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The Last Empire

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"It [U.S.] had an empire of bases abroad, more than 1,000 of them spanning the globe, also an unprecedented phenomenon.

Could the United States actually be the last empire? Is it possible that there will be no successor because something has profoundly changed in the realm of empire building? One thing is increasingly clear: whatever the state of imperial America, something significantly more crucial to the fate of humanity (and of empires) is in decline. I'm talking, of course, about the planet itself.

The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature. The very definition of success - more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere - is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure. The greater the "success", the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme the weather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures,

Every factor that would normally lead toward "greatness" now also leads toward global decline.

What if the story of our times is this: And then there was one planet, and it was going down." - Tom Engelhardt, Asia Times.

http://atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-080513.html

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

polycarp2
Joined:
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Comments

Quote Tom Engelhardt:

The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature. The very definition of success - more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere - is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure. The greater the "success", the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme the weather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures,

Every factor that would normally lead toward "greatness" now also leads toward global decline.

That paragraph implies an understanding of a very complex process that pretty much everyone needs to understand to realize why that last paradoxical statement could possibly be true. "Global decline" in this sense is far more than the ending of the brief moment of American Empire, but the decline of quality of life for everyone on this planet, including the non human species. I've tried on a number of occasions to describe this in ecological terms. I tried again this morning on Karolina's thread about the earth reaching 400ppm CO2 last Thursday.

We humans are a complex, long-lived species that, from best we can guess by examining the fossil record with our still primitive science, adapted primarily to ecosystems that are more stable than those primary stage ecosystems that capitalistic high consumption need creates in its wake.

Creative destruction.

What capitalism "discovered" is the "genius" of creative destruction of climax stages of stability, thus a process to return eons of complex evolution that goes into climax stage development to the primary stage where high production can be replace for natural stability. Of course this involves lots of energy to keep it producing, and we have had that in abundance for about the last hundred fifty years. High production occurs from new colonization (think rows of corn and other forms of human induced monocultures in place of climax stage ecosystems) of a now depopulated mass that was once a climax ecosystem, and results in a primary stage of succession where volatility of high production/consumption can prosper on a short term basis. That these induced stages may create problems for the larger planetary ecosystem is thought of for about as long space of time to a capitalist as it might be by the cancer that invades your body and rather quickly kills you.

This may not be much of a problem in itself if kept localized, as it has been for about the last ten thousand years humans have been working on this methodology, but when it gets out of control and begins to act like a cancer on the vital living "body" parts of planet earth as a whole, it can mean a kind of catastrophe for the species that have adapted to a kind of stability that has been in place for the past few million years.

Quote in an email to me Bill McGibben of 350.org:

On May 9th, for the first time ever, the carbon dioxide counter on the side of Mauna Loa, the most important scientific instrument on earth, recorded a daily average of above 400 parts per million. It’s a grim landmark -- it’s been several million years since CO2 reached these levels in the atmosphere.

Well, not to be picky, but it's not for the first time ever, Bill. As you noted, it happened several million years ago. I presume you mean for the first time in the history of modern humans, which goes back not all that far.

.ren's picture
.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am

And the answer is...? Population control, first of all. I've suggested several measure: free birth control pills world-wide, generous payments for vasectomies and tubal ligation, progressive - onerous - taxation for those who have childfen and, finally, active support for (and participation in) VHEMT (http://www.vhemt.org/). These are sensible, rational and humane suggestions. For that very reason few people will support them.

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caroline01
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Oct. 15, 2011 5:25 am
Quote caroline01:

And the answer is...? Population control, first of all. I've suggested several measure: free birth control pills world-wide, generous payments for vasectomies and tubal ligation, progressive - onerous - taxation for parents who have childfen and active support for (and participation in) VHEMT (http://www.vhemt.org/). These are sensible, rational and humane suggestions. For that very reason few people will support them.

Those are macro level answers (and note you used the word "suggestions") that would have to come from a governing body of some sort, and the methods could be either hegemonically applied through propaganda or applied at the other end of the spectrum through various forms of violence (from the verb "to violate").

