Postcards from Ecotopia

old new lefty

old new lefty
alienation, discontent
September 16
Making trouble whenever possible
virgin novelist, middle school teacher for the morally handicapped, government bureaucrat, most famous unknown photographer in LA, PhD dropout, coat hanger sorter, presidential campaign worker, sewer worker, and retired guy -- but not in that order.


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MARCH 2, 2013 4:55PM

3 Books For What Little Time We Have Left (Part II)

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world wide web

 This is a visualization of what the world wide web looks like at a particular point in time.  The box might represent the places on the net that you frequent.  Since the internet is always changing, connections and social/information networks are being created and modified from moment to moment. This picture would look noticeably different if you were to look at it in even one second's difference in time.

Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere:  The New Global Revolutions  by Paul Mason, Verso Press, London

Paul Mason would say that the very fact that you're reading this is an indication that you're already an active participant in the revolution that has been overtaking the planet.  Twenty years ago, such a thing as Open Salon would have been inconcievable.   And with mobile phones, instant messaging, tweets, and Facebook -- the internet has become a vital part of more than 50% of the world's population.

Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere is an interesting blend of journalism and sociology.  Mason covers the front lines of demonstrations in London, Athens, Cairo, and Occupy Wall Street among other places.  But he also gives fascinating insights about the power of our newfound  global interconnectedness.

In the concept of networks for example, the more people that use a network -- the more powerful and useful it becomes for everyone.  Networks allow for free collaborative efforts in ways that were never possible before.  Think of Wikipedia or Wikileaks.  And the ocean of information at our fingertips makes research and fact checking infinitely easier than ever.  Mason says, it's as if every subject has the equivalent of being able to use a calculator for mathematics.

It's easy to dismiss a lot of what's on the net as nothing more than cute cat pictures or people trying to hook up with one another in some kind of romantic situation.  But think of the political implications of the global interconnectedness of the internet. I will refer you to PFC. Bradley Manning as a case in point.  He has just been sentenced to multiple counts of unauthorized release of sensitive government documents in what later became known as Wikileaks. But Manning's revelations about the informal behind the scenes conduct of American foreign policy was one of the factors that led up to the Arab Spring.

Manning's revelations swept through the Middle East like wildfire, creating immediate ripples against long entrenched regimes.  In Tunisia, a college educated fruit peddler set himself on fire to protest the lack of jobs, government corruption, and its authoritarian rule.  This in turn set off a chain reaction that involved thirteen countries in that area.  The world is now monitoring the situation in Syria.  And the Syrian civil war would not have happened were it not for the events in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.

And of course, the events of the Arab Spring influenced the United States with the populist fight in Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street. What Mason says in Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere is that the net has become the greatest political organizing tool ever produced by mankind.  Other revolutions like 1848 or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 were in part caused by technological changes.  But up until now, there has never been a technology so well adapted for the spontaneous use of people power.

Mason would also add that stagnating economic conditions,  coupled with highly educated young people with virtually no future and with the ability to monitor in real time the events that are taking place all over the world has produced a mixture that will radically transform society within the next ten years.

A skeptic might rightly criticize this line of thought by saying, " Well yes, it's true that the internet has connected the planet together in a way that it's never been connected before.  And granted, it has even significantly changed the way people think.  But, has either this interconnectedness or the political affects really changed the existing power structure?  I haven't seen any changes in power relations in society lately in favor of democracy.  In fact, it looks as if the elite is even more in control now than it was a few years ago."

I think that both Paul Mason and I would have the same answer, and that is that now popular social movements for democracy rocket around the world like a pinball, and this is symptomatic of the power of the internet.  The internet has unleashed the potential of individual ideas and thoughts, which receive almost instant validation or rejection in part due to the ease of fact checking on the net. The validation that comes when a million people like a particular political item or cause on Facebook for example is easily translated into massive pressure for a government to respond. And the instant approval of a political message is also based on the fact that lies and disinformation are much easier to unmask now than ever before because of the same technology.

To be sure, no one knows why one revolution succeeds or fails. Nor is there any reliable predictor of when protest movements will metastasize. Why for example, did the revolution succeed in Algeria and Tunisia, and less so elsewhere.  Why did Occupy Wall Street fizzle out as a highly visible entity?

