Elitist Tyranny and The Mass Insanity of Modern Humanity
Excerpt from my DMin dissertation, The End Signs! Are We Getting the Message?
(Portland Seminary, Semiotics and Future Studies program, Lead Mentor Leonard Sweet, February 2019). The full dissertation is available online at Researchgate.net.)
We have already entered the sixth mass extinction in history. This time, we are the architects of our own demise. If humankind survives at all, 50-90% of us are doomed, nonetheless, sooner than later. Here is who the other 10% are. Some of them—the scientismic aristocracy—will be exempt (note #1). The survival chances for the rest of us are around 1.5-2% (see note 1 below):
The tiny ruling elite cabal already have an exit strategy and survival plan. My guesstimate is that it may have been conceived and set in motion in the 1970s. More likely, perhaps, it became a matter of ‘oligarchy emergency’ only recently, sometime around the mid-1990s. In that case, the elite cabal of rulers had (by choice or by sloth or apathy) ignored the Club of Rome’s 1972 dire report, The Limits to Growth: A Report for The Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. That 1972 report concluded, “Left unchecked, economic and population growth would deplete the planet’s resources and cause economic collapse around 2070.” In October 2018 the journal Nature cited a new 2018 report to the Club of Rome which concluded, “More than four decades later, the (1972) report’s main conclusions are still valid.”(2)
The primary historical force on Earth for the past five centuries has been the development and exploitation of capitalism as the fuel and engine of economic growth. The prime directive now as always has been concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a ruling elite. As far as capitalism is concerned, the very idea of actually imposing the sorts of checks and balances on economic growth (i.e., capitalism) the Club of Rome may have had in mind is heresy, punishable by termination with extreme prejudice. The “vile maxim” identified by Adam Smith in 1776 and its wealth <> power “vicious cycle” corollary are the sole ethical principles of capitalism. In that noxious pair of principles, the iniquitous tyranny of the 1% elite is grounded, rooted, nurtured, secured, sustained, and extended in perpetuity. They are the raison ďêtre (reason for existence) and the élan vital (life force) of the oligarchy at the head and heart of inverted totalitarianism in the 21st century. Its headquarters, command center, and hegemony are USAmerican to the core and its span of control is global.(3)
The benighted rapacity and stupidity of the ruling elite have driven humanity and Earth to the brink of existential doom, to the event horizon of our extinction as a living species. Evidence is already overwhelming and still mounting that we may have already run out of time. We are now far more likely than disappear as a form of earthly life than we are to survive. Many authoritative perspectives already confirm this reality. Here are a few: (4)
U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), Fourth National Climate Assessment, reporting to US President Donald Trump (POTUS45) in 2018: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon speaking to the 2011 World Economic Forum (WEF): “For most of the last century, economic growth was fueled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources. We mined our way to growth. We burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone…Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact.”
2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Global Risk Report: “climate change is the biggest threat to the planet,” naming “extreme weather, natural disasters, man-made environmental disasters, loss of biodiversity, and failure to adapt to climate change as the chief perils to society …. it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe” (emphasis added).
John Mecklin, Editor-in-Chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “Extraordinarily fast-paced advance across the full breadth of the world’s scientific and technological enterprise creates a new threat matrix where dangerous technologies may collide—with catastrophic results.”
The cover image for the November 2018 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists vividly portrays the brink-of-doom event-horizon-of-extinction we’ve reached, or perhaps already crossed over:
The Bulletin also maintains the ‘doomsday clock’ which is reset every January as an indicator of just how close we are to annihilation (‘midnight’ on the clock). As this chart shows, we entered the lowest point in the 1947-2018 history of the clock’s settings since the peak of the Cold War in 1953:
The January 2018 2-minute setting was extended into 2019 by the Bulletin on January 24, 2019. The President and CEO of the Bulletin organization, Rachel Bronson, PhD, cautioned that, “there should be no comfort taken from the fact that the clock did not move forward over the past year.” Brown explained that the threat is at least as dire if not moreso, as indicated in her remarks about the “new abnormal:”(5)
As the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board prepared for its first set of Doomsday Clock discussions this fall (in 2018), it began referring to the current world security situation as a “new abnormal.” This new abnormal is a pernicious and dangerous departure from the time when the United States sought a leadership role in designing and supporting global agreements that advanced a safer and healthier planet. The new abnormal describes a moment in which fact is becoming indistinguishable from fiction, undermining our very abilities to develop and apply solutions to the big problems of our time. The new abnormal risks emboldening autocrats and lulling citizens around the world into a dangerous sense of anomie and political paralysis.