Capitalism that is now integral with our governing processes, as Engelhardt points out, does not allow for a governing intelligence to moderate and control what it does. That's an important part of its success for those who believe in it as a force for good, and who now support it around the globe, especially at the upper levels of state management. There is nothing they want to do to change that success, because most of those folks, at the very least, want to be a part of:

Quote Tom Engelhardt:

The very definition of success - more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers,

.ren's picture
.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am

I must be really stupid because I'm finding it really difficult to follow .ren. No offense meant to ren just hard to follow.

So at what point of human activity considered not detrimental to the eco-system? Hunter gatherer society of pre bronze age? bronze age? iron age? shift to agrarian society? At what point did it become detrimental? Yes one can argue about natures ability to absorb human activity and when the ability of the planet to absorb the human activity is outstripped by human activity then one can argue that as the tipping point.

Even with global environmental collpase, man will survive. The thing we have going over all other creatures on this planet and one of many reasons why man is the top predator is that man can eat just about anything. We have more variety of items we consider food! Sea slugs, to bugs ants to worms to catapillars to vegetation of all sort to meat from rats squirrels... The deragtory comment about the Hans that anyting between hell and heaven is fair game is apropo to describe human diet.

America will not be the last empire. There will be others.

There will be great famine when world food production fails in rice growing, failure of wheat or corn. Global warming is a very serious problem but global food security will most likely the one that will lead to collapse of human population in near term. Or the other one would be pandemic of some sort. Suppose what happens if one of hemorrhagic fever became not so virulent. They are so virulent right now that that they tend to flare up and extinquish itself in short time. Ebola is a prime example of this. Suppose if Ebola was on a slower "burn". Or if XDR-TB or MDR-TB becomes even more drug resistant.

smilingcat
Joined:
Sep. 23, 2010 9:14 am

Fools.

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caroline01
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Oct. 15, 2011 5:25 am

It may actually balance itself out. I can see a future where air travel is no longer safe due to violent and turbulent atmospheres. Travel via automobile may become almost impossible due to violent weather and or other dangerous conditions due to the domino effect of climate change. Sooner than later there may be nothing left to burn. It could be a very dangerous time ahead of us but I feel that humans will find their way through it and start all over again. Only this time there will be no choice but to use alternative means of energy and energy sources. Ironically, third world countries may be the only safe havens on the planet and life may once again find it's birth in places like Africa.

Or all eathlings could pull their heads out of their asses now and prepare for what's already coming and reduce future threats. Life is but a dream.

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Bush_Wacker
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Jun. 25, 2011 7:53 am

smiling cat wrote: Even with global environmental collpase, man will survive.

poly replies: Perhaps you don't understand just exactly what a total environmental collapse entails.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ina16XSJQvM

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

polycarp2
Joined:
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm
Quote smilingcat:

I must be really stupid because I'm finding it really difficult to follow .ren. No offense meant to ren just hard to follow.

So at what point of human activity considered not detrimental to the eco-system? Hunter gatherer society of pre bronze age? bronze age? iron age? shift to agrarian society? At what point did it become detrimental? Yes one can argue about natures ability to absorb human activity and when the ability of the planet to absorb the human activity is outstripped by human activity then one can argue that as the tipping point.

To respond to your first point, I am well aware that talking about ecology and ecosystems is not something we humans do well. It takes a lot of work to grasp an ecosystem. They have to be conceived abstractly from a lot of information, and that's an iffy proposition for those who've studied it, even iffyer for those who haven't. I really don't know where to begin most of the time. Most people I know who have studied ecology find themselves in the same boat. We deal with a huge range of understanding when we begin to talk about the topic.

I'm not sure what you are trying to say with this question:

"So at what point of human activity considered not detrimental to the eco-system?"

Thus those ages you put up followed by question marks mean nothing to me until I understand the question.

Like many others, including Tom Engelhardt, I'm suggesting that human activity as it has become expanded with this neoliberal capitalist global technological system of resource depletion and ecological destruction (and I'm sorry for that long list of adjectives describing "this" system, but I don't know which ones don't belong in the description) has become detrimental to all the combined ecosystems of the whole planet as it has come to dominate natural process that are argued to have previously balanced them. You seem to agree that point can be argued which makes the paragraph even more befuddling to me.

Quote smilingcat:

Even with global environmental collpase, man will survive.

And you know that for a fact? How?

