I have a skunk, or more likely a family of skunks, living under my chicken house. The chicken house – the skunk’s front door – is about 20 old man steps from my back door, in its own yard fenced separate from the back yard.
Our pet graveyard is along that fence (we’ve lived here a long time) with a flower bed on top of it. I can tend the flowers, mow the chicken yard, drag stuff around; the skunks don’t bother me. We can bury our departed friends and the skunks don’t bother us or them.
Overall skunks aren’t bad neighbors. Oh, well, you know, if you have dogs it can get harder, and of course we do have dogs. But the skunks seem to have figured out which side of the fence is safe, and even if Chica runs over there when they come home, they just scuttle into their apartment with their tails up, and don’t get too huffy. I’m trying to teach Chica to just watch the skunks and never chase them. She knows not to chase cats or chickens, so it’s not an unrealistic objective. If we’re sitting on the back porch when the skunks come home, as long as Chica and I just sit and watch, the skunks toddle calmly across the chicken yard minding their own business and go under the chicken house, tails down and calm.
We’ve had one middling minor mishap between Chica and a skunk, but we weren’t near the chicken house. We were out in the pasture and happened across a skunk making his rounds. This is rural Missouri; wild animals live here. She didn’t get full-blown Skunked, which is chemical warfare. She just got brushed. Warned. The skunk was as big as she is so it wasn’t fighting for its life. Just a kind of a chemical Beat it, kid, ya bother me. She was a little extra fragrant when she snuggled up close for a few days. And I had to hang her regular collar out in the weather for a month.
Skunks really aren’t bad neighbors. A raccoon or a fox might have killed her. Skunks eat mice, bugs, grubs, and other things I don’t really need in my chicken house. They rarely climb, so chickens and eggs are pretty safe even if they should happen to get inside. Which they could do; the door is open all day. Skunks are not at all aggressive, and will ignore you from five feet away if you ignore them.
Skunks are usually reported in wildlife-y articles as being possible carriers of rabies, and of course they are. So are raccoons and foxes, both of which live here. Feral housecats. Coyotes. You can’t go kill every living thing because it might have rabies. It’s life. Crowding a skunk is never that smart anyway. I plan to stay out of biting range.
And I’m not going to kill them, so I’d just as well enjoy them.
This page is not so much an essay as a reference. I recurrently need this information inserted into something else I am writing; rather than write it a thousand times I am going to put this doc here to link to.
There are some 330 million Americans. The United States covers 3.797 million square miles / 2.27 billion acres of land and water.
The Government of the United States has responsibilities to every one of these citizens over every single acre. The government’s duty to the citizens, per the United States Constitution (2 separate mentions) is to “…provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare…”
Virtually none of the things the government does are specifically spelled out in the Constitution. It’s not that sort of a document. Instead, we were given the above broad statement plus, under the specified powers of Congress, the following instructions:
18: To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
So that is how the Government of the United States came to perform, among other things, the following specific tasks:
The Federal government manages and maintains over 164,000 miles of highway, among the over 4 million miles of highways and byways in the United States.
The Federal government built, regulates, manages, and maintains over 12,000 miles of navigable, freight carrying waterways. There are 29 locks and dams on the Mississippi river and another 21 on the Ohio. Waterway freight is the most energy efficient freight system in America. The vast majority of the United States’s agricultural exports travel down government built and maintained waterways.
The entire United States, every square mile, is covered by air traffic control radar. Every square mile of radar coverage is monitored by 15,000 living, human, federal employees, 24 hours of every day.
If that radar and those air traffic controllers were not there the 87,000 daily flights of the United States air transportation and freight system would have to shut down immediately. The only alternative would be mass carnage in the skies and on the ground.
It appears that not even the Pentagon knows exactly how many military bases the United States Government operates worldwide, but here is a map of the nations where we have a military presence.
We have satellites in space; we have submarines beneath the oceans of the world. We have nuclear powered aircraft carriers ranging the oceans of the world.
The GPS in your phone or your car gets its location information from satellites launched, maintained, and operated by the United States Government.
The Department of Energy is responsible for the safety and security of enough nuclear weapons to end human life hundreds of times over. I have seen the number of nuclear warheads the department is responsible for variously reported as 64,000, 77,000, fewer and more. I’m not sure anybody knows exactly. Besides the active nuclear weapons the Department of Energy manages three nuclear laboratories and all the fissionable material and nuclear waste in the country, with the objective of keeping it out of the hands of our enemies. One small error could spell the end of one or more large cities.
