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.

The Waning of the Modern Ages

as posted on Counter Punch, September 20, 2012


La longue durée —the long run—was an expression made popular by the Annales School of French historians led by Fernand Braudel, who coined the phrase in 1958. The basic argument of this school is that the proper concern of historians should be the analysis of structures that lie at the base of contemporary events. Underneath short-term events such as individual cycles of economic boom and bust, said Braudel, we can discern the persistence of “old attitudes of thought and action, resistant frameworks dying hard, at times against all logic.” An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.

The “arc” of capitalism, according to this school, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time the medieval world began to come apart and be replaced by the modern one. In his classic study of the period, The Waning of the Middle Ages, the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga depicted the time as one of depression and cultural exhaustion—like our own age, not much fun to live through. One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss. What lies ahead is largely unknown, and to have to hover over an abyss for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well, on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose.

I was musing on these issues some time ago when I happened to run across a remarkable essay by Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine. It was called “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” and was published last November in The Nation. In what appears to be something of a radical shift for her, she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British writer James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”

What Ms. Klein is saying to the Left, in effect, is: Why fight it? These nervous nellies on the Right are—right! Those of us on the Left can’t keep talking about compatibility of limits-to-growth and unrestrained greed, or claiming that climate change is “just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention,” or urging everyone to buy a Prius.

Commentators like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore, who “assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution”—corporate green capitalism, in a word—are simply living in denial. “The real solutions to the climate crisis,” she writes, “are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.”

In one of the essays in my book A Question of Values (“conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History”), I lay out some of the “unconscious programs” buried in the American psyche from our earliest days, programs that account for most of America’s so-called conscious behavior. These include the notion of an endless frontier—a world without limits—and the ideal of extreme individualism—you do not need, and should not need, anyone’s help to “make it” in the world. Combined, the two of these provide a formula for enormous capitalist power and inevitable capitalist collapse (hence, the dialectical dimension of it all). Of this, Naomi Klein writes:

“The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits….These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.”
(This is exactly what I argued 31 years ago in The Reenchantment of the World; it’s nice to see it all coming around again.) “Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.” Hence, she concludes, the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, because what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology. And, I would add, the end of the arc of capitalism referred to earlier. It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters—if there are any left at this point; I’m not sure—need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means. It also has to be said that almost everyone in the United States, not just the upper 1%, buys into this. John Steinbeck pointed this out many years ago when he wrote that in the U.S., the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The Occupy movement, as far as I could make out, wanted to restore the American Dream, when in fact the Dream needs to be abolished once and for all.
Naomi then provides us with a list of six changes that must occur for this new paradigm to come into being, including Reining in Corporations, Ending the Cult of Shopping, and Taxing the Rich. I found myself writing “good luck” in the margins of much of this discussion. These things are not going to happen, and what we probably need instead is a series of major conferences on why they won’t happen. But note that part of the answer is already embedded in her essay: vested interests, in both the economic and psychological sense, have every reason to maintain the status quo. And as I said, so does the man or woman in the street. What would our lives be without shopping, without the latest technological toy? Pretty empty, at least in the U.S. How awful, that capitalism has reduced human beings to this.

In terms of recommendations, then, Klein’s essay is rather weak. But it offers something very important by way of analysis, and also by implication: Everything is related to everything else. Psychology, the economy, the environmental crisis, our daily mode of living, the dumbing down of America, the pathetic fetish over cell phones and electronic gadgets, the crushing debt of student loans, the farce of electoral politics, Mr. Obama’s rather rapid conversion from liberal hero to war criminal and shredder of the Bill of Rights, the huge popularity of violent movies, the attempt of the rich to impose austerity measures on the poor, the well-documented epidemics of mental illness and obesity—these are ultimately not separate spheres of human activity. They are interconnected, and this means that things will not get fixed piecemeal. “New civilizational paradigm” means it’s all or nothing; there really is no in-between, no diet cheesecake to be had. As Ms. Klein says, it’s not about single “issues” anymore.

What then, can we expect, as the arc of capitalism comes to a close? This is where Naomi shifts from unlikely recommendations to hard-nosed reality. She writes:

“The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations. Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. ‘Free-market climate solutions,’ as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets. And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks….As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it’s everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate, and that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place indeed.”

To put it bluntly, the scale of change required cannot happen without a massive implosion of the current system. This was true at the end of the Roman Empire, it was true at the end of the Middle Ages, and it is true today. In the case of the Roman Empire, as I discuss in The Twilight of American Culture, there was the emergence of monastic orders that began to preserve the treasures of Graeco-Roman civilization. My question in that book was: Can something similar happen today? Naomi writes:

“The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” She believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement—remember, it was quite vigorous last November—embodies this; that they have taken “aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying…radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.”

Is this true? Four things to consider at this point:

1. I personally never visited Zuccotti Park, but most of what I saw on the Web, including very favorable reportage of the Occupy movement, seemed to suggest that the goal was a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream, as I indicated above. In other words, the basic demand was that the pie be cut up more fairly. I never had the impression that the protesters were saying that the pie, in toto, was rotten. This reminds me of an anecdote about Martin Luther King, who apparently said to Harry Belafonte, just before he (i.e., King) was assassinated, that he thought he might have been making a big mistake; that he sometimes felt like he was herding people into a burning church. This is a very different insight, quite obviously, than the notion that black people should be getting a larger share of the pie. After all, who wants a larger share of a rotten pie, or to live in a church that is burning down?

