Category Archives: Essays

The Case for the Self-Determination of an American State

1. If a state is to remain true to itself, it has no other choice than to maintain its commitment to the humanity of its citizens.

2. It must resist being subsumed by an undemocratic, materialistic, racist, militaristic, megalomanic, robotic, imperialist, technofascist, global empire.

3. The U.S. government has lost its moral authority. It is owned, operated, and controlled by Corporate America and Wall Street. It has no soul.

4. America has become unsustainable economically, politically, militarily, socially, culturally, and environmentally. It is ungovernable and, therefore, unfixable. The endgame is near.

5. It has become the largest, most powerful, most materialistic, most environmentally destructive, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire of all-time.

6. The American Empire has a 500-year history of racism. It was built on the backs of black slaves imported from Africa on land stolen from the Indians. Five hundred years later, our racist treatment of Indians continues unabated.

7. Under the guise of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny our government is engaged in a highly racist War on Terror against all Muslims, a war based on the policy of full-spectrum dominance.

8. The U.S. Government provides unconditional support for the racist, apartheid, terrorist state of Israel to enable it to carry out its policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Palestinians.

9. America was supposed to have been immortal, but in the end it can not deliver.

10. Do we go down with the Titanic, or do we seek other alternatives while there are other options on the table?

11. “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and institute a new government,” said Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

12. Just as a group has a right to form, so too does it have a right to subdivide itself, or to withdraw from a larger unit.

13. It’s time peacefully to rebel against the money, power, speed, greed, size, and tyranny of Corporate America, Wall Street, and the U.S. Government.

14. Nonviolence is a proactive approach to conflict resolution that goes straight to the heart and soul of power relationships and demands strength, courage, and discipline, not idle pacifism.

15. Fundamental to what it means to be an American is the right of self-determination. The time has come to free ourselves from the American Empire – (1) to regain control of our lives from big government, big business, big cities, big schools, and big computer networks; (2) to relearn how to take care of ourselves by decentralizing, downsizing, localizing, demilitarizing, simplifying and humanizing our lives; and (3) to learn how to help others take care of themselves.

16. Self-determination is a radical act of nonviolent rebellion grounded in anger and fear tempered by a positive vision of the future which involves denunciation, disengagement, demystification, and defiance.

17. Although self-determination is completely justifiable morally, legally, and constitutionally, ultimately it is a question of political will – the political will of the withdrawing state versus the political will of the Empire.

18. Radical nonviolence can undermine power and authority by withdrawing the approval, moral support, and cooperation of those who have been dealt an injustice. It derives its strength from the energy buildup and very real power of powerlessness.

19. Rebellion provides us with the faith to create meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separated, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the courage to confront death.

20. When all is said and done, there is but one morally defensible option for the Empire – peaceful dissolution.

Thomas H. Naylor
October 13, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.
www.vermontrepublic.org.

The Catastrophe of Complexity in Law and Policy

Upon reflection, it is clear that American public and private institutions have been corrupted beyond management or reform. Governance is dehumanized, regulatory authorities captured, leaders unapproachable. As a result, ordinary Americans suffer. The weight of odious debts, the repressive prison-industrial complex, and illegitimate wars have become increasingly unbearable for us all.

Political and economic elites, by contrast, have no difficulty in getting policy makers to respond to their exploitative demands. This is abundantly clear from the endless corporate and bank bailouts, regulatory and tax structures that encourage extractive greed, and the adamant refusal of the Department of (In)Justice to prosecute torturers and white collar criminals. Instead of providing relief from predation, the legal system amplifies injustice and inequality. Meanwhile, academic “experts” ideologically legitimate the system with convenient lies and ruthless elitism.

Many have taken the difficult step of acknowledging the bleak reality that modern America is a parasite feeding on its former self. Yet, rejection of the conventional narrative of American democracy will produce hopelessness, alienation and fear without an understanding of the Corporate-State and a path to liberation from it. The way forward may actually emerge from a seemingly unlikely place: evolutionary biology. The characteristics of evolution in the natural world reveal the origin and dynamics of political distress.

Our political system is currently experiencing a natural phenomenon described by biologist Stuart Kauffman as the “complexity catastrophe.” The political system is so complex that it can no longer function for the common good. Like a cancer that emaciates and eventually kills the body host, the system is doomed to collapse under the weight of its own unsustainability.

Kauffman’s model of evolutionary systems allowed him to develop schemas demonstrating how “fitness” is achieved through adaptation of particular features to changing environments. The feature can range from physical attributes such as beak size, to products of human imagination, such as policy initiatives. On the conceptual “landscape,” possible alterations to the given feature traverse over the landscape towards greater fitness, and thus adapt to the environment. The shape of the landscape itself, including the number and ruggedness of peaks and valleys, is determined by the interactions between the studied feature and the other possible factors that can affect it.

Kauffman discovered that when there are only a few possible factors that will affect the feature, the landscape has few fitness peaks that are very tall. The system is simple but highly adaptable. When these factors are more numerous, which occurs when the system is more complex, the landscape becomes more rugged, with numerous but shorter peaks. Thus, the greater the complexity in a system, the lower the possible fitness the system as a whole can achieve. Eventually, the system’s relative adaptiveness becomes so poor that the system collapses.

Although developed in the context of evolutionary genetics, the models reflect universal natural principles and thus shed light on the workings of evolving political and legal systems. There is no question that our political system, especially the federal government, has grown vastly more complex over time. The proliferation of bureaucracy and increasing convolutedness of legal principles attest to this fact, but nothing illustrates it so dramatically as the sheer number of local, state and federal laws – 40,000 passed last year alone! This increasing complexity has produced a self-perpetuating behemoth State, an entity whose sheer scale is larger than the ability to comprehend.

As the State grows larger, the complexity catastrophe diminishes government’s ability to fulfill human needs. Instead, the State is commandeered by parasitic elites, who take advantage of its size and complexity in order to manipulate and defraud the masses. Left behind are broken communities and demoralized souls.

The complexity catastrophe reveals previously obscured truths about law and politics. First, left-right ideological debate is pointless and obsolete. It distracts from the basic truth that the size of the State matters far more than the nature of its endeavors. Centralized, top-down “solutions” imposed from Washington will always serve the elites to the detriment of ordinary people. It matters not whether social control originates from left or right, because the resultant loss of freedom, self-sufficiency and community is universal and bipartisan. Concerns of size, scale and complexity must be included in the core of political dialogue. They have been discarded in favor of ideology for far too long.

Second, simplicity is beautiful. The more faith we put in the State to control outcomes, the less control we actually gain. Political pathology stems from the hubristic conception that the State can change nature, that the government can sanitize the messiness of being human and streamline the inefficiencies of community life. As the Corporate-State grows larger, it starves human culture. Complexity of the State generates monoculture and nihilism in the community. By contrast, simplification empowers the individual and allows the cultivation of meaning.

Liberation occurs with the realization that existential pain is intertwined with political dysfunction. The futile struggle to reform the un-reformable can finally be abandoned. An unconditional embrace of nature – with all its imperfections – can replace the self-defeating drive for perfection and control.