Besides all this the Department of Energy is responsible for cleaning up the nuclear wastelands left over from over 50 years of nuclear weapon design, testing, and manufacture. This government agency decontaminates and decommissions nuclear facilities which have outlived their usefulness and attempts to keep the radioactive materials out of the water, land, and air which American citizens require to live.
Just one Federal agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, operates and maintains some 340 major dams in the American West, providing drinking, irrigation, household and commercial use water for virtually the entire half the nation between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, along with outdoor recreation for millions of Americans each year.
Before the Bureau of Reclamation existed nearly all the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean – the western half of the country – was sparsely populated desert. This desert could not support any more people than it already had because there wasn’t any water to drink, to wash in, or to grow food. Republican President Teddy Roosevelt got Congress to create the Bureau of Reclamation with the idea that the west could be turned into farmland. With the exception of California’s Central Valley that’s not exactly how it turned out.
The cities that make up today’s US West could not exist without the Bureau of Reclamation. Not only could they not have been built, they could not exist for one week, starting right now, if the Bureau of Reclamation were shut down.
Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles – gone. If the Bureau of Reclamation were shut down overnight, there is no guarantee that Phoenix could even be evacuated in an orderly fashion before water stress hit. All the water, all the time, every day, that makes these giant cities possible, is delivered by the federal government through taxpayer-supported plumbing.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has been providing flood control for private property in the Mississippi and Sacramento River valleys since 1928, including tributaries of the Misssissippi, which include such rivers as the Missouri and the Ohio. The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers alone count for some 4,000 miles of flood control structures (with the Missouri, by the way, slightly the longer of the two.) The Missouri River is impounded in six places along its main stem, vast lakes over a thousand miles in total length. These six dams provide flood control, electric power generation, recreation, and irrigation water for people from Canada to St. Louis. They are, needless to say, parts of the Federal Government.
That’s just one river. The Corps of Engineers manages flood control and water projects across the nation, from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Columbia River. Each of these major systems is comparable to the description above.
When that flood control fails (which it always has done from time to time) the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) comes in and feeds people, houses them, and keeps them alive. While FEMA is the butt of a million jokes, it has also saved easily a million lives.
The United States Government provides assistance to farmers across the nation and has since the Lincoln administration. This assistance comes in the form of insurance, land management information, research, educational materials – if you’re not hungry and thank a farmer, thank the Federal Government too, because they’ve been helping that farmer produce since the Civil War.
Besides assisting farmers the United States Department of Agriculture inspects for safety and cleanliness the meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and egg products eaten by American consumers. Without an equivalent agency, China a few years ago experienced mass child deaths caused by contaminated milk. The United States government works to prevent events like that from happening here.
Federal Civil Service employees maintain the runway lights on every major airport in the United States.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) invented the Internet.
The United States Government interacts on behalf of its citizens with the other 194 nations on Earth. Our State Department maintains 307 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world, where besides interacting with the local governments they provide services and assistance to US citizens should they find themselves in need or distress.
The government operates 168 VA Hospital / Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient facilities, caring for some 8.9 million veterans a year. (As of July, 2016)
The Food and Drug Administration inspects and assures safety of food, drugs, our blood supply, nuclear medicine products, medical devices, cosmetics, and animal and veterinary medicines. Before the FDA we had snake oil salesmen and “medicines” containing mercury.
About 35.3 million, or over 10%, of Americans use Corps of Engineer recreational sites and facilities every year. The Corps provides and manages over 12 million acres of recreational land, with 4,263 separate sites at 423 different projects. The corps maintains over 55,000 miles of shoreline, 91,000 campsites, over 4,600 miles of trails, almost 3,500 boat ramps, and one-third of all the freshwater fishing in the United States. Corps lakes host 20,000 fishing tournaments a year.
The Corp, at its recreation facilities alone, has about one billion dollars worth of fixed assets. There are 500 private businesses operating concessions on Corps lands, 350,000 jobs associated with Corp-operated recreation, and 18 million dollars spent every year by visitors enjoying the facilities.
The United States government shares operation of an international space station 250 miles above us, rounding the earth every hour and a half, moving some 17,000 miles an hour. Although private contractors now get paid for providing launch facilities to move scientists and material up and back, without the federally operated space station up there they wouldn’t have much business.
The Meals on Wheels program provides over 215 million meals a year to some 2.5 million homebound Americans.
The federal government operates 102 federal prisons and employs about 120,000 law enforcement officers.
The United States Postal Service provides letter and package pick-up and delivery service to every address in the United States. The Postal Service operates 31,585 post offices, at least one in nearly every city and town in the nation. Postal employees visit nearly every address in the entire nation every day, six days a week, to deliver mail and pick up any outgoing mail the resident may have. The Post Office directly employs over half a million career employees.