2. The Annales historians, along with the World Systems Analysis thinkers, have been accused of projecting an image of “history without people.” In other words, these schools tend to see individuals as somewhat irrelevant to the historical process, which they analyze in terms of “historical forces.” There is some truth to this, but “historical forces” can become a bit mystical. Just as it is forces that motivate people, so it is people that enact or manifest those forces. I mean,
someone has to do something for history to occur, and at least the Occupy crowd was trying to throw sand on the wheels of the machine, so to speak, as have their counterparts in Europe. But I confess that for a number of reasons, I was never very optimistic about the movement; at least, not as it existed in the United States. As many sociologists have pointed out, America has no real socialist tradition, and it is no surprise that the serious maldistribution of wealth that exists in the U.S. is no issue whatsoever in the forthcoming presidential election. In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trust revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it—which takes us back to the quote from John Steinbeck. My own prediction, several months ago, was that OWS would turn into a kind of permanent teach-in, where the disaffected could go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that would indeed be taught. This is basically the “new monastic option” I wrote about in the Twilight book. On one level, it’s probably innocuous; it hardly threatens the power elite. But that may not be the whole story, especially in the long run—la longue durée. After all, as the system collapses, alternatives are going to become increasingly attractive; and you can be sure that 2008 is not the last crash we are going to live through. The two sides go hand in hand, and ultimately—I’m talking thirty to forty years, but maybe less—the weight of the arc of capitalism will be too onerous to sustain itself. In la longue durée, one is far smarter betting on the alternative worldview than on capitalism. Thus the biologist David Ehrenfeld writes: “Our first task is to create a shadow economic, social, and even technological structure that will be ready to take over as the existing system fails.”

3. What, then, is that alternative worldview, that “new civilizational paradigm”? In Why America Failed I lay out, unsurprisingly enough, the reasons for why America failed, and I say that it was primarily because throughout our history we marginalized or ignored the voices that argued against the dominant culture, which is based on hustling, aggrandizement, and economic and technological expansion. This alternative tradition can be traced from John Smith in 1616 to Jimmy Carter in 1979, and included folks such as Emerson, Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Vance Packard, and John Kenneth Galbraith, among many others. In England it is particularly associated with John Ruskin and William Morris, who argued for the need for organic communities with a spiritual purpose, for work that was meaningful rather than mind-numbing, and who did manage to acquire a large number of American disciples. In a forthcoming book by a colleague of mine, Joel Magnuson, entitled The Approaching Great Transformation, the author states that we need concrete models of a post-carbon economy, ones that break with the profit model of capitalism—and not in cosmetic or rhetorical ways. He gives a number of examples of experiments in this vein, ones that I would term elements of a steady-state or homeostatic economy: no-growth, in other words. After all, writes Magnuson, “permanent growth means permanent crisis.” Or as I have put it elsewhere, our job is to dismantle capitalism before it dismantles us. Again, this does not mean taking on Wall Street, which I don’t believe can succeed. But it does mean leaving the field: for example, seceding. (Movements for secession do exist at this point, Vermont being a prominent example.) And if that’s not quite viable right now, there is at least the possibility of living in a different way, as David Ehrenfeld suggests. My guess is that “dual process”—the disintegration of capitalism and the concomitant emergence of an alternative socioeconomic formation—is going to be the central story of the rest of this century. And I suspect that austerity will be part of this, because as capitalism collapses and we run out of resources—petroleum in particular—what choice will we have?

4. This does not, it seems to me, necessarily mean a return to some type of feudalism; although that could well happen, for all I know. But we are finally talking about the passing not only of capitalism, but of modernity in general—the waning of the modern ages, in effect. In her interesting biography of the Hegelian scholar, Alexandre Kojève, Shadia Drury writes: “Every political order, no matter how grand, is doomed to decay and degenerate.” As for modernity in particular, she goes on:

“[M]odernity’s inception and its decline are like those of any other set of political and cultural ideals. In its early inception, modernity contained something good and beguiling. It was a revolution against the authority of the Church, its taboos, repressions, inquisitions, and witch burning. It was a new dawn of the human spirit—celebrating life, knowledge, individuality, freedom, and human rights. It bequeathed to man a sunny disposition on the world, and on himself….The new spirit fueled scientific discovery, inventiveness, trade, commerce, and an artistic explosion of great splendor. But as with every new spirit, modernity has gone foul….Modernity lost the freshness and innocence of its early promise because its goals became inflated, impossible, and even pernicious. Instead of being the symbol of freedom, independence, justice, and human rights, it has become the sign of conquest, colonialism, exploitation, and the destruction of the earth.”

In a word, its number is up, and it is our fortune or misfortune, as I said before, to be living during a time of very large, and very difficult, transition. An old way of life dies, a new one eventually comes into being. Of this, the poet Mark Strand remarks: “No need to rush; the end of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.” For some odd reason, I find that thought rather comforting.