 While the spark that sets off the forest fire may be unpredictable, the odds increase every day for progress to be made -- oftentimes small and isolated to one minor part of one policy area or another.  But in the long run, the tide is ever more in our favor.  The rapidly approaching runway of catastrophic climate change, the demographics of a more multicultural America, and the intense focus and competency of young people from high school to their 30s all mean that the odds will be more and more in the favor of genuine societal change in the next ten years.

Our collective condition now is that individual leaders, issues, and even movements are becoming more chimerical, flexible, and fungible.  Just as the net shifts from second to second, the process of citizien involvement becomes more quicksliver and fluid.  Because of their hierarchical, bureaucratic nature, governments have been forced to adapt to this new reality.  And the potential for change grows.

Our current period of foment is most closely related to the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, where people throughout the continent rebelled against the old and creaky monarchical system that people with democratic sentiments labored under.  The revolts of 1848, like the revolts now -- were national in character.  And Mason points out that both now and then were periods of great technological change. Mason has demonstrated that the technology has already promoted a much larger and more significant change than what my generation accomplished in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the question still remains, how are we going to accomplish our highest aspirations and change the seemingly unchangeable situation in Washington, DC and elsewhere in the world.  I have a book in Part III that may provide some of those answers.



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Great review. I agree with your premises for two basic reasons: 1) the Internet definitely offers people an alternative narrative (i.e. way of understanding the world) beyond what the corporate media offers them and 2) it's really hard to estimate what proportion of the population has been mobilized because movements are typically invisible until they reach a critical mas of 10% - the point at revolutionary change occurs.

I have been fighting to establish a single payer health care system in the US since 1988. When I first started, the concept was universally seen as "socialized medicine." Thanks largely to the multiplying power of the Internet, there is broad understanding (and support - between 60-70%) for publicly funded health care. Support is strong among health professionals than the public. The point is that only a few rabid right wing outlets would even think of calling it "socialized medicine" at this point.

Apparently the 10% figure for revolutionary change is confirmed by a number of social psychology studies.
What I meant to say is that support is stronger among health professionals than the public.
The Internet has been a fascinating development alright and its lack of precedents makes it near impossible to say with any confidence what effects its longer term use will have. Right now it gets accused of destroying literacy while enabling a communications explosion. It encourages glibness while offering unprecedented intellectual content to the masses. It's the death music as it undercuts copyright while providing a platform for any act to get a start. It allows hitherto persecuted minorities, gays for instance, to participate in kindred spirit virtual communities, just as it does the same for budding jihadists the world over.

Right now too much public policy is twisted to serve the monied interests. I'm not sure how much their influence will get undermined by the Internet. And among the variables will be the soon enough onset of global warming. And how far off is the technology that will create a suitcased-size device that can level a city? And when that happens, what kind of surveillance system will be implemented?

Looking forward to part 3 onl.
nice analysis. have been having similar thoughts and was about to write a similar blog. yeah arab spring and occupy wallst is unprecedented. its amazing to contrast it with some thinking just a little prior to it that said, basically, "the revolution will not be digitized" and that network activism was only having a very weak political effect.
I would argue that occupy wall st succeeded significantly-- basically in determining the key agenda and framing of the 2012 election. it led to the disastrous frame of romney as rich and out of touch. it was a charicacture, but it probably wouldnt have succeeded without wall st. notice how much the key events of the election lined up with the occupy wall st agenda. it set the terms of debate, which in many ways, can determine the outcome of the debate also. so it wasnt a direct victory, but an indirect one. more direct victories are probably on the horizon.
yeah the situation with assange is also very interesting to ponder wrt world attn. he would probably be in jail or guantanamo by now if it werent for the eyes of the world, via the internet, on the eucadorian embassy etc....
I've written before in this blog about the incredible affect that Occupy had in my city. My small town in Oregon was the 11th largest OWS demonstration in the country. And it galvanized the entire non-profit and local government structures to actually step up to the plate and do more for the homeless situation. The internet of course, was a major part of the equation. Over 3300 friends on Facebook were on the local OWS website.

