Reset: Endings & Beginnings

We in the United States are in a position where the President and his associates are currently under investigation by the FBI for collusion with a (non-democratic) foreign power, which is now suspected with tampering in the French electoral process as well.  According to ongoing reporting by the thankfully still free & independent press, which the President has relentlessly attacked in true dictatorial style, undoubtedly because he understands the truth is a threat, many members of his inner circle may be violating the law by maintaining massive financial conflicts of interest.  Meanwhile, the President’s hideous budget calls for cuts to or the elimination of virtually every service that vulnerable Americans depend on, up to and including Meals on Wheels, a simple, effective program that feeds the elderly who are unable to feed themselves.  All this is happening after one of the ugliest and most poisonous elections in the country’s history.

The hateful, racist alt-right, which sees in Trump’s rise a resurgence of white nationalism, is mirrored by an increasingly angry, militant, and grim new Left, whose calls for resistance and revolution are becoming surprisingly mainstream. Stuck in the middle are millions of anxious, confused, & befuddled people who simply want this whole nightmare to blow over, and for things to go back to the way they were. They won’t. We have not yet reached 100 days of Trump’s administration, and we already seem to be increasingly at risk of nuclear war (!) with North Korea. If we manage to avoid that, the reality of climate change, which is, incredibly, being exacerbated by the administration’s policies, will inevitably bring misery and suffering to millions. We are engaged in high-stakes gambling with the future of the planet, and history suggests we are unlikely to win.

The political instability this country is facing is not the cause, but a symptom of deep trauma & malaise, fundamentally ethical, and also the symptom of a damaged national psyche whose origin dates at least to the Vietnam War and probably before.

“We don’t win wars anymore,” said Mr. Trump on the campaign trail. But who’s counting? Does it even matter? Who could “win” in Iraq or Afghanistan? Only for-profit military contractors that scored big no-bid contracts. Not the employees, per se, but certainly their shareholders (likely including Trump nominee Betsy DeVos).

The Iraq War was not necessarily about oil, and obviously not about weapons of mass destruction. It was really just about war, for its own sake: a way to stimulate the economy, create “jobs”, privatize socialized property (including oil), and manufacture and test new weapons. There was nothing to “win”, and no real reason to. In war for its own sake, there need be no victor: destruction and production are enough. “Nation building” means digging a hole, then filling it. Rinse and repeat.

That the whole botched “Shock and Awe” disaster has resulted in a new virulent religious death cult that is plaguing the world today simply creates another business opportunity to invest in: increasingly intrusive “security”, which Americans have been the “early adopters” of ever since. In the public sector, the increased demand for security has resulted in an increasingly militarized police.

So Mr. Trump obviously misses the point when he talks about “winning wars”, apparently thinking that they are about international contests rather than free enterprise. His even more hideous vision of war, that of white nationalistic conquest, in which black and brown people are forced into their “place” in a fictional, invented, endlessly disproven fantasy of racial hierarchy (a fantasy which, if it did not necessarily win Mr. Trump the election, obviously did not cost it for him), can only result in a literal Hell on Earth: something genuinely apocalyptic, for whites as well as everyone else, as implementing his vision would result in the suppression of all diversity and dissent, and likely any kind of individuality whatsoever. It requires everyone to be a square peg in a square hole, and Heaven help those who cannot or refuse to fit. This is Fascism at its core: conformity to an racial ideal is impossible for anyone (no matter how close they seem to be), and ultimately pointless anyway. It’s easier and much more fun to be yourself.

In any case, his awful agenda involves sawing off the branch on which we all sit, by detaining, deporting, and harassing massive and critical segments of the U.S. workforce, and pissing in the well from which we all drink, by gutting any semblance of environmental protection (of course, those are only the two of the more disturbing parts of his platform, and ignore his attacks on health care, education, the arts…).

Our world is already on the cusp of climate disaster. The seasons are being eradicated, and the weather is increasingly chaos. Temperatures vary by twenty, thirty, or more degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of hours (this is typical of a particular kind of climate region: the desert). All this in addition to the usual widespread toxic pollution that does not necessarily affect the climate, merely human health. The current administration’s literally suicidal approach is not only to do less to prevent all this, but to accelerate towards oblivion with maniacal abandon. And there were already attempts by the administration to stifle scientific reporting before Mr. Trump even took office. True, there are profits to be made by razing rainforests to produce disposable paper cups and palm oil, but at a certain point, we run out not only of ancient forests to destroy, but also of clean water to pour into the paper cup (of course, privatizing water is big business as well: the workings of supply & demand here are painfully obvious). The opposite of “Sustainability” is “Death”. We must choose Life!

