages.  The only sane way for the whole of society to benefit is to create a system of far-sighted rules which are designed to protect common resources from depletion, damage or destruction.  This requires the agreement and the honest compliance of all participants to such rules.  It also requires oversight and effective enforcement.

The parable of the Tragedy of the Commons also applies to the issue of pollution.  In this case, rather than the consequences of exploitation being a depleted commons, it is a polluted commons.  Rational companies make bigger profits by the disposal of wastes into the commons, because then the costs are borne by all. 

The current resistance to international efforts in dealing with global warming can be clearly understood as an instance of this accumulating tragedy.  Some 160 nations have ratified the Kyoto Accords to help protect the Earth from the looming damage that will be caused by global warming and related climate change.  But the United States refuses to comply, selfishly and shortsightedly opposing these accords.  China and India are also unwilling to take dramatic initial steps to control emissions, because they see that the process of industrialization without heed to the global commons has allowed developed countries to benefit, and they regard it as an injustice for them to now be required to follow a different and more expensive path that is more strictly cognizant of reduced emissions requirements.

Thus the world is failing to boldly act to solve the ominous problems associated with pouring billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  Our inaction sends a message of presumptuous disregard for the well-being of all life on the planet, and particularly for people living on low-lying islands of the South Pacific and areas of every nation with ocean coastlines and bays.

The United States insists on acting in the myopic self-interest of big corporations instead of making reasonable commitments to cooperate for the common good.  This is done because we have the power to ignore rational and intelligent cooperation, NOT because it is the right thing to do.