It is interesting to note that, of all the services in this list, the Post Office is directly required by the Constitution. “Establishing Post Offices and Post Roads” is one of the 16 Congressional responsibilities I skipped over earlier in this essay. In spite of this, Congress has semi-privatized the Post Office and indulges much public hand-wringing over the cost of providing this required service to Americans.
The United States government owns and manages some 640 million acres of land. The United States already owned land before the Constitution was written, and this ownership, like the Post Office, is expressly provided for in the Constitution, where Article IV Section 3 par. 2 reads,
2: The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
The United States government secures over 5,500 miles of land border with neighboring nations and 12, 383 miles of coastline which, with its twists and turns,actually consists of over 95,000 miles of shoreline.
This list only scratches the surface of federal government activities and responsibilities.
The United States Government is big. It is always going to be big. The United States is a big country.
Do you have a picture of your ideal America? I do. I’m not talking about Utopia, perfection, or magic. If you were president and people who agreed with you ran the Congress, what would you shoot for? What would your ideal, potentially achievable, America look like? Here’s a look at mine.
I assume that human beings aren’t going to change much. There will still be racist jerks, billionaires, people who spend their lives helping one another, and every other sort of person who exists today. People are a given; we are them and they are us. I’m not planning to perfect humans. No nation or government can do that.
Perfection is not attainable in any person or any thing ever in any way. This isn’t pessimism; this is truth. Wiser cultures than ours today have embraced imperfection, made it part of their art and philosophy. I accept imperfection. My America isn’t perfect; people get bad deals, systems stagger along working about as well as can be expected. There is always room for improvement. In my America, though, we pass some sweeping laws. Among the first, we declare War on Global Warming.
So here’s a description:
My America is a capitalist economy. Today’s America is less a capitalist society than a plutocratic mercantilist society, but there are still some capitalists around. Every guy with a truck full of tools and no other job is a capitalist. Some of them are better at it than others; some make a good living for all their working years. Some wind up hiring other guys to help them. Capitalism creates jobs. Capitalism allows them to take their highest value skill and earn a living with it. I approve.
My capitalist economy would have stringent anti-monopoly laws and practices. Different companies would have different owners. This is not radical; I grew up in this sort of an economy. Here in America. Republican Teddy Roosevelt looked out of the White House on an economy like we have in America today and said, Nope. That’s not free market capitalism. And he broke up the “trusts” which were the predecessors to today’s mega corporations. Any capitalist society that works bans monopolies.
The tax structure in my America would look a lot like the tax structure in the America I grew up in. Yes, I guess I am pretty conservative.
But it worked. America was prospering. We could afford to build an Interstate highway system from coast to coast, from Canada to Mexico, to every corner of the nation, through and around every city. We could afford to cover the country with radar so the commercial air travel industry could exist. We could afford to build dams and power plants and rebuild much of war-torn Europe. The more an American made, the higher his tax rate got. People at the bottom paid very little. Society basically said, OK, once you’re making thirty or forty times as much per year as your employees, you’re doing all right. We’re going to tax you for 90% of your income above that level. And did. And America prospered.
With that tax base, my America would simultaneously undertake two vast public works projects to combat global climate change. We would build a nationwide, electric, long haul plus commuter railroad network to take the place of our current automobile-centered transportation system, and we would undertake a project to cover every parking lot and most rooftops in the entire country with solar panels, to build wind and wave generators, and to otherwise use the energy that falls upon us every day to operate our technology. Period.
The above changes would vastly improve the economy. There would be jobs everywhere in the country where there are people. The War on Global Warming would build a rail and solar system to every corner of the United States. These projects would employ Americans at nearly every single level of society, from laborers at the bottom, up through the vast number of skilled technicians required to wire it all up, through engineers, designers, fabricators, cooks and waitresses. The War on Global Warming would employ mail room clerks, middle managers, and high powered executives. If we were smart we’d build as much of it as possible right here, creating more jobs. We could fix most of what ails our economy with a War on Global Warming.
It is an established fact that a racist bastard with a boat, and time and money to go fishing, is less of a social problem than a broke racist bastard driving a broken down twenty year old car. Or driving a shiny new pickup truck that he owes 57 more payments on and has to sweat every one of them. Secure people, comfortable people, people with enough are almost always easier to get along with than people under stress no matter what character flaws they might have.
In my America church and state would be totally separated. Any law you want because of your religion, you can’t have it. Period. In America we don’t care what your religion is. So of course we don’t have to live by it.
That means things like abortion and gay marriage are simply not the government’s business. The only justification for regulating them is somebody’s religion, and we don’t go there. Americans are qualified to decide these issues for themselves.
