Connection: A state of empathy with, and understanding of our critical dependence on the natural world and other human beings. This is the natural state of human beings.
Disconnection: The inability to relate to, or understand the natural world and humans’ critical dependence on it. This is the normal state of civilized humans.
Tool of Disconnection: A device by which humans are disconnected from, and prevented from being reconnected to, the natural world and other human beings.
Tool of Disconnection 7: Lie To Us
It seems so obvious that in order to thrive as a species, humanity is dependent on a fully functioning, healthy and diverse global ecology. When you turn on the television news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper, the state of the global ecology is shown clearly as improving or deteriorating in quality overall, with x number of species having evolved or become extinct, and certain trophic levels becoming more or less dominant. Or rather, this is what we should be seeing and hearing: instead, we learn about the state of the global economy, whether the markets are rising or falling; how many jobs have been gained or lost; which companies are taking over others, and which sectors of the economy are thriving or failing. The economy is king; the ecology is a footnote.
It is impossible to create something out of nothing. National economies or, in microcosm, the finances of individual companies, cannot grow unless they take something from somewhere else: this can either be in the form of market share from other nations or companies, or by creating product from a resource like oil, metal ore, limestone (for cement) or the ecological complexity of a natural habitat, such as an ancient forest. The global economy cannot take market share from another planet; it can only grow by using additional resources taken from this planet.
Taken like that, it is obvious that economic growth is ultimately unsustainable – especially given the narrow, capital-based definition used to define the term ‘economy’ in the industrial world – yet, we continue to be fobbed off by the message that we must have economic growth in order to progress or develop as humans. Of course, if we judge development or progress in terms of the number of televisions, computers and cars we have, the size of home we have or the amount of energy we use, then economic growth most certainly does lead to a more ‘developed’ human race. If we judge development or progress on rather more esoteric (and, quite frankly, more important) measures such as clean water and air, physical and mental health, freedom of expression, and having a future that our descendants will be able to thrive in, then economic growth is failing on almost all of these counts. Humans in every place touched by the rank hand of industrialization are told that development based upon economic growth is good. When you think about it, though, the only true form of development is that which moves us into balance with our natural environment – in effect a reversal of what we are now doing. You do not have to be financially prosperous for your water to be clean – you just need a basic level of hygiene, sensible water management techniques and, most of all, a lack of toxic muck being poured into the water supply by industrial processes.
Economic growth as a necessity is the biggest lie that humanity has ever been sold; yet we are lapping it up because the lie is repeated day after day by every information source we are unfortunate enough to be subjected to.
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In a rather wonderful chapter of his book Heat, George Monbiot describes how the vested interests of climate change – the corporations, agencies and individuals whose existence depends on producing greenhouse gases – have colluded for decades to ensure the public, you and me, are kept confused and ill-informed. The methods now used for denying that humans are changing the climate are the same methods used by the tobacco industry throughout the late decades of the 20th century: corporate funded articles and press releases that specialize in misinformation and pseudo-science; artificially created grassroots coalitions known as ‘Astroturfs’; a host of media representatives funded by industry; and an unhealthy dose of ‘greenwash’, specifically designed to make companies look environmentally sustainable when they are nothing of the sort. This is a pet hate of mine, so much so that, at the start of 2008, I set up an anti-greenwashing website called The Unsuitablog. In one article, regarding the mining company BHP Billiton, I wrote:
Like all destructive companies, BHP Billiton are engaging in some striking greenwash: in fact they have just agreed a new Climate Change Policy, which is not surprising considering their operations emit nearly 52 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere every year (that’s about the same as Denmark – yes, the entire country!) It’s a pity they have entirely failed to commit to any reductions in greenhouse gases at all. Exactly what kind of Climate Change Policy is this?
Corporations, in particular, take advantage of the innate trust we have in authority figures, often hiring scientists (in the spirit of Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments) to speak to the media, apparently on their own behalf, while in fact ensuring that the information put across is precisely the information the corporations want the public to hear. The damage that has been caused by the continuous stream of lies and denial is impossible to quantify: certainly it has put back public awareness of the climate situation by a decade, at least. When you consider that most environmental damage has been caused in countries whose governments support the biggest lie of all – the ‘need’ for economic growth – it is clear that the greenwashing corporations are in very good company indeed.
Tool of Disconnection 8: Scare Us
We live in times of fear: fear of the impact of terrorism on our ability to live in safety; fear of the effects of economic collapse on our future financial security; fear of what strangers and paedophiles might do to our children. Some of us are even afraid of the effects of climate change. Industrial Civilization instils us with a succession of fears not only because we may be genuinely afraid of a particular thing happening, but also because we live in a state of comparative ignorance. Few people have a good understanding of the nature of risk: for instance, a person might tell you that she drives her child to school in order to protect him or her from ‘stranger danger’, but in doing so she is exposing the child to the far greater risk of being the potential victim of a vehicle crash. This is simple ignorance: the type of fear I want to describe preys on our poor understanding of risk, and is propagated on purpose in order to keep us in check.