Caryn Devins
October 3, 2012

Caryn Devins is a third year student at the Duke University Law School who grew up in Vermont.

Pink Floyd, The Wall, and Camus


So ya thought ya might like to go to the show. To feel the warm thrill of confusion that space cadet glow. Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?

The Wall

Pink Floyd

During the thirty years I taught economics and computer science at Duke University, it is safe to say that I rarely found myself on the cutting edge of popular culture. For example, I discovered the Beatles on a flight to London in the late 70s, ten years after they had broken up. I subsequently became a big fan.

Thanks to a recent Sixty Minutes interview with Roger Waters about his live worldwide tour of the The Wall, I was introduced to the 60s rock bank Pink Floyd at the age of 76. Since that chance encounter I have immersed myself in the subtle, sophisticated, pulsating sounds of the band’s music and the haunting lyrics of several of its albums which almost perfectly embody the philosophy of French writer Albert Camus, namely that, “Life is absurd, rebél, live, and try to die happy.”

Camus’ philosophy rests on three interconnected theories: a theory of the absurd, a theory of rebellion, and a theory of death.

What we are all up against is the human condition, God’s gift to us in the Garden of Eden from which there is no escape – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death. Not a pretty sight. To Camus it was absurd that we are all separated, our lives are meaningless, we are powerless to influence our fate, and we are all going to die and face nothingness.

In response to the absurd Camus admonishes us to confront the human condition and peacefully rebél against it. Rebellion provides us with the faith to claw meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separate, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the strength to face death rather than deny it.

Beginning with his first novel A Happy Death, which was not published until after his death in 1960, Camus returned over and over again to the theme that the purpose of life is not to be happy, as man would have us believe, but rather to die happy. In Camus’ novel The Stranger, as well as in his four plays, Caligula, The Misunderstanding, State of Siege, and The Just Assassins, the theme was always the same – die happy.

But if one expects to die happy, one must first rebél. Above all, according to Camus, there must be “a will to live without rejecting anything of life, which is the virtue I most honor in this world.”

To die happy one must first assume personal responsibility for the meaning of one’s life. Living means coming to terms with, rather than avoiding, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical pain and suffering. To have a happy death we must confront the human condition through rebellion. The very existence of Pink Floyd was the personification of rebellion.

Founded in London in 1965, Pink Floyd included Syd Barrett (guitar), Roger Waters (bass guitar), Richard Wright (keyboards), and Nick Mason (percussion). As the mental health of Barrett deteriorated, a second guitar player, David Gilmour, joined the band in 1967. When Barrett left the group in 1968, Roger Waters became the band’s lyricist, principal songwriter, and conceptual leader.

Under the leadership of Waters Pink Floyd produced four albums which would define its place in history – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), and The Wall (1979). It was in these albums where the existentialist themes of Camus were most pronounced, but particularly so in The Wall.

Born in 1943, Roger Waters was still in high school when Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 and died in an automobile accident in France on January 4, 1960. That a well-educated war-generation lad such as Waters would be drawn to Camus should have come as a surprise to no one. Camus’ The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and The Rebel were immensely popular among young European intellectuals.

Waters and Camus shared a number of things in common, not the least of which was the loss of their fathers to war and mothers who were unavailable to them. Camus’ father was killed in World War I and Waters’ in Italy during World War II. Catherine Hélène Sintès-Camus could neither read nor write and behaved as though she were practically mute. Waters’ mom was a controlling, manipulative ideologue about whom he wrote in The Wall, “Mother’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true. Mother’s gonna put all her fears into you.” Waters must have resonated to Camus’ most famous quote, the opening paragraph of The Stranger:


Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.

Before his father’s death Roger’s father had been a coal miner and a Labor Party activist, a devout Christian, and a member of the Communist Party. Prior to becoming editor of the French Resistance underground newspaper Combat in Paris during World War II, Camus had been a member of the Communist Party also. Although Camus was an agnostic, he struggled with Christianity throughout his life. But he had an uncanny grasp of the human condition and an unwavering predisposition towards rebellion against it. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Roger Waters got the message.

And finally, Camus and Waters shared a strong affinity for the sun. For Camus it was all about the Algerian sun, but for Waters it seemed to be at least partially related to a certain sense of awe concerning the sun’s position in the cosmos. Among Pink Floyd’s many songs about the sun were “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” “Fat Old Sun,” “Eclipse,” “Two Suns in the Sunset,” “Time,” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”

In 1969, no doubt as a precursor of what was soon to come, Pink Floyd produced a three part instrumental piece “Sisyphus.” The Myth of Sisyphus, of course, epitomized Camus’ concept of the absurd.

But it was in the legendary 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon in which Pink Floyd first confronted the human condition, alienation, Camus’ absurd, rebellion, and death. And to make sure listeners got it, the opening piece of the album began with the sound of a heartbeat symbolizing the human condition.

Right up front in “Breathe” we have the Pink Floyd equivalent of Sisyphus:


Run rabbit run
Dig the hole forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down its time to dig another one

Also included in the Dark Side of the Moon album is the classic song “Money” which is about affluenza and selling out for a life based on having – owning and possessing more and more stuff. “I’m in the hi-fidelity first class traveling set and I need a Lear jet.”

About death Camus said, “We know it ends everything,” and results in eternal nothingness. “Eternal nothingness is made up precisely of the sum of lives to come which will not be ours.” In “Time” Pink Floyd sang “The time has gone the song is over thought I’d something more to say.” And what else could the dark side of the moon be than “eternal nothingness.” This is pretty heavy stuff for an album which sold over 30 million copies worldwide and which until recently still sold over 250,000 copies a year in the United States nearly forty years after its initial release.

The second album in the series of four, Wish You Were Here, trades heavily on themes of separation, alienation, and meaninglessness. “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl year after year running over the same old ground,” proclaims the album’s title piece. Another piece from the same album, “Welcome to the Machine,” welcomes an aspiring young rock musician to the competitive rat race which characterizes the rock music world. Much of what Pink Floyd was rebelling against was the highly competitive, commercially oriented, self-serving, back-stabbing rock music culture.

The album Animals is much more about the two-legged variety rather than the four-legged species. The song “Dogs” rebels against the dog-eat-dog frenzy of the marketplace. “You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to, so that when they turn their backs on you, You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.” That’s real alienation, and it reflects the cultural mores of the early 70s long before affluenza and technomania had become as rampant as they are today, when cybermania was still unknown.

Next Waters turns from corruption in the market to corruption by the state as illustrated by “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” who are into money, power, and greed. The pigs followed by “Sheep“ who are separated, powerless, and so fearful of being killed by dogs that they behave just as stereotypical sheep are expected to behave, “Meek and obedient…follow the leader down well-trodden corridors.” The behavior of Pink Floyd’s sheep strongly resembles that of their sheep like human counterparts in today’s world who all think the same, vote the same, watch the same TV programs, visit the same web sites, subscribe to the same religious dogmas, and buy the same consumer goods. And what did Pink Floyd do about all of this, rebél.