In my America we would have an FCC Fairness Doctrine, and it would have teeth.
In my America anything broadcast as news would have to have a provable, empirical referent. In order to qualify for a license to broadcast news an entity would have to prove a willingness to cover events honestly and thoroughly.
All broadcast opinion would be clearly and repeatedly identified as such.
Cable or satellite television or radio would be covered under the exact same body of regulations as broadcast television radio.
In my America you could not say on television, for instance, that it is a fact that the US Government has a colony on Mars where they keep kidnapped children, unless you are prepared to take an observer from the FCC there, or provide photos, or otherwise provide real world proof. Just: no.
You may not lie any more to sell a President than you could to sell toothpaste. Or pizza. Yes, you can sell the pizzazz with the pizza, but no more snake oil. That just has to stop. Facts are facts and the FCC has an obligation to them. This is a real nation, not somebody’s plaything.
We would make a sincere effort, in my America, to make sure that everybody who was qualified to vote was able to vote. But: “qualified to vote” would mean, “Has passed the naturalization / voting test.” Otherwise, no.
Voting is selecting your government. The right to vote should not be restricted by color, gender, ability, or location. It should, however, be open to only the people who are able to understand the rules, meaning, structure, and purpose of the government they select. Otherwise it’s all voting for Prom Queen.
We would make it easy to learn. Government would be taught in schools. Adult classes would be available for free forever. You could take them over and over if you were a slow learner. For free. Take the test over and over too, if you need to. Government and citizenship classes would be available over the internet. We would make it as easy learn how your government works as it would be to vote.
But you’d have to learn. There is no possible rational justification for allowing someone to vote when she or he does not understand the terms or purpose of the act. In order to vote, an American would have to have both the interest and the intelligence to learn what the process is all about.
In my America there would be virtually no throw away packaging or beverage containers. No plastic bags. No bags that you couldn’t bury in your garden and they would vanish.
In my America we would withdraw from our addiction to toxic chemicals. We could’t take pesticides away from farmers overnight because the mechanical and other infrastructure to farm without them no longer exists. We would have to phase them out. Capitalists would take care of the machinery problem. Usable designs have already been worked out, but I am sure they would continue to improve. If we moved at the correct speed it should not be horribly disruptive, and we might do it in time to save the bees. Even if we drive ours into extinction, once we eliminate the problem we can re-import them from Europe.
In my America everybody eats. Everybody who wants to sleeps under a roof. We don’t eliminate poverty, because in my opinion eliminating poverty is impossible, but we eliminate starving and freezing to death in your cardboard box home. We eliminate working a day job and sleeping in your car. I see tiny to very small houses tucked away in available spaces. I live by myself with a chihuahua in a house that is sixteen feet wide and twenty-four feet deep. In steps that’s about five steps by eight steps. Two rooms and a bath. Every homeless single man in the country could be comfortable in a house like this. Take the same general idea and expand for families with kids.
In my America everybody gets a few bucks every month. A guaranteed income. If you’re retarded, if you’ve got schizophrenia, if you’re just bone lazy – enough to live on, a place to live. We can do this. America today is perilously close to Dickens’s England. We can solve these problems.
And if somebody says, No, I’d rather sleep on a park bench – then we let him. And we still provide him with enough money to eat and live. Because we are America. We’re all in this together.
Some people claim that if we do this, provide a guaranteed income and minimal housing, everybody will quit working, stay home, and live on the dole. I say baloney. Would you? Do you? I’ve got what I just described, from my Veterans’ Disability: a few bucks and a minimal house. I don’t stay home and loaf. I’m the unpaid maintenance man for the local animal shelter. I’m their groundskeeper. I teach literacy. I write. Within my limitations I work. I’m not special. Most people would rather work. It’s boring to sit around all the time. There are a few who can’t do any better. They can’t be somebody else. They are humans and so are we. We care for them.
Finally, of things I have thought about, in my America, if you’re sick, you go to the doctor and get treated. In my America there is a largely self selecting, parallel, dual system of medical care. We have nationwide single payer medicine, largely but not entirely provided by government employees in government owned facilities. For those who prefer it, and if capitalists wish to provide it, we have an insurance based, fee for service, private health care system. Citizens participate in whichever one they choose. I have an essay laying this plan out in more detail here.
It would take courage and vision to move from today’s America to mine, but it would be possible. Franklin Delano Roosevelt dragged America up out of the wreckage of the 19th Century, scattered across the landscape of the mid 20th as the Great Depression, and moved us into the 20th. Modernity. But today we are living in the wreckage of modernity. Most of the humans in America, and nearly all the bugs, animals, birds, and fish, are struggling just to survive. The planet itself is rising up against us. It is time for America to shake off the 20th Century and begin again to progress.