Quote smilingcat:

The thing we have going over all other creatures on this planet and one of many reasons why man is the top predator is that man can eat just about anything. We have more variety of items we consider food! Sea slugs, to bugs ants to worms to catapillars to vegetation of all sort to meat from rats squirrels... The deragtory comment about the Hans that anyting between hell and heaven is fair game is apropo to describe human diet.

From an anthropological perspective, a perspective that I favor, we see humans as surviving through their ability to create cultural systems that are adaptive to a wide variety of environments. Whether you can eat the contents of a seal's stomach for the vegetable balance you need but can't otherwise get also includes an ability to create a capacity to live in the arctic at temperatures consistently below zero for about half the year, and to develop techniques that can be taught to following generations for pulling that seal out of the sea beneath a very thick layer of ice. Comparing that to the primarily DNA-set predator/prey relationships of most genetically adapted creatures in an ecosystem (provided you allow that deer eating vegetation is predator/prey) while ignoring our primary capacity of culture-creation could be considered somewhat simplistic, because it narrows the possibilities of what we humans are capable of doing quite a bit, not to mention why we would do it; but that's only from my very limited anthropological perspective.

Quote smilingcat:

America will not be the last empire. There will be others.

If that's so then there is what I would consider a good probability future empires won't be global and technologically based on various versions of petroleum. Unless the abiogenic hypothesis of oil is correct, and in that case we may possibly see the rise of a new petroleum-based global technology some unknown number of years from now -- say maybe five or ten million years when the caverns we've drained have refilled. So far no one has been able to figure out if they are refilling, let alone at what rate. In which case who knows what humans may be around and what they would be like. But this is all pure speculation. Including your hypothesis.

At this point we have no technologies in place to replace this highly consumptive one based on petroleum. There are some dreams but few have the same promise to support this sort of empire. That may change.

Quote smilingcat:

There will be great famine when world food production fails in rice growing, failure of wheat or corn. Global warming is a very serious problem but global food security will most likely the one that will lead to collapse of human population in near term. Or the other one would be pandemic of some sort. Suppose what happens if one of hemorrhagic fever became not so virulent. They are so virulent right now that that they tend to flare up and extinquish itself in short time. Ebola is a prime example of this. Suppose if Ebola was on a slower "burn". Or if XDR-TB or MDR-TB becomes even more drug resistant.

I also tend to be pessimistic about the way seven point some billion people will deal with the problems that I can imagine coming.

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.ren
Joined:
Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am
Quote polycarp2:poly replies: Perhaps you don't understand just exactly what a total environmental collapse entails.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ina16XSJQvM

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

The global climate collapse doesn't mean that all complex organisms will perish. Whether it was end of Permian or Triassic mass extinction or even K/T extinction. Animals did survive through it albeit maybe 1% or species. My perspective is that man being one of the more resilient species due to its ability to consume just about anything between hell and heaven, he is better equipped to find alternate food source to survive. And his ability to survive both in extreme heat and cold, man has a better chance than most other species. So my conjecture going forward is that even with extreme global condition man will be able to survive through it.

Dear .ren,

I will get back to you when I come back from a meeting.

smilingcat
Joined:
Sep. 23, 2010 9:14 am
Quote .ren:

I'm not sure what you are trying to say with this question:

"So at what point of human activity considered not detrimental to the eco-system?"

Thus those ages you put up followed by question marks mean nothing to me until I understand the question.

Like many others, including Tom Engelhardt, I'm suggesting that human activity as it has become expanded with this neoliberal capitalist global technological system of resource depletion and ecological destruction (and I'm sorry for that long list of adjectives describing "this" system, but I don't know which ones don't belong in the description) has become detrimental to all the combined ecosystems of the whole planet as it has come to dominate natural process that are argued to have previously balanced them. You seem to agree that point can be argued which makes the paragraph even more befuddling to me.

My question revolves around "neoliberal...". Are you implying that only the neoliberals are at fault? cut through the fat, is it that only a particular political or economic leaning leads to detrimental effect? My point is that we should not only blame the neo-liberals, fascist and any political parties you do not agree with but to understand that the global problem is part of human activity without any regard to political affiliation.