Morris Berman’s latest book is Why America Failed.
©Morris Berman, 2012

Speech delivered at The Third Statewide Convention on Vermont Self-Determination in the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont, September 14, 2012

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.


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 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 “”  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.


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.

Barack Obama and the Temple of Doom

The defining image of the Obama White House is a culture of so-called smart power and death – F-35 fighter jets, unmanned killer drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, and more recently, the White House kill list. In an act of unprecedented arrogance, President Obama has granted himself the authority to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked, no trial, no due process – just pure law of the jungle.

And what has been the response of the political Left in Vermont to this egregious behavior? Stony silence. Neither Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Peter Welch, Peter Shumlin, nor Bill McKibben has uttered a whimper. The political Left in Vermont is morally and intellectually bankrupt, but so too is the political Right.

The November election is much ado about absolutely nothing. It will make not one whit of difference whether Obama or Romney wins. Regardless of the outcome the real winners will be the big banks, the big oil companies, the big pharmaceutical companies, big military contractors, and the tiny state of Israel.

There is only one fundamental question which really matters and it will not appear on the ballot anywhere. “Is there any justification whatsoever for the continued existence of the largest, wealthiest, most powerful, most materialistic, most environmentally toxic, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire of all-time – an empire which has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable, ungovernable, and unfixable?”

A number of political groups persist in the belief that the U.S. government is still fixable. They include Ron Paul supporters, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and Although these groups have quite different views on what it will take to fix the empire, they each represent major distractions diverting public attention away from the fact that our nation is beyond repair. Until we come to terms with this reality, all is naught.

As you reflect on Barack Obama and the Temple of Doom, I leave you with two thoughts.

Please help us extricate tiny Vermont from the American Empire so it can join the community of small, self-determined, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

I invite you to consider The Montpelier Manifesto calling for the peaceful dissolution of the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire. Not unlike its predecessor, the 1963 Port Huron Statement issued by the Students for a Democratic Society, The Montpelier Manifesto is aimed at all citizens of the United States, not just those living in Vermont.

Finally, in the immortal words of our very own Irreverend Ben T. Matchstick I bid you farewell in the name of the flounder, the sunfish, and the holy mackerel.

Thomas H. Naylor
September 14, 2012

Speech delivered by Thomas H. Naylor, founder of the Second Vermont Republic, at “The Third Statewide Convention on Vermont Self-Determination” at the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont on September 14, 2012.

From Spark to Flare to Wildfire: Lierre Keith's Ode to Vermont Independence

I bring greetings from Cascadia. They’re watching on the livestream. This I know: the day will come when the whole world will be watching you, Vermont.

It’s a tremendous honor to be here. When you had your first convention in 2005, I came up from Massachusetts to attend. I had to. It wasn’t just intellectual curiosity—though it was that. And it wasn’t just to lend moral support, though it was that, too. And it wasn’t that fine and righteous feeling of incipient rebellion. It was those three words: Second Vermont Republic. Those three words are a spark that could set history on fire.

We need you, Vermont. What’s burning right now is the whole continent. This July was the hottest on record. Two million acres burned. And it wasn’t just the US. Siberia is going up in smoke, too. And it’s not just the forests and grasslands. It’s the tundra and peatlands. They hold enough carbon—and this is a quote—“to render most of the planet uninhabitable if they burn.”
A hotter climate means more fires which release more carbon which makes a hotter climate. Rinse and repeat, at ever higher temperatures. Scientists call that a feedback loop. I think the planet might call it a noose, and life itself is about to hang.

We need you, Vermont. We need you to tell the truth. I know the facts are unbearable. Reality is an avalanche of grief right now. Maybe we could call it Peak Grief. Currently, scientists are debating whether a quarter, a third, or fully half of all mammals will be extinct by 2050. What’s not up for debate—not ever—is a culture that devours with an entitlement so profound that it is turning the planet to dust.

I know it’s unbearable. But I’m asking each of you to take your heart out of cold storage. I know you put it there for safe keeping. I know. But there is no safety on a planet being murdered. In French, the word for heart is coeur. Coeur is the root of our word “courage.” To face the facts, you will need your hearts. And to face down power—which is what you are proposing, and a modest proposal it is not—you will need all the courage of which your hearts are capable.

Because that power is huge. There are three vast and brutal systems that have gone rabid with destruction. The first is called civilization.

Civilization means people living in cities. What that means is that they need more than the land can give. Food, water, and energy have to come from somewhere else. From that point forward, it doesn’t matter what lovely, peaceful, nonviolent values people hold in their hearts. The society is dependent on imperialism and genocide. Because no one willingly gives up their land, their water, their trees. But since the city has used up its own, it has to go out and get those from somewhere else. That’s the last 10,000 years in two sentences.
The central concept here is drawdown. This isn’t tough. If you use more wood than a forest can grow, eventually the forest will be gone. If you take fish faster than they can reproduce, one day the river will be nothing but water and sorrow.

And then there are things that don’t replicate. Things like oil. Things like coal. Using them at all means using them up. For nonreplicating resources, it can only be drawdown. There is no way to make more oil or coal. You can blow up mountains to get to the last of it, but now you’re drawing down mountains as well as coal, and at the end of the day it’s still gone.