The site is named No Package Deals. Nopackagedeals.com. I don’t know if you wonder why, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
Much of modern political activity, thought, and discussion is based on what I call “package deals.” You can be a Conservative, a Moderate, a Progressive. You can be Left, far Left, Centrist. You can be a Liberal or maybe a Neoliberal. These terms, and others, are tossed around as if they were definitive, but they are not. They are vague, fuzzy, poorly defined. Most people have some idea what they mean, but not that many of the ideas agree. People who claim the package “Conservative” have a better definition than people who claim most of the other packages, and they can spell it out for you, with flowing phrases like “small government” and “family values,” but there is one catch: the flowery phrases are entirely disconnected from anything they will do in office. They will take specific actions, write specific bills, vote in specific ways, and those actions will bear no resemblance to the package definition they gave you.
So when we discuss our politics in terms like these, we are not communicating actual thoughts or ideas. We are just saying, I sign on to this package, I think I know what’s in it, and if you think something different is in it we’ll just ignore that and argue about my package versus your package.
I do identify with one label. I am a Democrat. But that label has, when I use it, a specific meaning: at election time I vote for Democrats. It doesn’t tell you what I think, it tells you one thing that I do. I vote for Democrats.
My essays tell you what I think. I make no attempt to resolve what I think into a package. It is my opinion that we are at a time in our national life when the packages have failed us; we are at a time when we need to speak clearly, and specifically, about how we want to govern ourselves. Serious Americans must decide what we think our government is for, why we have it, and what we want it to do.
A nation that takes its government seriously does not elect Donald Trump as President, not even by chicanery. In a nation that takes itself seriously Donald Trump does not get some sixty million votes. In a nation that takes itself seriously, Donald Trump does not even get nominated by a potentially governing party. Maybe the Clown Triumph Party, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster Party, but not a party that actually intends to govern the nation.
The day Donald Trump was nominated for President by the Republican Party, there was no longer any question: America’s political discourse had utterly failed. We littered the landscape with undefined packages of slogans and invited the American people to run out and grab one and hang on to it as though it had some value.
Phrases like, “Fiscal Conservative” are utterly meaningless. People calling themselves Fiscal Conservatives have put our nation into incomprehensible debt. Specifically, how do you want to govern The United States?
note 8-3-17 I retitled this essay from Boko Haram Everywhere for clarity.
There is an anti-government, religious (Islamist) fundamentalist group in Nigeria known by the name Boko Haram. This is not the name they gave themselves, but was given to them by people watching them in action and has stuck.
Boko Haram translates roughly into “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram is the group which kidnapped all the girls from a Nigerian girls’ school, among other acts.
In western Asia, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is another Islamist fundamentalist group who call themselves the Taliban, which roughly translates into “students.” They are not students in the conventional sense one might use in developed nations, but rather are students of Islam to the exclusion of virtually all else. Their name is not Western Education is Forbidden, but they forbid western education.
The Taliban is known for many acts, but one that stands out is the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai, a young, female, pro-education activist in Pakistan.
These groups have in common a belief that modern, empirical, science and fact based education is suspect at best and, where it conflicts with religious teaching, should be prohibited.
In the United States the best known proponent of this world view is the Republican Party.
I am serious.
The Republican Party has long taken a stand against the teaching of evolution, expressly because it conflicts with the explanation of creation written in the Christian holy book.
The Republican Party stands foursquare against the teaching of atmospheric science, particularly global warming / climate change, not least because their religion tells them that humans can’t affect creation in this way.
If Boko Haram or the Taliban governed the United States, the White House Office of Science and Technology would be closed.
The Republican Party governs the United States and closed the White House Office of Science and Technology.
The Republican Party advocates home schooling and private schooling and has long been in opposition to public schooling. I have had the dubious pleasure of tutoring home schooled Missouri children in reading. In the course of these efforts I have seen their textbooks.
a brief digression:
Back in the 1970’s a group named the ZBS Foundation created several radio theater productions. Their first series starred Jack Flanders, who found himself in various places that start somewhere in our real world but extend past the boundaries of everyday reality. The plays are wonderful, especially the early ones.
In those halcyon days NPR stations would broadcast these programs, which were created as serials with 50 minute episodes, and hippies like us would schedule our lives so we could be near a radio to hear, first, The Fourth Tower of Inverness, followed by Moon Over Morocco and others.
