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    Crystal Clear Conceptions

                               An Earth Manifesto essay by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain                                              

                                                  February 1, 2008 (Revised January 2009)

Every species ever in existence has been marvelously well adapted to the conditions pertaining in the particular ecological niches and ranges that they inhabited.  This seems to be a definitive proof that the epic of biological evolution involves adaptation to competitive forces and changes in physical conditions of habitats and climate on Earth.

More than 99% of all species ever in existence are extinct, and are known to us only through the fossil record.  Scientists estimate that there are anywhere from 5 million to 100 million species alive today.  Unfortunately, the human race is adversely affecting the habitats and conditions of the vast majority of these life forms.  This is contributing to the highest rate of extinction in many millions of years. 

What are our responsibilities to these other forms of life?  What are our responsibilities to each other, for that matter?  What are our obligations to future generations?

It is my passionate opinion that we must begin acting more responsibly, more fairly, more sustainably, and more in accordance with common sense in becoming better stewards of our home planet.  Instead of protecting our Mother Earth, however, we subdivide it and call the land ‘real estate’ and alter it and speculate on it.  We create economic bubbles by implementing policies that encourage production and consumption, no matter how wasteful and unfair and shortsighted these activities may be.  We embrace ideologies that justify irresponsible profit-making and ruthlessness of exploitation.  And we tend to ignore ecological warnings of resource depletion and environmental harm.

Plato was one of the world’s greatest philosophers.  He felt strongly that good judgment is needed in the choice of social goals.  He believed that humanity must clearly understand the appropriate means to attain these goals.  Plato’s teacher Socrates advocated skepticism and open-mindedness as keys to critical thinking and good judgment.  We would be well-advised to embrace the broadminded and progressive ways of seeing things that these great philosophers represented.  Reason, knowledge, innovative thinking and good education can be seen to be important to establish just and peaceful societies. 

Plato lived in ancient Greece during the 4th Century B.C.  The two primary factions that vied for power in Greece at the time were the oligarchs (the few and the wealthy) and the democrats (the many and the poor).  Plato saw that rule by either the oligarchs or the democrats generally led to undesirable results.  The wealthy had only their own special interests in mind, so during times that the oligarchs were in control they would go to great lengths to defend the advantages of the few against the common good.  During the times that democratic forces ruled the nation, the people were easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians, so Greece was involved in numerous atrocities and terrible injustices and disastrous wars.

More than 2,400 years have passed since the days of Plato, and dramatic changes have taken place in our technology, communications, medicine, urbanization, the means of waging war, and the number of human beings on Earth.  But little has changed in human nature and the fundamental dynamics of politics. 

Today, our great and noble American experiment in government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is faltering.  The principal reason for this state of affairs is that the best interests of the majority are being undermined at every juncture by greed, corruption, shortsightedness, ignorance and ruthless competition.  Money buys power and unfair influence, and this often subverts the general welfare, distorts our economy, perverts our governing institutions and causes harm to millions of people.

    “We have the best government that money can buy.” 

                                                                            --- Mark Twain

In the United States, we have been governed from 2001 to 2009 by a coalition of wealthy people, social conservatives, demagogues, religious fundamentalists, war hawks and ideologues who advocate that corporate privilege is of the utmost importance.  Our leaders have sided with these narrow interests and used divisive politics to create a new Gilded Age of profligate consumerism and expanded inequalities.  This has resulted in a growth of inequities and global injustices and diminished civil liberties and intensified strife and wars of aggression to obtain resources. 

Our leaders have mismanaged our nation by facilitating regressive changes in taxation.  They have used shortsighted borrow-and-spend fiscal policies and indulged in wasteful and fiscally irresponsible spending.  They have pursued an unconstitutional civil-liberties infringing expansion of executive power.  They have irresponsibly allowed large corporations to externalize costs onto society and the environment, essentially seeking to privatize the benefits of national wealth while socializing some of the costs.  And they have implemented highly inegalitarian domestic policies. 

These policies are having a detrimental impact on the majority of people on the planet, and they have ominous implications for future generations.  Plato concluded that rule by the wisest citizens would be the best way to govern a nation.  It seems obvious that it would be a good idea for the wisest citizens to rule, but the problem is that it is difficult to prevent special interests and wealthy people from wheedling their way into power and abusing that power.  These are our modern day challenges:  to structure our governing institutions so that they are immune to abuses of money and power, and to prevent leaders from advancing narrow agendas that create increasing inequities, extensive hardships, grave injustices, heightened risks of bankruptcy, more dangers of blowback repercussions, and widespread environmental harm.