This isn’t a differential equation. It’s not even algebra. It’s basic arithmetic. If you have one planet, one blanket of air, one cradle of soil, one place called home, and you destroy it: one minus one. That’s drawdown.
It’s other things, too. Stupid comes to mind. So does sociopathic. So does insane. And then I’m out of words. Words are supposed to make meaning of experience. All I have are fragments with too many sharp edges. Power, hubris, sadism, necrophilia, narcissism—can any of them hold the horror? I’ve been trying to figure this out since I was four years old. I still can’t find the words. Maybe in the end the numbers work better: one minus one.

Vermont, we need you to do the math. No one else in the industrialized world is willing. They can put a man on the moon but they can’t do one minus one. We need you to be, in the words of the inimitable James Howard Kunstler, “reality-based adults.” That one minus one isn’t a surprise. It didn’t sneak up on us. It’s been going on for ten thousand years. It’s the longest war ever. It’s the pattern of civilization, over and over and over. There’s a bloated power center surrounded by conquered colonies, from which the center extracts what it wants. Until eventually it collapses.

The primary activity of civilization is agriculture. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it, and I mean down the bacteria, and then you plant it to human use. So it’s biotic cleansing.
It’s also not a plan with a future because it’s drawdown. And what you’re drawing down is fossil soil. To give you a number, one season of planting your basic grain crop– wheat, corn, soy, whatever – one season of producing these can destroy two thousand years of soil. Make no mistake, the planet has been skinned alive. And what should be habitat for millions of creatures turns into salt and dust. Agriculture is carnivorous – what it eats is entire ecosystems. And that’s what it’s done across the globe.

Civilization has destroyed human cultures as well. It’s the beginning of militarism, and the beginning of slavery. Civilizations end up militarized—and they always do–for three reasons. One. Agriculture creates a surplus, and if it can be stored, it can be stolen. So the surplus needs to be protected. Two. Imperialism. Agriculture is essentially a war against the natural world. Eventually the agriculturalists need more land, more topsoil, more resources. So there’s an entire class of people whose job is war, whose job is taking land and resources by force—agriculture makes that possible and it also makes it inevitable.

And number three, slavery.
Agriculture is also backbreaking labor. For anyone to have leisure, they need slaves. By the year 1800, when the fossil fuel age began, ¾ of the people on this planet were living in conditions of slavery, indenture, or serfdom. The only reason that we’ve forgotten this is because we’re using machines now to do that work.
And of course once you have huge numbers of the population in slavery, you need someone to keep them there. Hence, soldiers. This is a cycle we’ve been on for ten thousand years.

I want to make sure to say this. This disaster is not a function of human nature. It’s a function of human choices. We lived on this planet for two and a half million years without destroying it. Two and a half million years. Not that everything we did was perfect. There are plenty of mistakes in the archaeological record. But the cultures that survived did so because they learned. They learned to be humble participants in the processes of life. They learned to make their biotic communities stronger, denser, richer.

That’s what everyone else does, from bacteria to black bears. So when beavers make dams, they create wetlands, which are the most species-dense habitats on earth. They feed and shelter their families but in doing so they make the world more alive.

Or redwoods. Redwoods have needles that are exquisitely shaped to turn fog into water. But the trees themselves only use a third of the water they collect. The other two-thirds is a gift to their neighbors on the forest floor, a gift that makes the forest itself possible.
Humans are no different. And for most of our time on earth we were participants, not destroyers.

The powerful always want the dispossessed to believe that their system is natural, inevitable, created by God and brought down from the mountain on stone tablets. So we are told that destroying our only home is curled around our DNA or the tragedy of our big brains or the fault of our opposable thumbs. Don’t believe it. None of this is inevitable. Your DNA builds a soft, social, bipedal mammal that needs a home like every other animal. If we have an instinct, it’s to protect our young, not to destroy their future. I think every parent on the planet would agree with me. And for 2.5 million years, that was what we did: protected our young by increasing the living abundance of the world.

Cvilization is a very specific social arrangement—a material culture that requires drawdown. Like any human arrangement it can be questioned and like any human arrangement it can be stopped.

There have been accelerants to the process of drawdown. The two biggest accelerants are industrialism and capitalism. Just like civilization depends on agriculture, industrialism depends on fossil fuel.
Industrialism also requires a social system that values speed, efficiency, production, consumption, endless growth, and power. Those values are not inevitable. Actually, they’re brand new. Maybe 200 years old. But those values surround us. In fact, they besiege us. We breathe them in like air—what choice have we got—but they’re more like water, and we are drowning. To quote Kirkpatrick Sale, “Industrial societies are shot through with inequality, injustice, instability, and incivility.” All of which erode not just human society but the human soul. Half of all Americans have been on anti-depressants. Killing each other and the planet hasn’t actually made us happy. I guess that’s the good news.

It’s not just history that gets written by the victors. It’s the present and the future, too. We have to believe their story, that this is the best of all possible worlds and it’s only getting better. In fact, we have to embrace their story, despite the fact that it goes against our interests as soft, social mammals: certainly it’s against our economic interests and our emotional interests, but also our interests as parents who love our young, our interests as animals who need a community, our interests as living creatures who need a home.