And last, but most importantly of all, there is The Wall. New England poet Robert Frost may not have gotten it right in his famous poem “Mending Wall” when he said “Good fences make good neighbors.” Neither walls nor fences make very good neighbors, rather they engender feelings of separation, alienation, meaninglessness, and powerlessness as evidenced by Jeremy Bentham’s octagonally designed panopticon prison or more recently the six million people under “correctional supervision” in the United States (more than were in Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago), including more black men than were in slavery in 1860 and 50,000 men in solitary confinement in “supermax” prisons; not to mention the Berlin Wall, the insidious Israeli Wall in Palestine, and gated communities throughout the United States.

But not all walls are physical. Take for example the wall separating the 99 percent from the 1 percent about which Occupy Wall Street speaks so often. This wall is part economic, part political, part social, and part psychological.

Pink Floyd’s wall is nothing short of a brilliant metaphor for the human condition, the absurd. “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.”

The first song of The Wall begins with the album’s protagonist, Pink, confronting a crowd of inebriated rock music fans at a large stadium in which he says. “Is something eluding you sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?” Throughout the album Pink rails against rock music, education, government, thought control, war, television, consumerism, his girlfriend, and his mother in particular, who helped build the wall, and to whom he says, “Mother, did it need to be so high?”

In a surprising turn of events Pink is arrested, jailed, and convicted of “showing feelings of an almost human nature,” in reality a complete lack of such feelings for his controlling mother. In Camus’ The Stranger the prosecutor focused not on the murder Meursault was accused of committing, but rather on the fact that he did not cry at his mother’s funeral. “Tear down the wall!” was the judge’s order thus stripping Pink of his alienation, his meaning, and his soul, sentencing him to eternal nothingness. “I didn’t mean to let them take my soul,” said Pink.

On July 21, 1990 The Wall was staged and performed in Berlin to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of a live audience of a half a million and viewed on television by an estimated half a billion in thirty-five countries. Throughout 2010-2012 Roger Waters took The Wall on tour to some of the largest and most important venues in the world. The supreme irony of this cannot be ignored, because it was Waters’ utter contempt for Pink Floyd’s fans back in the late 70s which motivated him to write The Wall.

Throughout this piece we have focused primarily on the philosophical message of Pink Floyd’s lyrics. But without the intense, wailing guitar sounds produced by David Gilmour, none of this would have been possible. He often created the mood which enabled one to process Pink Floyd’s sophisticated lyrics.

Will 69 year-old Roger Waters die happy? Maybe, maybe not. But if he does not, it will not be due to a lack of very hard work for over four decades. And he is still at it. A truly remarkable quest. As Camus once said, “Being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom is living,” but “the point is to live.”

Thomas H. Naylor
October 3, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.
www.vermontrepublic.org.

La-La Land Liberalism in Vermont and Elsewhere

When I moved to Vermont in 1993, it was considered to be the most radical state in the Union.  A few years earlier, when Ronald Reagan was still president, 180 Vermont towns passed nuclear-freeze resolutions in their town meetings.  Burlington’s socialist mayor Bernie Sanders had just been elected to the Congress, Ben & Jerry’s was flying high with its so-called “caring capitalism,” the popular jam band Phish provided seductive sounds for thousands of Vermont hippies to get stoned by at ever popular outdoor rock festivals, and each summer over 25,000 gathered in the tiny village of Glover for the annual, radical, left-wing Bread and Puppet Theater’s presentation of “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus” complete with side shows, music, pageant, and delicious homemade German sourdough rye bread made by Bread and Puppet founder, director, writer, actor, artist, and musician Peter Schumann.

These were heady times in Vermont politics.  Political liberalism had an almost surreal quality to it.  It felt like we were in La-La Land.

Whole departments at the University of Vermont were under the political control of Marxist oriented professors.  The UVM Economics Department wouldn’t give me the time of day because I was considered to be too mainstream.

Twenty years later Vermont is no longer radical, but it has become almost reactionary.  The political interests of today’s Vermont La-La Liberals are focused primarily on four issues – gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and the environment.  Although Vermont La-La Liberals pay lip service to the interests of organized labor and the poor, there is no commitment whatsoever to either.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that these are unimportant issues, but rather that they are not the only issues facing Vermonters in the twenty-first century.   There is something called the Empire!

Vermont’s pseudoliberals have little interest in foreign policy – the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen; Israeli acts of terrorism supported by the U.S., full spectrum dominance, or imperial overstretch.  F-35 fighter jets, unmanned killer drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, and the White House kill list are not even on their radar screen.  The fact that President Obama has granted himself the authority to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked, no trial, and no due process has gone virtually unnoticed by the Left in Vermont.  Nor do they appear to be particularly concerned with the fact that their destiny is strongly influenced by Wall Street and Corporate America.

The Vermont La-La Liberal approach to war and peace reminds me of my favorite line in my favorite movie, “Groundhog Day.”  Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray are seated at a bar together having a drink, when Andie turns to Bill and says, “I want to say a prayer and drink to world peace.”

A fundamental tenet of Vermont’s feel good liberalism is, “Never offend anyone.”  Well known liberals such as Sanders, Patrick Leahy, and Bill McKibben are beyond reproach.  They must never be criticized by anyone!

At the crux of the matter is the fact that most left-wing Vermonters are oblivious to the fact that the United States has become an immoral, unsustainable, ungovernable, unfixable empire.

I believe that there are at least six factors which have contributed to the demise of Vermont liberalism:

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the ideological leader of Vermont, is not only not a socialist, but he is not even a political liberal.  He is a technofascist war monger disguised as a liberal   Bernie has never known a Pentagon military program which he did not want to embrace.  He’s in bed with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, and the Sandia Corporation, the weapons of mass destruction producer.

Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s brand of cutesy, commercial liberalism was always more about selling ice cream and hyping the price of its stock than it was about political ideology.  Given the relatively passive nonconfrontational nature of its forays into the political arena, it was hard to take them very seriously.  Ben & Jerry’s credibility as a political activist was even further eroded after it sold out to Unilever a few years ago.  Furthermore, it always maintained very close ties to Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party.  Most recently it has embraced the political campaign finance reforms and corporate personhood amendments promoted by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.  The kind of political activism practiced by Ben & Jerry’s is not serious business, and it undermines the efforts of those committed to making real changes.

Phish

Although Phish is no longer active, its inane lyrics and monotonous, repetitive music helped promote hedonism, affluenza, and drug abuse in Vermont for two decades.  The apolitical band seemed to be connected to nothing other than the Vermont drug scene.  Phish helped Vermont become more like every place else.

Bill McKibben

Environmental activist Bill McKibben with his 350.org organization is ostensibly concerned with climate change, fossil fuel consumption, and peak oil.  Yet somehow he seems to have overlooked the fact that the Pentagon is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels.  McKibben is an apologist for the Empire with very close ties to Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy as well as Governor Peter Shumlin.  He never has an unkind word to say about the Obama administration, the military-industrial complex, or American foreign policy.  His primary objective seems to be to have large numbers of college kids running around screaming “350.org.”  It’s difficult to take any of this very seriously.