Harry Truman was famous for saying, “The buck stops here.”  George Bush, the self-proclaimed “Decider”, rhetorically agreed.  But for all practical purposes, the actions of President Bush exacerbated the most important national and international problems.  His tax and war policies radically ramped up our national debt.  He launched wars in the Middle East from which it is proving to be extremely difficult to extricate our nation.  He opposed actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to mitigate global warming.  He increased our dependence on fossil fuels by acting to give further subsidies to the oil industry instead of making more intelligent national investments in energy efficiency and energy conservation and fossil fuel alternatives.  His Administration effectively delayed the day of reckoning related to these challenges.  And he also helped ensure that when the day of reckoning does come, the consequences will be worse and far more difficult to deal with successfully.

The United States is the sole superpower in a world where fossil fuel supplies are being steadily depleted and the human population is growing rapidly.  We are consequently facing a complex and convoluted set of challenges.  A prominent 1997 Neoconservative manifesto, sensitive to our addiction to fossil fuels for our economic prosperity, indicated that it is a ‘geostrategic imperative’ for us to achieve and maintain ‘American Primacy’ and domination of the world.  Unfortunately, instead of helping to create social justice, peace, fairness, humanitarian goodness, individual liberties, sustainable existence, enlightened understandings, and ecological sanity, this Neocon manifesto called for American military dominance.  Inevitably, this Project for a New American Century created greater injustices and heightened conflict and more aggression and ruthless repression and ecological folly.

Thomas Robert Malthus, a British demographer and political economist, predicted that the population of human beings on Earth would rise steeply because of the industrial revolution.  He forecast that the growth in the number of human beings would eventually and inevitably exceed our ability to produce enough food to sustain the population.  Malthus made his predictions around the year 1800, when there were about one billion people on Earth.  More than two centuries have passed since 1800, and the number of people alive has increased by more than 600% to about 6.7 billion.  Industrial agriculture has made great strides in being able to feed this expanding population, largely due to the availability of high energy fossil fuels that help plant and fertilize and irrigate farmlands and increase crop yields.  Simultaneously, people’s average life span has increased from less than 50 years to more than 75 years in industrialized nations.  Considering this progress, some say that Malthus was wrong.

It seems probable to me that sometime this century Malthus will be conclusively proved to have been prescient and correct.  Malthus was essentially saying that at some point we will be forced to live sustainably.  The signs are becoming increasingly clear that our population growth is not sustainable.  The condition known as Peak Oil portends the beginning of decline unless we soon find clean and affordable alternatives. 

In the past 50 years alone, human activities have caused rapidly accelerating negative impacts on our sustaining environment, and we have become increasingly aware that new ecological problems are arising.  Pesticide poisoning came to international attention in 1962 with the publication of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, and soon thereafter people began to recognize the need to protect clean air, clean water and wilderness areas.  Other significant environmental problems have subsequently come to our attention, like deforestation, acid rain, ozone-layer damage, algal blooms, collapsing fisheries, global warming and climate change.  It has become more apparent that nations worldwide are facing fresh water scarcities, resource depletion, garbage and animal waste disposal problems, habitat destruction and increasing rates of species extinctions.  In addition, conflicts over the control of energy and land and water resources have become more difficult to mitigate. 

These understandings are the ‘writing on the wall’ indicating that, if we do not plan better and somehow control our population growth, the result will be severe resource shortages, ecological collapse, catastrophic starvation and more wars.  The prosperity and survival of our race is dependent upon the health of the global commons, whether or not we recognize this fact. 

It is one of the simplest but most profound insights of deep ecology that everything is intertwined.  Everything is interconnected and interdependent.  We humans depend on the well-being of natural systems and ecosystem services for our own physical and psychological well-being.  We cannot long sustain a healthy economy without taking bold steps to ensure that our environment remains healthy.