In Moon Over Morocco the expat barkeeper, Kasbah Kelly, is explaining how the locals see the world differently from Westerners. I can’t quote it exactly, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. In essence he says,
Everything is explained by the constant intervention of Allah. If you do A and B happens, you say A caused B. Not to them. Not at all. A happened. B happened. That’s all.
He goes on, but that is the crux of it: Everything is explained by the constant intervention of Allah. Except in American homeschool textbooks they call him (always him) God.
In 1974 it was the backward people of Morocco. In 2017 it is the Vice President of the United States.
We have a problem
Missouri homeschooled children are taught that the earth has existed for six thousand years, and that humans have resided here since the first, 168 hour, 7 day week. I forget which day; you don’t need to remind me.
Missouri homeschooled children are taught that any geological evidence that contradicts the above teaching is wrong. False. Science can’t be trusted.
Missouri homeschooled children are taught that physics is the expression of god’s will at work. Everything is explained by the constant intervention of Allah (God) but they try to keep it subtle.
Missouri homeschooled children are taught that our nation was founded by Christians and that enforcing Christian teachings as fundamental law is explicitly the purpose of our Constitution and other founding documents.
When these people say “Christian teachings” they don’t mean “The words of Christ.” That would be bad enough. Our government expressly can’t choose one religion over others. They mean, “Every word in the Bible, taken literally as empirical fact.”
Literally every subject in every text book is explained by God. The history, physics, geology, geography, and biology taught in public schools are only correct insofar as they can be shown to agree with and not contradict the Bible. The worst thing about public schools is that they teach children to not believe the Bible.
Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education in the United States of America, confirmed by the Senate, holds expressly to that view. In 2017.
Across the entire world there is an active movement to halt the teaching and acceptance of science as the factual explanation of the world around us. We sit here in the United States and view groups like Boko Haram, the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and ISIS / ISIL / Daesh with horror, but right now today the governing party of the United States has accepted the world view and governing policies of those groups. This has been said by others before me but I think the statement is usually viewed as hyperbole at best, if not hysterical, wild-eyed alarmism. But this is the literal truth: across the entire world in 2017 there is an effort, or more accurately an amalgam of parallel efforts, to replace science with the holy texts of various religions.
This is how the Dark Ages came to be. Greece, Rome, and the Middle East were all civilized, intellectually developed societies which traded and interacted with one another and gave us reading, writing, algebra, the zero, democracy, Socrates and Plato, and much of the roots of what we call civilization today. (Northern Europe not so much, at least not yet then.) Somehow all that collapsed into ignorance and superstition. We – those same regions and peoples, now with parts of Europe and the United States added in – are moving toward ignorance and superstition again today. Can we stop it? I don’t know.
One unstated but clearly operational objective of the governing Republican party of the United States of America is to replace fact-based, testable, empirical science with holy writ.
I don’t know why this is. In fact, I can’t comprehend how it even could be. It is, however, observably true. The basic point of the Trump Administration and the Republican Party is that we’ve had enough science, enough progress, and we need to stop exactly here, move into a holding pattern, and not offend God anymore with contradictions to His Holy Writ.
This process has been going on longer in the Middle East than it has here, so one can observe how it plays out a little better.
First, there is no such thing as Islam. There are many groups of people arguing over who owns the One True Islam, and killing one another over it. It is easy to live in a predominantly Christian society and say Radical Islamic blah-blah, but in reality ISIS has sworn to stamp out Hamas, Iran is certain that Iraq is a sewer of heresy, while Saudi Arabia has the One Holy City and therefore gets to cut the heads off people who disagree. I can’t keep up with all the players although, from time to time for a day or two, I’ll have in my head who are Sunni, Shia’a, Wahhabi, Alawites, sub-sects and bitterly warring factions among sub-sects. Because once the only thing that can be taught is the One True Faith, ultimately there can only be One True Teacher. Because at some point, at some level, no two humans agree absolutely.
By the same token, there is no such thing as Christianity. In Ireland during the Troubles otherwise reasonable human beings were killing one another over who was Christian, Catholic or Protestant. In Evangelical Protestant America there are more bitterly divided sects and sub-sects than you can shake a stick at. In Washington DC at the street theater / festival protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration I saw rabid Christian Evangelical street preachers with an 8 foot tall sign that said The Pope Is The AntiChrist. Yes, really.
Once one particular sect gets their writings in the textbooks the killing will start. Or accelerate.
Our two party system, which once represented two differing views of how to govern a modern, science-based, secular nation, has devolved into a literal clash of civilizations with one party which advocates teaching science and progressing by that means, and one which advocates outlawing science and teaching Christian holy writ and progressing through the constant intervention of God. So far too few Americans have noticed.