Anyone who grew up in the United States in the 1950s will be familiar with the fear of communism, and the many lists that Senator McCarthy threatened to release in order to expose those people who were threatening the stability of the USA with their left-leaning political ideals. What most people in the United States don’t realize, is that ‘McCarthyism’, as the specific attitude came to be known as, had as much to do with communism as the type of politics being espoused in the Soviet Union had to do with genuine communism. A certain suspension of belief is required when you consider that last sentence – especially if you grew up in either the USA or the USSR during the Cold War – because it completely denies two articles of faith that were in place at the time. Firstly, Senator McCarthy, along with the entire state hierarchy (with a couple of exceptions), helped to spin a web of fear in order to encourage patriotism amongst the American people, and ensure everyone was kept ‘on side’. The author Bill Bryson, who grew up in 1950s America, writes:
Thanks to our overweening preoccupation with Communism at home and abroad America became the first nation in modern history to build a war economy in peacetime. Defence spending in the Fifties ranged between $40 billion and $53 billion a year – or more than the total government spending on everything at the dawn of the decade.
History repeats itself, as always; so it was that 50 years later George Bush Jr., along with his cadre of high-ranking political colleagues (all of whom had financial interests in either the arms industry, the oil industry or both) used the threat of global terrorism on the USA to ease through military spending bills totalling more than $3 trillion dollars since September 2001. The 2008 Pentagon budget alone was a shade under $600 billion – nearly a thousand times the amount of money spent on diplomatic relations. It was the threat of terrorism that ensured Americans meekly accepted the Patriot Act, and its even more intrusive successor, Patriot Act II. It was the threat of terrorism that ensured that the torture of hundreds of innocent people in Guantanamo Bay, and thousands more in Iraq and Afghanistan was tolerated by the majority of people in Western Industrial Civilization. It was the threat of terrorism that ensured that, since 2001, every conference of the richest industrial nations had ‘national security’ at, or near, the top of its agenda – pushing climate-change prevention conveniently down the list. Since September 11, 2001, not a single American has died on US soil as a result of a terrorist attack; yet, in that same period at least 300,000 people in the USA have died as a result of motor vehicle incidents. How many times do you hear your political leaders urging you to be afraid of cars?
The second denial of an article of faith I make is that the USSR under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, was never a communist country. Communism implies ‘commune’ and ‘community’ – it does not imply centralized control of all assets with an elite minority benefiting greatly from the labours of the poor majority. But, just like in the USA and every other industrialized nation since the start of the Agricultural Revolution, the Soviet Union practised a deliberately bastardized form of communism designed to funnel economic wealth to a rich and powerful minority. As with the USA, the people of the Soviet Union were kept in a state of fear by their government. This excerpt from a 1941 Marxist document illustrates what had already happened to the Communist Dream:
The Soviet Union can be best understood as a great trade union fallen into the hands of corrupt and degenerate leaders. Our struggle against Stalinism is a struggle within the labor movement. The Soviet Union is a Workers’ State . . . degenerated because of Stalinist rule.
Essentially, two governments were creating a state of fear within their respective borders in order to control the people, and that state of fear was an almost total fabrication of the truth. The Cold War was simply two imperialist, hierarchical states trying to gain global power by force. If only the majority of people in those states had known that at the time.
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However, fear doesn’t only have to be an extension of a real, if muted, threat. Cast your mind back to the Tree Huggers of northern India and the native West Papuans, who were prepared to challenge government and business in order to protect their ways of life. It is now standard practice amongst certain vested interests to refer to such people as ‘eco-terrorists’ or the ‘green mafia’: anything that creates a sense of fear is a vital weapon in ensuring that the public at large see environmental action as a negative thing. For many business-friendly politicians, the doyen of ‘green mafia’ writing is Michael Crichton, whose dramatic, but ultimately fictional book about eco-terrorism, State Of Fear, launched a thousand spin-offs and a great many newly converted climate sceptics. In fact, the eco-terrorism argument goes far deeper than the books of fiction writers – however much they manage to scare people. Senator James Inhofe, former chairman of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is a selfconfessed climate-change sceptic who used the fear agenda in the most direct way possible – by comparing environmentalists to Nazis:
“It kind of reminds . . . I could use the Third Reich, the big lie,” Inhofe said.
“You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that’s their strategy.”
Which, of course, is exactly how governments all around the world advance the message that economic growth is necessary; along with the message that people of different colours, religions or political beliefs are a constant threat to the security of the people those governments rule over. In Brazil, such ideas flow freely from the keyboards of many journalists and politicians. A plan by WWF – one of the most conservative of the big environmental NGOs – to set up a large wildlife reserve in the Amazon rainforest was met with typical contempt:
“This is a new form of colonialism, an open conspiracy in which economic and financial interests act through nongovernmental organizations,” said Lorenzo Carrasco, editor and co-author of The Green Mafia, a widely circulated anti-environmentalist polemic. “It is evident these interests want to block the development of Brazil and the Amazon region by creating and controlling these reserves, which are full of minerals and other valuable natural resources.”
When you don’t have the fear of Communism or terrorism to fall back on, then it’s time to roll out those old staples, ‘preventing development’ and ‘blocking economic growth’. There is most certainly a pattern emerging here. Sadly, though, we have to now leave behind the mere threat of loss and move on to the reality – the execution, as it were – and we don’t even have to change countries to find the first example.
This is an extract from “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis” by Keith Farnish. The author considers the Tools of Disconnection to be so critical to the understanding of civilization’s destructive behaviour that all of the Tools will be detailed on the Chelsea Green Blog over the next few weeks.