Quote .ren:From an anthropological perspective, a perspective that I favor, we see humans as surviving through their ability to create cultural systems that are adaptive to a wide variety of environments. Whether you can eat the contents of a seal's stomach for the vegetable balance you need but can't otherwise get also includes an ability to create a capacity to live in the arctic at temperatures consistently below zero for about half the year, and to develop techniques that can be taught to following generations for pulling that seal out of the sea beneath a very thick layer of ice. Comparing that to the primarily DNA-set predator/prey relationships of most genetically adapted creatures in an ecosystem (provided you allow that deer eating vegetation is predator/prey) while ignoring our primary capacity of culture-creation could be considered somewhat simplistic, because it narrows the possibilities of what we humans are capable of doing quite a bit, not to mention why we would do it; but that's only from my very limited anthropological perspective.

Then you agree that with added advantage of culture and ability to organize in deliberate manner for a common goal, that man is far better equipped to weather the global environmental collapse. My point was that just on strict dietary needs and ability to suvive in the extreme, man is better equipped to survive. And if you were to add the point of organization to achieve a goal then you've only increased the chances of mans survival.

Quote .ren:At this point we have no technologies in place to replace this highly consumptive one based on petroleum. There are some dreams but few have the same promise to support this sort of empire. That may change.

Yes it will! My experience and exposure to "high tech" is ... And I can assure you that it will be very different in maybe in your lifetime.

smilingcat
Joined:
Sep. 23, 2010 9:14 am
Quote smilingcat:

My question revolves around "neoliberal...". Are you implying that only the neoliberals are at fault? cut through the fat, is it that only a particular political or economic leaning leads to detrimental effect? My point is that we should not only blame the neo-liberals, fascist and any political parties you do not agree with but to understand that the global problem is part of human activity without any regard to political affiliation.

Whatever your question revolves around in your mind, it doesn't make sense to me. What do you mean, "So at what point of human activity considered not detrimental to the eco-system?" Something's missing that I can either guess at, or you can explain what you mean. I prefer not to guess. I don't understand how you are using "human activity considered not detrimental to the eco-system" in that sentence in combination with the question "So at what point of." Once we get that straightened out I'm going to wonder: What ecosystem? The entire globe as an ecosystem? I see the globe as a multitude of dynamic ecosystems in varying stages of succession. I see systemic balances being established by ecosystems that are in a climax stage of stability and ecosystems that are in various far more dynamic stages, all of which are involved in an evolutionary process.

Neoliberal isn't "a people" to me, it's a term that relates to a system, a political economic system. A now global political economic system that has displaced once intact ethnic cultures and systematized most of the indigenous peoples of the world into variations of pretty much a single finite energy-based technological way of life. I'm not using the term "neoliberal" to describe a party, or a group of people, I'm using it to describe a pervading economic and political way of life in which the vast majority of the world's population is entrapped and in which most of that population now participates, voluntarily or otherwise. More descriptively it pulls people into a vertically integrated similarity of techno industrial pseudo culture instead of a laterally dispersed variety of cultural possibilities adapting to the varying ecologies of the planet, with variations that used to be part of the whole human career, not any particular ethnocentric version. The very notion of "empire" correlates to that vertical integration process. Thus, in my way of using the term, neoliberal could coincide with your notion of all of us, in which case all of us would be "neoliberals" so to speak since we all are participants in one variety or another of its technological political economy versions.

The notion of blame as a way of dealing with problems is your notion introduced in your response. I consider blame to be useless and an utter waste of time. I simply try to identify and describe what's taking place in an effort to better understand what might be actually happening in a real world, not some imaginary political theater. I'm truly apolitical. I have never associated myself with a political party. Other people do that for their own reasons. I do what I do in case there's some hope that an increasing lateral understanding among all humans can prevent what appears to me now to be imminent disaster.

If you hear me as placing blame you hear me wrong and you will undoubtedly make erroneous assumptions that will inevitably lead to logical fallacies about what I mean. From my small spot on this planet I realize there is very little I can do by myself. I believe that the more people who can work to try to understand what's going on the better chance humanity has to deal with the future. Exactly how that works is a mystery to me. When I think of indigenous cultures my thoughts include that mystery. That amounts to my version of faith.

