Being Candles in Dark Times Ahead
by Stuart Scott
“It is clear that the nations of the world now can only rise and fall together. It is not a question of one nation winning a the expense of another. We must all help one another or all perish together.” — Carl Sagan
“It’s the economy, stupid!” — Bill Clinton (said for the wrong reasons)
In 1974 I first understood that all my training was intended to allow me to become a candle in dark times ahead. I assumed that those dark times lay somewhere off in the distant future — and that reality at the time looked pretty rosy for a young man with many options.
Decades later circa 2008, I quit my day job teaching college to devote myself to making a difference in humanity’s trajectory, it was clear that those dark times lay much closer ahead than anyone realized. Twenty years had elapsed since Dr. James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute for Space Studies, had testified to the US congress that global warming had arrived and was detectable in data.
When I got to know him a few years later, Dr. Hansen recounted having lived through many presidential administrations — both Republican and Democrat — which had simply ‘kicked the climate can down the road.’ So by 2008, that proverbial can had traveled miles and miles with no end in sight. Still, back in 2008, those dark times appeared way off in the indistinct future — although the dark clouds gathering on the horizon were clearly visible.
By the end of 2008 I had given over 200 climate crisis presentations to audiences of all ages, professions, and walks of life. I’d addressed students and teachers, government and intergovernmental agencies, businesses and chambers of commerce, civic and religious groups, and sometimes just friends around the dinner table. Many of these presentations included discussion of the pandemics anticipated with the unfolding of climate change. But those warnings of the danger ahead did not seem to stir action, at least on the scale required. Two years later I finally put all the pieces together at one of the lesser ‘intercessional’ meetings of the climate negotiations, which took place in Bangkok, Thailand. There I approached and spoke with Dr. Harlan Watson, a former oil company lobbyist, who had been appointed as the US lead negotiator to the climate by George W. Bush. No longer on the negotiating team, he kept attending the negotiations for reasons that were not apparent.
I put the following question to him.
I have to believe that the heads of fossil fuel companies are smart, well-informed, and privy to the best scientific information. How is it that they can make the decisions they are making knowing full well that they are cannibalizing the world that their children will live in? He paused for a moment, made a bodily gesture that indicated to me he was making an effort to tell me the truth without compromising his position. His answer was simple,
It’s all about money. It took me several months more to realize the depth of what he had revealed, since on the surface, his words were a platitude. Perhaps he did not even realize the deep meaning of his own statement. Since then, I have taken to often writing the word money with a capital ‘M’, having realized that money is not just the stuff in our pockets and bank accounts. Now I make a distinction between the money in our pockets, and the Money that controls us. Money is a viral thought form — a living, non-genetic virus — a meme in the original meaning of the word, which controls our lives and our actions. The Meme of Money spreads itself from one generation to the next and one nation to another. Money has written itself into custom, law, education, and economic policy. It controls the banking system, which in turn controls pretty much all of the ‘human enterprise,’ and it does so with the objective of ‘making money.’ Thus Money has co-oped human civilization for its own reproductive purposes. This is not a metaphor. It is actual. Our human nature is doing us in. We prefer to be distracted by entertainments rather than consider dire threats; ‘bread and circus’ it was called in Roman times.
With Money as the facilitator, we are all engaged in not a conspiracy, but rather a great complicity. We’ve been complicit in abiding the evils we knew were occurring as long as we could enjoy the pleasures of unabated consumption. Fossil fuel companies lied about what they knew and when they knew it. But we’ve acquiesced, buying ever-bigger cars and SUVs, and flying around the world at the drop of a hat. Central Banks stoked unending economic growth, while commercial banks and commercial lenders got bailed out when their high-risk strategies blew up. Somehow we’ve managed to overlook that too, just as long as we in developed nations don’t have to give up our grand lifestyles. It’s a complicity, not simply a conspiracy.
Both news and entertainment have become carriers for the ubiquitous advertising, which tries to ‘make money’ for companies and entrepreneurs. The advertising itself has even become a form of entertainment with ‘infomercials’. Money resists all attempts to change its program. It protects itself and promotes itself through the selection of who governs us and the very banking system that creates our money. Money is at that level a pernicious force that cares not, and knows not, that it is killing its host.
With onset of the global Coronavirus pandemic, the darkest of times has arrived. With the onset of this virulent, novel strain of a common class of viruses, we are experiencing an unprecedented panic, certainly unequaled in human history since we have never before had the level of instantaneous global communication that we have today. But nations often respond to the business slowdown by trying to open up their economies too quickly. The US and Brazil are likely the worst offenders, and it is no accident that their infection rates are the top two in the world. Money has been promoted to a position as more important than life itself!