Lewis Mumford called it a “magnificent bribe.” Once every possibility for truly sustaining cultures has been destroyed—pulled down with the forest, sliced up with the prairie, dammed and drained away with the rivers—most people take the bribe. As if a desiccated echo chamber of techno-toys could ever substitute for our connection to a living cosmos. But that’s the bargain. And even the memory of another way is gone, metaphrastic now, something between prehistory and a fairy tale.

So we believe that industrial civilization provides the only life worth living. It’s all been for this. Everything. Sentience crawled its way out of the primal sea so we could watch youtube. Before this, life was nasty, brutish, and short in mud huts or caves or something. Never mind the long, strong bones and perfect dentition of our ancestors. Never mind the egalitarian grave goods. Never mind that those caves contain some of the most wondrous art ever made. Pablo Picasso went to Lascaux to view the paintings and you know what he said when he emerged from the cave? “We have invented nothing,” He saw it.

Our first art was the megafauna and the megafemales who gave us life. Our first art was a prayer of participation and thanksgiving That’s our true history: participation and thanksgiving.

And if the culture on offer leaves us with a nameless, empty hunger, well, there’s always further immersion in the spectacle to feel something. The spectacle is where social life is commodified into an image. To quote Guy Debord, “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” So it’s “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.”

You know there are teenagers getting plastic surgery in order to look better on facebook? And if we are not horrified by that, then as a species we should simply stop having children. We owe the young an apology for the unbearable emptiness of it all: a human culture that is no culture. It’s an anti-culture, designed not to connect but to destroy. Speech has been reduced to string of consonants on a screen. Food, in the words of Jim Kunstler, “has lost its ceremonial trappings of communion with other people and become a furtive, solitary pursuit, a sugar addiction with overtones of nutritional masturbation.” Parenting has been reduced to simply stuffing children with corporate products, body and soul. By the time she’s 17, the average American child has spent 2,000 hours with her parents, 11,000 hours in school, and 40,000 hours with the mass media. And sex has been reduced to the rancid pleasures of sadism.

Our global masters prefer us stupid, ugly, and cruel, and they are winning. Meanwhile, the approved response of most of our public intellectuals is a smug stance of useless irony.

Then there’s the other emptiness, the bleeding out of life itself: Appalachia without mountains, skies without birds, oceans without mammals or crustaceans or fish. The plankton are going down as well. They are the bottom of the food chain and a major source of our oxygen. The only things increasing are the carbon and the heat, the desperation and devastation.

And of course the profits of the 1 percent. Which brings us to capitalism. Capitalism has been another accelerant to extraction and drawdown. Capitalism takes living creatures and their homes, it declares them private property, it turns them into dead commodities and then accumulates those commodities into wealth. It’s a pyramid scheme of death. The Occupy Movement has staked a claim on being the 99%. I think that’s self-evident. Capitalism is the 1% taking from the 99%. Now add this. 98% of the world’s old growth forests are gone. 99% of the prairies are gone. That means 99% of the pasque flowers, 99% of the prairie dogs, 99% of the bison. The wealth is created from their dead bodies. The point isn’t to distribute that wealth—the point is to stop the death.

What drives a capitalist economy is a ceaseless quest for investment opportunities by those who have capital. So they make profits, their capital grows, and they want to invest the new capital to make more profits. But the only way to have more investment opportunities is if more producing and more consuming take place. In fact if the economy doesn’t grow by about 3 percent a year, the economy will collapse.

What that means is that total consumption of goods and services has to double every 20 years.
The last time I looked, the planet had 197 million square miles, and not one inch more. You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. So capitalism is literally insane. And it’s consuming the planet to death.

There’s a third accelerant. It’s the ruling religion of the planet, and it’s called patriarchy. It produces a psychology of profound entitlement, based on a masculine violation imperative. That imperative includes breaking the sexual boundaries of women and children, the cultural and political boundaries of indigenous people (the word is genocide), the biological boundaries of rivers and forests, the genetic boundaries of other species, and the physical boundaries of the atom itself.
We will not save life on earth unless we dismantle patriarchy. You will be punished for saying that out loud. But gather up your courage because we have got to do it anyway.

Put it all together, and the entire culture is sociopathic. The entitlement, the sadism, that bottomless hunger to conquer, you’ll never reach the end of it. What we are reaching is complete biotic collapse.
The very creation myth of western civilization tells men to dominate, to conquer, to go forth and multiply. No hunter-gatherer is told by god to willfully overshoot the land’s carrying capacity, and no marginally rational person would listen to such a god. To repeat the words of your very own Dennis Steele: the gods of empire are not the gods of Vermont. I’m praying that’s true, Vermont. The gods of empire have had a ten thousand year reign and they’ve laid waste to the world. I’m going to quote the main character from a really popular book, “Subdue the earth and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Everything has been subdued, everything, the mountains, the oceans, the polar ice caps, nothing is off limits and nowhere is safe. And most of us are just holding our breath and hoping that somewhere, somehow, some bacteria survive.

And then there’s Vermont. That’s that little state up near Canada somewhere, with a lot of cows or something? No one’s paying attention, not yet. But you’re kindling a spark between Canada and those cows. It’s going to serve as a signal flare to the ready and the weary both: here, now, finally. Feed that spark with equal measures of hope and courage and it will be a blaze of rebellion. And when rebellion turns to real resistance, with discipline and determined strategy, you’ll have a wildfire that could light up the world.