Bread and Puppet

Over ten years ago Bread and Puppet discontinued its annual megapageants in favor of weekly circuses in July and August.  Although Bread and Puppet is one of the most radical, left-wing political activist groups in Vermont, its political influence in Vermont has been minimal.  First, Bread and Puppet performs mostly for out-of-state audiences which means that its political message is widely dispersed.  Second, many of the skits and circus accts performed by Bread and Puppet are so obtuse and abstract, that their political content is often not easily understood.

Marijuana

Although I favor the legalization of the sale of marijuana, I am of the opinion that Vermonters smoke too much pot for their own good as well as the good of the Republic.

In summary, what has rendered Vermont liberalism morally and intellectually bankrupt is too much Bernie, too much Ben & Jerry’s, too much Phish, too much McKibben, too much Bread and Puppet, and too much pot.

Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence to suggest that La-La Liberalism is by no means unique to Vermont.  Consider the recent Democratic Convention in Charlotte, NC which was long on rhetoric about gays, women, and minorities and short on specific proposals to jump start the economy, create more jobs, and tighten regulations on Wall Street banks.

All too little attention was devoted to foreign policy including the Middle East, our unconditional support for Israel, China’s global pursuit of natural resources, and what we will do if China cuts back on its purchases of U.S. debt.

Another hot spot for La-La Liberals is MSNBC.  With the possible exception of Chris Hayes, all of the other MSNBC news analysts are La-La Liberals including Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, and Melissa Harris-Perry.  They are all unconditional apologists for Obama and have no problem whatsoever conflating the advocacy of human rights abroad with American hegemony so as to justify our foreign policies of full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and might makes right.

Fortunately, the future for La-La Liberalism and most other liberals is bleak. So long as they continue to support the Empire and the belief that it is truly fixable, then they are dead in the water.  But so too are conservatives who believe that all we need do is cut taxes and spending, and we will all live happily ever after.

The Cold War left-right, liberal-conservative paradigm has no meaning anymore.  There is only one important issue on the table and that is human scale.

Thomas H. Naylor

September 19, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

The Montpelier Manifesto

Petition of Grievances

We, citizens of this American land, haunted by the nihilism of separation, meaninglessness, and powerlessness, subsumed by political elites who use corporate, state, and military power to manipulate our lives, pawns of a global system of dominance and deceit in which transnational megacompanies and big government control us through money, markets, and media, sapping our political will, civil liberties, collective memory, traditional cultures, sustainability, and independence, and as victims of affluenza, technomania, cybermania, globalism, and imperialism, do issue and proclaim this

Document of Grievances and Abuses

Governance

  1. A government too big, too centralized, too undemocratic, too unjust, too powerful, too intrusive, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities.
  2. One that is too big and corrupt to be fixed or reformed, certainly not by such fantasies as campaign finance reform or corporate-personhood amendments.
  3. One that has lost its moral authority, is corrupt to the core, and is owned, operated and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and their political lackeys.
  4. One run by a single brain-dead national political party on life-support systems, sustained by national and Congressional elections that are sold to the highest bidder, disguised as a genuine two-party system.
  5. One that relies on and fosters the illusion that only the U.S. government can solve all or our problems all of the time, in the face of the fact that it is the U.S. government that is the problem.

Economy

  1. A collapsing economy, with a moribund housing market and a staggering number of mortgage foreclosures, and high unemployment because of jobs lost to China, India, and elsewhere over the past three decades of globalism.
  2. Stagnant real incomes for all but the super-rich, resulting in an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor and an increasing rate of poverty, homelessness, and inadequate insurance.
  3. A $15-plus trillion national debt and unfunded mandate obligations of $43 trillion, a staggering burden only added to by stimulus spending, tax cuts, and “quantitative easing” (printing money), none of which is restoring economic growth but does make us increasingly and dangerously dependent on China, Japan, and other foreign countries buying our treasury bonds.
  4. A central bank which has, by monetizing the growing national debt and providing cheap credit to bail out banks, increased the money supply to the point where the future value of the dollar and the rate of inflation are highly uncertain.
  5. A financial system based on “tricks and traps” rather than customer service and a financial regulatory system which favors predatory and ruthless Wall Street mega-banks at the expense of ordinary citizens.
  6. An economic system absolutely dependent for survival on consumption and affluenza (the illusion that the accumulation of more stuff, provided by big-box stores fostered by government globalization policies, can provide meaning to life), despite the knowledge that unrestrained growth in a world of finite resources is unsustainable and unworthy of pursuit.
  7. Public and private sector labor unions which have been under open attack by the government since the Reagan administration, by hostile anti-union private employers such as Wal-Mart, and more recently by some Republican governors.
  8. Corporate-owned, government-subsidized agriculture with its use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, anti-biotics, genetically-engineered seeds, systematic animal cruelty, and virtual absence of food safety regulations creating a menace to public health, the environment, and small farmers.

Foreign Policy

  1. An immoral, often clandestine and illegal, imperial system based on full-spectrum dominance, military overstretch, might-makes-right, and the proposition that the world wants to be just like us, leading us to provide support to dictators and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere in the world.
  2. A dependence on military might, based on a multi-trillion dollar budget, 1.6 million American troops stationed at over 1,000 bases in 153 countries (including 80,000 in Europe, 36,000 in Japan, and 30,000 in Korea), Special Operations strike forces (Seals, Delta Forces, Rangers, Green Berets) deployed in 120 countries, and a proliferation of pilotless drone aircraft worldwide for reconnaissance and stealth attacks, sometimes killing civilians, including Americans.
  3. Immoral, illegal, undeclared wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and (via Israel) Palestine, the threat of war with Iran based on our deliberate acts of provocation, and the endless “war” on terror largely aimed with racial overtones at Muslims.
  4. The hammerlock hold of the Israeli Lobby over American foreign policy that forces us to support an Israeli-inspired war on terror against Muslims and keeps us from any real commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
  5. The Cuban embargo.

Civil Liberties

  1. The highly intrusive, inept, ever-growing, money-guzzling Department of Homeland Security, together with other intelligence agencies, using the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the Detainee Security Provision of the National Defense Administration Act of 2011, and other covers for citizen surveillance and suppression of civil liberties.
  2. The disgraceful (and expensive and useless) Guantanamo Prison, prisoner abuse and torture, and the illegal rendition of terrorist suspects.
  3. A president who can order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime (including U.S. citizens) whose name happens to appear on the White House “kill list.”

Criminal Justice

  1. Six million people under “correctional supervision” (more than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin), including more black men than were in slavery in 1860 and 50,000 men in solitary confinement in “supermax” prisons.
  2. A failed international war on drugs that costs billions, ruins more lives than it saves, has spawned corruption and violence, an entrenched bureaucracy, and which has had no impact on drug use in the United States.