And while there is virtually no Occupy visible right now publicly, that doesn't mean that there isn't a continuing private networking going on all over the country on OWS and the issues that brought it into being.

As I said before, the potential for not only spontaneous protest, but strategies and tactics for effecting social change grows every day -- among other places -- right here on Open Salon.
As a confirmed pessimist I enjoy a bit of optimism on occasion, like a spicy dish but I look at the real world where the health scam that Obama has put in place instead of true national health, like the universities outpricing their offerings where , in my youth, there were so many free universities, like the almost total defeat of the labor movement in the USA and the total reward for the tremendous gains in production out of technology going entirely to the wealthy elite, like the US government dumping trillions of dollars into the pockets of the financial criminals that upended the world's economy, like the slashing of much of the governmental aids to the poor, the sick, the uneducated, like the horrifying waste of the Pentagon on useless expensive military crap, like the invasion of counties like Libya that has spent huge amounts of its oil wealth to the benefit of the populace so now the Western oil corporations can gorge themselves on the resources, like the total destruction of Iraq which is in the control of gangsters no better than Saddam and the country is a wreck, like the monstrous growth of hired armies to destroy cultures and civilizations, like the totally phony murderous punishments put on Iran because it might possibly challenge the US in that area, like the growth of torture and drone murder with no end in sight, like the development of robot armies that promise even more murder and destruction, like the permanent loss of jobs and homes throughout the world to satisfy scamming corporations etc., etc just to touch on the human end and not mention the oncoming blitz nature is working up.
Yeah I really do enjoy a bit of sweet optimism to lighten things up.
Interesting. Of course Comcast et al are trying as hard as they can to close th inrenet off. But I'll put m y money on the geeks every time. Do you think iot's true -- that story about Anonymous foiled Karl Roved attempt to game the election electronically? I sure hope so. Either way, the appalled, incredulous look on Rove's face when the 'wrong' results starting coming through was quite possibly the highlight of a memorable evening.
Jan, for all those reasons you ticked off there are people networking with each other, strategizing ways to counteract our collective pessimism.

Steve, I have no doubt that Anonymous not only hacked Rove's operation, but put him unknowingly in a condition of 100% bottom up surveillance. And the kids who did it probably came from all over the world.
Technology has two sides. I would worry about the increased ability for surveillance as I would rejoice in interlinking. Interlinking is obvious, just from a personal standpoint: If I come up with some explanation that helps people understand what's wrong with the concentration of wealth in a way non-economists can easily get, I blog about it and I know people I know in Oregon, Virginia, Georgia, Germany, Canada, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Kansas, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kentucky and more places will read it within a couple of days. It didn't cost me anything to write, it doesn't cost them anything to read, and it's absurdly easy. The ideas are shared, the ideas are criticized, questions are asked and answered, and someone somewhere uses the concept in a discussion with a conservative relative or, better yet, in a classroom.

I'm glad to know that Occupy is turning out to have been useful. It was too unfocused to work. It featured a lot of people saying "We're angry in general" but not a lot about what should be done about it in specific terms. However, if it hooked up networks, great. That's useful. It may end up helping with elections.

The internet certainly helps us keep people accountable, for the time being. Someone pulls something and they hear about it from hundreds of thousands of people within a few days. You want to What? The nice thing about surveillance is that it's a two-way street.
I just posted something new and wonderful, part of which references a study reckoning that the Arab Spring was mostly motivated by crop failures in Russia, China, and middle eastern countries. And that these failures were drought driven, which was/is climate change driven.

The notion that the planet's entire population can live the 90210 lifestyle is silly. The poor will always be with us. The issue is, what is the "proper" gap between them and us?
I'm not sure what any proper gap looks like. There's the gap between them and us and then there's the gap between most of us and a few of us, which is also huge. And I do mean huge. The top 1% of the population has over a hundred times the wealth of the combined bottom 40%. I am neither kidding nor exaggerating.

Speaking personally, closer to subsistence would work if it were secure. It's the worry that's the worst.
[r] ONL, so glad I caught this. I want to share your hope and excitement. I have found validation and nurturing ideas and community in cyberspace that feeds my soul.