I remember when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. We were killing off the creatures we share this land with at an incredible rate with our poisons and things, and she called it to our attention.
One of the things we were killing off was the bald eagle, our national bird, symbol of the United States of America. There’s nothing we Americans like better than a good symbol, so we gathered round and passed a bunch of laws and Nixon signed them and – we’ve still got the bald eagle. And a bunch of other things that otherwise might be extinct by now.
So – I remember the Silent Spring era. Then there was the Ozone Layer – we were making a big hole in the ozone layer. Then on another day we noticed that it was raining acid and forests were dying and downtown buildings were melting. For a while we were worried about whether the various weird chemicals that make up the soup we call water might be harmful to our health.
We worried about the loss of topsoil. We worried about the loss of forests. We worried about – ah, hell, I can’t remember them all. Environmental disasters have been looming on the horizon since I was in grade school, and I’m an old man. Now it’s global climate change, via our worldwide modification of the atmosphere.
You know what? They are all still out there. They are all still out there. You’d never know it to read the news, but to a greater or lesser extent all those threats are still out there, except maybe to the bald eagle. We Americans do love symbols.
Here’s a question for somebody much smarter than me: What is the mathematical formula to take all these individual threats to our long term survival, multiply them by their specific danger to us, then multiply all the different threats’ dangers by the quantity of threats, and then, to make it more realistic, we’d need to multiply in there the possibility that two seemingly individual threats might interact to increase their danger to us, say, particles in the atmosphere and some hormone in the water… I don’t know. Probably have to square some number to make it right. I don’t know how much danger we, the human race, are really in.
Nobody else knows either. We act like we can see the future, but we can’t. Not one second. I’m expecting to live to finish this essay, but I have no way of knowing that. We can’t even see the present, not when we’re talking about threats to the worldwide ecosystem’s ability to continue to support our particular life form. We don’t have a clue.
Have you ever been driving along, thinking about what was on the radio and what you were going to be doing in fifteen minutes, only to find out that in fifteen minutes you were standing on the pavement talking to a cop, maybe also looking at the damage to your car and some stranger’s car? Or waking up in a hospital room? If it hasn’t happened to you it’s happened to somebody you know. We can’t see one second into the future.
We think that, so far, we’ve more-or-less dodged all these bullets. But in reality we haven’t dodged them. We’re walking wounded. In major cities in China people can’t go outside without masks because the particulates in the air are too painful to breathe. If Republicans get their way it will be like that here. We already kill a couple hundred thousand Americans a year with crud in the air.
Skin cancer is up worldwide. Yep. Turned out we did need the entire, functioning ozone layer after all. Oops.
In many countries human life expectancy has peaked and is on the way back down.
So – we appear to be dodging the bullets that are already flying, but we’re not. Imagine if terrorists killed a couple hundred thousand Americans a year. Why is it OK for capitalists to do it? And that number is from only one of the many bullets flying.
I’m not a Luddite. I’m writing this on my computer and will be posting it on my internet blog. I earned my livelihood by installing, servicing and repairing computerized stuff of one sort and another for all my working years. I own a bunch of power tools and use them regularly. That said, we’ve got to get a grip on our technology before it kills us.
We know that we are driving other species into extinction, one after another. We know that the current extinction rate ranks high among mass extinctions of the past. So what do humans do to cause extinction?
There are two main things: one, we kill them all, on purpose. That’s what we did with the passenger pigeon, probably the most famous example. We appear to be in the process of doing the same with elephants, rhinoceroses, and a few other things. The other thing we do is, we make it so that there is no longer any place on Earth that will support their lives. We refer to that as “habitat destruction,” but that oversimplifies what has happened.
Life in general is incredibly tough, tenacious, and adaptable, but specific forms of life mostly have rather specific requirements if they are to survive. We say they must live in one specific niche. Since life started up here on Earth living creatures have modified the planet in uncountable different ways. When some critter invented photosynthesis almost all the others went extinct more or less at once (in geological terms). At the same time geological processes, from continental drift to weather, have modified the planet as well. In the process the world became more and more complex. Every time a new niche turned up in some weathered rock or newly evolved life form, another life form rose up to fill it. In the broadest sense speciation, the variety of creatures that exist, is a measurement of the complexity of this planet. Over the course of a couple-three billion years the world ecosystem became pretty complex.
By about eight thousand years ago, when humans invented agriculture and what we so modestly think of as civilization, the complexity of the earth, and of life upon it, was immeasurable. Then we decided we weren’t part of it. The first time it ever occurred to us to cut down every last tree in one particular forest, the world became a little simpler. Maybe the loss of just that one forest took the only example on the planet of some highly specific niche to live in. Maybe at that moment some unheralded, highly evolved, niche-dependent species vanished. But the earth was rich, rich beyond our wildest current imagining, and the loss was trivial.