My first hope is in your name–you named yourselves after your mountains. I’m going to quote John Muir, speaking of another mountain range:
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter… Full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and eager enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons on life, mountain building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful with humanity.”

I hope you know your mountains as temples. I hope you hear sermons in stones and storms. I hope you see animals brimful with humanity. I also hope you have a plainsong for the disappeared and I hope it doesn’t break your hearts.

This is who has been taken from you: eastern elk, caribou and catamounts, wolverines and wolves. There were trees six feet in diameter and 13 stories tall. That’s what trees are supposed to look like. There were shy spring flowers whose names we will never know. And all of them have been gone so long we don’t even miss them, but they should ache like a phantom limb.

And then there’s your river, full of ghosts. The first main stem dam went up in 1798, and by 1808 the Connecticut River strain of the Atlantic salmon were gone forever. Shad and Blueblack herring were once uncountable, their rivers called “black and boiling” there were so many fish. I have never in my life seen a river black and boiling with fish. That’s what rivers are supposed to look like. At last count, there were 39 herring in the Connecticut. 39. That has to be the saddest number ever.

Let me tell you who else may be taken forever. The Flowering Dogwood and the Fairy Slipper. The Great Laurel and the Wild Plum. The Harsh Sunflower and the Sweet Coltsfoot. The Green Mountain Maidenhair Fern. There are 157 plants on the list of the damned. Our planet has been gutted and Vermont is not spared.
You will need your hearts to face this. I know what I’m asking but better a broken heart than no heart at all. Because even a broken heart is still made of love.

So my first hope is that you love your mountains. My second hope is that you love each other. Vermont, you have a noble history. You weren’t just the first state to outlaw slavery. You were the first sovereign nation to do so. Even after you joined the US, your legislature, your courts, and your citizens made it as difficult as humanly possible for slave owners to capture fugitives. You gave people shelter from one of the most vicious institutions ever created, and you refused to give them up. Build on that legacy, Vermont. The world needs you.

The founding documents of your new republic are luminous with words like solidarity, equality, mutuality. Those are not the commands of the gods of empire. They’re words that speak to that soft, social mammal. They’re all synonyms for love. They’re a new liturgy, a promise and a prayer to each other. What is town meeting but a covenant of neighbors? A covenant born in both the recognition that we need each other and in the trust that we can direct our common affairs–that we can be a polity–wisely and well. The recognition and the trust are both forms of love. And I think everyone here is old enough to know that you don’t have to like everyone that you love.

Solidarity has to be a covenant with your mountains, too: not one more species. Not one. And here is where you must be those reality-based adults. You have to be willing to face the facts. Industrial civilization was a one-time blowout. In the words of Richard Heinberg, “the party’s over.” Maybe five generations got to experience the cheap fossil-fueled thrills of consumerism. Maybe five generations. And it was only a small slice of those generations, only the very top of the global heap. The rest of humanity was emiserated. It was all based on a vast planet-wide extraction of non-replicating resources. The oil, the coal, the metals, and now the rare earths. They have to be ripped from the land. Which means people have to be ripped off their land. Which means those people have to be ripped in half. And let’s be very clear—the only reason we don’t know this is because we live behind a military barricade and inside a media-modulated bubble.

Step out from that barricade, Vermont. Pop the bubble. One of the horrors of our situation is that not even environmentalists are telling the truth. Vermont, I’m begging. Face the truth. This way of life is immoral and insane. It’s also over. The energy to fuel it is running out. And there is no combination of wind, solar, corn, and fairy dust that can keep it going.

Even if there was fairy dust aplenty, it’s just more of the same. The wind turbines, the solar panels, the Prius batteries all rest on the same industrial platform. They’re dependent on extraction for their materials and they’re dependent on cheap fossil fuel for their manufacture,. That’s a nice way to say poison and slavery. They’re dependent on the same soldiers and guns because no one willingly gives up their land, their water, their culture, or their future. They’re dependent on the exact same arrangement we have now.

Rare earths are necessary for all the techno-gadgets that are supposed to lead us to the clean, green promised land. The battery in a Toyota Prius uses up to 33 pounds. The magnets that make a wind turbine spin can use two tons. Compact fluorescent light bulbs wouldn’t light without them. They’re also responsible for the dubious joys of computers, cell phones, and guided missiles.

Rare earth minerals don’t collect in veins like copper or gold. So they’re difficult to dig, separate, and process. “Difficult” is a euphemism. Rare earths mean toxic gas, acid water, and radioactive wastes. And they require huge amounts of energy—there’s that cheap fossil fuel again.

At this point, most of the privileged run for cover in what Kunstler calls “techno-narcisssim: the belief that technology is going to save our ass.” I call it technological fundamentalism. It’s a religion of the worst kind, demanding faith despite all evidence to the contrary.

You can’t mine without ripping the world to pieces. Here’s a quote from a farmer near a rare earth mine. “The crops stopped growing after being watered.” Here’s another: “Fruit trees don’t bear fruit any more. Fish die in the river. Even the weeds died.” Historically, slavery was required for mining. To this day, Mercury is traded in 76 pound flasks because that was the load that slaves in the cinnabar mines of Rome could carry. That 76 pound weight is still with us only now it’s Chinese peasants carrying the burden of our great, glorious, low-carbon future.
And the Chinese environmentalists who have protested all of this have been tortured by their government. Tortured.