One week after the January 24 Bulletin announcement for 2019, on February 1, our POTUS45 (Trump) ended USAmerican participation in the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, one of the last nuclear arms control treaties with Russia dating back to the Cold-War Reagan era. Russia responded on February 2 by also backing out of the treaty. A new nuclear arms race was already under way and is now accelerating more swiftly with China entering the fray, having never participated in the treaty. The US Marine veteran intelligence officer who “was hand-picked to serve with the On Site Inspection Agency, responsible for carrying out the provisions of the INF Treaty,” Scott Ritter, proposes a more realistic 1-minute setting:
William Perry, former secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, helped unveil the 2019 iteration of the Doomsday Clock. In his remarks, he highlighted President Donald Trump’s declaration to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as an indication of the collapsing relationship between the U.S. and Russia. “When you withdraw from treaties, you are losing this important vehicle of dialogue,” Perry observed. “My own judgment is, relative to a year ago, we are slightly worse off.”
I agree with Perry—the world is worse off today than it was a year ago. I disagree, however, with his use of the word “slightly” to describe the situation we face, and I dissent from the Bulletin’s decision to stay the hands of the Doomsday Clock. Humanity is sleepwalking toward global annihilation (emphasis added), furthered by a collective amnesia about the threat posed by nuclear weapons, especially in an environment void of meaningful arms control.(6)
William Perry’s remarks at the unveiling of the 2019 doomsday clock setting are reported in the January 24, 2019 edition of The Guardian. At that unveiling event, former governor of California Jerry Brown, new Executive Chairman of the Bulletin, commented:
We are like passengers on the Titanic, ignoring the iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music …. It’s late and it’s getting later. We have to wake people up. And that’s what I intend to do!
Heir apparent to Sheldon Wolin’s prophetic political mantle, Chris Hedges is among the most astute observers of 21st century reality. New York Times foreign correspondent Pulitzer-winner, Harvard seminary MDiv graduate, ardent activist and strident speaker decrying the infamy of the ruling elite and the damnable tyranny they impose, Hedges pulls no punches in setting reality squarely before us:
Paul Tillich wrote that all institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic. Reinhold Niebuhr asserted that no institution could ever achieve the morality of the individual. Institutions, he warned, to extend their lives when confronted with collapse, will swiftly betray the stances that ostensibly define them. Only individual men and women have the strength to hold fast to virtue when faced with the threat of death. And decaying institutions, including the church, when consumed by fear, swiftly push those endowed with this moral courage and radicalism from their ranks, rendering themselves obsolete.
The wisdom of Tillich and Niebuhr has been borne out in the precipitous decline of the liberal church and the seminaries and divinity schools that train religious scholars and clergy.(7)
I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know that the corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight that in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires that we follow those possessed by sublime madness, that we become stone catchers and find in acts of rebellion the sparks of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside the possibility of success. We must grasp the harshness of reality at the same time we refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. People of all creeds and people of no creeds must take an absurd leap of faith to believe, despite all the empirical evidence around us, that the good draws to it the good. The fight for life goes somewhere—the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.(8)
Assume the worst: it is too late to reverse this freefall into the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history—this time caused by humankind and fatal to most if not all species of life, including our own. We then have very few choices and none of them will matter at the end of the day:
Denial: completely ignore and write off all the voices prophesying this imminent doom (including mine) and go on about life as if everything is fine—or it will all at least somehow turn out that way. This is one cadence in the death march we’re already on.
Futility #1: accept this doom as inevitable and just mark time until it’s over for all of us, eating, drinking, and being miserably or merrily delusional anyway. This is just another cadence in the same death march.
Futility #2: adopt Hedges’ perspective—fight the elitist fascist tyranny despite having no hope or chance of actually winning, simply because it is elitist fascist tyranny. This is the only way to break ranks from the death march and take a stand.
Futility #2 is exactly the sort of groundswell bootstrap activism Hedges calls us to embrace and become. One excellent first step is to join the Extinction Rebellion. I hope to see your name on their roster along with mine. (9)
(1) The opening image under the title is from Stuart Winter, “Sixth MASS EXTINCTION Warning: HUMANS Threatening Near Total Wipe Out of Earth's Creatures,” Express (online), July 11, 2017, https://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/827266/Mass-extinction-events-Earth-sixth-human-population-endangered-species. The image below it is my visual interpretation of inverted totalitarianism as identified in Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2nd ed. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017) and Chris Hedges, “The Deadly Rule of the Oligarchs,” Truthdig, February 11, 2018, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/deadly-rule-oligarchs/. Statistical groupings approximate the 1%-to-99% division that emerged from the Occupy Wall Street Movement and an article on the emergence of aristocracy in the 21st century. Cf. Noam Chomsky, Occupy, 2nd ed., Occupied Media Pamphlet Series (Westfield, NJ: Zuccotti Park Press, 2013); Todd Gitlin, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street (New York: Itbooks, 2012), Kindle; Matthew Stewart, “The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” The Atlantic, June 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/;
(2) Donella H. Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth: A Report for The Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind, 1st ed. (New York: Universe Books, 1972); Quirin Schiermeier, "Gloomy 1970s Predictions About Earth’s Fate Still Hold True," Nature, 18 October, 2018, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07117-2.