While protecting oneself and one’s family, it is imperative that we each reach down deep into our humanity and recognize our bond with all of our fellow beings, and our bond with all of life on Earth. This is not a time to only look for others to tell us what to do — this is a time for each of us to rise to our highest potential and become a candle in the darkness, to understand with clarity what needs to be done.
We’ve covered the vast topic of Money with just a bare thumbnail of a treatment. Now let us mention its partner-in-crime, economics, or more accurately — the current economic system that has been foisted upon us, known as NeoClassical economics, or simply ‘growth economics.’ I prefer not to call it Capitalism, though it would not technically be incorrect to do so. Words are tiny tokens of meaning, and their meanings shift over time. The word Capitalism, which should denote an economic system, has taken on problematic political connotations. To clarify this, note that the Chinese Communist political system employs the Capitalist economic model. Yet if you are at all critical of ‘capitalism’ you are subject to being called a ‘communist.’ The tendency is to take Capitalism as the opposite of Communism, and if you’re not keen on Capitalism, well you must be a Communist. Not so. So let’s call it ‘economics’ and avoid the linguistic pitfall. J.P. Morgan, one of the Wall Street ‘robber barons’, installed the NeoClassical economic model as the ‘only game in town’ in something referred to as the ‘NeoLiberal coup’ at the University of Chicago business school in the early 20th century. By endowing, (essentially buying) the chairmanship of the University’s economics department and handpicking its chairman, soon all professors teaching classical economics (Adam Smith, John Locke, etc.) were let go. And the ideas that the classical economists had about the human economy were similarly deleted from the curriculum.
The classical economists had asserted that there would come a time when growth should stop to be replaced by a non-growing economy, referred to as a ‘steady-state economy,’ accompanied by improvements in quality or life rather than growth in consumption. Other universities followed the University of Chicago’s lead. A hundred years later this one specific economic model, the NeoClassical growth model, has become known simply as ‘economics,’ and we have fallen prey to the presumption that it is the only way that humanity can organize the allocation and distribution of goods and services.
This deeply flawed economic model is constructed in such a way that it basically has only two modes, growth and collapse. Consider one small but significant aspect of the globally ubiquitous growth economic system, inflation vs. deflation. Inflation is regarded by almost everyone as a ‘necessary evil,’ that is, it is an inescapable but unfortunate aspect of our ‘economic reality. It reduces the buying power of ordinary people, which sends more of their money up to corporations and banks, but has no significant effect on wealthier individuals. Deflation, on the other hand, is a dreaded problem that keeps bankers and Central Bank governors awake at night. This is because deflation slows growth, sometimes leading to a deflationary spiral and causing or deepening recessions (which are similarly feared by growth economists and bankers). In deflationary times, loans cannot be repaid en masse and the whole system seizes up.
This also serves as a short explanation of why, when the global economy nearly melted down in 2008-2009, central bankers came up with the euphemism ‘Quantitative Easing’ or QE for short. QE amounted to pushing huge amounts of money into the hands of commercial bankers (creditors) rather than into the hands of people and small businesses (debtors) which were going under. The commercial bankers paid themselves wonderful bonuses, despite having caused the problem in the first place. They did so by making huge risky bets with speculative investment strategies, like Credit Default Swaps. These in turn backfired bringing down Lehman Brothers, and nearly bringing down the whole economic house of cards. But QE did not result in the ‘hoped for’ liquidity. The same sort of scam is being perpetrated currently with the COVID epidemic. Huge amounts of money are again being handed to the biggest corporations with token payments being made to individuals hurting from the global slowdown. The ‘invisible hand of the market’ seems to have a way of slipping a hand in your pocket and diverting money to those who have most and need it least.
In short, inflation hurts individuals of modest means, the debtors, which the banks and the ruling elites care little about. Even their inability to repay loans is not that much of a concern to bankers, who simply repossess the collateral in addition to keeping all of the prior payments of interest and principal. In contrast, deflation and recession hurt the creditors, the masters of the Ponzi scheme known as modern (growth) economics. Moreover, that growth must be exponential, dictated simply by the interest charged for the money that is loaned into existence by banks. Anything that increases by a percentage of itself is exponential growth. Nothing in the real world can grow forever, much less grow exponentially forever, within a finite container. And the last time I checked, the Earth was still finite.
We alive today are faced with the difficult task of transforming growth economics into steady-state economics, also called Ecological Economics, with intentionality. The alternative is that the current growth economic system will collapse under the weight of its absurd assumptions, along with the incredible disparities of wealth and privilege that it was created to serve. Judging from the speed with which the climate and ecological consequences of growthism are mounting up, along with the increasing awareness of the extremely dangerous situation we find ourselves in, those changes need to come soon by choice or they will be asserted by Nature with vehemence in the not too distant future.
“Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” — Kenneth Boulding
Stuart Scott is an ‘eco-social activist’ working pro bono on the problems of climate change and ecological degradation of Earth, and is Executive Producer of FacingFuture.TV.