The film “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a tragic, beautiful, & horrific vision of our world one click away from oblivion. The world is desert, overrun with violent gangs racing to the bottom, competing over what little food & fuel is left in the world. Humanity is ravaged with disease, and extinction seems almost preferable to the degenerate, illiterate, brutish, and miserable life the few remaining survivors lead. Few in the audience would trade places with even the “elite” of that deranged world.

This essay is primarily a prayer that we avoid that ruinous path. When the results of the election was announced, I personally plunged into an emotional darkness that I know many others across the country felt. It seemed that the bottom had fallen out, and the hell-world of “Fury Road” was just one of the possible fates looming far below that we risked plummeting towards, in free fall. It is no small miracle that we haven’t, largely because a collective “NO” has reverberated from so many corners of the country and the world. Whatever the outcome, this “NO” has shook the world.

“Now what?” is the daily/weekly/monthly question that has been asked since the election. Now what, indeed? Will the genie go back into the bottle? Will our economy continue to be based on disposable cups/plates/towels/napkins/clothing/furniture/phones/cameras/cars and virtually everything else? Are we going to continue to demonize the poor even as our systems demoralize and destroy them? Are we going to continue to try and quantify and measure every aspect of every human being as “Big Data” in order to rank them and classify them according to some misguided and asinine formula or algorithm, in a manner akin to phrenology? Are we going to continue to strip any semblance of privacy & dignity from every person while normalizing the sick fiction that the virtual world is a healthy place to maintain our social lives? Are we going to continue to treat art & culture as nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold? Are we going to continue to hate, fear, & denigrate the “Other” as we excuse and ignore the most heinous acts from “our team”?

Or will we finally, finally, finally, halt our madness with the simplest of attitudes: one of prudence, humility, non-violence, & respect, and perhaps, eventually, trust?

A Proposal For Decreasing Carbon Levels in the Atmosphere

There is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and not only is the amount is increasing daily, but the rate it is increasing is itself increasing, as more people from more nations continue modernize, with the effect of increased carbon
output.  The long term effects of high levels of carbon dioxide are not well understood, and the short term effects are appearing today.

The most obvious solution to this problem would be to reduce carbon emissions wherever possible.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to be politically or economically feasible.  Cutting carbon drastically would also require significant lifestyle changes across the globe. When it comes to cutting down carbon output, likely the best that could be practically acheived would be to slow the rate down, which would not be enough, and even that appears unlikely.

Another proposed solution to the problem is geoengineering, which involves launching shiny particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight away from the earth, cooling it.  This has two major drawbacks – first, it does nothing to reduce the quantity of carbon in the atmosphere, and second, by focusing on cooling the planet, it addresses only temperature, and not any other possible side effects of elevated CO2 levels.

I propose that a genetically-engineered bacteria designed to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen be released into the atmosphere.  The bacteria would inhale carbon, and in fact thrive in a carbon rich environment.

Single-celled organisms that consume carbon and exhale oxygen already exist and are well-studied.  Algae, or pond-scum, are examples of such a species.  Scientists have already discovered microorganisms living in the upper atmosphere, many of which live off of carbon dioxide.  It would be well within the capabilities of the scientific community to genetically modify one of these microorganisms and release more of them into the atmosphere.

It may not even be necessary to intervene in a natural process that is already underway.  These microorganisms exist, and are likely to continue to thrive on the huge amounts of carbon entering our atmosphere.  I suggest that we need only to speed this process along, so that the damage of elevated carbon levels in the atmosphere would be minimized.

One of the most appealing aspects of this solution is the apparent lack of side effects.  Obviously, any potential perils of this approach should be carefully considered and studied.  But the byproducts of these microorganisms would primarily be oxygen.  Other byproducts could be controlled in the lab.  These would be “good” bacteria, like many of the ones that comprise an essential part of human digestion.