A major factor that has contributed to the growth of our population and the increases in our average individual longevity is the use of copious amounts of fossil fuels.  These resources are uniquely convenient and high in energy, but they are limited and non-renewable.  Their use is damaging our lands and our fresh water supplies and even altering the composition of Earth’s atmosphere.  We are now very close to the point at which 50% of all known reserves of oil have been burned up.  This means that declines in oil production are imminent and inevitable.  For this and other reasons, the price of a barrel of oil increased from about $10 in January 1999 to over $145 in June 2008, before falling back dramatically due to the credit crunch and recessionary factors.

Peak Oil represents one of the most serious crises in human history.  It is nearer and may well be more of a threat to our civilizations than most people can imagine.  Remember that there are more of us every day, and the general trajectory is for each of us on average to use more every year.  In this one regard, economic recession has a silver lining, because it reduces the total amount of oil that is burned annually.   

The Big Picture of oil politics is simple:  we are squandering irreplaceable fossil fuels at an alarming rate because we are highly dependent upon fossil fuels for almost everything we do and consume.  Production of oil and natural gas is near its peak, and diminishing supplies are already conflicting with high demand.  Most of the remaining reserves of crude oil are concentrated in geopolitically unstable nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela.  We should be making Herculean efforts to move toward conservative and efficient usages of fossil fuels, and we would be wise to invest heavily in the transition to cleaner and less polluting alternatives to fossil fuels. 

Oil politics unfortunately dictates that most nations are putting their focus on striving to get additional supplies.  The United States seems to be intent upon using its military supremacy to gain control of oil-producing nations.  There is a serious Catch-22 in our need for more oil to fly jet airplanes in order to maintain military dominance that we strive to enforce by using our air supremacy. 

Geopolitics is far more complex than the strategic board game Risk, which was invented by a French movie director who tellingly called it La Conquete du Monde -- The Conquest of the World.  Even in the game of Risk, however, the rapid spreading of forces across the globe is recognized as being a risky gambit which often results in fighting on too many fronts and consequently losing because one’s forces become overstretched.

In many of the most important ways, the American political system consists of two primary factions of a single party.  This party is a corporate one that uses the influence of money to dominate our electoral system and control our decision-making processes.  This system is directed by a Military/Industrial/Congressional Complex that embraces perversely shortsighted priorities and the supremacy of corporate prerogatives.  It also involves corrupt lobbying, socially irresponsible profiteering, inadequately regulated opportunism and military aggression. 

This system essentially manipulates the public into paying for its own victimization through corporate tax breaks and subsidies, waste, fraud, environmental degradation, debt, and a lack of oversight and accountability.  This system is susceptible to forces that militate for war, like right-wing think tanks and war services corporations.  War is highly profitable to a narrow set of interests that push to start wars and keep them going.  Wars are unconscionably costly and quite destructive -- and generally extremely unjust. 

Wars in the past 50 years have been promoted by using spurious arguments, demagogic rhetoric, self-justifying rationalizations, and deceitful propaganda.  Consent for the waging of wars has been insidiously manufactured by the use of emotional appeals to public fears and insecurities.  Politicians use rationalizations to justify misinformation, lies, corruption and fraud, claiming that they are just doing what people want.  I encourage readers to seek better understandings of issues related to war by checking out Reflections on War in Part Three of the Earth Manifesto.

“All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke

      the same hashish they give out.”       

                                               --- Journalist I.F. Stone

Another aspect of our one-party system is that our democracy is being betrayed by Big Media.  Most television stations, newspapers, radio stations and magazines are controlled by large corporations.  This gives them a biased tendency to support stimulated consumer spending, aggressiveness in competition, hawkish foreign policies, and the deceptions and gimmickry of politicians and their corporate and upper-class beneficiaries. 

This control of the media by corporate interests has resulted in extensive collaboration with the powerful interests that control Congress and the White House, the Pentagon, defense industries, war service corporations and other vested interests.  Big Media has a role to properly inform and educate the masses, a role which is vitally important for the success of a representative democracy.  But it is failing to fulfill that role.  The most flagrant way it has failed us was in its amplification of pro-war hype in the run-up to the attack on Iraq in March 2003.  Hundreds of false statements containing erroneous and disingenuous information were propagated by President Bush and Dick Cheney and other top officials in the two years before this invasion, and these deceptions were amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts.