I also see the dark force of the powers that presently be who can snuff out our global communication slowly and steadily or suddenly with economic ruination or physical violence to a person or to a community or to a nation. communication in cyberspace can become an impossibility to more and more as people are doomed to a beggarly and suffering existence, if they manage that.

mobilization of heros on the net and mobilization of idiots and mobilization of sociopaths, though the rich ones don't need the net. they just hire their own armies or lobbyists or outsource the government's army or politicians to do their EVIL and rob and murder in their lawlessness. that seems their satanic game of patriarchy.

we need a paradigm shift to humanism. (that message to God's and humanity's ears.)

congrats on edit's pick. it deserves it!

best, libby
I really don't understand what you're advocating. Do you think the corporations, like Google, MicroSoft, Apple, Starbucks, the Gap, general Electric, General Motors, caterpillar, etc. are going to disappear? become communes run by idealistic 20 somethings? The Republicans got their sequester. The budgetary fights in Washington will continue without any revolutionary changes. Sure, in the long run, the demographic changes may turn Texas from red to blue. But before that happens some kind of austerity program will have to be followed by the federal government, not to mention most state governments. How is the airy fairy stuff you're writing about going to change that?
Yagoda, you are asking some very fair quesitons. The battle between the rich and the poor has been going on since at least the time of Plato. And you are entirely right in that the multinationals will not fold their tents to make love beads.

However, there were a couple of things that I talked about in Part I that bear repeating:

1. The multinationals recognize the threat that global warming has for our entire planet, and their prescriptions call for democratic and consenusal mechanisms for dealing with the problem, even while they admit that suprational organizations like the UN, World Bank, G-20, or central banks may need to be given greater powers to solve the problems of an increasingly fragile planets.

2. The European and North American sections of the multinationals are against dictatorial or repressive methods for a redistribution of income from the rich to the poor.

There are some inherent contradictions in this approach. A small d democracy is at odds with diktat from some global body.

Hyman Minsky and others have documented that our financial and economic system is becoming more risk prone, brittle, and subject to catastrophic failure.

Events like the demonstrations in Greece and other parts of Europe have had an impact on the actions of the European Union, and the powers that be in the EU must respond delicately or risk a mega-catastrophic blowup of the euro and the alliance. As much as the bankers would love to impose conditions on Greece, Italy, etc. -- they know that if they press too hard, they will set off a chain reaction.

The weapons that the people of Europe and elsewhere have wielded have centered around using the net the way I've talked about here.
And the potential to wield people power has and will increase over time because of the net.

I think I clearly stated that people power is a sometime and not a certain thing. No one has a sure proof way of making revolution, much let alone starting one. But if economic, environmental, or political/social conditions get bad enough, the chances for citizen rebellion increase substantially.

Where you fall down is in assuming that austerity must be applied. Why does it have to? Isn't is just as easy for the 0.001% to change their mind as to ram austerity down the throats of the rest of the population, particularly if there's already some demonstration of enlightened self interest on their part, i.e. with widely accepted findings from the Club of Rome, etc?

It seems to me that we're still fighting the battle that Plato talked about, and the outcome for us is at this point unresolved.

And I'm describing some significant social phenomena that are currently in the mix -- not as some starry eyed idealist, but as a seasoned political hack (with my own biases, of course).
ONL, even if the top fraction of 1% down to the top 5% say agreed to bear a heavier burden the resulting increase in tax revenue is far too small to obviate the need for some combination of spending cuts and tax increases on the middle and working classes. You know that entitlement programs in the US have to be reformed and the excess costs of health care reined in and that is a monumental task because the health insurance companies, the hospitals, the doctors, pharma, etc. can obfuscate the issue and any ham handed reforms instituted by a progressive government, which would be the result of people power succeeding in the US, can make health care worse, with increased rationing, etc., than we have presently. Furthermore people power in Europe, and in the US can manifest itself as a move to some kind of fascist, or National Socialist, corporatist form of government you know. In Spain, Greece, etc. that is a real possibility and in Hungary, the other eastern European countries, fascist movements are gaining ground. Finally the Keystone XL pipeline, shale oil and gas projects, etc. will be built so I don't know how you can be sanguine about some kind of serious awakening to global climate change and taking appropriate action. My prediction is that a lot of lip service may be paid to that issue but fossil fuel usage will continue to increase no matter what.
Yagoda, on the first two points you make -- the evidence does not back you up. First, inequality has risen to extreme levels historically in the US since 1980. The concentration of wealth in this country has substantially weakened our democracy, and we are in a very similar position to the era of the robber barons. So any redistributive mechanism on the top 1% will be substantial.