Social Services

  1. The most expensive health care system in the world, driven by fear of death on the demand side and greed on the supply side, that ranks 37th in the world according to the World Health Organization, now tied to Obamacare, which remains fatally attached to a private health care system that is in a death-spiral of rising costs and declining health outcomes.
  2. An education system dominated by the Federal government, committed to a one-size-fits-all corporate model, to the dumbing-down of America, and to a race to the bottom, which is why it ranks 18th in the industrial world, according to the OECD.
  3. A higher education system that is becoming so expensive that only the rich will be able to attend college; all others look forward to debt slavery.
  4. A social-welfare net that, despite being enormously expensive, is woefully inadequate to those it serves and has proven incapable of serious reform.

Infrastructure

  1. A widespread aging and collapsing infrastructure, including highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, dams, levees, and public water systems, now costing America $129 billion a year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, and will take an expenditure of $206 billion a year for the next 20 years to fix, sums which are simply unavailable.
  2. Transportation crises, including the obsolete and inadequate air-traffic-control systems and railroad passenger train systems, and a Federal highway system now 60 years old falling into disrepair across the country.

Redress of Grievances

“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive… it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government… as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness,” says the Declaration of Independence. Alteration and abolishment include the right to disband, or subdivide, or withdraw, or create a new government.

Let us therefore consider ways peaceably to withdraw from the American Empire by (1) regaining control of our lives from big government, big business, big cities, big schools, and big computer networks; (2) relearning how to take care of ourselves by decentralizing, downsizing, localizing, demilitarizing, simplifying, and humanizing our lives; and (3) providing democratic and human-scale self-government at those local and regional levels most likely to effect our safety and happiness.

Citizens, lend your name to this manifesto and join in the honorable task of rejecting the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire and seeking its rapid and peaceful dissolution before it takes us all down with it.

  • Thomas H. Naylor
  • Kirkpatrick Sale
  • James Starkey
  • Chellis Glendinning
  • Carolyn Chute
  • Charles Keil

To be presented at the Third Statewide Convention on Vermont Self-Determination on September 14, 2012 to be held in the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University.

Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of Human Scale and eleven other books and is Director of the Middlebury Institute.

James Starkey is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Rhode Island.

Chellis Glendinning is the author of five books including When Technology Wounds, an advisor to SVR, and lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Carolyn Chute is an award-winning Maine novelist, political activist, and author of the best-seller The Beans of Egypt, Maine.

Charles Keil is Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the author of Urban Blues.

The Principality of Liechtenstein: A Model of Self-Determination for a World Filled with Chaos

Why should a tiny alpine nation nestled between the Swiss and Austrian Alps with a population of only 35,000 spread over 62 square miles, no airport, one hospital, 155 miles of paved roadway, and only irregular local train service be taken seriously by anyone?  Because it has the highest gross domestic product per person in the world when adjusted by purchasing power parity (over $140,000 per capita), the world’s lowest external debt, and the second lowest unemployment rate in the world (recently as low as 1.5 percent).  But the Principality of Liechtenstein happens to be just such a place.

Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy organized as a unitary parliamentary democracy with an enlightened Reigning Prince by the name of Hans-Adam II.  Since the constitutional reform of 2003 was implemented by the Prince, the citizens of Liechtenstein actually have the right to abolish the monarchy altogether.  Hans-Adam has a quite unique philosophy of government for a reigning monarch.  In his view citizens should not be seen as servants of the state, but rather as customers of a benevolent service company, otherwise known as the state, whose aim is to serve its customers.  If the customers don’t like the service, they can replace the service company, namely, the monarchy.  “Ask not what a citizen can do for the state, but rather what the state can do better for the citizen than any other organization,” says the Prince.

Under the leadership of Hans-Adam Liechtenstein acceded to the United Nations in 1990 and the European Economic Area in 1995.  It is neither a member of the European Union nor NATO.

Even though Liechtenstein remained neutral during both world wars, it was practically an economic basket case after World War II.  Much of the credit for turning it around economically lies with the Prince.  Liechtenstein is best known for its financial sector which is a tax haven and home to 73,700 corporations worldwide.  It has 16 banks.  However, its high-quality, high-tech industrial sector which manufactures a variety of products including machine tools and precision instruments accounts for 36 percent of GDP.

The Prince of Liechtenstein is not paid for his duties as head of state by either the state or the taxpayers.  Unlike most other monarchies, the total cost of the Liechtenstein monarchy is covered by either the Prince’s or the so-called Princely House’s private funds.  The country’s LGT Bank, for example, is owned by the royal family. The Prince’s personal fortune is thought to be in excess of $5 billion.

Not unlike Switzerland, Liechtenstein bankers have not escaped criticism from Wall Street and European bankers, the EU, and the U.S. Congress for the use of secret bank accounts which can be used to evade foreign taxes, dodge creditors, and defy court orders.  In February 2008 the LGT Bank was implicated in a tax-fraud scandal in Germany which strained the monarchy’s relationship with the German government.  International bankers don‘t like the fact that Swiss and Liechtenstein bankers don’t always play by their rules.

In an attempt to clean up its image abroad Liechtenstein has signed a number of treaties related to money laundering and fraud with the United States and the European Union including the Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the U.S. and the Anti-Fraud Agreement with the EU.  On June 27, 2012 Liechtenstein and the U.S. signed an Agreement on Exchange Cooperation in Preventing and Combating Serious Crime.

Prince Hans-Adam has always maintained a strong interest in the right to self-determination, so much so that in 2000 he founded the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University.  The Institute supports teaching, research, and publication about issues related to and emerging from self-determination, especially pertaining to the state, self-governance, sovereignty, security, and boundaries with particular consideration of socio-cultural, ethnic, and religious issues involving state and non-state actors.

On August 15, 2004 Prince Hans-Adam II appointed his elder son, Hereditary Prince Alois, his permanent deputy, in preparation for his succession to the throne.  He now devotes more of his time to managing the assets of the Princely House, writing, and participating in international projects.

In 2009 Prince Hans-Adam II published an extremely interesting book entitled The State in the Third Millennium spelling out his unique and personal vision of the state at the beginning of the twenty-first century as well as strategies by which it might be achieved.  His perspective as the reigning head of state of a monarchy which is also an oligarchy and a democracy, a direct democracy, is truly remarkable.

Although I do not agree with all of the Prince’s ideas, and indeed strongly disagree with some of them, I find most of them to be quite insightful.  Unlike myself, Hans-Adam is very libertarian, very free-market oriented, and very Roman Catholic, but he is very smart.

His understanding of geopolitics and global economics is highly sophisticated, not to mention his psychological sophistication as well.  He seems to know exactly who he is and what it means to be the reigning monarch of a tiny European country.  His lack of hubris is indeed refreshing.

As a card-carrying libertarian, there are no big surprises in the Prince’s portfolio of economic policy prescriptions for his third millennium state.  Essentially what he has in mind is a libertarian state, if that is not an oxymoron.  He calls for the privatization of social welfare, the elimination of government subsidies, an educational voucher system, a value added tax, little or no national debt, private ownership of mineral rights, and a sophisticated precious metal based currency.