“I believe that the people, when properly armed with the facts, will come to the

       right conclusion.                                         --- Thomas Jefferson

Let’s arm the people with more accurate facts!  The late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota believed that politics should be about far more than power, money and winning at any cost.  He once said, “Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.  It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and in the world.”  This sentiment is a valuable perspective for the American people to understand and support in order to come to proper conclusions about what domestic and foreign policies would be best. 

The honorable Senator Paul Wellstone was one of the last true liberals.  He died in a suspicious airplane crash just before the culmination of his reelection campaign in 2002.  Author and former cop Michael C. Ruppert’s book, Crossing the Rubicon – The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil, discusses the details surrounding Wellstone’s death, for those interested.

Governments are instituted among people in every country in order to facilitate planning, organization, development, control and national security.  One of the primary purposes of government is to adjudicate between the myriad of competing interests.  Since money is one of the main objects of competition, money itself has a dramatically corrupting influence in a democracy. 

People who have the most money have powerful means of subverting the system to their own special advantage, so a plutocracy develops where wealthy people largely determine public policies.  The general good becomes subservient to the good of narrowly-focused entrenched interests, and these unreasonably influential interests obstruct needed reform as times change.  Publicly-financed election campaigns would arguably be a good first step in reducing the influence of Big Money in politics and in strengthening our institutions against abuses of power and in improving democratic governance.

Democracy is amongst the best forms of government in some ways, and amongst the worst in others.  It is best to the extent that it idealizes human rights and fairness of opportunity and equal representation.  And it is amongst the worst because of its failure to realize these ideals, and because of its vulnerability to corruption and perverse priorities that clash with these ideals and with sensible planning for future generations. 

It is an oddly absurd concept to give an ignorant person exactly the same weight in voting as the most enlightened and fair-minded of citizens.  Nonetheless, this is a basic tenet of our democratic system.  We consequently defend this condition because it gives everyone an equal voice in the hopes that this will collectively provide the best potential for course corrections and ultimate fairness.  Perhaps James Surowiecki is correct, in any case, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations.  Surowiecki says that large numbers of people can choose wisely if diversity of opinion and independence of thinking are allowed and encouraged.  He observes that diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus and compromise.  Exceptions exist, but this is a thought provoking idea.

Today, as throughout history, democracy suffers severe stresses and setbacks due to the corrupting influences of Big Money and unethical lobbying.  Due to unfair initiatives undertaken by various groups of self-interested elites, we have an onslaught of regressive social policies, myopic partisanship, disingenuous ideologies, inadequately regulated profiteering, invasions of privacy, stimulated inequities, and aggressive wars.  In other words, government is often manipulated into serving destructive purposes instead of serving constructive purposes.  I am optimistic that a progressive leader like Barack Obama will do a far better job than the Neoconservatives have done at using government for the common good.

The Executive branch of the federal government made a dangerous power grab during the years of the Bush/Cheney Administration.  They seized upon authoritarian impulses to advance narrow goals.  In this, the government was hijacked by wrong-headed interests and became a nemesis to its citizens and peoples worldwide.  Our leaders 'sold us down the river’ with their partisan initiatives, their shrewd facilitating of the concentration of wealth, their laissez-faire anti-regulation doctrines, their unjust wars, and their pandering to interests that are opposed to the greater good.

Both liberals and conservatives seem to myopically ‘fail to see the forest for the trees’.  How can these tendencies be altered?  A new political coalition needs to be created that advances intelligent priorities and keeps the long-term best interests of young people and future generations in mind.  This coalition must forsake wrong-headed priorities and ill-conceived actions.

I believe that the ascendancy of conservatism in recent years is only an ephemeral trend.  The pendulum has swung too far to the right, and must swing back in more progressive directions.  It cannot be otherwise, for eventually conservatives find themselves so busy plugging the leaks in the dike that holds back the flood of human progress that they will be swept away in an inevitable purge of their obstructionism.  Thus, authoritarianism and fascism and oppressive rulers and deniers of evolution leave their mark on history and then are swept into the dustbin of irrelevance.  The more staunch the efforts they make to oppose change, the more force that builds up to sweep away those who resist reform and progress.  In this view of history, the tide always washes toward evolutionary adaptation, by fits and starts, with reactionary resistance being punctuated by revolutionary leaps forward. 