Solidarity, equality, mutuality. As a sovereign nation, you stood against slavery once. You have to take that stand again. Otherwise you’ve got beautiful words written in blood. And make no mistake, there is no way to produce a wind turbine without blood.

I think you can do this, Vermont, for three reasons. First is that at the heart of your new republic there is a pulse of resistance against industrial technology and its authoritarian requirements. You’ve got theorists like Kirkpatrick Sale and Thomas Naylor. And I can’t tell you the delight it gives me to know that Thomas Naylor doesn’t do email. The one that got away!

Second is your national character. You have an ethic of common sense, plain dealing, hard work, and Yankee know-how. You don’t suffer fools gladly, which means if there’s a people on earth who can say no to fairy dust, it’s you.

In your favor also stand your national heroes. I refer, of course, to Helen and Scott Nearing. They believed in the dignity of labor, the requirement of art and intellect, the necessity of resistance to the moral rot of empire, and that each of these completed the others. They built houses by hand, stone by stone. They dug a pond with a shovel and sweat. They also wrote dozens of books and pamphlets and started a movement of radical, rural populism. Your republic is a direct descendent of their very good lives.

The third thing in your corner is that you don’t actually have any cities. You have three big towns—Brattleboro, Montpelier, and Burlington—and a lot of villages. The template for your built environment was established before the automobile destroyed human-scale communities. We are now under siege. The car has demanded a living arrangement not worth living in.
But the fossil fuel age will come to a halt, and human scale will once more direct human affairs. There will be no other option. And places that were built to provide for human society, to encourage and expedite human interactions, have the best chance of surviving that transition. In the end, those human interactions will be our only hope, and we will need to make those interactions call forth the best in that word “human,” not the worst. Solidarity, equality, mutuality. You see how all this is connected.

Fourth, the land itself has saved you from some of the worst excesses of civilization. Northern New England is not suited to the annual monocrops of agriculture. The terrain is too steep, the soil too thin, and the climate too cold. What you can do here is pastoralism, which is why those cows are iconic. That has every chance of being sustainable, based as it is on a closed loop of ruminants and grass. No oil, no gas, and no fairy dust. Just sun and rain, just what our one bright star and our good, green planet give us.

Don’t let anyone talk you out of the food that grows here. Cattle cultures have produced people of stature, grace, and independent spirit the world over. And in the beginning, the great grazing herds of the African savannah produced us, the genus homo, with our expansive, hungering brains. We were fed and we were grateful and our first art was also our first thanksgiving. It’s 40,000 years later, the planet has been trashed, but the megafauna are still here, waiting to welcome us back.

Vermont, you can do this. I know from all sides we hear the endless complaint that it can’t be done. It’s just factually not true. People start new countries all the time—since 1990, 34 new countries have been created.
Let me speak for reality and tell you what actually can’t be done. You can’t have an extractive economy without imperialism and genocide. You can’t draw down forests and soil and species and evolution itself and have a future. You can’t destroy your planet and live on it, too. That’s what can’t be done.

But you can restore your democracy and repair this place. Vermont, you can do this. Whatever gods you chose as individuals, let these be the gods of Vermont: solidarity, equality, mutuality. That means you have to make that covenant with your mountains and with each other.

Will it provide you with an endless stream of techno-toys and plastic crap? No. But will it provide food, security, community, democracy, and a future? Yes, it is enough. So say these words: and it is good.
With every bite of grass made flesh, say those words. With every decision at every Town Meeting, say those words. With every sighting of your republic’s brave flag, say those words. This I know: wherever there is tyranny, the human spirit will resist. So look around the world: with every voice that speaks up, with every heart that fights on, say those words. And the end of every day is one day closer to victory, to the end of the longest war ever. Say those words: and it is good. A fitting prayer to the gods of Vermont.

You can do this, Vermont. You can break through the passivity of the weary, the denial of the desperate, the accommodation of the broken hearted. You’re standing up to say no, enough, the 1 percent are not taking the last scraps of shelter and food, of human rights and human dignity, of this planet that is our only home. You are confronting a vast machine that is right now grinding up the future itself.

And you can win. You can match their contempt with your courage. You can match their brute power with your fierce and fragile dreams.
The planet is in shreds; the indigenous displaced and disappeared; slavery is a way of life only temporarily veiled by distance and fossil fuel; sexual sadism is a public pastime. Enough. Liberty and a living planet will only be won when the gods of empire are resisted and defeated.

Vermont, you can do this. From spark to flare to wildfire, you can do this because you have to.  The world is waiting. It may not know it, but it is waiting. And someday soon, the world will be watching.

Speech delivered by Lierre Keith at “The Third Statewide Convention on Vermont Self-Determination” at the Vermont State House in Montpelier, VT on September 14, 2012.  Lierre Keith is co-author of Deep Green Resistance and lives in Northern California.

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


  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.


  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.


  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.