Secondly, as to "entitlements." The Congressional Budget Office has said that there will be no problems in funding Medicare until 2024 and no problems even beginning with Social Security until 2037. So why are we in such a hot flash to cut deficit spending?

Any long term concerns about either program could be easily addressed through two mechanisms. First, military spending could be cut dramatically with no loss of military preparedness. The F-35 -- a single military project- is not only a flying turkey but one that costs over $450 billion. That project alone would practically meet Simpson Bowles.

Secondly, any long term deficit could be totally eliminated by instituting a flat tax -- FICA i.e. Social Security tax. This is a tax that has no deductions, no loopholes, and is ridiculously simple. Why not have Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pay the same percentage on FICA that you or I do?

I share your concerns about fascism. When austerity bites, fascism increases. That seems to be the rule all over the world. And yet, with our concern about the sequester, for example, we appear to be encouraging fascist movements and backlash in this country. And so the message that Paul Mason has in his book becomes even more important.

As to global warming, when it kicks into overdrive -- the whole planet will agree that we were addicted too long to fossil fuels. But then it will be too late. And this is what the Club of Rome indicated in Part I of this series.
ONL, this is the most controversial topic of all...would government taxation to reduce the outrageous wealth inequality in the US be sufficient to make a significant difference in the government's fiscal position? By itself an increased taxation policy in the last 12 years would still have left a situation of growing deficits and debt because of the dumb Iraq war and other military expenditures and you are dreaming if you think the Defense Dept. can be significantly reduced. Already with this puny budget sequestration pressure is building to stop Defense cuts. And today it is impossible to raise taxes too much and so here we are. The F-35 is junk but there are so many vested interests in producing junk or unnecessary things, or overcharging in health care (the 200 dollar bandage, etc.) that this is such a systemic problem of corruption it is hard to imagine any changes. I don't believe any movement of young people and progressives can reverse this systemic corruption particularly since many of the best and brightest youth actually are hired by the corporate and business sectors and thus the system perpetuates itself. I don't know where you get your optimism.
Also I support progressive youth activity as in the example of your Oregon town where activism has helped the homeless problem. That's great! As a genuine conservative I urge everyone to get involved and help the mentally ill, the disabled, the environment, growing flora on your house roof, experiment with alternative energy, etc. Where I disagree vehemently with you is that on a larger scale, where political power starts becoming concentrated because of larger scale activities, that in those cases people are driven by ego and power and corruption inevitably ensues. This is HUMAN NATURE! So the Keystone XL pipeline will be built, we will continue to have massive wrangling about excessive health care costs, the financial sector will continue to successfully lobby against populist regulations, etc. The progressive movement will always butt heads with a reactionary status quo force or power. If you don't understand this you are a dreamy idealist...shame on you, wink
Old Lefty, I think that we're on to something here. Do I think of John Lennon's dreaming, in "IMAGINE, No countries; borders; this rather archaic architecture that has most of the world imprisoned, in concept if not in fact ... God, yes.
You touch on the points of our growth as people: in 1968, that tumultuous brew of a year, where for the life of me, I can not understand how we nearly had our experience with the democratic system completely flush itself,as the in party put up a faux candidate who wound up receiving votes garnered by a dead man and another who left the race ... ushering in Nixon, who in six years, was launched on his kayak to posterity. History for us has been a tough teacher -- and we are not the most willing students, here in the land of the Free ... Or , so we tell ourselves.
Yagoda, I appreciate your comments.

inthisdeepcalm, you are eloquent.
"Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere is an interesting blend of journalism and sociology. "

good enough for me - I'll check it out from my library down the street - thx