This is similar to one of the most profound understandings of cosmology and geology:  the concept of ‘punctuated equilibrium’.  This tidy perspective recognizes the general nature of slow incremental change that is punctuated by sudden bursts of more rapid changes.  We see this clearly when we explore the continuous but almost imperceptible forces of erosion, and when we then juxtapose these processes against such awe-inspiring events as earthquakes, tsunamis, calamitous flooding, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and the impacts of monumental storms.

Plants and animals that are the most successful under existing conditions help a species to prosper and survive.  The long-term survival of each species is helped by different individuals that are the most adept at coping with changing conditions.  Thus it seems probable that having a variety of types and capabilities within human societies provides a survival advantage.  So it may be a good thing that there are people with conservative propensities and others with liberal tendencies.  It seems that conservatives are often more adept at exploiting status quo conditions, and liberals seem to be most adept in dealing with inevitable change.  It takes all kinds!

Genetic and dispositional variability of individuals within a species assures a diverse pool that has an optimum chance of adapting when competitive or environmental conditions change.  It is clear that we live in times that are changing more rapidly than at almost any point in evolutionary history.  This is because of increasing competition, revolutionary changes in technology, social turmoil, unprecedented increases in human numbers, the demographics of urbanization, and the increasingly significant impacts of humanity on the vital ecological underpinnings of biological existence.

Survival is good, and to optimize our chances of survival as a species we must make the best of whatever comes our way.  We must also think in terms that are more salubrious in the long run.  We must anticipate the consequences of our actions so that we ensure that propitious outcomes result for the good of future generations.  Sensible, intelligent, farsighted, and fair-minded policies are required.  Simultaneously, we must strive to prevent stupidly shortsighted and selfishly narrow-minded policies from dominating.  We need to throw out all the rascals whose master plan is to divide, conquer, dominate, and exploit in order to build a global empire. 

I believe that we are in great need today of a smart, rational, humorous, and powerful new voice that cautions us about the risks that our ship of state faces -- risks of figuratively running aground in increasingly treacherous waters.  Using Mark Twain’s ideas, and the metaphor of close attention to true soundings, I aspire to provide that voice in the writings of the Earth Manifesto.  These words were first written in January 2008, and by January 2009, Barack Obama has become President and promises to give wings to hopes for more sane directions forward.

Long before Sam Clemens became a writer and adopted the pen name Mark Twain, he was a provincial boy in the ‘slave state’ of Missouri.  He had few prospects of escaping the poverty of his family circumstances and his Victorian-era rural provincialism.  He was enamored with adventure and travel, so at the age of 21 he borrowed money to undertake a two-year apprenticeship “marking twain” as a pilot on a Mississippi River steamboat.  During his second year, Sam’s beloved younger brother Henry died in a boiler explosion on the steamboat Pennsylvania.  The trauma of Henry’s death gave Sam a more cynical outlook on life.  It made him realize how much randomness and luck there is in life, and it reinforced his doubts about the prevailing Christian doctrine that there is a cosmically benevolent Providence.  The event also stimulated him to think for himself and make up his own mind about what is true. 

Sam Clemens’ keen eye for the absurd in the human condition contributed to his later success in writing, as did his recognition of the cosmic insecurities faced by all.  He developed a satirical perspective on biblical literalism and backwater ideas of “biblical inerrancy”.  Irony and paradox and humorous exaggeration became the hallmarks of his written expression.  He poked fun at the pious, and he eventually became a critic of hypocrisy, corruption, inequality and war-mongering imperialism.

Victor Hugo noted that “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”  Ideas arise when the need starts becoming obvious.  At first, new ideas always meet resistance from entrenched interests and conservatives and other forces of inertia.  We must overcome, and cooperate with others to achieve better social and environmental outcomes, even if some ‘sacrifice’ may be required!

Readers are encouraged to check out the ideas at www.EarthManifesto.com for insights into the proper goals of our lives, and the better means that we could be using to achieve these ends.  In particular, for provocative ideas and an epic elaboration of valuable understandings, see Comprehensive Global Perspective – An Illuminating Worldview.  Since this manifesto is not one merely of diagnosis, but also of prescription, see the compendium of good ideas in Part Four, including “One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies” and the “Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity”.    

Thanks for giving these ideas your consideration!


                                            Dr. Tiffany B. Twain       

                                               Hannibal, Missouri