If we trust a monolithic hierarchical system filled with experts to whom we pass off our individual responsibility to think for ourselves, and leave that responsibility to the system to do what's best for us, we give up our autonomy and our essential humanity to become part of something much more like a machine than a culture of engaged human beings. That's how I see it. I try to explain that in as many ways as my feeble imagination allows me to come up with.

Quote smilingcat:

Then you agree that with added advantage of culture and ability to organize in deliberate manner for a common goal, that man is far better equipped to weather the global environmental collapse. My point was that just on strict dietary needs and ability to suvive in the extreme, man is better equipped to survive. And if you were to add the point of organization to achieve a goal then you've only increased the chances of mans survival.

I can't say I agree with the way you put that.

I'm not at all confident any one or any group of humans can predict what a global environmental collapse will be like, let alone figure out how to prepare for it by organizing all or part of the seven point some billion people around the planet at the moment. That collapse may involve what some think could be a Venus effect as the methane cones melt and rapidly release methane into the atmosphere. I don't think eating will be an issue in that scenario.

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 7:50 am

Ren is right about earth turning to Venus. Before that the food issue will be cannibalism, because nothing will be in the seas as the dead zones encompass the whole planet, and nothing grows in deserts, so no veggies to feed livestock and none to feed vegetarians.

Like many others, including Tom Engelhardt, I'm suggesting that human activity as it has become expanded with this neoliberal capitalist global technological system of resource depletion and ecological destruction (and I'm sorry for that long list of adjectives describing "this" system, but I don't know which ones don't belong in the description)
To shorten the reference and borrow a little Hawking, The Theory of All Clusterphux.

Neoliberalism can be considered a disease in varying grades of infection. Bolivia is in remission after intense chemo/radiation killing the Washington Consensus, globally recognized as pathogen zero , or the first circle of hell.

There are cultures that don't seek infinite growth and they consider success the degree of personal satisfaction rather than who has more stuff. [they are also majority atheist, coincidently] They also have the highest ecological scores and higher number of ecological engineers per capita.They also have highest price petrol and most developed mass transit and bicycle usage [they walk, too...a lot]

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douglaslee
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

toward-a-post-growth-society outlines some obvious pragmatic measure that tilt toward resolution, which means they will be shunned by the USA.

It is time for America to move to a post-growth society where working life, the natural environment, our communities and families, and the public sector are no longer sacrificed for the sake of mere GDP growth; where the illusory promises of ever-more growth no longer provide an excuse for neglecting to deal generously with our country’s compelling social needs; and where true citizen democracy is no longer held hostage to the growth imperative.

Many of the policies that would help grow the kind of society most of us want to live in would actually slow GDP growth. For example, if productivity gains are taken as shorter worktime, personal incomes and overall economic growth can stabilize while quality of life increases. Juliet Schor points out that workers in Europe put in about 300 fewer hours each year than Americans.

Other policies that would point us in the right direction:

  • greater labor protections, job security, and benefits, including generous parental leaves;
  • guarantees to part-time workers and combining unemployment insurance with part-time work during recessions;
  • restrictions on advertising;
  • a new design for the twenty-first-century corporation, one that embraces rechartering, new ownership patterns, and stakeholder primacy rather than shareholder primacy;
  • incentives for local and locally-owned production and consumption;
  • strong social and environmental provisions in trade agreements;
  • rigorous environmental, health and consumer protection, including full incorporation of environmental and social costs in prices—for example through mandated caps or taxes on emissions and extractions;
  • greater economic and social equality, with genuinely progressive taxation of the rich (including a progressive consumption tax) and greater income support for the poor;
  • heavy spending on neglected public services;
  • and initiatives to address population growth at home and abroad.

Taken together, these policies would undoubtedly slow GDP growth, but well-being and quality of life would improve, and that’s what matters.

I really like the Bolivarian solution adopted by those countries that gave the finger to the Washington Consensus. They are changing their culture and societal standards. Guess who else has this model in the US? Hawaii Bill O'bnoxious is horrified that the country has the lowest unemployment but the highest SNAP percentage. He says people are sunning and happy to take snap because they are a dependant culture.[but everyone IS working, just not to death] I lived in Honolulu for awhile and loved it. You won't freeze to death in Hawaii and you won't die of heat stroke. They also have one of the lowest percentages of vitamin D deficiency.

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douglaslee
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