Only in Vermont

The Third Statewide Convention on
Vermont Self-Determination

September 14, 2012

Vermont State House
Montpelier, Vermont

Only in Vermont would it be possible to hold a statewide convention on political independence in the House Chamber of the State House, where the Governor, the Lt. Governor, Council of State, Congressional Delegation, and the vast majority of the members of the State Legislature are all unconditional apologists for the American Empire and vehemently opposed to Vermont separatism. Yet that is precisely what is about to happen in Montpelier, Vermont on September 14th. Not only that, it is the third such convention, the other two having been held in 2005 and 2008. There is no charge for the use of the most prestigious venue in the entire Green Mountain State, because it happens to be the People’s House.

The 2012 convention will take the form of a “Vermont Independence Party” which begins at 9:00 a.m. and concludes at 4:00 p.m.

Keynote speakers will be Morris Berman, author of the provocative book about the demise of the American Empire entitled Why America Failed, and Lierre Keith, co-author of the equally radical Deep Green Resistance, which unabashedly calls for the end of civilization in its present destructive form. The convention will also include a series of Pecha Kucha presentations on finance, fuel, and food by cutting edge Vermonters.

There will be performances by Bread and Puppet Theater and Vermont musicians.

The convention is sponsored by the Vermont Commons Co-op and the Second Vermont Republic. It will be co-chaired by Vermont Commons publisher and editor Rob Williams and Vermont Commons website editor Juliet Buck.

At the end of the meeting convention delegates will be invited to consider endorsing The Montpelier Manifesto calling for the rejection of the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire as well as its rapid and peaceful dissolution. Not unlike the 1963 Port Huron Statement issued by the Students for a Democratic Society, The Montpelier Manifesto is aimed at all citizens of the United States, not just those living in Vermont.

Please help us extricate tiny Vermont from the American Empire so it can join the community of small, self-determined, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Become a part of the most politically sophisticated self-determination movement in North America.

Join us in Montpelier, the only state capital in the United States without a McDonald’s (population 9,500). Free and open to all members of the public.

For additional information contact Rob Williams at or 802-279-3364 or Thomas H. Naylor at 802-425-4133.

Tom Morello – Rolling Stone

By Tom Morello

August 16, 2012 6:44 PM ET

Last week, Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, the Republican architect of Congress’s radical right-wing budget plan, as his running mate. Ryan has previously cited Rage Against the Machine as one of his favorite bands. Rage guitarist Tom Morello responds in this exclusive op-ed.

Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn’t understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn’t understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine.

Ryan claims that he likes Rage’s sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don’t care for Paul Ryan’s sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage.

I wonder what Ryan’s favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of “Fuck the Police”? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!

Don’t mistake me, I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta “rage” in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.

You see, the super rich must rationalize having more than they could ever spend while millions of children in the U.S. go to bed hungry every night. So, when they look themselves in the mirror, they convince themselves that “Those people are undeserving. They’re . . . lesser.” Some of these guys on the extreme right are more cynical than Paul Ryan, but he seems to really believe in this stuff. This unbridled rage against those who have the least is a cornerstone of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

But Rage’s music affects people in different ways. Some tune out what the band stands for and concentrate on the moshing and throwing elbows in the pit. For others, Rage has changed their minds and their lives. Many activists around the world, including organizers of the global occupy movement, were radicalized by Rage Against the Machine and work tirelessly for a more humane and just planet. Perhaps Paul Ryan was moshing when he should have been listening.

My hope is that maybe Paul Ryan is a mole. Maybe Rage did plant some sensible ideas in this extreme fringe right wing nut job. Maybe if elected, he’ll pardon Leonard Peltier. Maybe he’ll throw U.S. military support behind the Zapatistas. Maybe he’ll fill Guantanamo Bay with the corporate criminals that are funding his campaign – and then torture them with Rage music 24/7. That’s one possibility. But I’m not betting on it.

Editorial that appeared in Rolling Stone on August 16 written by Tom Morello

Vermont Independence Party Schedule

Friday, September 14, 2012

Vermont Statehouse – House Chamber

9:00     Welcome – Juliet Buck and Rob Williams

9:15 KEYNOTE: Morris Berman – Why the US Failed

10:00   Arts Interlude – Ethan Allen, remarks

10:15 Pecha Kucha #1 – Financing Vermont Independence

(Gwen Halsmith, Amy Kirschner, Gary Flomenhoft, Matt Cropp)

11:00   Arts Interlude (Ralph Meima – “Interstates”)

11:15 Pecha Kucha #2 – Fueling Vermont Independence

(Jessica Edgerly, Gaelan Brown, Ben Luce. Ben Graham)

12:00   Lunch break – visit our local eateries in town.

1:30 KEYNOTE: Lierre Keith – Resisting the Empire

2:15   Arts Interlude (Dylan Kelley – Occupy photos)

2:30 Pecha Kucha #3 – Feeding Vermont Independence

(Ben Falk, Jessica Bernier, Kevin Lehman)

3:15 Pecha Kucha #4 – Standing for Vermont Independence

(Pete Garritano, Rob Wagner, Steven Howard)

3:45 The Montpelier Manifesto: Thomas H. Naylor and Charles Keil

4:15 “Free Vermont” Guy Fawkes photo-statehouse steps

5:00   Fall Vermont Commons COOP meeting

“Three Penny Taproom” – downtown Montpelier.