Since the constitutional reform of 2003, the Principality’s eleven municipalities have all had the right of self-determination. The Prince correctly points out that the 15 former republics of the Soviet Union also theoretically possessed that right, even though it was never exercised.

Hans-Adam’s book concludes with a draft constitution for a prototype third millennium state whether it be a monarchy (kingdom X) or a republic (republic Y).  Although I have never been a great fan of monarchies, the thought has passed through my mind, “Is the difference between a republic and a monarchy as great as we try to make it appear to be?”  Maybe.  Maybe not.

The opening of the Liechtenstein Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2002 is but one example of how Hans-Adam has attempted to foster closer ties with the United Sates.  The Embassy website contains numerous photographs of Washington dignitaries such as the Obamas and Hillary Clinton appearing at the Embassy.  In a 2010 interview Hans-Adam is reported to have said, “The Americans saved us during World War II and during the Cold War?”  But does that, therefore, mean that Liechtenstein owes its soul to them?  Apparently so.

But in a surprising turn of events for a country which disbanded its military in 1868 for financial reasons and is ruled by a live-and-let-live libertarian committed to the right of self-determination, Hans-Adam embraces the notion of the United States serving as the world’s global policeman.  That is, if a particular country such as Iraq, Libya, North Korea, or Syria has an authoritarian regime which is not playing by the rules set forth by the United Sates, the U.S. would have the right to intervene in that country forcing it to agree to the establishment of a functioning democratic state.  Although the Prince gives high marks to the U.S. for its 2003 invasion of Iraq, he would have the U.S. partner with the EU to rebuild a rogue state brought down by the Empire by establishing a functioning democratic constitutional state to replace the original one.

But isn’t this tantamount to getting in bed with the American Empire and supporting its imperialist foreign policy which is based on the concepts of full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and might makes right.  Would the Prince also endorse attacks by drones, Navy Seals, and Delta Force Death Squads aimed at those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the White House kill list?  All of this from an enlightened, well-educated monarch who is a staunch defender of the right of self-determination.  How can this be?

Of what is the Prince so afraid?  Who would ever invade Liechtenstein?  If so, what would they do with it?

Prince Hans-Adam II is uniquely qualified and extremely well positioned to be the foremost advocate for self-determination worldwide.  Indeed the small nations of the world such as Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Senegal, Sweden, and Switzerland and the aspiring nations of the world such as the Basque Country, Kurdistan, Quebec, Scotland, South Ossetia, Tibet, Vermont, and Western Sahara desperately need his support to enable them to stand up to meganations such as the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan, and Brazil.

With admiration and respect, I urge him to reconsider his position.  The future of the planet is at stake.

Thomas H. Naylor

August 13, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

Gotham: Metaphor Versus Reality

The storyline of The Dark Knight Rises may be more

relevant than it appears at first glance. Let’s just

say current events metaphors abound throughout

this flick. All superhero themes of good versus

evil aside, the central conflict pits Bane, who seeks

to bring an end to a culture of decadence and

corruption, against Batman and the Gotham Police

Department, whose response is quite simply, “Not

so fast, we’ll keep things just the way they are,

thank you.” One wonders what message Christopher

Nolan is promoting. What message is he concurrently

obscuring from his public? Although the Aurora

shootings of July 20, 2012 were truly tragic, I can’t

help but question the assailant’s motives. What would

drive a person to buy a Smith and Wesson M&P15

assault rifle, 12-guage shotgun, two glock handguns,

and 6,000 rounds of ammo? My guess is that the

selection of The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t the luck of

the draw. This guy may have been the most pissed

off and armed moviegoer to have deeply considered

the inner workings of the Dark Knight’s hometown,

our very own Gotham.

xandernaylor.com

Small Is Beautiful, and It Works

Picture it: a self-governing community of little more than 35,000 people, living amongst “dramatic natural scenery”. For over the past two centuries, the people of this same community have been renowned for their independent spirit and love of freedom. Though originally little more than an agrarian community, today they have a modern economy oriented toward tourism and sport. There is a great “pedestrian main drag” where one can find such diversity as “modern art, hotels and slick office parks.” It is often remarked that even though it is a tiny place when compared to the rest of the world, “the views are big, and hiking (and skiing) possibilities go on and on.”

Sound familiar? A self-governing community of over 35,000 people of independent spirit settled amongst a fulfilling natural landscape. It would not be at all surprising if such a description conjures up visions of our own Queen City, but this would be only partially correct. Such descriptions, though also synonymous with Burlington, VT, actually come from a PBS documentary, “Rick Steve’s Europe”, about the small Western European country of Liechtenstein.

The Principality of Liechtenstein is doubly landlocked between Austria and Switzerland. The historical tract of this often overlooked yet remarkable little nation is in many ways comparable to that of our own Green Mountain community, except that they are reversed. “Ruled” today by a hereditary constitutional monarch, the Principality of Liechtenstein was bought by the reigning prince’s medieval ancestors and in the 18th century became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire. However, around the turn of the 19th century when the sovereignty of the Vermont Republic had degenerated into just another member state of another infamous empire, Liechtenstein received independence from an outdated and collapsing political system. By the end of the First World War, Liechtenstein became a fully independent nation, equal in its sovereignty to any of its European neighbors.

And so begs the question: How can this tiny principality of no mean size, a people smaller in number than those inhabiting Burlington and populating an area the size of our country’s capital, last and indeed thrive in this world dominated by “meganations”? Why do so few in this time of megalomania, swept up by the “bigger is better” mentality, never question this postage stamp country while continuing their adversity to the mere concept of a Free Vermont? This is the same Vermont which has almost eighteen times the population and one hundred and fifty-five times the area of this successful little country.

Liechtenstein, though amazingly tiny with only eleven actual villages, has one of the highest standards of living and per capita GDPs in the entire world, not to mention one of the lowest unemployment rates. Not only are the people of Liechtenstein able to draw much revenue from tourism while having few natural resources of which to speak, their country remains highly attractive to businesses from all over the world. This is greatly due to their low tax laws and diplomatic independence on the world stage.

And yet, Liechtenstein has been able to do all of this with no seaport, no airport, and, you guessed it, not even a standing army. Through the strength of this small country’s ideals, they have taken a historically insignificant piece of alpine territory and turned it into the poster child for life and governance on a human scale. “Small” is not only “beautiful”, but it works too.

It appears that in many ways Vermont has forgotten its similar love, and indeed its aptitude, for such independence as espoused by this amazing country. Since tasting its complete independence, Liechtenstein has become ever more mindful of the value of which neutrality in international affairs can inherently bring. It found, therefore, a freedom that many in Vermont can now only imagine in a passing daydream. This freedom has been obtained by abstaining, like close financial partner Switzerland, from such supranational organizations of bureaucratic tyranny as the European Union. Unlike the United States, Liechtenstein is free from foreign entanglements and alliances. They have instead continued to have faith in themselves through implementing devolution and direct-democracy; ideals of power sharing that Vermont also once held dear. If 35,000 Liechtensteiners have responsibly provided for the welfare of their communities and neighbors, then why could more than 626,000 similarly spirited Vermonters not do the same?

