Who Needs Seafood, Anyway?

Here’s a long but pretty good audio interview with Derrick Jensen asking Tom Horton about the death of Chesapeake Bay. Horton wrote about environmental issues for many years for the Baltimore Sun, a paper that is now pretty much a bad printed-out website. For some reason, though, I read it every day when I lived in Baltimore. I’ve heard it said that Luddites love their newspapers…

Even though I linked to it, I’ll admit that at first the interview is slightly boring, but then you remember that they’re nonchalantly talking about the end of life in the oceans. It picks up by the middle and end though, when Horton cites the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the ecological renaissance it provoked as the state apparatus was forced to wind back, adding “I don’t suggest empire collapse as the best solution for the Bay.” Of course Jensen, on the contrary, couldn’t disagree more.

Horton cites how effective dam removal is that restoring watersheds, though, which is more than most scientists, even the best intentioned ones, are willing to admit.

And speaking of scientists, the new governor of Maryland is doing what most newly elected officials are doing these days, which is rolling back any small—but significant—progress on the evidence-based ecological front in favor of a rejuvenated free-market populism. He’s now halting regulations that would prevent mega-agricultural runoff from spoiling said bay. This, only two weeks after the release of a report that ocean food-webs will soon collapse. The language is getting more direct:

“We are set­ting our­selves up in the oceans to re­play the pro­cess of wild­life Ar­ma­ged­don that we en­gi­neered on land,” said Doug­las Mc­Cauley of the Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia San­ta Bar­bara’s De­part­ment of Ecol­o­gy, Ev­o­lu­tion and Ma­rine Bi­ol­o­gy, lead au­thor of a re­port on the find­ings.

So good news all around, then.

I know that some doomer friends of mine root for collapse—and I myself am guilty of daydreaming about how much less we would care about spreadsheets and meetings and reports if our bank account suddenly disappeared or if we could no longer get sushi (gasp!)—but I don’t think it would have the effect that these friends desire. “Surely X tragedy will cause people to take notice!” they insist. For many, the XL pipeline would serve as the new line in the sand. But it’s obvious that “new line in the sand” connotes multiple lines in the sand—which defeats the purpose of each line.

If the past is any indication, no “benchmark” along the way to complete catastrophe is going to awaken the public, whatever that means—let alone incite any kind of meaningful action from the people who actually control the levers. In fact, with each announcement of this or that beloved species going extinct (there are only 3,000 or so tigers currently living), it’s more likely that we’ll see more (violent) support for the ideology that got us into this mess, at the expense of both mounting scientific data and a morality that gets less blurry by the hour.

Never mind that industrial capitalism has depleted every life-giving resource on this planet to the brink; what we need, above all, is entrepreneurship!

So in other words, buckle up because the majority of people are going deny more and more vehemently (and violently) that the problem exists precisely as the problem gets worse and more evident. Meanwhile, the elite will keep weaving dreams and conjuring spells. They probably know that without a living ocean they’ll die with the rest of us, but they also probably know that they’ll be the last to go, and in the meantime they have access to tuna stored in well-defended frozen vaults, for when tuna go extinct. Talk about externalities…


I wrote a while ago about making Turk’s Cap tea, with Turk’s Cap being about the easiest thing to forage here in Austin. I write “about the easiest” because if there’s anything approaching the ease of finding Turk’s Cap in the city, it’s the predictable, stable, and abundant pecan. I collected about 30 of them during a two-block walk to the garden, and used them in a salad with greens, salvia, broccoli, white onion, and other tidbits I had recently harvested. They’re a good source of protein, you can mash them or cook with them or just eat them raw, and all you need is a hammer.



Data Does Not Equal Knowledge

This is an amazing paragraph:

Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life. All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different. We are still in the middle of the great transformation, but it is not too early to begin to expose the exaggerations, and to sort out the continuities from the discontinuities. The burden of proof falls on the revolutionaries, and their success in the marketplace is not sufficient proof. Presumptions of obsolescence, which are often nothing more than the marketing techniques of corporate behemoths, need to be scrupulously examined. By now we are familiar enough with the magnitude of the changes in all the spheres of our existence to move beyond the futuristic rhapsodies that characterize much of the literature on the subject. We can no longer roll over and celebrate and shop. Every phone in every pocket contains a “picture of ourselves,” and we must ascertain what that picture is and whether we should wish to resist it. Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy. The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.

It comes from “Among the Disrupted,” a New York Times book review by Leon Wieseltier. It’s about the dangers of technology and the likely death of humanism—not even solely in its secular, carpe-diem version, but as a very possibility, whether Hellenistic or Judaic or anarchic in origin, given that everything is quantifiable (or is purported to be), in a digital Domesday Book kind of way. I just looked up how many sheep are in the United States, and got a precise answer, cataloged by state. Not that mystery is categorically a virtue, but can we really measure “quality of life”? It’s not the same as life expectancy. Sometimes I wonder if the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria was a good thing or a bad thing. But then I remember that the knowledge it most likely contained was not “data”—at least, not in any way resembling the modern sense—but philosophical investigations of the truth: deep time, deep space, deep ecology. Or maybe the scrolls were just inventories of grain stores all along. And were people mistrustful of them?

Mistaking Solutions for Problems

I saw this article about Japan’s population decline posted yesterday, of course with the premise that it’s a terrible, “crazy” thing (according to the commenters) that people would willingly opt out of the industrial procreation complex. Indeed, the title of the linked article from The Washington Post, “Japan’s sexual apathy is endangering the global economy” says it all, really.

Here we have laid bare the connection between the State, birth-rate, and GDP: “This isn’t just bad because it means the Japanese economy will have fewer workers and thus be less productive. It’s setting up an economic time bomb that will go off before long.” But rest assured: “Officials in Japan are keenly aware of how endangered they are by the country’s low birth rate. National programs encourage young men and women to get together and politicians often debate how to create more Japanese babies.” Need I go on?

It’s strange that an economic time bomb strikes fear into the hearts of many, but an ecological one is not even worth discussing (despite all the insistence to those who bring up, say, the amount of plastic in the ocean, or the fact that there are only about 3,000 tigers still living on this earth, that they should “get real” or “live in the real world”).

But no, this author is probably right, having more workers make more gadgets which can be represented by more numbers on computer screens is more important than the ecosystems on which all life depends. Back to the real world…

Stages of Decline

Here’s an insightful look at the six stages of The Simpsons, labeled as:

1. Lacerating Punk Satire

2. Traditional Humanist Sitcom

3. Absurdist Thrill Ride

4. Deconstructionist Self-Parody

5. Pop Culture Chatroulette

6. Triumph of the Nerds

My favorite era was the transition between stages two and three (1992 – 1996, roughly). Fantastical realism is a lost art (and no, don’t throw Harry Potter at me).

I was looking through the list and thought that it could also be applied to the “American experiment” in general, starting with pretend sympathies for the French Revolution, going all the way to the present Cubicle State—although you would need to rephrase # 6 to be something like “Triumph of Technology,” or “Triumph of the Machine.”

This transition is, of course, neatly summed up by a Simpsons quote: when a generic lawyer character is being sucked down into the bowels of the earth in one of the many rapture-themed episodes, his last words are: “Remember me… as a drain on society.”