The losses are beginning to add up. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we, too, have certain requirements in order to be able to live. We, too, are niche-specific, but it’s a pretty deep, wide niche. Examples of our niche can be found in mountain, desert, prairie and swamp. People can live in reasonable comfort in igloos and grass huts. Compared to bacteria that live in volcanic steam vents our requirements are not that specific – but on the other hand, we can’t live in their houses either.
We have spent some 8,000 years eliminating niche after niche; we simplified the world, we eliminated complexity. We do it faster and faster, and the species that live in the niches we eliminate cease to exist. Meanwhile, we are just now learning to what extent we, too, are ecosystems, filled with other life forms, some helping us, some hurting us, and some perhaps just along for the ride. We clearly don’t know what all we depend on for our survival.
It’s no news to anybody that you don’t miss your water ’til your well runs dry, but it’s worth thinking about why our rivers aren’t drinkable. It’s even more worth thinking about the fact that nobody knows what is still in that river water, well water, spring water, plastic bottle water when it reaches every single cell in our bodies and brains, or what effect those contents might have in the aggregate. Because we are not “other.” We are a species. We live here. All our food, all our water, and all our air are components of Earth. There ain’t no place else.
We’ve already got all these bullets to dodge. We’re already not dodging them all, in spite of the fact that, so far, we can reproduce faster than our stupid cleverness can kill us off. You don’t hear it on the news that technology operated by capitalism killed 200,000 Americans, because capitalism is using technology to inform us instead that TERRORISTS KILLED TWELVE PEOPLE IN [fill in the blank].
No, we are not going to destroy life on Earth. Life is tough, rugged, and persistent. I don’t think we could destroy life on Earth with all-out nuclear war. Our own personal lives, however, our survival as a species, depends on a much narrower band of requirements than “life” writ large. Something will survive our stupidity but not necessarily us. And if we do survive it won’t necessarily be in the way we want to live. City dwellers having to put on breathing masks to go outdoors was the stuff of dystopic science fiction not that many years ago.
I am suggesting something really drastic: I am suggesting that keeping the Earth habitable for humans is as important as winning World War II.
In order to win World War II Americans were willing to put up with fuel rationing, food rationing, and a drastic reduction in everybody’s standard of living. It’s time to do it again.
I am suggesting that we make mass transportation mandatory, for most trips, in vans at first, then buses as fast as we can build them, on from there to trains as fast as we can build those. Fuel efficiency per person-mile should be our number one priority. I am suggesting that people who live in 9 bedroom houses like the Obamas just bought board up half the rooms and don’t heat or cool them. I am suggesting that everybody everywhere put their heads together and try to figure out how to live without poisoning the air and water AT ALL. It’s not one bullet that threatens us, it’s all the bullets. Yes, I would consider horses and buggies. Electric solar golf carts. Bicycles. Feet.
We have this idea that bizarre chemicals, like humans, have a right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty. This is lunacy. The only way they can be proven guilty is to end or ruin a bunch of human lives, do some irreparable damage to the planet we live on, or otherwise show exactly how stupid that whole idea is. Everything that has never been put into the air or water before, and most things that already have, should be considered guilty until proven innocent.
Everything that comes in containers should come in reusable, returnable containers. Period. Hire people to hand wash them.
We currently measure efficiency mostly in person-hours. The more we can produce per person-hour the more efficient we are. That has to go. Energy efficiency and resource efficiency are vastly more important in the long run. If that means we can’t have as much stuff, then we can’t have as much stuff. Most of it winds up in landfills in a few months anyway.
We can’t get the crap we’ve already made out of wherever we put it, the air or the water or the soil. We can’t throw it away. There is no away. There is only here. We’ve got to stop adding more as quickly as we can.
I realize how crazy this sounds. It sounds crazy to me. I grew up in this country. I wanted to be an astronaut, back during the very first generation of astronauts. I drove big V8 cars, the faster the better, and did all the same stuff everybody else did. Due to my chosen trade I wound up driving well over a million miles just going from one service call to another.
But that’s as it may be. I didn’t know. We didn’t know. Just like we didn’t know we were going to World War II until Pearl Harbor day. But particulates in the air are going to kill many multiples as many Americans this year as died at Pearl Harbor. Global warming bombed us at Katrina, bombed us at Sandy, and has California under siege. When do we figure out that we are at war, and our lifestyle is the enemy?