Perhaps key to Liechtenstein’s success, for all it is worth, is something which Vermont currently lacks in both name and spirit: a living embodiment of unity, a prince. This is not to say Vermont need throw out its traditional interpretation of the egalitarian principle, but it does mean that Vermont may have even more to learn from the point at which the energy of this principality’s society is focused: the prince himself.

Prince Hans-Adam II, as the current head of his royal house and nation, is a passionate believer in the ideas of simpler and accountable government. But what he quite possibly sees as even more vital to a free and prosperous society is the ideal of self-determination. His utter faith in such a principle, especially at the local level, is concisely argued in his own political treatise, The State in the Third Millennium. What is truly remarkable is the evidence proving how this monarch is no passive believer and actively advocates his ideas as a way to resolve some of the world’s most pressing issues. In alliance with Princeton University in the year 2000, Hans-Adam set himself up as patron to the “Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination”. In conjunction with experts and leaders from all realms within the private and public spheres, the LISD forms panels, teaches courses, and holds conferences. All discuss self-determinative solutions for conflicts ranging from the former Soviet sphere to the Middle East. Because of his work, Prince Hans-Adam’s Liechtenstein is now a disproportionately bright beacon of freedom, independence, and self-determination. In short, he has taken so-called “radical” ideas, accused of appealing only to the most extreme political theorists, and legitimized their discussion and practice among the world’s most powerful elites. Prince Hans-Adam reigns over a small domain and yet has used his nation as a ladder with which to influence the highest pillars of power. This is by no means a small feat.

So, does Vermont need a modern-day prince to offer similar independence and influence in the wider world? Or do we already have the makings of something equally, if not more powerful? Because of its founder, Thomas H. Naylor, at least SVR exists as one organization proposing such a vision. Perhaps through more discussion between this former Professor and communities of our own small corner of the globe, Vermont could lead by example in pursuit of its own values of freedom, unity, and independence. Then, just as with Liechtenstein, Vermont might engage foreign nations through free association and open partnership, establishing institutes promoting its own values and peaceful conflict resolution. Vermont may not have a prince as a standard bearer for such goals, but we have our own rich history, our own semi-mythical figures of Ethan Allen and the like, and so too may create a vehicle with which to pursue change. Who amongst our wealth of people is ready to lead us on to such a future? Who else is waiting to be inspired with enough courage and hope to do so?

If we only dared to imagine…a Free Vermont.

Ethan Bishop

August 6, 2012

Undergraduate of St. Lawrence University ’13; pursuing B.A. in History, B.A. in Government, and Certification Minor in Education.

*ejbvermont@gmail.com

Empire and the Denial of Death

I was so taken by James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency back in 2005 that I immediately invited him to be the keynote speaker for the Vermont Independence Convention that year in the Vermont State House in Montpelier.  After reading his compelling novel, World Made By Hand, about life in a post oil world, I invited him to speak at our 2008 convention as well.  In both appearances he made it clear that while he thought the Empire was in deep trouble, a secessionist he was not.

More recently I have been reading his blogpost bearing the quaint title Clusterfuck Nation, which is one of the most vitriolic attacks on America and Americans I have ever read.  Kunstler really does not like Americans.

With that thought in mind I wrote to him in April and asked him if he still believed that the U.S. government was fixable, and if so, how that might happen?  He essentially ducked the question and recommended that I read his forthcoming book Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and The Fate of the Nation.  Having incorrectly surmised that I might find the answer to my question there, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Kunstler’s new book.  I was sadly disappointed.

Too Much Magic is little more than a rehash of the arguments made so effectively by Kunstler in The Long Emergency and The Geography of Nowhere along with several disjointed chapters on such disparate topics as transhumanism, political parties, Wall Street corruption and climate change.  There is absolutely nothing new here.

One of the most disturbing sections of Kunstler’s book is his description of a visit to Disney World in Orlando a few years ago.  His takeaway from the death defying rides, “haunted houses, animatronic corpses, holographic ghosts, screaming mummies, ghouls, skeletons, coffins, and graveyards” was that Americans are obsessed with a yearning for death.  “Shrieking death is a payoff dispensed to Disney World guests as regularly as the reward pellets doled out to rats in experimental psych labs, so one begins to get the feeling that all those overfed Americans waddling so innocently about in their JC Penney casuals do share an intense subliminal yearning for death.”

Lest there be any doubt about Kunstler’s views on Americans, “Everything we do these days, our lust for ever more comfort, pleasure, and distraction, our refusal to engage with the mandates of reality, our fidelity to cults of technology and limitless growth, our narcissistic national exceptionalism – all of this propels us toward the realm where souls abandon all hope.”  It’s all about morbidity says Kunstler.

But anyone who has ever read cultural anthropologist Ernest Beckers’s The Denial of Death (1973) or Escape from Evil (1975) knows that Kunstler has it dead wrong.  The mortality signs prominently displayed at Disney World are not evidence of a yearning for death but rather the denial or fear of death.  He’s off by 180 degrees.

Unfortunately, Disney World is the defining metaphor for the entire book.  The demise of suburbia, the decline of cities, transhumanism, political gridlock, the Wall Street scandals, peak oil, and climate change are all examples of the effects of the denial of death – of our inability to confront our fear of nothingness.

Kunstler, above all, should have known better, since he lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, home of Skidmore College, where experimental psychologist Sheldon Solomon regularly publishes the results of his pioneering research on the behavioral effects of the denial and fear of death.  It’s hard to imagine Kunstler being unaware of this research.

However, I have a much more serious problem with Too Much Magic.  Although this book is essentially a book about the consequences of an empire gone amok, an empire which Kunstler truly despises, the author devotes little or no attention to the Empire itself, its foreign policy, or the fact that the Pentagon is arguably the largest consumer of oil in the world.  How is it possible to write about peak oil and never mention our nation’s 1,000 military bases in 153 countries, the risk of war with Iran, U.S.-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, and the competition between China and the United States for natural resources worldwide?  It’s almost as though Kunstler has written 245 pages about the American Empire but never acknowledged that it is indeed an empire.

The most bizarre chapter in the entire book is about American computer scientist, inventor, businessman, and futurist Ray Kurzweil whom Kunstler describes as a techno narcissist.  Kurzweil is one of a new breed of scientists and pseudoscientists who believe that advances in genetics, medicine, robotics, information technology, and nano technology will allow us to improve our bodies, and even become immortal.  This new field of medicine is known as transhumanism.  What transhumanism has to do with anything is not made clear by Kunstler.

Twice Kunstler tells us that he is a registered Democrat, as though he were actually proud of that fact.  He comes dangerously close to being an apologist for Obama about whom he says, “He came along at a very difficult time in our national history.”  Continuing he adds, “I worry about what may happen to the social fabric after Obama, if the voters reject him.”  Kunstler does not comment on drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, or Obama’s kill list.  If Kunstler is to be believed, does Obama too suffer from a yearning for death?