(3) Noam Chomsky, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2017); Noam Chomsky, Who Rules the World? (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2016); Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault On Democracy (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2006); Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2nd ed. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017); Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, with a New Foreword by Wendy Brown (1960, reprint, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); Chris Hedges, “Apocalyptic Capitalism,” Truthdig, December 7, 2015, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/apocalyptic-capitalism/; Chris Hedges, “The Deadly Rule of the Oligarchs,” Truthdig, February 11, 2018, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/deadly-rule-oligarchs/.
(4) D. R. Reidmiller et al., eds., The Fourth National Climate Assessment: Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States (Washington, DC: U. S. Global Change Research Program, 2018), https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/; Associated Press, “Ban Ki-moon: World's Economic Model Is ‘Environmental Suicide’,” Guardian, January 28, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jan/28/ban-ki-moon-economic-model-environment; Anne C. Mulkern, “Climate Forecast: World Is 'Sleepwalking into Catastrophe',” Scientific American, January 17, 2019, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-forecast-world-is-sleepwalking-into-catastrophe/; World Economic Forum (WEF), "The Global Risks Report 2019" Geneva, CH: World Economic Forum, 2019, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risks_Report_2019.pdf; John Mecklin, “Introduction: The New Threat Matrix,” in “Existential Nexus: The Intersection of Technological Threats,” ed. Gayle Spinazze, special issue, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 74, no. 6 (November 1, 2018), 367, https://thebulletin.org/2018/11/introduction-the-new-threat-matrix/.
(5) Rachel Bronson, “Statement from the President and CEO,” in “A New Abnormal: It Is Still 2 Minutes to Midnight,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/#from-the-president.
(6) David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.S. Suspends Nuclear Arms Control Treaty With Russia", New York Times, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/us/politics/trump-inf-nuclear-treaty.html; Vladimir Soldatkin, "Russia Suspends Nuclear Arms Treaty After U.S. Says To Pull Out", Reuters, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-usa-nuclear/russia-suspends-nuclear-arms-treaty-after-u-s-says-to-pull-out-idUSKCN1PR06T; Rachel Bronson, “2019 Doomsday Clock Statement,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://cdn.thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/2018%20Doomsday%20Clock%20Statement.pdf; Scott Ritter, “One Minute to Midnight,” Truthdig, February 12, 2019, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/one-minute-to-midnight/; Scott Ritter, “Scott Ritter (Bio)”, Truthdig, accessed February 16, 2019, https://www.truthdig.com/author/scott_ritter/#author-bio.
(7) Chris Hedges, “The Suicide of the Liberal Church,” Truthdig, January 25, 2016, https://www.
truthdig.com/articles/the-suicide-of-the-liberal-church/; Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study in Ethics and Politics, Arkosh Politics (1932, reprint, Arkosh Publishing, 2017), loc. 3718, Kindle;
(8) Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (New York: Nation Books, 2015), 226. See also Chris Hedges, “Why Mass Incarceration Defines Us as a Society,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/why-mass-incarceration-defines-us-as-a-society-135793245/#.UKwDspaG6uk.twitter. “Stone catcher” is an oblique reference to John 8:3-8, esp. v. 7, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Hedges describes Bryan Stevenson as an “African American lawyer who has spent his life fighting for prisoners on death row.” An elderly black woman once identified Stevenson as a “stone catcher” in this sense. On return from attending an execution at an Alabama prison, Stevenson remarked to Hedges:
There is no such thing as being a Christian and not being a stone catcher …. But that is exhausting. You’re not going to catch them all. And it hurts. If it doesn’t make you sad to have to do that, then you don’t understand what it means to be engaged in an act of faith …. But if you have the right relationship to it, it is less of a burden, finally, than a blessing. It makes you feel stronger.
Hedges’ reference to “sublime madness” is from this passage in Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: a Study in Ethics and Politics, Arkosh Politics (1932; repr.: Arkosh Publishing, 2017), loc. 3718, Kindle:
We cannot build our individual ladders to heaven and leave the total human enterprise unredeemed of its excesses and corruptions.
In the task of that redemption the most effective agents will be men who have substituted some new illusions for the abandoned ones. The most important of these illusions is that the collective life of mankind can achieve perfect justice. It is a very valuable illusion for the moment; for justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and "spiritual wickedness in high places." The illusion is dangerous because it encourages terrible fanaticisms. It must therefore be brought under the control of reason. One can only hope that reason will not destroy it before its work is done.
(9) Chris Hedges interviews Extinction Rebellion cofounder Roger Hallam in two episodes of his “On Contact” show: On Contact: Civil Disobedience to Stop Ecocide - YouTube (Episode 1) and On Contact: Extinction Rebellion - YouTube (Episode 2). The Extinction Rebellion overview document is also online, together with numerous other informative and compelling materials, e.g., On Contact: Climate emergency with Dahr Jamail.