Happily, Too Much Magic does not end with a happy chapter promising eternal bliss, if we follow the author’s policy prescriptions.  The book essentially has no ending,  it just sort of winds down.  The bottom line seems to be that Americans will gradually adapt to shortages of oil and climate change and by simply muddling through will eventually be better off than they are today.  Kunstler envisages a kind of post oil nirvana in which we will all be “working together with people we know, spending time with friends and loved ones, sharing food with people we love, and enacting the other ceremonies of daily and seasonal life in story and song.”  It sounds almost like magic to me.

Thomas H. Naylor

August 4, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

New Hate Crime Frontiers for the Southern Policy Law Center

Since 1971 the Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC) has fought racism and hate crimes in America, most notably in the Deep South.  Particularly during its earlier years when its co-founder, Atlanta civil rights activist Julian Bond, was still involved, the SPLC achieved an admirable record in helping bring to justice those accused of racially based murders, lynchings, and beatings.

Forty years later the SPLC has evolved into the cash cow of the civil rights movement and behaves as though it were the left-wing equivalent of the John Birch Society, a right-wing, 1950’s anticommunist group which was certain that behind every bush was a card-carrying communist.  Today anyone with whom the SPLC happens to disagree is assumed to be either a racist or guilty of a hate crime.

But in its zealous pursuit of alleged racists such as the League of the South or hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the SPLC has completely overlooked the 900-pound gorilla, namely the United States Government.  The American Empire is arguably the most racist empire of all-time which routinely engages in hate crimes and crimes against humanity on a scale heretofore unimaginable.  The transgressions of the likes of the League of the South and the Ku Klux Klan pale in comparison to those of the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, and the military industrial complex.

If the SPLC is really serious about confronting racism and hate crimes, then it should redirect the focus of its attention towards the leading perpetrators of such evil.  Specifically, it should aim its big antiracist, anti hate crime propaganda guns at the following individuals and institutions:

Barack Obama.  The bedrock on which American foreign policy rests is the war on terror launched by President George W. Bush shortly after 9/11.  Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama now presides over its execution with almost religious like fervor.  Let there be no doubt about it, the war on terror is thoroughly grounded in racism and hatred of Muslims.  As Commander in Chief of the American War Team, otherwise known as the Pentagon, Obama vigorously promotes the use of drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, and so-called smart warfare.  Smart warfare has been employed by the Obama war team in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  Syria and Iran are likely to be next on the President’s kill list.

If the SPLC is truly interested in stopping hate crimes, maybe it should start at the very top?

U.S. Congress.  All of this military madness is made possible by the defense appropriations authorized by the U.S. Congress, a political body which operates under the absolute control of Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Israeli Lobby.  The Congress not only enables a foreign policy based on full-spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and might-makes-right, but its members, from both sides of the aisle, are its principal cheerleaders.  It willingly approves trillion dollar plus national security budgets which support 1.6 million American troops stationed in 1,000 military bases in 153 countries.  The Empire, with the blessings of Congress, not only engages in racism and hate crimes worldwide, but in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine (through its Israeli proxy), it actually practices genocide and ethnic cleansing, all under the guise of protecting freedom.  And what has been the response of the SPLC to all of this?  Hardly a whimper.

Hillary Clinton.  Traditionally the role of the Secretary of State has been to serve as the chief diplomat of the U.S. Government encouraging good relations between the United States and the rest of the world.  Apparently no one ever explained this to Hillary Clinton.  She seems to spend most of her time flying around the globe trying to provoke wars with countries such as Libya, Iran, Syria, China, Pakistan, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.  Her aim appears to be to talk tougher and be more mean spirited than her predecessor Madeleine Albright.

Leon Panetta.  As the leader of the American military machine, Leon Panetta understands very well that the Pentagon’s obscene budgets are unsustainable without the support of an electorate which truly believes in the threat of terrorism.  He subtly but skillfully exploits this fear, and our compliant media goes along with the charade.  It’s all about the fear of and hatred of Muslims.

David Petraeus.  Not content with the role he played in the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, David Petraeus has now turned his attention to a more clandestine form of hate crime, namely that practiced by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Senator Bernie Sanders.  Not unlike most other so-called political liberals in Congress, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has always “supported the troops” in Iraq and Afghanistan by voting to fund these nasty little wars.  He always shows up at the Burlington Airport whenever Vermont National Guard troops are deployed overseas or return home.  He is an unabashed apologist for Israel and its atrocities against the Palestinians.  His cozy relationship with weapons of mass destruction manufacturer Sandia Corporation and Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, have not gone unnoticed.

Wall Street.  Just as Wall Street bankers played both ends against the middle during World War II by helping finance the war efforts of both the Nazis and the Allies, so too are they fully engaged in promoting and financing the war on terror worldwide.  The term “hate crime” is not even in their vocabulary.  It’s all about money, power, and greed.

Corporate America.  Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, IBM, and General Electric are but a handful of the major corporations who provide the equipment and military hardware to support the Empire’s crimes against humanity.  They provide the high tech killing machines to wage the war on terrorism against Islam.

Israel.  In spite of its economic and military might, there is one exception to American exceptionalism.  And that is tiny Israel.  In the eyes of the US government, only Israel stands above the United Nations, the World Court, international law, and global public opinion.  It is free to inflict harm on any of its neighbors anytime it feels inclined to do so, regardless of the consequences, and regardless of the validity of its rationale for aggression.  To Israel the Empire pledges its unconditional economic and military support.

Whatever Israel wants from the United States, Israel usually gets.  Israel has supported the war on terror against Muslims, two wars against Iraq, and the NATO attack on Libya.  And since it is the “exceptional” nation in the Middle East only Israel is entitled to have nuclear weapons, and thus Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons project must be taken out.

National Guard.  The fifty state National Guard units are essentially teams of trained killers on call awaiting orders from Washington to travel anywhere in the world to kill or be killed in the name of the Empire.

R.O.T.C. Nearly ever university in the country now has an R.O.T.C. program.  In R.O.T.C. future military officers are trained in the art and science of warfare.  To motivate young cadets to kill on behalf of the State, college R.O.T.C. programs must instill in them some combination of fear, hatred, and patriotism.  How is it possible that some of our most prestigious universities have allowed themselves to be used to legitimize crimes against humanity?  Why should universities be given a free pass by hate crime police?

Military Academies.  And, of course, West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy are more of the same.

With its sophisticated legal team, CIA-like tactics, and penchant for media attention, the Southern Poverty Law Center is uniquely qualified to confront the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, Wall Street, Israel, and the Academy on their racism, hate crimes, and crimes against humanity.  As the nation’s foremost hate crime police force, the SPLC could help raise the level of awareness of ordinary American citizens as to the evils perpetrated by our government and our corporations in the name of freedom.

Lastly, the SPLC could initiate impeachment proceedings against some of our fearless leaders.

One can only hope and pray that SPLC will rise to the challenge!

Thomas H. Naylor

July 11, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.